There she sits, in all her stark glory. A shimmering image in black, waiting in the shadows to be noticed by a friend or any stranger. Her beauty is not a thing of youth, but of decades and generations of full living. Whenever my fingers caress her, I am reminded of life and what it means to be living. I have dubbed her “The Inglorious Basterd” because of where she came from, what she is made of, and I think it sounds right to my ears. My relationship with her is a trying undertaking, a constant struggle to find the middle ground that makes us both happy. She is a part of my family, and she is a motorcycle.
This beast came into my life when I was 11 years old. In 1970, my old man picked up an old scooter for 200 bucks. Money was tight, and here was this 1948 Indian Motorcycle waiting for an owner. It had been chopped down to the barest of bones. A Harley Sportster front end from the ‘60’s had been thrown on to make it look like a mean chopper. No speedo, no front brakes, and not even a kickstand. With a three-speed hand shifter and a foot clutch, this thing used to get looks even in the ‘70s. Moses (Daddy Dick) would come see me play football in junior high and have to lean it against a light pole. I have a photo of me riding it at the age of 16, my long curly locks and bell-bottom jeans blowin’ in the wind. In 1980, my infant son nestled with his proud grandpa on that chopper in one of my favorite captured images. It was always a struggle to keep that old machine running, and Moses claimed he had permanent damage to his leg from kick starting it for 40 years. When he died abruptly, early in 2010, it was the only material possession he had expressly written into his will. He wanted me, orders from the grave, to be the new guardian of this creature.
It has been a struggle. I am starting to feel what the old man must have gone through for those 40 years. The beast will run great for a couple of weeks (he used to say “It’s runnin’ like a Honda”), then the next time out I’m pushing it up the driveway. My kicking leg is developing a swollen calf and knee, and I am becoming a reluctant Indian mechanic. Recently, a close friend said I should get rid of her. That is not an option. The struggle is nominal compared to the legacy and memories that surround The Inglorious Basterd. When she is cooperating with my spirit to ride her tearing up the asphalt together, the emotions I feel, no words can describe. Unless some filcher carries her away in the middle of the night, or we die together in a fiery crash, I hope to always be with her. I think my wife understands.
The nature of struggle has been on my mind lately for more reasons than this tale of motorcycling madness. We, the postal workers of this nation, are engaged in an epic struggle to save our venerable institution from privatization or, worse yet, imminent destruction. Our union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, has been carrying on a crusade to activate and educate our members to Save America’s Postal Service.
Many of our members are becoming politically active for the first time in their lives, but so many more are remaining on the sidelines, waiting for other folks to do the grunt work of union struggle. One carrier asked me about the future of the Postal Service, and I gave her a blunt answer. “It depends on how hard we fight for our jobs and demand the Postal Service remain a public institution,” I replied.
“But I don’t want to have to fight to keep my job,” she told me honestly. I have given her petitions to fill out, legislators’ phone numbers to call, flyers on rallies and union meetings, and a variety of other activities to help her save her job. I have not seen her participate in any of these activities. She can not yet find the time for struggle. Woefully, she is in the majority of letter carriers I know. It is said Americans watch five and a half hours of television a day. If that is true, it is pitiful. It may be one of the reasons why the working class is in the shape it’s in. I have listened to people at work able to give sporting events eight hours of their attention on a Sunday, but yet not able to give their union one hour to help save their job.
I have found that throughout my lifetime, whether it is my marriage, family, or job, struggle is inescapable to creating a meaningful existence. We have to fight to be fulfilled. Struggle begets meaning.
In our city of Detroit, the history of the working class struggle weaves a wonderful tapestry. The Metro Detroit AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee recently sponsored a movie night at our letter carrier branch office. We showed a short documentary that featured, amongst other subjects, the last known survivor of the Ford Hunger March. His name was Dave Moore, and he died last year at the age of 97. He recounted the struggle of the Unemployed Councils during the Great Depression and the historic march on the Ford Rouge plant in March 1932. Five marchers were killed and many more injured by the thugs guarding the plant. None of the Ford security was ever charged with a crime for killing those young folks. It was an amazing movie about what the generations before us have sacrificed and taught us about struggle. Yet, during this time of upheaval in the Postal Service, only four letter carriers from my branch joined us that night.
I do have a motorcycle that is in rank contrast to the Inglorious Basterd. I wrote previously about the Great White Steed, and she sits stabled in my garage next to her elder sibling. She is reliable, has never given me a mechanical problem, and has taken us as far as Alaska and back. But I don’t have a true connection with her; and I’ll be trading her in for another version next year. The one that I will never forsake is the beast that gives me the struggle, my lust for life. Every time I kick it, or curse it, or ride it, I think of my old man. He spent decades grappling with her temperamental nature, and now it is my turn. I know it will be well worth the fight. I hope that more of us take the time to fight for what is worth saving.
Bad things happen when good people do nothing.
Happy Holidays, yap at ya next year!
Photo: John Dick rides his 1948 pride and joy. Beverly Roberts, courtesy John Dick