An intensive care unit (ICU) is a great place to think – there is so much time on your hands at all hours of the day and night, and you get to meet all these really nice people. The problem is you really can’t focus on much, the shadows dance against the wall and change. I blame it on the Dilaudid, or Plato, or life itself. Much of my waking hours early on were filled with a kaleidoscope of images from the past, in some cases the distant past: people, places, and bikes for the most part, and questions.
Humankind has been preoccupied with fire and metal throughout recorded history. The Greeks had Hephaestus; the Norse – for simplicity’s sake – had Logi, though their table of organization for all things fire and metal related is about as cumbersome as General Motors before their reorganization, and the Romans? The Romans had Vulcan, often depicted with a large hammer, their god of fire and metalworking, the master of the forge.
Road racers live in a world of numbers. It is all about the numbers; split times, lap times, finishing positions, championship points, tech violations by a fraction of an inch, and classes delineated by years. It is also my birthday next week. Well, one of my birthdays anyway. It all boils down to the numbers.
I am a product of the 1970s, the decade of the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle), what’s become known as the “standard” motorcycle. I come from a generation that gazed at Bol d’Or or Suzuka specials on magazine covers and drooled. I was a “standard” guy by any measure, and my meager means at the time made it so. Much as I once drooled over a new Ducati 900SS sitting in a shop next to an equally alluring Darmah, I could no more afford those bikes at the time, much less the upkeep, than I could an Ivy League education. The beauty of those bikes though was evident right down to the attention to detail and artistry of the controls and rear-sets. But I was a rubber footpegs kind of guy; I was woefully standard.
There are two types of people in this world; there’s the truly innovative and creative, and then there’s folks like me who aren’t but appreciate their work and wonder why I couldn’t have come up with those ideas. Case in point, an old friend, Steve Tice, and my 1970s-era Bell Star helmet that would ride up on my head at go-to-jail speeds.
Our first Christmas together she gave me a gift; it was a two-drawer toolbox she had found on sale somewhere. As toolboxes go, it wasn’t anything special, it wasn’t some budget-busting Snap-On deal with drawers mounted on precision bearings crafted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it was just a simple stamped metal no-name box with a small “When the Green Flag Drops, the Bullshit Stops” sticker on it that made me chuckle. Up until then her biggest concern had been whether to major in dance or in history. What did she know about toolboxes or green flags?
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.
In the ’70s, while I was still bumbling my way through high school and establishing a glide path to academic doom, I had a teacher stop me on the way out the door, she wanted to talk to me. This was not unusual. What was unusual was that I was actually doing fairly well in her class, and I couldn’t imagine what she wanted to talk to me about. So, I stayed, she asked me the normal teacher questions, how are things going (Fine), how are the other classes going (Wretchedly), that sort of thing. Then she turned in her chair and grabbed a book off her personal bookshelf, she held it out to me saying she couldn’t wade through it but that I might get something out of it.
In 1913, right before the start of World War I, there were at least 37 different makes of motorcycles being sold in the United States. Motorcycling was going strong, it offered an affordable, enjoyable way to see what was over that next hill, and many Americans did just that. Automobiles were around, but they were prohibitively expensive, while the motorcycle was affordable and available to the masses.