Sunday, January 24, 2010

My First Motorcycle Crash...

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)


Conchscooter said...

I swear it's the luck of the asshole. Fall off a motorcycle and into the lap of a woman. I must be the wrong kind of asshole as the last time I fell off I had to limp home and pick the gravel out of my knee all by myself.

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
History tends to repeat itself throughout the Kabuki drama of your life. I bet you could make the Guinness Book of Records for the number of times women have a called you an asshole. On the other hand, how many men have enjoyed what you've experienced in your twisted path toward oblivion?
Your riding buddy,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conch:

If I may, I will refer to you as "Grasshopper" for the extent of this lesson. Those who master the "Battered Baby Seal Look" are virtually guaranteed a soft landing. Those who go through life on motorcycles bereft of fuel injection and a proper cooling system, get exactly what they deserve.

Fondest regards, etcetera.
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

redlegsrides said...

Wow Jack, leave it to you to turn a crash into a stupid cager (albeit his fault) into such a "happy ending".

I only have one question, besides "how does this guy write so well?!", what does "raced them through barrels" mean in terms of horse riding? I'd never heard the term.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

Sadly, they generally call me an asshole on the way in and on their way out. Then again, there are generally a few intervals in between during which I appear to be an asshole at least part of the time. I can only assume this to be true as it appears to happen with everry woman I was ever close to.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Thank you for the kind note and the nice compliment.

Here is the absolute truth about the first question you posed: When I was a kid in the first and second grades, I used to make up stories like you couldn't believe. The nuns would go berserk over this and complain to my mother, who would mercilessly beat the shit out of me, to no avail.

Finally, she said, "You can tell any lie or story you like, but you have to write them down first." This was a reprieve and a curse. Because when I wrote them dow, she corrected them. Someone gave me a toy printing press when I was in the fifth grade, and that really started the ball rolling.

As to the second question: Leslie is as close to the Hemingway heroine as any woman will ever get. She was a champion skier in high school, rode with the rodeo, can wing shoot with the best of them, and ride a motorcycle. "Barrel-racing" is like a slalom course for quarter horses, on which the rider goes like hell cutting unbelievably tight turns, without knocking over the barrels.

I sure can pick 'em, eh?

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Anonymous said...

Great story Jack. You like living on the edge. Things were going in
the right direction, she left without giving you the ice pick like in the 1992, Basic Instinct movie.

So you use a situation where most
people would call an attorney and waste a dime calling her. Now you
are the ice pick target again. You are a red blooded American for sure. Eat shit and die did not become a popular saying for another 15 years so you must have heard her say something else.

Roberts LeBoutillier

How you persevere!, Ihor said...

Giuseppe gave you your money's worth, and you got to use the newest section of I-80 on your way to a new bike!? Life gives you lemonade and you end up with lemoncello(after a detour through the garbage disposal). I recall Bill had a place with the Mrs. on Boulevard East, no view or happy ending of course. Nice to read from you after a lengthy silence.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Roberts:

I was born in Jersey City, where the expression "Eat shit and die," is one of the first things many babies hear from their moms. Some maintain these four words were once part of the christening process. And interestingly enough, several women I used to be close to have tried to kill me.

Thank you for reading my blog, and for writing in.

Fondesrt regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ihor:

I had two addresses on Boulevard East: one in Guttenberg and the other in North Bergen. I remember Bill's place, and the tearful fate of his snake. I am going to call you today, to check on some details of an adventure we had.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Cantwell said...

Dear Jack,

I read this last night and was thinking of some witty remark, then I fell asleep at the keyboard.

I took today off from work as a seriously needed metal health day and had to read your post once more. You always have a knack for making people smile.


Unknown said...

I think most folks are missing the REAL million-to-one-never-happen-in-MY-lifetime point of this story. There was a cop behind you when you WEREN'T doing anything wrong?!?!?

I only get them behind me when there is nothing in the road in front of me, and I've been sitting through an exceptionally long red light, and decided to have some fun and LAUNCH when the light changes.

Instead of a chance to flirt with cute nurses, and get 48 hours of "personal" care, I get a $138 ticket and my wife takes my bike keys away.

classicvelocity said...


Leave it to you to invent the "Sympathy Bike Crash"! This is grovelling elevated to a high art form.

When I was forced off my RD350 by a blind and deaf cage driver, all I got was a broken wrist, road rash, and a $140 repair bill (which was a lot of money at the time). Women were not impressed by the lack of transportation which ensued.


aka classicvelocity

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell (Mike):

My life is one of the strangest collection of circumstances the world has ever seen. When I was younger, and more supple, I had a way of always landing on my feet. Sometimes in shit, but always on my feet.

The best stories generally have a happy ending, and this one did on all accounts. That would make any rider smile.

