True Stories of the Highway Patrol
by Lee Meyer
About a year ago while visiting San Diego for some relief from the harsh Minnesota winter, my girlfriend and I checked out the Southern California bike shop scene. Well, one thing led to another and the next thing we knew I had a job offer. We thought about it and decided we could probably handle life without frigid winters and perhaps we could adapt to the climate of this city on the ocean.
I had three weeks until the San Diego job started, which meant very little time to pack up and move across the country, find a place to live and get somewhat settled before starting the new job. I had lots to do. I figured the fastest and easiest way to move cross-country was to bring very little, so I sold everything except my trusty ZX-11, my tools of the ol’ trade, my bed and clothes. I rented a cube van for the one-way drive, loaded it up and hit the road.
The mid-January trip was brutal–with no spare time for sight seeing, crummy weather and the rental truck dishing out constant punishment to my spine. Finally I arrived in always-sunny San Diego and proceeded to get settled in and ready for the new job. My only transportation would be the big Kawasaki, and I looked forward to riding everyday with no weather issues to deal with.
I decided to be a good citizen and get a California drivers license as well as the proper registration for the ZX. All out of state vehicles must be verified at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), everybody’s favorite place. Verification is basically a quickie inspection. When I rode my ZX in for this, an inspector came out and looked at the bike, asked some questions, etc. She asked to see the VIN and I explained that I had customized the bike and when I had the frame powder coated the numbers got sandblasted off. She seemed miffed by this and then wanted to see the engine number. I pointed to the spot, she glanced down, made no real attempt to actually look for it, and said she couldn’t see any numbers. After ignoring me for a couple minutes while she filled out some paperwork, she told me I had to make an appointment with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) for verification. Great, DMV hassles. Little did I know this was just the beginning of much weirdness to come.
Apparently the CHP pretty much runs the show out here, they are the overseers of the DMV. The guys I worked with told me the CHP would make a new VIN tag sticker and put it on my frame. Probably no big deal.
The day came. I arrived on time, parked my bike where they told me and waited. Soon an officer came over, checked out my paperwork and said, “Let’s take a look at your bike.” He nearly immediately asked about the serial numbers or lack of them. I told him all about the customizing process and the sandblasting of the old powder coat in prep for the new. He said there is no way to blast the numbers off, I assured him that some bike models have the numbers imprinted lightly and that this was one of them. He didn’t believe me, and then he took the key from the ignition and said, “We’re going to keep the bike.” WHHAAAA?
I about had a stroke. Apparently in the state of California it is illegal to possess a vehicle of any kind without serial numbers. The vehicle is assumed stolen. Impounded. Destroyed. Very grim news for yours truly. Nice welcoming committee they have here. I spent the next couple hours trying to explain about the bike and that I had no other transportation and didn’t know anybody in town yet–and why would I voluntarily bring my bike down to get impounded? He still had my key and went into the building after he told me to wait. After what seemed like forever, Sarge came back out and said he had called Minnesota and ran my bike’s engine number–it checked out back to me. After informing me that he knew where I lived and worked, he said I could take my bike home but that I had to come back the next day as a specialist in the theft division was coming down from Los Angeles to check the bike out. I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad, but I went home and stressed out for the evening.
The next day I met the same cop and one new cop, a very serious woman–the specialist. She was not amused or amusing. After hours of the two cops torturing my motorcycle with strippers and acid they came up with the conclusion that the numbers were not there. I was pretty sure we already knew that before they vandalized the bike’s steering head. They left me alone for a long time. Upon their return cop #1 told me he had called the guy in Minnesota who did the powder coating who had agreed that the numbers could have been sandblasted off.
The officer informed me now that it was up to me to prove that the frame was the same one the bike came with when new. Guilty until proven otherwise. Is America great or what?! And if I couldn’t prove it to their satisfaction, because I’ve been a good cooperative citizen, I would get the bike back in a zillion pieces, minus frame, the only part they really wanted anyway. If I were really good, I could be allowed to disassemble it myself. Yeah! I was really bummed out. He let me ride it home again but the same rules applied, they knew where I lived, etc. yadda yadda yadda.
I made long distance calls to everyone in Minnesota who witnessed and/or helped out in the customizing process. I gathered photos and had the guys at Midwest Cycle Supply send me signed statements and even telephone the CHP. Troy at Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly sent me notarized statements as well as did many other friends. I had old issues of M.M.M. in which I wrote articles on the big ZX project. I had gathered tons of evidence. My goal was to overwhelm Sergeant Smart Guy with proof.
I made the call and hauled my evidence down and handed it over. Sarge took it and went inside. I was left to wait–again. About an hour later, he came out, said nothing and walked over to my bike. He was carrying a hammer!? I saw he was affixing a replacement VIN tag sticker–all official looking. The hammer was for an official stamp-mark. After several weeks I had won the battle with the CHP and I got my brand new California license plate.
All was cool and I had de-stressed from the whole ordeal for a couple weeks when one morning, I left my apartment for work and walked over to my bike all geared up for the morning commute. I noticed that something was kinda wrong. My bike wasn’t exactly where I had parked it. Actually, it wasn’t exactly anywhere in sight. Vanished. History. I felt like a superdoofus all geared up with helmet and all but no bike in sight. Back in the house I called my best new buddies to report it stolen.
Like I had expected, the theft officer informed me that high end bikes like mine are pretty much NEVER recovered. My next call was to the insurance man. By this time my girlfriend had purchased a bike and I had little choice but to use it for my daily commuter. It is a Kawasaki 900 Eliminator, a perfectly acceptable ride. Now in a normal world, this story would be over, the end. I however, live in the world of weirdness, so of course, I’m not done. Two weeks after some cold heartless punk stole my ZX-11; I get a call from a Sergeant whoever from the robbery division of the San Diego police department. What does the robbery guy want? He tells me they have my bike!
That very morning, I was told, two guys used it as a getaway vehicle in a bank robbery. They came into a bank at a nearby suburb dressed in full leather racing gear, helmets, gloves, the whole deal. They robbed the joint and took off on my ZX-11 in a large hurry. The cops found my bike parked and running several blocks from the bank. No robbers in sight. I could have the machine back when they were through fingerprinting it for evidence.
About a week later I had it delivered to my shop to go over the damage. At first glance it wasn’t too bad, ignition and gas cap destroyed of course. Upon further inspection though, the robbers were not too careful with my bike. It wasn’t crashed, but showed nicks and dings all over–fork seals blown and bottom fairing heavily scuffed, probably from jumping over curbs and such. Every body-panel showed damage except the left mirror and the rear passenger grab bar. There went my nice custom paint job. Damage Estimate total–about 4,500 bucks. At this point I was quite thankful for good insurance. They were happy to write this check rather than one for twice as much if it had not been recovered.
While repairing the bike I also fixed up the damage caused by the CHP and their acid. When I was done the bike looked brand spankin’ new. Gone was my custom candy cobalt blue paint. Now it was Pearl Green Black, a factory color for 1994. The mirror and grab bar that were not damaged got tossed anyway and I bought new ones to match the rest.
There you have it. My first few months out here were a wee bit hectic. Shortly after all this I sold the ZX-11. I had spent enough time and money and stress on it so off it would go to a new home. All of this weirdness is true. The robbery was reported on TV the night it happened and the police came around to many motorcycle shops asking tons of questions. As far as I know, the bank robbers were never caught and I was never a suspect–as far as I know.