Me cruising down the road on my custom painted hemi orange, 2005 Harley Davidson Dyna Super Glide

One year & seven months ago now, I decided to make a change in my life. I decided to stop existing and start living. I took better care of my body, without much exercise and just a change in dietary habits I dropped a hundred pounds. I started to look & feel better. Now since then I have taken a step back and gained a few of those extra pounds back, I think that will always be a work in progress. But I also made another change, I took better care of my soul and in that endeavor I have not taken backwards step.

I was five months away from turning forty and I was a miserable shell of a man. The last decade of my life just so happened to be the worst decade of my life. Some good things had happened during my thirtysomething phase. I had made considerable progress in actual “adulting’ as I purchased my first home and found a career with a great company, that I am approaching 8 years at now.

But something was missing.

My twenties were spent shuffling back & forth between working in a machine shop in the automotive industry or working with my father in the family business, and spending my nights out and about with my friends. Somewhere in between I did manage to graduate from college, albeit about ten years after I finished high school.

By thirty-three, the Obama economy combined with some ill-advised business decisions caused the closure of our family business. A year we closed our doors and 6 months after I started my new career I had purchased my home. I had the most expenses I had ever had in my life while I was making the least amount of money I had since my early twenties.

My life became, 1) wake up and get ready, 2) drive to work, 3) sit in a cubicle, 4) drive home, 5) fall asleep in front of the TV and repeat. Day in and day out. However unlike Thomas Andersonn The Matrix, there would be no Morpheus coming to offer me a red pill and a new life as Neo.

I had slowly lost touch with most of my close friends. Marriages and childrens, concepts that I was never really any good at figuring out took precedence. I can’t really blame anyone, it’s not like I made much of an effort, I was too busy being miserable as I was locked in my endless routine of “adulting.”

Last March I had an appointment with my Rheumatologist, a standard follow up to discuss the status of the autoimmune disorder I was diagnosed with a few years earlier. At that visit I tipped the scale at 343 pounds, almost 70 pounds greater than what I had averages for most of my adult life. My lab results were awful, high blood pressure, high sodium, high in just about everything you don’t want to be high and low in everything you don’t want to be low.

“This is not because of your Wegener’s,” my doctor told me. “Your treatment is working and your disease is mostly being managed, this is because you’re a fat miserable bastard.”

Except for the part of my Wegener’s granulomatosis being mostly in check, that’s not exactly what she told me, but that’s what I heard. I was a fat miserable bastard. I left my doctor’s office and went straight to the Taco Bell drive through. Driving home, I spilled Burrito Supreme crumbs all over my SUV as I thought to myself that it was time to make a change.

A change is exactly what I made. The next day I cut out fast food, limited my intake of carbs, sugars and processed foods. Five months later as I turned forty years old that August, I was down about 90 pounds. I was walking up stairs without getting winded, I was fitting into clothes I hadn’t fit in in years. I was doing great.

But something was still missing.

Also last year I had started leaving my house more, for something other then driving to work. I started hanging out with one of my good friends I hadn’t lost touch with. Niko was my best friend whom I consider a brother actually and I started to hand around with his group of friends, whom I would come to learn were actually his “brothers” too.

They are members of a motorcycle club.

Riding a motorcycle is something I had always wanted to do. I had just never gotten around to it by this point in my life. The weekend of my 27th birthday, Niko & I flew out to Las Vegas where we met up with a group of other friends who were already there. On the day of my birthday, the six of us rented mopeds from a place on the Strip and rode out in a pack on the desert.

I will never forget the small taste of freedom I got on that trip. Never mind the fact that I had stalled my Scooter out a few times before we got to the desert and the group of us looked like rejects from a Troma movie. I was free.

At one point when we were stopped at a red light, my friend Johnny looked at me and said “We have to come out here again one day on real bikes.” That hasn’t happened yet, but it is a sentiment that has stuck with me these last 14 years.

I remember as a kid growing up in the St.Clair-Superior neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, seeing tattooed bikers ride past me as I cruised by riding my bicycle on the sidewalk, thinking to myself “how cool is that?”  One day I was going to have myself a Harley Davidson , a few years later when Terminator 2 came out I decided that it was going to be a Fat Boy.

When I was in the third grade, I used a black marker to paint up the side of a discarded large wooden birdcage, that my father had used to wholesale parakeets out of, with a sign that said “Jugoslavian Joe’s repair shop” with a tattooed arm holding a monkey wrench. My older friend Jozo who had moved out of the neighborhood and into the suburbs a year later, had helped me with the design of what I envisioned as being my motorcycle repair shop. I basically just sat my bicycle upside down and fiddled with the chain.

I had gotten my first tattoo at 18, but it was not until 40 that I purchased my first motorcycle and had finally started living. Up until then I had always made excuses, in my 20’s it was “who am I going to ride with?” in my 30’s it was “I can barely afford my house & car payments.”

That defeated attitude was eating away at my spirit, by 39 years old I got to the point that I did not recognize who that guy staring back at me in the mirror was, but I did know I didn’t not like that miserable bastard.

As the weeks got closer to my 40th birthday, and the pounds started to fall off I was starting to physically feel a lot better.

But something was still missing. I started coming out more and seeing my friend Niko and hanging out with him and his club brothers, seeing the camaraderie and the tight bond that they had shared with each other. I didn’t know it quite yet then, but it was exactly what I needed in my life too.

Last October I finally bit the bullet, ignored all the negative excuses rattling around in my head and purchased a used Honda VTX 1300 off of someone on Facebook Marketplace. It wasn’t the Harley Davidson Fat Boy that I had always dreamed about, but it had gotten me in the wind.

2006 Honda VTX 1300. My first motorcycle.

And I was happy.

I will never forget the feeling that came over me as I took it out on my own for that first time, after a few pointers from Niko, which is a comical story for another time, the sense of freedom that overcame my body and heart was like no other and I am more than man enough to admit that I shed a few tears as I made my way down Ohio State Route 84.

Flash forward a few months later, I and a few of Niko’s club brothers that I know called friends rode down the scenic route to Ohio Bike Week in Sandusky, we were stopped waiting for a drawbridge to come down as I looked over to a little kid standing on his front porch looking at myself and all the other bikers in awe. That kid was once me, I thought to myself.

Now I’m 41, this summer I sold my Honda and finally found that missing piece of my soul, not the Fat Boy that I had thought I always wanted, but the 2005 FXDI Dyna Super Glide that it turns out I needed.

Like an idiot, a few days after I bought the bike, I dropped her and ended up with quite a bit of damage, hurt ribs and road rash, but mostly hurt pride. I didn’t let that stop my though, I got right back on that horse after I heeled, spruced the bike up to match my taste and even earned myself a road name out of the process.

Clutch.

I chose the red pill and now I’m a prospect with a great group of friends that I so very much look forward to the day that I can call them my brothers too.

The road I traveled to get here may have taken me a whole lot longer that I had anticipated, but at 41 I have finally stopped just existing and started living.

How cool is that?