Saturday, April 23, 2016

Road to Perdition

This is the story of a young man. Raised up in the central hills of Pennsylvania, he volunteered to serve his country in the USN. He was promoted to Electrician’s Mate Third Class and reported to the USS Vulcan where he was assigned to the Calibration Lab. His name was Tom G. and he was a roommate of mine.

He was a very friendly guy and everyone liked him. Little did anyone realize he was on the path to perdition. It started out simply enough. A small Yamaha motorbike. A simple two-stroke ride. What evil could come from that?

But then he fell in with a tougher crowd. They had grease under their fingernails and some of them didn’t shave regularly. They wore T-shirts and denim pants with boots and some were said to use swear words and even smoke cigarettes.

He began to associate with this crowd of bikers riding choppers and sportsters and bikes from the British Isles. His speech soon included terms like “overhead valves” and “pushrods,” and he began to speak strange incantations such as “74 cubic incher” or “Knucklehead.”

Soon he’d traded in his little rice burner for a Harley-Davidson. A Panhead. In those days we called them dressers.

His die was cast. His fate was sealed. His future was predetermined. As John Steinbeck so brilliantly noted, “A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities — never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked.” (I don’t know if that applies to my story, but quoting famous authors makes one seem educated, so I threw that in.)

Soon he was partaking of strong drink and listening to rock and roll music. One night at a bar called "Brads" that featured such music and slightly clad women, he had a couple of brews and went outside to start his big Harley. It was leaning on the reliable kick stand.

But rather than approach it from the right as was the prescribed method, he straddled the bike, retracting the safety gear, and — placing his right foot upon the starter pedal — he gave a mighty jump and came down on the pedal with all the force his 140 pound body could deliver.

Unfortunately, he lost his balance and soon found himself flat on the ground with the Harley laying at his feet, reclining on its right side.

His friends, who should have offered encouragement and assistance, just laughed. Soon Fred was laughing too. It could have been the beer, or the warm Virginia night, or just the simple humor in the event. No meanness was intended. It was just funny.

Back then we were not taught how to lift a large motorcycle. So he got on the right side, grabbed any handy lever on the bike, and with a loud exclamation and much exertion, he rotated the cycle up in a graceful arc. Sadly the motion didn’t stop when the HD was upright, but continued on until the bike now reclined on its left side. (Next time check the kick stand before lifting.)

More laughter. Soon everyone was on the ground rolling around with tears in their eyes from much cachinnation and mirth … even Fred.

I won’t say how many times our young hero flipped the bike from side to side. The details are lost in the haze of memory. But it is a warning to all who ride to take caution, especially when a few malt beverages have dulled the senses and reduced your coordination.

Watch out and perhaps you can avoid this fate that befell Fred. As Roy H. Williams so aptly stated, "A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether." Consider me that smart man. After all, I can quote famous people.

And with that final bookish quote, ends this tale. Beware you readers. Don't approach your bike with perturbation. Keep a clear head. Keep that motorcycle up on two wheels. The kickstand can be your friend. (But beware of driving off with it down!)

And don’t partake of strong drink. Otherwise you may meet the devil some night behind some watering hole. And there will be no one there to help. Only to laugh. Lord save you!

1 comment:

  1. Never heard of that incident (too funny!), but enjoyed great times with you and all your house mates. Great fun with our Navy family. Loved you all like brothers. Pat