Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 (1973)
After Miami the calendar shows a bit of rest on the political front -- but not for me: I have to come back out to California and ride that goddamn fiendish Vincent Black Shadow again, for the road tests. The original plan was to deal with the beast in my off-hours during the California primary coverage, but serious problems developed.
Ten days before the election -- with McGovern apparently so far ahead that most of the press people were looking for ways to avoid covering the final week -- I drove out to Ventura, a satellite town just north of L.A. in the San Fernando Valley, to pick up the bugger and use it to cover the rest of the primary. Greg Jackson, an ABC correspondent who used to race motorcycles, went along with me. We were both curious about this machine. Chris Bunche, editor of Choppers magazine, said it was so fast and terrible that it made the extremely fast Honda 750 seem like a harmless toy.
This proved to be absolutely true. I rode a factory-demo Honda for a while, just to get the feel of being back on a serious road-runner again . . . and it seemed just fine: very quick, very powerful, very easy in the hands, one-touch electric starter. A very civilized machine, in all, and I might even be tempted to buy one if I didn't have the same gut distaste for Hondas that the American Honda management has for Rolling Stone. They don't like the image. "You meet the nicest people on a Honda," they say -- but according to a letter from American Honda to the Rolling Stone ad manager, none of these nicest people have much stomach for a magazine like the Stone.
Which is probably just as well; because if you're a safe, happy, nice, young Republican you probably don't want to read about things like dope, rock music and politics anyway. You want to stick with Time, and for weekend recreation do a bit of the laid-back street-cruising on your big fast Honda 750. . . maybe burn a Sportster or a Triumph here or there, just for the fun of it: But nothing serious, because when you start that kind of thing you don't meet many nice people.
Jesus! Another tangent, and right up front, this time -- the whole lead, in fact, completely fucked.
But first things first. We were talking about motorcycles. Jackson and I were out there in Ventura f***ing around with a 750 Honda and an experimental prototype of the new Vincent -- a 1000-cc brute that proved to be so awesomely fast that I didn't even have time to get scared of it before I found myself coming up on a highway stoplight at ninety miles an hour and then skidding halfway through the intersection with both wheel-brakes locked.
A genuinely hellish bike. Second gear peaks around 65 -- cruising speed on the freeways -- and third winds out somewhere between 95 and 100. I never got to fourth, which takes you up to 120 or so -- and after that you shift into fifth.
Top speed is 140, more or less, depending on how the thing is tuned -- but there is nowhere in Los Angeles County to run a bike like that. I managed to get it back from Ventura to McGovern's downtown headquarters hotel, staying mainly in second gear, but the vibration almost fused my wrist bones and boiling oil from the breather pipes turned my right foot completely black. Later, when I tried to start it up for another test-run, the backlash from the kick-starter almost broke my leg. For two days afterward I limped around with a golfball-sized blood-bruise in my right arch.
Later in the week I tried the bastard again, but it stalled on a ramp leading up to the Hollywood Freeway and I almost broke my hand when I exploded in a stupid, screaming rage and punched the gas tank. After that I locked it up and left it in the hotel parking lot -- where it sat for many days with a MCGOVERN FOR PRESIDENT tag on the handlebars.
George never mentioned it, and when I suggested to Gary Hart that the Senator might like to take the machine out for a quick test-ride and some photos for the national press, I got almost exactly the same reaction that Mankiewicz laid on me in Florida when I suggested that McGovern could pick up a million or so votes by inviting the wire-service photographers to come out and snap him lounging around on the beach with a can of beer in his hand and wearing my Grateful Dead T-shirt.