He rolled under the covers of the uncomfortable king-sized bed, feeling the pajama tops bunched up around his stomach. He lay on his side, not ready to wake up, and considered the reasons to face another day in another city. What casino hotel is this? His wife booked the hotel. He couldn’t recall the name and decided he didn’t care. Is she here? He turned his head just enough to open one eye to see the silhouette of his still-sleeping wife contrasted against the gray shadows on the far wall. How long are we here? He couldn’t remember what she had told him. She blocked his view of the digital clock radio on the bedside table. It didn’t matter; it was still dark. He turned back to face the curtains covering reflective glass windows that did not open. He checked that out when she was in the bathroom, realizing that from the fourteenth floor of the tower, he would land on the casino roof.
He tugged at the tangled fabric in a failed effort to pull the shirt down around his backside without raising his torso. He accepted that discomfort was to be his companion and thought about how many sleeping pills were in his shaving kit. He pulled an oversized pillow over his face, listened to his breathing, and tried to remember where they had dinner last night.
He woke to the sound of his wife removing the plastic wrapping from paper cups and pouring water into the coffee brewer. Daylight was creeping around the curtains of the window next to the bed. He stretched under the covers, mumbled a good morning, and asked his wife where they were. She informed him they had checked into the Eldorado Hotel in Reno after driving from San Francisco. She had done the driving because he was feeling the effects of his anti-anxiety medication.
When they left Seattle seven days ago, he drove their SUV south along the California coastline. The trip was their first vacation without children. The unspoken intention of the trip was to spark new life into their marriage and celebrate the sale of their bookkeeping business which they had operated together for over twenty years. By the time the sale was to close, she was the one to get the transaction completed, and he had become indifferent. They stopped in San Francisco to visit their daughter, a student at California State University. Frank looked down at the San Francisco Bay as they were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, he told his wife to stop the car, but she laughed at what she thought was a joke.
He pulled the covers back, sat up facing the window, put his feet on the floor, and looked for his glasses. Across the room, his wife was doing something with the coffee brewer. She walked to the window and pulled back the curtains, complaining that she needed more light. After opening the curtains, she started to walk past her husband and stopped. “What are you wearing?” she demanded as she observed him sitting on the bed.
He looked up at his wife, “Wearing?” he replied, thinking he was wearing the pajamas he had worn every night since they left Seattle. Maybe this is when she would tell him they needed washing.
“Frank, what is that vest doing on you?” she asked.
The man looked down and stared at the black leather vest covering his black pajama top. Then, he slowly shook his head and looked back at his wife.
“Did you leave the room last night?” she asked.
“Of course not,” he said, looking back at the vest and noticing for the first time there were red and yellow patches on the front of the vest, which he could not read because they were upside down from his perspective.
“Then explain where it came from,” she demanded as she stood before her accused husband.
Frank straightened his back, slowly rubbed both hands down the front of the vest, pulled the bottom panels together at his waist, and admired the oversized brass zipper pull. His wife watched as he pulled the two parts of the zipper together.
“What are you doing?” she yelled.
“I’m seeing if it fits,” he replied while moving the zipper pull up to mid-chest. “What do the patches say?”
“It’s a motorcycle vest! What do you think they say?” she exclaimed with exasperation. “Did you find it in the room?” she continued interrogating.
“Look at the pockets,” he replied, moving one of the horizontal zippers on an upper pocket.
“Frank, look at me,” she demanded and waited for his compliance. “Where did you get that thing?” she asked again.
“I didn’t get it anywhere,” he replied as he stood up. “How does it look on me?”
“You are not answering my questions, Frank.”
He walked over to a mirror mounted behind the silent coffee brewer and admired the vest, which is when his wife noticed the graphics and patches on the back. “Frank, the vest belongs to somebody else; there are labels on the back,” she insisted, pointing at the back panel.
“Let me guess,” he said, looking at her in the mirror. “It says Harley-Davidson and mentions motorcycles. Am I right?”
