Fastest Man Alive
by bj max
There are those that have been down and those that are going down. Every time someone quotes that old motorcycle axiom in my presence it always brings back memories of a hot summer day in the fifties and the cold hard truth of Newton’s first law of motion.
Garland Mercantile was the center of the little community where I grew up in the fifties. Despite its fancy name it was really just a little country store. There was a lone gas pump in front and an air compressor nearby that supplied free air to anybody who needed it. A coke machine stood on the front porch and next to it screwed to the wall was a bottle opener with a foot long former lunch meat can hanging underneath to catch bottle caps. When the can got full Old Man Hensley, the proprietor, would toss the caps into the parking lot. A load of gravel now and then and all those bottle caps kept the dust in check.
Everything of import happened at the store. If you got a new pickup truck you took it to the store to show it off. If you bagged a big Gobbler you displayed it at the store and on Election Day, you voted at the store. One of the most shocking events that ever took place up there was the night one of our residents decided that life wasn’t worth living anymore. As the men sat around the stove gabbing, this poor soul turned his shotgun on himself and pulled the trigger. But, incredibly, he missed. Well, almost. He did manage to blow off a piece of his shoulder but him being a crack shot and all made folks doubt that he was truly sincere about commitin’ suicide
One summer afternoon in my thirteenth year a few of my friends and I were hanging out on the store porch lazing away another sweltering summer day. It was Gerlie Bee’s birthday and we were helping him celebrate with cokes and candy bars when we heard his Daddy’s old pickup come whistling down the road. We always knew when it was his Daddy because for some unknown reason the engine whistled. The pickup slowly crunched its way up near the pump and parked. Mr. Gerald eased himself out, stepped up on the porch, put some change in the coke machine and while sipping his soda casually hinted that there might be something in the back of his pickup us kids might be interested in. We couldn’t see anything because the bed had four foot sideboards so with Gerlie leading the way we stepped out to take a look.
We didn’t know it at the time but our quite little community was about to change because tied down in the back of that pickup was a brand spanking new Allstate Mo-Ped. It was a surprise birthday gift for Gerlie and he just stood there in disbelief. With the help of his Dad the rest of us carefully unloaded that beautiful maroon marvel and parked it on its center stand. Then everybody, including Old Man Hensley, slowly circled this little gas powered bicycle admiring every little detail. It was beautiful and smelled beautiful too. You know. That aroma of fresh paint, new rubber and of course that now forbidden nectar of the internal combustion gods, leaded gasoline.
Gerlie’s Dad showed him how to pedal the thing to get it started and pretty soon he was buzzing around the parking lot grinnin’ like a ‘possum while the rest of us unfortunates looked on hungrily and already cookin’ up schemes to get our hands on one of these terribly exciting machines. And it wasn’t long till almost every kid in Garland had one too. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of ‘em.
Most of the girls back then were content to let the boys do the stupid stuff. Most of ‘em. But not my red headed cousin Camille. She was a rough and tumble tom boy and could best the guys at almost anything. So we weren’t surprised when she, like the rest of us, pestered her folks relentlessly for a Mo-Ped. But her Dad considered any motorized two-wheeler a fatality waiting to happen and he wasn’t about to buy his little girl a Mo-Ped. So, in an effort to appease her, he bought her a magnificent Tennessee walking horse. I lived next door back then and I remember Camille spending a lot of time that summer stretched out on that beautiful mares back staring up into the summer sky. Many years later I mentioned this and asked her what she was thinking about back then. “Mo-Peds”! She laughed. So her Dad’s approach hadn’t worked and once she was out on her own she took up the sport and eventually married a motorcycle racer and they still ride to this day.
Another cousin, (it was a small town) Gary, did get a Mo-Ped and it was almost like I got one too because he picked me up almost every day and we took off on that thing in search of adventure. For the first time in our lives we were mobile and it was wonderful.
Wide open with a good tail wind a Mo-Ped would do roughly 33 MPH. That seems slow now but when compared to our normal mode of travel back then, walking, that was pretty fast. Fast enough to ruin your whole day I learned one afternoon.
Gary and I had decided to ride to my Grandma’s house and get some apples. Grandma had a big orchard and I can hear her now telling us to be sure and get the apples on the ground and not to pick any off the tree. Grandma lived on a hill and the grade of that hill from the blacktop was roughly 45 degrees. Gary was at the controls and had the throttle wide open. As we neared my Grandmas I noticed that we weren’t slowing down so I reminded him and he yelled back that he was gonna’ ride right up the side of that hill instead of using the driveway. You can’t make it man I screamed in his ear. He argued that he could and just as we approached the hill, still wide open, I decided that I wasn’t going with him, took my feet off the pegs and stood up!
The eastern cottontail struggles to break thirty MPH and I knew dang well I couldn’t outrun a rabbit so what could I have possibly been thinkin’. The instant my feet touched the blacktop my legs exceeded their intended design limits and I began stumbling. But my upper body didn’t know jack about design limits and continued forward at full speed, easily overtook and passed my feet and I just sorta’ nosed over and augured headfirst into the blacktop.
I don’t know how far I slid but it was far enough to scrape the epidermis from the palm of my hands, remove a couple fingernails and worst of all ruin my brand new Lover Boy Presley Tee-shirt. As I picked myself up from that heaping pile of humiliatation I slowly looked up and there at the top of the hill was Gary safe and sound pointing at me and laughing like Cheetah the chimp.
But those bruises and scrapes could not deter the passion aroused by those 50cc Sears and Roebuck dream machines. Motorbikes were exciting and I wanted more. A whole new world had opened for me and I knew that I would never be content hunting, fishing and lazing away the summers on the store porch ever again.
Sixty Six and still in the saddle