May 31, 2019

Motorcycle Dreams; Rock Me Gentle…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:36 pm


The only thing worse than starting something and
failing … is not starting something.

— Seth Godin

It was a big dream and a bold one. I remember exactly when and where it came knocking. Back in early 2016, when I was working my way back from some serious heart issues. A-Fib. I slogged my way through that bleak wilderness, back to health. After I got home and got my head cleared, I thought about a few things. Well, two. I’d learn to ride a motorcycle. And I’d get me a tattoo. I’d be hard and mean and tough. Like you have to be, if you’re gonna preach the gospel to the pagans. That was the original plan, kind of tongue in cheek. But still. I figure you proclaim the gospel wherever you go, as you go. Even to the rough and rowdy biker crowd. Maybe especially to that crowd.

I remember how it felt, when the dream first came. Here. A new door beckoned. I told myself. You just walked through some hard places. You stared death in the face and survived. Now. Do something that you’ve never done before, something far out that you have never seriously considered. Like, oh, maybe learning to ride. Not a horse. I strongly dislike horses. So, no horse. A motorcycle. That’s it. Two wheels. Learn to ride. Live. Take some risks. Maybe you’ll die sooner than you would have, but you’ll die living. It’s freedom. It’s risk. It’s life. Maybe in the end, all that leads to death. If so, that’s fine.

I remember mentioning my little plan to Pastor Mark at church. He smiled and nodded. And he talked about it a few times in his sermons. Ira almost died. But he didn’t. Now, he’s looking at the things he’s never done. He’s going to ride a motorcycle. If I die, I die. “That,” said Pastor Mark, “is Christian freedom. Ira is free to dream wild dreams and go pursue them.” And, of course, that put the pressure on, too. I couldn’t back out now, not if I wanted to. Not after the pastor had proclaimed my plans to the whole church. I don’t know what the congregation thought. Probably that I had finally lost it. Most people smiled, though.

And then came a Saturday afternoon in early November of that year. I had signed up for one of the last sessions to get my motorcycle license. The state has a program where they train you. You had to sign up long before. I told the instructors, when I got there. I’ve never driven a bike before. They just smiled. It won’t be a problem, they said. I was dubious. And that first day, it was nippy and cold. I had signed up for the second course, after lunch. There were more than a dozen of us, all newbies. All completely untrained. Well, maybe a few of those people had been on bikes before. A handful of us hadn’t. Raw recruits is what we were.

It was tough. The head instructor bellowed and barked like some marine drill sergeant at boot camp. He seemed awful full of himself. I mean, come on. We didn’t enlist for service. Just teach us how to ride. We want training. Fortunately, the other three or four instructors were all quite calm and nice. They started us off basic. This is a bike. This is a helmet. Fit one of these on your head. Choose a bike. This is the brake, this is the clutch. Eventually we got to actually start the engines. Then we walked the bikes back and forth. Then we rode. Information overload, for all the novices. It was dark when we wrapped up the final exercise. The loud mean officer took our papers and disappeared into the little shack. He would either pass or fail us. He stomped out and handed us our verdicts. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, or maybe I just imagined that in the darkness. I glanced at my paper. It wasn’t stamped. I had failed.

Well, now. This was a fine kettle of soup. I was discouraged. I’m not used to failing something so blatantly. Just like that, boom. You don’t pass. Almost, I would have given up. Still. The dream beckoned. Dream and ride. A week later, on a Sunday morning, I joined a ragtag group who met with a kindly instructor who had volunteered to teach us again. We’d try one more time, one last gasp before winter set in. All of us had failed. And that day, we simply practiced the harder stuff that had tripped us up before. And the kindly instructor passed us, every single one. I walked back out to my truck, proudly clutching the piece of paper that made it official. Look out, world. The rumble of my ride was ramping up, out there in the distance. You could hear it if you listened close.

