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TAKING THE SHORTCUT

By Bobby Haas

7/22/2021

TAKING THE SHORTCUT

When you’re on a motorcycle, there isn’t much point to taking a shortcut—after all, it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts. Even though the notion of shortcuts has the faint whiff of cheating, I could never resist the temptation of taking the shortest route between the starting line and the goal in each of my careers. I was just so hell-bent-for-leather to reach the end zone.

As an early investor in the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s, I never bothered to earn an MBA. There hardly seemed to be a good reason to bother with business school or an apprenticeship on the bottom rung of a Wall Street firm. The buyout industry was in the Oklahoma land rush days of its emergence as a new form of private equity, when all you needed was a covered wagon and a team of freshly-watered horses. And then it was the crack of the whip and an all-out sprint toward your destination—financial security.

Stagecoach Image

After that shortcut had run its course, I took another one, this time as an aerial photographer with no formal training at all. Once the fog of my early days as a photographer lifted, I could see my destination clearly on the horizon—becoming the first photographer to publish an all-aerial photo book with National Geographic in its fabled 120-year history. Once again, there didn’t seem to be any point to the long road taken by other, more talented artists. Time was a-wasting if I was to be the first. As far-fetched as that pipedream seemed, a decade later I found myself inside the hallowed halls of Nat Geo with a series of books and exhibits to my name.

Andean Flamingo

A single Andean flamingo finds its way through the labryinth of trails in Lauca National Park Chile. Photo credit: Bobby Haas

The founding and curating of a motorcycle museum is a different story though. There are few shortcuts on this road. You still have to assemble a collection of over 200 vintage and custom cycles, you still have to design scores of custom platforms and art exhibits to showcase your wares, and you still need to convert 20,000 square feet of raw space into your Moto Temple.  I could think of only one shortcut on that road—if you are fortunate enough to be able to do so, you must be willing to dig deep in your own pockets for the resources needed to finance this endeavor, and you must abandon any hope of there ever being a return on that investment.  And so, I swallowed hard and dug deep.

Once that ambition had borne its delicious fruit in just a few short years (a mere nanosecond in the normal timeline for a museum’s ascent to prominence), I was presented with another choice—why not become a first-time filmmaker and document the meteoric rise of the Museum? And thus another creation, the documentary Leaving Tracks, was birthed only three years later.

The irony of this jagged career path—hopping from one lily pad to another—is that after stringing together a handful of shortcuts, I found my 74-year-old feet planted firmly on the first few steps of a very long journey. Opening the doors to a public museum and then raising the curtain on your work as a filmmaker is a commitment to educate, to entertain, and to inspire. And there are no shortcuts on that road—it is a long and winding road pockmarked with challenges.  The shortcuts are all in your rear-view mirror … fading slowly from view.   

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