I acquired my first motorcycle on impulse 38 years ago, and had taken none of the first steps that would be regarded as de rigueur today. These included getting the necessary paperwork for riding a motorcycle. I’d had the bike about two weeks before it even occurred to me to get the appropriate permit for a motorcycle operator’s license. It was not that I totally dismissed New Jersey’s authority on this level, but there was no requirement to have a motorcycle endorsement, nor a permit, by the insurance company nor the state at the moment I acquired the bike, filed the title and registered it. Consequently, I assumed it was a low priority.
Getting the permit seemed like a good idea, but the requirement at the time mandated me to ride only in the company of another, fully licensed rider, on an adjacent bike. I didn’t know any other riders then. Besides,what the hell is the value in having another rider close by on a different bike? Is he going to yell, "Hey stupid! You’re in a front wheel skid. Let go of the brake?” But I rode to the Division of Motor Vehicles office (on my bike, by myself) to secure the necessary permit. And with the investment of a few minutes and a few bucks, I had a piece of paper that sort of gave the impression that I was playing by the rules. At the time, the State of New Jersey assigned each motorcycle permit holder a riding test date at the time the permit was issued. My riding test date was December 18th, a day when 9 inches of snow was blowing across the range in drifts. The motorcycle Gods had apparently dismissed the necessity of getting an endorsement.
It was my thought to tell any inquisitive cop rash enough to pull me over that the other rider broke down and rode the wrecker back to the shop, leaving me to deliver the life-saving medicine to the orphanage. My response was “Fuck it. They’ll never take me alive.”
I was on Interstate-80, threading the tach needle through the pinker section of the dial, when I discovered the distinctive red and blue lights of a New Jersey State Trooper in my rear-view mirrors. Have you ever noticed that some police cars look absolutely sinister? Regardless of whether the issue is an out-of-date inspection sticker or a drive-by shooting, the cop can make it seem like he's chasing an accomplice of Osama Bin Laden. I glanced down at the speedo, and confirmed I was going fast enough to qualify for the death penalty in six southern states.
“I am so fucked,” I thought, as I began to throttle back the Kawasaki H2 onto the shoulder. There was no inspection sticker on the fork and the excuse I had devised for the permit seemed utterly feeble at that moment. (It was my understanding that New Jersey State Troopers could shoot you and dump the body in the nearest trench, if they felt like it. These were the days when the NJ State Trooper test entailed running through a room full of puppies while wearing army boots.)
My feet were barely on the ground when the voice of the cop, amplified by a portable sound system used to motivate political prisoners in Bolivia, demanded I remain on the bike, with my hands on the gas tank. Quite frankly, I had no notion of what the hell I was going to tell this guy, except I knew that no variation of the truth would do.
“License... Registration... And insurance card,” the officer demanded, without blinking. “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”
This is a trick question asked by cops who are going to fry your ass regardless of the answer. However, there is no solace in knowing this. Nothing you can say is going to sway them from their purpose of issuing you a piece of paper that will cost you two or three hundred dollars, at the business end of gavel, swung by a judge whose face will give the impression of not having taken a satisfying dump in the last two weeks.
I simply looked at the cop blankly, and waited for trick question #2.
“What reason could you possible have for going that fast on a public highway?” asked the cop. I swear he was fingering his gun, either to pistol-whip me with it, or to fire a warning shot into my knee.
The cop was young, in his 20’s. There was a lot going on here. This was a case of state-fueled testosterone compelling him to address me like I was shit on his shoe versus the untamed stallion blood surging in my veins — which was percolating the statement “Kiss my ass and just give me the ticket,” right behind my teeth. Though it would be several years before I launched my career as a public relations specialist, the serpent inside me was thinking at the speed of light. I had to find some common ground on which to stand with this guy... Some sympathetic stance on which we could agree.
“My old girlfriend is home on a surprise visit from college and I haven’t been laid in four months,” is what I told the cop. And with my wallet open, I removed a small black and white photograph (actually a proof) of an 18-year-old female acquaintance, in a tasteful pose of full-frontal nudity at a time when pubic hair was still a novelty in Playboy.
The cop stared at the picture for a full 60 seconds. And then he blinked.
“Well you’re not going to get laid if you’re crushed under the wheels of a truck on this highway,” said the cop. “Slow down.” Then he let me go.
I pulled away, careful to stay in the boring realm of 55 to 60 miles per hour. It felt like the tires were glued to the pavement compared to the exhilarating pace I’d previously set. I thought about the picture. It was not my current girlfriend (of that moment), but of one I would chase for years. I have no idea why she gave it to me if I was never to taste the fruit. But here I was, a young guy, with long hair, racing to a destination alleged to be a assignation, on a screaming Jap motorcycle — with some cop wishing he was me.
I pulled into my real girlfriend’s driveway ten minutes later. She was 21-years-old at the time, and two years older than me. Her hair tumbled down her back like a waterfall of burnt sienna, against a complexion of warm honey. She was every inch as beautiful as the woman in the photograph and had a smile that molded itself into perfect kisses... Kisses with the sweetness of a summer peach... Kisses that occasionally covered me in a blaze of candle-light. She’d have cut my balls off in my sleep had she known I had that picture in my wallet. And she’d have been right to do so.
Naked images of discarded girlfriends are traded like baseball cards on the internet today. Yet this was in the day when everything had to be committed to film and captured by chemicals. I had taken photography in college and persuaded this beautiful woman (with the sienna hair) into posing once, wearing naught but perfume. I printed the photo myself. That picture is long gone... As is the one I carried in my wallet... And there is not a single picture of me on that Kawasaki motorcycle. So much of my younger life now exists only in my mind, and my mind so easily becomes the witness for the prosecution these days.
Why is it the night before Valentine’s Day that visions of beautiful, naked women of past romances torment me as freezing cold winds blow in from the Atlantic, making my sense of exile complete? I have written that the motorcycle is a metaphor for life, but it is also the perfect vehicle for romance. The pillion is the threshold of foreplay. I can hardly wait for my next bike and next spring, regardless of the season in which I encounter both.
Postscript: I had company this weekend, 50 percent of whom was a striking redhead — the paramour (since college) of one of my closest friends. He was here too, and will probably comment on this blog. She looked (down) at me through eyes that are a maelstrom of emotion, and presented me with a heart-shaped, chocolate ginger cake.
“This is for you,” she said. “I thought it especially appropriate as it seems to have collapsed in the center.”
It would appear I am a clay pigeon for every woman in the world now.
Jack Riepe will be the guest speaker at the New Jersey Shore BMW Riders monthly dinner on March 14th, 2012, at 6pm. Held at Schneider’s German-American Restaurant in Avon, NJ, the subject of Riepe’s presentation will be “How Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder... For So Many Things.” The guest speaker has promised not to savage BMW “R” bikes in his presentation, nor to imply their riders are aptly depicted in prehistoric cave paintings.
Riepe’s dietary limitations of pickled herring, wiener schnitzel and spaetzle are presenting less of a challenge to program chairman Don Eilenberger than his request for a blond waitress, in traditional Bavarian dress, with even more traditional Bavarian hooters. It is thought Eilenberger himself will wait table in drag. Rumors that Riepe will be transferring his membership to the NJSBMWR from the Mac-Pac are rampant. Sources claim the delicate feelings of the guest speaker can no longer sustain commentary beginning with “that fat son of a bitch on that poor K75,” which is the way he is commonly greeted in Pennsylvania.
©Copyright Jack Riepe/Twisted Roads 2012