Shovelhead Red - Ridin Out !!
By: Roy Yelverton

At eight-thirty that evening two room phones jangled simultaneously, jarring Red and Jake into consciousness. Both had showered and done the toilet thing prior to their nap. Red donned his newest pair of black Levis, and pulled on his boots. Nighttime temperatures run toward the chilly end of the climate spectrum in northern California; so a steel gray, long sleeved t-shirt under a black leather vest, completed the outfit. Red ambled down the walk to Jake's room and tapped on the door. Jake let him in.

Jake was dressed in his working outfit; black leather pants, black boots, black long sleeved denim shirt, an ankle length black leather ‘range' coat, and his battered old black slouch leather hat. The outfit was calculated to inspire the imagination of his audience. Building on the mystique of a traveling biker troubadour, as it were. The two arrived at Vick's Bar by cab. Jake would use the house sound system, so he only need bring his guitar, and harmonica. A full house was getting its party groove on in earnest when the blues-man, and his red-headed roadie, entered the room. 

Waitresses darted to and fro, bustling about with drink and food orders. They fought a constant battle against exasperation as they tried to keep up with the guzzling party animals, without losing their cool, or indeed their minds. No one paid attention to Red or Jake; there was too much going on to acknowledge newcomers. If you came to party, you simply jumped right in. If you just came to observe; what the fuck is that all about? Go back to your room!

Vick, the proprietor, worked his way through the crowd toward the pair of bikers. Red figured the man to be about the same age as Jake. He had that robust, healthy, ‘I got mine' look, that successful, financially secure people never can manage to hide. He grinned broadly, and grabbed Jake's hand; “Jake! Ya damned old nomad!” He pumped enthusiastically. Red could see the dude was genuinely glad to see the biker. “Man, how long has it been?”

“Three years I think,” answered Jake. “Hell, who's countin'? You lookin' good Vick. Looks like ya got a few tonight. Hey Vick, meet my buddy, Shovelhead Red. I know, it soun's like he's named after a farm implement; but he's ah-ite.”

“Damn glad to meetcha Shovelhead Red.” Vick extended his hand to the Redhead. “I don't care what implement you're named after. If you're alright with Jake, you're alright.”

“I see you're easy to please Vick.” Red laughed and shook the bar owner's hand.

“Hah-hah-ha, easy to please; Jake, you addin' this boy to your act, or what?”

“Oh, he can't help it Vick; he can't not be funny. Yep,” Jake said, clapping his hand on Red's shoulder for emphasis; “He's a reeeal natural. Or so he keeps tellin' me.”

“You're scarin' me,” Vick replied. My ribs ain't ready for ‘two Jakes'.” Vick laughed. “Boys, I think even I'm fired up! The staff has been advised, your drinks are on me. So until show time…mingle.”

“Well thanky Vick,” Red said, “an' much obliged for th' free juice. I presume you have Cuervo Especial; so, I believe I'll avail myself of your generosity while you an' this coot talk bidness. See ya'll roun' campus.”

Real estate being in short supply on an oceanfront point, most buildings go up not out, when seeking floor space. Hence, the bar had a lower level where the main bar, pool tables, and restrooms were located. To increase seating, an upper level gallery was built along three sides of the room. All tables on the gallery afforded a good view of the small stage. By show time every seat was filled. People were standing three deep at the bar, trying to capture a bartender's attention, and socializing while waiting. At this point the jukebox was still cranking, and the assembly moved rhythmically and unconsciously to the music. Smoke filled the room, making Red glad the place had a smoke-eater. The cacophony of party sounds was such that the walls of the old structure were all but bulging.

At precisely nine o'clock the juke went silent. For a few moments the crowd continued their loud and largely inane conversations, before anyone realized there was no music to drown them out. When the quiet dawned on them, the majority naturally fell silent. 

It is a common human failing that almost no one reads signs. Consequently, most of the patrons had ignored or overlooked the improvised handbill that was taped to the door, announcing live entertainment tonight. They were curious about why the canned music had stopped. Vick chose this lull in their interaction to stride out to the small, slightly elevated, semi-circular stage, whereon stood a ladder back wooden chair, and two microphones on stands. There was a wooden stool with a beer pitcher setting on it. Taped to the pitcher was a sheet of white paper. “TIPS” was written in bold black letters with a Sharpie. A maroon colored velvet curtain behind the stage served as a backdrop. 

Amazingly, the room fell nearly quiet at Vick's appearance. He held up both hands to silence a few straggling ratchet-jaws.

