The Greatest Escape Ride 2013-A Retrospective
As you all may know, on Sunday, September 22, 2013 I had told Dr. Robert Cameron, famous mesothelioma surgeon and Claire Cameron, the Executive Director that I would do all I could for their planned fund raiser, a motorcycle ride up the coast of California. It became more than a ride in so many ways so allow this old Hollywood Cop share it with you.
A few years ago I was jumping on our trampoline with my boys and I noticed I could only do it two or three times without being completely winded searching for more oxygen. I went to the doctor and had X-rays and the doom and gloom began. I asked the X-ray nurse how did the x-ray look? She said she was not allowed to discuss it and I would have to discuss it with the doctor or specialist. I countered with…”hey, I am a big boy and it is what it is….and all I want to know is the X-ray clear or not” and she stared at me. She went on to say there is a “large mass” on your lungs. I said does large mass mean in a lay person’s vernacular, Cancer and the big C word, and she said she could not comment on that. Over the next 2-3 months I met with every specialist and the response was becoming standard ambiguity. Well Mr. Wilcox, a large mass is not a good sign but that does not mean it is Cancer and we will do all the tests we can for a Cancer marker. After 20 tests and weeks upon weeks of non declarative language with doctors afraid to injure my psyche with a positive or negative, the ambiguity continued and the fear loomed. I was told of the two top surgeons in this arena and one was at Cedars Sinai and one at UCLA. I went to the one at Cedars Sinai who asked me first did I have insurance and I said yes with naïve confidence, and that Screen Actors Guild provided that for me under Blue Cross. He explained that he only did a certain amount of surgeries and he did not take insurance only cash. He then told me that a mass that large was probably cancer and way advanced.
I bid good bye to this cold pompous surgeon and then went to the other surgeon that was highly recommended. I was very lucky to find Dr. Robert Cameron, the famous lung and chest surgeon at UCLA who is the guru for Mesothelioma and chest surgeries. He was kind, sensitive and positive which was enormously uplifting after months of ambiguity and the most pure diet man could adhere to…..talk about scared. Even he said…..we will not really know Larry what it is until we get in there, but this surgery is called a thoracotomy, and it is much worse than open heart surgery and it will get your attention for sure. The incision will be large and we go in through your back, spread your ribs and we cut lots of muscle. During this time, I was being prepped by a young female doctor who was an anesthesiologist and she openly expressed her fan like love stares to the one and only Jon Baker. Who knows what she saw in surgery as she gave me the infamous spinal injection for this very tough surgery! She did lots of checking on me at weird hours and I knew she wanted more than doctor patient exchanges. I was in so much pain initially that tears would literally stream from my eyes until I got the anesthesia drops going when I needed them. It was a great lesson in staying “ahead of the pain threshold” instead of waiting till it began and then thinking you could take a drop or two. By that time you were way behind the race and it was pure pain to catch up.
After surgery I was still enjoying the glee of the anesthesia and was asking Dr. Cameron was the huge tumor (8 lbs) in my chest cancer or not as I was so ready for “clear definitions” vs. ambiguity encumbered with time. He said we will not know till the lab does their analysis for sure Larry but it looks like a fibrous tumor and let’s hope it is benign. He took a picture of the tumor and it was huge which we have as an ugly memory. To make a long story shorter, the lab reported it to be one big fibrous ugly tumor with no cancer or anything and they named it and all of its dissections, the Wilcox Tumor. My wife named it Gus, because when I was a boy, my grandma and aunt nicknamed me Gus and I never understood why anyone would nickname someone that ugly name. So…my wife appropriately named the ugly tumor, Gus.
As a result of Dr. Robert Cameron’s sensitive bedside manner and his virtuosity as a surgeon, I have tried to humbly help him, his causes, and his Executive Director, Clare Cameron (no relation) in all they do. That is how this ride came about. Dr. Cameron has the Pacific Meso Lab in Santa Monica, California and he and his affiliates have to constantly try and do fundraising efforts to fund the research lab so one day you and I can have a more qualitative life vs a death sentence with Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is what Steve McQueen died from and once diagnosed, it means death. Most surgeons remove the lung immediately but in Dr. Cameron’s case he leaves all or part of the lung in and has some unique surgical and proprietary solutions. I lived in the downwind areas (mining, uranium, etc) of Wyoming and many people from Rawlins, Wyoming have lung issues and I often wonder if they could have been saved if they knew of Dr. Robert Cameron. This is why I will never go to some local hospital where some ego driven doctor is the big star, and has done 5 of these surgeries in his life time when Dr. Cameron does a couple a day and has his own research lab working on these exact maladies and or diseases. So, when Clare asked me if I was going to the picnic for the fund raiser or did I have a CHP car to follow the motorcycles, I said heck no…..I am going to ride a motorcycle in your event with all the other bikers and invite some of the real CHP, my fellow CHiPs cast members and crew.
