Yesterday on the way to work I merged onto Interstate 10 at the same time that a long line of bikers was passing through the interchange heading west, as I was. There were forty or fifty of them, I guess, all but a few of them single-file, so the line stretched out for more than a hundred yards. They all courteously moved over into the left lane as the local traffic entered the right, and moved back over after they'd passed the exit. I started gaining on them and moved over to pass them, but then found that I wanted to go more or less the same speed they did, and so stayed abreast of some part of the line all the way across the bay and through the tunnel.
I have a bit of a thing for motorcycles, even though I haven't owned one since I was thirty, and never one of any respectable size. I'm about as far from what you think of when you hear the word "biker" as you can get. But I never see one on the road, except perhaps in winter or rain, without wishing I was riding it. And seeing and hearing that number together gives me a thrill. They sounded great in the tunnel, and I was kicking myself mentally when I came out the other end and realized they'd have sounded much better if I'd thought to open a window.
It was a beautiful day, not yet miserably hot as it would be later, and I really wished I was riding with them. They seemed to be what I think of as in-between bikers--a little rough, but not mean-looking. And definitely not the staid Honda Gold Wing types. They were middle-aged and older and seemed like the sort who might be a little rowdy among themselves, maybe drink too much, but who organize rides to raise money for sick children. Most of the bikes sported American flags, and more than a few the black-and-white POW-MIA flags that have been common since the Vietnam War.
They seemed emblematic of a certain American strain--independent, individualistic, patriotic to the point of truculence, not always well-behaved but basically decent. It's a strain I'm fond of, and which seems to be passing. The sight of all those flags flapping from motorcycles made me feel both patriotic and nostalgic, bringing to mind the days when America, for all its sins and problems, seemed a hopeful place.
Those are also, of course, the days when I was young, so maybe that's all I'm missing, and maybe things haven't really changed that much. I don't believe that, but it could be true.
All this makes me think of a Fourth of July piece I wrote some years ago: Independence Day and Indian Larry. I hope all of you in the U.S.A. are enjoying the Fourth.