A HERO FOR THE OPEN ROAD by Peter Nolan Smith

My father loved road trips. The Westbrook native would load our family in the station wagon and drive from the coast of Maine to distant destinations throughout New England. He bestowed his wanderlust to his second son and as a young man I took to the road on a motorcycle in emulation of biker heros such as Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONES and Peter Fonda in EASY RIDER.

Upon moving to New York City in 1976 I met another kind of road warrior. Dmitri Turin, a exile for the USSR, was running a British bike shop with his Scottish partner in the wildlands of the Lower East Side. He rode a black Triumph with his furry dog Wilber resting on the gas tank. They were good days and A HERO FOR THE OPEN ROAD tells of my love for motorcycles, the road, and my friends from the era of errors.

They live on forever.

Here’s a small sample of A HERO FOR THE OPEN ROAD

A lice infestation swept through southern Maine in the late winter of 1958 and each school district around Portland mandated crew cuts for the boys without explaining why girls were exempt from the edict. Every Sunday night my father sheared his two older sons’ scalps to the bone with electric clippers, after which my mother inspected our heads for ‘cooties. Once deemed clean my older brother and I ran into the living room to catch Disney’s DAVY CROCKETT on TV.

Millions of adolescent boys idolized the Hollywood frontiersman.

Every Monday morning my schoolmates and I left our houses with raccoon caps over our bare heads and sang the theme song on the school bus to Underwood Primary School. Few of our teachers could discern the difference from the pack of bald boys.

We were the sons of Davy Crockett.

On the 4th of July 1958 my parents loaded our Ford station wagon for a drive to the seashore.

My father had installed aluminum bars across the rear windows to prevent any of his five children from falling out of the car and my grandmother Edith joked that we were the youngest reform school prisoners in the State of Maine. My mother didn’t find her comment so funny. We were a handful and she had another one on the way.

That weekend Old Orchard Beach was overwhelmed by a deluge of Canadian tourists, families from Portland, and local residents seeking relief from the summer heat in the Atlantic rollers crashing on the slanting grey beach. By late afternoon my two younger sisters’ skins radiated an unhealthy pink and our parents packed up our beach boys, blankets and towels.

My brother and I rushed to the bathhouse to wash off the sea salt, because Old Orchard had more to offer than an ocean. Dressed in identical jeans and Davy Crockett shirts, we re ran out to our father, who lifted his hands.

“Calm down.”

“Yes, sir.” We respected his commands, especially when they were in our best interest.

“You ready for fun?” He looked over his shoulder to the amusement park.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then let’s have a little fun.”

Silvery stars sparkled over the darkening green of the Atlantic beyond Old Orchard’s pier. My father accompanied us on the Mighty Mouse coaster ride and we screamed on the turns. My older brother got lost in Noah’s Ark funhouse and I cut my knee on the giant slide. The carousel was the only ride my mother considered safe for my sisters.

At the arcade I chucked three baseballs at lead milk bottles. My strikes barely wobbled the targets, while teenage boys won Kewpie dolls for pony-tailed girlfriends, who rewarded their prowess with kisses from candy-colored lips.

“What you looking at?” my brother asked holding a bag of popcorn.

“Nothing.” I cringed inside my Davy Crockett shirt, for ‘bein’ born on a mountaintop in Tennessee’ had ceased to be as important as knowing the words to the Platters YAKKETY-YAK.

“Yeah, nothing.” My brother also wanted to be older.

My father bought a turn. His first pitch toppled the pyramid of bottles and he repeated the feat two more times.

“Who’s hungry?” My father handed my mother a stuffed dog.

“We are.” My brother and I walked away from the White Way.

“We have a half-hour until the fireworks.” The Independence pyrotechnics were scheduled for thirty minutes after sunset and our family queued before the take-out counter of Gordon’s restaurant with our mouths watering in anticipation of golden fried clams, French fries, and cold Cokes.

A roaring thunder interrupted my father’s order in mid-sentence.

Ten motorcycles rumbled down East Grand Street and screeched to a halt before the restaurant. Not one bike was driven by a policeman. Their riders sported dirty leather jackets and oil-smeared jeans. Sideburns skated down their cheeks and they strode along the sidewalk, as if they had inherited the world from the meek.

