Mrs “Flirty Blonde” and her accountant husband used to live at number 27 but they sold up and moved to somewhere up the road with 10 acres and a pond and in their place moved Mr Chernobyl, he was born in the Ukraine and moved here when he was 2 but he is still very Russian in his outlook “We are an anxious people” he once explained to me….well I’d be anxious if I lived in the vicinity of one of the worlds worst environmental disasters!!
Mr Chernobyl retired three years ago at the ripe old age of 28 and it is best not to delve too deep into how he made his money, the answers (as befits an anxious people) are usually vague and cryptic…..phrases like “The old fashioned way” shed no light on the matter as it could mean anything from working hard, running a brothel, protection rackets to black market stockings and petrol coupons.
So a veil is drawn, but with just a slight chink to keep you all thinking, over that one.
Well anyway, apart from putting a 6 foot fence all around the section and installing a Killer-attack-guard-dog, Mr Chernobyl is actually not a bad chap…just a bit anxious.
Mrs Chernobyl, on the other hand, is a happy-go-lucky Cook Islander and has been chums with Mrs J for most of the time they have been living there.
Anyway, one day, there I was (at this point I had not ever spoken to Mr Chernobyl) all alone in the house and the door bell rang.
I opened the door and Mr Chernobyl was standing there, hands in his pockets, looking at his shoes and with a slightly embarrassed air about him….I hoped against hope that our beastly black cat hadn’t savaged his killer-attack-guard-dog (This mutt had once tried to bite my leg off in the early days of its occupancy at number 27 but admittedly I was trying to kick its arse back through its gate after it had escaped) or worse still, Mrs W hadn’t backed over his Harley Davidson…
“Hi Andy? I’m Mr Chernobyl, from next door? Mrs C reckons you know how to fix Harleys’…..”
“Yup, I can do that”
“Only my mate just fixed mine and now it’s making a funny noise”
“Be round as soon as I finish my toast”
So I went round and undid all his mate’s best endeavours and found a whole heap more things to un-fuck-up…which led to a few evenings in his garage, being stared at by his killer-attack-guard-dog, which only responds to commands in Russian…..
After sorting out the primary drive, fixing the indicators, rearranging the rear wheel spacers, performing major surgery on the rear mudguard, re-fitting the exhaust system, stopping the fuel leaks, the air leaks and preventing a major fire in the headlight, I got the thing to a state where it could be re-registered and put back on the road legally (except for the one small detail of Mr Chernobyl not having a driving licence for a motorcycle!!) and one day as we were re-adjusting the mirrors he said:
“What you doing on the 1st December?”
“Not much that I am aware” I replied
“Good…I’ve hired a Harley for you from the Friday night to the Monday morning, you got to come with me on the Hell’s Angels charity run on the Saturday but the rest of the time you can do as you please”
“You can’t do that dude….that costs hundreds of dollars!!”
“Mate” he said “You saved me thousands….and you did a good job”
“But…I did it for the fun of it”
“And now you can have some real fun”
You could have slapped me with a kitten and called me Colin….I was both stunned and stoked!!
So, on the Friday I found myself driving down to Hamilton to pick up a Heritage Softail Classic…which does sound a bit like an expensive hooker but is actually a Harley Davidson, retro styling but with a 1540cc fuel injected V-Twin engine, capable of pulling a house down, repelling the Mongol Hordes, demolishing the Berlin Wall and reducing bored housewives to quivering wanna-be porn stars all at the same time.
In short, the original “Bloke’s Toy”….
All the girls in the Harley shop in Hamilton are gorgeous beyond belief, and all have names ending in “I”, there was Niki, Ami, and Lili and they showed me around the electric blue beast until it got technical with questions like “Where is the fuel tap?” “What is the range in kms from full to reserve?” and other stuff but dressing me up in a leather jacket “This is for well-built guys….should fit you eh mate?” and choosing a crash helmet was accomplished with ease, a tinkling laugh and a twinkle in the eye.
Anyway, I hid my car round the back, hopped onto the beast, fired it up and peeled off out into the afternoon traffic like I had been riding bikes all my life (ha ha…I have!)
Luckily the shop is on the northern edge of Hamilton so the potential of me making an arse of myself on 25 grands worth of Hog in traffic was minimised and I was soon through Ngaurawahia, heading north on highway 1, the exhausts bellowing at the hedgerows and tormenting the grazing cattle with apocalyptic visions of Armageddon.
I grinned like I had just won the lottery, adjusted my sunnies and got used to riding again.
Odd thing was, all the traffic was very nice to me, none of the usual tail-gating or impatient jostling one would expect on a Friday on highway 1….oh no, even the truckies gave me plenty of room, all the other bikers on Japanese motorcycles, kinda slinked by, looking down and all hunched so I wouldn’t see them and rip their heads off.
Even the congested sections of Auckland’s motorway system parted in a way that made me consider naming the bike “Moses” and I went straight round to Mr Chernobyl’s gaff to pose and gibber.
We compared chrome and footrests, poked at things, adjusted the handlebars and arranged to go for a beer later.
