Back on the Road Again

“Guys talk like that, shouldn’t talk like that…”

They came from the corner booth of the diner in a rattle of beer bottles. The head honcho had narrowed eyes, potbelly and wankstains on his jeans. He would’ve been a football star in his day, but those days were past.

They aimed for the foreign-sounding biker sat at the counter. There was a burger and coffee in front of him, with a knife and fork wrapped in a napkin he wasn’t using. He unwrapped the napkin and gripped the fork. If it was going to happen, it was going happen.

The biker smiled. “You going to say I aint from round here boy…”

Then an old man stood up and everything changed again. He wore a battered baseball hat and button-up polo tucked into chinos – he was that old. He started talking and first he was talking to air, but then air was the room and the room listened.

“Seems like you boys forgotten how to welcome strangers,” the old man said. “I got a lot of time for Englishmen, was an Englishman saved my son out in Iraq. My son came back in one piece and got to thank anyone with an accent for that. Especially those that served.”

The old man knew, although the biker didn’t know how – maybe it was how he sat upright at the counter, even when dog-slumped from a hard ride. The rednecks bear-growled, but moved back to their booth. The old man had earned the right to insult people, but was too decent to do so. The biker raised his coffee cup to the old man and nodded.

THE KIND EYES OF SOMEONE WHO USED TO BE HARD

He sat down with the old man at a booth and drank more coffee. The old man had stroke veins drawing rivers down his arms and the kind eyes of someone who used to be hard and they misted when he spoke of his son.

“He was never the rightest but he was a lot wronger when he came back,” said the old man. “Nothing I could do or say to help. Didn’t want to know his friends, couldn’t look me in the eye or stand up straight.”

The biker felt the same on return. His home wasn’t his home anymore. He chose to leave, ticket to America, buy a rod and ride those long straight roads, just like in the movies. He didn’t have anywhere to go, just didn’t want to stay.

“It got so bad, but I just didn’t know how to help, shaking or whipping wouldn’t do no good. I just lost him all over again, lost him to the damn Angels.”

The old man’s hand was shaking. The biker wanted to reach out and clasp it in his, but he didn’t. “I’m sorry for your loss, sir,” the biker said. “Do you mind me asking how your son died?”

The old man snorted and shook his head. “He aint that kind of dead boy, much as how I talk like he is anyhow.” He sighed and a smile almost cracked. “No, the crazy fool went to California and joined the Hell’s Angels. San Dimas chapter…”

HE DIDN’T WANT TO BUY THE CLICHE THEY WERE SELLING

The road was long and straight and the dust whipped and lashed and battered his bike as he tensed to hold the line. He liked the focus the road forced on him. The road cleared his head, he just hadn’t decided what to put back in there for a long time.

He bought the rod on the East Coast when he arrived in America and choosing the right one took him longer than expected. He didn’t want the fastest – he was in no rush to get anywhere and wasn’t looking for an adrenaline buzz.

Everything was a brand and you bought into the image, but he didn’t want to buy the cliche they were selling. The Triumph was for rich weekenders, the BMW for yuppies, the Kawasaki road ragers, Honda the hipster.

He settled on an old Royal Enfield finally. The classic Himalayan was a putt-putt built to survive high-altitude mountain passes, so long as you weren’t counting the hours it took.

He liked what it said about him. It said he couldn’t give a shit.

Now he had somewhere to go, he wished he’d picked a bigger one. He opened up the goose a little wider and strained into the wind. He wasn’t riding aimless anymore, he had a purpose. He was going to San Dimas to save the man who saved his life.

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