When I was in the Royal Air Force, I had a big Vincent Black Shadow, one of those exotic motorcycles for which England was famous before the war, and immediately after it, and used to scare myself and anybody else who was on the road in the middle of the night going back and forth from wherever I was being trained to London on the weekends. In those days, before the Japanese reinvented the industry, British motorcycles, like British sports cars, leaked oil all the time --- gray flannels and suede shoes saturated with the fumes of Castrol and spattered with engine oil were part of the sporty image that all young Englishmen craved. The trick was to place a roasting plan under the engine at night. In the morning it would be full of oil, and all you had to do was to pour it back into the oil tank before you set off. (A pocketful of spare fuses was also a good idea --- Mr. Lucas, after whom Britain's largest manufacturer of automotive electric equipment and headlights was named, was not known as "The Prince of Darkness" for nothing.)

I gave up motorcycles eventually, but never altogether willingly, and shortly after we moved to the country, when I was asked what I wanted as a present for my twenty-fifth anniversary at Simon & Schuster, I asked for a motorcycle. This caused a good deal of trouble --- Richard E. Snyder, the president of S&S and my old friend, was even less keen on motorcycles than my father had been, and did not want to be responsible for losing his own editor in chief. Eventually he gave in, and I received a dark blue Honda 600cc Nighthawk at a black-tie dinner in my honor at the Four Seasons, in New York....

Eventually I gave in, got rid of my Honda, and took myself off to the nearest Harley-Davidson dealer, Jim Moroney's in Newburg, New York, and bought myself a Harley-Davidson "Fat Boy" (named after the atomic bomb that was used on Japan in 1945) in metallic silver, with enough chrome on it to blind an admirer in the sunlight. This was a bike that required you to put on a pair of sunglasses before looking at it. It was everything a Harley should be --- big, heavy, loud (with an unmistakable, throaty low throb), about as macho an object as it is possible to imagine.

I got on, struggled to learn how to shift gears (Harley-Davidson does everything a little different), and set off down the road toward the Newburg bridge. With each passing mile I felt more secure on the big machine --- not surprising, since Harleys are not only heavy, but like most of their owners have a very low center of gravity --- and more of a Harley type. As I rode across the bridge I saw a motorcyclist coming towards me on the other side of the roadway --- even from a distance, I could see it was another Harley. There was also no mistaking the rider. He wore a leather vest; his bare arms were thick, heavily muscled, hairy, and tattooed; he was thickly bearded and wore what appeared to be a German army helmet on his head and an Iron Cross on a chain around his neck. His gloves were fringed black leather. As he got close to me, I raised my arm in a tentative salute, expecting him to ignore me. But no, his eyes took me in --- I was riding a Harley. As he passed by, he raised his arm to return my salute, and I heard him growl, "Fuckin' A, man! Nice bike!" then roar away. I rejoiced. I belonged.

--- From Country Matters
Michael Korda
©2001 Harper/Collins

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