What Being American Means to Mike
Happy Independence Day
By: Mike Toursal, Owner of Eagle Leather
The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is a great holiday. It’s right in the middle of summer (which means right in the middle of riding season), and it’s a day for us to celebrate our country and take pride in what our forefathers accomplished all those years ago. For me, it’s a time to reflect on what it means to be an American.
If you really take a moment to think about the history of America, it’s enough to take your breath away—especially when you consider how many of us today wouldn’t be Americans were it not for the sacrifices our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers made when they decided to leave their homelands to seek a new life in the “land of opportunity.” For example, Eagle Leather’s Marketing Manager, Mandy (the woman who brings you the newsletter each week!), wouldn’t be American if her great-great grandfather had not emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s. And that’s just one of her bloodlines! For me though, it goes even deeper. My own son wouldn’t be American if I hadn’t come to the United States to chase my dream of—you guessed it—motorcycles.
As a kid growing up in Algeria, I was interested in anything with two wheels and anything that flew. Airplanes, bicycles, and motorcycles fascinated me. My father would give me money for lunch, and I would skip most of the meal so I could stow the money away. I used it to buy my first racing bicycle, which my father disliked because he thought it was too dangerous. He asked me to sell it. I assured him I’d fix it up and get rid of it, all the while, sneaking the bike out to ride without permission. One day while I was riding on a mountain road, I spotted him driving straight toward me. I was so afraid of him that I threw the bike onto my shoulder and jumped off what looked like a cliff. I ended up skidding about 15 feet down the side of the mountain. Perhaps the inspiration for Eagle Leather was already beginning to form from that single act of defiance.
These days, I have a Boss Hoss with a Chevy V8 engine, the same as I’ve got in my Corvette. This bike is a little intimidating due to its size, but it’s a great conversation-starter. I love talking about my bike with customers at Eagle Leather. Believe it or not, there was no gradual progression to this bike, in terms of size. I went from having a very small bike (I think a strong person could’ve lifted it) right to the Boss Hoss. I like to take this kind of leap in life, which is why I made the decision to come to the United States at age 28. There were times in my life growing up when I had no electricity, running water, or gas. If I wanted to go to school, I had to travel far to do it. By 28, I wanted to know what more life had to offer, but my geography was limiting me. I knew I only had one life to live, and I had to make it count. So I left home and chased the American dream.
America is the land of opportunity--but you have to work really hard to access that opportunity. Thankfully, I had a passion for motorcycles to guide me in the right direction. I followed that passion around the country working motorcycle swap meets, shows, and rallies. I lived out of a van with my inventory. Thankfully, the van had a logo for a chimney sweep service painted on it, and I never wanted to pay for it to be re-painted, so no one ever bothered to try and steal my van full of motorcycle gear!
I traveled coast to coast, north and south, following motorcycles and growing an inventory of bike gear. I slept in my van and in random hotels. I loved it. The atmosphere, the energy of people having fun and celebrating different bikes, the great music — I loved everything about it. At the end of the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet one year, I overheard a conversation about Daytona. It sparked my attention. I started asking questions. “A motorcycle rally there, really? How long is it? It’s in Daytona Beach?” I wanted in. They warned me it had probably already started and it would be too late to go. They said I’d never find a place to sell. They said there’d be half a million people there. Their warnings were lost on me. I immediately began my cross-country trip to Daytona with the motorcycle gear and accessories, ordering more and more along the way. When I arrived in Daytona, I found a shop and started selling. The top-quality leather goods sold well, and my inventory grew so much that my van was filled with merchandise on my way to Portland, Oregon for the next swap meet. Somewhere along the way, we passed through Tacoma. That's where I saw my first store available for rent. It was a great deal, so I decided it was time to settle down. Eagle Leather was born. Now, almost 20 years later, Eagle Leather is the biggest motorcycle gear retailer in the Northwest.
It was quite an exciting journey to get to where I am today. Where else but America would my story—would Eagle Leather’s story—even be possible? And now my son will never know what it's like to live without electricity; he'll never have to travel hours just to go to school. I wake up each day and come to work grateful for every person who has ever stepped foot in one of my stores, or bought one of my products at a swap meet, because I know my American success story would have been impossible without each and every one of you.
Happy Independence Day!