Summer of ‘91

 By Billy Conover 

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It was the summer of 1991. I had been hitchhiking up and down the West Coast, gutter punk style with red/pinkish pseudo dreads. I was 19 and had just left my squat in Ballard, Washington after recieving a letter from my attorney in Texas stating that the North Richland Hills Police Department settled on my case. The check was waiting for me at my parent’s house in Fort Worth, so I needed to get back to Texas. I had currently been staying with this strange couple I had met, they were a little weird, yet they liked me enough to let me stay at their house. Beggars can’t be choosers. I mentioned to them that I had to get back to Texas, so Ed, the creepy older punk rocker, offered me his car — of course with strings attached. He offered to loan me their vehicle for 48 hours so that I could make it to San Francisco before he would report it stolen — he just wanted the insurance money so that he could get a new car. So, I headed south in the Plymouth Laser and stopped in Portland to visit some friends. 48 hours had long passed, and after staying a day or two too long, as a dumb, irresponsible kid might do, I left back south again down Interstate 5 until I finally reached San Francisco. I had a friend that lived off of Fell and Fillmore named Monique Sailerscox. I doubt that was her real name, but I never questioned it. She worked at a joint called the Lusty Lady, an all nude strip club. Monique was a good person. She was always up for some good conversation, a place to crash, or a blowjob if you wanted it, but was a deeply disturbed individual. The stereotypical type of girl that had been molested by her father and ran away to become a stripper and/or whore. I never dived deep into her personal history. Once the rendezvous with Monique was complete, I parked the car on Fillmore with the keys in the ignition, hoping someone would steal it. After two days of no luck, even with the windows rolled down, still no one took it. I finally just dumped five pounds of sugar in the gas tank in hopes that it would total out the car for Ed. I felt horrible that I didn’t personally see the car get stolen, but I had to catch a plane to DFW.

I arrived in Dallas/Ft. Worth and my parents were ecstatic to see me since I had been roaming the country for a couple years. They only heard from me every couple of months when I’d call them from a payphone — usually asking them for money. Yeah, I was a shitty son. It was so nice sleeping in clean sheets and eating real food. I had been a vegetarian for about 9 months, so I was malnourished and sickly. My mother made me bacon every day and that got me back on track.

I had been arrested a couple years before this. I was at a mall in North Richland Hills — a suburb of Fort Worth — buying some Christmas presents. The mall security was under the assumption I was banned from their mall since I was in some altercation a couple years prior for pointing a toy gun at some of their patrons. Even though I hadn’t been there in years, they still recognized me and called the police. The police officer that arrested me and took me in went overboard, lifted me up by my cuffs behind my back and almost dislocated my shoulders just because he didn’t like the way I looked. He told me he was going to smash my skull in with his maglite. I spent the night in jail because of this, and when I got out I hired the best lawyer I could afford and sued the police department for false arrest. A while later this minor inconvenience bought me a motorcycle that changed my life. 

I cashed the check for $7500, which was a lot back then. They settled for twice that, but my attorney took half. I bought a used 1972 Triumph Bonneville on a used car lot that a friend worked at for a grand. It had 12” over extended fork tubes, a twisted steel sissy bar with a diamond shape at the tip, king/queen seat, and all of the qualities of a poorly done 70’s chopper. It sat at a 45 degree angle cause the steering neck hadn’t been raked.

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I hired my friend Badger, who was a Brit bike mechanic to throw on some stock fork tubes and get rid of the chopper look. I didn’t have to worry about taking the sissy bar off because it flew off on the highway and nearly decapitated a good friend of mine who was riding behind me. After that, everyone was really apprehensive about riding behind me because parts would fly off regularly, such as the kickstand, the rear chain, and various nuts and bolts.

I really wanted to ride to Sturgis. My best friend at the time was recovering from a bad car accident in which his left wrist was broken and a mutual friend of ours had died. He was recovering, but in a bad place. I was trying to talk him into buying a motorcycle with his insurance settlement. He was on the fence until his doctor realized that working a clutch would be very good therapy for his hand. We found him a Honda CB550 Four and bought some camping equipment. Our goal was to make it back to Boulder, Colorado where we spent the previous summer. Before we left, I layed out $5000 on my parents bed to pay them back for all their help over the years. That didn’t leave me with much, but I was used to living off of nothing.

The day we left DFW, I had a black eye and a fat lip cause I had gotten punched in the mouth at an L7 concert the night before. Long story short, the girl I was sleeping with while I was in town didn’t bother to tell me she had a boyfriend until after he hit me. I deserved it, but it would of been nice to have some warning.

Anyways, there’s no better feeling than the wind through your hair and bugs in your teeth while cruising the backroads of Texas. We headed up Highway 287 and passed through small town after small town. In Texas, small towns all have a few things in common: a football stadium that’s nicer than the high school and a Dairy Queen everyone hangs out at if they’re not watching high school football.

 We rode all day and spent the night at the Big Texan Steak House and Motel in Amarillo, but neither of us could risk taking on the 72oz. Steak Challenge. Back then it would cost you $50 if you didn’t finish it in an hour. (It still remains on my bucket list though. I will take that 4 ½ pound steak down before I die!)

We crossed through Clayton and Raton, New Mexico with no problems and started heading north up I-25 through Colorado. Trinidad seemed like a nice place to stay and we set up a nice camp in the State Park. The next morning I fired up my Triumph and something was wrong. I didn’t know much about mechanics at the time, but it seemed like my bike was running on one cylinder. It had no power, but since I was a moron when it came to troubleshooting mechanical and electrical problems, I just kept riding.

