Appreciation

 

"In hindsight I can see how naïve I was, how fast the world was changing around me. Hunter S. Thompson wrote how, with the right kind of eyes, you could actually see where the wave of the 60’s broke and ran back on the desert walls near Vegas. Unaware of such a wave, and in search of my own life and identity, I rode my motorcycle across country to Los Angeles."

Laudizen King     

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in 'Easy Rider'I came across this picture in an obituary in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, July 24, 2007. The obituary was for Laszlo Kovacs, the cinematographer on the film 'Easy Rider', and the picture, of course, is of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in a scene from the movie. In the obituary, Dennis Hopper relates that the movie could not have been made without Kovacs, and Kovacs tells the story of meeting Hopper after Hopper had approached him to be the cinematographer for the project. Although Kovacs was reluctant at first, Hopper went through his vision of the story and Kovacs realized he was becoming excited over the prospects of bringing the American landscape to the screen as a main character of the film. When Hopper was done, everyone fell silent. After a moment, Kovacs looked at him and asked, “When do we start?” This movie was an inspiration to me, and it was very important to me at the time. Today, all these many years later, I can remember back when it was released in 1969.

I served with the US Army in Vietnam from June 25, 1969, to June 25, 1970. During that period, two seminal American films were released, ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘MASH’. ‘Easy Rider’ was released right after I left for Asia, and ‘MASH’ came out right before I returned home to the states. Thought of as being threatening to the morale and general welfare of the common soldier, neither film was ever shown in an Army theater. When I saw ‘Easy Rider’, I remember how moved I was by the scenes in the American west, how saddened by the senseless deaths in the South. I, too, was looking for America, and dreaming about making the transition from soldier to civilian, and of making my own way in the world.

1970 Honda 450In June of 1970, I arrived back in my home state of Connecticut for a 30-day leave before reporting to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for the remainder of my tour. As I was not yet 21 years old, I could not enter into any contract, this meant I could not buy a car on an installment loan. I took the 1100 dollars I had to my name and bought a new Honda 450cc motorcycle. The dealer said I could pick out a helmet from those in stock, I chose one with a flag motif like Peter Fonda wore in ‘Easy Rider’.

So began my motorcycling years. I had less than 30 days to learn how to ride a motorcycle, get a motorcycle license, and to be ready to handle the 700-mile ride down I-95. That trip would take me through New York City and Washington DC, and on down through Virginia to Fort Bragg. This trip would mark the beginning of the year and a half I had left on my military enlistment. I did learn, and I survived, both the journey and the Army.
 
It was great to be young and back in the states, and I longed to be out of the Army. That would come later. In the year and a half that I was at Fort Bragg, I made several motorcycle trips between North Carolina and Connecticut, and I toured around most of the South on my Honda.
 
The Army discharged me in October of 1971 and, to celebrate starting a new life, I rode my motorcycle across the country to Los Angeles. Now I could see and feel this America for myself. It felt so fine to be out of the Army and on my own, to have embarked on this grand adventure. I can remember how incredible the West seemed to me at the time; it still does today. So many memories of my journeys and adventures, people met, and people lost. Yes, I was young and naïve and perhaps searching for something that could not be found, but the memories of it linger and shine over those days of newfound freedom.
 
My HondaI have this one grainy black and white of my bike that was taken in North Carolina just before leaving the Army. It has a slightly oversize new tire for the upcoming trip, and on the front, a new pair of 6-inch fork extensions sit below a small pair of “Z” handlebars. On the rear of the seat sits my flag helmet. I was proud of that bike, for two years it was my best friend, and it never let me down. So this is my riding genesis. In the Riding Out link, I plan to serialize my riding adventures and experiences during the period beginning with my Army discharge until I returned to the northeast and went to college. I also hope to feature the words and pictures of others, to share their stories and emotions, both old and new. What a long great ride it has been. Thank you, Laszlo; and thank you, Peter and Dennis, for sharing and shaping the days of my youth.

Laudizen King