In the past, I had done posters for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and have always enjoyed riding motorcycles and being the National Spokesperson for Safety. I did the original poster in my uniform for MSF and I did a later one with my son Derek on our Kawasaki dirt bikes. That is a special one for me because it was with my son. As time went on I would do various personal appearances and some cop would ask do we really ride the motorcycles and of course I would say yes we do. He would then push the envelope a little more by saying, why don’t you show the fans and take my bike parked over there for a spin up the street and back as he veiled his condescending hope and agenda while standing all macho next to me. I would say sure, if you do not mind me riding your bike lets go. So then he would wonder if he really should allow me to ride his bike as he had the big police bike shining with a spit and polish chrome look. I would get on and have to borrow his helmet and then smile, and take his bike up the street like it was a full speed pursuit, slam on the brakes and let the rear tire come around a little to really get his hear throbbing and serve him a little of his own medicine. As I came back, I would come towards him a little too hot, slam on the brakes again, and slide the kick-stand down in full sparks, as we were coming to a stop, lean the bike over and dismount and hand him his helmet. The fans usually really enjoyed that Jon Baker act and display of mine and it worked every time to the chagrin of the local macho cop.
I did all kinds of events, parades and rides on motorcycles over the next five years in almost every major American City and many major International cities like Sau Paulo, Brazil and Rio De Janeiro and London, and Quebec, Canada, Bois de Filion, etc. In Canada, I became the honored BLUE KNIGHT and 100s of Motor Cops from all over the world showed up for that special event. I still have my Blue Knight vest and the various international pins I got with them. That ride was a ride with all the cops up through the French areas and all the French pubs we stopped at going and coming. Hmmmmm. Of course, Jon Baker only drank milk!
Well as September 22nd approached I had this very insightful bad dream begin haunting me. Each day I would begin feeling the anxiety of the commitment and realize that I had to get it all organized and I was procrastinating. It is weird that it has taken me 60 years to recognize that anxiety and its symptoms while denying it for so many years. Oh, the evolution of personal discovery and so called emancipation! Anyway the bad dreams continued and they would start with me trying to get on the motorcycle and my hips would not flex enough and they would cramp up. Then, when I would look around to see if anyone was looking, I would finally crawl upon the big motor steed, and look at all the knobs, handles, buttons and handle bars in confusion. Once I remembered which switches turned on the big Police Motorcycle, I knew that the balance would be an issue and if you begin to fall, there is no stopping that monster. As I fell in this bad dream, I then began hearing sirens and saw some big 6’5’’ muscle bound motor cop pulling up to me with a frown while shaking his head in a condescending manner. As I looked up, with the monster bike lying on me, he reached in to help me, like I was the 90 lb weakling. We managed to get the bike up and then the dream got worse. He would handcuff me and await a patrol car to take me off. As I sat in the back of the patrol car handcuffed the dream would end. For a few days I wondered what this emotion or dream meant to me. A few days before September 22, 2013 I realized what it was all about. Here I was the older actor who had taught safety and had ridden with the CHP many times and gone to their training and other such police functions. The fear or dream was stimulated by my own conscious and sudden memory. I had never taken the test for a motorcycle license and for my entire life I had ridden with all the policemen and all the fans and did all the safety tours, and yet I never had a motorcycle driver’s license or permit. Oh my goodness…..I had been an illegal spokesperson for years!
So, a few days before the event, I drove down to the DMV to take my test. The lines at the Los Angeles DMV are hours long and so I just sheepishly walked in and approached the counter and asked a gentleman……”hey, I have ridden a motorcycle for 30 years and even did it on a TV series for 5 years but I do not have a motorcycle license and need to take the test or make an appointment but I am running out of time because I have to ride in a parade.” He looked at me and said…..oh my God, you are Jon Baker. I acknowledged with a big old CHiPs smile and hoped he would let me crowd in and take my test immediately. He said here, I am giving you the hardest test, but you can pass it because you are Jon Baker. I thought…..oh my….I did not study this stuff much but here goes. So I went and stood in another line and took my new photo for the license, and then went over to the corner and took my test. When I came back to the counter to have it graded, the grading lady recognized me and said well well.
