Parting With A Friend
by John Fern
It was a long walk up the driveway, and I didn’t look back as the truck hauled my bike away, except it wasn’t mine anymore. After eighteen years of original ownership, it now belonged to someone else. When I placed the ad, one of the few replies came from a guy who fixed up bikes and sold them, and I assured him this was definitely a fixer-upper. We haggled back and forth in the driveway while he pointed out the bent handlebars, broken headlight housing, smashed turn signal, dented tank, cracked tires and gummed up carburetors. He sounded like the mechanic in Road Warrior reading the damage report for Mad Max’s fuel tanker, so I quickly mentioned the bike’s positives: “It has a spare key and uh…the bungi cord on the seat comes with it!” I think my argument swayed him and the deal was done.
A combination of sadness and guilt swept over me, and what should’ve been relief, felt more like betrayal against an old friend for a lousy three hundred bucks. I just wasn’t riding it anymore. Too damn lazy to roll it out of the garage and take her for a short jaunt or not enough time for the longer rides in the country I’d grown to love; so it sat, and without proper maintenance, it only got worse. When you’re sharing the road with people who back out of the driveway at 55 MPH. or so visually impaired, they can’t see an MTC bus, much less a motorcycle, you need a bike that responds instantly; otherwise, you’re a sitting duck. A major overhaul wasn’t in the budget since it was collecting more dust than miles, so selling it seemed like the only sensible thing to do. Yet, I was filled with remorse over my decision. The old girl and I had been together a long time and the bond was stronger than I knew.
Dropping the crumpled bills on the kitchen table. I sat down with a cold O’Doul’s as my wife came through the door and saw the money.” You sold it!” she yelled, “Great! Now we can get new carpeting for the bedroom!” I wanted to cry.
My brother, Joe, first told me of the bike after he stopped in at Rapid Sports Center checking out the new line. Since I had never ridden before, this was a perfect bike for a beginner like myself. “Ya gotta check it out,” he said. “It’s a custom so it sits low; perfect for a short guy like you, and less distance to the ground when you fall off. Best of all: it’s an automatic! You don’t even have to shift; it’s like a big mini-bike!” Having been diagnosed with the only known case of a manual transmission learning disability; I was sold, and the following day, I was the proud owner of a 1982 Hondamatic 450 custom. Walking it over to a church parking lot to practice, I got the hang of it in no time. At first, I misjudged the acceleration, inadvertently chasing a pair of nuns into the Fuddruckers next door, but other than that, it was easy! Since my proficiency had reached the level of expert in less than an hour, I rode the three blocks home. “I’m already an outlaw rider,” I thought, tooling down a city street without a permit. That situation was quickly remedied by passing the written test, making me street legal as long as I…
A.) Wore a helmet. (Oh, I’ve got a helmet, oh, she’s a beauty!)
B.) Stayed off the freeways. (You can play; just keep your toys in the yard.)
C.) Didn’t ride at night, (except to pick up an emergency six-pack of 3.2)
D.) Didn’t carry a passenger, (Unless some cute little filly had her thumb out.)
The road test proved to be a bit more challenging, and since the instructor didn’t particularly care for my “Look Ma, No hands!” attitude, he failed me. The next time, I passed with flying colors, (I think it was an 81) but for some odd reason, they insisted I sign an organ donor consent form. I rolled out onto the freeway with the theme song from Then Came Bronson playing in my head. This was no Sportster, but if I painted an eyeball on the gas tank, nobody would know the difference. Singing “Born to Be Wild” at the top of my lungs inside my full- face helmet while stuck in a traffic jam drew some curious looks, but the song reminded me if I ever happened to find myself in the Deep South, I should avoid flipping off any rednecks with easily accessible shotguns.
Most of the hardcore riders looked at me like I was Rob Petrie putting along on his Geronimo, but I didn’t care; I was lovin’ every minute of it. Early morning rides down long country roads were my true bliss, and the cool breeze in my face cleared the cobwebs from my mind, as I tooled along enjoying the beauty of nature all around me. Pure nirvana, right up until the occasional bug, roughly the size of a small toaster smacked my forehead at sixty miles an hour. Riding in the city left a lot to be desired, and it was there I discovered how vulnerable I was. Sitting at a light, I watched a woman approach from behind, applying her make up. Having no place to go, I braced for the impact as she slammed on her brakes, squealing to a stop one-millionth of a centimeter behind me. That’ll leave a spot on the seat. There were many other careless and downright reckless incidents from the drivers who had me in their sights, but it taught me to never get too comfortable in the saddle. However, I would soon learn the biggest threat to my own personal safety would be me.
One hot afternoon in July, a cold brew seemed like a good idea to wash down the road dust. Stopping at a small tavern. I went in to wet my whistle, and five hours later, staggered out with a belly full of beer and a Karaoke trophy for being the first contestant to ever do a reggae version of “In the Ghetto.” The bike seemed to stabilize itself as long as it was moving, but approaching a red light, I forgot the first basic fundamental rule when coming to a stop: Put your feet down. This painful scenario played itself out at every stop, but somehow I made it home after inflicting my first damage to the bike: a twisted rear brake pedal, a broken turn single and a bent front hand brake. Looking back, I was damn lucky that’s all I did, I could’ve broken my Karaoke trophy!
I’d like to say that’s the only time I rode under the influence, but it wasn’t. Before attracting unwanted attention from the local police. I decided to enter a treatment program. As a responsible adult, I knew it was the right thing to do, plus my employer advised very strongly if I wanted to keep my job, it would be a good idea. Upon my release, the first thing I did was jump on the bike. Never again would I take the freedom of those long rides in the country for granted, and they were now more enjoyable than ever. Every winter, I longed for the days of spring, and taking the first of many rides that could last well into November. As the years passed, it seemed there was less time for riding. I got married and we were working hard toward the purchase of a new home closer to our jobs in the city and further from those rides in the country. I’d still take it for a spin around town, but the acceleration just wasn’t there anymore, and I knew I had to get it fixed…or sell it. A few days after it was gone, I came across the owner’s manual and called the guy fixing it up to see if he wanted it. He didn’t need it, but before he hung up, I asked him who was buying the bike from him. I found out it was someone who used to ride, but suffered a stroke, and had to give it up due to limited movement. The Hondamatic was his ticket to get back out on those roads around his farm.
The old girl was going to see those long rides in the country again after all, with someone who could appreciate them as much as much as I did, if not more. After I hung up the phone, any regrets I had about selling it were now gone.