The temperature hit 52º degrees here today, during 18 hours of steady rain. The salt is gone off the road now. Every last trace of it has been washed clean. Unfortunately the cinders are still there. But we may just have to contend with that.

I hope to be riding again soon.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ray:

The role the cop played in this story is not at all typical of my prior experiences with the law. This was one of my few misadventures that did not include phrases like "hail of lead, the thunk of a night stick, cells crowded with inmates and water bugs," or "a courtroom better suited to kangeroos."

But I have to tell you, if a crashy is going gto be the result, landing in the arms of a brunette or a blonde is the preferred conclusion.

Thank you for reading my blog and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Classic Velocity (Wayne):

Your kind remark indicates that you probably trusted to the actual events to generate sympathy. This is a common but tragic mistake. Can you image the impact your accidents may have had among the gentler sex if you had remained on the ground, and with your last apparent strength, held up a battered Valentine containing a poem you wrote, and theatre tickets.

A man could skate a long time on a maneuver like that.

Thank you for reading my stuff, and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Mark Williams said...

This is "classic Jack." One just has to love it!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mark:

How have you been? It certainly has been a while since out paths crossed. If you liked this one, scroll back a month or to the post I did called "RIP My Youth." That's what I really think about on wild spring nights.

Thank you for reading my stop, and for taking the time to drop me a line.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Canajun said...

A red H2? I've never seen a red one.
Great story.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Canajun:

It was a deep purplish red. The dealer just switched out the tank, the side covers and the tailpiece.

It was a cool looking bike... But unbelievably primitive, especially when compared to the K75 I ride now.

If you look back at some of my other blogs, you'll find a picture of one. Before my industry went bust, I was mildly considering buying a restored one. I found one for $4,000 (USD).

That was just crazy. And I'd never be able to kick start the damn thing now... Not with these hips.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

motonomad said...

"The old bastard blocking the intersection claimed he had been driving since the fall of Rome"...

Jack, it was very gracious of you not to mention Dick Bregstein by name.


Unknown said...

Jack "r":

even then . . . the "battered seal look, worked "

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

cpa3485 said...

Grrat story! I pictured you riding off into the sunset with your girlfriend and the candystriper towards the ultimate sponge bath just over the horizon. Flowers really are great aren't they.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Motonomad (Pete Buchheit):

Itr's amazing how whenever you hear the phrase "old bastard," you think of Dick Bregstein. Clyde told me the same thing yesterday. It was great to see all you guys (Dick Bregstein, Gerry Cavanaugh, and Clyde Jacobs) for the first of our planning sessions last week.

Our late spring adventure ride — along Route 6 through the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania — is going to be an absolute pisser. But I think we are going to need at least two other planning sessions, as we could have a great alternative too.

Thank you for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

That particular woman predated the battered baby seal look. She fell for the "wild impetuous writer" mystique."

Thank you for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear CPA3485 (Jimbo):

There was a lot of riding off into the sunset on that bike, yet this incident was the first of three crashes I was to have on that Kawasaki.

It's funny... I was never once afraid nor spooked to remount the machine after it had been down back then.

That wouldn't be the case now, I can assure you.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

irondad said...

You know, I could teach you some ways to win women over that aren't as hard on your body and motorcycle.

Of course, it might limit what you can publicly write about!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

It is with great restraint that I do not go into some details. And I'm saving the best storeies for my new book.

Thanks for reading my crap and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Javk • reep • Toad

Unknown said...

I agree with you that the H2 living up to its reputation as one of the world’s worst handling motorcycles and you needed to be extra careful while driving it. God must have intervened so that you escaped with minor injuries while your bike went into a major wobble and the rear wheel flew out from under your control on the railway tracks. It might have been worst when the Kawasaki slided about 15 feet before slamming into the car. It is sheer fortune that a police cruiser was behind there when you slided along on the ground behind it. I feel good to know that you had consulted a motor accident lawyer & filed a compensation lawsuit against the man responsible for the accident only to get your green Kawasaki H2 replaced with a red one by his insurance company. . For more information visit .

Ethan Rehman said...

I've been riding motorcycles all my life, but I've never had a single accident. That doesn't make me less careful, of course. Exercise caution while driving, and always wear the proper equipment. Especially a DOT-certified helmet. It will save your life.

Unknown said...

I agree with you, Ethan! One of the important motorcycle gears that could save our life from accidents is helmet. I’ve seen some of the people got into motorcycle accidents, and ended totally injured and almost lost their lives, just because they weren’t wearing proper helmet. Don’t let your life be at risk for not following this minimum requirement when riding a motorcycle. ->Nannie Leick

Unknown said...

I know it's been a while but it's good to hear that you survived the accident. You had a bad start and ended up in the hospital bed. The good thing is was, aside from surviving the dent, the man liable for this had been responsible enough to replace your bike.