A Big Pile of Keys

A collection of assorted keys are piled before me in a lump. Motorcycle keys. As I sit quietly in the corner of my man cave at home in a place where I ponder the universe, the keys occupy the far corner of my desk. A simple desk, with an old office chair too high for the center drawer, where I routinely bang my knees. Second to atop a motorbike, this place is my most creative writing flashpoint. A place where I recollect rides and generate ideas that form the basis of many of these stories that I hope you enjoy. This particular pile of keys has been inadvertently collected by me for almost 40 years. I have always been a key hoarder. I’ve amassed hundreds of them in my life. They are to me mementos of former 2 wheeled ownership. Small metal reminders of what once was. Harley barrel keys, Aprilia plastic keys, Suzuki Aluminum, Honda, BMW, Kawasaki, Triumph, Matchless and Enfield in all colors, shapes and sizes. Each proof that I once reveled in a particular brand or riding style. I’ve owned them all. Some loved, some liked, some tolerated, none hated. I’ve always retained the spare once the departed is conveyed to the new owner or the junk heap. I once jig sawed a big wooden key from a spare piece of pine shelving in my shop. I twisted tea cup hooks into the soft pine up and down and left and right, an attempt at organization. It must have been 25 years ago. It holds my mess of keys and rings and tags, all evidence of bikes gone forever. About every decade I pull keys from hooks and pile them in a heap to ponder my past. I rub each one in my fingers as I did when it matched a bike I once owned. It immediately conjures up lost memories of bikes long gone and riding and adventures and friends I rolled with and mechanical failure and mechanical triumphs and even an accident or two. Years and miles gone by in youth long past and on bikes long gone. A memory jogging experience. Like when you walk behind a woman into an elevator wearing the same perfume a girlfriend from college wore long before you met your wife. The ‘key feeling’ is similar to that olfactory recollection harkening you back, sparking a sleeping memory in your brain.

Like the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “That Smell” written by Ronnie Van Zant in ‘77 on the Street Survivors album. Van Zant’s inspiration for the song was ironically the band’s increasingly reckless indulgences written as a warning about the consequences of a careless lifestyle. The lyrics cautioned that “tomorrow might not be here for you,” and that “the smell of death surrounds you.” Three days after the album’s release, the now famous plane crash occurred, killing several members including Van Zant himself. Gone forever. But at least we still have his ballads and I still have my keys. That ominous southern rock song, the scent of an old love’s perfume, the sight and even feel of an old motorcycle key plied between the thumb and index finger.

Why do I bring this all up? Because things like this should be used to remind us of a life lived. To continue the course of a good one, or change the course of a bad one, and hopefully to build a past with no regrets. I know I married the right girl over 20 years ago. I’ve ridden the right bikes for almost 40 years. I hope you did too. If you are young enough, I would encourage you to keep something of each one. The manual, a key, a scratched muffler to hang on your garage wall. I can hold these keys all in my hands at once. I wonder if they diffuse some type of energy? I wonder how many miles are collectively contained in the soul of each bike they represent. Thousands? Millions? There will come a day when we have no motorcycle key. I have no key to my car. A little fob in my pocket the size of a lighter. It unlocks my door as I walk near, tells my ignition it’s OK to let me press that little start button. No pushing or twisting or fumbling for the right key. Convenient, but a shame in some small way. A key to a bike is a metaphor. Taken philosophically, it is a very personal connection to the machine. It is that which invests you with title and privilege and mechanical connection to ride it. The key opens the soul of the bike. NO ONE possesses that power but YOU, to hold that key! You have heard the words “the key to my heart” or the “the key to long life” or the “the key to success.” Like the ‘primer kicks’ on a bike for those of you over 60, or waxing your rain gear for those of you over 50, or a manual choke for those of you over 40, all gone to the ages. In generations to come, “the key to…” phrase will be a puzzling old fashioned saying that your grandkids will Google to understand. Like today’s “lit up like Lunar Park”, or “out like handles on a trunk”, or something to do with the “bees knees” or a “cat’s meow.” Think about how far our bikes have come over the years. Anti-lock brakes front and rear, and fly by wire throttle and GPS on handlebars are items found easily in parking lots and garages across the world. Items Grandpa would have said as a young man were impossible, Orwellian perhaps. Well, here we are. On the precipice of not even having a key to your bike. The future of the “key”: a chip in your helmet perhaps, a fingerprint starter, a brain scan or worse yet probe stuck under the skin of your wrist? To chirp a security system off and unlock a hard bag to get to your gear. Better yet to WILL the lock open? An ‘intelligent’ design that thinks as you, that responds to your biker thoughts. Orwellian? No, just around the corner. To transform my pile of motorcycle keys from a kitschy habit to an antique collection seems a shame. I started my bike key collection not to collect but to remember. A way to chronicle my biker life, like a skier keeps day passes or a Springsteen fan keeps concert tickets. I don’t suppose I’ll be buried with my Harley, like the old man in the news last year. I’ve been to many a biker funeral with the deceased in clean blue jeans and freshly polished boots with his leather vest snapped neatly over his silent heart. People request all kinds of things upon death. Bury me with this or that. I suppose I would have trouble picking the bike to be buried with for all eternity. But if I had a bunch of my keys to usher me to the other side piled in the corner of my casket, perhaps that great eternal highway would be easier to navigate, should I have the right key with me. Heaven sure would be a lot more fun with a bike or two in the afterlife garage and hell sure would be a damn hot place to spend eternity without a motorcycle. Although if I had a pile of keys with, me at least I could fumble through looking for the right one to thumb a bike to life in the hereafter. To throttle up and “roll hard” as a good friend says. Through heavenly pastures or fiery damnation. Who knows which? Stay tuned. Either way, chances are, I’ll see you over there. Remember me, I’ll be the guy fumbling with his keys. -Irish.

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