All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
–The Mamas & the Papas

Thanksgiving is this week, and I have a confession to make, a thankful confession. I think it is time to be honest and forthright about this secret I have kept for decades despite the grief this will cause me from some quarters. Beginning shortly, in approximately a week or so, and continuing without respite until sometime in late March, I will yearn tragically for the state I was born in; I will long for California.

It always happens this time of year heading for Thanksgiving, the leaves have changed and they have mostly fallen, daytime temps fall with them, the sun lays lower on the southern horizon, taking with it all the warmth and life of a summer gone. Invariably, right about the same time, my friends who reside in the Golden State will start tormenting me with pictures of the beaches, their instrument mounted outside air temp indicators, Burns crashing an adventure bike, blasts up twisty roads where the sun always shines, beautiful women, Burns dropping a naked bike in the garage, new offerings from the epicenter of motorcycledom, and exotic food stuffs for lunch I cannot identify. Such is life.

Swimming pools, movie stars: In the ’60s everybody was moving to California, even the Clampetts. Everybody except for us, we were heading east.

Swimming pools, movie stars: In the ’60s everybody was moving to California, even the Clampetts. Everybody except for us, we were heading east.

I have always acted unruffled in the face of Californian taunting. I have ridiculed them in return when not putting on another layer of flannel or checking the thermostat; I have maligned their traffic congestion, their onerous gun laws, their obscene cigarette taxes, their desire to regulate everybody and everything, and their overwhelming obsession with physical fitness and healthy diets. My mere existence is probably illegal in California, but still, when the temps drop and talk turns to Nor’easters, I want to be there.

You can take the boy out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the boy. We moved east when I was a youngster, and we had a few stops here and there, but we eventually landed in Maryland – the parents with their Country Squire and me with my Los Angeles Rams pennant (think white horns and Roman Gabriel).

The Beach Boys belted out tunes advising the world of the inherent superiority of California Girls and Little Honda(s), The Hondells went so far as to name their band after a Honda 305, and I was coming of age where pretty much my only interests were speed and the opposite sex. Algebra was incredibly tedious as was winter. I did what all young men do at that age, back then anyway; I lusted after dirt bikes and skateboarded. The Japanese invasion was in full swing by then, and their bikes flooded our shores, and their Normandy (to torture this metaphor to within an inch of its life) Southern California, home to the Japanese Big Four here in the States.

The names of some of the bikes reflected that and they still do, from the Honda Elsinore with its beautiful polished aluminum tank, to the Yamaha Big Bear – okay, it’s a quad, I know, I know – of more recent vintage. Southern California was the Promised Land and the marketing guys capitalized on that, they still do from time to time. From a purely pragmatic point of view the Big Four setting up shop in Southern California made perfect sense; where else would you ship bikes to from Japan, Philadelphia?

Fueled by monthly infusions of Dirt Bike magazine and bikes like the Honda Elsinore, California seemed like one big off-road playland to us East Coast exiles.

Fueled by monthly infusions of Dirt Bike magazine and bikes like the Honda Elsinore, California seemed like one big off-road playland to us East Coast exiles.

Where the Big Four set up so too did the aftermarket; Yoshimura, Ontario Moto-Tech, Bassani, George Kerker making 4-into-1 pipes in his garage, and an entire aftermarket and tuning industry sprang up. A budding motorcycle magazine industry was growing as well, and their articles and columns couldn’t help but reflect the mountains, deserts, and Pacific coastal roads through which they rode year around. It was the beginning of an entire motorcycle related ecosystem, and it was endemic to Southern California.

I pored over those magazines as a kid from the late ’60s on with visions of a state that was barely a memory in my head and a burning desire to get on a bike and head west until I hit the Pacific. Oddly though I never did, not early on at least. I bought my first street bike and then went in the Army; I traveled a fair amount but never set foot in my native state. I bought another streetbike, got out of the Army, and put my G.I. Bill to work, going to college in Maryland for the in-state tuition break. I worked a couple jobs in between before pursuing an advanced degree. One job in particular contracted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs took me all over the country, but again, I never set foot in California.

Mssr. John Burns, the veritable personification of the erudite Californian motorcyclist, sans bandana. This, my friends, is quite obviously the good life.

Mssr. John Burns, the veritable personification of the erudite Californian motorcyclist, sans bandana. This, my friends, is quite obviously the good life.

And then the strangest thing happened, motorcycles brought California to me in the most circuitous way possible. I left law school in my last semester to take a job with the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). Reasonable people could conclude that I had lost my mind. I could have slept through that last semester, taken the degree, and gone off to work long hours in a Jos. A. Bank suit with the requisite conservative tie and wingtips, leased a BMW 3-series, and married an investment banker and called it a day.

