Based on a true story. Summer, 1968
Every summer my best friend, Earl, and I chased the Grand National motorcycle circuit.
Flat Track racing was the most important part of the Grand National Circuit. At speeds that can hit 140 mph on one mile dirt tracks, riders slide into a corner, lean in for a left turn, put weight onto a steel soled shoe used as an outrigger, turn the front wheel to the right to scrub off speed, and slide the rear end of the bike around to face the other way.
This is a ballet of exquisite and infinitely dangerous beauty, often with more than a dozen riders hitting the corner at the same time, three and four wide, rubbing handlebars as they execute the turn. There is nothing remotely like it.
Every year Earl and I rode our bikes from DC to five to ten flat track races. We were young and we worked in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) so we were full of ourselves. We also drank too much. But we were happy drunks. Mostly.
This trip was in August. We were going to the Charity Newsies race at Columbus, Ohio.
Before I-68 was built the quickest route from DC was north on 1-70 which became the Pennsylvania Turnpike heading west and then, south of Pittsburgh, getting off the Turnpike where it was then a straight shot to Columbus through Wheeling, WV, and into Ohio. Not quite 500 miles.
I was on my new 1968 Triumph Bonneville and Earl was on a 1966 Honda CB 450. We left DC around 9 am on Saturday morning and made good time. We hit Wheeling about 4 in the afternoon. We decided to eat in Wheeling. Actually, I decided it. I wanted to do it early and at a place that didn't serve liquor. Earl would drink if it did.
There was a Shoney's Big Boy in Wheeling right off the interstate. As we rode into the parking lot a sign saying "No motorcycles" greeted us. We parked near the door and went in anyway.
When we got into the restaurant we were met by an overweight matronly woman who said, "No motorcyclists are allowed in here."
Earl said, "What do you mean, "No motorcyclists?'
"It's the policy. No motorcyclists.'
"Are you the manager?"
"I'm the head waitress. No motorcyclists."
"Let me speak to the manager."
She sighed and turned and walked to the back of the dining room and disappeared into a hallway. By this time others were entering behind us.
A small, thin middle aged man with no chin and wearing glasses came out to talk to us.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but you will have to leave. Corporate policy is clear. No motorcyclists are allowed."
"Corporate policy? "
"We are a chain of restaurants and no motorcyclists are allowed in any of our establishments."
Earl, usually calm and by nature bemused by life in general turned to me and said, "Let's go. There is a bar and grill across the street."
I'd like to tell you that I was furious about the policy, but the truth was that while I didn't like it at all we ran into it a lot of places. The other truth was that we were still 150 miles from Columbus and I had no intention of riding with Earl after he had three or four Martinis.
"Show him your parking permit, Earl."
Earl turned to me and said, "I don't have any parking permit for here." He could be thick at times. I moved in front of him, got out my wallet and produced my parking permit, said nothing, and handed it to the manager.
The parking permit was plastic laminate with a picture of the White House in the background and bold letters saying "West Wing Motorcycle Parking. Use North Gate." It had an identification picture of me wearing a suit.
Now the truth was that we did not work "in" the White House. We worked next door in the old Executive Office Building. But there was staff parking across from the West Wing Portico on a concrete pad made especially for motorcycles. EOP and White House staff both used it.
The manager looked at the permit and studied it quite a while. Meanwhile the line behind us had become a bunch of hungry, pissed off people. They were hesitant to say anything. They had watched too many biker movies.
The manager handed me back the card and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but the policy is still no motorcyclists."
I said, "Fine. We'll leave, but first I need to use your phone. In private. I need to call long distance and I will reverse the charges."
Seeing this as a way to get us out of the restaurant he said, "Follow me."
Earl said, "I'll wait here."
I went with the manager into his tiny office. He handed the phone to me across his desk. I took it from him, set it down on the desk, dialed "0" and then a number, picked the phone back up and walked away from the desk as far as it would allow, turned my back to him and pushed the button down on the cradle.
"Yes, operator, my name is Monte Canfield. Please reverse the charges." I paused a while. "Hi, Give me Bill Storm's office please." I paused. "How you doing, Cathy? It's Monte. We've run into a little trouble here in Wheeling, West Virginia. Is Bill in?"
I again paused a while and said, "Hi, Bill. Yeah. Got a bit of a problem here, a case of corporate discrimination." Then I explained to the imaginary person on the other end of the line what we had run into. "Wednesday or Thursday? Yes. Got it. I'll tell the Manager. Yes. We will. Thanks. See you Tuesday. Bye."
I handed the phone back to the Manager, who looked a little pale in the gills, and thanked him.
"Who were you talking to?"
"The Secret Service."
"The Secret Service? Why?"
"Well, the President never has liked any kind of discrimination, as you know. And when we run into it we are supposed to report it and the Secret Service takes it from there. They give it to the Justice Department to handle. The FBI will have a man out here Wednesday or Thursday."
Yes. Who do you thinks investigates for the Justice Department?
"Look, we don't want any trouble. Why don't you gentlemen just come on in and eat and we can forget the whole thing."
"Can't do that. You've got a "No Motorcycles" sign out front and you didn't want us in here before I called them. That told me all I needed to know."
I turned and started walking back to the front of the restaurant. The little guy was following me all the way telling me how sorry he was, that it wasn't his fault, he was only following the rules, that it was corporate policy, and getting more upset by the second.
When we got out to the waiting area Earl was sitting there on a bench reading a newspaper.
"Let's go, Earl."
The manager was literally plucking at the sleeve of my leather jacket.
I turned to him, "What?"
I waited a while just staring at him. Finally I leaned down close to him and said, softy, "OK. Look. We'll be back through here on Monday. We'll stop by and see what your 'corporate policy' is by then. If it is different, I'll stop the investigation. OK? But that is the only chance you get."
We walked out the door, got on the bikes, and Earl looked at me and said, "What went on back there?
I wanted him to suffer a bit so I said "Nothing. Let's go."
"I need a drink."
"No, you don't. You don't need a drink until we get to Columbus and get checked in to a room. Then you need a drink. By then I will need one too. We're going to McDonald's."
We went to McDonald's. Then we got on the bikes and rode hard to Columbus, where we got a room at a Holiday Inn.
Earl was pretty cheap otherwise but he always insisted on an upscale motel, with a bar. We checked in, headed for the bar, had a few drinks and a late dinner in the attached restaurant. I ate mine. Earl picked at his while drinking Manhattans.
We had a great time at the race on Sunday; saw the full program which ran from noon well into the evening. The final started about 9 pm. It was some of the best racing in the world.
My favorite, Gary Nixon, National Number One, on a Triumph Bonneville much like mine, won. Beat the field of mostly Harleys. With that win he cinched the National Number One title two years in a row, 1967 and 1968. That was a satisfying feeling for a Triumph junkie like me.
On Monday we headed home. At lunch time we pulled into the Shoney's Big Boy in Wheeling. The sign was gone. We parked near the door, intentionally took our helmets in with us and were ushered to a seat immediately.
I had a tuna salad sandwich with chips. Earl had a salad, a chicken fried steak with home fries and fried okra, and peach pie a la mode for desert along with about four cups of coffee. That boy could pack it away as long as it was early in the day.
For the record, I never ate at a Shoney's Big Boy again. Then again, I never saw a "No Motorcycles" sign outside of one again either.
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