50 stories in 50 states.., p.1
50 Stories in 50 States: Tales Inspired by a Motorcycle Journey Across the USA Vol 5, The West,
50 Stories in 50 States: Takes inspired by a motorcycle journey across the USA
Volume 5 - the West
By Kevin B Parsons
Copyright 2014 Kevin B Parsons
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Table of Contents
About the Author
My wife (Quilter Girl) and I embarked on a ‘50 States in 50 Weeks’ motorcycle tour of America, a once-in-a-lifetime dream. We rode across the country on a Honda Gold Wing, towing a pop top tent trailer. During the more mundane sections of the trip (like the rangeland of Wyoming), we talked on the intercoms and came up with short story ideas. Inspired, I wrote a story for every state, which morphed into a five-book series, compiled by regions, with ten states in each volume.
Some of the stories are based on our experiences, some on history, and some probably from indigestion. Warning: these are not necessarily motorcycle stories, nor are they travel stories (although some are), but a look at Americana with each state a background.
We traveled one year straight through, regardless of weather. Washington State gave us an almost continuous barrage of rain, much of Idaho the same. Yet excellent weather in states like California and Utah provided ample opportunity to explore the countryside. Because it rained every day in Hawaii, Quilter Girl passed up myriad rides and stayed in the motel quite a bit. Well, that and burnout, as it was near the end of the adventure.
Enjoy this volume of ‘50 Stories.’
~Kevin B Parsons
Brian Head, Utah
We rode through Napa—wine country—and Calistoga to the north and noticed quite a few differences, some better—some worse. Want to be a big time vineyard, you better operate in Napa. But do all wine tasters have to be Beemer/sweater-tied-around-their-shoulders/Gucci purse people? What if you’re off the beaten track? Big challenge. And who wouldn’t want to stomp grapes?
THE GREAT GRAPE STOMP
“I’m sorry to do this on such short notice.” Alexis raised the screen of her laptop. She settled herself in at the table in the foyer of the hotel. “Deadlines and all. Jonathan asked me to start the interview, as he’d be late. He missed his shuttle from the airport.”
Too bad. I wanted to meet this Jonathan Fray III, the invisible man who visited my vineyard on numerous occasions. A secret shopper or something. His articles sounded like he knew me.
“Not a problem.” I loosened my tie. My winning wine, ‘Broken Spoke,’ received the Best New Vintage award the night before. The name reflected our redneck wine approach and yet for some reason I wore a tie this morning. I should have worn my leather vest and Harley t-shirt.
Alexis flipped her brunette hair back and started a recorder. “You okay if I record this? I usually record and write my impressions while we talk.”
“Sure.” I could sit and talk with Alexis all day. She seemed friendly and honest, and easy on the eyes. Thoughts of my wife stopped me short. My buddy Justin warned me to watch for the nice ones. They disarm you with their personality and slash you to pieces in print. No. Not Alexis. She started with the simple things—spell my name (William Martin, just call me Bill), the name of my winery (Rolling Arbor Vineyard), the date and so forth. She pointed to my ring.
“I see you’re married.”
“Ah… no. I lost my wife three years ago. Cancer.” I twisted the ring on my finger. “I just sort of… can’t let go. You know?”
She nodded. “Wow. I’m sorry. I’m new at this.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “I’m not supposed to be like this. You know?” So much for the heartless journalist.
“Listen, why don’t we go to the bar, okay?”
Her blue eyes searched mine. Did I mean it? “Um, sure.” She packed up her things and we headed to the bar. We had arrived before noon, the place deserted. I steered us to the curve of the bar. We could sit beside one another, yet be able to see each other. The bartender walked up, the question in his eye. “Diet Pepsi for me. And for the lady?” I looked to her.
“Diet… you own a vineyard. Your wine won first place.” She shook her head. “Oh, um, a Bloody Mary please. And a water.”
“I got a DUI once. The level is so low that it doesn’t take much to fail a Breathalyzer.” Oops. “That won’t see print, right? Please?”
“No problem.” We resumed the interview—how it feels to win, if I expected to, what friends and family think, and some technical questions on the wine.
Then Alexis asked, “How did you get started on this crazy adventure?”
“Crazy adventure. Great words,” I said.
“I hope this works,” I mumbled. Being thirty miles north of Napa, we hoped to be far enough away to attract a different crowd than the crystal wineglass bunch. Honey and I sold our computer engineering business in San Francisco four years earlier, took a huge life turn to the country, and purchased this dying vineyard. Honestly, we couldn’t afford anything more. If it were true that real estate is all about ‘location, location, location,’ we would take this ailing farm from life support right into its grave. The Napa crowd doesn’t go north. Still, we figured we’d be different enough to attract an eclectic crowd. We had no idea how different our crowd would be.
After six months of ownership, we’d made enough mistakes to tank the place, but probably were just too stupid to understand the extent of our nosedive. We failed at being different—instead, copying the best vineyards, labeling our bottles with French-looking text and photos, and branding ourselves like any other winery.