But I had a problem, though I loved the law, I loved bikes more. I didn’t want to carry a leather briefcase around the rest of my life; I wanted to wear leathers until they put me in the ground. At that point in time, I had concentrated more effort on learning turn one at Pocono, getting my expert plate, and dragging knees, than I had studying torts and real property law, and I liked turn one and dragging knees more. So, I followed my heart – it took me to Ohio and the AMA.

Ohio is the antithesis of Southern California; the skies are gray five months out of the year. It is seriously – like Siege of Leningrad seriously – cold in the wintertime. But, working first with the Government Relations Department, and then later for the magazine, American Motorcyclist, I got to travel a great deal. And like everyone else in the industry where would one of my prime destinations be? California. Finally, I would have a chance to see what I had been reading about for years and meet and ride with the people who had told me about it at length through their articles and columns. Thankful? I was the most grateful guy in the continental United States. I still am.

California is a wonderful state, and yes, you can be bundled up in your Aerostich carving corners at altitude in the San Jacinto Mountains in the morning and be overlooking the beach in short sleeves in the afternoon. From Sacramento to San Francisco to LA and San Diego, onward to Palm Desert and the Mohave, it has every terrain, every climate, staggering scenery, and year-around riding. From Hotel Del to Laguna Seca, from the Pacific Coast Highway to the Palomar Mountain Loop, I love the place.

Is that the sun? I think that might be the sun. Hon? Come over here and look at this. I think it’s the sun!

Is that the sun? I think that might be the sun. Hon? Come over here and look at this. I think it’s the sun!

So, there you have it, I said it, and the usual suspects will have a great deal of fun with this I’m sure, particularly come February when I should be put on a snow-bound suicide watch of some sort. I took a roundabout way to finally get out there to see my home state, but that is typical of me. I never go anywhere directly from point A to point B; I wander about. And I’m thankful for that, the more circuitous the route, the more fantastic people you get to meet along the way.

It took awhile, but I got to know my first home. And for that I’m very thankful. I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, and in the spirit of the holiday, ride to live, live to eat!

About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.

  • Old MOron×633.jpg

    Ha ha, fabulous picture.
    To me it looks like he’s singing:

    California is a garden of Eden
    A paradise to live in or see
    But believe it or not
    You won’t find it so hot
    If you ain’t got the do re mi…

    • john burns

      i should know better than to put stuff like this out there shouldn’t I? HAIL BACCHUS GOD OF THE GRAPE!!!

  • howard kelly

    said it before, say it again, guest room requires a bit of advance booking–especially in the months mentioned–but its always open. and remember i spent five winters in wisconsin and 26 in philadelphia, i don’t taunt weather things. i have witnessed the temperature reading on my car dashboard go from a toasty 43 degrees F in my heated garage to -7 in less than one mile of driving. i know the pain. won’t ever go back to it, but i know the pain. and for the record, today i wore a leather jacket to work, not a textile jacket. it was cold this morning.

  • TheSeaward

    Worth the click for the Author’s Bio alone. I can identify, but I don’t need the promise of a plastic trophy to send a bike to the moon. My hamfists can manage that with no exterior motivation.

  • John B.

    Great article Chris. If I had to live in one state and could never leave it would be California. Decades ago and shortly after high school graduation I visited California for the first time, and about two steps onto Zuma beach I couldn’t figure out why people lived elsewhere.

    Law school teaches a person how to think, which can be useful, but there are many paths to that mountaintop. Congrats on having the wherewithal to leave law school to pursue a vocation you love.

    I live in Texas where our governor routinely raids California to bring businesses to Texas. Toyota recently left California for the far-north Dallas suburbs, however, I can’t see motorcycle manufacturers moving here. Austin maybe???

    Companies typically relocate to Texas in the fall to allow California transplants to enjoy familiar weather while they contemplate newfound disposable income and furnish houses only the uber-wealthy can afford in Golden State. Everything’s peaches and cream until late June when temperatures soar and transplants internalize just how far they must travel to find a beach, mountain, or temperatures under 100 F.

    As California continues to hemorrhage jobs to zero income tax states, it has become much more difficult to realize the California dream. Too bad!

  • JMDonald

    From Ohio to Texas to California and back to Texas. I miss California every day. I should have bought an Elsinore back in the 70’s. Oh well.

  • Great article, Chris. California is the best 😉

  • Ken Baer

    As a CA native I agree with all points made. I recently spoke with a couple who relocated from Nashville TN to Mountain View, CA. They said before they moved everyone in TN criticized their decision to move west — esp. to California: High rental cost, whacky politics, high taxes, regulations, restrictions, crowded, dense traffic, etc., but after being here just over two years they both confirmed: “It’s worth it!!!”

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Seriously cold in Ohio? Heh, southerners…