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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beauty and the Beast…

Gladys and SnedleyEarlier this week I wheeled Gladys out for our morning cruise in the Valley. As we neared the intersection of Tualco and 203, suddenly there was an overabundance of traffic. A car and a pickup waiting to turn onto the highway; a gravel truck, a “pup” in tow, bearing down on us; a motorcycle turning onto Tualco. My priority, of course, was to keep Gladys out of the grill of that barreling rock truck. Since DOT completed the Tualco/High Rock/203 turn lane project last fall, Gladys and I have precious little shoulder room—and Gladys, bless her, has a tendency to wobble astray.

The truck roars by and I concentrate on the corner traffic. I make the right turn, narrowly missing the left-turning car and truck, and to avoid colliding with the turning motorcycle, I steer Gladys into the oncoming lane. Next thing I know it’s an“After you…No, after you” scenario with the biker. He’s astride a big, black goth-looking ‘cycle, like some machine out of a Batman movie. Its driver, a younger man with a friendly smile, (would that bicyclists smiled that way) and a courteous way about him, motions for me to cross over to his lane. “Shall we race?” he grins. At this challenge The Ripple is at a rare loss for words. Gladys and I racing a motorcycle! We’re hard pressed to pass one of the Spandex crowd! “If you can find a good, steep hill,” I blurt, “we’re on!” “Next time I’ll give you a head start,” the driver laughs. I look down at Gladys and over at the big machine idling alongside and think: “Head start? Give us at least twenty-four hours.” The driver and his ’cycle rumble off at a leisurely pace (strange to use the word “leisurely”in the same sentence with “motorcycle”). As the black machine passes, two things catch my eye: on the gleaming gas tank where I expect to see the familiar Harley Davidson logo is the name “Hell’s Demise”; the second is the “collector” designation on the license plate. Too late: Gladys and I can only watch a good story roll on down the road.

As we continue on, I feel a bit embarrassed by the name of my ride: “Gladys”vs. “Hell’s Demise”…and for a moment consider upgrading her name to something less Pollyanna-like, a touch of “bad girl”… “Blaze,” maybe, or “Foxy," but as we creak on down the road, I dismiss the idea. Gladys, I’m afraid, is a plain Jane; Gladys is, and always will be, just Gladys.

We cross the bridge by Kevin Olson’s place and there squatting in the shade is a big, black motorcycle. I recognize the chrome gear cover and realize I have caught up with my story. Just then the bike’s driver steps out from behind a parked truck. “How fortunate,” I think and squeal to a stop to inquire after “Hell’s Demise.” HD’s owner, a well-spoken fellow by the name of Eric Benshoof, asks the first question. “Let me guess: you want to know which is older, my bike or yours?” Once again The Ripple goes blank; I was prepared to advance my question which had to do with the “collector” printed on the license plate. But Eric’s question is a good one, and I realize I don’t know the answer. On Gladys’s profile (see “Roll on, Columbia, Roll on…,” March 2, 2010) I designated her as “vintage,” but what year I had no idea. I introduce Gladys and tell Eric I’m unsure of her age. “Gladys, meet “Snedley,” says Eric and points to his ‘cycle. I learn Snedley is a 1977 vintage Harley, a  classic “Hog.” We chat for a while about a number of things and I tell Eric about my blog. “Would you pose with Snedley?” I ask. Eric declines. “I couldn’t stand the fame,” he jokes, but he allows Gladys to pose alongside Snedley where she daintily perches next to that bad boy.

It is midday and warming up, so I say good-bye to Eric and Snedley and head for home. As I roll along, I wonder about Gladys: just how old a gal is she? When I reach home, I decide to do a little research. There are several models of the three-speed woman’s Columbia, but none seems to be related to Gladys. I scour her person for a VIN number or other means of identification, but other than the “Tourist 3” on her chain guard, I find nothing (other Columbia 3-speeds say “Columbia Tourist III” on the guard). I decide to contact the Columbia Manufacturing Company in Westfield, Massachusetts, the state and city of Gladys’s birth,

The bicycle manufacturer has a “contact us”button, so I email them as much of Gladys’s specs as I could gather and request any information they can give me about her. The next day I receive a response from Lisa who tells me, “Yes, Columbia did make the Tourist series of bikes in the ‘80’s but discontinued the line in 1991.” I’m not completely satisfied with her answer; Gladys just acts more senior than that. I reply to Lisa with a question about where I might find Gladys’s serial number and also attach a photo in hopes that might help. Again a response: “Look on the endplate where the frame attaches to the rear wheel.” I do and sure enough, though faint and hard to read, I make out the number “52450723.” Another email with Gladys’s VIN yields a brief, but specific answer. “Your bike was made in 1975,” Lisa informs me.

So now Gladys’s secret is out. She is the older woman in Snedley’s life. A little subtraction tells me my little 3-speed is thirty-six years old, but I’m sure if Gladys could talk, she’d say she’s not one day older than twenty-nine!

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