My father loved road trips. The Westbrook native would load our family in the station wagon and drive from the coast of Maine to distant destinations throughout New England. He bestowed his wanderlust to his second son and as a young man I took to the road on a motorcycle in emulation of biker heros such as Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONES and Peter Fonda in EASY RIDER.
Upon moving to New York City in 1976 I met another kind of road warrior. Dmitri Turin, a exile for the USSR, was running a British bike shop with his Scottish partner in the wildlands of the Lower East Side. He rode a black Triumph with his furry dog Wilber resting on the gas tank. They were good days and A HERO FOR THE OPEN ROAD tells of my love for motorcycles, the road, and my friends from the era of errors.
They live on forever.
Here's a small sample of A HERO FOR THE OPEN ROAD
A lice infestation swept through southern Maine in the late winter of 1958 and each school district around Portland mandated crew cuts for the boys without explaining why girls were exempt from the edict. Every Sunday night my father sheared his two older sons’ scalps to the bone with electric clippers, after which my mother inspected our heads for ‘cooties. Once deemed clean my older brother and I ran into the living room to catch Disney’s DAVY CROCKETT on TV.
Millions of adolescent boys idolized the Hollywood frontiersman.
Every Monday morning my schoolmates and I left our houses with raccoon caps over our bare heads and sang the theme song on the school bus to Underwood Primary School. Few of our teachers could discern the difference from the pack of bald boys.
We were the sons of Davy Crockett.
On the 4th of July 1958 my parents loaded our Ford station wagon for a drive to the seashore.
My father had installed aluminum bars across the rear windows to prevent any of his five children from falling out of the car and my grandmother Edith joked that we were the youngest reform school prisoners in the State of Maine. My mother didn’t find her comment so funny. We were a handful and she had another one on the way.
That weekend Old Orchard Beach was overwhelmed by a deluge of Canadian tourists, families from Portland, and local residents seeking relief from the summer heat in the Atlantic rollers crashing on the slanting grey beach. By late afternoon my two younger sisters’ skins radiated an unhealthy pink and our parents packed up our beach boys, blankets and towels.
My brother and I rushed to the bathhouse to wash off the sea salt, because Old Orchard had more to offer than an ocean. Dressed in identical jeans and Davy Crockett shirts, we re ran out to our father, who lifted his hands.
“Yes, sir.” We respected his commands, especially when they were in our best interest.
“You ready for fun?” He looked over his shoulder to the amusement park.
“Then let’s have a little fun.”
Silvery stars sparkled over the darkening green of the Atlantic beyond Old Orchard’s pier. My father accompanied us on the Mighty Mouse coaster ride and we screamed on the turns. My older brother got lost in Noah’s Ark funhouse and I cut my knee on the giant slide. The carousel was the only ride my mother considered safe for my sisters.
At the arcade I chucked three baseballs at lead milk bottles. My strikes barely wobbled the targets, while teenage boys won Kewpie dolls for pony-tailed girlfriends, who rewarded their prowess with kisses from candy-colored lips.
“What you looking at?” my brother asked holding a bag of popcorn.
“Nothing.” I cringed inside my Davy Crockett shirt, for ‘bein’ born on a mountaintop in Tennessee’ had ceased to be as important as knowing the words to the Platters YAKKETY-YAK.
“Yeah, nothing.” My brother also wanted to be older.
My father bought a turn. His first pitch toppled the pyramid of bottles and he repeated the feat two more times.
“Who’s hungry?” My father handed my mother a stuffed dog.
“We are.” My brother and I walked away from the White Way.
“We have a half-hour until the fireworks.” The Independence pyrotechnics were scheduled for thirty minutes after sunset and our family queued before the take-out counter of Gordon’s restaurant with our mouths watering in anticipation of golden fried clams, French fries, and cold Cokes.
A roaring thunder interrupted my father’s order in mid-sentence.
Ten motorcycles rumbled down East Grand Street and screeched to a halt before the restaurant. Not one bike was driven by a policeman. Their riders sported dirty leather jackets and oil-smeared jeans. Sideburns skated down their cheeks and they strode along the sidewalk, as if they had inherited the world from the meek.
“Who are they?” I asked, as my parents spirited us into the family station wagon.
“Bikers.” My father explained examining the stripped-down motorcycles with interest. He was an engineer by profession.
“Trouble,” my mother answered with no uncertainty and a uniformed policeman appeared from the bright White Way shouting, “You boys better be moving along.”
“We ain’t breakin’ no laws,” the twenty year-old with a Mohawk replied without any threat. “All we want is ice cream.”
“Then go down to Saco and get some.” The cop wasn’t taking any lip from a boy half his age. Saco was a factory town. The workers didn’t like rebels of any kind. “You’ll get a good welcome there.”
“Ain’t this a free country?” The young man stood his ground.
“Not for your type.” Another policeman arrived with a long billy club. A crowd watched from a safe distance.
“Our type?” The biker with the Mohawk examined our station wagon. “Guess Old Orchard is for the squares. Let’s go, boys.”
Even at age six I knew that squares were uncool and my Davy Crockett shirt crawled on my skin.
The bikers remounted their chrome motorcycles and revved their engines. Our car vibrated with each twist of the gas. The Mohawk biker pointed at our station wagon’s aluminum bars and said with a gap-toothed smile, “Don’t worry, kid, you’ll escape that jail wagon soon enough.”
His friends and he sped away in a swirling nebula of high-octane exhaust. My father had taken off the locks of the doors, so I couldn’t chase them like a boy desperate to join the circus. My love for Davy Crockett was dead.
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