And the dream rolled on. I kept an eye out, and late that winter, I bought my very own bike for the first time, ever. A small 2010 Yamaha 650, white, with under 2000 miles. The little car dealer over in Gap, that’s where I saw it. A friend pointed it out to me. And I slipped in and bought the bike. The thing was loud, and totally chromed up with extras. I would definitely make a statement, coming at you on those wheels. I poked around at different places and finally found a nice helmet that fit. You could put the visor up or pull it down. And even in the hot summer, the mean marine instructor had hollered loud. Long pants, no shorts. Chaps would be good. I never got that far. Long sleeved shirt, and gloves. And the helmet, of course. I got everything together in my garage and waited for the summer sun to shine. Bike wheels, keep on rolling, was my song.

There was a song in my heart that summer for other reasons. I was stepping out, reaching out, and connecting a bit. Still drinking, though. The whiskey eventually destroyed that particular connection. I look back sometimes at a stark and brutal truth that has become very plain to me. The whiskey cost me a lot over the years, when it came to broken relationships. You don’t really think about it much, not until your head gets clear. And when that happens, it hits you. Wow. How could you have been so stupid and so blind? Anyway, late that summer, that song died. It was what it was, I guess. And life went on. My bike riding didn’t.

Somehow, I simply could not get motivated to go riding much. Oh, sure, I drove the backroads, over toward Farmersville and Ephrata. One fine Saturday afternoon, I rode over to my Amish friends, David and Esther Smucker. I roared in and parked, and rolled the throttle. The bike rumbled deep and loud. Inside the house, Esther scolded. “Is that Ira Wagler on his motorcycle?” It was. Oh, yes, it was. The problem with riding a bike over there was, there never was a lot of room to pack any of the extra food Esther generally had around that I could beg or steal. It’s a lot easier to haul a plate loaded with food in a Jeep than on a bike. This I can tell you without equivocation.

I never got real good at riding. Looking back from here, I can kind of see what faded and why. I never got off the ground, really. Never graduated from the back roads. It was fun, always. Just awfully hot in the summer sun, to put on all those heavy clothes, and then seal in all that heat with the helmet. It was always a production. That was the problem. You had to plan any little trip you took. I’m not used to planning. I’m used to jumping into my Jeep and going. And I wasn’t about to go riding without proper protection. The mean marine instructor had hammered the point home hard. I always rode dressed safe, because I didn’t feel confident enough not to.

I learned a little bit about motorcycle maintenance along the way. Well, I learned what the tenant taught me. The first winter, it got pretty cold. The bike was parked out in the garage and the battery exploded. I had no idea any such thing would or could happen. The tenant looked all wise and allowed that he should have thought of it. So the next spring, I handed him a hundred dollar bill and told him to get me a new battery and install it. And keep the change. He happily went his way and I went mine. He got the bike fired up and running, with fresh gas. This would have been last summer, 2018. He rode it some. I took it out a few times, never for long. And the bike just sat there in the garage, all silent and sedate, not getting many miles racked up at all. I tried to get excited about it. You can’t make yourself excited about something unless it comes natural on its own. So, it just didn’t happen.

I look back now, and it’s clear. My brain was preoccupied with a few other things last year. I had signed a contract for my second book. So that was always on my mind, somewhere. And I went up to Aylmer to see my father, too. Last June. A lot of life was jumbling around in my head. And I was writing dry for the first time since I started writing. Dry, as in not drinking whiskey. I wasn’t sure what would come or how it would get told. It was a bit of an adventure, there, getting that all figured out, I gotta say. I guess we’ll see what the market does with it.

And yes, that little bunny trail does have a connection to my main thread, here. The motorcycle, and why I didn’t bond with my mean machine. Last summer it sat almost entirely unused. And the tenant made noises, there at the end as the days got shorter. Maybe I was taking too much room out in the shop, there, where he keeps his car. He asked. Why didn’t I just sell it, if I wasn’t gonna ride it? You know what? I asked. That makes sense. Get that battery stored inside for the winter, and I’ll figure it out by next spring. The book will be done by then, at least the first draft. I’ll see if the pressure of the writing affected anything. Maybe it’ll come, I’ll want to ride, and I’ll like it. If not, if I don’t ride next spring, we’ll sell the bike. The tenant nodded. I think he knew full well what was coming.

