I was riding to work on a beautiful morning, running a little late as usual. But that meant traffic was mostly cleared out. I like to avoid the freeways on a motorcycle, back roads are quiet and usually more fun anyway.
So it was, I was on Old Atlanta Road that morning. I glanced at my mirror and saw a big cruiser behind me, coming up fast, so I eased over and waved him around. I like to ride my own ride, and let others ride theirs.
He came around me, but slowed so we were side-by-side for a moment. I usually don’t like that, but I made an exception for a gorgeous custom Indian Four. Some people go way overboard on the chrome and billet, but this guy knew where to draw the line and stayed well back from it — the paint did the talking, with a few small bits of chrome as highlights. The frame was painted royal purple. The tank and big skirted fenders were the same color, with green checkers — sounds hideous, but it looked great. Worn leather saddlebags, with no fringes or conchos, completed the look. A serious bike for a serious rider.
And he looked the part. You see posers all the time, but this guy was for real. Sturdy leather boots, jeans, an aviator jacket. The only oddball item was the replica Nazi helmet, and yet it looked right on him. Goggles covered part of his face, but he looked young younger than me.
I gave him a thumbs-up. “Beautiful!” I shouted. He gave me a nod and a smile, then gassed it and rolled on by. The final surprise was, I didn’t get blasted by a three-digit decibel tailpipe. There was a growl, but nothing that would startle a sleeping baby awake or upset an elderly couple. Inline fours are a lot smoother than V-twins anyway.
We rounded a curve, and he opened up some more distance, a little faster than I was comfortable going on this road. As he topped a low hill ahead, his brake light flashed and he put his arm out, palm down — the gesture that means Slow down! Forewarned, I eased off the throttle.
Just over the hill, an SUV had mixed it up with a landscaper, pulling out of a subdivision. Both drivers were standing on the side of the road, jabbering into cell phones and giving each other dirty looks. Their vehicles blocked both lanes, but there was just enough room for a motorcycle to squeeze between the end of the landscaper’s trailer and the ditch. On the other side, the purple Indian was nowhere to be seen. I spent some time wondering how he’d managed to slow down enough to thread that needle; his bike was big and he’d been moving at a pretty good clip. Then I got to work and forgot all about it.
Time went by, and a local pub put on a vintage bike show one weekend. I managed to find some excuse to get out of the house and rode down.
As is so often the case with these shows, it was as much about hobnobbing with fellow riders as it is the rolling sculptures. Some of the bikes were beautiful, some — like the guy who strapped a NOS canister onto the front fender of a Honda Passport — were just quirky and fun. I was admiring a restoration in progress, a 1940 Indian Chief, and the owner stepped out of his truck to say hello.
“It runs pretty good now,” he said. “I know it looks a little shabby yet, but I wanted to make it rideable before I made it pretty.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Um… hey. I was wondering, do you know anyone around here with an Indian Four? You couldn’t miss it, it’s purple with green checkers —”
He got a funny look, and for a moment I thought I’d stepped into something. “Uh… let’s go inside. There’s someone who knows him. He’ll want to hear this.”
He led me to a table where an old man sat, nursing a beer. I tried to recall the guy I’d seen a few months back, and thought there might be some family resemblance. My host whispered something, nodding at me, and one eyebrow cocked up. He motioned us to sit.
“Tell me,” he said, and took a sip of beer.
“Not much to tell. I saw him on Old Atlanta Road one morning, and he warned me about a wreck just over the top of a hill. I don’t have a clue how he didn’t get mixed up in it, he was moving pretty quick.”
“Indian Four, purple with green checkers?” I nodded. “That was my brother, all right.”
“Brother?” I was sure he meant grandson.
“Yup. He was part of the D-Day force. He had a Medal of Honor, but he never talked much about that day. Some things you just aren’t meant to see, hey?
“So he came back. He’d been wounded, but it was the wounds up here —” he tapped his balding skull — “that didn’t heal right. And he was — I guess you young folks call it ‘gay’ these days. Not such a big deal now, but back then you had to hide it. Especially around here. So there was this war hero that wore his skin, and himself hiding inside. He bought that motor-sickle, gave it that outrageous paint job, and just — disappeared.”
“Oh, he’s still around. Out where he’s respected.”
He waved, and a waitress approached. “Let me buy you a beer. It’s good to hear from people who see him. I figure it won’t be a couple years before he comes home and takes me for a ride.”