Anthony Bourdain, the late chef and CNN host of “Parts Unknown”, toured West Virginia in his first episode of Season 11. Originally airing in the spring of 2018, in the first minutes of the show, a West Virginian says, “There’s so much negativity surrounding this place, that no one ever focuses on the positive. They see us as ignorant or hillbillies. There’s really so much more here than just poverty and illiteracy and drugs. There’s a lot of good people here.” In his own dialogue, Bourdain said the area was “…a place both heartbreaking and beautiful. A place that symbolizes and contains everything wrong and everything awful and hopeful about America.”

In this photograph from 2019, Carmen Gentile talks with Nawzad Hawrami, the manager of the Salahadeen Center, where Kurds and other Muslims in the community gather to pray. [Nish Nalbandian]
Journalist, author, and war correspondent Carmen Gentile agrees. As founder and editor-at-large of the multimedia news outlet Postindustrial, Carmen works with a talented team of writers and photographers, sharing stories that help redefine the Rust Belt and Appalachia region of America, an area that was once the backbone of the country’s industrial output. With a website, print magazine, podcasts, events, and short documentaries, Postindustrial Media is not a conventional media outlet with a narrow focus on a specific town, city, or state. Rather, “Our work reflects the history, legacy, and culture of one of the most important regions in America. We show where those regions are going — in the spirit of reinvention and renewal so emblematic of Postindustrial America.”

Telling stories with motorcycles: from The Vintagent’s 2017 story ‘The Notorious Mosul Moto Caper‘. Carmen explains, “Taleb, our mechanic, and Ahmed, an off duty cop, ride our Ural out of Mosul for us” to avoid being ambushed by insurgents! [Nish Nalbandian]
Carmen Gentile often uses motorcycles to help tell these stories. The Vintagent last heard from Carmen in August 2017 with his article ‘The Notorious Mosul Moto Caper’. In that tale, readers learned about his travels through Afghanistan with photojournalist Nish Nalbandian, collecting stories and photos while riding a 2004 Ural sidecar outfit. It was a return to a country where Carmen had, in 2010, lost the use of his right eye to a Taliban-fired rocket-propelled grenade. The grenade didn’t explode, but it shattered the right side of Carmen’s skull and destroyed the vision in his eye – it’s blurry, and very light sensitive: he now sports a pirate-like patch. He deftly tells the tale in his 2018 hardcover book ‘Blindsided by the Taliban: A Journalist’s Story of War, Trauma, Love, and Loss’. In The Notorious Mosul Moto Caper, however, Carmen said, “Now we’ve got a taste for this kind of storytelling, combining our work as journalists with stories about motorcycles and places to ride.” He was thinking at the time he’d next be motorcycling through the Balkans, an area that ”20 years ago…was in a war similar to what Iraq is going through, and people haven’t heard much about it since then.” Carmen wanted to explore how parts of the region were reinventing themselves in the post-war era.

Carmen Gentile was literally ‘Blindsided by the Taliban‘ in Afghanistan, when stuck by a rocket propelled grenade that failed to explode, but blinded him nonetheless. [Carmen Gentile]
I recently caught up with Carmen and learned more about him and his ventures with Postindustrial, a media outlet founded in 2018. “We started a media company at a time when a lot of Americans were hurting, and the media and other news outlets were slashing budgets,” Carmen says. In other words, small town daily newspapers have been progressively disappearing from many communities. “Three years later,” he muses, “we’ve managed to grow and thrive.” He can chalk up some of that success to his style of moto-reporting, where the motorcycle acts as a conduit for dialogue. “The motorcycle is the oddity that captures people’s attention. When I was reporting in Iraq by motorcycle, that was my introduction and the means by which I could get people to talk to me.” For example, Carmen recently toured Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland with friend and fellow reporter Jason Motlagh (who writes for Rolling Stone, and is producing a separate story for them) and photojournalist Justin Merriman. Carmen and Jason rode 2021 Royal Enfields, an Interceptor and Continental GT. Along the way, most folks were interested in the bikes and wanted to know more about them. Motorcycle enthusiasts will understand that the machines themselves are powerful icebreakers.

