Season One, Episode 09 – Eyes Back On The Highway

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SCOOTER TRAMP SCOTTY: Most people have their own reality. They have their home, their job, their wife, their house, their car. And they enjoy their dog and they enjoy these familiarities. But the drifter, he doesn’t have any of this. Everything around him is in a state of change. I stay in places for up to two months. One time I’m down in the Keys with friends who live on boats and I’m fixing scooters for a living. I just came from Texas living in that bike shop with those guys working– I worked on some of the customer bikes while I was there. The reality before that, my friend in Kansas with the ranch and all that, and back, and back and back.

So you jump into other people’s worlds. It’s kinda like, dope. The tourist, he’s on vacation. He’s spending a bunch of money. He’s going to the tourist things. He’s eating in the nice restaurants. The local takes, runs his credit card and is cordial and nice to him. He does not see himself in this guy. He does not invite him to his house. So the traveler, he’s got more time, less money. The local sees himself in this guy. This guy’s traveling. He’s an interesting cat. He will invite him to his house. He will invite him to his barbecue. And what happens is after he’s around, while he will become your friend. So what I’ve done is I’ve jumped into his reality.

You guys ever seen that show Quantum Leap? Where they’re jumping into new realities all the time. That’s what it’s like. And I wasn’t looking to live a life, a hardship life, an endurance thing where I’m sleeping on picnic tables under a tarp and a rainstorm. You know what I mean? I was looking to try to engineer a way that was, dare I say, comfortable enough. To work as a long-term lifestyle.

I live a very easy kind of a life. I never did feel quite right until I started hitting the road. And what happened when I started travel further and wider, I began to meet other people like me. And, what I found out is that wanderlust is a personality type. Well here we are sitting in the city in New Orleans. Pretty close to downtown. Well, actually we are downtown. This feels like it’s gonna be therapy.

Let’s see, man, my name’s Scooter Tramp Scotty, and it was in the spring of 94. It’s 2014 now that I left on a motorcycle to see if I could stay gone for a year. And in the spring of 95, I went back liquidated everything I owned, and I’ve been on the road ever since. So it’s been 20 years to date now. I travel the whole of the US, Canada, and Mexico. And time have stayed no one place any more than two months. Scooter Tramp, Scotty is a pen name. Back in the old days, even through the eighties a Scooter Tramp was somebody that rode a Harley. When you went for a ride, they used to call it a putt.

You know these, the language has changed. But I do the drifter stuff. I write the true Drifter stories, and some people are very interested in those. It was in the mid nineties. I began to write some articles and sell them to, Easyrider Magazine. They had two Scotty’s. One day they put his name, he went by Ol’ Scotty O-L. They put his name on one of my articles, which really irritated me. So, I took a pen name and that was all I could think of. The editor says, can’t you come up with anything better? I says, no, I can’t, man. Can you think anything? He said, Nope.

So, Scooter Tramp, Scotty, it is. My family’s scattered. My dad’s in California, my mom’s in Hawaii, and my little brother lives in Ireland. I mean, we’re not– we all get along, but we’re not tight. But they’re all eccentric in their own way for crying out loud. So yeah, maybe I was born to it. You know what’s strange is when I was a kid, everybody rode bicycles and I watched the other kids and I realized even then that the bicycle means a lot more to me than it does to them. It was something deeper and all I wanted was motorcycles, which is strange cuz nobody in my family rides ’em. And I got a mini bike when I was a kid. My mom got for me and I played with that for a while.

I got my first dirt bike when I was, I think 11. It’s been bikes ever since. My favorite character when I was a kid was The Tramp by Disney, right? I mean, here’s a guy who lives outside and lives by his wits. I don’t know if that means anything. I was a screw up kid. I didn’t care. I didn’t like school. I didn’t want to go. And I was a freshman the last year that I was actually in school. I left home when I was not quite 15. Not because I had bad parents, just cuz I was chomping to get free. Cops would pick me up and send me home once in a while just cuz I was underaged. And my buddy’s place was in the mountains in Lake Arrowhead near Big Bear. It’s a mile high and I just fell in love with the place and I would hitchhike back. It was a 500 mile hitchhike. And when I was out in the middle, Of that road hitchhiking I remember that feeling then. That kind of freedom and that kind of adventure. Because the adventures just come.

I ended up going to work. That’s how I got in the roofing business. A long time in the roofing business for 22 years. And back then I had a three bedroom house and two cars and a truck. And I had a nicer motorcycle than the one I have now. And a garage and color tv, VCR, remote control, all the pay channels, et cetera, et cetera. You get the idea. And for a lot of my friends that really worked for them. For me it didn’t because what it felt like to me was I spent all my time working to maintain the needs of my material possessions. And I guess I get philosophical on you for a minute. At that time I believed that my spirit existed to make possible the journey of my stuff. And I spent my time maintaining its needs. I worked during the week and on the weekends I had a habit of doing the work around the house. I couldn’t do during the week cause I was busy working. And I would come home from working to maintain all that stuff, sit on that couch all dirty for my job. And I’d be looking around thinking to myself, you know, this sucks.

And I started looking for things to do. And I tried a lot of different things. I became a beachbum for a while. But really, I’d always been into motorcycles since I was a kid. And I had friends. I started going on motorcycle trips. I would stay in what I used to call the triangle of safety. And that’s where I live, where I work and where I socialize.

And as the longer I stayed there, it seemed like the harder it was to get out of it. And then I would go to leave it and I would get this fear, man. And I’ll tell you something I’d just be going over the mountains into Arizona for a while and if I said to myself hey, I’m gonna, I’m gonna leave in two weeks. But then as the time grew closer, that little demon would start talking to me. Maybe you shouldn’t go. Maybe you don’t have enough money. Maybe your bike’s not in good enough shape. You know you’re not gonna have a good time anyway. It’s gonna be a drag. And he slowed me down. He even stopped me a couple times. And when the date came, sometimes I would leave with my knees tight against the gas tank, freaking out. And then I would leave and I’d get three hours out and I’d just start to relax. Three days later, I’d be like, man, this is great. Why don’t I do this more often? What happened was the trips started getting longer and longer and I started hating coming home. Then I started hating being home.

And so in the spring of 1994, I left to see if I could stay gone for a year. I got 500 bucks. I’m going to a place I’ve never been. I don’t have enough money to get home, and I’m terrified, man. Try it sometime, man. Sounds easy. Try it. Try it. I’m terrified. And my heart is, you get pulling, screaming at me to do this. They say that’s where you’re called from kind of. And is pulling me to do this. And I split with that 500 bucks. I went to Florida and I stayed there for, I don’t know, a month or couple months, the duration of the winter. And I went north of the coast and I spent time in Canada. And I rode in Ohio and I ended up in Sturgis.

And I traveled for nine months. I left California with 500 bucks. I got back with five 550. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t get low cause I did, but I never ran out. Somebody offered me work in Canada while I was just out of the blue while I was in conversation. Wanted me to roof their house. Right. Found out I didn’t even know how to bid it. I dont know how to bid Canadian money. I’m not legal to work up there. But yeah, I’ll tell you man, I did their job.

There’s an old saying, do what you love to do cause you truly love to do it, and the money will come. I had to put that to the test. Either that or I would’ve ended up on Prozac and just stopped pretending that money and stuff was my was wealth. So one day I looked around, I thought, how much of this stuff do I really want or need? And the answer was not much. And I went out to my truck, put my bike, my motorcycle, and my truck, my tools, put some clothes in there and drove away. Man, I left the whole house there. As people said, you should sell that stuff. I’m like, that stuff is killing me. I need it outta my life now. You know what I mean?

So I left it fucking there. I needed it gone now. It was killing me. My spirit was dying. I was trying to do something that I didn’t know could be done. I’d never seen it done before. I had nobody’s blueprint. Nobody’s track to follow. Nobody to show me how to do it. So I had to like invent it. The bike got the name because when it turned 150,000 miles, I named it Betsy. Because when I was a kid, if you had an old Pontiac, you bought for 500 bucks that just smoked and used a lot of oil, you always named it Betsy.

The paint on the front of it, the clear coat is all peeled off. It’s got scratches and brakes. A lot of stuff on it doesn’t work. You have to reach down and push a homemade button to get it started. It shows, man, it shows it’s wear. Park it in a parking lot with a whole bunch of other bikes and it draws a crowd these days. Trying to figure it all out. How to do it was tough. I tried working carnivals for a while. I worked for one for a very short time in Texas. Another one was out in California, one in South Dakota, and they varied. The one in Texas was actually pretty good. They were pretty decent guys. The other ones I worked for, everybody was a crook.

We took down one tower. Where you had, it was real heavy metal and you had to unbolt the bottom of it and bend it over, and there’s this kid sitting underneath it holding the brake on so it wouldn’t spin. If we would’ve fell him and have killed him, and we’re in the back of a semi-truck trying to catch it. When it came down, it was so heavy, just went right through my hands. The brakes didn’t work on anything. The equipment was like from the forties. I would’ve never gotten that stuff. One of the carnivals I worked at, they told me the motto was, suck ’em in, take ’em for all they got, send ’em back to the ATM for more. I just, it wasn’t my bag.

If you look at the pack on my bike, you will see a lot of stuff packed on the outside of it. And the outside is all house. I’ve got a tent that goes up quickly. You put down a ground cover, throw up this tent. And I’ve got a piece of foam rubber that’s actually automotive. It’s car seat foam rubber, and I roll that out. I’ve got a down quilt with a cover on it and two down sleeping bags zipped together. When I come to a town and wanna stay there, the first thing I do is find a good piece of land. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes I have to look to find a good private place.

I’ve been in restaurants, factories, you name it, five man theaters. I was in a bowling alley once the pins were all back there, some guy was sleeping in that one. Once in a while, the cops wake me up. They find out I’m clean and my bike’s legal. Then they’re telling their whole attitude changes. They’re like, what are you doing? I’m like, I’m sleeping here. I’m traveling. I got this old Harley Davidson. Usually they just let me stay. I began to look for better spots and some of these roads would lead to abandoned houses. I see them everywhere. People just don’t notice ’em. But I do cuz I find them so fascinating.

I would find a road that has weeds going up the middle and maybe an old mailbox or be in abandoned house back there. I’d go camp and then I would walk through the house for the fun of it. And they’re like history man. Cuz people’s lives are there. There’s pictures of their children. A lot of times their furniture, their clothes are in the closet. Their washer and dryer, everything is still there. And a lot of these, some of them. I’ve been in em where it looks like you walked outta this room, man. The hats are still hanging up. I was in one where everything had stopped in the seventies. The razors was the kind that you have to open up and put a blade in it.

Every utensil, there’s food in the fridge. There was a plaque over the fireplace, and it was from the city, and they were expressing their condolences for the death of their daughter. She had died in a car accident. Just looked like when she died, time stopped there. The thing I got from them is the houses are there to make the human movie possible. It’s just a backdrop. But once the people leave, the backdrop is torn down by Mother Nature on her timescale in a millisecond.

Every drifter that I have known has been absolutely forced, so was I, and I’m really glad, to hone their social skills to the very best of their personal ability. They’ve been forced. There’s the dream I didn’t realize, cause I’m dreaming, oh, I’m gonna be free and I, and hit the road and see the world. I didn’t realize I’m gonna be in new towns all the time. I don’t know anybody. It may be a long time before you make any friends. And guys come out here all the time. They’re like loneliness isn’t gonna be a problem for me. I like being alone and it’s always a problem. Try being truly homeless with no place to go to dirty and friendless in different towns around the country for a while and see how long that you can be able to keep that pace up.

The loneliness will kill you. You’re not gonna ask me about money. I mean, that’s the first thing people are curious about. And the first thing to consider is that there’s a handful of guys who live like me and because we don’t have any bills and don’t own much, the truth is we just don’t have to work much. I tend to make my money these days working at the big motorcycle rallies. With infiltration of the Rolex Rider, the yuppie into the Harley scene, that’s become big business. Rally, if you wanted to travel, you don’t even have to have a motorcycle. Lot of the vendors don’t have bikes. And I started working on motorcycles– work hard for a week and then you get your money and it’s over and you’re done. Pocket full of green freedom man, and you turn your eyes back to the highway. I read somewhere that the unknown is the cause of all fear, and I really believe that. That’s been my experience. So when I go to do something new, I am always gonna feel fear.

Well, another motorcycle hit me in Colorado this year. He was looking the other way and I stopped quick and he hit me. Bikes are busted up. My saddlebags are in pieces, there’s pieces of my bike sticking up on the– into the air on it. He’s screaming, he’s on his knees screaming cuz his ribs hurt. I’m trying to pick this bike up in case we can ride again. And so I finally get the bikes picked up and off the road. He’s hurt and he don’t want to go to the hospital and he’s a full grown man and he’s not acting funny. We stayed the night there and we traveled on the next day. I took duct tape and rope and tied my stuff back together.

We stopped and a stayed in an abandoned barn. I stayed one night there that night, but he stayed another night. He told me he’d catch up. He wanted me to go, cause you never leave anybody. But he was like, no, I wanna be here and do some thinking. And he went home. Sometimes it’s tough. There’s times when you’re caught in a rainstorm, you’re under a tarp, you’re waiting a rainstorm out for a day or two, you got a bad spot. It’s getting muddy. It’s not fun, but it doesn’t last. I left when I was in my thirties and whatever you wanna say. I did pretty good with women. I’ve had a few come travel with me. They knew what I was doing going in,. Maybe in the back of their heads. They was hoping they could get me to stay, but they knew. What happens is my love of the highway is more intense. I can’t give my life up to play house. I’m just not gonna do it. Because what happens is a room begins to feel like a box. I get inside and the thing’s got four sides and a lid. I’m like, oh my God.

One time I woke up in my tent and there was a guy pounding on my face. I just come out of a dead sleep and I reach up and I’m trying to hold off his hands. Right about this time, his old lady got up from next to me and screamed his name and tackled him out the tent fucker give me a black eye. And later on she came to me and she brought me money. Cause he ripped my tent door, brought me like 200 bucks from him. He gave me like 200 bucks. I’m like, what the hell’s he gimme money for?

Marla Garber, she lived on her motorcycle for eight years back before I was doing it. And she wrote for Supercycle Magazine, which is defunct. I just admired her from her magazine stories cuz she lived off her bike and she was always camping going to Alaska. She traveled alone on a big, huge bike like mine with a little dog and I chased her around some back then too. I couldn’t catch her cause she was moving too fast. In 1995, she died in a motorcycle accident. After she died, I sent a couple things to her magazine. Easyrider had bought her magazine out. And they hooked it to one of their magazines to Biker Magazine. And next thing I know, I’m talking to that editor and he began to print some of my stuff. And once I got more popular there, they started putting me in the big magazine sometimes. And the magazines are always the same. They don’t think the readers are gonna like the gypsy thing.

They’re like, no, they want bike features, right? Where they put the chick on the bike and they write some words about it and they want rally coverage. They never think the readers are gonna be interested in the whole gypsy thing. I swear to God, they never do. It’s like their readers don’t dream of hitting the road. Come on. So it wasn’t until I started getting response that they increased my word count to 3000. And I began to be picked up and put in Easyrider Magazine too. When they say the year’s been here for four and a half billion years, you know how long that is. Such a phenomenal length of time.

If you could take a stop action camera and condense that whole event into a single day, 24 hour movie. The entire time of man’s existence on the planet would be just under a second. You’d never see your fucking house, man. They’d go from house to dirt, to house to dirt so fast you’d never see it. Anybody who’s been through New Orleans knows, even if you’ve just come by on the freeway, you can see the graveyards. They have big graveyards. They don’t bury the people in the ground. They bury ’em above ground cause the water table’s too high. So they put ’em in these little tombs. They say it’s the last house you’ll ever own. And right off Canal Street, there was this graveyard there. And beside it was this thickly wooded area, and it looked like you can’t even get in there.

But when you get up close and lifted this branch, there was a little trail going in. And there was a clearing back there, and I lived in that clearing for five weeks. I’d come home at night, I’d be setting at my little tent and I’d be like, goodnight boys. Because I’m sleeping next to thousands of dead people. Right. And you look in the graves and the pine boxes are disintegrated and all there is in there is skeletons.

One day I walked over there and I reached in and I pulled the bone outta somebody and I looked at it, what was left of them, and I looked at it. And I thought to myself this person has been dead for probably twice as long as they were alive. The entirety of whatever they did in their life is completely wiped out. The empire, whatever they built, is completely gone without a headstone even to mark this grave. They’re erased. There’s nobody who knows or even cares if this bone belonged to a man or a woman. Life is very short man, and every dog has his day. And yours in mine it’s right now. And it ain’t gonna last. If there’s anything you wanna do, you best do it.

What town is this we’re in? Harlingen, Texas. Real close to the border, getting ready to cross into Mexico. Spend some time down there in the sunshine. My plans to go to Mexico are always get my bike in the best shape I can. I just put a tire on it, fixed a couple things. Try to get as much money as I can, get the paperwork straight, and then cross the border and see where I end up. I tend to always be afraid when I hit the Mexican border. I’m usually scared to death because the media here tries to scare you out of there.

And I don’t know if it’s what they say is true or not, but I do know that when I go there I don’t, it’s not my experience. In the city of Merida, I met these guys with motorcycles and they all– they’re like biker types man. They’re all little bikes. 125’s and 150’s, some of ’em got leather jackets. And so I got to meeting them all cuz they look like an adventure. One of them started calling me and I started going out and running around with ’em all the time. And I’ll tell you what, they would look at that old bike of mine. They think how beautiful that is. They all wanted to ride it. They wish they could have something like that. Make you realize how rich you are being down there.

Some years ago, I was in the city of Oaxaca and I met a girl in a bar and she took me home and she didn’t speak any English. She dealt in land. She bought and sold land. Not even houses, just land. It was a typical poor white boy, meets rich Mexican girl story. And it started off as a sexual thing, but really quickly we began to realize we really liked each other. And she came down to my campground and with her SUV loaded all my junk in there and moved me into her house. I lived up in that house with servants. She had all my teeth fixed. She bought a tire from my bike. What little bit of Spanish I know I’ve learned mostly from being with her, right? Because that’s the best way to learn another language through kisses.

And I’m slipping up. I’m up on the top floor and it’s winter and I’m in my shorts and I’m typing on my computer and I got a nice bed. And then the bathroom’s got a bathtub with jets in it, and I’m watching the TV with the movie discs everybody puts in them nowadays. Or maybe they don’t anymore. I don’t know. You know, I was there so long, it just began to really just look normal. That whole thing of alarm clocks and mowing the lawn and dishes piled in the sink and vacuuming the carpet is so long ago now.

It’s almost like memories of high school. I don’t think I could imagine going back to the life I used to have was so hard by comparison. There’s seldom pressure, there’s seldom a schedule. There’s nothing you have to go do. So it’s more for less. More stuff equals less freedom. I have found that it’s like a scale. On one side you got freedom and the other side you got stuff. The more you put in one, the more you give up for the other. But only a blind man will believe he’s gonna have both. The truth is, is I do run on blind faith.

A guy in Florida took me to his house. I invited me to come stay there. He was all high on religion and I was glad cuz this guy was scary. He been special forces. He was a seal. He was a nice guy, but he was truly one of those scary people, and he asked me, you know what the definition of courage is? I said, man, I don’t know what to tell you.

He says, just try. I says, I think it would be when you feel it– when you’re afraid, and you just do it anyway. He says, that’s exactly it. He says, that’s what courage is. So it’s hard to trust something you can’t hold in your hand to follow your heart and trust the fate of the road or to trust fate that everything’s gonna be okay. It’s hard to do and can be terrifying. I got a call the other night from a kid wanting to do what I do. Call me and talk to me for probably an hour and a half. What do I need? Do I need a better bike? I need this. I need that. This is my advice on that one. Get everything you think you’re gonna need.

Put it on your bike, get it all put together. Pick your balls up, drop ’em on the seat and hit the gas. Have some little faith and go. I’ve been on the road for 20 years now with no visible means of support. I don’t rob banks and I don’t steal except for sliding into movie theaters. So now I’m out having this big life, these big adventures, and I mean, they’re bigger than life to me. Coming into other people’s worlds and experiencing them and then moving onto the next one. And I stay long enough to where I get to experience your world, not just skim it.

What does it mean to me to be a drifter? I don’t have an answer. All it is you guys, don’t you ever get tired of your world and you would just like to go somewhere else? Well, I do that and then I ride somewhere else and I get the spirit comes alive again. And you get to a new town and there’s no routine. One phrase that does not fit is same shit, different day. You can’t say that. But those who have it in the extreme aren’t happy unless they’re traveling man. If that’s what your spirit has, if that’s what you are, can’t be happy doing nothing else. And happiness is where you find it. Cuz in the end, when you’re on your death bed.

When you’re gonna take your last breath and you know it, and you look back on your life, there’s only one thing that matters. And that’s, did you enjoy yourself more often than you didn’t? I mean, nobody enjoys her life all the time. We all know that. But if you can answer yes to that question you are a wealthy person Who cares what you did? For us, it’s keeping this bike running, man. And then onto the next thing you know. The next adventure.