Tutu takes a ride- Indian Style

My story is simply what happened to me tonight. My life is rewarded in mysterious ways some times. This story is true.

I was unfaithful tonight.

I never knew who she was even afterward. It was a moving experience; I will probably take this feeling with me when I get to the after life. I hope they let us ride our Indian Motorcycles in heaven. I think she hopes so too.

It’s Saturday night in Honolulu. Weather stunning as always, getting dark. When it get’s dark in Hawaii, it get blue-dark blue-dark. You always say things twice in Hawaiian when it really is something special. It cools a bit in the evenings the air next to the ocean get’s thicker and you can feel the Indians engine start to inhale, exhale, start to hum, come to life.

She likes the cold night air. She always runs best alone in the cool Hawaiian night. My bike is a woman. Not my choice I thought an Indian Chief was the epitome of male. She is a beautiful woman with old world feminine and womanly traits. She is 60 years old. Born in 1946, the very first baby boomer. The pride of a nation. At times she’s cranky, and hard to get out the door, doesn’t like the smell of the new fuel you give her, she can be hard to get started and hard to keep focused until she get’s warmed up and hits her stride. Then her head perks up and she shakes her self good and stamps her feet by rattling her chain when I go too slow, wanting to go faster, smoother. She was born to run, it is a crime against nature not to give her the lead and let her stretch out.

When she runs she’s hot. Hot to the touch, crackling hot, she hates waiting, dawdling, poking slow. She was made to sing the highway song. Not lope, chug, clutch or brake, but to run, run hard, run without mercy. She likes to win.

Was this the woman I was unfaithful with? No, you’ll meet her in a bit. I have to tell you why I met her and it starts with Sioux. If a woman could be reincarnated as a motorcycle, it would be Sioux. She can’t get jealous, but she still has to be handled with firm kindness, or she’ll do it her own way. Sometimes she’ll surprise you with just how good she is at her own way. You always have to listen and feel for her feedback.

Every motorcycle has their sounds, their exhaust notes, idles and chain noises. Some grind, some potato, some rip through the air. The Harley, the only bike similar to an Indian, not much more than a copy of the great lineage, has its unique sound. They never could get that engine to run quite right with that V angle. It makes a potato-potato-potato sound. After a while people got used to the off tune and it became an icon of American individuality.

The Indian has a heart beat when she idles. Thumpa thump thump thump, thumpa thump thump thump, a perfect slow rhythm, the same one for making love some say. But when she get’s her head, she makes “THAT NOISE”, that special throaty gulping, more air!, faster, and that brilliant Merlin Rolls-Royce V-12 Mustang Airplane roar, turning fuel into noise to build speed, a sound no other motorcycle or car or airplane can make. It is an Indian coming to its peak of her life-force.

Other motorcycles rip down the highway, whine down the highway, tractor down the highways with ever increasing potatopotatopoto, but the Indian howls like a banshee, a buzz saw of perfect harmonics and motion. Everyone stops to look. Other motorcyclists, police, old ladies and babies, even the jaded punkers. Everyone stops to listen, Everyone can’t help but feel that awesome sound they are experiencing whipping past them in elegance and pure raw power and speed.

Nonetheless. Isn’t that an interesting word. None the less. I was taking Sioux for a leisurely stroll to the beach. She likes the beach and all the admirers; the thick salty air is her favorite. I had parked her and a thin elegant woman with long perfect white hair was sitting nearby on the curb by herself. No possible way to judge her age – 70-80? Women of Hawaii are beautiful and ageless. Composed, head turned just so. Looking at me and my steel pony with its fringe all around. Waiting for her children and grand children to finish parking and come gather her up.

She smiled. I smiled back. Sometimes they will tell you their Dad or Uncle used to have a motorcycle and how it would scare them. But she didn’t. She stood up and walked over to the bike and gently caressed the headlight. Noticing the little Indian headlamp on the fender, “does he light up like they use to?” “Yes”, I said. Light fingers trailing the seat and rail, walking around the bike never losing her touch on it, like a masseuse and her patient.

She began to tell me about her life. A young nurse in World War II. Injured in battle and sent home. Worked as a riveter for an airplane factory in California and met a soldier on leave. Indian was allowed to make motorcycles during the war, when no other vehicles were. The Indian was solid, dependable, fairly cheap and didn’t use a lot of gas. Uncle Sam knew people had to get around. Her man had an Indian very much like this one.

His time with her was precious, they went everywhere on the Indian. Every place, every when, every big band dance, every movie, every picnic. He even taught her to drive it. The seat on the Chief is just an oversized single. It’s called a chummy, and you will be intimate with your partner while there, no matter who sits where, the bike can be driven and someone can be held dearly from front or back. They bonded, loved and he left. He didn’t come home. She found another life, had her children and outlived another wonderful man.

But she still missed “him”. She missed him on his motorcycle. She missed the panic, and thrill, excitement, the love of it all. Her children stood there semi-patient. Come tutu it’s getting dark.

