For a long while now I have joked about my first Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the Sportster, as the manifestation of my mid-life crisis. This feeling continued into the era of the Heritage Softail and I am increasingly convinced that this is very close to the mark.
In fact, as I look back, I must have been having a succession of mid-life crises for more than 20 years now!
I used to think that the mid-life crisis was exclusively a male thing, but now I’m not so sure. It seems that it the majority of people showing the classic symtoms seem to be men, but I have seen enough women who also do this.
So what are these symptoms?
Essentially, it involves dressing up in some kind of tribal fancy dress.
Some years ago, I had good reason (the love of a good woman, to be precise) to get into the live country music scene in the UK midlands. Now let me make it clear that I have always liked country music on record and CD, especially the rocky end of modern country. (Although I have never been too averse to Dolly Parton or a few other of the more traditional artists – and not entirely for the reasons that jumped straight into your mind). No, my observations were made around a small(ish) circuit of singers, musicians and occasionally bands who would turn up and play covers of American country music, with the occasional bit of original songwriting thrown in that gave the British scene a modicum of originality. It was not these artists who were earning honest fees for their perfomances, but the fans in the audience.
Other than a mid-life crisis, why would otherwise sane adults of a certain age, dress up as cowboys complete with spurs, six guns and stetson hats? It made no difference at all to their enjoyment of the music, but instead gave them a sense of belonging.
Similarly, I was on the outside edge of the Rock and Roll scene for a while in the late seventies and early eighties. Again, it is the the fans who spend a great deal of money, time and effort on dressing the part. I have also been part of the Northern Soul tribe, community radio groups, a canoeing and sailing tribe and I went through Scouts and was, for quite a few years, a scout leader. I’ve done my share of “belonging”
So on to motorbikes, and to the world of Harley-Davidson in particular. Why do I have so many Harley T-shirts, jumpers and other clothes? Why did I wear a leather waistcoat covered in Sherwood Chapter and Harley Owners’ Group patches and why did I ever go to rallies and chapter meetings wearing this kit? After all, my best riding has almost always been with Sue on the back and no-one else on the road. Group riding was just part of the tribal aspect.
There seems to be something of a trend here. The tribe is really about showing that you belong to something. It is also an escape from the everyday grind of life and work into a fantasy world where you can pretend to be a cowboy for the evening, recapture what it might have been like to be a Teddy Boy for a few hours or play at being a “Hells Angel” rebel biker for the weekend before putting on a suit and going back into the office on Monday morning.
In each case, alcohol helps to fuel the fantasies. However, it really doesn’t matter if the cowboy falls over drunk and a pissed-up Teddy boy is little more than a joke, but it is rather more worrying that many of the weekend biker rebels guzzle a dozen pints on Friday night then ride a motorbike on Saturday morning.
Now that I have left the chapter committee and have not (yet) renewed my chapter membership, I am looking dispassionately at this particular tribe and at tribes in general. Does this mean that I am now in a post-mid-life crisis period of my life. If so that’s a bit worrying because after mid-life, I guess, comes old age and I’m nowhere near ready for that yet.
Actually, it’s OK. I still dress up as a guard when I go to play trains volunteer at Peak Rail – I must still be in mid-life. Phew!