Monday, March 8, 2010

Rain on me

There's a lot of talk about this being a wet El Nino winter in California. Even as I write this, it's drizzling outside and the local media are on a 5-alarm Storm Watch. But I remember the rainiest winter in Southern California history because it was also the year I drove a motorcycle.

I came to the Honda CB 450 out of necessity and not from some misguided romantic dream of riding an iron horse.

My old Toyota Corolla had developed a crack in the steering column. Every time I hit a pothole, I had to corral the steering column like an out of control jackhammer. The simplest right hand turn turned into aerobic workout. The mechanic told me it would cost $1500 to repair the steering malfunction. Which was a little steep considering I had only paid $900 for the car.

And so I retreated to the Pennysaver in search of a motorcycle, conveniently ignoring the fact that I never even sat on one. The seller drove the motorcycle to my apartment and had a pretty slick sales pitch. The bike was a classic he told me. He even offered to show me how to ride it in an empty church parking lot. We shook hands. And I parted with 400 of the hardest earned dollars of my life.

That was in September of 1983. In October, it started raining. And it didn't stop until May. Now the misery of riding a motorcycle in the pelting rain should paint a pretty ugly picture. But that's only half the story.

In addition to the finnicky kick start engine, which turned my right ankle black and blue within a couple of weeks, I had great difficulty getting the bike to GO. I would be stopped at a red light and when the light turned green I would throttle up the gas and the old CB 450 would stutter and falter and just not jump off the line.

I took the 'classic' bike in to a mechanic who gave it once over. Took a test drive. And concluded there was nothing wrong. Nothing whatsoever. Then the mechanic remembered that I had told him I was a greenhorn and he asked the kind of question a TV lawyer asks at the end of the show. You know the Gordian question that solves the case and answers all the riddles in one swift motion, "when you slow down to come to a stop do you remember to downshift?"

Doh. I guess I missed that part of the driving lesson. All this time I had been trying to pull away from a dead stop in 3rd, and sometimes, 4th gear.

I could see the mechanic was enjoying the pained look on my face and couldn't wait to tell his pony-tailed, tattooed friends in the shop.

So I took this newfound knowledge, kicked the gearshift down into FIRST gear and made a hasty escape. Of course before I could enjoy the fact that I made it out there without facing mass humiliation, it started raining.

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