The Cast: Erich (witness), Myself (the rider), Richard (owner).
“NOT THE WALL!” or “DON’T CRASH!” They yelled something like that.
When you’re in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to pay attention to what is going on around you—for some people. In more than one incident I have had a few of those slow-motion moments where my brain is analyzing all the elements around me (at a casual, slower time rate of speed), meanwhile—in reality—everything is somehow sped up. (stupid wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff bits)
Anyway, some time ago (around 1990ish), I was just doing some yard work around my home (because my mother had ‘asked’ me to do it). It was a nice warm day. The sun was out. A few white, wispy clouds wafted about the troposphere. Beautiful day to do some yard work. Better day for some fun. A better-er day for the shenanigans. The better-er day is what was in store for me—apparently.
At the ripe ol’ age of 16ish, my buddies (Erich and Richard) decided to drop by my house to let me know how their day was going. It appeared that they were having a glorious morning—without me.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
This happy greeting is what got my attention, the motorcycle is what kept it. I had heard about the ‘cycle rides—and the fun that occurred—but I hadn’t been on it, yet. See, Erich and Richard would regularly go on motorcycle rides without me. I know they didn’t do it to intentionally leave me out, it’s just what would happen—for one reason or another. I wasn’t offended, nor did I feel left out. It was kinda like something that was theirs. And, that was just fine. But, today… Today they were bringing it to me. This was going to be a special day. A day to remember.
To the best of Richard’s recollection, it was a red Kawasaki Enduro 150 (late 70s’ or early 80s’ model). Now, I recall it as more of an orangish color. After some discussion, Richard thinks it may have even been a dark yellow-like color. The point is: We don’t remember. Which makes much of this paragraph irrelevant. Hmm… I really should rethink what I write when I add filler content…
So, yeah, Erich and Richard showed up at my place in an effort to bring me into this hobby of cycle riding. Cool.
After some persuasion, the two of them had convinced me to not only mount the motorcycle, but take it for a little spin. After all, I had that large open dirt lot as part of my property. What could go wrong?
What could go wrong? That question (if you believe in curses, not the bad word curses, but the hex-style curses) seems to immediately generate a field of bad karma in and around the group wherein that question has arisen from. Worst. Question. Ever.
Having never driven anything motorized with less than three wheels (a Big Wheel counts), I was in need of some directions. Sitting on the seat was apparently a good first move. Then I was taken through the basics of the gas, the clutch, and the brakes (front brake at high speeds: a BIG no-no). Thanks, fellas!
“Alright, you’re all set.”
“‘Kay, man. You got this.”
I was dubious, but supported. So, with very little confidence, I proceeded to start the engine. Not so hard. Then, I added a little gas, slowly released the brake, and didn’t go anywhere.
“You gotta give it more gas.”
“Yeah. Don’t be afraid.”
“Yeah. It’s not like you could wreck the bike. There’s nowhere to go.”
So, I revved the engine, a little bit more. Still nothing. Well, not entirely nothing. There was the distinct sound of laughter from my pals at my inability to get a motorcycle going. Please recall that I had NEVER ridden—let alone driven—one before. Thank you.
“Come on. Give it some gas.”
So I did.
It worked well.
It worked too well.
The engine did it’s thing and everything else responded. The cycle’s cycles shot up and so did the front tire and then the chain grabbed the rear wheel and tried to get it to be the forward. I was in an instant wheelie. And, not in control.
Wheelies are fun. That’s why you try to pop one as soon as you can, like when you’re a kid and riding a bicycle. There is something truly euphoric about riding on one wheel, keeping the other wheel high in the sky, maintaining that perfect balance, all while trying to go as fast as you can. Yeah…
Because the motorcycle was performing as it should—albiet unexpectedly for me—there was a sort of… How should I put it? Concern on the parts of both Richard and Erich.
“DON’T CRASH IT!”
“WATCHOUT FOR THE WALL!!!”
Watchout for the wall. A tremendously useful piece of advice. No, it really is. Being aware of a wall can save you from a potentially embarrassing situation. Yes, most of us have done it at one time or another in our lives. You’re not paying attention, you’re walking along, and then BAM! You bump into a wall, drop your stuff, hurt yourself, spill your drink, or all of the above. Embarrassing. Yes, watchout for the wall. Thank you, friends.
OF COURSE I WAS WATCHING OUT FOR THE WALL!!! IT WAS ALL I COULD SEE! Well, except for the handlebars that were about to make a real impresion in my face in about two seconds. Duh. Watchout for the wall. Sheesh.
I didn’t know what to do. This was literally my first experience on a real motorcycle. No helmet. No pads. And, there was a good chance everyone was about to find out that I had no brains, when my skull cracked open after hitting the wall! Watch out for the wall… brother…
Somehow—through the grace of God—I had one of those moments when time slowed down for me. I could process all that was occurring. The sidewalk that separated my lawn from the dirt was on my right. The lilac bush and water spigot was coming up on my left. I had about ten feet to bring the bike down and somehow complete a left turn, before the brick wall that was one side of my garage brought this joy-rode to an abrupt halt. If I turned right, well, I would just slam into said wall. Watchout for the wall… stupid…
I was coming at the wall with enough of an angle that if I could get both tires down, I could pull off a left turn. I just need both tires down. Then it happened—right when I needed it to. The front fell. It just dropped. In split-second timing, just as I passed the lilac bush, I executed a sharp left turn. I was also trying to avoid the wood pile that had become overgrown with weeds—which I had just spotted, right then (my right shoe grazed it).
Now, with a new heading, I was about to crash right into the lilac bush (oh, goody!)—I had overcompensated. A quick jerk of the handlebars to the right kept me out of it. Perfect. Excellent. Now, I only had to worry about the split-rail fence at the back of my property that I was carrening straight toward. No worries. At least it wasn’t the wall. Watchout for the wall… good grief.
If Erich and Richard had been yelling out anything, support, encouragement, bad words, anything, I didn’t hear them—or I don’t remember what they were. What I do remember clearly is what happened next. I was able to grip the handles tightly, add a slight adjustment of a left turn to them, and using the combined wacky-shifting of my center of gravity with that of the motorcycles’, I brought that would-be death-machine into a downward spiral.
I leaned into that gentle left turn with the full intent of getting a foot onto the ground as I slowed the cycle to a stop (using the brake), before hitting the wall of the motel on the other side of my property. Watchout for the wall… Seriously?
My foot gripped the dirt while my lean pulled the bike down and almost completely out from under me. The turn just spun us both into a gentle-guided ‘crash’ right in the center of the lot. The spiral of dust that wrapped around us reminded me of a giant cinnamon roll of dirt and debris that gently floated about me and the bike, filling my mouth with the flavor of the moment: Defeat.
Because my foot was out, as the engin sputtered to a stop, I was left standing over the mechanical beast, like a triumphant bull fighter who had just completed the final olé over his failed opponent.
I let go of the bull’s horns and began to walk toward my house—away from the area and my adoring fans.
“Don’t just leave it there! You can’t leave my bike on the ground like that.” Was Richard’s rebuke.
I stopped. Turned around. Looked at them both. Then, in the calmest voice I could muster—as anger, fear, frustration, and relief were all fighting to season my words, “You had me ride it. You told me to give it more gas. Then you yelled at me to not wreck it, when I had NO control over it. You’re lucky it’s still in one piece. You pick it up.” And then I went inside.
But, before I did, I heard Erich mutter, “He’s right.”
I was never again asked to ride.
Watchout for the wall… Indeed.