Sunday, June 01, 2008

Me, In Passing

Garrison Keillor can't stand Rolling Thunder.

I can't stand Garrison Keillor, really.

Somehow a person associates Memorial Day with long moments of silence when you summon up mental images of men huddled together on LSTs and pilots revving up B-24s and infantrymen crouched behind piles of rubble steeling themselves for the next push.
You don’t quite see the connection between that and these fat men with ponytails on Harleys.

That is odd, because people rode Harleys on WW2 battlefields but there were darn few French Impressionists.

It took 20 minutes until a gap appeared and then a mob of us pedestrians flooded across the street and the parade of bikes had to stop for us, and on we went to show our patriotism by looking at exhibits at the Smithsonian or, in my case, hiking around the National Gallery, which, after you’ve watched a few thousand Harleys pass, seems like an outpost of civilization...A work of art can lift you up from the mishmash of life, the weight of the unintelligible world, and vulgarity squats on you like an enormous toad and won’t get off.

For 20 minutes you were exposed to some of the best industrial design on the planet, and felt nothing but annoyance. Sculpture in steel and leather and chrome, a centenarian design improved with computers and increasingly complex and ornate gearing and pipework that increases function without sacrificing elegance. A modern Harley is about the same dimensions as the first to roll out of the factory, but is so much more capable. You can sit on one and cross a continent. You could ponder that, too, that our culture and civilization puts these resources and wealth not into a giant pipe organ or a series of fountains for priests or princes to possess and flaunt, but in a practical machine to carry an average person around the country. But instead your thoughts were on the level of a three-year-old waiting in line for a frogurt. A very ill-mannered and impatient three-year-old.

If anyone cared about the war dead, they could go read David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War or Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945 or any of a hundred other books, and they would get a vision of what it was like to face death for your country, but the bikers riding in formation are more interested in being seen than in learning anything. They are grown men playing soldier, making a great hullaballoo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike.

Or you might talk to the fat men in ponytails. They were in the jungle, many against their will, and had friends who died alongside them there. Being American teens in the 1960s, perhaps they and their friends enjoyed tinkering with bikes before they went to Nam. Now the survivors are old and have the leisure and wealth to take 10 days to ride across this country as their friends can never do again, to honor them.

I am the boatman and maybe you are, too — it is quiet on the water, we lean on the oars, and we are suspended in time, united with every other man, woman and child who ever voyaged afar.

Unless they voyaged on two wheels, apparently.

1 comment:

POW Warrior said...

May he soon find himself at the Pearly Gates greeted by a battalion of Vietnam Era Marines and told to go to HELL!

The POW Warrior