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.
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?
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.
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.
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.