My Bronson period

WHEN I announced to my parents that I wanted to buy a motorcycle, the decision was not No. 1 on the hit parade. ``You don't want to be a biker,'' people said. ``Look at all those movies about them.''

I nodded agreement. I saw many zoom-zoom sagas. There was noise, violence, mayhem, and awful acting.

But there was a little urge in me that wanted to learn how to ride.

Then there was a quiet, somber, wholesome, made-for-television movie called ``Then Came Bronson.'' Michael Parks played a reporter who quit his job, mounted a Harley, and traveled around America looking for his piece of the world. Bonnie Bedelia was a runaway bride who didn't want to settle down yet. They met, liked each other, and roamed the country in search of good deeds to perform.

My decision to be a rider was cemented.

Through most of the 1970s I roamed Florida on two wheels. I met no run-away brides but I understood how Bronson must have felt. There is a bit of the cowboy and pioneer in a person who explores unfamiliar territory on a motorcycle. A rider can see two Floridas: the new, with condominiums, golf courses, and pools. Then there is the old Florida.

Wood frame houses have tin roofs. Cowboys herd cattle on horseback. Migrant laborers cut sugar cane for the Clewiston mill.

Roadside stands sell tomatoes, corn, oranges, and watermelon. On the rivers are bait shacks with the words ``crickets,'' ``worms,'' and ``nightcrawlers'' painted on them.

Bumblebees in Florida are enormous. One found its way into my helmet while I was riding to Disney World. A bee in the helmet causes strange behavior. Shaking the head and banging the helmet are NOT the thing to do.

But there was beauty. Flamingoes, giant turtles, birds, porpoises. Florida has a unique primitive loveliness about it.

My parents came from the north to visit. They invited me to their hotel room on Longboat Key for dinner. The manager of the hotel was not keen on having a rider come for any reason, dinner or no dinner. When I arrived, she phoned the sheriff.

I tapped on the window to see if the folks were home. They were shopping. I turned around, and there was a deputy sheriff. The hotel manager stood beside him, arms folded. The I-told-you-so look was on her face. The deputy looked like a film star - drill-sergeant hat, rugged face, crew cut, and mirror sunglasses.

Questions followed. Politeness is important when talking to sheriffs. Motorcyclists have to pour it on heavily. My parents returned from shopping just in time to resolve the difficulty. The hotel manager was sad to learn I was not an outlaw.

After several years, the Bronson period ended. Progress often sneaks up on a person and forces him or her to change. My unspeakable apartment became a house. The motorcycle became a sedan. Bronson rode away into the television sunset. I became a suburbanite who commuted to work.

The sheriff calls me mister.

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