These Bikers Break The Stereotype
PETERSBURG, VA. — THE outer landscape.The inner landscape. Just a little south of Petersburg, Va., on Route 1, the two landscapes meet here where the three-lane highway is virtually a straight line and rolls through hilly, green forests and small rural towns like Dinwiddie, Dewitt, and McKenney. A late afternoon sun puts an orange-red glow on the softening world. Suddenly the highway is empty. In the rearview mirror, there is not a car behind us as far as time can click. Ahead, for more than a mile, nothing but the stare of black pavement and white lines. We pull over to the side of the road and turn off the engine. After a day of noise, after a week of hurry and search, we listen and feel the two landscapes meet in tranquility. The sounds are birds, wind through the trees, and the low whizzing of insects. Nothing else. As the poet Wallace Stevens wrote, "Now the mind lays by its trouble and considers." In the silence I remember Mauro DePinto, cement pump operator and part-time mailman, standing by his Harley-Davidson motorcycle just outside a Baltimore bar and restaurant on Route 1. Black leather jacket, boots, thick belt, the favorite outer landscape of the hard-drinking outlaw biker were on display. But a different man emerged as we talked while bikers cruised in and out of the parking lot on gleaming, vintage Harleys. I mentioned inner landscape to DePinto, something about reconciling who one is to how one appear to others. 'WE'RE independent riders here," he said, meaning Hells Angels, Pagans, and other organized motorcycle gangs are not welcome. "That guy over there is a policeman," he said, beginning to point at other bikers. "He's a tugboat captain, and he's a plumber." But what about the image of beer-drenched, hard-living bikers? "I stopped drinking years ago," he said. "It was getting stupid to go on. I worry about the intimidation factor nonbikers feel when bikers gather somewhere. But in the 15 years I've been coming to this bar, the worst I've ever seen is an argument. And if I look around here, not a single person I know is on drugs." For most of his life DePinto has lived and worked on Route 1. m a highway boy," he said, meaning the highway has shaped him to some degree. In front of the bar, a biker roared away, the front wheel lifting off the pavement, the machine screaming its power. For 10 seconds the roar stopped all conversation. "That's not necessary," DePinto said. "It's noise pollution." He laughed. "Or maybe I'm sensitive to noise in my advancing age." Then he headed for the inner landscape. "There's so much tension in the world," he said. m a news junkie; I watch the news and read a lot of papers. I think we need to solve our problems here now, and not pour our money into other countries." We walked over to his bike, a 10-year-old, sparkling black and red Harley. It cost $6,000 new and has moderately arched "high-rise" handlebars. "A bike reflects its owner," he said. With the exception of the adhesive bandage on the front fender, DePinto's bike was modest compared with others around it. 'There's a scratch on the fender," he said, straight-faced. m waiting for the paint to grow back." He described the biker's latest "toy run," a meeting of 2,000 bikers who collect toys for underprivileged kids. "Show me one yuppie crowd that does what we do," he said. "Man, I got butterflies when I saw 2,000 bikers coming down the road with toys." In the silence by the side of the road, I try to imagine 2,000 bikers on this stretch of empty Route 1. A line from Wallace Stevens returns: "Do the drummers in black hoods/ Rumble anything out of their drums?" Stretching the point, I'd say, yes, they do. I turn the key. The engine starts and we are on our way again across the outer landscape.