Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I hate motorcyles

I hate motorcycles.

I didn’t always hate them. This hate has evolved over the years.

Some of it is frustration in knowing I would be a poor motorcycle rider. Only recently I came to the epiphany that the reason I would be a poor motorcycle rider was evidenced by the way I rode a bicycle in my youth. I was skinned up all the time from bicycle accidents. I do not think that a slowed down reaction time and an additional 50 miles an hours of speed, plus the physics of a a few hundred pounds of weight in momentum on which I have straddled will make me any safer than I was in my pre-teens on that old Murry bicycle.

A friend of my Dad’s was my first ride on a bike. In the sidecar of an old, big Indian cycle. I wanted one of my own after that, but it was years before that lust revived.

When the small Honda’s came out, I yearned for one. “Little Honda” by the Hondells was my favorite song. I sang it in a school talent contest. I devoured the Honda catalogs. I begged, I pleaded, my parents even indulged me in a visit to a motorcycle shop. But they put the motorcycle in the same class as a pony. Something I didn’t need. I didn’t understand the logic at the time. A pony and a motorcycle were the only two things my parents ever denied me. They were so much wiser than I gave them credit for at the time.

The evolution of my hate for motorcycles began with Claude Postell. He was the drummer in my first band. When the band broke up, he traded his drums for a Honda 90.

Before the summer was over he was riding it on a gravel road, without a helmet, and rode into a tree. He survived. He made medical history for the repair job on some of his internal organs. And for months he was in the hospital with a broken neck.

I visited him in the hospital. He had bolts in the top of his head, connected to weights, and he was strapped into a horizontal apparatus that was turned periodically so he was either looking face up or face down. The doctors placed a huge amount of wire in his neck to hold his head without endangering his spine. And he walked again, stiffly.

In my teens our local hero was a Vietnam vet who returned home after being wounded several times. The bikes everyone rode then were Honda 300s. One friend took me riding with him on one and that made the desire for a bike of my own even worse.

My cousin bought a bigger bike, a 650cc Triumph, and his Dad got on it, revved it up, popped the clutch, and was thrown through a fence and hospitalized. It didn’t register on me at the time.

And the local hero? After surviving a war, he was riding a trail bike in the mountains, flipped it, and was paralyzed from the waist down. It took a lot of steam out of my desire for a motorcycle, and that desire went dormant.

In a later band, the new drummer and the rhythm guitar player each had 300cc Hondas.

After practice on a sunny Saturday, we decided to go to Blue Ridge to the jewelry store that stocked an array of amps and guitars. I rode in the pickup with the bass player, and the other two rode their bikes rather than ride in the back of the truck. On the return trip, the bass player pulled his truck to pass the rhythm guitar player who was riding on his Honda. When were alongside he looked over an gave us a silly grin (he was called Smiley because of his habit of doing that), trying to be funny. As he did he didn’t realize that the road took a steep curve right there, and he went straight, down the embankment, into a barbed wire fence.

We left the bike where it lay, loaded him on the bed of the pickup, and drove him to the hospital. He had only broken his foot.

That ended most of my desire for a motorcycle. But when a lot of my fellow middle aged friends started buying Harleys, I gave it some thought. It became a social outlet.

I considered buying one, forgetting all the lessons I had witnessed in my past.

A couple in our Sunday School class had a pair of bikes. The school-teacher wife rode her own. We talked about it after chuch once. Shortly after we talked, they were at a four-way stop, waited their turn, and when that turn came they pulled into the center of the intersection, and an old lady in a Crown Vic didn’t see them and ran over top of the teacher and her bike and killed her.

I lost my desire to own a motorcycle. I gave up. But there was still a lesson or two to learn.

One of my knife trading buddies, who was very knowledgeable about a large variety of things, commented that the insurance probability tables that if you rode a motorcycle that you would file a claim at some point—was 100%. If you had not had an accident, that mean some other poor guy had had two accidents. It was something to consider.

During a lunch with Paul Basch and another knife dealer I heard them compare their biker stories. Paul had ridden with the Hell’s Angels near Los Angeles. He stopped riding and sold his bike shortly after turning 40.
“Why?” I asked.

“I knew my reaction time was slowing, and I was tired of going to so many funerals.”

The other dealer, who had also been a biker who had ridden with the Pagans in New York at one time, said he had gotten off his two wheeler about the same time—for the same reason.

“What about these 45-year-olds buying Harley’s now for the first time?” I asked.

Paul looked at me solemnly, “There are an accident that has already happened, just looking for a place for it to happen.”

Shortly after that knife dealer Jim Sargent was bringing his new bike home from the dealership, with his daughter following in her car, and he crashed it in front of her. He didn’t restore the crashed bike. Jim’s pre-knife business career was he had been a pilot of helicopters and small planes for a large government agency. If anyone had the reactions to ride a motorcycle it should have been him.

That was enough for me. I wasn’t even going to be a passenger on a motorcycle.

A couple of years ago I was asked to accompany Bob Neal to Dan Winkler’s place in Blowing Rock, NC. Bob was going to buy Dan’s Harley and trailer. So Debbie and I went along.

As we drove I now had a missionary zeal of the evils of motorcycles. And I debated the subject with Bob much of the way there. I cited the instances you’re just read about. His response was, “I used to race motorcycles. I know what I’m doing.”

We hung out at Dan’s for the evening, and the next morning Dan and Bob hooked the trailer up to Bob’s vehicle, and we left, taking a side trip to go by Blue Ridge Knives to look at a knife collection Tommy Clark had recently purchased.

Tommy saw the motorcycle and advised Bob, “You need to get rid of that thing right now.” Tommy then went on to related how he had broken his foot on a motorcycle years before, and how recently he had flipped a friend’s bike off an embankment, into some trees, and how now, after extensive medical treatment, he would never be able to fully extend his left arm again. “And I never owned a motorcycle of my own,” Tommy said.

A month or so after that trip Bob called. He’d been in intensive care after a motorcycle crash. “Well I hope you learned your lesson,” I preached, “and now you’ll get rid of that thing.”

“I’m getting it fixed,” Bob said.

“Then you’re crazy,” I told him.

Bob did get the bike fixed, rode it for a couple of years, and a few months ago sold it and bought a new Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.

He was on it when he crashed into a Dodge Ram truck a few weeks ago. He lost his leg at the scene. In the following days has been on a ventilator, developed sepsis, caught pneumonia, and hung on. He came off the ventilator, but was talking nonsense. They did some tests. A few days ago a CT scan revealed fluid on one side of his head, so they drilled to relieve the pressure.

And a day or so later his heart gave out. That day was last night.

I hate motorcycles.