Last week a friend of mine lost her Dad.
I didn’t know Andy Garner, but his daughter, Blair, is a colleague, a friend and a daily breath of fresh air around the office. To show our love and support for the family, everyone from work attended the memorial service. As I said, I didn’t know Andy, but turns out we had a lot in common.
Andy was just two years older than I am. Those who spoke at his memorial unanimously agreed that Andy was smart, opinionated and knew almost everything. I’m not making a personal comparison here, I’m just saying; we did have a lot in common. Andy was a Dad, like me, and it was apparent to everyone that he dearly loved his family. He told them so daily.
He grew up in Amarillo, graduating from Amarillo High School in 1972. That makes him a “Sandie.” How do I know that? I spent two years early on in my newspaper career as a sports writer for the Amarillo Globe News and covered more than my share of local high school sports. The “Sandies” are the hometown team. I wonder if we might have been in stands at the same time on a Friday night many years ago.
I also discovered, we both had a passion for riding motorcycles. His best friend, one of several biker buddies, shared Andy’s absolute joy for getting out on the open road at every opportunity. He rode because he loved it. Andy was riding home when a van turned in front of him. Unable to avoid the vehicle, he was struck and killed.
All bikers know the inherent danger in riding. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to experience a deadly accident on the road than those in passenger cars
42% of two-vehicle fatal motorcycle crashes involved a vehicle turning left while the motorcycle was going straight
Perhaps, as was mentioned at the memorial service, Andy died doing what he loved. I only know this; a motorcycle changes you, and I believe, for the better. This was surely the case for Andy Garner. Because a motorcycle isn’t something you have, it’s something you do. A popular biker quote says, “four wheels move the body; two wheels move the soul.” That’s true. When we ride, we lean into every twist and turn. The road becomes a part of our journey. You see more, smell more, feel more. You ARE more.
An errand to the local grocery store or a 1,000-mile road trip to the Sturgis Rally becomes a full-body experience. You are immersed in the elements; rain, wind, sun, chill; and you must adapt to the always-changing conditions. That makes bikers among the most flexible and forgiving folks you will ever meet. Riding is our therapy, which is why you never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office. Our analysis begins with the click of a starter button (or a stomp on a kick starter if you own something vintage). Whatever it is, it gets better in the wind.
Bikers talk a lot about the sense of freedom they feel when riding. Freedom is just another word for choice. We have lots of them. Strapped inside a steel cage (car) and numbed by climate-control, you’re disconnected from everything but the destination you’re pointed at. We may even be headed in the same direction, but you will never know the excitement and surprise to be found by simply taking the next exit marked “Scenic Vista Ahead.”
You drive to get somewhere. We ride because it’s FUN. A Biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window. We’ve learned that a tiny hole-in-the-wall diner with motorcycles parked out front means they have really good chicken-fried steak and sweet tea inside. We ride for the adventure, never hesitating to go past the last light at the edge of town. I bet Andy Garner took lots of side roads and byways on his journey, and had tons of fun doing so. Andy’s son, Reed, said his Dad had a way with words. Catching a yellow jacket in your vest at 70 mph has a way of expanding any vocabulary.
Riding a motorcycle will definitely improve your love life. It takes a whole lot more love to share a motorcycle seat than it does to share a bed. Bikers know that routine maintenance should never be neglected. And we never argue with a woman holding a torque wrench.
There are thousands of Harley-Davidson t-shirts printed with the saying, “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” Listening to those who eulogized him, I know that Andy understood what was most important. He needed no explanation on how to be a great Dad or a trusted friend. Andy knew that when riding lead, you don’t spit and that riding faster than everyone else only guarantees you’ll ride alone.
When you look down the road, it seems to never end, but you better believe, eventually, it does.
Andy Garner’s life ended too soon, but his spirit lives on in the hearts and memories of those he loved and those who loved him. His ride will contine. That’s the lesson I learned last week from an amazing man I never met. Share yourself fully with others. Offer constant friendship. Tell a good story. Have FUN. Be a great Dad.
Ride on, Andy!