Over the weekend, my friend Wade played the part of the big-monied race car owner by loaning one of his bikes out for a little vintage flat track fun. That is to say, Wade doesn't race himself, but he owns a few bikes and rather than let them sit in his crowded garage of lost toys he decided to let one out of its cage to live the life it was meant to live. The bike in question is a 1959 BSA Gold Star. Wade bought it a little over a year ago from Hugh, a local mechanic and flat track racer who, himself, had purchased it (in pieces) from the estate of its original owner. Hugh put the bike back together, raced it for a season or two, then sold it to Wade who then added it to his ever-growing aforementioned collection. Wade is quite proud of the bike and even went so far as to create a scrapbook filled with photos from its storied history.
Last summer I accompanied Wade on a cross-country trip in which we trailered four of his BSAs to a BSA owner's rally in Petaluma California. The day before we left we rode his bikes around the local country roads near his home in Pennsylvania for a pre-trip shakedown. Being a flat tracker, the Gold Star really isn't something on which you ought to race around on paved roads in traffic, but the bike was new to Wade, and he was excited to ride it, so he did. I rode behind him on his 1968 Lightning — puttering by comparison — and lost sight of him as he took a corner ahead of me. When I came around the bend a moment later, the Gold Star was on its side in the middle of the street, and Wade was in a ditch by the side of the road.
Fortunately, Wade survived the mishap with just a few scrapes and bruises. The bike was a mess and, although salvageable, was unrideable. We loaded it on the trailer and brought it with us to Petaluma, anyway. Wade figured that by exploiting the collective knowledge and passion at the rally, he could get his fellow enthusiasts to fix his bike up good as new by the end of the week —Tom Sawyer-style. Turned out he was right.
The day before loading the bikes onto the trailer and heading home, Wade offered to let me take it for a spin. Because I was unfamiliar with it — and because I had so recently witnessed Wade wreck the bike himself — I took it easy. But the bike was ferocious, and even just the few easy laps I took around the campsite were exhilarating. When I learned that the bike was going to be raced this past weekend I was excited to see it do what it was meant to do.
I didn't have the best location for photos but was managing a pop off a few good ones from the stands. Practice began at 5 P.M., and the racing started at 7, however, and by the time the real action got underway, I was losing the light. It became difficult for me to even see who I was photographing. We were sitting at the far end, away from the announcer, and couldn't hear a word the announcer was saying, so he was no help. I asked Deborah to keep an eye out for number 27 and to let me know when it was coming. I snapped a couple of shots on the first lap, then waited for 27 to come around again to get a few more. It seemed to be taking too long.
"Do you see it?" I asked Deborah.
"I see a bike being pushed," she said.
Turns out that maybe seeing ol' 27 "doing what it was meant to do" means seeing it crash. I've watched this bike ridden twice, and twice I've seen it go down.
Once again the Gold Star is unrideable. Worse, the bike's rider, a guy I didn't know but who was cooking pretty good, broke his collar bone.
With the bike out of commission and the light getting too dim for photos, I put my camera away, and we just watched the races. Soon we got hungry. The Orange County Fair was going on over our shoulders and from the stands, we could see the games and barkers, the rides and food trucks. "Should we get a hot dog or something?"
As we finished a shared burger and cheese fries, Deborah got the idea that she wanted to go on the haunted house ride. "Seriously?" I asked. "The motel we're staying in isn't scary enough?"
But of course Deborah wasn't expecting the haunted house ride to be scary at all, and she was right.
Traffic was a non-stop clusterfuck from Brooklyn to Middletown and getting to the fair took twice as long as it should have. We had a reservation at a nearby motel and decided to head there first to regroup. The motel was the cheapest place I could find so it shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was a dump. Someone tried to get into our room at midnight.
"Can I help you?" I called to them through the closed door.
"Oh we were given this room." a guy on the other side said.
"Maybe, but we were given it first, and we're already in bed trying to sleep."
When we first arrived the woman at the desk told us it would be easiest for us to get to our room through a back entrance. That entrance, however, was a glass door that someone had apparently tried to kick in and it was not functioning. A sign had been printed out and stuck over the spider web of broken glass with blue masking tape: "Please use other door." The other door being the one at the lobby where we had just been. To get to our room from the lobby meant walking a long hall through an area apparently under-construction. At least I hope it was. The rug had been pulled up and the wallpaper torn down making it resemble a prison or an insane asylum. We nearly turned around and walked out but when we got to our room it turned out to be pleasant enough. The bed was clean and comfortable anyway. While we slept, I wondered why a Harley outside our window kept starting and revving its engine every ten minutes. "What the fuck is with that guy," I said to myself. It wasn't until I got up to look out the window that I realized it wasn't a Harley engine at all but rather our in-room air conditioner kicking on and off.
The next morning I used Google Maps on my iPhone to direct us to the nearest diner for breakfast. The map said there was a good one four and a half miles away. After following Google's directions for about 10 miles too far, the voice on my phone said, "You have arrived at your destination. It is on the right." The only thing on our right was a tree-lined gully. I pulled over at the nearest driveway and cross-referenced the location using a different GPS app. As it turned out, the diner we were trying to find was directly across the highway from the motel.
"We rely on the GPS too much," said Deborah,
"Yeah. I suppose we could have asked the woman at the front desk where the nearest diner was, but then again, that's the same woman who told us to use the wrong door to her own motel so who knows where that would have gotten us."