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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Males, Middle Age, and Motorcycles*

Livin' Large! The Author at Deal's Gap.
Photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat April 29, 2008
as "The final frontier:
In midlife, a man's fancy turns to motorcycles"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Spring is a wonderful time of year. The snow has finally gone, the sun is shining warm, and from the budding trees, we can hear the glorious sound of birds, the sounds of their songs reminding us how much they have been missed. If you listen carefully, you’ll also hear another sound of spring. The sound of a husband trying to convince his wife how much he needs a motorcycle.

There are obvious reasons. Economy, price, fun…but make no mistake; for the average middle aged American male, there is another motivation, the roots of which are buried deep within.

Middle-aged men are fighting a losing battle these days. In a society where feminists rage about equality and strength, we’re still called upon to deal with spiders, rodents, and strange noises in the night. We try to treat them with fairness and equality, only to get our heads torn off when we fail to open doors for them. Society denigrates the successful among us, then summarily equates our character with our job descriptions. (Think I’m exaggerating? Eavesdrop on a group of women sometime. When talking about men, one of the first two questions is always: “What does he do?”) Our culture, also obsessed with youth and the appearance of vitality, is ruthless in the effort to push us aside, out of sight. Even our points of view, borne out of decades of facing and defeating adversity, are dismissed as being out of step with the times.

Mainly though, it’s the age thing. We blossomed during the Woodstock era, when it was okay to lead with your glands and a sense of adventure. But then something terrible happened. We grew up. We had children. We acquired mortgages and responsibilities. We lost our hair. Now we find ourselves in our 50’s, squeezed out of the “wanna do’s” of life by the “have to do’s.” Everything hurts, especially in the morning. We find ourselves athletically outdone by the youngsters we used to “school” on the courts or in the fields. We begin to hear ourselves described as “that older guy.”

We feel trapped.

Trapped by the passage of time, and the four walls of circumstance. And the sudden realization that, as Captain Picard once said, “there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” This has been difficult for us. In the 60’s, we swore we would never get old, or if we did get old, we wouldn’t act our advanced age. So now, we find ourselves reaching for that last bit of freedom; of excitement, before the light irrevocably dims forever.

Out of that set of experiences has arisen the visceral desire to reclaim a piece of that youth, by reaching for that magical time machine known as a motorcycle.

Motorcycle ownership demographics have demonstrated an interesting shift over the past 10 years. The median age for a motorcycle owner is now 44. That’s years. For the Harley-Davidson crowd it’s even worse. The median age for them is over 50. Why is it that at the point in our lives when our reflexes have slowed, our eyes have dimmed, and our prostates have….whatever prostates do…have we turned to motorcycles?

Because in those magical moments when we are alone with the road and an unexplored horizon, the years fall away. The burdens and responsibilities are lifted and for a few fleeting moments, we are once again free….and young. We’re no longer victims of circumstance; we are masters of our destiny. We have nowhere to be and all the time in the world to get there.

The timing has become critical as well. From age 55 on, there are a host of medical problems that we will have to face. Arthritis, diabetes, joint problems…cancer. Because of that, we feel the urgency of now! We have to ride today because tomorrow we may no longer be able to.

Yes, there are risks involved. We could be injured. We could even die. But at this point in our lives, death is no longer a far-off possibility. It has become a very real certainty, one we will face in the relative near-term. And deep within the American Male is that desire to face that moment on our own terms. Riding, even if only for a few years, will give us that last piece of self-determination. And freedom.

And that’s well worth whatever risk we could face.
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