An unexpected love, steeped in my first ride upon two wheels

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(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This is the first in an occasional series titled “My Harley Chronicles.”

The glint on a perfectly polished black Hog is sweet licorice to my eyes. My growling 107 Milwaukee-Eight engine and the glistening Rinehart chrome slip-ons that roar at the twist of the throttle? Like music to my soul. And the summer wind blowing upon every inch of the open road across miles of mint green country? Like a soothing balm to my urban-fried nerves.

My hard saddlebags carry the bare essentials: a breathable jacket; extra sunglasses, stereo headphones; an overnight bag (for extended voyages); insurance and registration; and my MacBook Pro.

I named my Road King, “Django.” We dance together, drifting like kindred spirits upon the symphony called Harley.

I live to ride and I ride to live upon the seasonal wave of steel and wheels and motorized perfection that carries me to destinies premeditated and unknown. I ride and dream in HD. Riding sets me free.

It was an unexpected love. A love steeped in my first ride upon two wheels.

An orange sherbet bicycle racer was my gift one Christmas as a child. But going off the block was forbidden. Going around the corner represented the door to other worlds. To adventures and possibilities in my eyes but potential danger in my mother’s.

Going around the corner, for Mama, no matter what longing it may have quenched for a curious black boy’s soul went beyond her protective motherly instincts. Going around the corner “might get you killed.” I longed to explore life around the corner.

My mother’s stern warnings only stoked me with temptation, like forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Coaxed me to climb aboard my wheels and sin.

Once I saw her shadow disappear from her lookout in our second floor apartment window, I bolted, like lightning, around the corner.

Eventually, I ventured farther from home in search of the unknown. I was pleasantly stricken by the vantage of absorbing the environs — the people, places and things — on a wheeled mechanism, without being walled in by doors and a roof.

Yes, my childhood racer and later my banana-yellow 10-speed for eighth-grade graduation were precursors for my motorcycle affections. At least they whet my appetite.

I remember pedaling fast in the breeze, my heart racing with mischievous excitement, my eyes widening while rolling past blocks of urban landscape — some of which I had walked or ridden past before but now sparkled with new intriguing delight. Maybe some of my euphoria was the sense of piloting my own ship, of charting my own journey, or simply the act of solitude.

Maybe it was also the sense of always knowing the way back home, but opting to conquer more corners. Or maybe it really was the act of choosing to live rather than to be confined or constrained by the fences we erect to make us feel safe.

I have come to see safety as being relative. And I have come to see fences and precautions as being as essential to life as wheels and heartbeats. And bicycles and Harleys — and taking risks — as being essential to some men’s psyches and souls.

And yet, I spent decades of adult life living behind fences. Always being on guard for dangers that might lurk around the corner — with my mother’s voice always ringing in the back of my mind. It made me, too often, spend too much time trying hard not to die instead of trying hard to live.

I choose to live.

And as strange as it may seem to some, riding my motorcycle is about living.

So upon my black and chrome steed, I turn new corners on the road called life.


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