Blue Highways
June 8th, 2012

Since before I can remember, my idea of a good time is hopping on my motorbike and riding out of town. As a general rule, I stay as far off the beaten path as possible and I try never to think about where I’m going or when I’m going to get there.

This past week I paid a visit to my brother, who has recently relocated to St. George. As always, I took a roundabout route, around the backside of Utah Lake and into the West Desert, far from the twittering crowds. I encountered very few cars and only had to swerve once—to avoid a rattlesnake in the middle of State Route 68, coiled and ready to strike at the next vehicle that should come along. Good thing I wasn’t wearing sneakers!


Time was when I always slept on the ground—but nowadays, not so much. All the way down SR257 I kept thinking about that snake and how much I didn’t want to lower myself to his level. So by the time I rolled into Milford I was on the lookout for a motel. Alas, the Milford business district has shrunk to a precious few dusty storefronts, most of which—including the venerable Hong Kong Café—are shuttered. Happily, the state liquor store was open; I picked up a pint of rum and asked the clerk if she could recommend a place to stay.

Long pause. Then, “Well, there’s a motel just behind us, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You might want to try the Oak Tree Inn.”

Oak Tree Inn? There are no trees in Millard County, let alone oak trees. Perhaps we’re talking theme park—like the Mandalay Bay in Wendover?

I had missed seeing the Oak Tree Inn because it’s not on what I assume is Milford’s Main Drag. I was directed to turn left onto State Route 21, an even less travelled road than SR257, where, rising like a mirage from the shimmering, alkaline playa, stands the majestic Oak Tree Inn. Next door is a restaurant, Penny’s Diner, furnished in the obligatory Fifties motif, complete with black and white parquet floor, jukebox, pictures of Elvis, James Dean, finned Plymouths, etc. It was, to my surprise, spotless!

“Are you here for the funeral?” asked the waitress, who doubles as hostess, cashier and desk clerk.

“I hate it whenever somebody dies,” I said. “ Do you offer a mourner’s discount?”

She smiled, gave me the mourner’s discount and the key to room 142 which—again, to my surprise—was spotless! Matter of fact, the Oak Tree Inn is one of the nicest motels I’ve ever stayed in. Quiet, too. Seems that none of the other units was occupied.

That night I drew the curtains and opened the window. My motorcycle, Yellow Peril, was the only vehicle in the lot. Across the way, Penny’s Diner was bathed in a red neon glow. OPEN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, read the sign. But why? Not one single car came along during the night and not until dawn did the first creature stir—a shadowy pedestrian later identified as local senior citizen “Osborne,” age 98. Thank goodness Osborne is alive and kicking and not the person on whose behalf I am in mourning.

Breakfast was great! Sausage, bacon, hash browns, eggs, pancakes, coffee—all free, thanks to a meal ticket I’d gotten the night before, along with the ten percent mourner’s discount. I left Milford in a good mood, in spite of the impending funeral, which of course makes me sad because in the words of John Donne:

“Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”

I decided to earn my mourner’s discount by stopping at every little graveyard and roadside memorial along the way. Well, I suppose I’ve always done that, because it so happens that cemeteries make for ideal rest stops. There’s usually some shade, some grass, and fresh water on tap. I doff my Kevlar jacket and helmet, stretch my legs and contemplate the tombstones, in particular those that feature engravings of motorcycles and the accompanying epitaph asserting that so-and-so died “doing what he loved.”

I have a couple of scars, but I’ve never been seriously injured on a motorbike—which is amazing, considering how naïve I was back when I got started fifty years ago. My bike at the time was a 50cc Honda Cub, a machine that inspired a memorable lyric by a singing group known as “The Hondells.”

“It’s not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motorbike…”


The idea was that you didn’t have to be a biker in order to ride a motorbike. You didn’t require tattoos, you didn’t need a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back. You could just wear ordinary street clothes and your female passenger could wear penny loafers and peddle pushers—or puddle pushers, as it were. Her parents never worried about where you were taking her because, well, you weren’t a beer-swilling, chain-wielding biker but rather one of those “nicest” people one meets on a Honda.

Fast forward to 1967 and I was no longer nearly as nice. Something had come over me; the “nice” template no longer fit and no mothers would allow their daughters to date me. That’s because I had traded up to a 305cc Honda Super Hawk, which marked the beginning of a new and exciting mode of testosterone-charged two-wheeled transportation: the so-called “crotch rocket.”

Well, I was going to write about my trip to St. George to visit my brother, but now it seems, once again, I have wandered off course. That’s just what happens whenever I climb aboard a motorcycle.

-Richard Menzies