Bikers, Brooks Brothers, and the American Way

Unity in diversity - if we let it.

Ah, Spring, finally – for Florida, we had a pretty long spell of winter-type weather. The daily highs seem to be settling in on the low 80s, finally. Winter was not cold, it never is, but the winter weather this year was more unpleasant than usual. It is time to return to the typical heat and humidity of summer which usually lasts from mid-April ‘til after Thanksgiving.

Last weekend while pulling into the parking lot of our usual lunching place, my attention was drawn to two sets of motorcycles already occupying spaces there. Motorcyclists are frequent patrons of the restaurant these fine spring weekends. But it seemed that there was something out of the ordinary going on here.

Usually on Saturday, the motorcycles that stop by the restaurant on their cruise down the rather scenic two lane thoroughfare make it a point to sit together and have a jovial, all-inclusive time.

This day was somewhat different. The bikes were not parked together. On the left-hand side of the parking lot were three motorcycles of the wannabee persuasion – a Yamaha chopper-like creation, and two big Honda Gold Wing bikes. The other group on the right was two full-dress Harleys. Our antennae popped into position to receive.

As we went into the restaurant, taking our accustomed table near the entrance, a quick scan of the inhabitants of the place caused a burst of laughter which had to be suppressed with difficulty.

Having pulled into the parking lot and having seen the two sets of motorcycles, the mental images could not be stopped. One image was of three couples decked out in their almost new Levi’s brand paraphernalia, stone washed ‘til the fabric was weak and the trademark blue color had become threadbare with white. The other image was of the other group, clad similarly except that their clothes had become worn thin from being worn. It was wannabe versus real.

And so it was. The first group was wearing clothes that were manufactured worn while the other group had actually worn theirs. Correlating the numbers of motorcycles with the numbers at the tables indicated that the stone washed group of six were, indeed, the wannabes.

Occasionally, preconceived notions are on the money. With the exception of the proliferation of do-rags on both male and female bikers, the people sitting at the two different tables were exactly as we had created them mentally. They were even swilling beer noisily and having a pointedly separate pair of wonderful times.

The groups did not relate. They didn’t ignore each other, exactly, because they were trying not to – both of them – acknowledge the existence of the other. On the part of the Harley riders, it was a matter of snobbishness. The Honda/Yamaha bunch had no intention of being seen kowtowing. Harleys have their problems, but they are unabashedly cool, and the wannabe riders were acknowledging it.

The image flashed through our mind of a group of patrons of the same restaurant that had stopped in the previous weekend. These, too, were bikers but they were bicyclists. The paraphernalia was totally different. The snobbishness, however, was akin to the other two groups, except that the bicycle riders seemed to be a good bit older than the motorcyclists.

And there were other differences: Where the motorcyclists wore long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and heavy boots, the bicyclists had race-bred regalia of probably expensive high-tech materials which were crafted to present as little resistance to airflow as possible - shorts and short sleeve tops were the uniform.

The motorcyclists of the Harleys carried no helmets, nor did their helmets stay with the motorcycles. They had none, as it is legal to ride motorcycles bare-headed in Florida.

The H/Y riders dutifully had left their helmets on the seats of their motorcycles. Thinking back a week, the bicyclists had left their ridiculous looking helmets hanging on their handlebars. Wannabes and bicyclists put safety over looks every time.

It was at this point that the whole conjured-up image of these three groups began to come apart. The posturing, the pretentiousness, and the whole phony image-making of their costumes became laughable.

Here is one group who rides a set of motorcycles that was designed in the 1920s, who is willing to put up with the bone-jarring vibration, the moderate to awful handling, the hideous expense, and as a group pretend to like their bikes for the questionable ‘cool’ factor.

Here is a second group who rides seriously modern machines, one of which is patterned around the first group’s bikes to try to absorb some cool.

And here is the third group, mostly over 60, who derive their snob appeal from the ridiculous looking paraphernalia that they wear, and its faux association with bicycle racing.

