I was still reeling from the incident on the escalator, trying to wrap my mind around something that couldn’t be wrapped, and still monstrously dehydrated, sucking down water like a camel after a two week walk through the desert. I supplemented the water with shots from a Coke Icee, thus creating the anti-boiler maker, and did not see the biker until he sat down across from me and asked “Hey, weren’t you there today?”
He looked like something the cat had licked to death and then drug in. He was big all over, so big that he probably had to avoid booths lest he burst something. His grey hair reminded me of kudzu in the final stage of consuming a dilapidated house. His moon-shaped face was ringed with wild hair; the last six inches of his beard had been braided and kept by rubber bands. His large brown eyes were sharp and clear, and even in his disheveled state, he seemed more sane and lucid than I. He introduced himself as James from Louisiana who had gotten separated from the rest of his tribe and hoped they’d look for him here as this was the last place they had eaten before the ride.
We began talking about the 2 Million Biker Ride. He and his tribe (this is what he called them, but upon searching the patches on his leather jacket could find no reference to Native America. He certainly did not look as such) went to the Fort Washington Harley Davidson rally, and this is where he saw me wandering around with my tablet. I told him I had gone on to the National Mall around eight thirty, and he replied “Man, you should have been there when we were ready to go! I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I’ve been to Sturgis! There HAD to be a million bikes there, dude! I was about a quarter mile ahead of the Harley shop and everywhere I looked there was nothin but bikes! The guys that had stereos were blastin them, and all together it sounded like the gates of Hell were being blown down!”
He said they were herded by motorcycle cops (“made me feel like a fuckin sheep”), and when they started it was stop and go for a long time. “There were so many of us we couldn’t just all roll out at once. I’d go about twenty feet and had to stop, go another twenty, thirty feet and have to stop again. Nobody was bitchin about it, either. Finally, after maybe fifteen minutes or so I was able to keep rollin, at least for awhile. I didn’t know it til later when I stopped at the Wall (the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial) but the cops didn’t intend on takin us all through DC at once. Hell, they wanted us to just go around the loop like a buncha merry-go-round horses! Assholes. Just because we didn’t have a permit, they thought they could shut us down.”
I offered to get him a drink but he shook his head and hand, and that was when I noticed something I thought peculiar. He obviously wore gloves – the kind without fingers that strapped around the wrist with velcro and was meant to pad the palms – because with them off I could see how pale his knuckles and the bottom of the back of his hand was compared to the square of dark brown in the middle of his hand. Now that I had noticed it, I found it difficult to not look at his hands. He continued, “So here we were on the Beltway, and this is when I saw just how many there was of us. Dude, we stretched for miles and miles! The cops had two lanes of the highway open just for us, but even then, because of the sheer number of bikes, we had to creep and even stop from time to time. There were cops at the exits and all the turnarounds, you know, in the medium between going this way or that? I started seeing groups of bikers getting off on the exits, maybe twenty, thirty, fifty at a time. The cops didn’t stop ’em. How could they? That’s when I think I lost my tribe. I could see a few of them in the beginning, but with all the stop and go I lost track.
Dude, as we went around the Beltway, more and more of us took off the exits. I thought about it a few times, because I thought it was bullshit what they were doing, but I didn’t know my way around here at all. If I’d taken one of them exits I’d probably still be lost! A whole bunch of us kept following the cops, but I could tell the herd was thinnin out some.
“I’d been ridin for about an hour and a half – it was just after noon – when this guy next to me on a Hog motioned for me to follow him. We were still in Maryland, I think. Yeah, ’cause we took an exit that said Silver Spring or something like that. There were no cops at that exit. When we stopped at a light the guy told me he knew how to get to the Wall from here and I figured ‘Cool, I’ve always wanted to see it’, even though I wasn’t in the war.” I asked him if he had served and he shook his head. “I wanted to, but when I was a dumb kid I jumped into a lake from a cliff and fucked up my spine. I was in a coma for awhile and couldn’t walk for a few months, but they operated on me to try and unblock the nerve and it worked.” He turned his head around, pulled his hair up and I could see a long, thick white scar on the back of his neck. My admiration of him did not falter.
He went on. “We rode for awhile and then got on 16th Street, I think, and took it all the way to downtown DC. Man, I saw all kinds of big fancy embassies that reminded me of those fancy hotels! We finally made it to the Wall around one thirty or two, I’m not sure, and there were a few hundred bikes parked up and down the road. I saw all these cops on their little unicycle things and that was funny as hell seein them roaming around all the bikes and riders. There were a lot of dudes hangin around the Wall, touchin it and stuff. It was real quiet. I don’t know why but I started cryin, just like a little bitch! Man, I didn’t know anyone on the Wall, but it felt so heavy and sad there, like it was comin off the Wall itself. I couldn’t help myself, dude! I saw what looked like a cluster of soldiers facin the Wall, but they were surrounded by dudes, too, and when I got closer I saw it was a statue. That kinda freaked me out, cause it looked so REAL!
“I hung round talkin to some of the other riders, hopin I’d find my tribe. Some dudes said cops had stopped them for no reason, sayin they were looking for contraband and shit. Other dudes said they didn’t bother goin to the Harley shop, they just rode straight in. Nobody had seen any Muslims, though, so I reckon we scared ’em off, buncha towelheads. More and more bikers kept showin up, and finally – I knew it was comin, it had to cause there were so many of us – the cops told us we had to leave because we were interferin with other people wanting to see the memorials, and we weren’t allowed to park where we were and a bunch of other bullshit. I figured it was time to go, so I rode my bike around downtown still lookin for my tribe. Eventually I started askin how to get back to the Harley shop, got directions, hung around there for awhile and then came here.”
We continued to talk about a wide range of things, and although I enjoyed James’ company, I felt the road home calling to me and we went our ways. I wonder if he felt the road calling him, too, and if he ever found his tribe.
To be Continued…