Saturday, October 8, 2016

This one not so much

I knew that I would eventually want to talk about my other internal combustion powered love affair. Motorcycles.

The Wild One starring Marlon Brando
My interest in motorcycles started well before I was even dreaming about getting my license. I was probably in the third or fourth grade when I stumbled across a motorcycle accident as I was walking back home from the public swimming pool. (Who, besides a movie star, would have their own pool?) There was a baby furniture store on the way and I noticed an ambulance and a couple of police cars parked out in front of the business. The front plate glass window was shattered and I heard people in the crowd saying that a motorcycle had crashed through the window. Sure enough there was a motorcycle lying inside on top of a couple of smashed up cribs. The rider was being carried out on a stretcher. His head and hands were bandaged and he was rummaging through his wallet looking for his license. (I thought) After he was transported, the motorcycle was dragged out for the wrecker. At the time I had no idea what kind of motorcycle it was. Years later I applied my knowledge retroactively to my memory and decided that it was a Triumph twin. It's strange that I didn't react to this scene with horror, just fascination. After all, the rider didn't seem that beat up by the experience!

One day I come home from St. Bernard's grammar school, flipped on the tube and what do I see? A long line of snarling motorcycles coming at me down a country road! The bikes are jockeying for position, the rear wheels breaking loose in the turns. But nobody passes the leader. Wow! Motorcycles! I don't recall seeing that many on the streets during my daily travels. But from now on I keep an eye out for them.

Years pass and I find myself with my Dad at the Montgomery Ward store on E14th. St. in Oakland. I think I'm in the Fifth grade at St. Anthony's school. This was in '64 or'65 during the Japanese Invasion. Scooters, mopeds and small Japanese motorcycles were being sold at all kinds of outlets. Sporting good stores, hardware stores, even Montgomery Wards. We are at the automotive service center and  there is a line of Scooters, Mopeds, and, be still my beating heart! Motorcycles. "Hey Dad! Can I sit on one? Sure, just don't knock it over" my Dad replied. So I did.

The one I sat on was this exact color except it had a leopard print seat.

Check out these giant road eaters.
Once I sat on this machine I was hooked! My Father wasn't too affected by these machines. I guess he figured that they weren't much different from a bicycle. I had been riding bikes for years, right? The dream was in place. I just had to wait for the years to pass, like the dropping calendar leaves in those old black and white movies. 

A rip snorting, fire breathing machine
One day when I was in seventh grade my Mom told that my Dad was bringing home a surprise. That was quite unlike him, as he wasn't one to spoil his kids in this manner. My Mom wouldn't tell me what it was. "Is it bigger than a breadbasket? " She would only say that it was. 

So I went outside to wait and watch for my Dad. My Dad's 1960 Suburban, aka "The Hillbilly wagon" was still parked in the driveway. Actually this was a very nice, turquoise and white, two door model, well worth it's own blog post someday. (How come we never took any pictures?) I guessed that he had gotten a ride to work. It was almost dark when I heard this little buzzing motorcycle coming up the street and it slowed and pulled into the driveway. My Dad was driving it, no sunglasses, helmet, or gloves. I always wondered how far he had to go to drive it home. I wondered how hard it had been for him to learn to drive it. I knew that he could handle a clutch. My Dad had once showed me a faded picture of him standing next to a 1938 Ford sedan that was missing the right front fender. He told me that he bought it for 40.00 and had taught himself to drive it on some dusty Texas back roads. My Father has never liked manual transmission cars, he always thought they were cheap. That's why they in the early Sixties they were referred to as "standard" transmissions, as in base model equipment.

It was a black 1965 Honda CA110 50cc. motorcycle. I didn't know that this model was the progenitor of the "scrambler" craze that would become so popular. The upswept chrome pipe gave the cycle a jaunty sporty image, the foot shifted four speed transmission, a grip it with your knees fuel tank, and the lack of those awful front "Skirts" meant that this was a real deal motorcycle. Just a small one. 