“Who are they?” I asked, as my parents spirited us into the family station wagon.

“Bikers.” My father explained examining the stripped-down motorcycles with interest. He was an engineer by profession.

“Trouble,” my mother answered with no uncertainty and a uniformed policeman appeared from the bright White Way shouting, “You boys better be moving along.”

“We ain’t breakin’ no laws,” the twenty year-old with a Mohawk replied without any threat. “All we want is ice cream.”

“Then go down to Saco and get some.” The cop wasn’t taking any lip from a boy half his age. Saco was a factory town. The workers didn’t like rebels of any kind. “You’ll get a good welcome there.”

“Ain’t this a free country?” The young man stood his ground.

“Not for your type.” Another policeman arrived with a long billy club. A crowd watched from a safe distance.

“Our type?” The biker with the Mohawk examined our station wagon. “Guess Old Orchard is for the squares. Let’s go, boys.”

Even at age six I knew that squares were uncool and my Davy Crockett shirt crawled on my skin.

The bikers remounted their chrome motorcycles and revved their engines. Our car vibrated with each twist of the gas. The Mohawk biker pointed at our station wagon’s aluminum bars and said with a gap-toothed smile, “Don’t worry, kid, you’ll escape that jail wagon soon enough.”

His friends and he sped away in a swirling nebula of high-octane exhaust. My father had taken off the locks of the doors, so I couldn’t chase them like a boy desperate to join the circus. My love for Davy Crockett was dead.

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Greatest of the Great


On my birthday several friends and I were having a conversation about the greatest athlete of our lifetime at Frank’s Lounge. We were all in our 50s. Larry had seen Ali, Homer claimed for Magic Johnson, AP proposed Andre the Giant, then I said, “Evel Knievel.”

“No way.” Larry shook his head. AP and Homer called me a fool, but I stood by my choice.

Evel Knievel broke over 400 bones broken in the pursuit of aerial excellence, but his most heroic leap was the attempt to clear the Caesar’s Palace pool in Las Vegas.

That New Year’s Eve in 1967 on New Evel dropped $100 at the blackjack table. He zeroed out his chips, then had one shot of Wild Turkey before exiting the casino to climb on his Triumph Bonneville 650 cc.

Linda Evans filmed the crash at Caesar’s pool for the Wide World of Sports.
His approach is perfect, but somehow the engine cut out on the ramp. The bike’s rear tire caught the receiving ramp. Evel tumbles a football field into the casino. Linda Evans caught every agonizing second. Evel was comasized 29 days.

Next jump.

Houston Astrodome.

19 cars.

Harley 750.

Successful both times.

None better.

Evel Knieval.
The Greatest of the Great.

to seethis jump please go to this url

The One The Only Evel Knievel

America has not elected a bald president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Every candidate with a hair issue has been rejected by the voters, although the outcome in the electoral college proved to be a landslide for the GOP, Hubert Humphrey missed defeating Richard Nixon in the 1968 popular vote thanks to George Wallace diverting the Deep South to support his cause of segregation now and segregation forever.

This year Donald Trump has surprised media pundits by seizing the lead for the GOP despite sporting a sweep-over. His attacks on migrant workers has resonated amongst white voters fearing the loss of their majority rights and the media have showered the billionaire with increased coverage despite his covert baldness.

Yesterday I found a photo of George Hamilton playing the daredevil Evel Knievel, the second greatest athlete of all time. The movie actor renown for his deep brown tan sported a coif very similar to Donald Trump and that might be another reason GOP voters are attracted to the billionaire candidate.

Of course Donald Trump is no Evel Knievel, but then again he’s no Dwight Eisenhower either.

To view Evel Knieval’s first jump in 1967, please go to this URL

A Boy Of Montana

My second choice for greatest athlete of the 20th Century has always been Evel Knievel. Mohammad Ali might have been the greatest fighter and Bill Russell won more NBA championships than any other basketball player, however the Butte, Montana native rode a motorcycle like a demon and refused to quit no matter how badly he had broken body.