“Gimme your attention up here please.” Vick announced. “Come on now, there's a world out here beyond your trite, trivial, self-worshipping, materialistic lives.” That comment secured the undivided attention of even the most garrulous, as people tried to decide whether or not Vick was kidding. “Tonight we have a man from the real world, and he knows a little bit about life, and singin' the blues. He's a modern day troubadour, who just rode into town today on his Harley, and we're lucky enough to have him tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado—damn, I always wanted a chance to say that—Vick's Bar, entertainment jewel of the Pacific Coast, brings to you; JASON TWAIN!! ” Wild applause, hooting and foot stomping followed this announcement. Even though they had no idea who Jason Twain might be, the audience was obviously ready to be entertained.

Red leaned against the bar, taking in the scene. He was curious to see what Jake could do with a crowd. He already knew his buddy was possessed of immense talent. Red was lucky, he got to hear Jake play and practice almost every night. Still, he was curious and eager to watch his buddy in front of an audience. Lights in the room were dimmed, the silence pregnant with anticipation. A single spotlight came on, focused on the wooden chair. Jake, dressed all in black leather, seemed to materialize from the shadows of the velvet curtain, and onto the stage. A shiny black guitar dangled from his right hand. A chrome wire harmonica holder around his neck gleamed under the spotlight. His burly body in black seemed slimmer than it is. Reaching the stage, he looked out at his audience, and in a bland voice said: “Ladies and gennelmens, let us pause a moment in memory of the herd of innocent and trusting cattle, who gave they lives so I could look this cool.” 

The crowd exploded in laughter at this remark. Jake stood there as if he knew they would. This punch was so unforeseen and ridiculous, it seldom missed. Waiting for the laughter and applause that followed to subside, Jake moved smoothly to the chair, slid into it, and adjusted one of the microphones to head level. For effect Jake wore his long silver hair loose tonight. It cascaded over his ample shoulders, contrasting strikingly with the black leather. His wooly beard, also snow-white, was almost luminous in the stage light, framing a nut colored face creased by wind, time and experience. People straightened in their chairs, trying to get a better look, their interest suddenly piqued. When he had the mike where he wanted, Jake looked up, his face expressionless, and said: “Eeenin' ya'll.” The crowd murmured “good evening'” in automatic response. Jake let a slight smile play on his lips momentarily.

“My name, as you heard, is Jason Twain. Me an that jack-leg, red-headed biker holdin' up the bar back there wuz out ridin' around the country on our motorsickles; an' we got really bored, an' sorta tired ‘o lookin' at each other. So we decided ta check ya'll out here in Mendocino.” Light laughter from the audience. “Now just because we in California I don't won't ya'll getting th' wrawng idea. Me an' Red ain't fuckin' one another; an' we each ride our own bike.” Explosive laughter this time. Red saw drinks spew from the mouths of more than one surprised patron. “So, ya'll wimmins kin breathe easy. They's a chance , jus' a chance mind ya, that you, American Woman, might feed at the trough of studliness ya see before yuh. But be warned. You better bring it, or don't waste muh time.” More laughter; Jake had the house in his hand so far. “Ok,” the old biker grinned; “I'll come clean, we're actually here cause we heard they is some righteous weed in these parts; an' if any of ya'll are holdin' some of it, and if yer th' sharin' type; well, thanks for comin' out!” More pronounced laughter this time. 

Red noticed that his partner fully employed his Southern drawl, to further enhance the blues man image. Jake is a wonderful mimic. Being from Alabama by birth he is especially adept when imitating deep-south cracker accent, or southern redneck, and American Negro dialects. When the laughter subsided, he said; “Now let me hip ya'll to this here tip jar. First rule; don't tip yer waitresses. Yeah, he said that ! Come awn people take a good look. Any one of your waitresses could work three nights a week at a titty bar, and drive a fuckin' Ferrari ! Oh, but THEY need th' goddam money! I'm an old, homeless hustler, condemned to a life of bustin' bugs on my Harley, an' singin' fer muh supper whurever I gits a chaince. Do the fuckin' math!” Another wild round of laughter swept the room, mixed with foot stomping, hooting and applause.

“Rule two for the tip jar; no change. Ah didn't come here ta hustle no fuckin' ‘happy meal'!” Actually I never had a happy meal, muhsef'. I don' trus' ‘em. I mean, will I be happy only while I'm eatin' th' ‘happy meal'? Or is this fuckin' beef wafer, covered with yellow ‘ mystery goo,' s'posed ta make my fuckin' DAY?” Roaring laughter and applause again. Jake was rocking the house, yet his _expression hadn't changed. Only that little tease of a smile lingered to betray his mirth. “Y'know what? Th' zit-face what served me th' meal din' seem all that goddam happy! Oh yeah, tha's all I need; I'm depressed, I go all the way down to Micky D's for a happy meal; and mine's a dud! FAAHHHHKKK!

“Now, as Vick told ya'll, I will be your blues player this eenin'. If ya happen ta like what you hear, a reproduction CD will be for sale after the show. Now dig ya'll, it ain't easy for me playin' th' blues. Hey, I'm white, I'm single, I'm straight, and I'm a biker.

Do ya'll have any idea how rare it is for me to get th' blues? But don't worry; y'know why? Jus' before I perform, I read a couple chapters of ‘ ROOTS' jis' ta get mah mine raht. Jake paused for the exactly right amount of time, then took an exaggerated, elaborate bow. He swept the weather-beaten leather hat from his head, allowing a cataract of silver tresses to escape. The audience went absolutely wild! Waiting till the noise subsided, he stuck his first chord.

Now, your humble scribbler makes no pretense of being particularly adept with words. Truth is I just wing it! With this in mind, the reader will forgive me for not trying to put guitar sounds into words . It ain't gonna happen. Even if I knew how to write in the first place. So, you're just gonna have to trust me when I say Jake mesmerized the room for the next two hours. He hit them with low-down, desolation row, gut-bucket blues, that tore through the listener's hearts, making each person feel like they had personally been there. That really is the essence of our fascination with blues; strangely, on some level we all like to feel persecuted and victimized by life. The blues slaps us in the face with a reality shot, reminding us that life is persecution and tribulation for everyone caught up in it. And that happiness was never part of the deal. And we feel better about it! Well, there's no understanding people after all. That's what makes them fun.

On stage, the silver-haired biker was a master of the switch. Like a foraging eagle, Jake scanned the mood and movements of the people. When he'd got them to the right degree of down, he'd bust a punch line, or do a comedy song; like Red's favorite, titled; ‘If ya Ain't Gone Fuck Me, Stay Outta My Cocaine' . In a minute, the crowd would be howling with laughter. 

For his finale he sung a song of his own creation called; ‘ Road Too Long.'  It was a very plaintive verse that could serve as a drifter's National Anthem. From the opening chord, the room went quiet as a tomb. It was a long song, of wind too cold, rain too wet, arms too empty, and loneliness born of compulsion. When the song ended, Jake dropped his head down over the guitar with just the right amount of drama and humility to a room dead silent, and all were aware the show was over. Jake sat completely still for a few moments. Then still sitting, he swept the old leather hat from his head, releasing the platinum-colored hair to fall in shimmering waves over his black guitar. 

The room exploded! People were standing, pounding each other on the back, clapping, hooting, foot stomping. Red thought the owner must surely be worried about the substructure of his building. Then there formed a steady line to the tip jar, and Red understood how his friend had managed to survive with his unconventional way of life. Bills began piling up in the beer pitcher; and they weren't ones, or fives, most were twenties, fifties, and even an occasional Chuck. This bunch had money, otherwise they wouldn't be here. Few if any of them had anticipated entertainment of the quality displayed tonight. They bought CDs like they were crack, at ten bucks each.

Red was fascinated. He'd heard his friend play music, almost nightly, but this was different. He hadn't seen this side of the old road-dog. Red was very impressed. His mentor owned the room. Like an adolescent in the presence of his hero, Red felt compelled to inform someone of his association with the current star. He turned to a leggy brunette sitting on a barstool. “He's my ridin' partner. We hang out together.”

“How nice for you.” The woman replied icily, and looked away. 

‘Bad openin' he thought, feeling stupid after the impulse to brag had passed. He decided to relocate to another part of the room. ‘Bitch is prolly a lesbian anyway.' These thoughts were balm to his bruised ego. Red isn't accustomed to rejection.

With the show over, people began moving around again. Some headed for the rest rooms, others sought fresh drinks at the bar. Conversation resumed with a major portion of the talk having Jake's performance as it's subject. The blues man was still busy, playing his income source for maximum profit while the opportunity existed. Red estimated the old dude knocked down at least eight yards between tips, and CD sales. And this didn't include what Dick had signed him for; say three hundred at least. Eleven hundred dollars for two hours' work wasn't too shabby. These musings were interrupted by a voice at his side.

“So, you guys are bikers?”

Red turned to discover the perky author of this inquiry to be a slender, full-chested mid-twenties blonde, just over slightly drunk. His favorite type. “Huh? Oh yeah; hell, bikers are the only thing we are.”

“My name is Janet, and I just love bikes. I mean I never y'know, actually rode on a Harley. I just think they're toooo kewl.”

“Well, Janet, that's really good to know. They call me Red,” he presented his hand; “go figure.”

“Ha-ha-ha! That's funny. Yeah, I wonder why. Where did you get all that hair?”

“It grows.”

“Hah-hah-hah! It grows. Ha-ha-ha; that's funny too. Hey are you guys like a comedy team, or sompin'?”

“Naw, we jus a couple a road dogs doin' what we do. My friend is the entertainer.”

“He's fantastic! Do you think we could meet him?”