Quien es mas macho?
I guess my Dad was Hip enough to instinctively know that this was just lame.

Why would he buy this? I didn't think that he had any interest of his own in motorcycles. I'm sure that he must have heard myself and my brother talking about them. We had probably pointed them out when we saw one in traffic. This was around 1967 and the Japanese Invasion had been going on for a few years, but it's not like they were common sights in our neighborhood. Looking back from today, after I've been a Dad myself for almost thirty five years I come to the conclusion that he must have actually listened to me, at least once in a while. And that he wanted to give his two sons the opportunity to have an adventure that he never could have had at their age. I guess my Mom was okay with all this. Either she didn't worry, or was good at pushing the worry out of her mind. I rode motorcycles for almost the next forty years. Her generation grew up during the Depression and the Second World War. She lost her older brother to injuries sustained during the invasion of Normandy. I guess riding a motorcycle without a helmet seemed kind of tame, compared to landing on the Beach under enemy fire.  My Mom once told me " I'm raising boys, not girls!" Man was she old school! Thanks, Mom and Dad. You were much cooler than I ever gave you credit for being.

The next morning I woke up early but I wasn't earlier than my older brother ,who was out front with Dad learning how to ride the Honda. I remember how he revved the motor too high and popped the clutch, who would have thought that you could do a wheelie on a Honda 50? 

Somehow we both manged to learn to ride well enough without any remarkable injuries or damage to the motorcycle. At this point my Dad turned us loose in the neighborhood and my brother and I took turns riding the Honda around the block. I'm guessing that I was in Seventh grade, my brother one year older, neither he nor I had a license, permit, or had even read the driver's handbook of traffic laws. No helmet, glasses, gloves or jacket. Who needed that? This was just a bigger bicycle right? No one wore those things in those "nicest people" Honda ads. Why didn't we get ourselves killed? Like I've said earlier, don't think about bad things happening and they probably won't.

We were having so much fun. Until that fateful day. I had taken the Honda out and was riding up and down the street in front of our house, which went up a long hill. I was more concerned with trying to keep the speed of the bike up as the hill got steeper. I wasn't paying any attention to traffic coming up behind me. I heard a loud rumbling beside me and the muffled garble of a police radio. Oh Jeez, the Cops! He gestured for me to pull over which I promptly did, stalling the motor. He was a big motorcycle cop, (didn't they all look bigger in those days?) He didn't ask if I had a license, because I obviously wasn't sixteen yet. He asked where I lived, and if my parents knew I was out riding the motorcycle. I pointed down the hill and told him that yes, my Dad knew that I had the motorcycle out. I didn't want him to think that I had stolen it! He instructed me to drive to my house and he would follow. That must have made some kind of picture, me riding that tiny little Honda being followed by a burly Cop on a big booming Harley. A scene that should have been immortalized by Norman Rockwell. When he arrived he told me to go get my Dad. Then he proceeded to have a conversation that wasn't particularly threatening. He firmly told him that I didn't have any business riding that Honda around without a license, and that he could be cited for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." That got my attention. The term "juvenile delinquent" still carried a lot of weight at this time and my Mom, bless her heart, was always threatening to send me to reform school if I didn't behave. (I still believed her at this age).

My biggest impression was the contrast between the two machines, My tiny Honda parked next to that "Electra Glide in Blue". I was stealing glances at that machine while the cop was lecturing my Dad who promised to keep my unlawful activities off the street. Now THAT was a motorcycle. I would say that some imprinting was going on.

Now this is a real motorcycle.

This one not so much.

Looking back at this today, I'll bet the Cop probably got a big kick out of this whole episode. I mean he was a real motorcycle rider, probably had been for years. He knew what riding a motorcycle would mean to a kid my age. I'll bet I was quite the subject of conversation and a good laugh at the station house at the end of the shift! 

This was probably the first time that I was ever this close to a Harley Davidson. It wouldn't be my last time. There is still a lot of ground to cover in this saga.  Content!

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