The skin-tight shirts and shorts have been designed to enhance the performance of the professional bicycling class, where finishes at the end of races covering hundreds of kilometers are measured in split seconds, thus requiring instant energy especially at the very end of the race. The fit, trim wearers of these skin-tight pieces of athletic gear radiate an aura of health and vigor, enhanced by their garb.

The geezer bicyclists have probably never had a finish in which two people made it across the line in the same minute. And the hundreds, nay, thousands, that they spend makes them look ridiculous. The skin-tight athletic gear bags on them in places, and as for the fit – well, skin-tight only looks good on tight skin.

They are all old men, and the testosterone enhanced fitness of their bodies is no more. The few women bicyclists wisely tend to looser clothes.

It’s as if the aficionados of these endeavors (they can’t be called sports) revel in the ludicrousness of their garb. “I ride a motorcycle!” screams one set of clothing. “I, too, ride a motorcycle! Mine might not be as cool as yours, but almost!” yells the second group of clothing. “I don’t ride no stinking motorcycle, I race a bicycle!” screams the third. “And the stuff I wear costs a lot of money!”

These two-wheeled folks are infrequent visitors to our restaurant, and their little foibles can be overlooked in the interest of overall harmony and fellowship. Unlike the regular patrons of the place, the garb of these riders is mostly show.

The regular patrons tend to be working individuals looking for a quick meal during their workweek, or, on weekends, good cheap food. This clientele is not the sort who will pay extra for phony atmosphere or over-priced meals with lots of inedible greenery as garnish.

Our location in the state of Florida, between Orlando and Tampa, has a portion of its population dedicated to the raising and breeding of cattle – a little known fact. These people are genuine ‘cowboys’ – they ride horses and use them to herd cattle.  The only way to tend cattle in herds like theirs is to use a horse, as the land is frequently marshy and impassable on motorized vehicles. Their pickup trucks have torn-up carpets from the spurs they wear.

These cowboys can be seen athwart their mighty steeds, riding through the swamps and hummocks of dry land like it is 1918. On their ranches (farms) little has changed since then except the irrigation pumps spaced a few thousand feet apart.

The ubiquitous accessory of the cowboy is seen with them: no self-respecting cowboy. In Florida or elsewhere, would be caught without his cowboy hat, which they all wear inside and out of our restaurant. And they are all ‘Stetson’ brand. The popular myth that John B Stetson was from Florida stems from the fact that Stetson University is located in Deland, east of Orlando; the Stetson company itself is in Philadelphia.

Another group in our restaurant is the builders of houses in the bedroom-communities to our east (toward Orlando) and our west (toward Tampa). This group has endured the vagaries of the construction business for decades, but is now reaping the benefits of the population pressure that has been growing slowly until now it is beginning to crowd us in. This part of Central Florida is still rural, but not for long.

So, in our restaurant, we see distinct groups, sitting apart, with different intent, and dressed for the activity they pursue. Harley owners, miscellaneous motorcycle riders, bicyclists flaunting themselves, cattle ranchers in their cowboy hats, and builders wearing good-ol-boy baseball caps, are the micro-segments of our restaurant’s clientele.

They distinguish themselves from one another by clues in the way they dress, except for the bicyclists whose choice of garb is seems to be because of its blatant obnoxiousness.

This writer does not conform. We wear Brooks Brothers rugby/golf shirts and boat shoes to annoy everyone else, although we frequently wear a long-sleeved shirt – air conditioned temperatures are usually on the chill side to keep the waitresses happy.

Some days we guffaw; most days we at least get a chuckle or two at the unknowing expense of our fellow customers.  But – take note - we don’t get into fights with them, or even harsh exchanges!  And they don’t with us, or with each other.

That’s the way the differences in America have always been celebrated, and outside of the partisan fever-swamps of Washington D.C. and New York, long may it remain that way!

Thomas Anderson is a multi-state registered architect and an ex-Air Force electronic technician, who is a keen observer of the human condition.  Read other articles by Thomas Anderson or other articles on Partisanship.
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