The next thing I knew some very elderly lady who did not know what planet she was on crowded in front of me. (karma) and she started whining about some trick questions. The grading DMV lady told her she would have to wait for me in line. I said….no, that is OK, she can go first and so everyone smiled at Jon Baker. The grading DMV lady took care of the elderly lady who was going to flunk the test, but the atmosphere was so warm and fuzzy by now, the grading lady coached her through one or two so called “trick questions” so she could pass. Santa can be so very benevolent especially at the DMV. She was so very happy to pass, she thanked and thanked the grading lady and completely forgot about me as she shuffled out with her “elderly” daughter to their Volvo. Then it was my turn and of course I quickly passed the test. Yeah….right! I quietly exhaled and faked my confidence and she then said you need to come back now and do the riding skills test. I said but I have been riding for 30 years so can I just pass on that test and she said no. So I quickly scheduled a 0830 am appointment.
That night at home,I realized that I would have to rent or borrow a motorcycle because I had sold all of mine except a small Honda 100 dirt bike that was not licensed for the street. I called relatives and they said their bikes were not working. I called rental houses and they were closed. So, worried that I would not be able to keep my word and ride in this Greatest Escape parade, I sat at home frustrated and my wife reminded me of our family friend who owned a little Vespa. So we called them and the husband was out of town so we asked his wife it I could borrow it and she said of course but there are a few things that do not work as the key shorts out and they were not sure about the blinkers. Oh no. So my wife drove me to their home around 10 pm and I figured out all the quirks of the Vespa and drove it home as cars rushed by at 60 mph and I tooled along at 35 mph as it was gutless. The hill to my house is very steep and I doubted it would carry this Sumo wrestler up the hill….but somehow, I gunned it and we barely made it home. I told my wife thank you, but that under powered Vespa was one scary ride on the real road and Jon Baker could surely not ride that thing in a parade as it would be humiliating and…..dangerous.
The next day I went to the DMV and waited in line with my motocross helmet on, and sitting on the Vespa. Luckily there were no Harley riders hanging out that day to make fun of me. All the employees came over and wanted a picture with me and my Vespa. Hmmm, me and my Vespa sounds so……well….just not very masculine. Instead of the record I recorded called Me and My Love, maybe I should do a new one called Me and My Vespa. Anyway, the instructor finally came out and told me to ride up this narrow line, do not go outside of the line, and turn left and go clock wise twice around a circle. I shook my head and again, faked confidence. I went up the straight line and that damn Vespa was so underpowered and off the power curve, that it was hard to ride slow. I went around the wrong way in the circle and came back smiling. The instructor frowned and said, uh…ok….you did not go around the circle in the clockwise fashion, and you only did it once and I told you to circle twice. Ohhh, Ok, I said jokingly, hoping he was not a bureaucrat on a power trip. So I did it again and did it correctly and came back for the next skill test. The last skill test was at a higher speed and so I did that also and the Vespa spurted along and he passed me. The next step was my ride home again in fast Los Angeles traffic and I did not enjoy that at all. I returned the Vespa and its “identity crisis” to the owners and drove home with my wife in the Prius. I said I never want to own one of those Vespas in Los Angeles. So now I had my license and I was FINALLY LEGAL and free to ride my machine and do my thing. No chaps for this guy!
The next issue is I had to find a Police Motorcycle that I could borrow for free so Jon Baker would shine a little in the Greatest Escape parade. I found one for sale on Craigslist but the guy kept doubting if I was really Larry Wilcox or some fraud, so when I finally convinced him I was the real deal, he said the bike was not running well, and he would have to pass because I could get hurt riding a faulty motorcycle. Great timing……made me wonder if he suffered from distrust, anxiety, or procrastination.
