Friday, December 19, 2008

When We Were Stupid

I wrote this almost 10 years ago for Motorcyclist. It seemed like a good introductory piece for this blog...

"You know," Larry said, "I think I enjoyed motorcycles a lot more when I didn't know anything about them."

I was talking on the phone to a long-time buddy who has an FXRS Harley. He's been thinking about replacing it with a Road King, and during one of our lengthy conversations on the merits of the swap, we got to talking about the days, years ago, when we both rode Honda 350 twins and thought they were pretty neat bikes.

I had spent the day hanging bells and whistles off my 1200 Bandit. So far the list of frills on that bike—things I never dreamed existed back in my CB-350 days—includes heated handgrips, an automatic chain oiler, auxiliary driving lights, a CB radio, three hard bags each big enough to stuff a goat in, and a power cord for my electric jacket liner and gloves. A radar detector and a microwave oven are in the works.

Back in the days when I didn't know much about motorcycles—or anything else—in about 1971 or so, another buddy of mine, coincidentally also named Jerry, and I saddled up our bikes, his a 500cc Suzuki Titan and mine a 350cc Yamaha R-5, and rode from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles. The purpose of our trip was to visit the offices of the U.S distributors the big four Japanese brands, which all had their headquarters in southern California. We had some fuzzy notion there would be tours on the hour, and exhibits, and test-rides on new bikes, and maybe even free key fobs, and we fully expected to return home brimming with tales of glory guaranteed to permanently inflame our friends' envy glands.

My entire collection of motorcycle luggage began and ended with a pair of vinyl throw-over saddlebags that cost $9.95. I lashed them to the Yamaha's seat with a couple of bungee cords, and crammed the left-side bag full of tools, chain lube, shops rags, a couple of spare inner tubes, (no tire irons, though), and a spare master link. The other side held some clothes, some more tools, some more shop rags, and a quart of Torco two-stroke oil.

My riding gear consisted of a jacket nearly identical to the one Fonzie later made famous, and a pair of 20-pound (each) engineer's boots, both purchased at The Workingman's Store (an establishment that catered to a clientele that had either been in, or was headed for, Juvenile Hall), a pair of buckskin work gloves from Orchard Supply Hardware, blue jeans, a Buco open-face helmet, and Fuji Penguin goggles. I couldn't tell you now what I expected to wear in case it rained. I probably couldn't have told you then, either.

I have no memory of the trip to L.A., not the route we took or any of the stops along the way. When we arrived, we took up residence in a motel in Buena Park, near Knott's Berry Farm and right across the street from a Denny's. As soon as we unpacked we began mapping out the quickest way to each of the brands we wanted to visit. The first one we went to was Suzuki. As we pulled into the parking lot in front of the building, our imaginations furnished it with wonders the likes of which we had never seen in our short, innocent lives.

The astonished receptionist couldn't decide whether to take us home and feed us a hot meal, or call security. She looked at us like we were a couple of pimply-faced, dumb-ass kids—which we were—and patiently explained that, no, there were no tours. There was nothing to tour, unless we wanted to look at the accounting department, or the shipping dock, or the snack bar, and we weren't allowed to look at any of those things.

Undaunted, we tried Honda the next day. Same result. Yamaha and Kawasaki, ditto. No dream ever died a harder death. And the hell of it is, we really didn't care. We took in a half-mile at Ascot. We clomped around Disneyland looking like deserters from a rumble between the Sharks and the Jets. We were completely on our own for the first time in our lives. We could—and did—eat SuzyQs and Coca-Cola for dinner whenever we felt like it. We had breakfast at Denny's so many times the cook started greeting us by name. We thought we were the two luckiest guys on the planet.

We took Highway 1 on the way home. The cold wind whistled up the sleeves of my jacket and right through the three sweaters I had on underneath it—windshields were for sissies. My hands went numb, and my brain nearly stopped working. We made Santa Cruz on the coast and turned inland. The weather warmed up—a lot. Now we were panting like whipped dogs, our overheated two-strokes pinging and surging as we crawled along in the sluggish beach traffic that stretched to the summit of twisty, dangerous Highway 17 and down into the Santa Clara Valley. By the time we got home that night we didn't have another mile left in us. And we would have turned right around and done it again the next day.

"Sounds like it was a real fun trip," Larry said over the phone.

"It was," I said, "although I doubt it would have been if I'd known about electric vests and fairings and rainsuits."

"Then it's a good thing you didn't know about them," Larry said.

"Yes," I replied. "Sometimes it's good to be stupid."

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