- 14 Sep 08, 01:47 AM GMT
The Route 66 Riders of Kingman, Arizona, weren't what I was expecting from a group of bikers. All the members I met were over 60, for a start. None of them sported long hair or leather jackets. They didn't look like they started many bar-room brawls, although I'm sure there'd be hell to pay if you said anything mean about their grandkids.
For this, I was grateful. I expect your average Hells Angel would take one look at a pale Scotsman like me before reaching for his flick-knife.
Instead, the Riders all shook my hand and asked if I was having a nice trip. Relieved, I realised these were the ideal people to help me understand McCain country.
The Republican presidential candidate represents Arizona in the US Senate, after all, and has demonstrated his popularity with bikers. He exudes the sort of rugged, maverick persona that seems to go with an enthusiasm for travelling extremely fast through open spaces.
And I'm sure there's got to be some sort of connection between landscape and politics, too. Arizona is a red state both in terms of the colour of its desert and the complexion of its representation. It's easy to see how an environment so stark and empty conditions a preference for hardy individualists.
As he showed me his customised Kawasaki, David Brown, 69, told me that he'd moved out here after 30 years working for General Motors in Livonia, Michigan. It was the emptiness and the warm air that brought him to Arizona, he said, the terrain being ideal for riding.
"There's nothing like it," he grinned. "You're out there with the wind on your face breathing the open air of the desert. No-one else is around you. Perfect."
He was, he said, a staunch Republican. I wondered aloud if there was any connection between his hostility to big government and his love of the open road.
"Right," he nodded. "It's all under the same umbrella. Being free, doing what you want, no-one telling you what to do."
His fellow motorcyclists were leaning the same way. Barbara Hall, 77 - who had taken up riding just a year and a half previously - had been sold by Sarah Palin's place on the Republican ticket.
Ken Jones, 76, proudly showed me the Stars and Stripes flags fluttering from his bike. A proud union man all his working life as an electrician, he was undecided - but inclined towards McCain. "Obama's just 47," he said. "I don't think that just because McCain is older, he'll be better for seniors. But I think he understands us."
But I did come across one couple who were planning to back Obama. Roger and Luci Pewsey, 77 and 74 respectively, hadn't been out riding much since Roger began to suffer heart problems and diabetes some months earlier.
But Luci was still secretary and treasurer of the Riders, and Roger talked fondly about the pastime he had enjoyed since 1949.
"We really need change in this country," Luci said. "Most people round here are registered Republicans, but I'm a Democrat. I'm very concerned about keeping Roe v Wade."
Roger, previously a floating voter, complained that gas prices were too high, but believed Obama was the best man to bring them down. "We're too dependent on foreign oil," he said. "I think we really need to look at alternative energy sources."
It was time to go, so I jumped back on the bus. There were cacti by the roadside, and soon we passed a dead rattlesnake. This was a place for doing your own thing. Would you agree, tucsonmike?
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