Ghosts of Christmases Past | Megaphone

Photography by Tim Kessel

Through the years, I have passed a certain motorcycle salvage yard dozens of times. Its location has generally put it on the home stretch of a long ride, thus my desire to "just get home" had always trumped my curiosity. Maybe my resistance stemmed from the certainty that once I stopped, making a timely exit would prove impossible.

Recently, returning home from a three-day ride, the tons of rusting metal pulled me magnetically from the road. As I swung a leg off my Kawasaki ZZR1200, my eyes fixated on the acres of motorcycles. Passing through the gate of this unpretentious and unprotected Museum of Motorcycle History, I found thousands of bikes accessible only by narrow, maze-like trails. As I walked through the labyrinth at a pace one would employ at the Guggenheim, any concerns about "just getting home" faded into insignificance.

It soon became clear that I was winding through my four decades of motorcycling memory. Rather than a chronological tour, however, this boneyard took me to random vignettes of my lifelong passion. I stumbled upon an early-'70s Honda Elsinore. Its once-silver tank now wore the patina of 37 years, but in my mind's eye, it was still the glistening object of my teenage desire. After studying the artifact for minutes ... hours? ... I moved on, and even further back in time. Before me squatted three rusting Honda Trail 70s at parade rest-the first "motorcycle" I ever rode after graduating from my mini-bike.

There was some order to this place. Bikes of similar makes and vintage clustered together, much like their human counterparts when residing outside their native lands. There was no China Town here, but there was certainly a Little Italy, Germany and Tokyo.

Turning the corner revealed a long-lost love: the '77 Suzuki RM250 that screamed through my late teens. All of her "soft" parts-those of rubber, vinyl and plastic-were ravaged by the Arizona sun, but her visage was intact. By some twist of fate, the bike resting against it was an old Yamaha YZ125 like the one my high-school friend Richard (rest his soul) rode at the same time. Later, I found a Honda CB550-my first streetbike, which carried me to and from college.

Suddenly, a voice pulled me back to the present. "Can I help you find something specific?" Ron Adler, the heavily bearded owner of All Bikes Sales, stood behind me in grease-stained jeans and T-shirt. I'd been there so long, he must have thought I was casing the joint!

Our conversation was random and easy. Ron has been collecting motorcycles and bicycles for 30 years, and has been in this location near Payson, Arizona, since '88. At last count, he had more than 9000 motorcycles. By reputation, he can be a bit cantankerous, but that's not what I found. He is true "old school": no computer, no e-mail. Through our conversation, it became clear that this was a labor of necessity, but also of love. I had found no "junk" in this junkyard, and clearly neither had Ron. He talked about the bikes in his "collection" that were special to him, including a matched pair of German DKWs and a BMW manufactured the year he was born. He told me about reckless customers who had broken irreplaceable parts in their "fingering," and about old men who had cried when they found the ride of their youth. Thankfully, that was not me-at least not that he had seen.

When I finally climbed back aboard my modern Kawasaki, I was still wrapped in thought. The ride home was leisurely and contemplative. What had fascinated me most were the '70s Japanese bikes, but for someone of another age and life experience, it could have been the '40s Harleys or '50s Brit-bikes. In my mind, I pictured someone decades from now going through Ron's yard and finding my ZZR1200 rusting in some recess, opening the floodgates of memories.

Maybe that old man will be me.

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