Ricky Harpole column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eastbound from Texas on Harley, Viking wench mounted on ‘Tombstone Taillight

Every so often someone who has listened to my music asks where a particular song came from and I have to admit to having written it myself, based on experience. The people who have known me for any length of time believe this and often chide me, not for lying, but for not telling the whole story.

Well, people, there is of course, a well-known ploy of pulp journalists the world over, known as artistic license which enables us to change a phrase or name or place or date to fit the facts that are more convenient to the story than the truth. We learned this from politicians.

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Sometimes certain portions of a literary masterpiece (such as this one) are altered to protect the innocent, but more often to protect the guilty and avoid lawsuits.

Also, in some instances, there are the statutes of limitations to consider. Confession is good for the soul only after seven years. Writing embarrassing stories about Outlaw Bikers and mothers-in-law and retired Special Services operatives are a whole different ballgame.

The title of the song in question is “Pork ‘N Bean Cans in the Road,” which appears to be a ballad on unrequited love, but is actually about an antique Harley I shared some poignant moments with during my halcyon days of bachelorhood. This elegant machine was almost a half a century old when I salvaged (oops, I meant rescued) her from a collapsed chicken coop on a farm in Oklahoma. I pushed her out of the wreckage and dusted the cobwebs off, addressed the ignition points with my sister’s nail file until I got a spark, drained and filled the tank with aviation fuel and rode her home. (And just about everywhere else.)
I outfitted her with a pair of saddlebags that looked like they had seen service with the pony express and spent the next several years on the roads of 37 states. (I collected those little baby-sized souvenir spoons from tourist traps like they were hunting trophies.)

Now, if you’ve ever wondered why motorcycles got such a reputation for being dangerous, aside from the fact that they are, consider this: A 1942 WLA Harley came factory equipped with a Dead Man throttle, a Rock ‘N Roll clutch, which turned into a suicide clutch if the spring broke, and last of all (literally), a Tombstone Taillight, named because of its shape.

Now, ain’t that something to calm the fears of mothers and insurance adjusters.

To change gears you had to remove your left hand from the handlebars to a lever on the gas tank and “feel” for the next gear. If you missed said gear the engine over-revved and  subsequently created a power surge that normally would blow the headlight out.

This was a minor inconvenience unless it was dark and you were approaching a curve at an unlawful rate of speed. In the spring of 1982 I was coming home from a boat trip and having disembarked at Galveston, was easing across Texas until I found a weekend Biker Rally near Dallas.

A Dallas Scooter Tramp Rally that lasts four days is not calculated to guarantee sobriety or any other attendant skills involved in reattaching a pup tent to an antique Milwaukee Marvel or maintaining a vertical position thereon thereafter.

I was doing the best that I could and making little or no progress until I received aid from an unexpected source. She materialized in the form of a leather clad, Viking-type wench from Val Halla with a question, “Are you heading east?”

I replied “Mississippi.”

She chewed on that awhile and said, “Little Rock would be far enough.”

What I thought would have been too many questions, but I did say (to myself) “Far enough for what? Or more importantly, who?

We continued to pack the scooter.

Any old tramp from the day will tell you that while traveling on a motorcycle of WWII vintage you pack your old leather saddlebags carefully with consideration for the articles that are most important to a successful arrival at journey’s end.

They are: first aid kit for minor misadventures, tool kit for repairs minor and major, spare ammunition (see tool kit for caliber) and portside saddle bag filled with crackers in a tobacco can, five tins of tuna taped together (duct tape, of course) and several cans of pork and beans, Red Bird brand vienna sausages and a prayer book for emergencies.

Texas-Sunday-midday heat, she and I decided, was to be avoided at all costs.

That was a given because she was in heat-unfriendly leather and I was fresh out of the Caribbean sun and dressed accordingly.

That meant a night run.

I haven’t seen but one functional shade tree in Texas in all my travels, so we made do with what we had, which was a Sonic-type canopy at a closed eating establishment populated by snakes, scorpions, and souped-up spiders and, of course, us.

We were at the first Texarkanna exit when a brigade of light-flashing police cars met us (in the westbound lane). That was no problem except they started crossing the median and falling in behind us. I admit, children, I had a nervous moment or two until they started passing us. At the next available ramp we made a high speed exit and stopped and watched the procession pass us by.

I was beginning to wonder if my Bohemian passenger had robbed a bank.

We made a right turn and just then the stitches in that old pony express era saddlebag gave up the ghost and dumped our pork and bean cans, viennas, tuna, and one silver flask of medicinal fluid right there on that Texas highway and as far as I know they are still there.

Better hungry on an open highway than well-fed in a Texas jail.

To this day  don’t know if there was a bank robbery or kidnapping in progress, but I knew enough to reason out the practicality of the situation.

Ms. Valhala made it safely to Little Rock. She confided that she’d waked up in the wrong tent and got marooned in Dallas. She wanted to see some more country.

Well, I don’t know where she is or what she’d done since but she made Little Rock which is more than can be said for the pork and beans.

Out of gas,
Ricky Harpole
(Contact Harpole at www.facebook.com/harpolive or www.colespointrecords.com)