Game Boy


I don’t play games.

There are so many other fine ways to waste time, money, and spousal patience that I’ve never really felt the draw. Well, not since all those bags of quarters invested in playing Battle Zone at the Plaid Pantry, anyway.

The best moment in any game is the bonus round. That’s the one you earn: another green-outlined tank, a life beyond lives, an extra ball to shoot. Nothing makes a kid feel more intrepid than “living” a little longer and performing a little better than his buddy, because – as we all quickly found out – you have to risk your character to earn that extra life. Just stooge around in the safe zones and your timer will soon run out, sending you off with an unceremonious bzzt.

Well, maybe you got your life lessons somewhere else. City kids do what we can.

You find out quick enough that there’s no bonus round out in the world. The school of hard knocks happens sooner to some than others. Many delay it until well after college – maybe even as late as their first coronary – but I had schoolmates in high school who lost function, extremities, or their lives. Go head to head with a snapped logging choker, or over the side of a fishing boat north of the Arctic Circle, and you may just run out of rounds.

Military service works like that. Peacetime or war, it’s a dangerous game. I’d venture that a solid majority of disabled veterans never slugged it out with hostile forces. If you’re wondering how they managed to injure themselves beyond a lasting repair, just watch our recruiting commercials. Like bull riding or dating teenagers, soldiering and sailing and military aviation are activities best suited to those who are young, fit, dedicated, and foolishly optimistic. There are costs to these things, and some folks pay the ferryman with a commander’s coin, a whiplash smile, and a swagger they earned the hard way.

Iraqi FreedomOthers find their way to a new peace, where they evaluate their character for what it can do right here, right now, in this round. Those are the guys I’m going riding with at the end of July, guys (in the non-gendered sense of the term) who took the hit, spun off the tackle and kept on going.

Some of them are missing legs. They kept moving forward. Some are missing digits, and still make music. It’s not a game for them, so they’re not playing by the rules. When the timer went bzzt and GAME OVER flashed onscreen, they yelled “fuck you!” and kicked the machine until more quarters fell out in a shiny pile of life itself.

These men and women, the riders saddling up for the Veterans Charity Ride 2015, are people with lessons to teach. I’ve never been to the Sturgis rally. Leaving aside the army, I’m not much of a joiner and it would feel pretty weird to stand all alone among half a million strangers, but I trust my tribe. Haven’t met ‘em yet, but I know they’re solid.ex-marine on Indian hack

I know it because they’ve got every excuse to lie back and bitch about their fate, but they’re still not waiting for the timer to run out. They’re just not programmed that way. They’re going at life with the throttle pinned, grinning into the wind and challenging themselves every day to level up.

This month, they’ll be traversing the West from the left coast to the Black Hills of South Dakota, some 1,500 miles counting detours and adventures, on shiny new Indians. Those who can’t ride will catch a lift in sidecars, because you never leave a buddy behind.

vintage Indian ad poster

And that’s the point of the whole exercise, isn’t it? These guys are riding across the deserts and high plains not just to prove they can do it (hell, they can do anything and we all know it), but to remind Americans that military service is hard on the chassis and wearing to the soul, and to hopefully connect many thousands more of our brothers and sisters to needed services.

They’re not victims. They’re not casualties. They’re impressively skilled respawns who never gave up, and it’d be foolish to underestimate them. I want to meet them. I want to ride with them. I want to learn from them.


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  1. Ren Doughty says

    You and I have already been living and enjoying our bonus rounds for quite some time.

    I’m excited to sponsor and follow the Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis. Maybe next year we’ll make the ride together.

    • Every part of that comment makes me happy.

      I’m turning into a pretty happy old sap, all things considered.

      • steve smitherman says

        when I was in the army ( peace time , 86-89 3rd bn 7th inf. 24th i.d. aka 3rd id fort stewart Ga.)three friends died . two run over by a tank -one in a artillery “incident”.

        • You and I were in 24ID at overlapping times, Steve. I signed into C 1/13 FA (MLRS) in early ’85, and left on terminal leave just in time for Christmas, 1986. My battery went to Desert Storm while I was at Washington State U.

          Always felt a little funny about that.

  2. Dave Gomes says

    Nice route they have planned there Jack. Looks like a good excuse for me to make the 4 or 5 hr ride out to Rifle and wave you through that left turn up to Craig. Maybe I’ll finally have to figure out how that whole my-book-space-face thing works ’cause they seem to want to funnel info through there rather than the website.

  3. Michael Pierce says

    Dude. Like you – I’ve lost friends, family and co-workers to bzzzzt. Some were our mutual friends. Maybe next year I can wrangle a pilots seat to cart some busted up, limb missing ol’ fart (in addition to myself) to SD for ya.

    Have a gas. I sure wish I could be there this year.

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