Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Becoming Easy Rider

I've always had a hankering for motorcycles. I've had many fantasies of riding a Harley-Davidson adorned with buckskin saddlebags, careening across the blue highways of America. I've even visualized what I would wear.

Somewhere above, an orchestra would play, "Born to Be Wild," by Steppenwolf and I would race with the wind to the sound of heavy-metal thunder.

Bikers speak of the feelings of freedom, the sensations of wind and movement, and ownership in a distinct subculture where everyone is a brother. Only those who ride know it. Breaking away from conventional restraints brings the rider to a symbiotic union with the spirit of the open road.

In 1969 I became captivated by the movie "Easy Rider." I attended the premiere in Washington, D.C. It's a story about two social outcasts discovering America on chopped Harleys. Captain America (played by Peter Fonda) and his partner Billy (Dennis Hopper) defined the social ills of the '60s, experiencing the counterculture's involvement in drugs, free love and communal living.

However, the hook of the movie was the image of traveling the endless highways to the music of The Band, The Byrds and Bob Dylan.

When I served in Vietnam, my radio call sign was "Easy Rider." Throughout the jungles and over the radio waves, one could hear, "This is Easy Rider…over!"

In 1974, Robert Pirsig's book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," captured the imagination of four million readers. Within the context of a father/son motorcycle trip across America, Pirsig reflected on the attitude we bring to motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor for the contemplation of life, values and philosophy. A motorcycle is a systematic assemblage of concepts. So is life.

I devoured his book and must have underlined every other sentence. I've read it four times and I have to tell you, I'm as confused as ever.

"A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself," Pirsig wrote.

He just kills me!

Last Saturday was the first time I ever road on a motorcycle. I can't believe it too this long, either! Something always got in the way. College, the Corps, the war, graduate school, climbing, work, family — they were all excuses from following my inclination toward motorcycles. Last week that all changed.

My buddies Lenny Tavera and Mike Naylor picked me up at 07:00 and took me on an E-ticket ride. I road with Naylor; I was in good hands. We joined Tony Carrillo and Big Ray and the rest of the gang in East L.A. I felt like I was in Sam Peckinpah's movie, "The Wild Bunch." I reached for my Colt Dragoon, but I'd left it at home. I was a dead ringer for Captain America, except I wore Erica Tavera's bright pink helmet adorned with yellow butterflies.

The color of the helmet does not define an adventurous nature. It's not the Zen that Easy Rider finds on the back of a motorcycle; it's the Zen he brings there.

We stand in sight of our dreams and many times we never embrace them. Eastern philosophers ask the preverbal question, "Where is the Buddha?" Well, the Buddha is everywhere.

I like to think that life is not a journey to a destination with the intention of arriving safely in one piece, but instead to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil and shouting, "Geronimo!"

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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