On a steel horse (Part 2): Where it all began

Jon Paul and Clinton at the Holiday Inn pool in Kenner. Photographs courtesy of the Kuss family.

One bright morning, Jon Paul and I were working on his bike after one of his many accidents and his father showed up. A shorter, stocky fellow, he was in tears and proceeded to hug me ever so tightly. It was the kind of hug received at funerals, an embrace of consolation after a death, but in this instance, no one had died. “What am I supposed to do Clint?” he asked, I can’t lose him too.” And what was I supposed to do but hug the man back a man who helped raise me and even change my diapers?

I assured him that everything would be okay though I knew that phrase was about as true as saying, “Your shit doesn’t stink.” It was a reminder that riding a motorcycle and taking that risk not only affects the rider, but also their family and friends. A simple fender bender can prove tragic if two wheels are involved.

Clinton: How do your loved ones feel about you riding, and how do they express it? How does your father’s perspective differ from your mother’s before she passed?

Jon Paul Burbank: My father is like a little worried schoolgirl. Always worried when I’m on it but, I know it’s a parent thing. With my mom, she was worried too but at the end of the day she knew I would make my own decisions, and I was always careful and safe with what I did, mostly. “Be safe.” It’s like all she would tell me. I kept that in my head every time I got on the motorcycle. The other loved ones in my life that I have known many years, way before I started riding, think I’m a “crazy wild one” and shouldn’t have chosen the path I did and got on a bike. [Shrugs and chuckles]

I grew up in a place where kids still played outside and even more so, knew each other even though a couple of blocks or streets may have separated us. We all had one thing in common too: be home when the streetlights came on! This place of humble beginnings is the subdivision of Greenlawn in the city of Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of the Big Easy.

Clinton’s mother, Brenda Kuss. 

Jon Paul and I were raised on four wheelers, dirt bikes, mopeds, and go-karts. Well, really anything you could slap a motor on. We have been friends since before we were born. I think it was a long forgotten prophecy of sorts, like the yin-yang. Our mothers, Brenda Kuss and Aleta Burbank, were close friends before we were born so it was only natural for us to form a bond. My mother worked at LSU Health and Sciences Center and at the HIV Outpatient “HOP” Clinic on Tulane Avenue in the central business district of New Orleans. Ms. Aleta was a nurse at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, Louisiana. With our mothers both gone now, we need each other around more than ever, to help balance things out and keep each other on the right course. I think the motorcycles in many ways have brought us closer together and solidified, even more so, our bond.

Clinton on Christmas Day in 1995.

I was a rambunctious kid, always into something and causing mischief. I was small, had shaved blonde hair, blue eyes, and a multitude of freckles encompassing all regions of my upper body. Though on my shoulders they still remain, sometimes I wonder where the greater multitude made their exodus. The image would not be complete without the buckteeth and those overgrown ears. Though I looked a bit fragile and frail, I was prone to pursuing daring and purely adrenaline-driven activities from jumping sketchy ramps on my pieced together Dyno or jumping trash cans on my skateboard, to jumping off, or to and from, the nearby roofs of houses and sheds. I knew early on that I was going to own and ride my own motorcycle one day. Now the bike is the only form of transportation I have. There is nothing like the freedom of two wheels.

Jon Paul’s mother, Aleta Burbank.

In Jon Paul’ s case, only one wheel sometimes or no wheels, for that matter, depending on his balance. He actually lives that daring stunt, race, and courageously idiotic lifestyle. The one where he calls me at one in the morning needing a ride because he laid his “baby” down again. “Oh it’s just a little chunk out the knee. Where the wrap at?” Still not as bad as some of the wrecks that came before, so I guess it is ok this time? I wish it were always this light-hearted.

Although I ride what some people would call crazy sometimes, I do it on my cruiser mostly. I do plan on getting my own Honda CBR one day but as for now, I’ll stick to the comfort of my 48 Harley Sportster. I know that if I was on a rocket of my own, I would be right behind Jon Paul doing a tank stand or handlebar wheelie. There is nothing like the roar of the crowd or the choir of car horns as you barrel down the straightaway showing off your controlled stupidity and unmatched guts.


Part 3: Allomonaster Boulevard

Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series reprinted from the book A Guide to South Louisiana: Stories of Uncommon Culture. Each author was a student in Rachel Breunlin’s “Storytelling and Culture” course for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans in the Spring of 2017. The Neighborhood Story Project sponsored the project as part of its mission to publish collaborative ethnography in high quality books in which the authors receive royalties for their creative labor.


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