I spent the early part of my Twenties playing in a band with four of my friends, and it defined everything about me. It dictated how I dressed, who I knew, where I went, and ultimately it had a profound effect on my self-image and my sense of worth as an individual. On most weekends we were playing a show, a lot of the time those shows were distances of an hour or more away, so we clunked around in a van, and that was mainly what my social life consisted of. It was constant and it gave me a little ecosystem in which I could meet people and interact with a broader public than which I would normally feel comfortable.
As time rambled on, I got married and was working odd hours, the guys got full time jobs and graduated from college, and the band’s scope lessened more and more. After a while, it was one show locally every month (sometimes longer), until we reached the point that there were no shows, and worse, we weren’t even really seeing each other at all. At most, I could hope to see some of them once a month, and even then we were so distracted with the minutia of traveling and playing that it made little impact in the way of quality time.
Finally, after half a year of ambling on like this, we played a farewell show on a warm September night in a Polish Club where we had played many times before. It was a big event, and it was a fitting goodbye to an era I knew would have to end at some point, whether I liked it or not. After all was said and done, we had earned some extra money for each of us from selling off the remnants of merchandise we had printed, and with the division of that money, we closed the chapter on our lives as the band. We remained friends, but as previously mentioned, time was limited and without the obligation of the band, things as we knew it were slated to change dramatically.
Around this same time, the drummer in the band Dan had just bought a motorcycle, and our guitarist Jay who lived with Dan was considering buying one as well. I too had been thinking about doing the same for some months prior, and after a friend of ours named Kevin bought a bike and I found out our friend and a roommate in the house named Colin had a bike in storage already, my mind was made up. I decided that I was going to use my money from the payout to buy a little vintage bike and customize it, as that is what Dan had done and what Kevin was planning on doing. I felt that I needed something creative to fill my time with the loss of my creative outlet musically, and this seemed like the logical next step.
A bike conveniently fell into my lap because a co-worker of mine just happened to be selling one and was willing to give me a good price for it. It was a little 450cc Honda Nighthawk from the 80’s. When I bought it, I realized my apartment lease didn’t allow me to keep a motorcycle there, so I really had nowhere to store it, something that was especially problematic due to the upcoming winter that was looming heavily just a month or two away. Luckily, Dan, Jay and Colin had a garage where their bikes were to be stored, and they agreed that I could keep it there. I felt badly taking up space at their house, and I was worried I would lose the ambition to fix my bike if it wasn’t in my face constantly, which had me racking my brain about how I was going to make it work fixing it and making it worth the guys while to let me keep it there.
Significantly, as the band was ending, I had been losing touch with Dan the most, mainly because our schedules and significant others made it almost impossible to get a good time for the two of us to do anything. This was perhaps the biggest quandary I was trying to solve, because Dan was a close friend of mine and one that I did not want to become distanced from. The same held true for Jay, and had already happened with Kevin. All three of them were groomsman in my wedding several months before, but besides these big events, I wasn’t sure what the future of our friendships looked like.
I should say that the pickle I found myself in at that time is not a special circumstance that only I had experienced. You get to a point in your twenties when life starts getting more and more demanding, and people are forced to ( or in some cases actively chose to ) grow up and move on to new things. Being someone who doesn’t like change, and who truly cares deeply for his friends, this proverbial crisis bothered me. I wanted the gang to stay together, and I didn’t want things to change no matter how logical or even necessary it was that they would.
My only remedy came in the form of a somewhat goofy idea, which ultimately came as the perfect fix to the guilt of taking up space, the worry about losing interest in my project, and most importantly my fear of drifting too far from my friends. I proposed that we do a “Motorcycle Monday” where on Mondays we get together and we work on our bikes. The main reason was that Monday I had a set schedule, 7am to 4pm, which never changes, so I could guarantee my attendance no matter what. The other reason was that the name was snappy and was reminiscent of internet culture (i.e. Man Crush Mondays or Throwback Thursdays) so that it would be an easy thing to endorse and that would make it more desirable to be a part of.
Dan luckily had nothing that kept him from doing it, and neither did any of the other guys, so once we wrangled the bikes into the garage, we began. The first few weeks were just Dan and I alone plugging away in the garage. It was late summer/ Early Autumn so the nights were nice and temperate. I would bring my dog over, stop and get a sandwich on the way, and we would have a beer or two and just tinker away. It was nice to get some alone time like this with Dan. Years earlier, we would spend Wednesday nights together skateboarding around downtown New Haven where we both went to college and on Sunday nights he would park his car at my house because he didn’t have parking at his dorm and I would drive him across town to his school. Again, we would just shoot the shit, listen to music and goof around. With age and the end of our collegiate careers, that stopped, so being able to do it again was a welcome return to what felt like the good old times.
