There is a constant background rumbling in the air, the unmistakable sound of motorcycles revving and idling and roaring away at the green light. This weekend is the 105th anniversary of Harley Davidson and the world around this part of Wisconsin is saturated with the sounds of thousands of motorcycles giving voice to the celebration.
Just 4 blocks from where I am sitting there is a major Harley dealership. That dealership is one of many focal points in the surrounding county that is playing host to bikers from around the country, even from around the world. In my neighborhood, five blocks of a major thoroughfare have been blocked off so that the vendors of Harley paraphernalia and the purveyors of food and drink can set up their tents and trucks to feed those frenzied visitors. This scene is repeated many times around our metro area. And there is a grand stage prepared in our lakefront park that will host the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, for a Saturday concert to keep the festivities rocking.
The signature sound of a Harley Davidson motorcycle idling at a stoplight, the potatopotatopotato gurgle, is as much a fixture of this celebration as the shining chrome pipes and custom paint jobs. The riders themselves adhere to a dress code that is also a signature of sorts-- tee shirts emblazoned with all manner of Harley logos and sentiments from the demonic to the frivolous, blue jeans with black leather chaps, bandanas tying back long flowing hair or protecting shiny shaved heads, and tattoos worn like armor on every exposed inch of flesh. Something made of black leather must be worn at all times lest they feel naked and exposed as the poseurs they are.
Despite all the racket they produce, there is something endearing about a Harley. Maybe it is the pride we take in something uniquely American made that has stood the test of time. The belligerent throaty rumble and raucous roaring dopplered sound of a racing Harley speeding past embodies the power we like to accrue to our country. The macho rumbling underscores our notion of power at the top of a world of uncertainty. Not for us the effete murmurs that foreign bikes produce. The Harley full-throated majesty says we are bigger, faster, louder, cooler than you. If all Americans rode Harleys there would be no doubt of our global supremacy.
But Harleys are not just noise makers. They are machines that are all function in a package that is incredibly beautiful, At times both sleek and massive, they forge an interplay of various pipes and gears and gizmos that taken together make a machine that is both workhorse and sculpture. The various models may differ in size and complexity, but they all adhere to the design principles that make them so attractive. There is never a doubt that the motorcycle that just passed you is a Harley.
The pride in ownership is always apparent whenever you see one these machines. Grease and grime are outlawed at all times. Chrome is always glistening. The paint is never nicked or scratched. The seats are not cracked or worn. Harley owners treat their bikes like a treasured member of the family. No matter what their personal or family circumstances might be, Harley owners will never let that bike deteriorate into something that is less than iconic of the American way.
So happy 105th anniversary Harley Davidson. You make us proud.