She asked if she could sit on the seat. After that? Hell yes you can sit on the seat. Something made me say something stupid, “do you want to ride?” “Yes”, she said in her quiet voice. Daughters and son in laws in a panic. I said “it’s getting dark maybe tomorrow when it’s nice.” “No” she said, “in the evening when it’s cool and you can smell the night jasmines and feel the wind on your face.”

“Do you remember how?” “I know how to lean, I know how to hang on, I know where to sit.” She said “I know how “cozy” it is – with a gleam!” If I wasn’t already in love with a wonderful lady, I may have fallen in love with this elegant woman. I still didn’t know her name.

I said “you get on first, you remember where your feet go?” She said “all of me sits behind you like a spoon” “how could I forget that?” She got on, her son’s helping her and glaring at me. Where are you taking her? Where would you like to go? Its Kailua beach, maybe we could take a slow circle around Lanikai, a few miles and I’ll bring you back to here. I am sure we can smell the flowers. Perfect. The family runs for the car. They are not going to let us out of their sight. Tutu still has her power. No one is arguing with her. “I will hold on to you like this” as she put her arms loosely around my waist.

She said “I forgot, you have to kick start the motor cycle. I used to help. I was so thin in those days I could stand on the pedal with both feet and jump up and down on it to start the motorcycle. His leg was injured in the war and it hurt, and I loved doing it. But I don’t think I can now.” I was in awe.

I have a secret tutu. I have an electric starter for it. She said, it was about time someone thought of that. Sioux chupped to life and settled down to her heartbeat, I got a squeeze and very, very gently off we went. Funny how you can forget how to drive when you have a lovely woman holding you. I nearly stalled it twice, she never said a word.

We made it over the first hill you could still see the ocean, I turned on Sioux’s headlight and her Indian Lamp on the fender lit up. Her little white nose out there putting out about as much light as that old headlight I am sure. I found a gear that wasn’t too fast or slow, smooth sailing. The squeeze got tighter. No more I hope or I won’t be able to breathe.

We stopped a couple of times to let a train of cars by and to look at the flowers and the houses. She didn’t say much. As we made the turn at the end of the 2 mile loop, trailing a van of family members that finally put their dims on, she put her head on the back of my shoulder. I could feel her sobbing. I stopped the bike, ” are you ok”, “yes, I am happy”. Another squeeze and I took my cue, come on Sioux let’s smell the roses down this part of the road.

“Stop.” she said. We stopped – Sioux’s heart beating a little bit faster for some reason.

“can we DO “that sound”? I thought for a minute. This woman knows “that sound” doesn’t she? She was not a wall flower, but a wounded veteran and in love. “Yes, we can do that sound, but you know what it takes don’t you?” “Yes, I’ll hang on very tight, when you lean forward I will lean with you.” “Tutu, don’t fall off or we’ll never hear the end of this.” I think this is going to shock all of them anyway. She said firmly “please”.

I twisted the timing down into the gutter. The bike would barely idle, that thumpathumpthumpthump became disrhythmic. This is how the engine knows we are going to explode into motion. My heart was pounding I could feel her excitement. I said HANG ON and DON’T LET GO. She laid her head on my back, held me tight and squeezed, her signal. I wrapped the throttle up, timing struggling, thumping, cracking, Sioux shaking to be let loose.

It was a perfect launch. That doesn’t always happen with a hand shifter and foot clutch motorcycle.

Wrenched the throttle open, stomped the clutch, twisted the timing, let off brakes. It is poetry – it is a deadly dance if you do it wrong. When you do it right, it doesn’t lurch, no spinning wheels now wild weaving, the Indian lives for this moment. Pure raw acceleration produced by a pure raw perfect sound that only GOD and INDIAN can make. It makes the hair on your neck stand up, it sends chills up and down your body, it makes you ALIVE. It is terrifying and it is FAST. Speed most people can’t imagine – for a split second time stands completely still.

I am whooping, she is screaming with delight and we move like lightning. The revs peak on the Indians first gear quickly, grab second gear and DO IT AGAIN. More delightful screams. The road is ending we have to haul it down, but why go gently into the night, grab the brakes, hold the front brake like death itself, let the back break loose and skid around. Show off, showing what an Indian can do.

So much laughter. So much panic in the van. Let’s get going before they get out and run over here.

Back over the hill and down to the beach park, I feel a gentle loosening of her hold, a sigh and a small relaxed distance from the full body contact we had held all this time. Someone wiping her tears and straightening her hair, getting her face arranged.

We parked, disembarked, she nearly carried away bodily by family. It all came to a stop. She walked back and held me and gave me the Hawaiian heart felt hug and we touched cheeks. Then she tip toed up and kissed me lightly. A touch, a gesture.

And that was that. Grandkids screaming questions with delight, daughters and sons scolding, a smile from the window, and I was alone as I arrived.

I have been faithful and unfaithful in my life. Maybe this time it won’t count against me.

Steve McLaughlin
Hawaiian 346