This IS awfully brief and somewhat un-“polished”. It’s more of a “stream-of-consciousness” piece. It is, however, from the heart. In light of the estimated 100-150 K turnout, (as opposed to the thousand or so islamists that showed up for THEIR “million”…)
You may or may not know that I worked in the motorcycle industry for many years. Yes, of-by-for-around-and-about THAT motorcycle company. They recently celebrated the one hundred tenth anniversary of “The Motor Company” in Milwaukee…if you’re a “local”, “M’wahkee”.
I have MANY friends that attended the festivities, in Wisconsin and elsewhere. I did not. Even had I been “able”, I would not have gone. It’s not MY motor company anymore. I have, many times, described myself by paraphrasing Shylock: “If you cut me, do I not bleed Pre-Luxe?”. Yes, I knelt before the altar of the V-Twin in The Church of The Bar & Shield for a good part of my life. Since, I think, ’65 or ’66. I began my life on the fringe, well, on the fringe. Collecting railroad spikes from along the tracks and salvaged wrought iron fence from my “goombah’s” scrapyard. Grinding, polishing and chrome plating them to make “custom” footpegs and “sissy” bars. Even made a set of handlebars, once, from a chunk of power transmission cable I brazed solid and plated. I went through many of the incarnations, intonations and inflections of a “motorcycle enthusiast”. Even in those hyper-inflated ’80s years. When all was beemers and rocket bikes. When I was at a job where all of “the guys” were going to have a “bring your motorcycle to work day”, my co-workers jaws positively dropped when I showed up that morning with all that iron between my legs. (A 1950 FL police model, and the only chrome I added to it was a distributor cap. Then, only because it was the only one in stock at a dealer when I needed one.) Ahh, the LOOKS I got! The attitude changes I felt as I shut her off, put the stand down, leaned her over and walked toward the rest of “the guys”! Funny…only a very few years later, they would all be buying one of their own. Stickers, tee shirts and chain wallets became de riguerre. I went from outcast to inside guy. I knew my motorcycles. Inside out. From “pea-shooter” and “pocket valve”. “J” model. “K” model. Servicar. Knuckle-Pan-Shovel-Iron heads with flat sides. Toppers and Aermacchis. Rigids. Girders. Choppers, baggers and glides. I could go on and on. For a long time. Trust me.
At the end of that weekend I received an e-mail from a very dear friend. A friend who was also, for many years, deeply involved in the day-to-day of The Motor Company. My last living connection to it all. I was surprised at the timing, considering the anniversary party. I replied with a very breif “Are you home or on the road?” I will excerpt her reply here…
“Ah Darlin’ I didn’t go. Lots of reasons but my love affair [with the factory] is suffering contusions and abrasions of the heart. I’ve seen too much rawness and depravity than from the day when I fell in love with it all….It’s too bad. My heart will always beat a little faster when I hear those deep, growling pipes that play the sweetest music of any bike ever made. I miss a lot. But I don’t miss the way its corrupted itself…”
I had some hope, a while back, when it was rumored that Willie and Karen (Davidson) had approved the use of skulls at the factory level for paint jobs and accessories. Only a brief while earlier, flames had been approved. They flubbed it. All of it. They carried some of the simplest forms of “biker” or “hot rod” art and art-nouveau’d it to death. Wait…I’m not referring to true “Art Nouveau”, I just mean that they took it off to some extreme level of “acceptable palatability”. The kind that bikers and hot rodders would not understand.
When the “OLP” program was fired up, in an effort to control every dollar in the accessory market, They flubbed it. The truth was, it wasn’t all about the money. It was image control. Mind control and attitude control. “Vee haff vays” of making you like our products. We’ll just take everyone else’s off the shelves. This wasn’t just straight-up capitalism. Straight-up capitalism was the part that brought more than 50% of any motorcycle produced with foreign sourced parts. You see, they lost more than their identity when they were taken over by American Metals and Foundries. Enough so that they became more agressively capitalistic than even the company they broke away from. NOT that I believe there’s anything wrong with capitalism…no no no! But capitalists without souls go to the dustbin of history faster than those with poor quality products. Or, at least, they used to. (All chrome plating outsourced to the Orient. Sure, it IS less expensive when you can dispose of all the toxic waste in the sea.)
You know…not long ago, whenever I would stop and talk to people in leather, the people on competitors’ motorcycles used to, (but no longer do), preface their descriptions with “it’s not a Harley, but…” It’s getting harder and harder for Joe Iwannamotorcycle to find a discernable reason to spend an extra $5-10K. And I can’t say as I blame them. Especially since that extra five or ten large is the difference between fifteen to thirty grand. No, we are not talking about a five thousand to ten thousand dollar import versus a twelve thousand to twenty thousand dollar pseudo-American machine anymore. We’re talking about second mortgages either way. I have always maintained that “it’s not about what you ride, it’s about whether you ride”. True enough. But we have been seeing an “adjustment”. Now, it’s a question of “progress or die”…read that, “change, (for better or worse, but change, dammit!)” It hurts, but not nearly as badly as the first time I saw a chrome plated radiator cap.