Red was the first “outlaw” biker I ever met. He looked like what is sometimes described as “a pretty rough customer”, and I guess he might have been just that. It was in the early 1960s, when Red whose last name I either never knew, or which escapes me now, was hired at the Esso service station where I was working washing cars. He was straight out of that Marlin Brando movie, The Wild One, and he had a hat like the one Brando wore. He rode a rat of a Harley Davidson that sported black leather saddle bags that were adorned with nickel plated studs and small, facetted, red glass reflectors. In addition to the Brando hat, he wore one of those big, wide, leather kidney belts decorated across the back with his name in the same fore mentioned nickel plated studs.
After work Red would kick start the Harley. That basic task seemed to require quite a few attempts to accomplish, and then with straight pipes roaring, cross the bridge leading to town trailing a wisp of blue oil smoke. It looked like great fun to me, something that I could foresee perhaps in my future.
One Monday Red showed up at work in a car, and when questioned, explained where his Harley was. It seems that the day before he and some friends were taking a ride to nearby Lake Lure and stopped to smoke a cigarette at a place called Hickory Nut Gap. When he tried to start the motorcycle to leave, it refused all attempts at coaching it into roaring, smoking life. The story ended with Red saying, “So I got my pistol and whiskey out of the saddle bags, kicked the son-of-a-bitch over on its side, took the gas cap off, and lit it on fire. I guess it’s still there.”
One day Red paid another boy and me to wash his car which he was very proud of. It was a black, late fifties Cadillac as I remember. Anyway, as I vacuumed the front floorboard I saw Red’s Smith and Wesson revolver and a pint of whiskey under the driver’s seat. Those that he had salvaged from the now burnt to a crisp Harley I supposed, or perhaps spares that he kept close at hand in case he needed them. A day or so later Red came around and said he’d been fired for some reason that I don’t remember now. He had only worked there for two or three weeks. Anyway, the last time I saw Red he was accelerating across the bridge leading to town in his black Cadillac, trailing a wisp of blue smoke, and wearing that Brando hat.
I imagine that Red left us long ago, and now an upscale hotel stands where the Esso station was. The bridge that leads to town is still there.
copyright Bill North 2014