The argument had been especially vicious, and she left in a huff. Her parting words to me had been, “You really are a stupid fuck,” then she bounded down the stairs and bolted out into the street. I was pretty pissed myself, and my response to this logic was to step out onto the terrace, with a drink in my hand, and watch her pull away as she flipped me the bird. Looking back on these events now, there were three utterly amazing circumstances as they applied to me. The first was that I was 21-years-old, and had a townhouse apartment on Boulevard East, with a terrace and an accompanying view that ran from the George Washington Bridge to Mid-town Manhattan. The second was that I was holding a “rocks glass” from the ‘40s in my hand, filled with Irish whiskey. And the third was that any woman who was as hot as this one could ever have been my girlfriend. (This phenomenon has since reoccurred.)
Boulevard East is the only street in Hudson County, NJ that has romance, charm, history and which can be said to be unbelievably elegant. I have been to Paris (ten times) and I can assure you that aside from the views of Notre Dame, Boulevard East can hold its own with the City of LIght. That I came to live here at such a young age is typical of the bizarre developments in my life.
Boulevard East at 60th Street in West New York, NJ. One of the most beautiful stretches of pavement in the United States. Photo by Wikipedia.
I was introduced to Irish whiskey by a bartender in Jersey City when I was 19. (The legal drinking age was lowered to 18 that same year.) I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the start of my “practical” education. It is the appreciation of Irish whiskey that elevates man above the savages. And not only did I appreciate it, but I knew enough to savor it from a glass that did justice to the contents.
The woman who had just stormed out was two years older than me. We’d met in college where she was the captain of the equestrian team and I was directing on the school’s television station. In the first really personal conversation we’d ever had, she called me an “asshole.” Two years later, the occasional conflict would still cause her to drag out the original assessment. I watched her cross the street and get into her car. Her straight, waist-length black hair led one’s eye to her perfect ass, which could have starred in any jeans advertisement or commercial. (I would be 42 before I met another woman who would erase that image. Oddly enough, she was good with horses too, coming from New Mexico and Nebraska. But she raced them around barrels as opposed to jumping rails.)
I went back inside and finished the bottle of whiskey.
Come morning, my anger had been replaced by a hangover that had the characteristics of carpet bombing in WWII. The hollow sense of emptiness that follows a raging drunk was accentuated by the void in the bed next to me. The scent of her honey-gold Mediterranean skin was conspicuous by its absence, as was the opportunity to watch her get up and run naked to the bathroom as the first light of day filtered into the room. I vaguely remembered her parting words, and thought:
“You stupid asshole. What did you do? She’s gone.”
There wasn’t a moment to lose. I still had my fencing team physique in those days, and recovery from alcohol poisoning wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it is now. Four aspirin, two or three full-sized cups of espresso, and twenty minutes in a hot shower raised my status from “cadaver” to “intensive care” levels. My plan was simple... I had to grovel with verve, style and panache. And I had to do it quickly, before she concluded I was a real asshole.
Throwing on a fatigue jacket (that had been my father’s in WWII and which now served as my riding gear), I kicked my 1975 Kawasaki H2 into life. Technically, it was parked on the street — except it wasn’t. The bike sat on its center stand, just outside the front door on the sidewalk. It roared into life on the first kick — except it didn’t do that either. One of the last great 2-stroke street bikes of its time, the H2 started up like an outboard motor that had just gotten kicked in the balls. On this particular occasion, the bike must have sensed my urgency, as all three cylinders fired in the right order, producing equally dense volumes of smoke from their individual pipes.
The first stop was the florist around the corner. It was owned by a little Italian gentleman, who, at 8:am on this Saturday morning, was carrying boxes of fresh flowers from an old station wagon into the shop.
“Hey Gesippi,” I yelled from the curb. “I need a dozen fresh roses, wrapped nice.”
The old man paused for a second, broke into a grin and replied: “Hiya Jack. Your bigga’ mouth issa’ my best customer. Your pretty little Amica tell you to fuck off again?”
My reputation catches up with me everywhere.
Gesippi knew a good thing when he saw one. He gave me 15 roses for the price of twelve, and double-wrapped them for their trip on the motorcycle. (This was becoming routine for him.) I lashed them onto the sissy bar using bungee cords, careful not to crush the stems. Once again, the H2 coughed itself to life in a cloud of blue exhaust, and I was off.
Boulevard East snakes around the tops of the cliffs just opposite Manhattan and the Hudson River. At its end, I turned west, coasting down “Dan Kelly’s Hill,” where I would pick up I-80. Like many places in Hudson County, NJ, Dan Kelly’s hill was named for a Irish teamster who had huge sets of draft horses, which he’d use to help pull heavy wagons to the top for a small charge, just short of extortion.
I was a man on a mission and went like bloody hell on the slab. (I was probably pushing 85 mph, which seemed like bloody hell to me in those lost days of youth.) The H2 was in a good form and ran like a Swiss watch that left a smoke screen as bonus. My destination was Elmwood Park, NJ, where my hot patootie was holed up at her parents’ house. Thankfully, the mater and pater were away for the weekend, and I’d be spared the indignity of groveling in front of a larger audience. (They really hated me.)
Traffic was surprisingly heavy that morning. The Elmwood Park exit of I-80 was somewhat abrupt and entailed a full stop at a “T” intersection, before turning left over railroad tracks. Anticipating these little challenges, I had no trouble navigating around them. The real difficulty began at my final destination. My girl's car was parked out front, but she wouldn’t answer the door.
“Come on, Sweetie,” I yelled. "I'm really fuckin' sorry and my head is splitting." (In all honesty, I probably could have been a lot more contrite than that but I was a kid, you know.)
Muffled by the locked door, I could hear her say, “Eat shit and die.”
This was not going according to plan, and I thought it best to hang back a bit and have coffee at the nearest diner. I was in the process of retracing my steps, and closing in on the same “T” intersection I had passed through earlier. This time I was moving along the cross-bar of the “T,” with a solid line of opposing traffic on my left, running bumper-to-bumper right through the intersection. In other words, there was no gap for any left turning traffic to even enter the intersection.
I had just given the H2 a hit of gas, speeding up to about 45 mph, when the unthinkable happened.
Some old son of a bitch who was tired of waiting for a gap in traffic to appear decided to make one. I was about 30 feet away when he pulled straight into the intersection and stopped, blocking my lane with the entire left side of his car. There was no place to go. I clamped on the brakes as my bike hit the damn train tracks just before the intersection, and that was all she wrote.
The H2 was one of the world’s worst handling motorcycles and it didn’t hesitate to live up to its reputation. The machine went into a major wobble and the rear wheel flew out from under me on the tracks. The Kawasaki went down on its left side like a sack of shit, sliding about 15 feet before slamming into the car. I slid along on the ground behind it. The good news was that the car behind me was a police cruiser.
The old bastard blocking the intersection claimed he had been driving since the fall of Rome and had never had an accident. It was from my vantage point on the ground that I suggested he may have caused 50 of them. Despite my well-intentioned statement, he started foaming at the mouth yelling that he was the one who was hit. The cop pointed to the “stop” sign and informed “Pops” that it was illegal to proceed into a blocked intersection. I was now up and standing, and about to recommend to the officer that he use his night stick on the elderly gentleman, when the ambulance arrived. The cop suggested I go for an x-ray, as I appeared to be limping a bit and the sleeves of the fatigue jacket were shredded.
This sounded like good advice to me, and I did so, but not before removing the roses from the sissy bar. The folks at the hospital were very efficient and understanding. They even called my girlfriend while I was being poked and prodded in the emergency room. Everything was roses, metaphorically speaking. Yet I went through each phase of examination carrying those damn flowers. It was in x-ray that one of the most attractive nurses I have ever seen asked me about them.
“These are standard equipment on motorcycles,” I said. “If the rider is killed, they are simply laid on his chest.” This struck her as hardcore gallows humor, but she shot me a smile like a laser when I gave her a rose. Some hospitals have this rule that patients being discharged must be carted out the front door in a wheel chair. An orderly was assigned as my driver and he pushed me through the discharge process. I gave another rose to a lady who was getting released after a long bout with some illness, and a third to a candy-striper in the elevator.
“Oh, Jack,” sighed a voice dripping with sympathy and compassion. There my girlfriend stood in the main hall of the hospital, simmering in those jeans and a football jersey from some varsity hero I replaced two years earlier. “Does it hurt much?”
There I sat in the damned wheelchair — my shoes in my lap, a scuffed helmet on one arm and a dozen roses on the other. Loose gravel had scratched my cheek, which the emergency room doctor had cleaned and covered with a cool-looking bandage. The general tone of the scene was that I was lucky to be alive, which was an exaggeration of the highest order.
“These are for you,” I said, handing her the battered cone of roses.
I could taste the tears on her face as she pulled her lips over mine.
“Are you okay? Do you need anything?” she asked.
“The doctor said I should spend the rest of the day in bed, with a warm sponge bath in the afternoon,” I replied, exhausting the last expression of sincerity I would be able to muster for the next 48 hours. I then asked the orderly if he could help me into the car, concealing a $10 bill in my handshake.
I never again met the old bastard who pulled out in front of me... But his insurance company replaced my green Kawasaki H2 with a red one.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (The Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)