Air Traffic Controllers
I do not recall the exact year. It was certainly a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. My best recollection is that it was the ‘mid’ maybe ‘late’ eighties. I say that because the one detail that is very clear to me is the bike I rode that year. A recycled Harley FLH, white, “Evolution” powered police model. With Evo production between ’84 and 2000, it must have been in the middle of college years, ’85 or ’86? Almost 30 years ago!! The only other detail that is abundantly clear is who I spent that entire week with. I say this not because of conjecture aforementioned but from hard, conclusive, indisputable evidence. A photo of which can be seen with this article. A business card, with four names and addresses hand scratched thereon. Pressed, until recently, between the pages of a forgotten HD owner’s manual evidencing the long trip starting in NY and going through PA, and MD, and WV, and VA, and NC, and SC, and GA and then, finally to FL! The following are the hazy details I recollect of that – my first – trip to Daytona bike week, biker Mecca. A solo adventure. Foggy details pressed into my memory some thirty years hence.
The distance between my then home in NY and my destination of Daytona was a little better than 1,200 miles. A lengthy solo trip, departing in temps surely below freezing. I left in the early dark morning and I know this only because that’s been my road trip habit inherited from Dad. No ‘heated gear’ in those years. Musta froze my youthful ass off!! I do not recall. I had not yet been to Daytona bike week so my expectations were wide open. Most of my friends were spending their spring break on a beach with bikini clad college girls consuming rivers of beer and having post women’s liberation and pre-aids scare ‘fun’! Who needs that, I had my bike. My riding destinations up to then were typically Laconia up in New Hampshire, Maine’s coast, Americade in Lake George and mountain passes north towards Canada. Florida was a distant land unknown to me. I do recall I over packed. Not having the foresight to book a reservation I left sleeping accommodations to chance and took a musty old boy scout tent I dug from the garage. I recall it smelled of chain saw oil. Once packed, the bike looked like a mule in an old Gabby Hayes western. There were cords and bungees and knots and straps webbed across the back of the bike as if I were heading to Africa on safari. Maybe even joining the “Beverly Hillbilly’s” and “…a man named Jed…” I’ve looked at Google maps and retraced the route I would have taken. Such technology was not even available at the time of my trip. GPS was for F-18’s, not hapless bikers. I do not specifically recall the process of map planning that preceded the trip but I certainly paper mapped the trip for hours on end. A habit I enjoy to this day. I had done some pretty long trips up until then but this would have been my longest. The clearest memory of the trip was my arrival in town. I pulled off the interstate amongst a throng of fellow bikers in the warm Florida night air. It must have been near midnight. I exited at “Daytona” and recall the good fortune of several green lights ushering me to the center of the biker pandemonium. The crowds had me awestruck. I recall feeling I had reached biker Nirvana. I was exhausted but perked up in the thick of the rumbling melee. Once at the center of it all I slowed in the ever increasing 2 wheeled traffic. Unbeknownst to me after having ridden 20 hours of interstate on a bike overloaded with gear my legs simply could not support the weight of the top heavy load. I slowed to a stop and fruitlessly touched my feet to the pavement and toppled over like a drunk. I trust I was perceived by the hundreds witnessing the ‘fail’ as such. Two cops laughed and picked me up by the elbows. Said I was the 8th or 9th biker to exit the interstate that night and fall the same way. I rested, hydrated, dusted off my bruised ego and continued on with eyes big as pie plates. The scene was quite a site, as most likely was I!!!
Within an hour or two I tired of the traffic and cruised up A1A with the Atlantic on my right. I remember the fresh smell of the salty air filling my nostrils. I stopped into several mom and pop campgrounds all of which were full. “No room at the inn”, for me, although I did not purport to travel with a woman purporting to be pregnant with the ‘son of man’. Big difference. I began to think that I’d simply sleep roadside in a park and maybe get mugged or sleep next to a leaky gas station dumpster. One last attempt and the night clerk at a general store turned campground repeated the ‘no-room’ welcome I’d heard for the last several miles. A raucous group of drunken middle aged men heard my plight as they bought beer at the store and invited me to share their camp out back. I was exhausted and my options were limited. They had arrived several days before me on their bikes and hailed from Kansas. I set up my tent in the midst of their makeshift village. They made me feel as welcome as if I had ridden in with them from the Midwest. We sat up till day break and drank canned beer from the general store. They all chain smoked one after another and drank beer ‘aggressively’. If drinking were a sport, they’d be professional athletes. We talked till sunup and without sleep roared out on our bikes into the Bike Week madness. Thick as thieves we were for the week. Terry Keller, Dan Slade, Randy Slade, and Kirk Gullach were the main four who scratched their names on the attached business card for me so many moons ago. Fast friends, we painted the town. We hollered and hooted and went round for round all week. They claimed to me to be air traffic controllers. A story I never really bought.
In the last couple of days one of my newfound friends noticed a huff of blue smoke from my right muffler. Not just a startup smoke or a choke smoke but a continuous blue huff of burned oil. The kind of smoke that tells you that which belongs on the inside is making its way to the outside. Seems my rear cylinder had a major problem. The assessment was a bad piston or scored cylinder wall. Bad wrist pin clip, damaged rings, it really didn’t make a difference. I was grounded. Without hesitation I was thrown on the back of one of my compatriot’s bike. The partying continued. They ribbed me and called me the “date”. Good fun. The week ended. I arranged for a flight and had the bike trailered back. I never forgot those guys. They made my week. They influenced my outlook towards the biker world. One of my favorite parts about the business card is that fact that the phone number of “KELLER’S, Marine Detail Service” has no area code on it. A metaphor for a time gone by of pre-cell phones, pre-internet, pre-…..a lot of things. At week’s end I climbed the stairs to Domestic Flights at Daytona Int’l Airport slowly and tired. I recall turning to see them wave and ride off. I never heard from them again. Life moves on. I never knew what happened to the card they gave me with their names and addresses on it, until recently. I cleaned out an old box of spare parts and junk from bikes long gone. The card fell from an owner’s manual. They were 40’ish then – perhaps 70’ish now. I have not reached out to them. Maybe I’ll send them a copy of these words. A reunion? Who knows? With the chain smoking and hard drinking, I hope and pray they’re still alive. God Bless those guys nonetheless. I’ll keep ya posted. Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home. Written by Steve Murrin, The Original Biker Lawyer.
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