Miami, Arizona, 1936.
I never knew my Dad as a young man. He was almost 50 when I was born, an age that I haven’t quite reached yet. I knew some of his friends as I grew up, and he was a legend with respect to all the stories that circulated about him. During the 20’s he rode the rails all over the United States to race tracks to train horses and do maintenance work, and he even made the Indy 500 part of his circuit for a few years. He came back to Miami in 1935 to settle down, get a career and get off the road. He was 24 years old. The depression had started when he was 18. He joined the Miami Police Department.
Dad loved riding that bike. He didn’t mention it much, but Mom did. She took tickets at the Grand Theater, and Dad would ride up and down Sullivan Street trying to catch her eye (and a few others at that time as well…) He rode the bike to Superior, Safford and just about anywhere that he could.
He dropped it a few times, once in the dip between Sullivan and Live Oak Streets (locals know where I’m talking about ’cause it’s still there…), and once in a dip that was on Highway 60 just west of Miami on the Superior Highway (this one’s gone now).
Most people I know said that he wouldn’t get off it, and I really know just what the heck he was feeling, since there are few pure moments of thought and peace as when you’re behind the handlebars on a perfect day. Adding your friends make it even better.
Dad loved his Harley, but didn’t pass the passion down to me in any active way. He did get me a Sears Minibike when I was 11 or so, but it was pretty much worn out when I was 13, and I had started to drive at that point, anyway. My friends had dirt bikes that I would borrow for as long as I could, straining the relationship as much as possible, yet Dad remained adamant in his distaste for the bikes. The pictures here were not out for public view. Too bad, they might have helped my argument.
Dad never saw me on a bike as an adult, but I managed to ride quite a bit. Still one of the most personal, defining moments between us occurred on a motorcycle in 1991 when I was providing all the picture vehicles for The Last Mafia Marriage, a CBS made-for-TV-movie.
It was early in the evening and we were filming a scene at the Royal Palms Hotel (pre-renovation). In the scene, the cops were going to show up, and we needed to have a very early 50’s CHP bike along with a few cars. I had a friend with a 1948 Knucklehead that was complete and ex CHP. Absolutely pristine, with just enough patina to make it a wonderful, real, unrestored example.
Dad played golf and cards at the Arizona Country Club, just south of the Royal Palms. I had called him and told him to drop by the set if he wanted to, and he showed up about 2 hours before we had to start filming. All the vehicles had been laid out in their first locations. When he walked up, he immediately went over to the old Harley.
He walked up to it, threw an 81 year old leg over the seat and brought it up off the kickstand. He talked about riding one just like it, and couldn’t believe I had found one. He reached back with his right foot and said “the siren would have been right about here” — then his heel touched it…
“Oh my God. It’s right where I left it.” He then sat their silently, staring through the windscreen. Looking into those weathered eyes, I suddenly saw a young man, years before marriage, children, the responsibilities of a family; One that I never knew.
I miss him. It would have been fun to go out for a nice ride down the Superior Highway.