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not zen and the art of rebuilding a motorcycle

One of my favourite books is Fred Haefele’s Rebuilding the Indian. You can get it on Amazon.

It’s a book about a guy who sees himself as a bit behind in the race of life, who works as a tree surgeon and has a younger wife and a child on the way and decides to spend 5000 USD he’s lucked into on a WRECK of an Indian Chief motorcycle. People think he’s crazy but he goes ahead and rebuilds the bike, almost as if he is rebuilding his life. And he succeeds- in both ventures really.

I am not sure he didn’t intend it but the book is actually a nice parable. In it, the Fred figure, who probably bears a strong resemblance to the real thing, goes around kind of at a loss being both helped and dumped on by all the Indian owning experts he meets. But in the end his is the only running Indian in town and everyone marvels at how it’s also the best looking. All Fred did was take the best advice he could find on each section of the rebuild and follow it through and keep going. He comes over as an honourable guy, a bit of a soft touch, resorting to bribing people with money and gifts to help him out. But he does it, he does a better job than the experts who are always getting distracted away from finishing their Indian rebuilds. The moral is: get the best help you can and follow it when it makes sense, follow your own instinct, have just enough money ready, and just keep on going. I love this book but I’m not even sure why, I’m not that into motorbikes and haven’t ridden one since I was twenty or so. I think it’s because of the way he evokes this life in Missoula Montana that hovers between desperation (he and a pal are on Zoloft anti-depressants one Autumn) and an idyllic lifestyle of canoe trips, arty friends and wild motorbike buddies. It’s such an honest read you feel you can diagnose the problems of modern life, to some extent, from reading it- we have too much stuff, we think we need more, we’re always trying to do things to make ourselves happy instead of just being happy. The book is transparent, or seems so, just presenting things, vignettes, that give you a lot to think about, even if you may disagree with the very few tentative explanations of his own situation Fred offers. I like the dissatisfied air that Fred often has, which is always brought back with a good coffee or the help of a friend. I think you get a feeling of the loneliness of the US that lurks so close beneath the friendliness. That may sound like a downer, but it isn’t- it's actually strangely uplifting, especially when the engine fires for the first time. It’s definitely worth reading.

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