A lot has happened since that day the tenant unhooked my bike’s battery and carried it upstairs to his apartment to keep it warm for the winter. Dad got real sick and real low, late last year. He died the day after Christmas. We all gathered and buried the man, the family did. I got back home from the funeral, and the writing gods smiled and the floodgates opened. I had been stuck with no closure. Since we went and buried my father, the words have flowed in torrents.

I got the rough manuscript sent off on the 8th of May, just like Virginia asked me to. And around that time, the tenant coughed politely one day. The motorcycle. Would I want him to place an ad on the Facebook marketplace? This time I never hesitated. Yes, I said. Yes. Get that bike out there. Let’s get it sold if we can. It was a casual comment. And it didn’t take long for me to face whether or not I really meant it. The next morning, already, here came a text from the tenant. A guy in York, the next county west, had made a lowball cash offer. He would come the day after tomorrow in the morning. The tenant wrote the figure. It was low, alright. Still. Might as well get what I can while the getting’s good. Tell him to be here Thursday morning, I texted back. Bring me Benjamins. I got the title ready to sign over. The tenant soon replied that it was all arranged.

Thursday morning. I slept in. Just before eight, I ran down to Sheetz for my coffee. The tenant was stirring out in the shop when I got back. He pushed the bike outside and fired it up. The engine rumbled and roared, same as always. And around 8:30, the guy showed up with his pickup and trailer. We got him backed in. An older guy. Turned out he and his son dabbled in motorcycles. He was going to resell the thing. Didn’t bother me at all. He checked out everything, revved the throttle, and then drove the bike around and onto his trailer. The tenant and I helped strap it down. Then the man handed me a fistful of Benjamins. I counted them out carefully, then peeled off two of them and handed them to the tenant. There you are, I said. For all the work you did to get this done. Then I followed the man into downtown New Holland, where we transferred the title at an insurance office. The Notary, and all. I signed where I needed to, then shook the man’s hand and walked out of there. I got to work a little late that day.

And that’s how the dream died, right there. It got led gently from the room. No fuss. No hassles. The preacher to the pagans never got far, at least not on his bike. Still, I guess you’re either reflecting the gospel, or you’re not. Motorcycle or not. It’s true. The rumble on the road never made it far. I guess I’m OK with that. Some dreams die. Some dreams don’t. This one did. The best I can say is that I leaned a skill I never had before. I can ride and shift a bike. That’s something, I guess.

And now, that leaves me with the second dream that never got anywhere. I never got a tattoo. And yeah, I know. That verse in Leviticus, where it talks about how the Lord don’t want you to make marks on your body for the dead. Been there. Heard that. It’s not for the dead. And besides, there’s another verse in Corinthians, written much later, about how all things are lawful. Maybe not edifying. But lawful. It’s a little like I wrote before about not wearing a tie to an Amish funeral. I can wear a tie, I got nothing against them. I just choose not to in that setting, to be respectful. In this setting, I am completely fine with getting some ink in me. And it’s looking more and more like I will.

And yeah, I know, too. Tattoos are foreign to the Amish culture. Somewhere, I’m sure, there is a bearded Amish man who always wears long sleeves because he got inked back in his wilder days. What would he tell his children? It’s a rare rash decision that is hard to erase, should regrets ever come calling. So, I know. Consider it all carefully before stepping through that door. It’s a lot more complicated than buying a motorcycle that you end up selling because your dream never got off the ground. I know that. Still, I’m tempted and leaning hard.

When the book comes out next year, maybe I’ll celebrate with a tattoo. That’s the road I’m looking at. It won’t be a cross, with any slogan. I’ve thought about it. Near as I can tell, there’s only one image that might make it worth the hassle of getting threaded with a needle gun for the first time in my life. And that would be the image of a breaking chain. A breaking chain around my upper arm. OK. Upper left arm, if you want to get all specific about the details.

And that breaking chain will speak a message more powerful than words ever could. There will be no freedom until the chains are broken, the chains of whatever is binding you. Those chains can only be torn asunder by a force stronger than any addiction known to any human. The gospel, proclaimed to all the pagans in the world.

Such will be the meaning of my tattoo.

Broken Chain

The word just got here, but not in time for this blog. Next month on the next blog, I will unveil my book cover to my readers and to all the world. It’s wild, and I’m excited about it. I hope you will be, too.



