I went down to Old Town Saturday afternoon just to walk around and see the Poker Run in full swing. And sure enough, there it was in all it’s chrome and leather glory. Motorcycles lined up and down Duval, street merchants selling anything and everything they could market, riders wearing leather and black t-shirts standing out in the hot sun, and plenty of booze being consumed. Just like I remember it.
The last time I did this run, and I did a bunch, was 2001. It was less than a week after the attacks so the whole country was on edge. There was a question as to whether or not the event would even be held but it did go off without a hitch. As it turned out, the ex girlfriend and I drove down in her car instead of riding bikes down due to a small tropical storm coming across the state. We had a good time but by the next year, I had sold my last Harley and was out of the business. I was burned out on motorcycles and ready to move on.
It seems strange now. For nearly 25 years I ate, drank, and breathed motorcycles. I gave up a pretty good job in the sport diving industry to go back to school and learn all the motorcycle mechanics stuff. From there I went directly to working in dealerships for the next 15 years. From 1984 to 2002 I owned 18 different Harleys and rode over 500,000 miles. I ate up anything I could learn about the damn things. Attended Harley-Davidson University, which is a real thing btw. I joined the HOG’s, the factory sponsored riding group and helped get a chapter started in Central Florida.
A lot of riders like to customize their bikes with lots of chrome and shiny stuff. Others go the performance route. Me? I kept my bikes mostly stock and rode the piss out of them. Some years I would average 30,000 miles. Most of it just commuting or heading to whatever event was going on during the weekend. Working in the dealerships allowed me to learn all about the inner workings of the engines. It helped also to get a nice healthy discount on stuff.
I had the required leather jacket, one I bought on sale in Daytona one year. By the time I retired it the leather was dried and cracked and the zippers no longer works. But it was a cool jacket. I went through boots about twice a year and even manage to wear holes in the palms of my gloves from riding so much.
The memories were many, both good and bad. First Sunday of the month at the FoxHead. Thursday night wings at the old Grizzly Bar, now long gone. Biker games with events like the slow race and weinie bite. (Tie a hotdog between two poles so it hangs down. Dip it in hot mustard. Rider and female passenger ride under neath. Passenger reaches up and tries to take a bite out of the hot dog. No hands and the rider cannot put his foot down on the ground. Biggest bite wins. Key to winning…practice, practice, practice.)
There were the great rides also. Coming down here for the Poker Run. Daytona of course. But I made two rides which stand out the most. A solo cross country trip in 1999. 22 states, 8800 miles in three weeks. From the Atlantic to the Pacific. From the desert floor to the top of the Rockies. Beautiful trip. The other was a 5 day run down the lower half of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Prettiest road in the east. Even took the same ex girlfriend who went to Key West on that last trip. She only whined a little bit.
I met lots of cool people while riding and working. I happened to hit it when Harley was at it’s peak. Everyone wanted a Harley and business was good. But the true riders were the old school who rode before the fad began. There was a mix of all kinds. Members of riding groups whom garnered more than their fair share of attention from law enforcement to just regular folk who loved to ride. Made lots of good friends along the way, and lost a few.
The bad memories are just as vivid. Losing a very close friend when she was hit by a car pulling out in front of her bike. I still remember the last time I saw her. Very painful memory. Others were lost too. Bike wrecks, illness, even a couple of murders. I had more than a few memory patches in my collection.
I had three close calls myself. One when a car pulled out in front of me, two other times when I got hit from behind. I limped away from all three but the third one was the end. I kept riding a couple more years afterward but my heart was no longer in it. I would come home from a ride shaking because I had been screaming at other drivers who came a bit too close for comfort. And I was burning out from the dealership jobs. I had enough of the retail life and the minimalist bug was taking hold. By 2002 I had sold my last bike and would not ride again.
Now, I have no passion for the lifestyle. Oh, I do miss the bikes on occasion and I still keep in touch with old friends who I rode with, but to get back in the saddle again? Pretty unlikely.
It’s kind of a shame really, to dedicate a large portion of your life to a certain lifestyle, and simply walk away from it without any regrets. But that’s how I feel about motorcycles now. Occasionally I might go look at some pictures of some bike run just to see some old familiar faces, and once in a while I might sneak a peek at the latest lineup from Harley, but the desire is long gone. Whatever the spark was which got me into the lifestyle before is long extinguished. I’ll not be riding anymore.
It’s ok though. I got a lot of good memories, and a few bad ones. I can relive them anytime I want. I can still think back to the day I got my first bike and how proud I was. I can still go visit friends and talk about the old times, but that’s as far as it will get. Hell, I could fill up a whole blog with stories. But it’s over. I don’t see me ever getting back on another bike and riding off into new adventures. It was all fun. I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me. Time for new chapters to be written.