I once shot a man in Longmont.
This was how my Uncle Al launched into a rather long, complicated story about a transgression that perhaps only another Harley rider would understand. The shooting was revenge and a police chase ensued straight out of the movies. The night ended with him escaping to Aspen to watch the forest fires from a boat in the lake. It’s a wild tale both to be believed and be doubted because it was Uncle Al after all. When it came to Uncle Al, trouble seemed certain. A happy ending did not.
The mystery and legend of Al started young. The family moved often as my grandfather was a career military man. Maybe this allowed him to start over again and again or maybe it just left him isolated, never really setting down roots. When they found themselves in Japan, neither my father nor my uncle fared well. My father escaped back to the states to finish his high school years. My uncle was kicked out of the house after a fight with local boys made the paper, embarrassing my grandfather deeply. It is hard to know what all transpired but I’m sure being homeless in Japan cemented whatever wandering tendencies he had to begin with.
If Uncle Al did one thing, it was wander. Al was a long time aficionado of Harley Davidson Motorcycles. He was never the rich banker type that hauled a Harley around on a trailer to keep it shiny. He was more the ride until I die type. He wore his hair in a long braid and always looked like he needed a shave. It was rare that he wasn’t dressed in his leathers.
My only real memory of him growing up is of his surprising arrival at our house when I was about 7. He took my baton and twirled it every which way. Why does a hippy, Harley rider know how to twirl a girl’s baton remains a mystery but I was dazzled. He made rare appearances in the family life, skipping his own brother’s wedding but showing up out of the blue for my brother’s wedding years later. There were long abscesses that worried my grandmother to tears. Whether he was in jail or simply lost on his bike I can only really speculate because I hardly knew the man.
According to Al and the legend that surrounds him, he was a regular at the Harley rally in Sturgis, SD. It has been said that he is even in the hall of fame. So when I found myself driving by that very museum and self proclaimed hall of fame, there was an understandable pull. I stopped, I turned around but then I kept moving on. While there was some part of me that wanted to know, I didn’t want one more disappointment, one more time he didn’t show up when he said he would. I preferred to keep the story untarnished.
Is it possible to mourn a man dead 6 years that I hardly knew but feel I understand better than ever? I think he would understand this trip better than anyone. He would get it when I say that I don’t know why I have to make this trip but I have to do the trip to understand why. The need to be lost to find out what is worth living for. He is in heaven making hell for the angels but sometimes I imagine him playing hooky, riding shotgun in my car, making sure the next family gypsy doesn't lose her way.
RIP Uncle Al