Saga of 1* Part VII : Popeye and the Doctor

So Cmack and I are waiting in Sturgis, South Dakota for Greg and a guy named Mike. This was back in 2009 and our fabled trip to Sturgis would lead me to deciding that, after about 8 years of ‘surviving’, I needed to learn how to ride a motorcycle. But that’s a story you’ve already heard. This story is about learning what funny really is. Mike is funny.

Cmack and I have already had a day to spend together riding the Badlands, seeing the sights and now we’re just waiting to grab a bite and find a room to share with Greg and this “Doctor” he’s bringing along. Doctor Who? Doctor J? It’s gonna be Doctor Gonzo in time, but for now it was just Mike, a guy with a Popeye tattoo, a Suzuki Bandit, and wit like Robin Williams if Robin was crazy and could talk fast. Yeah.
We’d barely met and before we could order our cheeseburgers Mike had already launched into tales of their journey from Athens to Hell and Greg was smiling like Johnny Carson, so proud to have brought us his best friend and the greatest talent we were ever likely to meet. I thought my rides were over populated with interesting people and unusual experiences but I quickly realized I’m a dang shy introvert compared to the personality that just wheelied into my dull life. Story after story, this guy is non-stop, smart as heck and has more stories than, well, more stories than I do and unlike mine, his are all true, i think … they must have been true because 10 years later I told the one about him getting bent over by a Hell’s Angel at a gas station in Nebraska and got it all wrong and here’s his letter to the editor correcting my awful gaff (you’ve seen this but it’s worthy of replaying… and replaying … and…) :

Michael Shapiro, PhD

Director, Behavioral Medicine at Duke Medical School’s Southern Regional Area Health Education Center

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Mental Health Care

To clarify, the “kidnapping” story is actually a murder story:

Just as Greg and I were nearing our destination…and, by the way, as you cross from the eastern border of South Dakota and travel southwest towards Sodom and Gomorrah (I mean, Sturgis), the population of cars dwindles steadily to nothing, while bikes proliferate and eventually become the sole presence on the road…we stopped at an authentic biker bar on the outskirts of that fabled city.  As Greg and I sat on the porch sipping our caramel-macchiatos (double shot, of course, because we’re really tough bikers), up pulls a…how did Mango put it? Oh, yes. A… black harley, with a bearded dude in a black vest and black chaps.  Strapped tenuously to his sissy bar is a package wrapped in what appears to be fragments of trash can liners, bound together with duct tape and baling wire. The package is roughly the shape of a human body, perched on the bike in much the same position as a passenger would be.  Never one to miss an opportunity to shoot my mouth off and make an inappropriate joke that might offend someone and get me killed, I called out, “Hey, is that your mother-in-law?” Without hesitating or batting an eye, with a completely expressionless face (as if casually speaking about the weather or the price of tomatoes at the Piggly Wiggly), the dude coldly replies, “Yeah. I killed the b*itch” (by the way, in case you didn’t know, the “*” is meant to mitigate the force of the swearword. I don’t make spelling errors).  At that point, my testicles receded into my pelvis in fear.  Greg, on the other hand, offered to exchange cell phone numbers so that we could get together with him once we got to Sturgis.  I think Greg was impressed with the guy’s taste in clothes, and his obvious artistic sensibilities.

Now, get to the part where there were “no rooms in the Inn,” so to speak, and C, Mango, Goyo and I seized the opportunity to move into that Honeymoon Suite!!

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That was meeting Mike. The elder, the husband, the dad, the brother, the friend, the funny man; the great fellow traveler and a most generous soul. Dr. Gonzo. How many times have I felt like I was low enough to sit on a kleenex and dangle my legs, head down and heart heavy and give Mike a call and have him put me back together? 

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In 2013 Mike came out and we rode a couple of Triumphs together up to Canada with my Portland boys. Mike was there, cool headed and professional when our friend Bob went into a lefty waaay too hot and nearly killed himself. Mike would lead the rest of the gang all the way back to Portland while we got Bob airlifted to Spokane and to this day the guys here still remember that ride as much for finding a friend in Mike as for nearly losing a friend in Bob. They still talk about the state patrol pulling em all over, too. 

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The following year I rode with Mike and a bunch of you up to Canada again. We went to Ossoyoos and told third grade Uranus jokes to Jack the thousand year old astronomer and looked at sunspots in the daytime and Saturn at night in that observatory of his. I think Mike stayed up all night talking nerd talk with the old guy who didn’t understand how serious Mike was that Star Trek is real science and how an expanding universe proves the existence of God and how worm holes are the way angels entered all the stories in Genesis. Checkmate… atheists.

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That was 2014, the year I fell in love with r90/sixes. The year I rode Greg’s big BMW GT (or whatever it was) out to Denver so he could fly out with Kay and meet Ray and Lesa for a memorable ride to New Mexico. The year Gordon, Mike and Greg met Curt Erickson and spent 40 hours in a parking lot ‘riding like a cop’. The year a young waitress in Chelan would get $100 for telling Lance “you’re my daddy!!!” and the year I’d break my leg goofing off at the Canadian border and learn that Dr. Gonzo is a pharmacy on two wheels and the best friend you’ll ever have in an emergency. 

