I enlisted in the Air Force in 1965, and after basic training in Texas, I was assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, a U.S. Air Force training base in Biloxi, Miss., for training as a communications technician.
At the first opportunity I bought a motorcycle – a year-old 1965 Triumph 650 cc Bonneville. I had been forbidden any contact with motorcycles while at home, so this was in part a statement of my independence.
After I had completed the course, I was assigned to a radar squadron about 8 miles from my home in Niagara Falls. I packed my uniforms and what other meager gear I had and set out northbound for home wearing Levis, two or three sweatshirts, boots and a ragged leather jacket, with another airman on his Triumph similarly dressed.
It was late February when the nights were often freezing and conditions got worse as we progressed northward on Interstate 75. Travel was in rapid but short sessions with many stops for hot coffee and the warmth of anyplace indoors.
We planned to stay in motels along the route, and found warm beds for two nights after days of freezing our hands and faces. But on the third night when we entered a little town in Tennessee after dark, there was nothing open, not a soul in sight. It looked like we were going to have to camp out in the 30-degree weather, when a car behind us lit us up with flashing red lights.
It was the town constable, who gruffly demanded our driver’s licenses and ordered us to follow him. We did, to the police station, where he told us to empty our pockets on his desk before taking us through a steel door to a row of cells. He gave us towels and soap and ordered us to take showers while he stood by, a shotgun in hand. The warm water was wonderful.
Then he locked us in a cell with two bunks. A half hour or so later he came back with a tray with bowls of stew, fresh baked bread and hot coffee, which we ravaged in short order. We found out later that the constable had a contract with a lady in town to provide meals for the jail, and she made them as though they were for guests in her home and not for jailbirds.
The bunks were warm and comfortable so we slept like the dead. She did as excellent a job with breakfast the next morning, after which we were taken from our warm, comfortable cell and our pocket contents returned.
The constable told us he wanted us out of town in 15 minutes after he released us, there were to be no motorcycle bums in his town.
In 1966, the only experiences most people had with motorcyclists on the road was with Marlon Brando’s movie “The Wild One” wherein a gang of belligerent rowdy bikers came into a small town and proceeded to get drunk and violent, harassing the locals and breaking windows and such.
We sure looked like those guys did, mostly because our riding clothes were pretty ragged and our faces were so wind burned we couldn’t shave. We told him we couldn’t hang around; we had to be on duty in a few days. “Duty? What duty?” he asked. We answered, “We’re in the Air Force and on our way to new assignments.
He said, “Why didn’t you tell me you were military? I wouldn’t have hassled you!!”
We said, “Thanks for the room and board!” saluted him in the best military fashion, and hit the road.
Edward Gleason of Niagara Falls is 80 years old and still rides motorcycles (but, sadly, not his Bonneville).