The Jersey Boy in Nebraska — Part One
It was a long run executed in flawless precision. My 1986 BMW K75 (with the rare Sprint fairing) was tracking smoothly through the curves at an average speed of 70 miles per hour, matched in perfect choreography by my paramour’s 1986 Honda Rebel 450. Some might think the constant proximity of our bikes in tight formation was an indication of our commitment to riding. Others might have concluded the scant distance between the bikes symbolized our passion for each other. Yet sometimes the most complex stories have a simple explanation. Barely two and a half feet separated the seats of the machines, as they were lashed to a Kendon trailer. I watched them follow us through three states in the rearview mirror.
The face of the United States changes gradually as you head from east to west. It is a little-known fact that Pennsylvania starts at the Delaware River and ends two-thirds of the way through Indiana.
“Where are we?” asked my paramour, waking from a sound sleep and glancing out the truck’s window at tidy farmsteads.
Even though we’d been rocketing along for a good 14 hours, I looked into her deep blue eyes and said, “Harrisburg.”
She let out a wail of anguish and moaned, “Are we ever going to get out of Pennsylvania?”
“Paramour” is a great word meaning “lover,” and she loved me more than any woman I ever knew. But she hates me now and, to be perfectly accurate, I’d have to refer to her as the “Parabellum,” which would dramatically change the context of the story. So for the purpose of getting through this column, please pretend that the word “paramour” portends a happy ending.
My paramour’s full-time bike was a 2005 Honda Aero Shadow, tricked out to look like the lead float in a parade of Harley Davidson impersonators. Her practice bike, which she rode exclusively in the months following her successful graduation from the motorcycle safety course, was a perfectly restored 1986 Honda Rebel 450. She did everything in style.
The Aero Shadow had a bluish tint to the chrome that matched the exquisite blue of her eyes. This was not by coincidence. This bike had a mustang saddle the size of a pool table. What wasn’t tasseled leather or white-walled rubber was chrome. Her leather riding gear was sculpted from steers who led exemplary lives. She was the poster child for blond cruisers. Everyone waved to her as she rode by. Single men in expensive cars would follow her for miles. Harley clubs would end up in our driveway. Riders astride massive Harley sound-generators would U-turn, and offer to beat the tar out of the librarian following her on the blue BMW giraffe.
My paramour was as practical as she was beautiful. Becoming proficient in handling a motorcycle, she decided to sell the Rebel to a relative who’d always wanted a bike. The relative lived in Nebraska, hence the nature of this trip. The relative was also a beautiful woman, though brunette and slightly smaller in stature. I had no doubt that she would create the same ripple effect on the local male riding populace.
I was curious to test the capabilities of the Kendon trailer and thought to bring the K75 along as well. According to the manual, the trailer would track perfectly whether it carried one bike or two. (It did.) Later, I would be accused of wanting to ride around Nebraska in the company of the hot brunette. (I did.) I had been to Europe 23 times in 18 years, but I had never been to Nebraska. I think this was because Nebraska had never before factored into my social pursuits. For example, I have said to women, “Would you care to join me on a trip to Paris?” This interrogatory does not carry the same weight when you substitute Omaha for Paris. But I was unprepared for what I encountered in Nebraska. In some regards, it has France beat.
Pennsylvania ends two-thirds of the way across Indiana, which is where the traffic for Chicago begins to build. This traffic ends at the Mississippi River. Iowa is the opening act for Nebraska. Anything you might expect to find in Nebraska is first presented as a sample in Iowa. Plains, picturesque little towns, massive farm vehicles, towering wind generators and miles of farm fields define Iowa. One of the most astounding features of this region is the cowboy-like nature assumed by the farmer populace. They wear it well, and I was a bit jealous. I wear my native New Jersey like a third-degree burn. We had lunch in a city called “Council Bluffs.” This was the place where my paramour used to drink when she was in high school. I liked the name of this place. From here you can throw a rock into Nebraska.
Nebraska is a sea of corn. It should be called the great corn ocean and billed as the Ninth Wonder of the World. We were bound for a rural destination in a state that manufactures rural as a cottage industry. Dusk found us in one of the deeper parts of the great corn ocean, at a time of the year when the corn was taller than the roof of the truck. With less than 10 minutes of daylight left, I climbed on the tailgate to get my head above the tide. What I saw was astounding.
The corn stretched to every horizon. It rippled in the breeze. I realized that I was standing at the heart of this nation’s greatest strength: the richest farmland and food basket in the world. As darkness fell, I watched the most incredible thing. In the vast expanse around me, I saw three “streetlights” wink on, each one a solitary blaze of independence. They were the lights suspended outside the barns of working farms. There were three of these in an area the size of Hudson County, New Jersey. Perhaps 30 people, or less, lived in a space that contained several hundred thousand in the urban morass where I was born.
We delivered the Rebel the next morning. The brunette was drop-dead gorgeous. My paramour and her cousin went off to play with the motorcycle. I was on deadline and spent the day typing in a nice little motel run by an elderly lady, who brought me cookies and coffee. There was a picture of her in the office. She was posing with a horse she’d gotten for her 16th birthday, when Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. She, too, had been a stunner. Even now, she still had a certain poise when she was 146-years-old. Nebraska is home to some of the most beautiful women on Earth.
My assistance was unnecessary in providing an introduction to the Rebel. Within 45 minutes, a crowd of riders had surrounded my blond paramour and her brunette cousin. Later that evening, I was presented to the rest of the family, who were bona fide farmers. Her Uncle Zed, a Harley rider, offered to take me on a moto tour of his farm and holdings. In addition to growing corn, he raised cattle, managed a herd of dairy cows, and other things. I was fascinated.
Farmers are among the most stoic and hardest-working professionals I have ever met. They are literally tied to the earth and the elements. Zed was genuinely warm and thoroughly likable. He was wearing jeans, a weathered cowboy hat and snakeskin boots the first time I met him. He was in worn leather on a 20-year-old Harley the next day.
My paramour had been specific in her instructions regarding her uncle. She said, “These are down-to-earth people. Try hard not to come off as a fast-talking, snake-oil merchant from New Jersey. If possible, leave him with a distinctly different impression.”
I met Zed at 6 a.m. on a day that would aspire to gray. A mist hung in the air like damp smoke, limiting the view to a hundred yards and coating the face shield on my helmet with a smear of droplets. We rode along a maze of back roads and came to a fence around part of an open field.
“These are Holstein cows,” said Zed. “They are known for giving huge quantities of decent-tasting milk.” He explained how they were fed, managed and milked. I was amazed at the amount of work that went into this. The mist grew thicker as we rode deeper into the property, giving the corn a slightly sinister appearance. The corn was everywhere, listening to my thoughts through a million ears. There were cows in the next field too. “These are Guernsey cows,” said Zed. “They give a richer, creamier dairy product.”
I could barely make out the bovine shapes in the fog. We rode another few hundred yards into the thickest part of the mist, and came upon an enclosure that reeked. “What kind of cows are these?” I asked.
Zed shot me a sideways glance and judged that I was sincere in my question. Then he shook his head and replied, “Jack, these are pigs.”
We got back around lunchtime, and my paramour took me aside. “Did you impress my uncle?” she asked.
“You bet,” I replied. “He has a whole new appreciation for BMW riders now.”
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