During the Season 2 premiere of Succession, the HBO satire in which the children of an aging Rupert Murdoch-esque media mogul argue over who’ll get to (mis)manage their father’s empire, I watched what might be the single most humiliating image I have ever seen on television.
Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who ended Season 1 in a drug-fueled bender after failing to seize control of the company, is plucked from a hot tub in Scandinavia and flown across the Atlantic Ocean on a private jet so he can help his dad fight the hostile takeover of the company that Kendall himself first initiated. When Kendall shuffles off the private jet, only a few days sober, jumpy and insistent, he wants to be free, to feel like the badass his constitutionally unable to be. The first thing he says when he’s greeted by one of the family’s flunkies is, “Did you get the bike?” — as in, “the motorbike.”
The only thing that can lift this sad, pathetic man out out of the dirt and into a shower of self-respect is hopping on a damn hog. He wants to breathe in the air of the open road, maybe swallow a few bugs as he mouths the lyrics of “Born to Be Wild” to himself. Instead, he’s told that his father “doesn’t want [him] to ride all alone.” The camera zooms out to reveal a giant-ass Honda Goldwing, along with a guy who’s already got a helmet on. Is the man a bodyguard? Nope — he’s a motorcycle chauffeur.
Rather than putting up a fight, Kendall brusquely hops behind him and pats his back to signal that he’s ready to roll, desperately trying to cling to what few shreds of his dignity his father hasn’t confiscated. When, a few scenes later, Kendall is shown again with the professional driver for his motorcycle, it becomes clear that this is just how he gets around now.
The motorcycle chauffeur was by far the most clever moment I’ve ever seen on Succession, a show that consistently dreams up elaborate, expensive ways for those with access to unlimited money and power to humiliate themselves. After the episode, I became fascinated with the concept as a whole, and was tickled pink to discover that The Ringer’s Alyssa Bereznak actually tracked down the guy who played Kendall’s driver, and interviewed him. “I don’t think [that sort of thing] happens that often in the finance world,” the rider, a professional stuntman named Adam Wood, told her. “But those guys are also as crazy as they come. So I wouldn’t put it past any of them to actually do that.” (Wood also mentioned that he’ll be “in a few episodes,” which is just great to know.)
The entire enterprise of a chauffeur runs so counter to the very ideas associated with the motorcycle as a form of transportation that, like Wood himself, I initially assumed it was a visual gag that the show’s writers thought up. And yet, it turns out that this is totally a thing. In London, for example, there are two companies that offer such a service. There’s the London Chauffeur Company, who in addition to renting out rides in Range Rovers as well as chauffeurs who are also bodyguards, are totally down to cart the rich around London on a motorcycle. “Whether you’re a busy executive, VIP, musician or celebrity, or just someone who enjoys the fresh air and a bit of excitement, our service is prompt, fun and reliable,” the website explains.
For those who aren’t a busy executive/VIP/musician etc., there’s always PassengerBikes, whose motto is “A to B without the Q!” and seems to be focused on getting clients to the airport quickly through being able to split lanes on the freeway. PassengerBikes claims that riding with one of their drivers “will usually cost the same or just a little more than a premium car service, but will often take less than half the time.”
In case you were worried, yes, you can also get a chauffeured motorcycle in America, in an even dumber and more American form. So-Cal Sidecars is a company whose mission is to take couples on a motorcycle tour of California wine country without all the messy business of actually having to learn to drive a motorcycle — instead, they’ve got custom, two-person sidecars for you to sit in while the So-Cal Sidecars people do the actual motorcycling for you. Additionally, in 2011, Gothamist wrote about the creation of an NYC-based chauffeured motorcycle service called MotoLimos. Sadly, the MotoLimos website is now offline and the company seems to be defunct, which is sort of astonishing when you consider New Yorkers love to spend their money on stupid shit.
I’ve never ridden a motorcycle and don’t particularly have the desire to, but I get the sense that people love them because a motorcycle offers a certain sense of zen — you can’t think about how your billionaire dad has screwed you over yet again if you’re too busy figuring out the exact angle to lean your body into a turn. Meanwhile, being a motorcycle passenger requires a certain degree of intimacy with your pilot. You’re pressing your body up against someone else’s and putting your life into their hands. If they fly off, you fly off; if they die, you’re probably hosed, too. Hell, if they so much as fart, they’re going to be farting on you.
It requires an incredible amount of trust in a person in order to hop on their bike with them. A chauffeured motorcycle throws all of this out. You don’t get the release of actually piloting the thing, and the whole “expression of closeness” thing that being a passenger offers is negated by the fact that this person is being paid to let you hug them while they scream down the road like Tim Allen in the movie Wild Hogs.
Technically doing things while doing them in a way that sucks all of the humanity out of them is what rich people specialize in, so there really shouldn’t be any surprise here. If there is a demand for a thing, then the sad logic of the market dictates that someone will supply it, no matter how pointless the thing actually is. It’s a lovely metaphor for our current moment, in which the Kendall Roys of the real world thrive off of their access to the sensation of danger. It’s what allows them to make risky investments on a mass scale knowing they’ll be able to get bailed out if they accidentally cause a recession, and not feel like a weak-willed monster when they kill and eat a goat that their staff has already stunned into submission.
In exchange, the rest of us get to cackle at their idiocy until we remember that not only do we have to deal with the consequences of our own actions, but we’re often left dealing with the consequences of theirs, too. At least they really are that pathetic.