Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

On two-wheel travels and tariffs

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Aaah! The garden is finally planted. It’s July already and some folks say that the 4th marks the end of the first half of summer! So now, if we get a little more sunshine, a big priority on our “To-Do” list is to put some miles on the motorcycle.

I grew up in the Midwest in the 1960s. My single mom ran a pretty tight ship. By the time I left home, I was ready to “kick out the jams.” I won’t go into a lot of detail about what that looked like, but let me just say, it included discovering the Arizona desert and its wide open spaces, along with a cast of characters quite unlike the ones I grew up with in the Rust Belt city of Detroit, Mich. It was in Arizona that I was introduced to motorcycling by some friendly bikers who let me ride around on the back of their Harley-Davidsons.

Feeling fearless and independent, I soon acquired my own two-wheeler, a 1957 BMW R69. Riding made me feel free. All the hype about “wind in your hair” isn’t just stereotypical hyperbole. It really does feel good! But what I loved most of all was actually experiencing the “lay of the land,” smelling sage and Ponderosa Pine, that special way you can when you’re right out in it, and thermals, those subtle temperature changes that make you want to peel off another layer or pull that zipper up closer to your chin.

As life would have it, I grew up. The desire to settle down and make a family of my own began to emerge. I made my way to Minnesota where those wants took root on a forty-acre homestead in northern St. Louis County. My ’57 Beamer got traded for a tractor.

Decades have passed. The kids are grown. The garden’s a little smaller. Funny how the desire for freedom circles back around. As responsibilities with work and family downshifted, the urge to get a bike returned. John and I bought a Harley-Davidson. We don’t want to take long rides to distant destinations with just our sleeping gear tied on the back and a change of clothes in the saddlebags. Instead, we love two-lane backroads where we can putt along at 50 mph and be back home before dark.

In a recent news report, Harley-Davidson made an announcement that it will move much of its manufacturing operations overseas. Some are shocked that new trade policies could trigger this iconic American manufacturer, with its long history of success, to relocate. Founded in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1903, William Harley and Arthur Davidson teamed up to develop the first motorized bicycle. Over the next 10 years, they refined their design, increasing both speed and comfort. Eventually Harley-Davidson became the most popular motorcycle in America and a major supplier of two-wheeled military transport in both World Wars.

In the postwar years, thousands of GI’s returned from overseas with a lingering spirit of “brotherhood” and a stronger appreciation for “freedom”. They bought Harley-Davidsons and hit the open road. The Jack Pine Gypsies, an early motorcycle club, convened the first rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, in 1938 and the infamous Hell’s Angels formed in 1948. These market developments sent sales soaring. With its only real competitor, Indian, leaving the industry in 1953, Harley-Davidson became the only “American-Made” motorcycle and remained so for the next 46 years. 2018 marks its 115th anniversary!

In haste to “keep campaign promises,” America’s latest fiscal policy-makers have set in motion global economic ripples with no shore upon which to land in sight. H-D may be one of many American manufacturing success stories to hit the skids due to extreme economic instability. And, to add insult to injury, much of the rhetoric surrounding this sad chain of events blames those who are being sacrificed for the sake of “politics” — the struggling companies and their workers.

H-D has weathered numerous economic ups and downs over its long history. They’re a true example of American entrepreneurial success, continually innovating and adapting to a changing economy. But today’s news is a different story. With the announcement of steep tariffs on steel and aluminum that appear to be triggering a potential worldwide trade war, H-D and hundreds of other American companies are worried that this will seriously erode profit margins and threaten their balance sheets. Relocation and downsizing become necessary strategies to reduce costs and, hopefully, survive.

Sometimes, when John and I need a break from the news and house projects, we’ll hop on the Harley and head for Crane Lake. Before turning around for home, we like to pull into a local resort, relax over a Coke, and absorb the beauty of all that water!

But lately, thoughts of the news have followed us. On one of our recent trips, for the first time, we wondered if our arriving on the Harley might stir up some unexpected tension due to the endless spin and opinionating by hot-button political commentators. With the country so divided, communicating with strangers, and now even friends, has become a little less predictable and secure. This is a change, and not a very good one.

We’re working hard to maintain the pure enjoyment of taking to the road and having those friendly chats with folks we meet along the way. When media messaging might heighten judgments or fears, I try to remember those soldiers, coming home with their strong need for freedom and a sense of “brotherhood”. There’s a lot to that!

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