When it came to motorcycles, I knew nothing, so a lot of the beginning days were just taking things apart to see what things looked like. Kevin started coming down after a few weeks and he was a huge help in orienting me on what things did and why it mattered. He had some limited knowledge of mechanics, but compared to the extremely little I knew, it was like working with the Einstein of motorcycle repair. My relationship with Kevin went back longer than I could remember, and with there being a significant physical distance between our homes after I moved away and us both having responsibilities with work and life, his relationship and mine had taken a dip too. Having him be a part of the process was good for us to have a common goal to work towards and to have mandatory hang out time to bring our friendship back into orbit. After a few weeks of working together, it was like there was no dip at all.
The first thing I did on my bike was clean out my carbs, which I foolishly did by letting them sit overnight in carb cleaner entirely intact. This destroyed my gaskets so I had to order new ones, but in assessing further damage it did reveal that I needed new float needles, so I ordered those too. After putting the carbs back in two different times, I was pretty annoyed, but it taught me about patience and attention to detail. Later, I learned how to change my spark plugs, I learned how the choke worked, and finally I learned how to read an owner’s manual which can be a challenge to someone who has never skimmed through one before.
After a few weeks, I started testing the waters with cosmetic stuff. I threw out the plastic fenders and panels and with an angle grinder I got for Christmas, I cut the frame back to shorten the bike and make it a one seater instead of the huge two person seat that came with it. I stripped the tank and then spray painted it black. After spilling gas on it and instantly ruining the paint, I stripped it again and left it bare so it would look more industrial. I began to learn that you can play around (and actually that you should play around) with a project like this and that playfulness can be equal to or greater than progression.
After a while, Colin bought a second project, a rusty dirt bike he planned on fixing, and then a few weeks later he bought a small Honda for his girlfriend. Colin’s Honda that he bought for his girlfriend was the first motorcycle I ever rode. After weeks of doing the shifting in the air with an imaginary bike and dreaming about riding, Colin was kind enough to let me take a chance at riding his bike. It was ideal, because besides it being the only bike that ran at the time, it was a tiny 200cc which took a lot of the fear out of riding. After a few tries, I found myself feeling totally comfortable and all of the fear of riding simply melted away.
Our friend Mario joined in shortly after that and moved his bike into the garage as well. Then, Dan bought a small vintage dirt bike. All in all, we ended up with 8 bikes, with Colin trying to acquire more every week. As the crew had taken shape, winter hit, and we were forced to work every Monday in a freezing garage with two space heaters that barely made a difference. Despite the cold, we did it every week. Here and there one of us would cancel based on snow, or work obligations, or girlfriends, but most of the time we were there. Even if we didn’t feel like doing anything, we would go and have a beer and hang out.
When you consider it, a small group of men in their Twenties fucking around in a garage on Monday nights doesn’t seem like a big deal, or anything worth writing about, but for me it changed the direction my life was heading in. The band was what I based my self-worth on, and it made me cool, even if only to a small circle in a small fragment of the world. When we ended it, I had choices to make about who I was and who I wanted to be. It tested who my friends were, and whether this small perceived point at near the top of the food chain was just a figment of my ego.
I run a store for a major retailer, and it’s a great job, but after doing it for 7 years alongside the band, I began to feel creatively stagnant. I wasn't sure I wanted to do with my life, and even now I'm constantly on the fence about my future. I went to school to be a teacher, and then changed my mind halfway through and decided to be a writer. Retail really did not utilize either of those two skills, and after getting married and talking about kids, I felt like I needed to figure out what I was doing and what would make me feel whole, or at least a little less starved for answers.
The process of committing to something, even if it was a cheap motorcycle and hanging out in a garage one night a week was profound. I had fallen into many things without thinking about my decisions, and I never committed in earnest to trying to assess or change my way of life to satiate my personal desires. I gained some weight and felt stuck in my body instead of trying to fix it. The control of the state of my bike put a spark in my head and showed me that I had the ability to change things, and that I had control over my life, even if I didn’t like the responsibility of it.
It has been almost 6 months of working on these bikes. We are at 9 bikes total, and as mentioned before, there is always the possibility of more. Jay’s brother bought a bike, and Kevin’s roommate, and we have friends all the time who are considering taking the leap. What was a way to keep busy and not lose friendships, became my favorite part of my week, and it helped to create possibly the tightest group of friends I have the pleasure of knowing to date. My bike isn’t done, but honestly, it might never be finished. Yes, I can get it to start, but parts break and need replacing, and my tastes will likely change and I will want it to look totally different, which will require all of my time and energy to reinvent it.
The hunk of metal I bought and cut up and re worked works nicely as a metaphor for my current 26 year old self. It’s not perfect, and I have learned it probably never will be, but it is mine and I have control over the way it looks and feels. I can adjust things, and sometimes although it can be frustrating and require work, at the end of the day as long as I keep myself surrounded by good friends and a cold beer here and there, something as big and lofty as building a motorcycle, or my identity, isn’t so hard after all.