“She’s a real looker” the old man croaked at me. I raised my helmet cloaked head up from my task at hand of topping off the gas tank in my 1000 to spy a white haired man in a dusty old Dakar jacket that looked as though it had circumnavigated the globe on Steve McQueen’s back. “Thanks” I shouted out thru my visor opening before quickly turning my focus back to my now close to brimming fuel cell. As I finished up, replaced the pumps handle and removed my helmet, the old man crouched down and seemed to lose himself as he scoured the surface of my fighter with a glint in his eye similar to that of a 12 year old boy that just found his dad’s stash of Playboy magazines. “Good lord, what is this
thing?” he croaked, smiling up at me with his bug splattered teeth. I gave him a quick rundown of a majority of the components that she was built with, making sure to hit on all the high points all the while I scanned the parking lot wondering where the old boy had materialized from. He continued to poke and prod me with questions about speed, horsepower, who had done my paint, and he was even keen enough to ask why a nitrous switch and no bottle. “Cheeky bastard” I thought to myself while cracking a small smile back at him. He knew his stuff and was obviously a fanatic of two wheeled wizardry just like me, so I knew that today’s ride could wait awhile. The roads will always be there, but I never pass up a chance to chew some fat with an old timer of our beloved sport.
Finally getting a chance to ask him a question, I wasted no time in asking him what (not if) he rode. “She’s around back” he replied and asked me if I wanted to see it. He assured me it wasn’t as pretty or fast as mine over and over as we walked around the back of the service station. As we rounded the corner, I was stopped dead in my tracks and they probably needed asphalt repair from the hole my jaw made as it dropped to the parking lot. I stared dumbfounded, there sat a glistening red and chrome 650cc BSA A10 looking as if it had just left the dealers floor yesterday, in all of its glory. “Not much compared to yours, but I’ve owned it since it was new and it does the job” he quipped in a serious monotone voice. “You’re kidding me right?” I questioned the man’s sanity for downplaying such an icon of 1950’s and 60’s motorcycling culture and racing heritage. Now it was my turn to cast a wandering eye on his machine as I assumed the standardized rice paddy-esque crouch position to get my face closer to those beautifully detailed and meticulously polished Y shaped side covers. It was obvious that this machine was cared for lovingly, while being ridden and ridden hard. A quick glance and a few questions confirmed what I already knew, that this bike had seen some serious adventures. Not just the backroads of cow country in rural Wisconsin, but a bike that had been ridden to the peninsula of Alaska twice and down to Mexico at least twice in the last 10 years.
It seemed like only minutes had passed as the old timer and I talked and shared short stories as though we had known each other for years, but in reality it had been almost a full hour and the only thing that broke up our back and forth barrage of lament was the short blip of a police siren. The county sheriff cautiously approached the two of us while sizing us both up the entire walk across the lot. “Which one of you two own the bike that’s been sitting at the pump for an hour?” he barked. “Me” the old guy croaked before I could say a word. The sheriff looked
skeptical that the polished and stretched road missile parked at the pump belonged to this AARP card carrying member, but just came back with “are you planning on paying for your gas, or what?” The elder statesman and I cracked small smiles at each other and walked to the front without a word to pay for the gas before we got tazed and hauled off for some small town justice.
Feeling the need to head out without further angering Barney Fife, waiting impatiently in his car, the old fellow and I said a quick farewell and headed to our respective machines. I could hear the roaring symphony of some mid century technology speeding off into the distance as I thumbed my starter button and brought my own pride and joy to life. As I rode home that night I couldn’t help but think of the old guy and wonder if that was destined to be me someday, and how I hadn’t even gotten his name during all of our rapid-fire questioning.
I have driven that same loop of roads numerous times and I have yet to encounter the shiny BSA again, and I can only hope it’s due to the fact that he and his machine are joyfully one on a lonely and solemn back road in the wilds of Alaska. Because, even though I only knew him for an hour, I know that’s how he would want things.