By Bill Buchanan
Ojai is home to a constant parade of motorcycles pretty much every weekend. There are massive Harleys, blazingly fast “rice-burners” and the much tamer bikes that feature radio headsets and pull little “mini-wagons” behind the riders.
I think any male who came of age in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s and saw the movie “Easy Rider” dreamed of someday powering a huge motorcycle down the highway. The fantasy included flying down the road with your hair blowing freely in the wind, kicking back to enjoy the scenery, and congratulating yourself on the envious stares of those poor souls forced to travel this land by less heroic means. Somewhere along the way, you would stop in a small town and a lovely young girl would admire your bike as well as your rough, outlaw demeanor. After letting just the proper amount of time to elapse so as not to appear overanxious, you would utter a pithy and completely cool invitation, and she would jump on the back of your bike and hug you tightly as you roared down the highway with “Born to Be Wild” blasting in the background.
From the time I was around 8 until halfway through high school, I always wanted a motorcycle. My mother was completely against the idea, and no amount of begging, whining, pleading, hinting or discussing the matter could change her mind. During those years, the closest I got to being “Easy Rider” was coasting down the hill on a friend’s tiny Honda with the engine off. Not exactly Captain America.
But then one day when I was older, my friend Travis was looking to buy another motorcycle. He came by the house one night on a huge chopper and asked me to go test-drive it with him. Although my mother was not crazy about the idea, I was older, and I guess she figured we had enough sense not to do anything totally stupid. Boy, was she wrong.
It was a hot summer night and we were both dressed very lightly — tank top T-shirts and cut-off blue jeans. Neither of us had on shoes, much less a helmet. I was all pumped up with adrenaline when we took off around the small lake near my house, and felt a thunderous surge of exhilaration as we accelerated onto the main road.
Now there is often a gap between fantasy and reality. For me, my real experience on a bike was more like a Grand Canyon of difference from my fantasy. My exhilaration soon turned to sheer terror as Travis wound out each gear until we were hurtling down a road under repair with a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit at about twice that rate. We passed piles of dirt and bulldozers that were merely a blur as our speed increased. I finally got up enough courage to fight through Travis’ long hair (which was hitting me in the face like a thousand tiny needles) to check the speedometer. When I saw it was on 85 and climbing, my first reaction was to scream. I didn’t. Not because of a sudden shot of courage, mind you, but because I was just too scared to do much of anything. Plus, I figured if I opened my mouth, I would have a hard time explaining how I swallowed all of Travis’ hair. All I could do was to look down at the road flying by under us and think, “If we were to turn over, that pavement would just eat me alive — there wouldn’t be enough left of me to fill up a coffee can, much less a casket.”
After what seemed like about 10 years of tearing up and down the highway, we finally returned to my house. When we pulled back into my driveway, my knees were knocking out the “Hallelujah Chorus” and I didn’t know whether to shout, faint or kneel down and kiss the finally motionless ground.
That was my last time on a bike. I still think they are great — from a distance.