Postindustrial Media held an event in 2019 to highlight how residents, Penn State University, and investors are revitalizing New Kensington. Here, dozens of participants walk through one of the business districts. [Carmen Gentile]
Raised in a town near Pittsburgh in an area that had once been a thriving center for aluminum production, Carmen’s father owned a small machine shop. “In the early 1980s, aluminum was the industry that drove our region. When things were going wrong, you got a feeling about how things were going by how much work was going through the shop. Manufacturing, fabrication and welding jobs were part and parcel of what made the Rust Belt and Appalachia areas a part of my past; I was working a metal bandsaw at six years old.” Regardless his machine shop background, though, Carmen did not immediately gravitate towards motorcycles, and says, “I was an outlier. I wasn’t one of those kids riding dirt bikes, and often thought those things looked tall and would be easy to fall over and wondered how anybody could ride one.” However, when Carmen was in his early 30s, living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the thought of swinging a leg over a machine became an attractive proposition. “I’d taught myself to surf and wanted to learn how to do something (as risky as surfing), and that was motorcycling.” He wisely took a how-to-ride class, learning the skills aboard a small Honda. His instruction was offered in Portuguese, and not only was he learning to ride, but he was also learning the language.

From the ‘Notorious Mosul Moto Caper‘: Carmen sits on the Ural he discovered in Mosul, his first opportunity to get on the bike, as a bunch of Iraqi neighbors watch. “In the striped shirt is Talib, a mechanic who rode the bike out of Mosul for us so we could get the bike past checkpoints.” [Carmen Gentile]
When Carmen returned to the United States in 2006, he moved to Miami and bought a 2005 BMW Dakar. Aboard the motorcycle, he had an advantage over other journalists when commuting to news assignments for the likes of Time and Newsweek. “I could split lanes and make good time to often arrive first on the scene,” he explains. His BMW was purchased used, with only a year’s worth of someone else’s miles on the machine. Carmen still has this BMW, and it now has more than 66,000 miles on the odometer. “Other bikes have come into my life, but that BMW is the through-line; we’ve been through thick and thin together,” he says, and continues, “When I’ve been overseas for months at a time, we’re often apart, but she’s been one constant lady in my past 15 years.” Is he at all mechanically inclined, given his machine shop background? “You’re going to laugh,” Carmen begins, “but I’m probably the least motorcycle knowledgeable motorcyclist. You couldn’t ask me the specs on my own bike that I’ve owned for 15 years, I wouldn’t know, I’m just not that guy. I can fix small things; other repairs are beyond me. I’d love to take a basic motorcycle maintenance course!”

Carmen Gentile with his Royal Enfield on Friday, May 21, 2021 in Cynthiana, Kentucky. [Justin Merriman/American Reportage]
While on the topic of education, he says he never did take a Journalism class in his post-secondary career. “I went to Villanova University just outside of Philadelphia,” Carmen says. “It took me six years to graduate with a liberal arts education (he has a degree in Philosophy with a minor in Islamic studies), but I never took a Journalism class. I was inquisitive and I could write, and as long as you can keep people engaged, that’s what it takes to be a good reporter.” Carmen worked as a reporter for two summers at a newspaper in Western Pennsylvania before, as he says, “I kind of lost my direction.” It was a professor who taught Arabic who suggested Carmen should travel to Cairo to continue learning. There, Carmen found a small English language newspaper and he worked there from 1998 to 2000. He was back in the U.S. on September 11, where it was all hands on deck for reporters and, from Washington, D.C., he had a front row seat to a breaking story.

Carmen Gentile, Vintagent Contributor and founder of [Carmen Gentile]
The story of a region emerging from the pandemic led Carmen, Jason, and Justin to take their most recent moto-journalism tour through the Rust Belt and Appalachia region. “By the time we departed, stuff was opening up and our team was fully vaccinated; we could all get together again, and we wondered, how has the pandemic changed the area? What’s the new face of the region?” There are now 10 stories on documenting their journey. “We just scratched the surface with our stories, the pandemic has rearranged lives, livelihoods and families – I don’t believe it will ever be the same as it was before.” One poignant post was ‘Day Two: Seasoned Truth-Tellers’. On the second day of their motorcycle tour, the team stopped in Youngstown, a city Carmen describes as a “…once-thriving steel and manufacturing center in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley that has fallen on hard times.” There, he spoke to Bertram de Souza, a veteran journalist for the Youngstown Vindicator, a newspaper that saw fresh ink roll off the press for 150 years. “The paper’s now closed,” Carmen says, “and that’s one of the biggest threats we’re facing right now, the loss of local news. When these outlets go under, there’s no one being held accountable. People used to revere their local paper, but the papers have been systematically undermined by other media outlets who don’t understand the irony – there’s no sense of irony or shame in this country.” With the decline in the empire of print journalism, Carmen is determined to continue newsgathering in communities in the Rust Belt and Appalachia – and beyond – that are underreported and underrepresented. He echoes the voice of the West Virginia resident, who said at the beginning of the Bourdain episode that there was much more than bad news to come out of the region. Carmen concludes, “There are all types of people here with stories to tell.”

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Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics