I was born in the north of France in the mid-50’s to a French mother and US Air Force serviceman.
My earliest memories start in the south of France in Mandelieu on the Riviera.
Father is gone, stationed in Alaska followed by two tours in Vietnam so we were to live near my
mother’s family in Mandelieu. I would borrow my cousin’s pump scooter, basically a skate board
with a T-handle and a pump pedal in the back with no brakes. Getting to the top of the hill on a
local curvy road by grabbing on to lumbering log trucks, I would ride back down at breakneck
speeds but could never make it all the way back down before ending up in a ditch. It seems the faster
you go the tighter the turns get. So was the discovery of my genetic defect for the love of anything
with two wheels. My cousin was none too happy with the condition in which I returned his scooter
but for me it was all worth it.
With property donated by my grand-mother we moved in-land at the foothills of the Alps and built
a house up on the mountain side. It wasn’t done when we moved in but we worked on it bit
by bit. Between my mother, 2 brothers (Yves 8 and Roy 5) and myself we managed. It was a primitive
upbringing with no electricity or running water. We were too far from the local village for them to
afford to run electric out that far and our drinking water had to be pulled out of a well 200 yards down
the hill and hauled up in a pair of 3-gallon carafes. We did have indoor plumbing but it only worked when
the cistern on the side of the house had collected enough rain water off the roof. Winter was especially hard
since all our heat came from the single wood chimney burning wood that Yves (now 9 ) and I could drag
down the mountain from an abandoned olive grove then cut and split. It was during this time that I found
an old scrap yard and pieced together a bicycle but without money to spend on it I had to get creative so
to get around the flat tires I packed them with sand from the nearby creek, this would prove good for 3~4
trips down the curvy mountain road while blinking away the flying sand before returning to the creek for a refill.
After the birth of my ½ sister Christine it was decided that I should go to the states to live with my father. With vivid memories of the second World War my mother thought it would be a good idea to send me to the states giving the family an exit strategy should another war breakout so she brought me to the airport, gave me a ticket, said my father would meet me on the other end and bid me farewell, destination Panama City, Florida.
Now while I was well versed in every goat trail and ground level well within a 3 mountain range from my house I was a complete virgin to the ways of the world. First I didn’t know I could get out of my seat which made for a very long 9-hour flight.
Arriving at Kennedy airport a bus met us on the tarmac to take us to the terminal (planes didn't taxi up to the terminals back then). Once at the terminal I looked around but no dad, I’m in a strange land and no one speaks my language. Then I notice the cars, they’re HUGE, bigger than anything I’d seen but first I had to find a bathroom. Afterward I approached an official looking man and showed him my ticket, he said something I didn’t understand and pointed to a bench where other passengers were waiting for the bus to take them to their next flight. I sat and waited with them. Remembering mom’s words I didn’t feel right being on that bus and before he could close the doors I got back off. Turned out to be a good thing because that flight was headed to Panama City, Panama, which is where my checked luggage ended up. Inside the terminal I’m walking around looking for dad (a couple of hours have passed by now) when a booming voice calls my name in French directing me to a telephone. A translator found me, fed me and put me up in a hotel, a first for me but I’m sure it made the maid happy because by 5am I had the bed made, the shower wiped down, everything was as I’d found it. I was put on another plane and this time dad was waiting when I deplaned. Welcome to the USA.
The next 6 months were hit and miss trying to pick up on the language, my alcoholic father knew a few words of French but he was stationed in Ft Walton Beach and only home on weekends leaving me with an abusive step-mother just 7 years my senior. I acquired a used 10-speed from the local fire department and decided I needed a road trip to get in the wind and to get away from the step-mother so with $2 in my pocket I pedaled the 77 miles to Ft Walton Beach, used my money for a lunch meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken. That night I slept on the beach and pedaled my way back to Panama City the next day.
My father was transferred to an air base in Sembach Germany. Back at a local scrap yard I pieced together a bicycle. This thing had a 20 inch frame and rear tire, 28 inch front tire requiring fork extensions, a seat from a Vespa and a steering wheel from a jeep. It wasn’t pretty but it worked and I rode it everywhere. Then winter came and with it the snow, lots of it. I devised a plan to allow me to ride in the snow the same way cars got around, I needed chains. To that end I wrapped wire coat hangers around the tires and it worked…at first. Half way down the 7-mile long Snake Hill gliding along at a fair clip the wire broke and locked up the back tire, I ended up in a snow bank.
Back in Panama City, dad stationed at Tyndall Air base I got my first job pumping gas for $1.15/hour ( I made a total of $743 in 6 months) and bought my first new bicycle. It’s about this time I learned there are places white people were not supposed to go, I’d crossed ‘the tracks’ and into the darker part of town, I was jumped by 14 high school age kids trying to take my bicycle from me. Not going to happen, a bicycle makes a dandy club. A bottle was broken on my hand and I took a hit from a baseball bat to the side of the head opening a gash requiring several stitches to close up but I left with my bicycle.
I've been armed ever since that day.
Now divorced again for the 4th time my father decided to run off with my girlfriend’s mother but not before signing the papers allowing me to join the Marine Corps, with no money, no home (or family) and no real skills outside of auto shop I took in high school it was the best path for me.
Stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC I learned to drive commercial buses and tractor-trailers.
I get transferred to barracks duty in Washington DC and become an instructor for buses, tractor-trailers and drown-proofing at the local indoor pool for Navy personnel where I worked part time as a life guard.
This was a year of ups and downs. I would learn that my 12 year old brother Roy had passed after a fall from a horse ( I would lose my other brother Yves to alcoholism at age 38).
I would purchase my first motorcycle, a brand new single cylinder 1975 Yamaha 125 enduro 2-stroke with electric start.
Co-workers kept saying “don’t get a 125, it has no power” so my first time on the bike leaving the dealership under the salesman’s watchful eye I made sure to give it plenty of throttle so as not to stall it. The little bike reared up on the back wheel climbed a grass embankment out of the parking lot and on to a 6-lane highway where it stalled. I thumbed the start button and off I went at a reasonable pace. I had the foresight to buy a helmet at the same time but neglected the visor so of course it rained on the way home. I was on the DC beltway riding a bike with a top speed of 63 mph in the rain with eyes closed, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship of man and moto. I rode that little bike everywhere from 1000 mile weekend rides to visit a girlfriend in Columbia, SC to crossing a small river riding on a 3-foot drainage tube to being chased down the steps of the Capital building by the Capital police on mopeds. But like my first car this one was not to last, by the time I had racked up 8,000 miles I was working on my 3rd piston and ended up selling the bike for $10 and a CB set.
I left the Corps starting a career as an auto mechanic later moving to Florida where I would purchase my first road bike, A Suzuki GS750e.