Wildgoose Chase Moto Guzzi

General Category => General Discussion => Topic started by: mhershon on June 08, 2021, 10:36:15 AM

Title: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: mhershon on June 08, 2021, 10:36:15 AM

In the summer of ‘64 I was working in a Yamaha-BMW-BSA store in Bloomington, Indiana. I had a girlfriend we’ll call Jenny. Our life together was rough, never sweet, and I can’t after all these years tell you why. Was I an impossible guy...or was Jenny a deeply troubled woman?

We broke up and she went off on a trip. Her family was able to afford to send her overseas, I guess, lucky girl, but when she got to England she found herself intolerably lonely. The phone rang at the little motorcycle shop in Bloomington. It was long distance, and it was for me.

She missed me, she said, and offered to send me a ticket to London, where we’d meet. We’ll buy a motorcycle and ride to Spain, she said, where we’ll spend a few months. At that point I was pretty broke and had hardly been out of the Midwest, so I was thrilled by her offer.

I couldn’t forget that we’d been unable to get along as boy- and girlfriend in small-town Indiana. How were we gonna do in Spain, as perhaps the only English-speakers?

I flew to London. We arranged through a dealer there to take factory delivery of a 500cc Velocette touring model with fairing, a Venom Veeline, in a part of Birmingham called Hall Green. I’d owned two Velos in the US and loved them.

A touring bike then had a more upright seating position than a more sporting model. It might have a more expansive fairing, if indeed it had a fairing. Few bikes came with them. If memory serves, this Velo fairing had small pockets near the grips for incidentals. What luxury!

At that time I would have called myself a Velocette guy, but even having owned a couple of them, my knowledge of Velos generally was scanty. Beyond the manual you got with your bike and the workshop manual you could buy, there wasn’t much you could learn in the States about Velocettes. There certainly was no cult of lovers of big single-cylinder street bikes. No online owners forum. No online.

I suspect, nearly 55 years later, that I loved them because no one else had one or in most cases had ever seen one. A genuine enthusiast British bike made me look like a genuine enthusiast. I’m sorry if I disappoint you.

While we waited for the factory to start on our bike, the dealer, L. Stevens, loaned us an LE Velocette, a little 200cc water-cooled opposed twin, the model that local police forces used. I had to learn to ride on the “wrong” side of the road on a hand-shift three-speed motorbike.

Jenny and I rode to the fabled Ace Cafe, where we parked among the cafe racers. Didn’t seem to matter what we’d ridden to the Ace -- everyone was welcoming and nice. Not nearly as intimidating as they looked in all that studded black leather.

At the Velocette factory, I was asked to meet briefly with Bertie Goodman, who ran the place. I was told that I was the first Yank since the war to visit there. A fellow named Lou Branch imported Velos into southern California, but my impression was that he hadn’t been to the factory. Transatlantic travel was for rich people then, I’d say.

Goodman asked me what Velocette could do to sell more bikes in the States. I told him I didn’t see many street singles at home, that we Americans were more interested in big-power twins, bikes with (gulp) 50 formidable horsepower. I was so green, having been riding for two years at that point, I may have thought that was news to him.

As I think about all that today, the overseas travel, the buying of a brand new Velo, watching it travel along the assembly line at Hall Green, the riding off on it two-up through three countries, all totally unfamiliar… I can’t believe I did any of it. But...I did. We did, Jenny and I. 

Somewhere en route to Spain, I made a mistake and pressed the button to sound the Velo’s horn. That brought to an end the operation of the bike’s lighting system. The lovely Velo ran fine thanks to the magneto but henceforth had no lights, not even a brake light, not that such failures were surprising.

I’m sure someone savvier than I was could have made the lights work, but I was never able to do so on any of my Velos, whose Miller electrics made Lucas stuff look just goddamn brilliant.

In Spain, the locals were fascinated by the faired Velocette, so much bigger and more powerful than their tiny, smoky two-strokes. I’m sure they thought we were rich, carefree Yanks, traveling so far on that fire-breathing black bike. They were astounded: 500ccs!

I don’t remember how we carried our stuff. I’m sure the bike had a luggage rack and maybe we had throw-over saddlebags. We had nothing like modern luggage accommodation. Need I say that Jenny was a trouper, a woman who would hang in there, rain, cold...whatever.

We rode to Spain’s east coast, to a town called Denia, between Valencia and Alicante. We found a villa close to the beach and stayed there two and a half months, about 75 days, a few of them happy. I don’t remember meeting any other Americans there.

While we were in Denia, Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater for president, not that Johnson’s victory did much to cheer us.

There we were in idyllic, beachfront Spain, and we fought all the time. I’m sure we looked like lovers, but we were not. We’d left our familiar Indiana surroundings and taken our feuding selves with us. Terrible waste. We couldn’t sit down to dinner without a fight. Raised voices, coarse accusations.

It grew steadily worse until I had to leave. I had a few dollars, enough to buy a plane ticket home. The motorcycle was a problem. There was an air freight strike, so we had to send the bike back to the States by boat. We rode it to Gibraltar, turned it over to a shipping outfit and got an approximate arrival date at a NY harbor.