A week before we discovered Honey’s cancer we sat at the kitchen table and regrouped. That’s when the idea of the Grape Stomp took place. Enough of the copycat, bland, snarky, ticky-tacky wines and vineyard. We’d go redneck, lowbrow, and reach real people. I still remember Honey’s eyes as the ideas popped that night over numerous bottles of beer (hers) and red wines (mine). Everything cooked that night. We’d call the vineyard ‘Rolling Arbor Vineyard.’ The festival would be called Stomp. Our signature wine would be ‘Toe Crush.’ We drew sketches of label designs on our laptops and laughed all night.
Honey conceived of the statue and I got afraid. How much would it cost to carve a statue of stone? Couldn’t we make it plastic? She insisted it be made with quality materials, yet humorous.
I drove the second little sign into the ground and surveyed my work. ‘Grand Opening’ and ‘Great Grape Stomp.’ The symbol of our gamble stood behind me—a large and low wooden tub—and inside it stood a carved statue of a peasant woman. She looked just like Lucy Ricardo, holding up her skirt and stomping grapes. I wished Honey could see it, give me her honest opinion. I spun the ring on my finger. Did I meet her expectations?
I stood before it, the broom at my side. I’d spent a fortune on it. No changing, n
We met Claire early in the battle, at the cancer institute. The people shared a commonality; a disease bent on killing every patient in the room, while their families held their hands and murmured encouraging words. We sat in the sterile environment and watched the others deteriorate. Was it from the horrible disease that ate the living cells and moved through the organs, or from the poisonous treatment that killed the evil cells and hopefully prevailed over them before destroying the patient? We enjoy tremendous breakthroughs in healthcare and medicine, yet cancer treatment seems the most barbaric method imaginable. Certainly for my Honey, the treatment seemed to just accelerate her condition, as she wasted away and died in four short months. The young girl with eyes lacking any guile walked up to us and stared at Honey.
“Is that your real hair?”
Honey squirmed in the plastic chair. “Yes.”
“Mine’s a wig. I don’t like it. It makes my head hot. But Mom says I should wear it, ’cause it makes people uncomfortable to see me bald.”
“Your mom’s probably right.”
She scratched her head. “It itches, too. Want to see my head without it?”
“If you’d like to do that.”
Claire removed the wig to reveal her bald, white head. I gulped as I watched Honey stare at her future in a person thirty years her junior. We continued to meet Claire once a week, and become friends with a purpose; fighting a disease bent on their deaths. Before long they would compare wigs. Once they traded, and we all had a very uncharacteristic laugh.
“I look like a Martian, don’t I?”
My phone beeped and I peered at Claire’s reply. ‘shes prety whats her name.’
Lucy came to mind. Some Hollywood mogul would probably sue me out of existence.
‘u can name her’
I waited and stared at the phone. Somehow I felt I’d put a heavy burden on this kid, who already had plenty on her plate. Yet her simplicity and wisdom continued to surprise me. I wiped the sweat off my palm. The phone chirped for an incoming text.
‘shes italian rite? how bout maria’
I looked at the smiling woman, her hands holding up her skirts, a silly smile on her face. Of course.
‘maria it is. how r u?’
“Come on, kid.” I stared at the screen. No response, just like every time I inquire about her health. “Well, Maria,” I said to the statue, “perhaps you could make a Novena for Claire.” Have to get her a rosary.
I put the broom over my shoulder and walked up the long gravel driveway. Two hours to go until the Great Grape Stomp. I assembled the team and we went over everyone’s jobs. I got Manuel out of the fields to bartend, doling out samples of wine for the discerning customers. His friendly smile won him the job. Tiffany would waitress, and I would introduce myself, the winery and the wines, then I would take groups for the stomp.
“We want everyone to have fun,” I told the crew, “not just be wine tasters, but to have a great time together.” Good luck on that, with a bartender who could hardly speak English, a book smart college student, and an owner who needed a half a jug of wine to loosen up or he’d develop cramps in his chest.
We’d be fine.
At the appointed time, two cars showed up, each with older couples. They tasted wine but wouldn’t stomp grapes if I put a gun to their heads. They weren’t buying any wine either. I escorted them to the door and waved goodbye. This looked like a big bust. I sighed and headed for the door.
From the highway came a distant rumble. A motorcycle gang paraded up the drive, all black, chrome, and noise. They turned into the gravel parking lot, engines throbbing. The two couples hustled off to their car, the women taking a tighter rein on their purses. I stepped outside to stop any trouble. The bikers shut off the beasts and removed their helmets, gloves, and gear while they bantered with one another.
“Jeez, that gravel was terrible. I thought I was going down.”
“You’re such a baby. Just a little wiggling. You go too slow and you might. Keep your speed up a bit.”
There must have been a dozen of them, sporting ’do rags, leather, and tattoos. A guy with a heavy goatee held out his hand. “I’m Skid Mark.” I shook his hand, using a firm grip and he held on tight for three seconds or so. “These are my friends: Pork Chop, Fuelie, Organ Donor, Bootstrap, Knucklehead Nate, Chappie...” I tried to keep up and remember the rest, but got lost in the unusual names. Did their birth certificates read like that? Fortunately some wore their names on their travel weary vests. I just hoped they wouldn’t stab me.
