A couple of weeks ago we had a fluke 84-degree day up here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which stirred the gypsy blood of all motorcyclists, myself included, though I don’t know how to ride. Both my hubby and I had gotten some pretty depressing financial news so hubby disrobed his mistress--the purple Sportster--from her winter cloak and took off for a scoot. I was sitting on the retaining wall that surrounds our front porch, allowing the sun’s heat to penetrate through my jeans, as he left. I knew he had to be wound up as tight as Aaron Rodgers was when he threw that astounding Hail Mary Pass to beat the Lions last season, because hubby didn’t put on his helmet or leathers. Under normal circumstances my husband looks like Darth Vader when he rides. Black leather from head to toe, a helmet with a darkened visor that allows only sprigs of white hair to peek out the back of his neck, makes one wonder what’s beneath that hot garb. No pun intended! As the thunder of his Harley faded up the road, I sat there with an envious smile on my face. I imagined how great it must feel to speed up the road, pipes roaring, and the throttled rolled back, wishing I could do the same, but fearing I might never return.
It made me think of my failure in the Motorcycle Safety Class I took three years ago. I had gotten some pretty bad work related news then also, so I was really looking forward to that weekend course which would teach me how to ride. That Friday night when my hubby and I showed up for class, I was pumped and a little fearful. I explained to the teacher I had never ridden a motorcycle before, or had experience with shifting, as I had only driven automatics. He assured me I had come to the right place. That evening we went through all the safety stuff, and the proper way to start the bike, proper clothing, etc. and when I left I was really looking forward to the next morning when I could finally get a chance to ride a motorcycle.
The class met at a local school parking lot. It was a chilly May morning, but sunny. We got to pick our Suzuki 250 and I choose the most beat-up one. I didn’t want to be responsible for putting a dent or two in one of the new bikes. I guess I was already anticipating the worst. Hubby and I were separated into your basic groups I am quite familiar with in the world of academia—smart people in one group, average in the other, and then there’s the, “What the Hell Are We Supposed to do with This Dumb Ass Group?” Guess which category I fell into and guess out of the 12 students how many were placed in that subset? You got it! One!! I alone was in the third category. To this educator, it drove the point home in a BIG way why grouping by IQ scores in the general ed. classroom is not such a great idea.
Step one was to start the bike the way we learned in our class the night before. I was beaming from ear to ear, as I straddled that red, banged-up Suzuki. You would have thought I was riding a custom painted, chromed out to the hilt, Dyna Glide! My cup runneth over with confidence. I had that 3 step start thing memorized to a tee, and I was finally going to ride a motorcycle. After starting the beast, we were all asked to put the bike in neutral and walk it down the course of the parking lot. Our female assistant demonstrated, and it looked like a piece of cake. The objective was for the rider to get used to the feel of the motor between his/her legs. (I know where every woman’s mind is going now, but trust me the two are not at all alike).
I walked that machine, across the parking lot like I was crossing a very narrow train trestle, with the train engine light coming at me, and roaring rapids 50 feet below, as I clutched a jet powered walker. After doing this 3 or 4 times, it was time to rock and roll. We were told to kick that machine into first gear and start riding around the parking lot in a big loop. Half way around, you were supposed to shift it up to second. We were told that riding a motorcycle was not like driving a car, you had to look in the direction you were going, not straight ahead. And most importantly of all, when you needed to slow down or stop, you were to let up on the clutch with your left hand, but never, never ever, grab and squeeze the front brake. Horrible, evil, bad things would happen if you forgot this canon. Again Vanna White demonstrated and made it look super simple. How I envied her.
We all lined up and waited for our signal to go. When the teacher pointed at me, I was giddy with excitement. I kicked it into first and took off. I was riding a motorcycle! I was so proud and so nervous I could feel the sweat soaking my hair. When I got to the curve, I tried to look where I wanted to go, but ended up missing it by a wide margin. I quickly realized I needed to do something fast, because if I didn’t, I was going to be crossing the grassy knoll and sail out to the concrete sea. Oh the horror! I let go of the clutch. The bike stalled. I was alive! The teacher came over and helped me get back to the rest of the class, who were all waiting for the “slow” kid to get her act together.
Let it suffice to say, the remainder of the first two-hour session did not go well. I stalled the bike several more times and then committed the unpardonable sin of dumping the bike, not once, but twice, as I tried to round curves and cones, shift from first, second, and third and then back again and stay alive. When I parked my bike at the end of class, and removed my helmet, it looked like someone had dumped a bucket of water over my head, but I was extremely proud that I had ridden a motorcycle. That’s when I got the nod from the teacher and my heart sank. He took me and hubby over to a private spot and told me he thought it best if I didn’t return latter on that day, for class number 3. He told me he hated to see me struggle out there and the third class was much more difficult.
As his words began to sink into the limited amount of gray matter stored between my ears, I realized I was being kicked out of class! Complete and utter despair—not to mention humiliation—scooped me up like a roaring tsunami and chucked me out to a black, uncharted sea. I had never gotten kicked out of anything, much less a class! This could not be happening. This was what I had been waiting for all year long and now I was being told not to come back. No way this was fair! Where was the justice? (For some of my teacher friends does this sound like a student you might know?) I squared back my shoulders and walked back to “the cage” I’d come in and tried valiantly to keep my composure. Hubby was extremely quiet as he knew with the merest provocation, the dam would break and his wife would turn into a puddle of salty tears and snot.
We drove to my mother’s house to pick up our son, where my mother flaunted her happiness that I had flunked out of the motorcycle safety class.
“After all,” she said, “you have a son to raise and you can’t risk getting killed on one of those things.”
This motherly lecture did not help. The rest of the day and the next was spent in a lavish self-pity party, because I had to send hubby off to finish the class latter on that afternoon and the next morning. He got his endorsement of course and as I noted earlier in this writing, rides whenever he damn well pleases.
That fall, when a new school year began, I at least got to tell my students that their teacher had not only flunked a class, but was kicked out of it! They could identify.
So I sit and watch my hubby fly up the road, and take note of the easy smile on his face as the wind peels away all that weighs him down. Someday it will be my turn. Until then, I write about my “fantasy” biker life-style and hopefully entertain those that do ride. May is Motorcycle Awareness month, so pay attention and always look twice, because once is never enough! For those of you who are lucky enough to ride, here's to the wind in your face.