Co-Pilots

by bj max

A couple weeks ago, the Happy Bottom Ridin’, Yachtin’ and Snipe Huntin’ club took a little ride to Huntsville, Alabama and the Huntsville Rocket Center. The weather terrorists were predicting scattered showers and we have been known to cancel a spring ride if storms are in the mix. But today none were mentioned so we blasted off, on schedule.

On the way to Huntsville, we stopped in Decatur for lunch at Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q. We arrived around 11:00AM, the parking lot was full and the place was a buzzing. We elbowed our way in and were soon enjoying some great Bar-B-Q. A lot of Bar-B-Q joints claim to be championship Bar-B-Q, but Big Bob’s boast is for real. Big Bob’s has won national barbecue grill offs all over the country; including a six year streak of first place wins at the Memphis in May World Championship. When you win Memphis, you are King of the heap. If you ever find yourself in Decatur, AL, be sure and check out Big Bob’s. You won’t be sorry.

After gorging on Bar-B-Q and sweet tea, we waddled back out to the bikes to find it pouring down rain. So everybody geared up, saddled up and cruised across the Tennessee River, towards Huntsville, in the downpour.

The Rocket Center is just off I-565 in Huntsville. You can’t miss it with a three hundred and sixty three foot tall Saturn Booster sticking up outta’ the trees showing the way. After parking, our struggle to extricate ourselves from our rubber rain suits began. Houdini himself would be hard pressed to extract himself from one of these confounded things, and my respect for the lowly caterpillar’s metamorphosis elevates every time I suffer through this exhausting routine.

Huffing and puffing from the ordeal, we stumble up to the visitor’s center and learn that you can’t even get a drink of water or visit the gift shop without coughing up twenty bucks. I was outraged. As a taxpayer, I’ve paid my share for this facility and I resented being treated like a tourist at Disneyworld. I was, after all, one of the owners. Already aggravated by nasty weather and rubber rain suits, this new twist really got me going so I went on a sit down strike and refused to pay. Of course, the Rocket Center refused to let me through the gate, too, so while the rest of the crew toured the facility, I spent two hours staring at the SR-71 Blackbird on display just outside the main entrance.

Then, to my relief, Charlie, one of our more enterprising members, discovered a breach in security and informed me that if we were careful and timed it just right, we could sneak right past the guard and have complete access to the museum. And it worked. Hey, all I really wanted was a picture of the Space Shuttle so it wasn’t really cheating for me to walk in and snap a picture. You think?

I’m a big fan of all things aeronautic and to me, the Space Shuttle is the epitome of that technology. But I was a bit disappointed when I looked up at the tail of that big ship and noticed several, three quarter inch bolts fastening the engine nozzles to the rockets. On TV, it looks slick and sterile so you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that, the Space Shuttle, unlike the image I had envisioned, was tainted with common, everyday nuts and bolts, just like my old pickup truck. I got Sugar Booger to stand in front of it for perspective and took a picture to mark the occasion, but its mystical aura had, in my eyes anyway, been dimmed somewhat.

We left The Rocket Center about four and by now we were hungry again, so we rode the hundred and sixteen miles to Corinth, Mississippi, non-stop, and had the buffet at Ryan’s. This is one of our favorite piggin’ out buffets and it was a welcome break from the road and relentless rain as the hot vittles lifted our spirits.

Around dusk-thirty, we made a quick fuel stop then headed for the barn. I was hoping we could make it home before dark, but it just wasn’t meant to be. As we neared the suburbs, riders began dropping out at various exits. A couple of bikes would peel off here, then a couple more there, until finally it was Sugar Booger and I all alone, just the way we began this ride thirteen hours earlier.

This trip, despite the rain, was still a lot of fun. Until it got dark, that is. I’m hear to tell you, riding in the rain after sunset is a bummer and if it weren’t for a sharp co-pilot, the EMTs would have been fishing us out of a ditch.

As we entered the city, the heat and humidity climbed accordingly and, as if the rain alone wasn’t bad enough, my face shield and my windshield fogged up simultaneously. I tried wiping my shield with my glove, but it just streaked it up and made things worse. It was now dark and the raindrops clinging to the windshield refracted the light from all the headlights and streetlamps, and I couldn’t see a thing. I was basically flying blind on a six-lane thoroughfare. I sat up as high as I could, then stretched to see over the windshield, and while doing this, for some strange reason that I can’t explain, I began staring at the road directly in front of me instead of scanning ahead

Now I’m an old truck driver and I automatically scan a hundred yards out, so why were my eyes now fixated on a point no more than six feet from my front tire? As I stared, trance like, I was suddenly jerked back to reality by a violent poke in my ribs and a scream in my ear, “Billy, you’re running out of road!”

I looked up and to my horror learned that I was speeding along in a dump lane and was just yards from running out of pavement, headed straight for a three foot drainage ditch on the other side. A quick glance in the left mirror, jam the left handlebar down hard, and pray that those expensive Metzelers stick on these wet streets. Thankfully they did, but even with that violent maneuver, we still clipped the outer edge of that ditch at thirty MPH. Talk about a close call.

Scary business riding at night in the rain and we were glad to see the lights of home; lights that we may have never seen again if it weren’t for my expert co-pilot. We seldom recognize the ladies that ride behind us as co-pilots, or monitoring pilots as described in aviation manuals. But we should. Instead of treating them as an equal, we tend to indulge them like Supercargo, or just more baggage to haul around. But if we pay attention, we learn that they are a valuable asset and provide an extra pair of eyes and ears that helps us stay alive.

Sugar Booger certainly saved our bacon that night and it wasn’t the first time, either. She is an essential part of my motorcycling enjoyment and safety, not to mention that if it weren’t for her financial contribution, I wouldn’t even have a motorcycle. Statistics suggest married men live longer than single men. You think maybe motorcyclists with alert co-pilots might have something to do with that?

Y’all think about it.

M.M.M.

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