“Take that thing off,” she advised.
“Where is the coffee?”
“The brewer won’t turn on,” she explained.
After fumbling with the rocker switch on the coffee brewer, Frank turned, walked to the closet, found his chino pants, and held them up below the black vest. “Blue jeans or nothing,” he concluded.
“Where are you going?”
“To get coffee in the lobby,” Frank replied as he pulled on his blue jeans and transferred his wallet and cell phone to the pockets. “The Cole Haan sneakers are an interesting touch. I need black leather boots,” he mumbled to himself as he tied the sneakers.
Frank listened to his wife’s protests, cautions, and insistence that he take the vest off while reading the patches in the mirror. Finally, when she was done, he turned and said, “Don’t tell anybody, but I actually prefer BMWs.”
“We don’t own a motorcycle and will not own a motorcycle,” his wife said. “Take that thing down to the concierge and let them deal with it.”
Frank started pointing at the patches and reading them to his wife; “This patch below the pocket zipper says ‘Candyman.’ The pin below the pocket on the other side says ‘Sturgis 2018.’ The big one here says ‘U.S. Army Ranger’ on top and ‘Afghanistan’ below.
Frank marched off the elevator into the busy hotel lobby and commenced an aggressive search for coffee. A man wearing a black vest and black boots was walking through the lobby, glanced at Frank’s vest, and waved a thumbs up. Belatedly Frank returned the gesture. He followed a sign in the lobby that pointed to the convention center and thought he might find coffee urns. A man wearing a black leather vest and riding gloves gave Frank a fist bump, said nothing, and kept walking. Another man said, “Hooyah,” as he passed by.
Finding no coffee in the convention center, Frank strode to a coffee shop just off the main lobby, thinking he would order coffee to go. He heard somebody say ‘Hooyah,’ but he couldn’t tell if it was directed his way. As he approached the hostess, she welcomed him in and pointed to a breakfast buffet, saying, “For club members.”
“Club members?” Frank repeated cautiously, eyeing several black vested bikers eating breakfast near the buffet.
“Aren’t you part of the club?” she asked. “You need a wristband to get into the buffet all four days of the rally. Where is your wristband?” she asked as she looked at his arms.
“I don’t have a wristband. I’m not, . . .” Frank started to explain.
“There it is,” she interrupted, pointing to a side pocket of the vest. She pulled out the orange plastic wristband and told him to hold out his arm. “They should have put this on when you checked in at registration for the convention. Is your wife with you? The orange means a guest is included in the buffet,” she advised.
Frank walked toward the buffet, receiving nods and more fist bumps. One biker said, “Rangers lead the way,” and looked at Frank as though he expected a response. Most of the bikers were wearing skull caps or hats, and none of them wore Cole Haan sneakers. Frank thought not shaving for the past two days helped his new persona.
He sat in a booth, pulled out his cell phone, and called his wife as a waitress poured coffee. While waiting for the phone to ring, he noticed a sign across the lobby welcoming guests to the Street Vibrations Motorcycle Rally in Reno, surrounded by a list of club and corporate sponsors. “Come down to the coffee shop; we have a free breakfast buffet,” he explained when she answered the phone.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Yeah, there was an orange wristband sticking out of my vest pocket, which entitles two people to the breakfast buffet. It turns out there is a major biker event in town. Come on down, I’ll wait for you.”
“Frank, it is not your vest, and it is not your wristband,” she reminded him.
“Okay, you are right, but somebody has to eat the food. I’ll see you in a few minutes,” he said and hung up.
“I have a booth at the back,” he said when his wife arrived and led the way through the tables. He was greeted with fist bumps and ‘Hooyahs’ from several bikers as Frank showed his wife the buffet and handed her a plate. With plates loaded, they sat down facing each other, and Frank could see his wife did not appreciate the biker comradery.
