Days 10-13 - September 12-15, 1997
What is it with these Jerks, anyway?
Who are these Jerks? We have all known each other since high school, many since grade school. We grew up together in the late sixties in Indiana. We shared girlfriends, cars, pizzas and motorcycles. The seeds of JerkFests were planted in Lyle's bedroom, listening to music and playing games, and in my basement, listening to music playing pool and shooting pinball. There were many venues, and as we grew older and more independent they included various outings and road trips.
We have called ourselves many things over time, but the group has come to refer to itself simply as The Jerks.
Critical mass was achieved in 1970, when we first had real mobility as we started to get driver's licenses. That gave us the opportunity to do overnight camping trips. My parents had an empty lot in the country where we could build campfires and talk all night. During our senior year in high school, we made this a weekendly tradition many times. My clearest recollection of these early Jerk events was January 2nd, 1971 when we had fallen asleep around the campfire. Upon waking in the morning, we were covered with a blanket of snow. Why were we camping out on January 2nd? I can't tell you. But there we were.
The motorcycle trip that Mark and I are taking is simply a contemporary version of a Jerk outing. There are many examples of Jerk road trips, but my favorite was an bicycle outing with Carl and Mark. This would have been about 9th or 10th grade. As the story is told, they had a tent, sleeping bags, food, clothing, and just about everything you might need on an overnight camping trip, especially if you were planning to be gone a month. West Lafayette is not in a particularly hilly area of the state, but on a bike there's enough of a challenge in the gentle rolling hills surrounding the area. My favorite item that they packed were the cast-iron skillets. To be fair, camping technology has improved a lot in the last 30 years, but the idea of cast-iron skillets on a bicycle cracks me up. The end of the retelling involves certain heavy items being jettisoned into the woods. Probably still out there on highway 26, just a few dozen feet off the road.
In adult life, we have each gone our separate ways, and yet we are still very much the same guys we were then. Carl is a doctor, Mark is retired, Lyle between jobs as a CFO, Tom works for Silicon Graphics, I'm at Microsoft, and Jim works for Hewlett Packard. We all have kids, the oldest 19, the youngest 3. Because we have spouses that indulge these outings, we are able to shed family responsibilities for a long weekend and revive our shared past. The music recreates context, and shared jokes and common memories quickly flow.
Motorcycles were definitely a component of early Jerk history. I was the first to have a bike, a Yamaha 360. I bought it for $300 in my junior year in high school. One minor complication was that I did not yet officially have my driver's license. I was surprised to learn that a fifteen-year old could title and register a motor vehicle without a driver's license, as I'm sure my parents were. I bought the bike before considering the implications of owning such a vehicle without a license. Or the implications of having a bike without my parents knowing that I had it. After I had the bike in my possession, I thought perhaps it would be best to keep it out of sight for awhile, so I left it in Chris Toal's garage. After school we would go take it out and ride it around until dark. This lasted for maybe a week, until Mr. Toal called my father, asking when I would be removing my motorcycle from his garage.
Eventually I did get my license, and I was able to ride legally. By this time, Mark, Tom and Carl were also getting motorcycles. There were several other guys in our class that also bought motorcycles. In spite of the fact that teenagers are known to be immortal and invincible, one of our classmates lost a leg in a motorcycle accident a few weeks after getting his. Mark is still a very active rider, and I have been riding on and off over the years.
After high school, we started moving in different directions, seeing each other less and less, in smaller groups. This continued for years, until Mark and I decided to reconvene the Jerks in the San Juan Islands in 1993. That was a great success, and we decided to do it again every two years. It now feels like a permanent tradition. We even have our own logo, emblazoned on sweatshirts and hats:
It is Thursday evening. We have finally arrived in Glenn, Michigan (motto: The Pancake Capital). The commitment was made two years ago when we last convened at Baird Island in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. Carl stepped up to the plate and agreed to host JerkFest '97 in the Midwest, thus becoming JerkMaster Carl for the 1995-97. Carl picked a site in southwestern Michigan for JerkFest '97. It's an open cabin that easily accommodates all of us. It's perched on a high cliff looking west, and we have a pretty great view.
Within minutes we are back to the old familiar relationships that have survived since high school. The music is on, providing the soundtrack for a weekend of going back and catching up. I am in charge of tunes. An opening toast is in order.
Carl cooks a fabulous dinner featuring barbecued salmon. The JerkMaster has the responsibility to provide food and plan for most of the festivities. He has prepared well for the event. The cabin sleeps all of us comfortably.
The Jerks play serious cutthroat games when we get together. In fact, some of the earliest origins of the Jerks are deeply rooted in these games. Tonight we open with Hearts. And I do mean cutthroat. If someone is ahead, by only a few points, the rest of the Jerks gang up on whomever is ahead (me in this case) and do this primal "Wuh-wuh-wuh" chant to indicate solidarity in conferring multiple points on that person (me) in the next round. It worked - I got the queen and another half dozen hearts. :(
Tom wins this game of Hearts. But there will be more opportunities.
