Tres Habemus Papam Equitantes Harley

If there are modern-day Sons of Midas striding the earth, spreading light and good cheer wherever they go, then Pope Francis must be one of them.  Not only is he the first Pope ever to name himself Francis – which should have been a dead giveaway to the church hierarchy that they'd elected a cowboy – but every time you read about him, he's doing something Popes just don't do, like washing the feet of the troubled or disabled at Easter, inviting kids to join him in the Popemobile for a tour of St. Peter's Square, or sneaking out of the Vatican to go riding on his Harley through the hills of Rome.  Well, maybe not the last one, though there is an ember of truth glowing just brightly enough to set images dancing in your imagination…

The image, for instance, of a newly-elected Russian Pope, inheritor of a world on the brink of war, sneaking out of the Vatican to minister to the poor in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in.  Such is the central character in Morris L. West's "The Shoes of the Fisherman," a great book (itself with a firm basis in fact) that gave rise to an interesting film of the same name.  And the images that form of the opening of "Then Came Bronson," a 70s TV show about a man chucking it all and setting off for adventures aplenty in parts unknown on his Harley-Davidson.

An interesting, and unlikely, mash-up there, but still essentially about freedom, which is what Harley-Davidson, at its heart, has always been about.  The ember at the heart of this rambling fantasy is that, for a time, Pope Francis did indeed own a Harley-Davidson, given to him on his ascension to the Throne of Peter, coincidentally also the 110th anniversary of the company, by Harley-Davidson.  It was a Dyna Super Glide, not a Super Dyna Glide as originally reported in the New York Times; think of the kick the Harley PR guy got out of calling up to correct the Times).

He also got a leather jacket along with the bike, and while there is no definitive proof of him ever having worn it, or ridden the bike, he did sign both with the Italian version of his name, Francesco, and put them up for auction, with the proceeds going to a youth hostel and soup kitchen at the Termini train station in Rome.  And to give you some idea of the Pope's marketing clout, the motorcycle, MSRP $16,000 with a pre-sale estimate of $22,000, actually sold for $327,000.  The jacket went for $77,485.

Of course, this isn't the first example of a vehicle previously owned by a Pope fetching big bucks.  Some lucky guy who bought a used VW Gold happened to notice that its former owner was some guy named Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) sold for $244,000 on eBay.  Puts me in mind of a long-ago promotion (1978?) I did when I worked for Motor Trend Magazine.  I drove a perimeter lap of the U.S. in a VW Rabbit Diesel equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission.  The hook for the whole thing was that it got 55 mpg, but we missed the big news that the name on the pink slip when we got it was Paul Newman.

And I had my own singular experience with a Harley-Davidson when, after riding 'rice rockets' for years, I test rode a Harley for the Robb Report.  It was what I felt during the two weeks that I had that bike that catalyzed my imaginings of Pope Francis, clad in black leather and zucchetto, free at last, for a moment anyway, a pilgrim in the wind.

And, if all this seems a bit... pastoral, then there's Renegade Nuns on Wheels:

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