“Frank, they think you are a biker,” she said with a subdued voice as she cut a slice of cantaloupe. She said nothing more while the waitress came over and poured coffee for the biker and biker mama. “You don’t own a motorcycle, don’t even have a DOL endorsement to drive a motorcycle, don’t belong to a biker club, and never in the Army. They are going to figure you out, and it won’t be pretty. These guys are not smiling,” she observed.
“A DOL endorsement is not that hard to get,” Frank protested with a hint of optimism.
The couple ate breakfast as people started to leave the coffee shop and bikers gather in the lobby. “There go my people,” Frank said as he finished his coffee.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” she said with a note of accusation.
Frank stood up and started going through the vest pockets, “I wonder what else we can find,” he said.
“More trouble,” his wife suggested.
He pulled a key attached to an H-D fob out of the right front pocket and held it up for inspection. “Do you think the fob locks the doors?” Frank asked with a smile.
“That is enough,” his wife demanded. “Take the vest and key to the hotel concierge right now.”
“I’m going to check out my Hog. Breakfast is on me,” he replied holding up the orange wristband as he walked away.
Frank joined with a group of bikers moving in the direction of the hotel parking lot. He carried the key and H-D fob, so it looked like he was headed to his bike with the rest of the mostly male club members. The group joined a larger crowd of bikers warming up their machines, talking, smoking, and organizing equipment. There had to be over two hundred bikes, mostly black Harley-Davidsons, and Frank had no idea how to match the key to any particular bike. He heard people talking about the rally and concluded they were meeting at a park on the Truckee River.
When most bikers had cleared the parking lot, Frank figured one of the few remaining bikes had to match the key, so he wandered among the abandoned machines, unsure what to do next. He didn’t even know how to start a motorcycle, and watching the veterans start their bikes convinced him this was not a sport for amateurs.
From the fourteenth-floor window, Frank’s wife watched her helmetless husband in the parking lot walk among the dozens of bikers, looking like a man who wanted to join the party but knew he was not invited. As the crowd started to mobilize, the noise from the bikes was intimidating, even at her level on the hotel tower. She couldn’t see his face, but his body language told her Frank enjoyed the sound of thunder and the energy. She stopped watching when only a few bikes were left, knowing he would not get on the bike, even if he found one that matched the key.
“I found your phone number printed on the key fob,” Frank said to the man who answered the cell phone. He explained that he was at the Eldorado Hotel and had the man’s vest and key.
The man thanked Frank for calling and then confirmed that Frank was staying in the same room he had stayed in three days earlier and had been in Reno for the Street Vibrations Motorcycle Rally. He told Frank he was at home in Houston, Texas. Frank told the man he had identified his bike in the parking lot.
“How could you tell which was mine?” he asked.
“When the bikers went to the rally few bikes were left, and only one had a Texas license plate,” Frank explained. He hesitated and then asked the man why he had left his vest and bike in Reno.
“I meant to leave the bike, but I suppose leaving the vest was carelessness caused by pressure. My wife called to tell me our oldest son was injured at work and taken to the emergency room. It was a two-day ride to get home, so I took the next flight out of Reno,” he explained.
Frank didn’t want to ask more than the man wanted to share, “I’m sorry. I think that explains why things got left behind. Is there anything I can do at this end? Do you want me to send the vest to you?”
“No, maybe I’ll come back for them after the funeral,” he replied, and then there was silence. After an uncomfortable wait, the man said, “I don’t know if I even want that stuff. We are in a transition, and some things are not important anymore. Like it says, there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. We aren’t dancing right now.”
Frank expressed condolences to the man, hung up the phone, and said to his wife, “How about taking our road trip in a different direction? Call it a transition.”
“What direction do you want to go?” she asked.
“I think we need to see an Army Ranger in Houston.”
“Are we taking the vest?” she asked.
Frank took the vest off and said, ‘Yes, the vest goes with us, and we leave in the morning. I’ll do the driving.”