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05/07/2013 @ 7:52am

It’s spring and a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of...motorcycles.

It’s been a couple of decades since I last rode a motorcycle, but the first warm day of spring always brings back the urge.

My first motorcycle wasn’t technically a motorcycle, it was a Cushman scooter that we bought from a guy who had taken it apart and put it back together with the throttle hooked up backwards.  That was no problem for me, because I didn’t know it was backwards, but it became a problem when a football player four years older than me borrowed it.  When he thought he was slowing down for a pothole instead hit full speed.  He acquired a severe case of road rash two days before a big game and I acquired a coach who was severely irritated with me.

The Cushman held my interest for a few years, but when I was about fifteen I was ready to move on.  I sold it to a neighbor kid named Gene, who was brought over to make the deal by his older brother.  He told me, “I can pay you $50.00, but my mom told me to offer $40.00 first.”

I took the $40.00, added it to a small stash of baling money, and bought an old Honda 300 – a great beast of a motorcycle with saddlebags and a windshield.   All the extra gear and a not very big engine made for an unsatisfactory top speed, which may be why my parents approved.  They were both massively busy people and I was involved in almost everything a kid could be involved in at school.  We lived seven miles from town and they didn’t have time to haul me around, so the motorcycle was kind of a compromise.  Strictly speaking, I was too young, but I didn’t really think about it much until I was driving the motorcycle to town and leaving it outside the school while I took driver’s training classes.  That did seem a little odd, but no one told me I couldn’t do it and it all worked out in the end.

That lasted until I actually had my driver’s license and I bought a brand new Honda 350 - a big step up in speed and cool factor.  Those were the days.  Gas was about 30 cents a gallon and I could leave for a weekend with five dollars in my pocket, sleep in a park, buy some bread in a grocery store, put on hundreds of miles and be home safe and sound on Sunday.

Some of the fun of that motorcycle faded when on a dark night’s ride, a cat jumped out in front of me on a gravel road.  I instinctively swerved to miss it and instead hit a big pile of gravel and weeds that a grader had left in the middle of the road.  I clearly remember looking down on the headlight of the motorcycle from above and in front of it, while still holding on to the handlebars.  My memory gets a little blurry from there, but after just a few days in the hospital I was left with a badly crumpled bike, along with a few scars that are still faint reminders.  Our house had cellar stairs that led to the outside and I bumped the motorcycle down into the basement where I spent hours bashing and painting.  By spring it was back in running shape with a splendidly eccentric paint job, a custom made sissy bar that required many hours with a torch and welder, and a bent handlebar that I never straightened. It actually made riding more comfortable, because I could rest my elbow on my knee and still reach the throttle.

The motorcycle performed its most important task by persuading a young woman that I smelled good when I came to pick her up.  It’s beside the point that after we were married, I sold the motorcycle and became a pig farmer; it was too late for her – she’d already said “I do.”

Years later, I met the guy who bought the motorcycle from me. He told me he’d bent the sissy bar out straight and used it to haul hay to his sheep until the old rig finally fell apart.

I had a sudden urge to hit him in the mouth.

He shouldn’t have told me in the Spring.

Copyright 2013 Brent Olson  

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