he true romantic is native to no one soil and certainly wears no uniform, and so the reporter was pleased, though not surprised, on a recent trip to make the acquaintance of Buddy, the Gallant Ex-Biker.
He works as a cab driver for the Nita firm out of Newport, R.I., and was dressed, on first acquaintance, in his customary gear--a leather jacket with a Harley-Davidson crest, a small green wrench at his belt and two gold earrings in one ear.
As is not uncommon for Buddy, his arm was in a sling, this time, however, as a result of an auto accident. That is unusual. Buddy, by his own count, has had his nose broken twice, his jaw broken in four different places and each rib broken at least once, all as a result of barroom brawls stemming, as Buddy tells it, out of defense of womanhood.
"My father always told me, you see a man hitting a woman, hit first and ask questions later," says Buddy.
Also "I got the greatest respect for women. It doesn't matter to me if she's some rich society woman or a cheap barroom hooker. To me, they're gold. I treat 'em like gold."
He is 31, a Newporter from many generations back, who counts, in his family tree, a great-great-great uncle who was hanged at sea for piracy and a father who quit the police force when it seemed no place for an honest man. Buddy always has been a cab driver.
This is merely vocation, however. His soul is elsewhere: with the love of woman and the love of bike. No matter than he had to sell his Harley Panhead nine years ago for need of dough. He keeps on the front seat of his cab a copy of Iron Horse magazine that features himself on his bike in those fine bygone days, his black hair flying, his belly manfully fore, a blonde womanfully aft.
He also has, between thumb and forefinger, a brand new tattoo of Yosemite Sam, a fellow with a pistol in either hand who, he explains, embodies the essence of the biker credo.
"You never saw Yosemite Sam on Bugs Bunny?" he asks. "He's this little guy, always comes out shooting. He's always saying 'Back off, back off, I say.'
"They're good people, bikers. They're not mean, they only look mean." A leather jacket even with studs may be merely protective padding for a tender heart, and this seems to be the way with Buddy.
Even with his arm in a sling he carries a lady's luggage and he drives nights not because of the call of the neon but because of insomnia. Also, he is lonely; has been ever since his marriage broke up four years ago.
A woman, sighed Buddy on one recent trip to the train station, someone to come home to, preferably with children. He has always been attracted to women with children, he says; has gone through five pregnancies with ladies who didn't have an old man of their own. Some men shouldn't get married, they don't like kids, they don't have a sense of responsibility, but not him.
You should see his house, he says; his house is spotless. He vacuums regularly, he keeps it neat.
The New England night is raw, Buddy's tone melancholy. He speaks of love lost, the way his wife, who married him young, decided she had to have her freedom, the way he let her go 'cause if he didn't, she'd be playing around anyway behind his back, which ain't right. He sang the New England Ex-Biker Blues, you don't have to be a cowboy to star in a country song.
"This one night, I was going from bar to bar and I couldn't find no one to fight me. They were calling ahead, saying watch out, he's looking for a fight. I was really wasted. Finally I get in a fight with a friend of mine. He kicks me with a steel-toed boot--my friend Jack--I get my left cheek shattered, my nose broken . . . . "
Those days, he insists, are over. The barroom fight now occurs in defense only of the New England female in distress. His dreams, when not revolving about recapturing the love of his ex-wife, have to do with finding a woman. Gold, he says, again and again, he'd treat her like gold. You'd think a woman, especially a woman with kids, would be dying to meet a guy like him, but so far that's not the case. Also, how's he gonna meet anyone driving nights and who wants to come home to that?
The passenger gives it some thought.
A waitress in an all-night diner?
Went out with one for a while, says Buddy. It was okay but she had to go back to Florida.
He could try hanging around playgrounds to meet mothers, it is suggested.
A shake of his long-haired head.
"They'd probably think I'm a pervert."
He arrives at the station and, though it is not neccessary, waits with his woman passenger for the train. When it pulls into the station, he takes all the luggage and carries it to the car. Just before the train departs, he bows over his passenger's hand.
Of course, he does not leave until the train pulls out of the station. In the cold New England night, he stands on the outdoor platform, the leather jacket clear against the snow: a cavalier in the service of love with a wrench at his belt.