Weeks or months after I got home I rode a Greyhound bus to New York and took possession of the bike at the dock. I rode it home to Bloomington, about 750 miles away. In a small town in the east, I was stopped by a local cop for riding with a British plate and international insurance.

He and his fellow officers put me in a cell and interviewed me a few times about how all that came about. In the morning, they released me and asked me firmly not to return to their town. For 54 years I have dutifully complied with their request.

Back in Bloomington, Jenny, who’d returned shortly after I did, requested that I sell the Velocette and turn the proceeds over to her. I sold it to a friend who may still have it, for all I know or can discover. You can’t find everyone via the internet, as you may be aware.

Not much later, she bought a single-carb Triumph 650 twin, a blue one, a lovely motorcycle. One evening I was out on a ride on my friend’s CB77 Honda, called a Super Hawk in the US. I saw Jenny in Spencer, an even smaller town maybe 25 miles from Bloomington.

There was a straightish, newish highway from Spencer to Bloomington, and there was the old road, not straight at all. And dark as hell under the trees.

I watched her start back to Bloomington on the highway. I decided, stupidly adolescent as I surely was, that I would beat her back to town -- for whatever that would be worth. Maybe I have never ridden faster or taken more chances - on that borrowed Honda with its marginal headlight.

I reached our part of town a few minutes before she did...but, remember, only one of us was racing. I don’t know what I could have been trying to prove...to myself or to her. She may never have realized that I’d been in Spencer. Certainly she wouldn’t have cared who got home first...

I’ve said that I could never puzzle out why Jenny and I could not coexist peacefully. I wanted to blame someone, I guess, even if it was me. When I’d talk with old friends from Bloomington, I’d ask about her. She had become a feminist figurehead there, was the story, the first woman bus driver in town and then a pick-and-shovel city worker.

I learned that she’d decided to live her life with women, certainly not with men like me. You can imagine how I felt on hearing that. Was I part of souring her on men...or a sad witness to the process?

In the mid-seventies, I rode my R75/5 back to Bloomington from my home in California and called her. I asked her if we could meet for long enough so I could apologize if she felt I had treated her badly. She hesitated, then said, why not, come by the house, and gave me the address.

When I went there, another woman, not Jenny, responded to my knock. That woman looked out at me through the curtain and the glass in the door. She never opened the door but I could hear her tell me I was not welcome there. Go away, she said.

For 40-odd years I have dutifully complied with her request.

Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: bigbikerrick on June 08, 2021, 11:41:34 AM
Wow, Interesting story... All I can say is ,its a good thing you didnt marry her!  :thewife: :thewife: Sometimes no matter how hard we try, you just cant get oil and water to mix together!  :grin:
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: sdcr on June 08, 2021, 01:21:49 PM
Interesting story. I admit to having a few “ relationships” like that, but, not a story worth telling.
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: jwinwi on June 08, 2021, 03:04:22 PM
Quite an adventure! Betting that you'd regret having not made the trip, even if it didn't have a fairy tale ending...
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: Guzzistajohn on June 08, 2021, 03:44:23 PM
You think Jenny decided to "play for the other team?"
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: greer on June 09, 2021, 05:09:25 AM
Whoa, that's a heck of a story in a story, thank you.  I hate she stood you up, that bit of closure might have been a good thing.  But you have all the answers you need, anyway.  Thanks again for sharing with us.

Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: Scout63 on June 09, 2021, 06:33:54 AM
Absolutely wonderful story.  Reading it was like peeling an onion.  Thanks again.
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: wymple on June 10, 2021, 02:44:04 PM
Interesting about the Velocette 500. My nephew was working on an old woman's roof, and one day rode his old Triumph to the job. She said her late husband had one like it in the garage. So he took a look and it was a Velocette, and the desired 500,  rare in this country, with street equipment, headlight nacelle, lights, etc. I think it was a 68. He told her he knew nothing about them, but there would most certainly be clubs or something that would have interested people. She could not care less, she wanted it gone. The trans had a problem, the husband took it off & never got it back on. She put a 50 dollar take it away price on it with a clean title. He sold it a week later to a well known international bike dealer in Atlantic, Iowa, Baxter Cycles, who messed with all kinds of odd stuff. Lots of military bikes, etc. He gave him 1800 bucks for it, sight unseen. When we delivered it he gave us a tour. He had a Dunstall Norton, a John Player Norton, a 750 Rickman Honda, even an old XKE Jag in silver.
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: kingoffleece on June 11, 2021, 08:54:11 AM
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: yogidozer on June 11, 2021, 11:52:11 AM
Partway through your story, I was thinking it might end up like a Dateline show.
A body was found floating in a river 😬
Title: Re: Story of the Week, June 8th: 1964
Post by: mhershon on June 11, 2021, 06:09:09 PM
I found that story floating in a river! It was written on the blank pages at the front and back of a Velocette Workshop Manual stamped Baxter Cycles. The manual had been sealed in a Ziplock bag, perhaps years earlier, but still smelled faintly of onions. At the end of the story was a note that said, For a Good Time (but no closure) call 867-5309...