It seems fitting somehow that with this column falling on the eve of Thanksgiving, and just after my recent wedding anniversary, I give thanks where thanks are due; namely American Honda Motor Company, Inc., and WERA, without which I’m not at all sure these decades of cohabitational bliss would have been possible. Some people find love through online dating services, some find love through their work, or church, or grocery store. And some find their partners thanks to a Honda, assorted race tracks, and questionable judgment.
Life is filled with bad mistakes, moments of less-than-stellar judgment, and long-term relationships require patience. Sometimes it takes months, even years, to find out if both you and your partner possess the traits, and the right chemistry, necessary to survive the trip together. I managed to cram that evaluation process into one early evening. I, after all, possessed all the requisite bad judgment, now it was only incumbent upon me to find out if she possessed the patience, and maybe, with some luck, the chemistry necessary between the two of us to make a go of it.
Early summer evenings in southern Maryland are generally sultry, or, when they are particularly oppressive, just flat out hot and muggy. Having no a/c at the time, I had found only two ways to overcome this steamy clime: either find a dock – they are generally located over a body of water – and walk off the end of it, or take a bike ride. On this particular evening I opted for the latter and thought I’d do some multi-tasking at the same time. There was a young lady I knew who had some familiarity with bikes. She’d ridden mini bikes as a kid and was dating a guy with a little one-lunger Suzuki at the time. I was thinking maybe something with a little more displacement might suit her fancy. So Mr. Displacement set forth to cool off and see what the early evening might bring.
What it brought me was a passenger of the perfect proportions, i.e., small and light enough to not even know she was there, yet clinging to me like a baby possum such that when I leaned left, she leaned left, I go right, she goes right. She kept her feet on the passenger pegs at stops, she was MSF-approved textbook perfect in every regard. I observed the proper new passenger decorum and rode responsibly; no scaring the passenger, no pulling any absurdly stupid death-defying stunts, aspiring in every respect to be the perfect gentleman rider.
Everything was going swimmingly, the sun was setting, the onshore breeze off the Bay was cooling the peninsula, the Honda was punching out its tune from its Kerker without missing a note. It was, in all regards, just motorcycling bliss. And then I passed KC hill down in Ridge, Maryland. The Knights of Columbus hall, or KC hill as it is called locally, used to be an impromptu gathering spot for all number of things, a great many of which had nothing to do with the Knights of Columbus, unless they started sanctioning street races and hadn’t told me.
An inline-Four Kawi had fired up and was moving out, I could hear his open pipe barking. No problem, I’m just out for a relaxing evening ride, cool off, maybe ride down to Point Lookout and catch what remained of the setting sun. I nodded at the Kawi rider as I went by to the flashing red at the intersection. I stopped in a proper fashion, looked both ways like dad taught me, and proceeded with caution south down Route 5. It was about then I was passed by a land-based cruise missile. That Kwacker came by me close with a howl – close enough to suck the badges off my side covers – and passed the car in front of me like he was stapled to the asphalt.
And then something happened.
I did everything I was not supposed to do.
I dropped two gears and pinned it. In a display of grossly inappropriate behavior I completely forgot the cardinal rule that one never scares a new motorcycle passenger, exceeds posted speed limits, and crosses double-yellow lines. Truth be told, I completely forgot she was back there, well, until the front wheel lofted on an upshift. By then it was too late. I had already made a complete ass out of myself (but I did get by the Kawi) and I was moving with considerable dispatch in a fashion that J.E.B. Stuart could only dream of in his day toward the old Confederate Civil War monument down at Point Lookout. I had clear sightlines, it was a beautiful evening, there wasn’t a car to be seen and we were flying. It was one sweeping right hander and then another left and we were as good as there. The Kawi was gone. So probably were any hopes I had with this young lady. I knew I was screwed, I knew she would yell at me when we stopped, I knew I had blown my chance to do it the right way. I might as well enjoy the ride.
The asphalt goes from good to lumpy down around Point Lookout, so I throttled it back to operational lumpy speeds and we proceeded down to the causeway. It’s a beautiful view there when the sun is setting, the Chesapeake Bay on one side, Cornfield Harbor on the other, and almost always a constant breeze. People preparing to go night fishing were setting up at one end, I idled to a stop at the other. It was time to face the music. I shut the bike down and let her climb off, put the side stand down, and flipped open my visor as she pulled my old Bell off her head. Might as well get this over with, I thought. Just as I suspected, before I could get a word out of my mouth she spoke.
“How fast were we going!” she exclaimed shaking her hair out and smiling.
Uhhh, hold on what? How fast, uh, well, pretty fast, faster than we should have. I’m really sorry about that, I shouldn’t have done that.
“That was GREAT,” she burst out, still all smiles.
Now I had to think, what in the world do I have here? This unusual creature, far from berating me for my deplorable behavior, my boorish motorcycling etiquette, and impetuous ways, seemed to have enjoyed that. From all outward appearances, nothing had gone wrong.
I didn’t quite know what to do with that. Thirty years later I still don’t know. But having watched the decades pass, and having watched her help me and many others at tracks, and in life, throughout a good portion of the United States from the 1980s to present day, I do know a couple things. I am thankful. And I am very lucky. On this Thanksgiving eve, I hope all of you are lucky as well, or a good surprise is headed your way – that would not be a surprise to me at all. It sometimes seems the least probable scenarios yield the greatest returns. Ride hard, look where you want to go, and please, may you and yours enjoy a safe and happy holiday.