Friday morning we slowly come to consciousness, and learn that JerkMaster Carl has neglected to bring coffee. Honestly, Carl, this is inexcusable. We have a bunch of sad, sleepy faces looking at empty, empty coffee cups.
We resolve this crisis by sending Lyle to town while the rest of us lounge around bitching at Carl. Each event, the JerkMaster must suffer some abuse. In Minnesota, Tom brought ONE bag of chips for the entire weekend. We dubbed him 'One-Bag Boyle'. Carl is now 'No-Coffee Carl'. Lyle returns with some coffee and filters. He is the morning hero. Jim and Tom celebrate by snapping towels at each other, much livelier now that they have been caffeinated.
We have a tee time of 10:45 at a local golf course, and we're nearly conscious enough to embark on this mission. Carl is not a golfer, but agrees to come along. So we have two threesomes. Jim is the odds-on favorite for best score. His warmup putting is impressive, but we are not intimidated.
Jim, Carl and I play in front of Tom, Mark and Lyle. Occasionally their balls come close to us as we're finishing up a hole. On hole 7, Mark has a surprisingly tough lie, thanks to an apple tree and some help from a few Jerks.
It's a great afternoon, the temperature is just right. Between holes Carl contemplates strategy for the next hole.
At the end of the round, Jim and Lyle compare team scores. Jim takes first place with 47 on the back nine. I had a 49. Everybody had a good time, especially when we ignored the front nine.
We return to the cabin. A cutthroat game of Acquire starts up with Jim, Mark, Tom and Lyle. Later we play cutthroat poker. And then Euchre. Jim is the self-proclaimed Euchre God.
The highlight of the evening is a game of Hearts in which Carl loses. Carl does not always win at Hearts, but he has never lost, and this is cause for much celebration among the rest of us. We capture the evidence. (Tom wants me to point out that he won, again, with a very impressive score of 8.)
Saturday begins with Carl and Mark taking a bicycle trip. They were talking about a "century ride"- I think maybe they meant that between the two of them, they're almost 100 years old. But they do look pretty official in those tight little biking outfits. Don't you think Mark should lighten up a bit?
Tom, Jim and Lyle head to the beach. I get out the hose to clean 10 days of road grime off Rex. Cleaning a motorcycle is a labor of love. It's very rewarding, as the results are immediately evident and, in thanks to a well-known law of cartoon physics, the bike actually goes faster *and* is happier when it's clean. I enjoy the job. Just as I'm finishing, Tom returns from the beach and offers to take Rex out to air-dry the remaining spots of water. What a great guy. Off he goes, bike and rider quite happy.
About this time, Mark and Carl return from their old-guy bike ride. Mark notices that my bike is sparingly clean, highlighting the dramatic black and chrome combination that makes Rex so special. In something right out of Tom Sawyer, Tom "Can I Paint That Fence For You" Boyle suggests to Mark that if he cleans the ST, he can take it out for a ride. Mark agrees, and Tom jumps right in.
I think Tom ended up getting three rides out of the deal. His last ride was to Walmart to get a football for the obligatory game of touch football.
When we played football in high school, it was in the narrow streets of West Lafayette. We had to deal with parked cars, and moving cars, but that never stopped us. We'd play for hours in any weather. This afternoon we attempt to revive that tradition, and we use Lyle's car as a target for incomplete passes. We play for what seems like hours, while in fact, minutes passed. Jim berates us for being such wimps.
After another wonderful dinner, we discuss plans for JerkFest '99. Jim is officially declared JerkMaster for the 97-99 season. It sounds like we'll being doing a fishing trip somewhere in the west.
Mark and I have altered our return route to take a more direct route home on Highway 20. I make adjustments to the route and download them to the GPS. I did some diagnostics on the two-way radios and they seem to be working now, but we won't know for sure until we're back on the road. The five-day weather forecasts look like we might have some more weather to deal with on the return trip.
We've turned the corner on our trip. Tuesday morning, we'll be packing up, heading back to our regularly scheduled lives, already in progress. I miss my wife.
I do mental inventory on maintenance for the bike. So far, in the maintenance category, I have needed the following items from my extensive tool kit:
Tomorrow I take the bike to Perry's HD in Kalamazoo for an oil change and routine inspection. The bikes have performed flawlessly on the way out; we're hoping it's as good on the way back.
The last Jerk event is an evening sail on Lake Michigan. We sailed on a 36' boat skippered by Captain John Shoal. The weather was great, although we did not have a lot of wind. Carl had the honor of announcing the departure of the SS JerkFest into the harbor with the ceremonial blowing of the conch shell.
We enjoy our final sunset together as Captain Mark pilots us back to the harbor. A thoroughly enjoyable outing.
Tom brought a book of poetry by Carl Dennis, "Ranking The Wishes". He bought it after hearing Garrison Keillor read from it on Prairie Home Companion. Tom opens the book and offers me "The Great Day". It seems particularly suitable. (Don't read this until you have a few uninterrupted moments to savor it unhurried.)
"The Great Day"
What if the great day never comes
We are eager to start on our return trip to Seattle.
Tomorrow - The Return of Moto-Photo-Journalism
Glenn MI - Dubuque IA