I got onto the interstate and could not go faster than 25-30 mph. We’re talking about going up steep inclines in the Rocky Mountains on an interstate at that speed. My friend Ethan was laughing his ass off. He would give me a head start and then catch up with me, laughing about how his Japanese bike was superior, while literally doing circles around me on the shoulder of the freeway!

It took way longer to get to Boulder than I thought it would. I had some mechanic friends in Boulder look at my bike for five minutes just to tell me that I accidentally unplugged one of the coil wires when I was pulling my saddlebags off at the campground. In retrospect, if I wasn’t clueless about electronics, I wouldn’t of had to ride up the shoulder of I-25 at 25-30 mph for hundreds of miles. I felt like an idiot. Every man should know these basic things!

Ethan had to head home after a few weeks in Colorado, but I still wanted to go to Sturgis. Like a stupid 19 year old, I didn’t check the fluids, adjust chains, or check the basic maintenance on the bike, I just went. The bike did well however, it purred through the switchbacks of Wyoming and South Dakota. I distinctly remember looking at my reflection in my chrome headlight and thinking, “You’re the coolest motherfucker that’s ever lived!” There’s an awesome feeling you get when you’re riding across desolate expanses of America. I was alone with my thoughts listening to the motor hum. I didn’t have a care in the world. That is until the sun went down and my headlight started working sporadically going around hairpin turns, but I white knuckled it and I finally made it to Deadwood, SD, just outside of Sturgis.

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I didn’t have much money, just enough for a few t-shirts and gas. There were tents set up everywhere. Vendors lined the streets all over Deadwood and Sturgis. It was late, I had no reservations, and the campgrounds were filled up, so I found a small trail going up a mountainside and I rode my bike up to the top. This trail was difficult for the most hard core off road motorcyclists with modern suspension, but I made it. I set up my camp at the top of the mountain then headed back down to a group of trailers at the base to socialize. I met some great people, bikers from all over the country. They had food trailers, a tattoo trailer, booze trailers, etc. I got hammered with them. Towards the end of the night I noticed a guy shining a flashlight up the cliff where I had set up camp. I asked him, “Whatcha lookin at?” He responded, “See those Coyotes?” I saw some glowing eyes when he shined his flashlight at the mountain. He shined it a little closer to where my tent was and revealed some other set of glowing eyes and said, “That’s a mountain lion!” I about shit my pants. Luckily, I made it back to my camp after a dozen or more beers, riding up the 45 degree rocky angle later that night. I barely made it, but I sat in my tent with my Colt mustang .380 pointed at every strange noise I heard, and I swear I heard the mountain lion outside my tent that night and almost fired. In retrospect, it could of been a squirrel, but that dude with the flashlight got me paranoid.

The next morning I packed my shit up and found a new camping spot off the main road. I headed into town and bought some t-shirts and souvenirs. I hated riding my Triumph around looking like a pack mule so I unloaded everything at my camp and trusted that my neighbors would look after my shit. I spent the day partying in Sturgis, then hit up some sub-par strip clubs in Deadwood. I took some B-stripper for a ride on my bike and visited some roadside bars. I crashed my bike at least once that day in the gravel. I was gone and I had no business being in control of a motor vehicle. After finally losing the stripper (there was no amount of booze I could of drank to make me bring her back to my camp) I was looking for my campsite but couldn’t find it. I finally determined that the place I was looking at was where I set up camp, but nothing was there. It was bizarre. I drunkenly looked through the tall grass where I thought I set my camp up and surprisingly found my Colt Mustang pistol, then I found my bag of weed and my pint of Jack Daniels, that was it! Everything else had been stolen. I figured whoever robbed me wanted me to get drunk and stoned and then shoot myself, but in reality, they probably just emptied out my duffle bag, and the gun was heavy, so it buried itself in the tall grass. The whiskey and weed was probably something they weren’t interested in. Regardless, it sucked! This was everything I owned in the world. I literally lived off my bike at this time and I was now homeless without a sleeping bag, tent, or clothes!

I got back on the road and headed south. My headlight kept cutting out in the pitch black to make my night even worse. I finally got to Custer, SD where Jellystone Park is located. I had very little money so I snuck into the bathroom to warm myself up. It was freezing outside! I passed out on the floor of the bathroom and remember waking up to campers coming in to piss. They looked at me funny, then I just fell asleep again until daylight, where I gathered my things and got back on the road.

 Shit like this seems like a nightmare, and it was at the time, but these are the times that build character. I don’t regret these experiences at all. This was how I wanted to live, and these great experiences vastly outweigh the bad. The bad ones are only bad if you don’t learn from them.

I made countless poor decisions and went on adventures on a whim. I rarely regretted any of them. I got to see America. I met some great people I would’ve never met otherwise, and I think all young people should do the same. Playing it safe just doesn’t make for good stories and I believe the meaning of life is the accumulation of stories and experiences you can pass on to your grandchildren. I see the youth of today spending too much time living vicariously through people they meet on the internet. I want to see them taking more chances, seeing the world first hand and writing their own stories from their experiences. It’s a beautiful country and a beautiful world, but the first step is to get off the couch and experience it.

Next story: Spending my 31st birthday in an opium den in the Golden Triangle.

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Author: Billy Conover

West is the Best4 Comments