The grit of the past may be needed for the fu­ture

Motorcyclist - - Contents - —Joe Gresh

am i re­ally see­ing this? Some­thing’s not right. He’s mov­ing, but he’s not rid­ing the bike. I mean, he’s not on the mo­tor­cy­cle. It looks as if he’s wran­gling a molt­ing wilde­beest as it rages through dense, rush-hour traf­fic.

I crack the throt­tle to bring the ap­pari­tion nearer. Closer now, flap­ping fur be­comes loose bits of dun-colored shag car­pet peel­ing away from bat­tered body­work. To no one, I shout, “Hell yeah!”

A T-shirt ex­poses tribal skin art, and his hip rests on the wilde­beest’s left haunch. Shoes slide along the pave­ment—he’s ski­ing on as­phalt. He sees me along­side, agog. The wilde­beest gains speed and cuts off a white Chevy Astro van. I see him arc away on an exit ramp, still not sit­ting on the seat, slid­ing along the road.

The last free man on Earth will be a mo­tor­cy­cle stunt rider. Uni­ver­sally young, he ter­ror­izes cit­i­zens and po­lice alike, and I hate him. I hate him be­cause of the danger he is to other road users. I hate him be­cause I’m sure I’ll have to pick up the tab for his in­juries. I hate him be­cause I backed off and throt­tled down.

For all the danger, I still dig get­ting passed by three guys rid­ing wheel­ies at 100 mph. It’s a thrill for me be­cause I’ve packed away my courage, imag­i­na­tion, and raw tal­ent. I traded in crazy adrenalin rushes for Sans­abelt slacks, their elas­tic waist­band pro­vid­ing all-day com­fort. I fol­low the rules, man: Wear ATGATT, watch your six, check your tire pres­sures.

Not so long ago, we were a na­tion of risk-tak­ers rid­ing 5 mil­lion pounds of thrust straight into space. We watched in awe as our col­lec­tive ef­forts hur­tled mankind from sci­ence fic­tion into re­al­ity. Now we’ve be­come so afraid of chance that we no longer al­low any­one to take one. Rus­sia takes us into space while China grinds our steel and feeds our own chicken back to us.

We need cheer­lead­ers for the top of the pyra­mid, so be­fore we call stun­ters ir­re­spon­si­ble we need to re­con­sider. That kid you saw rid­ing back­ward on the gas tank of his mo­tor­cy­cle? That’s the guy who will be pulling you out of a burn­ing build­ing or chas­ing down some lu­natic shoot­ing up a school­yard.

As ir­re­spon­si­ble as stun­ters are, we need them. Gen­er­a­tion X, Y, and Z catch a lot of guff, but I see in some of them echoes of The Great­est Gen­er­a­tion. They’re fear­less and com­posed, they’re go­ing to Mars and be­yond, and they’re march­ing for­ward to the harsh, atonal sounds of death metal.

We need the dan­ger­ous ones in Amer­ica. We need more risk-tak­ers. We need the ones whose blasted eyes shine only when the wilde­beest rages.

Not so long ago, we were a na­tion of risk-tak­ers rid­ing 5 mil­lion pounds of thrust straight into space.”

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