I called Kawasaki regional district and explained all of the good publicity I would bestow upon them and they said they were very sorry but had no Police bikes now. Damn, Jon Baker was becoming an anachronism. I then called my buddy at the Burbank Kawasaki Shop and he fixed me up with Hollywood Motors in Canoga Park, California. I went over there and they had 50 Police Kawasaki’s and had one saddled up, shining and ready for Jon Baker. They even began singing the theme song and they all wanted photos. They said the rental was free but asked me if I wanted a police bike with red lights and sirens and I said I better not go that far as I have to ride it down the freeways to get to the start of the parade and I do not want to get in trouble. So he disconnected those lights and I practiced riding the old motor again. The clutch was out of adjustment and so I kept trying to repair that since I would have the clutch in, and the damn motorcycle would still lurch forward. That is not good! I rode it home and as I went through the guard gate to my home, the guard said…..”Wow Larry, is that your old CHiPs bike” and I said Yep. He smiled and said wow…that is sooooo cool. I rode home in glory and up that steep hill like it was nothing. Parked it shining in my driveway and it looked sooo cool. I swung my leg over the bike and hit the big radio box and jammed my hip flexor. Damn I thought, the bad dream is coming back. I finally managed to quickly wrestle my leg out of the jam and walk inside to my wife. She quickly looked at me nervously and said well, how was it. I said….piece of cake. She cooed on cue.
The next day I was getting up way early to ride down to the parade starting place at the famous Bartell’s Harley Davidson shop. I was a little nervous about riding on the 405 freeway and the 101 Freeway. I came out and my wife said are you really going to wear your CHIPS helmet and gloves. I said yes, that is what the fans want to see. She shook her head and said wow….I mean is that LEGAL? I said, probably not, but it is only the helmet I am wearing. She said what if a real Cop sees you doing that on the way to the parade. I said….oh well, I will smile and explain. Then she laughed…..OK,….I dare you! I smiled and said what? She said I dare you to try and put on your old uniform hanging in the closet in the dry cleaning bag . I dare you to ride down there with your tight pants half way zipped up and your shirt buttons broke and your tighty whities showing. She then howled with laughter at the vision. I said thanks….and with that I walked out with my CHIPS strut, put on my helmet and mounted my steed.
We tooled on down to the freeway and I sped up to about 70 mph thinking how fun this was. I could hear the radio cracking with 7M4 calling me for help and or assistance, or the Sarge or Grossy calling me on the radio. As I stayed in the slow lane early in the morning I decided to move out into the faster lanes. The front end seemed to squiggle a lot on the freeway grooves and I remembered the horror stories of high speed front wheel wobble and the crashes from that problem. I cautiously decided to pull back into the slow lane and remembered this was 2013 not 1979.
As I approached the on ramp to the 405 Freeway South towards San Diego the freeway was ramp was closed and so now I had more problems. I had to go and ride on the side streets and stop and start in traffic which I did not feel comfortable doing with that damn clutch. So, I was being tested. I did it all fine and then got back on the 405 and sped down to the Marina Freeway and then sped down it towards the ocean and Bartell’s. I arrived and lots of people came out to greet Jon Baker. My throttle hand was numb from holding on too tight but I faked a few strong hand shakes. The CHP showed up in glory with all of the BMW motorcycles and we all talked. Then the people who flew all the way from Japan showed up and we took lots of photos. I was thinking to myself….I wonder if they wonder, where is Jon Baker instead of this old guy! Then Paul Link who had a previous commitment, showed up graciously to take a few photos with the Japanese and myself. That was very kind and sensitive of him and then he had to rush off to his obligations. Robert Pine was going to ride in it also, but he is rehearsing a play and at the last minute he had to cancel the parade. Jack Carpenter, who was the beloved camera truck driver on CHIPS was there and he and I rode together. He is such a wonderful human being and I really enjoyed his kinship and his willingness to come and ride with the old CHIPS guy. I am so grateful for these old crew relationships….as they became family as we often spent long 12-17 hour days together.
The ride up the coast was magnificent and the ocean colors were spectacular that day. The charity picnic and the Johnny Cash Band were entertaining and we all had a good time. Jack and I sped up the highways and streets, waved good bye and I drove and waived at the guard again as he was so happy to see Jon Baker. I should have had my ghetto blaster with the CHIPS theme going…..now that would have been real vain and dorky! Ohhhh, illusion and reality again! My son Chad welcomed me home, and smiled and just shook his head and did a chuckle. Not sure what that meant.
The next day I returned the motorcycle to Hollywood Motors and told them I shot a lot of photos and video and I would give it to them to use as a gesture of gratitude from me. My wife picked me up and we drove home quietly listening to good old country music. I turned to her and said….I think we should put on an Annual CHIPS Ride and fundraiser in every City. She shook her head….and said…just never put on the uniform! We chuckled…..