High off the Hog by William H. Macy

The idea began in my kitchen when the cast of “Shameless” came over to watch our series premiere. Steve Howey, who plays Kevin, and Justin Chatwin, who confusingly plays a character named Steve, both ride motorcycles, and I suggested we take a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Justin pointed out that it was wintertime. I said, “No, man, it’s California. It’s perfect riding weather.” We all agreed on a date and then Justin added, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but San Francisco is northern California.” Whatever.

On a Friday morning, we met at Coogie’s on the Pacific Coast Highway to begin our trip. Can I say I was nervous to ride with two young guys? They are half my age, stupidly good-looking and annoyingly talented.

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After a huge breakfast, we headed out to the bikes and mounted up. I ride a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic, which looks like a vintage bike with lots of chrome, saddlebags and a windshield. Justin rides a Night Train with few creature comforts and Steve has a custom Wide Glide (both are Harleys, too). My bike has the stock muffler and is quiet for a Harley, but as for the other two bikes: Rommel made less noise invading North Africa.

Justin’s handlebars are short and he has to lean forward, usually with his left arm on his knee, which gives him an “I couldn’t care less” look. Steve has “ape hangers,” which arch up over the bike so he has to keep his hands at about face level. He looks wicked cool. Before we did our pretakeoff fist bump, Justin lay in the road in front of the restaurant and I took his picture. I don’t know why we did it or what it means, but I have a picture of Justin, apparently dead, in the front of every place we stopped. 

Up the coast we went, in motorcycle formation — staggered so there’s time to stop short, but close enough together that a car couldn’t cut between us — and I felt excellent. I was with the boys, my tribe. We kept an eye on each other. If the lead biker passed a piece of detritus or a patch of rough road, he would signal to the rest of us. We saluted other bikes as they passed with the traditional vague sideways peace sign. (You only salute big bikes, never motor scooters. No offense.)

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We left Highway 1 and took a small road through Los Olivos. I had worked out a complete itinerary with mileage, reservation numbers and sights of interest, and I made copies of this six-page document for each of us. Within three hours we decided to ditch the document and let “Linda” navigate. Justin can find his way around anywhere, and he says he’s guided by a voice in his head he calls Linda. He can be really odd sometimes.

On our first night, we stayed in San Luis Obispo at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort. It’s a great old joint built in the late 1800s with terrific hot springs. We checked in, and the woman gave Steve and Justin their keys and pointed them to their rooms. She gave me a map and described how I would get to my “cabin.” The guys looked at their keys, and then at each other, and then at me.

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“I didn’t think you guys wanted to spend too much money,” I said sheepishly.

“Mr. Macy?” the lady interrupted us. “Your massage is in half an hour so perhaps I should show you to your cabin?” Steve took the key from her and handed it to me, saying, “I think Mr. Macy can find his way.”

Later, Steve and I sat in the bar while Justin soaked in one of the springs.

We talked about being actors and having actress wives. Steve’s married to Sarah Shahi, who was shooting “Fairly Legal” in Vancouver, and I’m married to Felicity Huffman, who was shooting the final season of “Desperate Housewives.” One of the challenges of being married to an actress is that there are often long periods of separation. Steve and Sarah are suffering from that.

When my kids were young, I (like many men) freaked out about money and worked nonstop, and most of the work was out of town. And while I did some lovely films and made some money, I would face three pissed-off females each time I got home. So I found myself holding forth about how you have to work at marriage. I hate myself when I do that, but I keep doing it. “Seriously, man, you keep surprising them with delightful stuff, and they will give it back in spades. Women . . . are like cats.” Good lord, I’m a jerk.

The next morning after breakfast, Steve told me to check my rear tire and sure enough it was almost flat. At a Harley dealer 15 miles away, the service guy said there were three bikes ahead of me. I said, “Look, I’m William H. Macy. Do you watch ‘Shameless?’ ”

“What?”

“It’s a TV show . . . uhhh, you see ‘Wild Hogs?’ ”

He didn’t know what that was, either. I said, “O.K., look, I tried to play the movie-star card, but we’re hoping to get to San Francisco tonight. Can you slip me in?” He said no, that around here he was a bigger star than me.

We finally hit the road three hours behind schedule. This delay meant we had to do the 101 — which was under construction — at rush hour, at night. Justin pointed out that the temperature had dropped 20 degrees in 20 minutes. We rode for about an hour and had to pull over we were so cold. Justin and I put on all the clothes we had, and Steve tried to buy pantyhose at a gift shop. (Dear God, I wish they had carried them, as this would have been such a better story.)

Around 9:30 p.m., we rolled into San Francisco and roared up to the Fairmont hotel on Nob Hill. It’s a swanky old pile, and when we arrived there was some big shindig going on. Two pretty young things in little black dresses recognized me and squealed as they both gave me a hug on my bike. I found a lipstick kiss on my helmet later. Then they saw Justin and Steve, and one of them climbed on Justin’s bike and onto his lap. We three just sat there, frozen. Steve needed help lowering his hands from his ape hangers. We left our bikes sitting right in front of the hotel and limped into the lobby, where I offered the concierge any amount of money for a massage. (Later, the doorman called and asked me to move my bike; it was blocking a Rolls-Royce and a Lamborghini.)

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The next morning, we set off early for Morro Bay, following Highway 1 out of town, and as we roared up those San Francisco streets our bikes set off car alarms. I don’t know why that tickles me so.

Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast has to be why God created motorcycles. We had a glorious ride down to Santa Cruz, the kind that gets you thinking. One of the odd things about riding is that when I hang around and talk about bikes with guys like Steve and Justin, I experience a camaraderie and closeness with men I can’t find anywhere else in my life. But when I actually hit the road, it’s a very singular, private experience. A long ride can become an athletic challenge, but it’s lovely to be alone with your thoughts. And sometimes the wind is at your back and you can really hear the engine humming along. I love that.

We decided to say our goodbyes at the last gas stop before Los Angeles. We fist bumped, and as I put on my gloves, I instantly regretted saying, “I love you guys.” But without skipping a beat, they told me they loved me, too.

When I finally pulled into my driveway, I had a message on my phone from Steve. “Hey Mace, you know how you said you have to keep doing delightful stuff for your wife? Well, I parked my bike at LAX and bought a ticket to Vancouver. I’m going to surprise Sarah at the gate.”