His public expected nothing less from a man who was fired the Anaconda Mining Company for doing wheelies with an earth mover. Evel might have gotten away with this stunt, if the truck hadn’t knocked down Butte’s main power line.

Bobby Knievel changed his first name to Evel after a night in the Butte jail for a wild motorcycle chase.

According to the night jailer came around to check the roll, he noted Robert Knievel in one cell and William Knofel in the other. Knofel was well known as “Awful Knofel” (“awful” rhyming with “Knofel”) so Knievel began to be referred to as Evel Knievel (“Evel” rhyming with “Knievel”) according to Wikipedia.

He was not a simple man as demonstrated by this quote;

“You come to a point in your life when you really don’t care what people think about you, you just care what you think about yourself.”

Evel Knievel was a lucky lucky man.

I wish I could have been a little more like him, but couldn’t do wheelie of an earth mover, but Evel didn’t do everything for the camera.

He did them, because ‘I love the feeling of the fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through my hair.’

Same as me on a bike.

Excerpt from THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN MAINE by Peter Nolan Smith

Old US 1 ended at its northern terminus of Fort Kent. Key West was 2377 miles to the South. Snow drifted chest-deep against the houses. Philippe tested his new jacket.

“It works.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from LL Bean.” I was wearing layers. Heavy boots were a must. We had reached winter and night fell fast this far north.

We got a room at the motel nearest the ice-clogged river. The grinding floes filled the black air with horrid crunches.

“Tomorrow we’ll drive to the St. Lawrence and catch a ferry to the other side.” Icebreakers opened the seaway for ships throughout the winter. “We can reach Manicouagan Lake in two days. If the road’s open, I can make Newfoundland. It’s no Miami Beach.”

“I can’t go to Canada.” Philippe held his hands over the motel’s radiator. The interior surface of the windows were glazed by ice. A naked man wouldn’t last thirty minutes outside.

“Why not?”Winter would only get more winter farther north. “French-Canadian girls are very attractive.”

Their Gallic beauty was enhanced by not eating potato chips.

“I don’t doubt it, but I have a visa problem.” He avoided eye contact.

“What kind?”

“My visa is out of date.” He was embarrassed by this admission.

“How long?” Mexicans were called ‘wetbacks’. Up this far north illegals were known as ‘snowbacks’.

“Two years.”

“Damn.” We were 673 miles from Manhattan. I had a car and money in my pocket. I had dreamed on standing on the shores of Manicouagan Lake for years. I grabbed Philippe by his arm.

“Put on your coat.”

“It’s cold.” He protested without conviction.

“This is northern Maine. Of course it’s cold.” I forced Philippe to walk up US 1 onto the snow-covered steel truss bridge. The wind off the frozen river was ten degrees south of zero and Philippe’s long hair whipped across his face.

“That’s Quebec.” I pointed to the black bank across the St. John’s River.

“I know.” He refused to look at the other side.

“They have good food in Canada.” I appealed to his weakness for good food. Fort Kent’s cuisine consisted of doughty pizza and greasy burgers. “And there’s a great French restaurant in Clair. The Resto 120.”

The restaurant had been recommended by the motel manager. Her last name was Quelette. Fine cuisine was a specialty of the lost tribe of France.

“Tourtires, soupe aux pois, et pommes persillade. Cheese. Wine. Good bread.”

“Really?” Philippe licked his lips.

“And French girls are cute.” In my youth the sexiest girls at Old Orchard Beach were vacationeers from Quebec City. They looked like either Brigitte Bardot or Francoise Hardy. Philippe was almost sold by my sales pitch.

“You said that before.”

“And?”

“I can’t risk it.”

“What’s the risk?” No one was guarding the bridge. “On the way back you can hide in the trunk. It’s heated.”

If the technique worked for millions of wetbacks, it couldn’t be too much trouble to run a snowback operation at a sleepy border crossing.

“No way.” Philippe shook his head. His nose was reddening from the cold wind.

“It’s either that or burgers.”

“Sorry.” He walked away from my grasp.

