Posted 08-April: 2016
When I was growing up guns and motocycles were anathema to my parents. In 1966 - when I turned twelve - my father, though a WWII vet, was questioning not only the nascent Vietnam War but the entire military industrial complex. Never a gun owner, by then he was verging on pacifism. My mother had the same politics, loved nature and thought about as highly of firearm owners as she did Governor George Wallace. Nevertheless the National Rifle Association, as a nation-wide mind-set, was then so ubiquitous and widely unquestioned that my parents duly enrolled me in an NRA course and I learned how to shoot a 22. Still, my parents never dreamed of buying me a gun nor did I want one. My gun shooting career - haplessly hunting jackrabbits a few times - came to an end a year later.
As for motorcycles, I bought one in 1975. I was two years out of highschool and barely twenty. My hair was down to my chest. Like guns, I'd never dreamed of buying a motorcycle, yet one day I did. I was living in Santa Cruz, eight blocks from the ocean. I owned some books, some clothes and a 10-speed bicycle. I wasn't turning against my bicycle, but I suddenly wanted more distance, a faster wind against my face. I bought a used Honda 450.
Back then a 450 cc motorcycle was a big motorcycle. Not nearly as big, say, as a Norton or Triumph 750, but still big. Like cars and houses, my 450 hadn't yet been made puny by the decade-evolving demand for bigger and bigger. 1200 cc megaliths had not yet come on market. The Honda 450 was considered hot. It had a dual-overhead cam and was one of the faster accelerating motocycles around. Thanks to the NRA, I knew how to clean a gun, but I didn't know much about motorcycle engines.
I bought a helmet and studied motorcycle safety. I bought tools and a repair manual and learned to do my own tuneups and brake relinings. After a while my need to make life idiosyncratic was expressed by removing the gas tank and other painted parts. I spray-painted the thing, mutated it from orange to indigo blue. I fashioned a storage box out of wood, attached it to the luggage rack and stuck a Grateful Dead sticker to back side of the brown box.
Classic Honda 450
As I rode the 450 I fell in love with the experience. The way you simply leaned you body left or right to make a turn. The shifting up and down through the five-speed tranmission. The wind. I took long trips up and down Hwy 1, the Pacific Ocean to my west and a thousand curves in front of me. What more could I ask for?
I guess a girl on the back... but that never happened.
My eighteen month motorcycle career came to an end when I met Chogyam Trungpa and become a member of his Buddhist community. Within six months I'd sold the bike. Within eight months I'd cut my hair, and within twelve I owned a two-hundred dollar (in 1976 prices) three-piece suit. It didn't make sense to own a motorcycle after I'd begun to study such things as the precious human birth. As for the lost hair and three-piece suit, that was the increasingly common and often necessary piece of attire in Trungpa's community, referred to as "the scene". One aspect of the scene were the frequent opportunities to make love: the free-love generation had encountered a guru who condoned free love, or so it seemed
In those pre-AIDs days, having sex with someone you were attracted to of the opposite or same sex frequently often required little more than mutual attraction and a room to make love in. Women were as likely to pick up men as men women. Gay men picked up straight men (it happened to me three times). Straight men sometimes slept with straight men (I did it once). It was a time of learning and making lifelong friends. Also a time of many temporarily hurt feelings, and of inflicting mindless and sometimes indelible pain through affairs, lies, betrayals and abortions. It was the waning years of the sexual revolution, the glorious and carefree, naive and mindless ways of life that paved more ground for the liberation movements that had already begun and were to follow more explosively: feminism and LGBT rights, as well as the right of the individual to have a open, exploratory and maturing sexual life.
I'd trade a motorcycle for that any day.