Mrs J was already hooked, I had booked a motel with spa-bath for the Sunday night, in Hamilton, and although a bit “we’ll see” about the whole deal, was raring to go by the time I had thundered down the drive and parked up.
Riding down to Muldoon’s bar in Orewa that night to pose and shoot the breeze was great, bopping around the town in the cooling night air, the smells of BBQ’s, mown lawns and restaurant kitchens came flooding into the crash helmet in a way no car can match…we were da boyzz, hard-case free-spirits, whooping and thundering through the evening streets of the Hibiscus Coast….it was like I was 20 again and the last quarter century had merely been a drunken conversation with Mr Biggs, Alex B and the Loughborough crowd…..OMG…..it was a weird, weird night.
The next day put weird into a whole new context, I dug out my dirtiest jeans, my scungiest boots and the Harley T Shirt Mr Biggs had gifted me a couple of years ago….the boy must be psychic!!
Mrs J took pics of me and stroked my shoulders in a way that hasn’t happened since I sold my last Triumph Bonneville and then it was round to number 27 and with a few spanners stuffed into the saddle bags (Mr C trusts my mechanical skills more than I do) we headed off to Albany to meet up with all the other bikers (only American and European bikes allowed, said the posters) I hadn’t been on a large-scale run for years and years, Mr C had been quizzing me big time on all the things he should expect.
“Andy….how are you supposed to behave…can you touch peoples bikes? Is it Ok to talk to people…etc..etc”
“Basic rule mate…..don’t be a wanker and you’ll be fine”
He understood that did Mr Chernobyl…..he knows plenty of wankers it seems….
Throbbing through Silverdale we saw a couple of other Harleys in our mirrors and I felt that twinge in my guts, anticipation and comradeship, we were all strangers, united by the open road and the day’s mission…I had forgotten, during the years of raising kids, paying bills and subverting the system, just how much I love riding motorcycles…big, loud, anti-social motorcycles.
We took the scenic route to Albany, along highway 17, through Dairy Flat and twisting past the Coatesville Riverhead turn off Mr C on his Sportster, me on my Softail.
The last few curves down into Albany were great…and then…..there it was! A large car park, lines of Harleys, gleaming chrome, helmets and jackets hung off the handlebars while their owners went to drink beer and register for the run (well no-one in the whole wide world would be stupid enough to nick anything from here, not today…)
As Mr Chernobyl and I wandered about, more and more bikes arrived, 98% Harleys with a few Moto-Guzzi’s, Ducatis and Triumphs thrown in.
We noted the various gang patches, names I had almost forgotten….Hell’s Angels, Fithy Few, Highway 61, Veterans…it was like a who’s who of biker gangs and I recalled my time as Vice-President of the Satan’s Horsemen with a wry smile….we were lightweights compared to this lot….
But the Hell’s Angels have a corporate arm, called Big Red Machine and every year, Hells’ Angels chapters all over the world donate a lot of money to charity, through events like this, and today we were raising money for the spinal unit at Auckland hospital……and how many corporate lawyers or property developers do that I ask you??
This was a “Poker Run” you pay 20 bucks to register and if you don’t want your arms broken (just kidding) you buy a t shirt for 30 bucks too.
At a given time, all 250 bikes head off round a circuit that takes in 5 pubs (!) you ride in convoy and spend an hour at each pub; you drink beer and collect a card at each stop, “best hand wins a grand”…can’t say fairer than that!!!
The car park was packed by the time the briefing was given, and as people went back to their bikes and fired up, it was exactly like WW2 in a phone box.
We started to form up, a few Hell’s Angels shot off to man the traffic junctions, cops do the main roads and HA
’s do the minor ones, then…on an unseen signal, the cops shut the road and we poured out like a viscous entity, each of us concentrating on finding our way into the pack without knocking anyone over or looking too keen, manning our own little bubble of existence, hand/eye coordination and “shit together” each one of us independent yet part of the entity, a thundering, black and chrome, seething creature, snaking up highway 1, heading for the Riverhead Tavern.
Damn, it was fun! Man, what a buzz! Reminded me of the National Chopper Club runs of the early 80’s..”Yee Haaa” fuck it, I could afford to let my cool slip for a second or three, “in the pack…no-one can hear you scream….”
We took the back roads, twisting and turning, making a noise like the Luftwaffe over Hackney during the blitz, people ran to their gates to gawp and video, cars stopped, jaws dropped, women drooled, men wept and we all got off on the buzz.
All too soon we were at the Riverhead Tavern, where we filled both sides of the road, the car park and half the village.
We drank beer and we drank water, I got the 7 of clubs and Mr Chernobyl the King of Hearts…
We probably had the only standard spec bikes there and Mr C is keen to start customising his 1992 Sportster, so we wandered about gathering ideas for later, an idea for a new tank here, a cool headlight there and some ideas for parts to chrome there….heaven to a couple of petrol-heads like us.
It was screamingly hot, and we were itching to get on the road again, eventually the call came and we agreed that if this was to be the format for the day we would go off for a ride at the next stop as drinking beer and looking at bikes is all good but we were born to ride Mr Chernobyl and me……
The ride to the Kaipara Tavern in Helensville was epic, people were speeding up by now and whereas the pack was moving reasonably slowly, one might be overtaken on a blind bend by some dude on a chrome monster at any time, so vigilance was the order of the day.
But as we arrived in Helensville we started to wonder why there were so many parking cones out and why so many people with balloons and silly hats, surely they aren’t all here for us???
No, there certainly weren’t….the Helensville Santa Parade was scheduled for the same day, same time, and as we snuck into town from the west….the parade was approaching from the east!!! So they all got a 2 for 1 deal they weren’t expecting…choice bro!
Mr C and I pulled into the car park, let it fill up and as the tide of Harley’s eased, we snuck back out and set off to gas up and take the gloriously deserted highway 16 to Wellsford, stretch our Hogs and grab some lunch.
It was a choice ride, swinging through the bends, hooning down the straights and generally misbehaving.
Wellsford was…..Wellsford, it would have trouble being darkest Peru or even Cleethorpes, so it contents itself with being a place where tourists buy petrol, farmers get their tractors serviced and you can buy a pie at any time of day or night (I kid you not).
We idled our way through lunch and then bellowed south to meet up with the pack at Puhoi, arriving just as the last stragglers were parking up.
Amazed at our excellent timing we wandered about, dodging the thick clouds of marijuana smoke and walking confidently through the gaggle of “Filthy Few” who were either guarding the footbridge to the park in order to have the public toilets all to themselves or keeping clear of the Hell’s Angels due to some long-running feud or loss of class.
I needed to use the loos and the pub was packed so I took the obvious choice but got a few looks of the “Is he dead hard or just stupid?” variety and laughed to myself as I noticed that all the local “Ganstas”, the hip-hop crew who normally think they own Puhoi, were hiding under the trees by the river…..
Mr Chernobyl and I were about burnt-out by now but the next section of the route would lead us along Orewa waterfront and we weren’t going to miss that for anything, the busiest area of the day, a place to be seen and seen and seen, everybody was up for it….keen to be spinning them big chrome wheels again.
We formed up and set off, waved through everything by the cops, nothing but bikes ahead and bikes behind, on, on, onward they rode, like the charge of the light brigade, even to the point of having a Russian in front of me but our steeds were iron horses, our weapons hidden and our charge merely one of life, the poker runs have been going for 15years without accident or injury so the sultry pall of death was not riding with us today.
Swooping round the final bend into Orewa and onto the flat, straight road betwixt beach and cafes we all slowed down to bunch up a bit, each junction was held up by Hell’s Angels and the whole town was down by the strip to gawp and we lapped it up!!
People waved, people took pics and everybody was smiling, the sense of show and showmanship, the camaraderie and the appreciative audience spurred us on, each feeding the other in a give and take of spontaneous social bonding, the bad guys were doing good things and the good people had a few minutes to wish they were bad because try as they might, a parade of volunteer youthworkers would never cause a stir like this.
Up the hill, straight through the red light and into Silverdale to the Wade Hotel….”we need some women” Mr C phoned his missus and we headed off back to Orewa to see her, a conversation ensued the upshot of which was that we would go back to get spare crash-helmets and then return for Mrs Chernobyl and her mate, somehow I had been volunteered as her “ride” and she accepted far too quickly for my peace of mind.
But we followed through and after briefing “Scooter Ho” on the niceties of pillion riding “Your head and shoulders stay in line with my head and shoulders, that way we both stay on the bike”.
“Do I hold onto you?”
And she threw her sturdy thighs across the seat, grabbed my sides and it was then I decided we should at least know each others names, this etiquette sorted we followed Mrs and Mrs Chernobyl through Orewa and back to the Wade Hotel, where it was clear the 10 min call had been given.
We briefed the women on what to expect in the pack, fired up our trusty steeds and set off en masse for Albany, following the highway 17 route that we had taken earlier that morning.
I must admit that “Scooter Ho’” deserves 10/10 for being a lo-maintenance passenger, she did it all correctly and as she admitted to having had a bad experience with bikes a few years ago, I took it as easy as the pack would allow and kept it all real for her.
By the time we got Albany she was having so much fun she would have married me on the spot had I been available.
We did beers and chat for an hour at the Albany Pub and as Mr Chernobyl needed feeding again we headed home, feeling cool because we had arrived on our own and were returning with girlies on the back…hah…..gotta take every chance in this world!!
Back at number 27, we dismounted and were going through the winding down protocols, Mrs J, who knew I had been suckered into giving “Scooter Ho’” a ride had a twinge of jealousy and looked out of the bathroom window into next-door’s garden, just at the exact moment a slightly drunk Scooter Ho’ expressed her gratitude for the afternoon’s excitement by wrapping me in a big kissy hug and squeezing me tight……..hmmmm……..try explaining that to the wife!!
Well, I got away with it as Mrs J knows a kissy hug from a passionate embrace and Kiwi women can be a bit forward.
In a day or two I will tell you all about the next day’s road trip where Mrs J and I bugger off to leave the kids to fend for themselves and Mrs J utters the immortal words “Not so much a bike…more of a pet really”…..
We, the undersigned, do hereby consent.....