Beginnings - remembering my motorcycle roots


The first motorcycle image I can remember was from my grandmother’s, a grand old house on a large lot in Manchester, Connecticut. I must have been four or five years old. I remember the house as a magical place full of mysterious things. The lot the house was on had barns, trees, old boats, grapevines, gardens and a myriad of places for a small child to explore. Inside the house it was dark and comfortable with soft old sofas and wonderful and exotic aromas. Against the wall in the front room was my grandmother’s credenza, with its curved shelves at each end. On one of these shelves was a photograph of a relative back in Europe. He was standing next to a motorcycle that had a small license plate that was attached to the top of the front fender. The plate was aligned with the fender and readable from the side, not perpendicular and mounted in the rear as they are today. I cannot remember much about the man, other than I was transfixed by the outfit he wore, and the machinery that stood beside him. That picture must have been right at my eyelevel when I was first able to notice it for what it was. Nevertheless, there was something in that picture, some ineffable link to form, function and possibility that caught my eye. It would grow over the years.
As a child, my family spent the summer vacation camping at the Connecticut shore. We would load up the family station wagon, a 1955 powder blue Ford, and I would usually ride in the back by the tailgate surrounded by our camping gear. I would do this so that I would not have to share the back seat with my two brothers for the long ride down to the beach.
One summer day, when I was nine or ten, we were on our trip to the ocean when a rider on a Triumph motorcycle came up behind us as the family Ford moved slowly along on a country road. He had a passenger, a girl, on the seat behind him and her hair was streaming out behind her in the wind. I watched attentively as he worked the controls with his hands and feet. When he had a safe opportunity to pass our loaded wagon, he gunned the engine and, with a throaty roar, was by us in a flash. Briefly, I saw the name ’Triumph’ streak by on the side of the car. I remember thinking that it must be wonderful to have that kind of control so readily and easily available, over speed, power and noise. 
It was during one of those family vacations at the shore when I had my first ride. Someone with a Harley came down to visit a family of campers in our area. The bike was a large red cruiser with black saddlebags and plenty of chrome, and it had a separate passenger seat that looked like an oversized bicycle seat. The seat had a small metal handrail around the back of it, and chrome studs were set in the edge of the black leather. He gave a few rides to some of the young kids who had assembled there around him and the bike. It was a short ride up and down the small shore road in our campground, and I was lucky enough to get one of them. I loved everything about it: the noise, wind, vibration, how other people looked at you.
Although nothing would be manifest for many years, I knew that some course of my future direction had been inalterably set, as if some distant door had been opened. The seed that had been planted earlier by that picture in my grandmother’s house was being nurtured.
I would be a rider.