Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gathering Speed

The first time I laid eyes on the book Gathering Speed by David A. Braun, I knew I beheld something unusual and maybe even rare. I'd been coasting through general search of motorcycle related books on Amazon.com when I stumbled upon it. As usual, the cover intrigued me the most. At first glance, the photo tells the story of your every day rider out for a jaunt on a stretch of asphalt that's about to get very interesting. But the cover also plunges me into my own memories of strapping whatever I could manage to the pillion by whatever means available and striking out for parts unknown.

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. There's a certain romantic quality to the memories I revisit of my early days of riding -- a place, much like home, impossible to visit again in the same way. Good motorcycle stories, I believe, do just that. Well-told tales reach back through time and retell even our hardships in a manner that reveals the sacred in those stories. The teller as well as those along for the ride experience the thrills, chills, and spills without having to relive the unpleasantness of the actual situation. And let's face it, catastrophe or near there abouts make the best tall tales.

For instance, I'll never forget sweating desperately over the kickstart of my '78 Yamaha as my downstairs neighbor, an enormous, hairy mountain of a woman, bore down on me across the small square of brown grass separating our apartment complex from the street. Stabbing her finger at me and swearing, I vaguely recall urinating into her barbecue grill the previous evening from the second floor balcony. See? That particular motorcycle left me stranded more times than I comfortably care to recall, mostly in uninteresting ways. But throw in a big woman and a drunken stupor and we've got the makings of something special. I digress.

The stories Mr. Braun presents aren't unified in any way that would suggest an overarching theme in this collection. What we have here are a series of vignettes, roughly categorized and irreverently spun, that drop us into crucial moments of the writer's life as a motorcyclist. With softbound covers, the book's width and height measure the same as a periodical. Sprinkled throughout the 198 pages, black and white photos reminiscent of the cover's flavor add a flair to each accompanying tale.

We ride pillion through the author's formative years. We could even stand idly by just outside the door to his garage, watching him sweat and curse his way through a tire change, the curiously addictive scent of fresh rubber mingling with a whiff of old motor oil. We might clutch a cold drink in one hand. I'm fond of Coca-Cola in the old glass bottles myself. Bruce Springsteen's crooning from the radio. So ease a shoulder up against the door frame, sip your beverage slowly, reverently. Hand David that tire iron as we turn a few pages and take a ride on the way-back machine.

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