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But one thing I’ll never forget about 2014 is Mike coming in to check on me after I broke my leg and was depressed and laying down in my room at Whistling Jack’s while everybody else was out having a good time. He came in wearing every hat you can imagine… doctor, brother, friend… and if I could have my way he’d be hanging them next to mine everyday of the week. Lord! Lord,  how I wish we were all next door neighbors.

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Mango, I have found this latest chapter in your ongoing 1* Saga to be absolutely riveting and engaging…mainly because it’s about one of my favorite subjects: me. I absolutely LOVE the unfailingly positive, almost delusional spin you put on each one of us whom you’ve immortalized!  

As I reflect on the Sturgis trip, I remember that, in fact, I had heard the legendary Steve Johnson many times (usually from the pulpit in Atlanta) but had never actually met him face-to-face.  So as we roll into the Black Hills Harley parking lot, here comes this guy, stepping off his Thruxton (if I’m not mistaken), dressed in a sleeveless Indian shirt and white tennis shoes (oh…you may have been wearing pants, too…I dunno.  If so, I apparently wasn’t attracted enough to what I saw to remember what they looked like).  There he was…the man, the myth, the legend.  But the absolutely funniest thing that happened…the most undeniably Mango-ish thing…occurred when we pulled into the town of Aladdin, Wyoming.  We get off our bikes and look at the city limits sign, which read, “Aladdin, Wyoming. Population 17.”  Mango gets off his bike, takes one look at the sign, spreads his arms out wide and says, “I’m gonna meet EVERY one in this town!”  He then proceeds to do so.  This I will never forget, as it is so emblematic of Steve’s character.

I also remember him spending, like, $150 on a Go-Pro camera (if I’m not mistaken), which he affixed to the top of his helmet (if I’m not mistaken) and subsequently lost (forever) within about 5 miles. Whereas losing that amount of dough that quickly would have made a materialistic guy like me very upset, Mango took this in typically pragmatic stride. I don’t know if that was before or after we checked into the Honeymoon Suite (which we snared by hanging around the lobby of that hotel, waiting for someone to cancel or abandon a reservation)…but either way, we were truly bonded as brothers by then. We may even have shared the heart-shaped hot tub in the Honeymoon Suite…if I’m not mistaken.

As for the Portland trip wherein Bob almost lost his life…I remember how, when neither Bob nor Mango showed up at the end of our little run, the group sent me back to do recon.  There I found Mango, at the side of a ditch, comforting Bob while awaiting the helicopter. Mango, usually so carefree and “in the moment,” took immediate charge of the situation, stood by Bob until the helicopter got there, and then rode directly to the hospital.  In fact, he probably beat the helicopter there.  Truly—and I’m not kidding—I was so impressed by Mango’s valor that day. I will never forget how he immediately morphed into a decisive, self-sacrificing leader…which he actually ALWAYS is, but he keeps it hidden for just such an occasion (much like Superman and his Clark Kent persona). 

After Mango put me in charge of leading the group back to Portland (much like the valiant Captain Christopher Pike put the young Cadet James T. Kirk in charge of the Enterprise…but that’s another story), I was DETERMINED not to fail him! My intent was to lead the men safely home, without losing one more soldier.  To my mind, I literally CRAWLED at a snail’s pace (I’m not sure snails actually crawl…but that’s yet another story).  I started worrying that the guys in the group would get aggravated at how SLOW I was going…but I bit my lip and determined to maintain a speed just 1 to 5 miles over the speed limit through Washington. Of course…this was my protest when the Washington cop pulled us over (and everyone in the group threw me under the bus, telling the cop that they were just following that Jewish guy in front). I said, “But officer, I was keeping it less than 5 miles over the limit!”, to which he replied, “In the great state of Washington, a speed limit of 60 means a speed limit of 60!  What part of that don’t you understand?”  Lesson learned. From that day to this, I have never exceeded the speed limit again.  Except a few times.  Or maybe several times.     OK, lots of times.    Anyway, as we’re wiling away the minutes waiting for the cop to check each one of our licenses, I remember Buzz saying, “Hey, officer…you gotta let us go!  The Jewish guy in front is preaching today at 1:00!”  And in fact, we all got to the Portland Church, dusty and ragged, with about 5 minutes to spare before Sunday worship.  I preached in the same Joe Rocket mesh motorcycle pants that I’ve worn for the last 11 years, wearing the same unwashed underwear and T shirt that I’d worn since the start of the trip 5 days earlier.

I shudder to think about the adventure-less life I might have led if I hadn’t started riding with Goyo 12 years ago and then met you crazy guys. I think we can ALL say that life is FAR more interesting with all of us in it! 

Love you guys…

Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the https://portlandchurch.org

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