I wished Honey were here. She would have started with “Hello, Skid Mark,” like she’d met tons of people named Skid Mark and would work her way through the crowd, welcoming each of them. I missed her so much it left a bruise on me everywhere. We could lean on one another. Now with this strange group of long hair and leather, I felt more alone than ever.
I gave them the grand tour and then we headed into the tasting room where Manuel and Tiffany jumped to it. I explained the wines and some history of how we made it, then said, “Who wants to stomp grapes?”
Crickets. Finally a guy with a long grey beard said, “Sure, why not?” We headed outside and half his posse followed, joking about Fuelie stomping grapes. I provided peasant costumes, so Fuelie went to the changing room and soon merged wearing bright red bloomer-looking boxers and a white shirt with puffy sleeves. The boys let up a hoot and whipped out phones to shoot the event. He stepped over the side and I enlisted a couple of men to help stock the tub with grapes. As Fuelie marched around in the tub, I put Dean Martin on the sound system, singing ‘That’s Amore.’ The boys laughed and howled, and Fuelie got into it, putting his hands on his hips like Lucille Ball and Maria. Soon another wanted in and the men moved about from the tasting room to the stomp and back again.
Tiffany walked through with a tray full of clean glasses and peered at me, her eyes saying, “Is this a good thing?” I shrugged.
Once they loosened up, the group didn’t look anything like the bunch that wouldn’t get in the tub. As soon as one guy got out, another got in, and Dean Martin sang, ‘Volare.’ We added grapes, and soon two men got in together. They bumped into one another and it looked like it could escalate.
“Okay, easy now,” I admonished, trying to keep a bit of control. As things got more animated, I realized the boys were tipsy.
What was going on here?
I trotted into the tasting room to see Manuel topping off glasses, the men sloshing wine onto the floor and slapping one another on the back. “Great party, bro.” One of them patted me heavily on the shoulder. “Great time.”
“Manuel,” I hissed, “what are you doing? Just a little.”
He shrugged. “I geev them a leetle, and they want a leetle more.” Big smile.
I envisioned bikers crashing into the fences as they left, policemen doing turbo sobriety checks, men in handcuffs packed into squad cars. “It’s Bill Martin’s fault,” they would slur into the reporter’s camera.
I trotted to the kitchen. “Tiffany. I need your help. The gang’s getting a bit drunk.”
She wiped her hands on a towel and brushed back her hair. “Whatever.”
I love that word.
We entered the room and I held up my hands. “Okay, listen up, everyone. We’ve had a great time, but its fourth quarter now, so we’re going to switch to water or soda, okay?” Please don’t stab me.
The men groaned. I made sure Manuel understood and headed to the barn to repeat the announcement. I stopped so suddenly in the doorway that Tiffany ran into me. “Oh, no.”
I’d seen a mud wrestling competition once, and this looked like it, only purple. Six men knocking each other around; one flopped out like a beached whale, another fell and smacked his h
I wrestled the men out of the tub, slipping on the slick surface myself, the entire thing looking like salmon spawning in half melted Jell-O. Organ Donor kept shooting video. Tiffany proved to be no help at all, as she laughed until she wet her pants.
The gang changed, then retreated to the tasting room and settled down to their sodas and water, reliving the great time, sloshing around in a barrel of juice. At the bar, one of them pointed to the picture at the tip jar. “Who’s she?”
“That’s Claire,” I said, and told them her story.
Fuelie stroked his beard. “What were you doing at the cancer institute?”
I sighed and told them Honey’s story. Our story, really, and went back to Claire and her condition. “So everyone agreed that all the tips go to Claire.”
Fuelie put his arm around me, his eyes wet. “That is so righteous, bro. Sorry about your girl.”
“Thanks.” I held back tears; Honey wouldn’t want it. What could I say? Get all melancholy about my wife? The men lined up to drop twenties in the jar. Tiffany squirmed, probably thinking of the tips she would miss.
As the crowd dispersed, Fuelie handed me a card. “You ever need anything, any time, and I mean anything, you give me a call.” They exited and packed bottles of wine into their saddlebags.
“I saw the video of the grape stomping.” Alexis stopped typing and smiled. “We play it at our Christmas party every year. It’s the first time I’ve laughed wine out my nose.”
“Yes. It went viral on YouTube, too. And our business took off like a rocket.”
Claire saw it, too, and I wondered if it was too adult for her. What is too adult for a kid who watches newfound friends and acquaintances die of cancer?
The next morning I walked to the mailbox, and noticed Maria wore a black and orange ’do rag, the first of many costumes the bikers affixed onto her as she ascended into icon status both in the city of Calistoga and in wine country. I texted it to Claire and got a quick reply:
I got online to check out wine news and found an article about us by Jonathan Fray III. He wrote about the Stomp, the chaos, and the people. It seemed like good press. He put up a photo of Maria with the biker scarf on her head. He hardly mentioned our wine.
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