Just then, another young woman sidled up. She was also blessed with a fantastic body. In contrast to the blonde, this woman had long jet-black hair. Standing back to back the two would have looked like black and white, ying and yang bookends. I think they have a law in California that prohibits ugly chicks living there. 

“Hello…Janet, aren't you going to introduce me? Hi, I'm Tanya. I'm with her.” The brunette offered her hand.

“Hi Tanya, I'm Red.”

“Hello Red. Is that like, your full name?”

“Yeah, like Cher, or Prince, or Madonna; y'know.”

“That is so kewl. So, you're with the old blues guy?”

“Well, we travel together, if that's what yer askin'. An' I wouldn' let that ‘old' number slip out around him. He's a lil' sensitive about his age.”

“He's hot! I never heard guitar played like that in my life! And he's really funny.”

“Yeah, he's worth what ya pay. No doubt about it. Say, Janet mentioned that ya'll might like ta meet him?”

“Fer sure! You say, ya'll? You must be from the south.”

“Alabama; me an' Jake both. But we been gone from there a long time.”

“So, where do you guys live now?” asked the blonde.

“Here an there. We travel a lot.” Before the women could ask about that, Red glanced at the stage; “Looks like Jake is about done doin' bidness. Ya'll come on, I'll introduce ya.”

Red and the women made their way through the crowd, over to where Jake was just closing the lid on his guitar case. As he turned to them, Red swept his arm out, palm up, with a flourishing gesture and said; “Ladies, I give you the one and only, the incomparable, the worn, weary and wise, the highly entertaining, and one funny sumbitch; Jason Twain. Mr. Twain, meet the girls. This exceptionally attractive pair would like to make your acquaintance. And the girls want to meet ya too. Hah-hah-hah, get it? Attractive pair.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Real original. You should hire a hall. Now, to whom am I happily bein' introduced?”

“Well, Mr. Critic, the gorgeous natural blonde you're so lustily ogling, is Janet. Her equally tasty partner is Tanya.”

“Charmed I'm sure.” Jake bowed slightly, touching the brim of his old leather hat. 

“Your show was awesome!” Janet said.

“Absolutely!” chimed in Tanya. “You're really funny too.”

“Why thanky ladies. I do what I can. I'm sincerely thrilled ya'll enjoyed it.”

“So, what are ya'll doin' with the rest of the evening?” Asked Red.

“We wanna go for a ride. Don't we Janet?” This from the dark-haired woman.

“Fer sure! You guys will take us, won't you?”

Jake looked thoughtful for several moments, then said dubiously; “I …don't know. A ride? That's a pretty big favor for females we don't even know. I mean ya'll are young an' innocent, an' everybody knows motorsickles is dangerous. I'm just not sure me an' Red could be responsible. Y'know what Ah'm sayin'? But, I tell ya'll what, my manager Red handles all my scheduling. So I'll have to turn this one over to him. Whadda ya think manager?”

Picking up on Jake' lead, Red affected a similar skeptical attitude toward the idea. “Well, no one mentioned a ride. Ya'll girls jus' said ya wanted to meet the silver-haired one. A ride never entered into the conversation. Still, we might be able to fit it in, depending..”

“On what?” Asked the blonde, glancing at her friend.

Red moved closer to the two women. He steered them a couple of steps away from Jake, speaking low and conspiratorially; “Wow, this is a bit awkward. Ya see girls it's like this. Me an' Jake, we been on the road for some time now, and well, we were really hopin' to take care of some needs that naturally arise from forced sexual abstention. Are ya'll getting this? To put it more simply; we got pussy on the brain. I'm sorry to be so crass, but fact is we'll be rollin' outta here tomorrow. As you can see, this puts us in a time crunch. For this simple reason, ya'll fuckin' us is like, a necessary part of the ride deal. Oh sure, if there were more time, we would LOVE to get to know ya'll; find out how you think, what you're interested in. Y'know, th' whole banana. But as I said, we don't have such luxury. I mean, you both seem like real nice girls, but if you can't handle the game, then it's in our best interest to spend our time looking for women who can. Again, I apologize for being so pragmatic, but it's the only fair way.”

Jake hadn't said a word. He was taking in Red's rap, impressed by the tack his buddy had taken in hustling the women. It was logical, clear, and almost made it seem like the women would be stupid to refuse. ‘Hell,' Jake thought; ‘if I was a woman, I'D buy th' rap; absolutely.' Above all, Red had been completely up front with his conditions. Regardless of the outcome, no one could claim they were deceived.

Janet looked over at her friend. The two regarded each other for a few seconds. “Uh..okay,” they both replied in unison. “What th' hell,” said Tanya, “we woulda prolly ended up fuckin' someone totally boring anyway.”

Red looked at Jake, then up at the ceiling; “GOD, I love California!”


Read  Chapter 1


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