“Sorry?” I trailed him thinking about dragging him across the desolate bridge.

“You can come back in the summer.”

“I have no idea where I will be in the summer, you damn limey.”

“Me neither, but it won’t be a deportation cell. Burgers and fries tonight It’s on me.” Philippe stormed over to the nearest bar. Neon signs FOOD and LABATT BEER flashed in its window. I stared across the icy river with disappointment and then joined Philippe in the Moose Inn, which had a pool table, jukebox, and wooden bar with draft beer.

He didn’t take off his hat.

The loggers, snowmobile sledders, and the state road crew in the bar were wearing theirs and I couldn’t tell the difference between the men and women.

“Fuck the Resto 120.” There were no pommes persillade on the Moose Inn’s menu. I threw my watch cap on the bar.

“What?” Philippe asked to appease my anger.

“Shut the fuck up.” I was in a bad mood and ordered a beer. The first Labatt went down in less than thirty seconds. The second took two minutes. The third lasted almost a quarter of an hour.

We ordered burgers and fries. My fifth beer washed down the hockey puck of a paddy and the sixth soaked up the sodden fries. At least I was warm.

A storm was due in two days, so everyone was getting in their drunk tonight. I bought drinks for the road crew. Philippe played DJ on the Jukebox. The crowd danced to LOUIE LOUIE and a thickly bearded drunk tapped my shoulder.

“What?”

“My name’s Rick.” The man had a cross-eyed squint marred by a cracked lens of his glasses. For a second looking at him was like seeing my personalized ‘Portrait of Dorian Grey’. We were nearing forty. Cathy Burns was the same age, but in my mind she was still pretty.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“I was wonderin’ if I dance with your date?”

“My date?” I was confused for a few seconds, until he glanced over his shoulder at Philippe.

Long hair hid the Englishman’s face.

“You’re saying that you want to dance with my date?”

“She’s better looking than any of the other girls in this town.” Rick lit a cigarette with a match, which flared over a calloused thumb. The townie didn’t register any pain and said with a dull vice, “Girls around here weigh as much as moose in a peatbog. I like them skinny. You mind?”

“Be my guest.” The Englander’s illegality in America had halted my exploration of the North and I smiled as I said, “Just a dance.”

“That’s savage good of you.” The townie staggered off to Philippe.

His mouth mouthed ‘you wanna dance’.

I put down my beer before I spit it out laughing.

The Brit came back to the bar and picked up his beer.

“Some guy just asked me for a dance.” Philippe was outraged by the offer.

“And you said no?”

“Of course I said no.” He was horrified by the thought that I presumed that he might say ‘yes’.

“Just so you know, he had the politeness to ask me if it was okay.”

“And what did you say?”

“I gave him the green light. Let’s face it, you have to be the prettiest girl in northern Maine by a long shot.” I figured that we were even.

“Thanks.”

“Did he offer to buy you a drink?”

“Yes.” Philippe had said the magic word.

“So get to it, Thelma.” I went over to the jukebox and dropped two quarters to play KC and the Sunshine Band and Nirvana. They were good dancing songs.

Philippe gave me the finger.

I returned the favor, for I was ready to party along the St. Johns. The meteor lake was for another day or year. I ordered tequilas and told the bartender about Rick’s mistaking Philippe for a woman. The logger bought another round and announced, “I’m not gay.”

“Only blind.” I tossed down the tequila.

“Being blind helps when you’re mating with swampdonkeys.”

“Drunk too for mating with a moose like you.” A woman shouted an inch from my ear. She had a nice smile. “But not the prettiest girl in Maine.

She pointed to Philippe.

He was dancing with a fat woman. Her face was glowing red. She was happy to have a stranger in her arms. I squinted to see if she was Cathy Bates. There was no resemblance and I returned to my beer. None of the woman at the Moose Bar asked me to dance.

I wasn’t their type, but I was good with that, for Fort Kent’s dead of winter was 2200 miles from Miami Beach and I didn’t see anything wrong with humming WHITE CHRISTMAS, for tonight promised that tomorrow would dawn on a good day for sledding, both for me and the prettiest girl in Maine.

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