I love the smell inside my helmet. A lingering mixture of exhaust, lubricant, Simple Green, Nivea aftershave, blooming trees and asphalt awakens my senses every time I hit the starter button, put on my lid and secure the chin strap.

I don’t drive much. Haven’t had the need to in the past 15 years since I commute to work via the L. My 2002 VW Beetle only just turned 36,000 last week. Driving in these parts is for suckers. Relegated to a grinding task, usually in the worst times of the day, nobody gets pleasure out of driving anymore. Sure, you can have a Maserati, but there’s nowhere you can’t drive 185. So, what’s the point? But riding is almost nothing but pleasure — especially once you get outside the city boundaries.

Seeing as how I am generally antisocial and such, I usually don’t go riding with other people very often. I got into riding long after all my friends outgrew it, broke body parts or had families, so I’ve always felt a bit at a disadvantage hanging with tuners and thus kept my distance. But every now and then I get together with my buddy Kevin in Geneva and we hit the road from there. Scooter rides a BMW RS1100 and I keep pace on my Ducati Monster 620.

Traffic was light Sunday morning as I headed south down Western Avenue to I-290 on my way out to Geneva. I pulled up to the light at the six corners of Elston, Diversey and Western as a flash mob — I think that’s what the kids call them  —  of about a dozen hipster nerds in unitards performed a dance with water bottles. And me without my camera. I said to myself, “Lou, it’s the beginning of a great adventure.”

The ride out to Kevin’s was uneventful other than I managed not to miss the turnoff that I often do. When I arrived, we decided to head north up Route 31 to go to the Volo Auto Museum, where the Batmobile, Mach 5, K.I.T.T. and The Mystery Machine reside among classic muscle cars from the 50s and 60s — and older vintage gems like several mint condition Chevy Bel Air convertibles, a Pierce Arrow, a Ford Edsel Station Wagon with window-mounted air conditioning  (essentially a torpedo-shaped ice chest that vented into the window) and Cadillacs with hood ornaments in the shapes of rockets and jets. They may make cars safer and more reliable today, but few arrest the soul like those of Detroit’s heyday.

Along the way, we stopped in McHenry along Route 176 and the Fox River for a burger and beer at Kief’s Reef. “I’ve been meaning to check this place out for years,” Kevin said. So we pulled into the lot, parked alongside a couple dozen Harleys and walked down to the beer tent on the shoreline.

We bellied up to the bar and took in the scene. Jet skiers cruised up and down the Fox. The White Sox were on the TV in their vintage 1972 red uniforms and Chris Sale was en route to pitching his first career complete game. The burger hit the spot and the MGD — a sickly sweet beer that I normally disdain — went down smooth like iced tea on the hot afternoon. A band was setting up in the sun, but we had somewhere to go.

As we headed out, a couple started chatting me up about my bike. “How’s it ride? Do you like it?”

“Love it. It’s only a 620, but I have no problem keeping up with his 1100. Gets over 50 MPG too.” Even among all the American steel near the Wisconsin border, the Italian still sticks out. My girlfriend hates the bike. She calls it a crotch rocket, despite me constantly correcting her that it is a naked — the way motorcycles were meant to be made. The Harley rider’s wife was more interested in Kevin’s fold-down seat.

A few minutes later we reached our destination.

Does Speed know Racer X is his long-lost brother? Photo courtesy of Ray-Roy Pfifer.

Volo did not fail to impress, although Kevin and I managed a double-take when we saw a Plymouth Reliant with a sign on the windshield saying “You could win this car!”

Win a vintage K car? What do I get for losing?

The museum was broken up into four sheds of various classic cars interspersed with a dozens of cars used in the movies. Although we came for the Mach 5 and Batmobile, most of the movie cars were not nearly as impressive as the classic cars. I mean the buttons on the steering wheel of the Mach 5 didn’t even work and I couldn’t see where the circular saw blades were stored in the bumper. I wished the Mustang Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt had been there, or at least the Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit.

My need for celebrity speed was eventually met when I came across the 1968 LeGrand MK7A once driven by the legendary Sam Posey, the former race car driver who delivers the near poetic narration at the start of Formula One races on the Speed Network and “Posey’s Perspective” on the Formula One Debrief show.

I’m generally not into car racing, especially NASCAR, or as I call it Pro Wrestling on Wheels. But something about the technology and skill of the peacock sport has stirred my soul since the days of watching the cartoon Speed Racer on WSNS-TV as a kid. F1 is like the live action version. The video of the Sauber F1 car cut in half like an apple that recently went viral helps explain my fascination.

After a couple hours in the museum, it was time to head home. Kevin and I parted ways as I took Route 120 back to the Skokie Highway, which becomes the Edens Expressway — the only expressway in the Chicago area that doesn’t massively suck. The time was getting late. A North Shore WASP came barreling down the highway in a BMW 3 Series in all kinds of a hurry, so I followed it, using the car as my lead blocker. Keeping a safe distance a couple seconds behind, we flew down the blacktop together at speeds approaching 100 per, until traffic began to bunch up near my exit.

I eased off the throttle and downshifted to fourth and then third as I leaned into the Peterson Avenue cloverleaf. I was home in five minutes. The sensation I got from the ride would sustain me through the week.


About the Author

Tom Long

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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