I was sitting under a 1950 Harley Davidson. It was on a display stand at head height, hanging over the table at which I was sitting. I was hoping like hell it wouldn’t fall on me. It was the night after the storms and a Harley breaking its moorings would have made a shocking mess of my head. And my dinner, which was Cajun fish.
Sometimes, fish is so tender you hardly need a knife. The flesh of this fish was moist and just opaque and it came away in quivering flakes with a touch of the fork. The whole thing was held together by a faint, sheeny crispness flecked with warm, dark Cajun spices. Someone in the kitchen knew exactly how to grill fish. The accompanying salad was robust and had enough variety and colour and interest to last the whole meal. Some salads are boring after the first crunch and you start looking at what everyone else is eating.
I looked anyway. There were gumbos - the prawn and okra gumbo looked good - and grilled steaks and fried chicken and burgers and chilli and even pasta and pizza. There was a thing called Idaho wedges and a four-cheese lasagne. This place does it all with a degree of finesse rarely found in theme restaurants. And the staff are nice.
Except it is not really a theme restaurant. Highway 31 is run by Harley enthusiasts, like a fraternity. A kind of Returned Services Club with bikes, not just a tacked-on theme. It is adjacent to Harley City, one of the largest Harley dealerships in the world. Harley owners come into Highway 31 for drinks on their own or dinner with their families or to talk to other Harley people. Outside in the street there are Harleys everywhere. Purely by chance, when we arrived, enough Harleys had vacated the space directly out front to back in a Volvo. I parked without knocking over any hogs or softails or v-rods.
It’s a funny thing about Harley Davidson motor cycles. No-one ever buys one until they’re fifty. How ironic: you finally get to feel the wind in your hair and there isn’t any.
It’s not about attitude. When men have mid-life crises, they buy crass things like red sports cars. You buy a Harley for a different reason: because it’s a machine. Other bikes are just devices. Harleys groan and roar and use oil and are built from nuts and bolts. Other bikes just whiz you somewhere else fast and have computers and coffee holders and GPS and air conditioning and are about as exciting as a Toyota Camry.
No, I didn't buy one. But I thought about it while I ate my Cajun fish and drained the last of my white wine. The small wine list is somewhat overpriced, but bikers generally don’t sip chardonnay with their steak so I suppose the wine subsidises the beer.
It was about nine o'clock now. The traffic growl on Sydney Road rose and fell in waves and the flashing coloured lights on the verandah outside Highway 31 shone in the window and turned my empty white plate a different colour every few seconds. A band had set up in the corner near the bar and started playing a Neil Young song, Changing Highways from Broken Arrow.