The Best Peter Fonda Story I Ever Heard

Joe at the Calvert Marine Museum.

Tuesday, Sept. 8 | 36 Days Before: Some of our best moments on motorcycles are encounters with bike riders and nonriders – the former who share their stories and the latter who ask, “What’s it like?” to ride a motorcycle.

Both are great to talk to1, but riders are my favorites. You get gifts of revered memories and sometimes even a glimpse of a far-away place, a shadow of road fatigue, or ghost of a frosty night.

Cove Point Lighthouse, Lusby, Maryland.

This was a mission-prep day. We needed riding time to break in the new Vespa and ended up meandering around coastal Maryland to see a few Chesapeake Bay lighthouses. It was Linda’s idea and they were actually pretty interesting.

The Best Peter Fonda Story I Ever Heard was at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland, a fascinating place even if you’re not into lighthouses and boats and the sea2.

We’d stumbled out of the museum carrying our helmets and jackets and riding gear and had commandeered3 an outside picnic table to write postcards4 to friends. We spread everything out across the table.

Peter Fonda in 2009.

That’s when Joe, the lead grounds keeper at the museum, stopped by. He’d seen the Vespa and Terra Nova parked outside and our riding gear strewn about the table. He asked about our bikes and of course we started talking about motorcycles.

He was a long-distance Harley rider and a true raconteur5, a great storyteller, and among the stories he told us was this:

He’d been at a motorcycle rally in Daytona, Florida, with his girlfriend Nanette. They had their pictures taken with Easy Rider actor Peter Fonda, paying $5 each for a charity donation.

About five months later, Joe is putting gas in his Harley at a gas station in Montana. He’s been riding two-up with Nanette, who’s in the store.

While she’s inside, Joe sees Peter Fonda pull up on his own bike and start fueling up. It’s not that big of a surprise, Joe tells us, because he knew Fonda owned a house in that part of Montana.

Joe goes over to Fonda, says hello, mentions their brief meeting in Daytona and asks a favor.

“When Nanette comes out, make like you remember her,” he says. Fonda just smiles and says okay6.

Joe goes back to his bike and Nanette returns. Joe motions over to Fonda and says, “I’m pretty sure that’s Peter Fonda. Why don’t you go over and say hello?”

Fonda in Easy Rider.

So Nanette walks over, hesitantly, and Peter Fonda looks at her and says “NANETTE! How are you?” And Nanette’s jaw hits the ground.

During the whole ride home, Joe says, Nanette was excitedly pummeling his ribs and saying, “He remembered me! He actually remembered me!”

Joe never told her.

***

1 – It’s usually Linda’s red Vespa that draws them over.

2 – By the time you leave there, you will be.

3 – Since no one was around, it wasn’t really an act of piracy.

4 – These weren’t notes from a momentous journey, since we were only 80 miles from home. But it’s never a mistake to let people know you care about them. Besides, the cards were nice. I’ve heard that few people send postcards these days, what with email and Instagram and so on. But we still do.

5 – From the French term raconter, which means “to recount.”

6 – I just can see Peter Fonda smiling at the idea. I’ve seen Easy Rider, of course, and Ulee’s Gold, in which he was great and deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor, and read his autobiography Don’t Tell Dad and watched him on Ride With Norman Reedus. He always seemed like a stand-up guy, a genuine good person who rejected being a Hollywood stereotype. And he loved motorcycles. I’m sorry to say he died on Aug. 16, 2019.

Joe told us about a few of his other epic rides and I practically begged him to start his own motorcycle blog. He’d be great.

2 thoughts on “The Best Peter Fonda Story I Ever Heard”

  1. One of these days we’re going to get you into the National Museum of the Great Lakes, the museum ship Schoonmaker and the museum tug Ohio. I’ll show you my caricature studio aboard the Schoonmaker.

  2. You and Linda are a class act, George.
    I always enjoy your thoughtful post cards from your travels.
    Nothing wrong with being old school, and writing post cards.
    AV

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