  1. Where I live, tattoos are identified with paganism: gangs, crime, prison, rebelliousness, violence etc.
    The bible is clear, in the old and new testaments, don’t do what the pagans do, be different, and be seen to be different.

    Comment by Mark — May 31, 2019 @ 7:59 pm

  2. I’ve heard that tatoos are like cats, folks don’t stop with only one. :)

    Comment by Janet Bell — May 31, 2019 @ 9:44 pm

  3. Uh, um, what’s behind dream number three? :-) I’m relieved that you sold the bike, but I vote against the tattoo; would you pray first and see what God thinks about the idea? He might give you a new dream to pursue.

    And you can still witness to the tough crowd, when you happen upon someone rough. I mean, God’s light shows that His children act, look, talk differently, and that difference flows from a love-filled, reaching-out heart.

    Looking forward to beholding your new book cover, I am! :-)

    Comment by Christine in Maine — June 1, 2019 @ 9:35 am

  4. Sorta wondering if your goal was more about learning to ride…so now you’re just ready to move on to bigger dreams? Great blog.

    Some of the kindest, most loving people I know have tattoos. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

    Comment by Phyllis — June 1, 2019 @ 10:24 am

  5. I owned and rode 2 motorcycles. I’ve been on 100+ miles rides back in the day. A few years ago, just before retiring, I rode my Honda Rebel to work. It was one mile, one way. By the time I made the short ride, I was so stressed from paying attention to the other drivers (because they weren’t paying attention to me), I parked my Rebel and put it up for sale. I feel with the attitude too many drivers have today, it’s not safe to ride anywhere. I understand why you stuck to the backroads. Biking, both powered and unpowered, can be a scary experience. You made the right decision Ira.

    Comment by Lyndon Phillippe — June 1, 2019 @ 4:14 pm

  6. Ira I like your idea for the tatoo! What a great witnessing tool!

    Comment by Cynthia — June 1, 2019 @ 5:08 pm

  7. Too much sedation can be yawningly boring. Body tatoos don’t reflect the true nature of one’s heart. A pious non-tattooed person can embody a deceitful heart. Best not to judge either way.

    Comment by SHO — June 1, 2019 @ 5:11 pm

  8. If your dream was to share the gospel with someone hard and mean and tough enough to be totally comfortable hanging with rough and rowdy biker crowds? Homeless? Kind of pagan who’s kicked back and chilled in slums and Meth Houses? You’ve already been doing that…

    Comment by A Reader In Chicago — June 1, 2019 @ 8:31 pm

  9. I bought a new ‘84 Honda Magna when I was 20 then thought that I’d spent too much money and sold it. To this day I cannot forgive myself. Now it’s a classic!

    Good luck and Gods blessings on the book. Awesome idea for a tattoo! Witnessing tool or not, it’s bound to to have someone asking questions.

    Comment by Joe T. — June 2, 2019 @ 7:06 am

  10. All I can say to myself when I see some of the tattoos around here in Laurel,MD is: “Wait until you are in your seventies. Then you are going to look like the funny pages in the Sunday paper, only slightly crumpled up. It aint gonna be pretty.”

    Comment by Forsythia — June 9, 2019 @ 10:03 am

  11. My motorcycle dreams came and went when I was younger and I’m kinda glad I didn’t act on them.Knowing myself and my need for speed,which I proved with all the jacked up hot rods I owned and drove and still own a fast two seater,me and a motorcycle?Not a good idea.Living in a huge Metro area as I do and seeing lots of what I call the “driving dead”,people who do any activity know to man while behind the wheel instead of driving and paying attention to their surroundings, now that really keeps me off a bike today.As for the tats,don’t have one yet…and what’s on the horizon is a tasteful detailed black Scorpion on my upper arm..being that’s my birth sign and all.We have lots of scorpions running around out here in the desert.. sometimes hiding out in people houses too.I might as well memorialize one.I think they’re kind of cute.Go for the tat,Ira,if somebody gets all offended about a little ink on your arm,that’s their problem,not yours…peace to all..

    Comment by Lenny — June 23, 2019 @ 6:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags):
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .