Motorcycle Short Stories
Back in the ‘60s, while working as advertising manager for Yamaha, I was given an opportunity to write a monthly column for CYCLE GUIDE, (long gone) which I called OVER THE HANDLEBARS. It ran for about 7 years. Some of the monthly pieces turned out to be short stories, and that led to getting other motorcycle stories and essays published in CYCLE, CYCLE WORLD, MOTORCYCLIST and others. The best of these stories and columns were first published in book form, with the same title, in 1975. Then, in 2006, through Amazon.com, the book was republished, but this time I added about a third more content, including a journal of a 40 day ride I took across the country.
So, I’m showing you a couple of samples below. If you like them, you can order the complete book of 24 stories from Amazon
The first story, THE MACHINE THAT CORRUPTED SANTO TOMAS, is my favorite, and was inspired by John Steinbeck’s story, “The Pearl”.
The Machine That Corrupted Santo Tomas
LITTLE clouds of thick dry dust swirled up with each step he took as Paul Rodriguez trudged along the road toward home. The dust settled on the combat boots he had bought three years before at the Army Surplus store. It settled on his faded Levis, rose up to rest on his western shirt, funneled its way into his nose, burrowed into his ears, stung his eyes, dirtied his hair. He shifted the ancient .22 from one arm to the other and idly wondered when it would rain again in New Mexico.
He had been out since early morning hoping to shoot a few stringy rabbits. He had seen few, got off only a couple of shots, and missed them. If his Honda 90 were running he could have saved a lot of walking. But it needed a new carburetor. The Honda store in Santo Tomas didn't have one in stock; even if it did, he couldn't afford it.
It was late in the day when he entered the town. People were seated in chairs brought out from the houses, or on steps or benches, trying to escape the heat of indoors. Occasionally he would catch the smell of tortillas frying. The people nodded, smiled. In the hard-packed dirt street barefooted children were running back and forth, oblivious to the parching sun.
He heard the ring-a-ding-ding of a two-stroke coming from behind him. Paul turned to see Manny pull up on an ancient Hodaka, once bright yellow but now faded to a pale lemon.
"Where's the deer?" Manny said. " I figured you'd have at least one deer for us to feast on."
"Christ, Manny, don't start on that again. I saw a couple of rabbits but I missed them. I think my sights are all screwed up."
"You ought to throw away that old thing and get you a new gun anyway."
"Sure I should. Just like everybody else in Santo Tomas, I've got so much money I can go buying new guns."
"Look, Paul, why don't you and Maria come over tonight? We've got a little tequila my brother brought back from Juarez. Bring the Honda along. Maybe we can get her to working."
"Okay, Manny, maybe we'll be there. But if we couldn't get it to run when we were sober, how are we going to get it to run when we're drinking tequila?"
"Maybe we were just trying too hard the other time. With the tequila we'll be more relaxed." He fired the Hodaka up, put his foot down, leaned it over, and left in a cloud of dust.
Paul put his gun in the rack in the entry-way as Maria called out to him that she was in the kitchen. When he came in her hands were full of dough, but she turned her face up to receive his kiss. Small and dainty, Maria at 21 showed no signs of ever getting fat like many of the women in Santo Tomas. She smiled up at him.
"All I really felt like for dinner tonight was tortillas and beans anyway," she said.
"I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with that stupid rifle. Maybe I'll get another one if they come through with that raise at the gas station. That interstate going in really hurts business. But I figure that since they let Ricco go, they got to pay one guy instead of two. So maybe pretty soon now they going to come through for me."
"Then maybe you can get your Honda fixed, too."
"Yeah. By the way, I saw Manny at the square. We're invited over there tonight. And he wants me to bring the Honda alongso we can work on it."
"By the way, a letter came today addressed to you. From New York City. It's on the mantle."
"Probably just another advertising offer." He took it from the mantle and brought it back to the kitchen to read it to her while she worked.
"Dear Mr. Rodriguez," he began reading, "Congratulations. You have won first prize in our national sweepstakes." His voice took on a note of incredulity mixed with enthusiasm. "A brand new 1970 Honda 750cc Four is being awarded to you through the Honda dealer in your area, Honda of Las Cruces. Jesus Christ, Maria! Are you listening ?”
"I can't believe it," she said. "What did you do to win a new 750 Honda?"
"The last time I was in Las Cruces . . . when was it, about three months ago? And they had this contest at the Honda shop, and you didn't have to buy anything, you know, just fill in your name and drop it in the box. Well I guess it was my lucky day. Can you believe it?"
"No," she said simply, "I can't believe it."
"Get Raul cleaned up. I'm taking us out to dinner tonight to celebrate."
"But Paul, we haven't got any money."
"We'll use the money for the electric bill."
"Then what will we use to pay the electric bill?"
"To hell with that. Don't worry about it. I'll borrow some more money from work. We've got to celebrate. This is fantastic! Do you realize how much a bike like that is worth?"
"No. How much is it worth?"
"A bike like that goes for a good fifteen hundred."
"Fifteen hundred dollars! Why that's almost a half year's pay.
After a big steak dinner with all of the trimmings, Paul and Maria with Raul in the stroller walked over to Manny and Rosa's house. Manny greeted them at the door
"Hey, how come you guys are all dressed up? Did you forget we were supposed to work on the bike tonight?"
Paul grinned. "We were doing a little celebrating down at The Ambers."
"The Ambers! How in the hell could you afford to go there? What were you celebrating, for Christ sake?"
"Here," Paul said, "read this." He handed him the letter. Manny carried the letter over to the lamp, opened it and silently read it. "Holy Christ," he said, handing it to Rosa, “Holy Christ! Hey," Manny shouted, "Break out the Goddam tequila. We gotta celebrate!"
"You know," Paul said, "I bet it's the first time anybody from Santo Tomas ever won anything."
"When you gonna pick it up?"
"Tomorrow at mass I'll see Mr. Gomez and ask him if 1 can take off Monday to go to Las Cruces and pick it up. If it's okay with him, then I can get going to Las Cruces after mass. I'll camp at the door of that Honda shop, and when they open Monday morning, they'll find there the Winner of the National Contest!"
The following Sunday afternoon it seemed to Paul that he stood on the highway a long, long time before anyone offered him a ride. Finally a migrant farm worker in a dilapidated old Chevrolet stopped and told Paul that if he didn't mind squeezing in the back with the man's five kids, they could always make room for one more. Paul accepted with thanks.
It was nightfall when they arrived. Paul thanked the man again for the ride, then walked into a gas station to ask for directions to the Honda shop. It was over an hour before he found it. A large sign saying Honda hung in front. Paul put his face to the plate glass window and peered through. Inside there was a dim night light burning. He could make out the shapes of motorcycles and
there were a large number, many sizes and shapes. The colors were a little hard to distinguish. It looked as though there were two 750s inside. One looked like it was gold or bronze, the other red. He wondered if they would give him his choice. Red, he thought. But the gold would probably look nice too. What the hell, why be choosy?
The wind was starting to blow, and he hunched down lower in his coat, at last tired of squinting through the window. Then he noticed the sign on the door. The store hours were from nine to six. A long time to wait. The next line on the sign took a minute to sink in: closed Mondays. Tomorrow was Monday. He had taken a day off and come all this way and the shop wouldn't even be open. He noticed more words lower down on the sign but couldn't see them in the dark. He was squatting trying to read them when a light shone on them from a passing car. He caught enough to know that it was a phone number to be called in emergencies, but he couldn't see the number. Then the light from the car reappeared on the door - and stayed there. He turned to see why a car would be keeping its lights shining on the door. It was a police car.
"Hey you, come over here." The voice held a threat only slightly veiled. Paul walked over to the police car.
"What are you doing hanging around here?"
"Well, you see, I won this Honda motorcycle in a big national contest. And this is where I'm supposed to get it. At least that's what they told me."
"So what are you doing here now? This shop won't be open till Tuesday morning. Did you think they would give you the bike on Sunday night?"
"No. But I live down in Santo Tomas. I didn't know the shop would be closedtomorrow."
"Butwhy are you here now? How'd you get here?"
"Some friends drove me." Paul didn't like lying, but he thought it might be against the law to hitchhike.
"Where are the friends now?"
"They were going up the road. They're farm workers."
"If you won a bike like you say, you must have a letter or something to prove it."
"Yessir, I do." Paul took out his envelope and handed it to the police officer. He shivered as a gust of wind blew down the street. The policeman was still seated inside the car, his motor running.
The policeman read the letter. "You’re Rodriguez?"
Paul showed him his driver’s license.
"Okay," he handed Paul back his driver’s license and the letter. "You get the emergency telephone number off the door there and you call old man Phillips up and tell him you’re in town. Do you have a place to stay?"
"Okay, it’s going to get cold tonight. If you want, you come on down to the police station. We’ll let you sleep in the jail tonight."
Paul went over to the door and memorized the telephone number while the policeman kept his lights shining on the door. When the officer drove off, Paul thought about his offer as he went in search of a pay telephone. He had never seen the inside of a jail before. He was a proud man and considered it a disgrace to be in jail. But it was getting colder by the minute. When he found a phone booth and dialed the number there was no answer. He stayed there, calling every five minutes. Then, at 11 p.m., Mr. Phillips answered the phone and Paul explained his predicament.
"Okay, boy," Mr. Phillips' voice had a benevolent kind of air about it. "Don't you worry none. Not every day it happens we get a national contest winner in these parts. Now you just come on down to the shop about ten tomorrow morning and I'll be there to meet you."
After he hung up, Paul wished he had let the dealer know somehow, maybe dropped a hint or something, that he had no place to spend the night. When he stepped outside after standing in the booth for more than an hour, the wind cut into him, and he knew it was going to be plenty cold before morning. He decided that it wouldn't be such a big disgrace sleeping in the jail after all. He headed off in that direction.
He awoke with a start. At first, he couldn't remember where he was. Then he realized. It was cramped in the cell and the bunk was dirty, but at least it was warm. And he had the thought of his new bike to cheer him. After breakfast, try as he would, he couldn't keep himself from going directly to the shop. Maybe Mr. Phillips would be there early and let him in. He wished he had asked Mr. Phillips what color his bike was.
When he reached the shop, there were no signs of anyone inside. He squinted through the window again; now, in daylight, all the semi-visible shapes of the night before were clearly distinguishable. Two big Hondas were there; one red, the other gold. While he was still leaning on the glass and looking in, lost in fantasy, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned and saw a kindly looking old man in glasses. If he had a white beard, Paul thought. he'd be a terrific Santa Claus. Another man, in business suit, with a round face, a round stomach and round glasses stood behind the first.
"I'm Mr. Phillips," the old man said, "and I'll bet you're Paul Rodriguez."
"I guess I'm guilty as charged," Paul said, returning the man's smile
"And this is Bill Brown. He's a photographer. We want to get your picture for a little publicity story in the newspaper. That's okay with you, isn't it?"
"Sure," Paul said, shaking hands with the two men, "I'd love to have my picture in the paper. I don't think anybody from up in Santo Tomas ever got their picture in the Las Cruces newspaper. At least not when they were still alive."
Mr. Phillips opened the shop and the three went in. "There they are," he said, "two of the fastest motorcycles in the world. The only difference is the color. Which would you rather have, the red one or the gold one?"
"I don't know, they're both beautiful." He walked over to the red one and threw his leg over it, grasping the handgrips, getting the feel of it. "Hold it just like that," the photographer said and began taking pictures. For the next hour they took all kinds of pictures, of Paul looking at the bike, sitting on it, accepting the keys from Mr. Phillips. When the rotund photographer left, Mr. Phillips asked Paul if he had decided which color he wanted. "Well, I've been sitting on the red one for an hour having my picture taken so I guess I better take that one." "The color won't matter in the pictures, son, they'll be black and white anyway."
"Yes, but I'd know that those pictures were not really of my bike. I'd rather have the bike that will be in the pictures."
"Okay, son. Now let's get the money from you for sales tax and license so I can go home and watch the ball game."
Paul felt a sick sensation in the pit of his stomach."What money do I have to have for tax and license?" he said.
"You mean you didn't know you'd have to pay for the tax and license?" It was a rhetorical question. Mr. Phillips knew that Paul hadn't been prepared for this news.
"No. I . . . I guess I never thought about it. How much will that be?"
"Fifty-two dollars?" Paul repeated weakly. That was a week's wages.
"Look, son, if you haven't got it now, the bike will be here. You just come back soon as you raise it. Meantime, being as you came all the way up here from Santo Tomas, and I'm here on my day off, why don't we give you a riding lesson?" The old man knows how to handle things, Paul thought. Really a good old guy.
"Thanks," he said, "I'd really appreciate that." They pushed the red one out into the parking lot.
"You've ridden bikes before?" Mr. Phillips asked.
"Yes. I've got a Honda 90 and my friend has a Hodaka. And I rode another guy's Bultaco a couple of times."
"Good. Then you'll learn fast." And he proceeded to check Paul out on the electric starter, the brakes, the gearshift, the lights, the clutch. "Now stay right in the parking lot in low gear and I'll be watching," he said.
When Paul tried to ease the clutch out he stalled the bike. But the electric starter made it easy to get restarted. He tried a couple of more times and got going. The bike felt tremendously heavy and bulky. Much different than his 90. But he could feel the enormous power under him. A fantastic sensation. All at his command. He slipped the bike into neutral and revved it up. The four pipes sang to him, a crackling, mellow sound of an engine of brute strength in perfect tune.
"I'd really like to try it out on the road, Mr. Phillips."
"I know you would, son. But the insurance doesn't cover that. Tell you what though; you sign the papers so's we're sure this is the bike you'll be getting, and I'll take you for a ride on it."
"Okay," Paul said with a smile, "that sounds like a good deal."
After they went in the shop and signed a couple of papers, the dealer put on a helmet and instructed Paul to do the same. Then they went back out and fired the bike up. Mr. Phillips eased the bike out into the light traffic and ran out to a nearby little-used road; he punched it up to 50 in second gear, shifted into third and ran it up to 75, then fourth gear to 90 before he backed it down. Then they cruised easily for a few miles before he wheeled it around and took it back to the shop. Paul's blood tingled. He had never experienced anything like this. And again he marveled at how much different it would he owning this machine instead of his 90.
He had hard luck catching a ride home. It was well after dark when he walked up the dusty street toward his home, and as he approached his house, he could see that there were several people inside. He opened his door and went in. Everyone started shouting at once.
"Hey Paulo, where is it?"
"Let's go see it."
"Never mind seeing it, let's go ride it."
"How fast did you go coming home?"
"Wait, my friends," Paul said raising his hands to indicate they should be quiet, "there is a little problem and I didn't get the bike."
This announcement met cries of dismay, disappointment, displeasure.
"I need fifty-two dollars for tax and license." Paul said flatly. This met with more cries of dismay and anguish.
"You can't even win something without the government wanting to get its share."
They suffered together, these friends of Paul and Maria. Noisily everyone traded ideas all at once. But Manny had been quiet. He had been studying the problem of how to raise the money. Now he shouted everyone down:
"Hey, you people, be quiet a minute. I got an idea. What we'll do is hold a dance."
"What dance? What are you talking about? Anybody around here wants to dance they just go down to the cantina and put a couple of nickels in the jukebox."
"But where would you have it?" The speaker was Paul's wife, Maria, who had been silently standing at her husband's side, knowing that he needed comforting.
"I've thought of that," Manny answered. "In the school gym. Look at it this way. If the winner of a big national contest can't take the prize because he can't afford to pay the taxes, how is that going to make this town look? You think the mayor and the school people want that? Besides, nobody ever asked them about having a dance there before."
Paul never would have believed that his small circle of friends could accomplish so much so fast. Permission was acquired to use the gym. From someplace a young group of would-be rock musicians materialized. Improvised signs went up all over town. People sold the idea by word-of-mouth. Saturday night there was a dance, a hell of a shindig, and when it was all over, sixty dollars was given to Paul.
On his next regular day off. Paul went to Las Cruces to pick up the bike. This time a couple of the town's odd-job men, who worked when they could find something to do, drove him over in a broken-down old pickup truck. The idea was to load the bike in the back of the truck if Paul wasn't sure he was capable of riding it all the way home. But he was positive he would have no trouble.
"Better to have the truck along," they said to him. "Better safe than sorry."
When they reached the shop, Mr. Phillips called out to all of his employees and the few customers in the shop: "Hey, here is the man that won the Honda 750!" This news was greeted by cheers all around. Everyone had to come over and shake Paul's hand and offer congratulations. Then they all accompanied him as he rolled the bike outside and started it up. Paul could hardly restrain himself from shouting for joy, but somehow he felt that would not be dignified. It would not be fitting for the winner of a national contest. When the motor was warmed up he waved at the small gathering, pulled in the clutch, kicked the bike in gear and eased out the clutch. The bike stalled. Paul, quite embarrassed, pressed the starter button amid the general laughter. The starter whirled but the engine didn't come to life. He tried again. Still nothing. Mr. Phillips came over and looked under the gas tank. "The gas is turned off," he announced. Then he showed Paul how to turn the gas on.Paul flushed.
They set off on the highway toward Santo Tomas, the truck following Paul. For a time, he was content to take it very easy. He stayed in third gear, running about 45 miles an hour. After a dozen or so miles he decided that it really wasn't much different than riding his little 90. He began to feel the urge to open it up just a little. His better judgment told him he was new to a bike like this, he should go slow and easy all the way home. But it felt so easy. He had all kinds of confidence. He eased the throttle on a little and watched the needle swing up to 50 . . . 55, he kicked it into fourth gear. Still smooth and easy. Nothing to it, 60 a while longer and up to 65. It felt like it would go 165 if he wanted it to. He came into a curve and noticed there was sand on the road. He shut off on the throttle and hit the brakes. The front wheel slipped away in the sand. In an instant he was off the bike and bouncing down the road, the bike sliding along on its side behind him in a shower of sparks. Then he was stopped. It had all happened like lightning - no time to think, no time to act. He picked himself up. His arm was bleeding and his leg burned where lots of skin had been ground off on the asphalt. His clothes on his right side were all chewed up. Otherwise, he seemed to be okay. The old truck came around the bend, pulled over and the two men jumped out and ran over to help him.
"Madre de Dios! Are you all right, amigo?"
"Yes, I think so. I lost it." He was more embarrassed now than anything else. What would his friends think? Smart aleck young kid wins a new bike, the whole community helps come up with the tax money, and he dumps it the first time he rides it. "Come on," he said, "we've got to get it out of the road." They picked the bike up and wheeled it over to the shoulder. Paul walked around it examining the damage. His inexperienced eye didn't catch everything. The handlebars were bent. The glass in the rear view mirror was broken. The face of his speedometer was cracked. His exhaust pipe on the right side was gouged. There was a rip in his seat.
It was late afternoon when he rode into Santo Tomas. Anticipating his arrival, several people were gathered at the square. At the sound of his motor many others came running. He rode up slowly and stopped. He was acutely aware of his wounds and tattered clothing, much more noticeable to these people, who had known him all of his life, than the damage to the bike.
"For Christ's sake, Paulo, what happened?" Manny asked.
"Well, I was coming around this curve in the road. and there was this sand, so I put the brakes on, the next thing I knew, I was bouncing along the road with the bike behind me."
Then came a flurry of excited questions
"How bad are you hurt?"
"How much damage did the bike get?"
"How fast were you going?"
As Paul was trying to answer all of the questions, Maria came pushing through the crowd - which now included almost every citizen of Santo Tomas. When she saw that he was hurt she blanched. "Oh God! How bad is it? Can you walk?"
"Easy, sweetheart. I'm just scratched up a bit. Nothing to get excited about."
There were many oohs and ahs when Paul touched the electric starter and the engine came to life. The crowd parted to let him through. He idled the machine down the street to his house as most of the crowd followed. Why don't they leave, Paul thought. Don't they know I'm hurting? He stung mightily and was stiff and sore. He knew the bruises would keep him that way for at least a week and lubing cars at Gomez's was going to be murder. Maria cut his shirt off and began applying iodine. He wanted to cry out, but too many of his friends were watching. When she was ready to work on his leg, she asked them to step outside.
It was after midnight when Paul finally sank wearily into bed. His mind went over the events of the day several times before he dozed off.
The next day when Paul rode in to the station, Mr. Gomez cried out, "Hey looka here. Ain't that a beauty?" Everyone in the area, the people in the coffee shop next door, even the guys from the other station across the highway, came to see the bike. At first Mr Gomez seemed almost as proud of it as Paul was. But all day long people kept stopping Paul to ask about the bike. At the end of the day Mr. Gomez called him aside. "Paul," he said, "I know how proud you are of that bike. I'm proud of you for having won it. But you only got four grease jobs done today. We could have done at least six but the stall always had a car in it. You had to take too much time telling everybody about the bike. I think maybe it would be better if you didn't bring it to work. At least not for awhile. Not till everybody gets used to seeing it."
Not having the bike with him at work, Paul developed the habit of stopping and admiring it in his yard every night when he came home from work. One night he was surprised to see a big dent and scratch on the gas tank. It was on the good side, not the one that he had crashed on. He rushed in the house. "Maria," he said, "what happened to the bike? It has a big dent and scratch!"
"I'm sorry, Paul. Fernando Ruiz and Claudio Mendoza were over here. I wasn't paying attention. They just started sitting on it and the next thing I knew it fell over."
"Well I'm going to go see their fathers right now."
"Why don't you relax, sweetheart, and have dinner? Then you could go and talk to them about it."
"No, dammit! I'm going over there right now." He was surprised at his own aggravation. He had never spoken to Maria sharply before.
The Mendozas and the Ruizes lived next door to each other, so it would be easy to see both men at the same time. He knocked at the Mendoza house first. Claudio answered the door.
"Oh, hello, Mr. Rodriguez," he said apprehensively.
"How come you were over at my house fooling around on my motorcycle?"
"I wasn't fooling around with it. I was just looking at it."
"Then how come you knocked it over and got a big dent in the tank?"
The boy's father appeared behind him. "Hello Paulo," he said good-naturedly.
"Listen, Ernice, your kid came over today and knocked my bike over and put a big dent in the tank. Now dammit, I don't want anybody around that bike when I'm not at home!"
"Sure, Paul, sure. Don't worry about it. `'We'll pay to fix it." Both men knew that there was no money to pay to fix the bike. Still, Paul supposed it was a decent gesture for the other to make. He was a little ashamed that he had been so hot with his friend. As for Ernice, he was shocked at Paul's manners.
Paul went to the next house where about the same conversation was repeated with Henry Ruiz and his son Fernando. On the way home Paul recalled that neither man had invited him in. He knew that was unusual, but he also knew that his manner did not generate pleasantries. His built-up frustrations with the bike kept him over-reacting to the dent.
During the next few days Paul seemed to sense a slight coolness among his friends and neighbors. Nothing he could put his finger on, but just a feeling he had. In a town like Santo Tomas, people are very close. One night when he came home Maria remarked that nobody had been to the house, in several days. He realized that Maria, home all of the time, was paying for his sins - if sins they were. They decided that the thing to do would be to let others come and see the bike anytime they wanted. And Paul said he would let some of the others ride the bike.
The next Sunday afternoon, when many of the town's citizens were strolling around the square after mass, Paul rode his Honda down and parked it in the square. Other than some of the younger boys, a crowd didn't collect the way Paul had thought it might. He supposed the people were getting used to the bike. After a bit, Manny rode up on his Hodaka. After they exchanged greetings, Paul asked him if he wanted to try the bike out. Until then, nobody had ridden it but Paul. "Oh Mama Mia, would I like to ride it!" Manny bubbled as he parked his bike and straddled the Honda.
As Paul began checking him out on the controls people began collecting. This might be interesting. Manny stalled the bike a couple of times, then gave it a healthy twist of the throttle and let the clutch out. The front end lifted slightly and the rear wheel spun in the dust. The bike got sideways a bit before Manny straightened it out and got it back under control. All of this took no more than a few seconds. But the people were gasping and scrambling to get out of the way. It was the most excitement in town for some time - in fact since Paul had brought the bike home. And while the people held their breath Paul was having visions of the bike crashing.
Manny rode down the street till he was almost out of sight of those in the square. Then he turned and rode back to where everyone stood watching. He had a wide grin but seemed a little nervous. "Man, what power! It's unbelievable."
"Me next, me next," most of the young men in the village clamored. And one at a time, Paul gave them their turn. Most stalled it. Then they would get it going and chug slowly up the road a block or so with the bike in lowgear and the engine idling. After all those who knew how to ride had their turn Paul took the boys and the girls and ladies of Santo Tomas for a ride. With each one he rode to the same spot - about a block-and-a-half from the square, circled around and come back. Although he never got out of first gear and never went over 25, they all squealed with excitement and delight. Many had never been astride a cycle before. The rest had only been on a Honda 90 or a Hodaka. By the time everyone had their ride, and lots of them got second turns, it was almost four in the afternoon.
The next day Paul rode the Honda to work again. This time there were not too many people that stopped and asked about it. Evidently, people were getting used to seeing the big red Honda around Santo Tomas. Mr. Gomez didn't say anything, so Paul began riding the bike to work.
As the days went on, the men that worked with him and the men that worked across the street became more accustomed to seeing it there. When they had a lunch break they would come and ask to ride it. Paul didn't think it was a good idea. But how could one say no to the men one works with? So he would let them ride it, always cautioning each to take it easy, not to go fast, and to be as careful as possible with the front brake.
One day Hector Valdez, who worked at the station across the street, came in and said that he still had a few minutes of his lunch hour left and could be borrow the bike to go to the post office? Paul consented but gave him the usual warning about being careful. When Hector didn't return at the time he should have, Paul began to get uneasy. Nearly an hour went by before there was a phone call for Paul. It was the Sheriff's office. They said that there had been an accident, and Hector had broken his leg. Paul would have to come to the Sheriff's office to claim his motorcycle.
That night he took off early and went to get the bike and to see Hector. Riding it to the hospital he noticed it seemed to steer very stiffly. He guessed the forks had been bent in the accident, and he noticed there were several more new scratches and the headlight glass was broken. Paul wondered how much it would cost to fix that. He found Hector in traction. The nurse told them Paul could only stay for a few minutes. Hector managed a smile.
"I'm sorry, Paul," he said.
"Never mind about that, Hector. How you doing?"
"Well, I'm okay. They say the leg is broken in three places. I got to stay in this traction for a few weeks at least."
"What exactly happened," Paul wanted to know.
"This stupid dog ran out in front of me. I didn't want to hit him you know, so I swerved the bike, and I guess I was too close to the parked cars and I hit one of them."
Word of the accident had preceded Paul as he rode the bike into his yard.
"How did it happen'?" several asked.
"I guess a dog ran in front of him and he hit a parked car," Manny answered.
"That's right, Manny," Paul confirmed.
"You really shouldn't let those guys at work ride your bike, Paul," Manny said.
"That's right, Paul. Especially anybody that doesn't have plenty of experience," Gilbert Munoz added.
"Yeah, it's your bike."
"You don't have to let everybody ride it."
"It won't last you long if you do."
It seemed to be a long time to Paul before they all broke up and went home. He had a cold dinner and went to bed. For some reason, he felt very tired. A couple of nights later Paul and Maria were sitting down after dinner to watch television when there was a knock at the door. It was Manny. "Come in, Manny, come in," Paul said. "What brings you over tonight?"
"I'd like to borrow your bike, Paul."
"Look Manny, you know that I stopped lending the bike out after Hector had his accident. In fact, you were the one who urged me to stop lending it out." "Yeah, that's right, I was. But I said you shouldn't lend it out to guys that didn't have lots of experience. I wasn't talking about me. You know how much I ride."
"Yeah, but Manny, look, Hector has every bit as much experience as you. Maybe more. And look what happened. And that was in the daytime. This is night. Why do you want to borrow it, for crying out loud?"
"My sister is sick. The one that lives down by the border. I want to see her."
"What is wrong with her, Manny?"
"I don't know. I think she has the flu."
Paul could smell the tequila on Manny's breath. But he didn't know how much he had had to drink. He didn't seem to be acting drunk. He thought about it. Manny was his best friend. But it was dark and cold and the road wasn't the best. And Manny's experience was all on the Hodaka on dirt roads. He had been drinking. And if he took the bike across the border, Paul might have trouble getting it back. "I'll tell you what, Manny. If your sister is sick, I'll take you there on the bike. But we won't be able to stay long. It is a long ride and we have to work tomorrow."
"Forget it, Paul. Next time you want a favor, I'll remember." He turned and left.
After that the story got around that Paul wouldn't lend his motorcycle to his best friend to go and visit his sick sister. Evidently, Manny didn't tell people that Paul had offered to take him. And again, Paul and Maria seemed to sense some slight resentment among their friends and neighbors. It was nothing they said or did, just a certain coldness that seemed to be present.
Paul got a small raise and got his Honda 90 fixed. He went riding a couple of times with Manny and some of the other guys. But they didn't invite him most of the time. Perhaps they thought, why would a man who owns a super bike, enormously fast and expensive, want to go trailing with us on our old beat-up Honda 90s and Hodakas? So Paul took to riding more and more by himself or with Maria.
One morning in mid winter Paul came outside to get his bike and go to work. It wasn't there. He ran back in the house. Maria! Maria! The bike. It's gone!" He ran from house to house asking all of the people if they had heard any noise during the night or seen any strangers in the area. As he went along men began joining him. They decided the sheriff must be notified. Paul told them all that he would take care of it and thanked them.
When he arrived at the sheriff's office and told them what happened they asked him all kinds of questions and filled out a report. They assured him they would do everything to locate his bike. But they warned him not to be too disappointed if they didn't locate it.
In the months that followed, Paul did a lot of trailriding with Manny and the other guys. He had forgotten just how much fun it could be. They would spend all day on the little bikes, hour after hour in the saddle. He and Maria no longer felt any coolness from the people of Santo Tomas. It was as though they again had a common bond. There was no one big expensive possession that set one off from his fellows.
He talked to Manny about it one day: "You know, Manny, riding has been so good these last few months, and I've enjoyed going out with the guys so much, that I hardly ever even think about the 750 being stolen anymore."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. It's great to have you back riding with us. And you know, I feel kind of guilty about that night I wanted to borrow the bike and you wouldn't let me."
"Why should you feel guilty? I'm the one who wouldn't let you ride it."
"Yeah, I know. But I made you look . . . well, you know, tight, to everybody."
"Well, that's a long time ago. I was just afraid you might hurt yourself. You had been doing a little drinking, hadn't you?"
"Yeah. You were right. But you know, the thing is, now you're just like all of the rest of us again. Ain't none of us got anything, so we can all be friends. It's a kind of fellowship again"
"Yeah. Togetherness they're calling it these days."
Although this story was written a long time ago, I think it would still be just as true today.
THE radio told them it was six o’clock as they pulled out of the driveway. The sun was beginning to nudge the mountains some twenty miles to the east, promising another scorching July day. They were right on schedule. Traffic was light, mostly other racers in campers or pickups, interspersed with a few fishermen, hikers, and other outdoor types. Jeff felt the familiar nervous excitement. He knew that it would get stronger until the first flag dropped; then he would be all adrenalin and concentration. Unlike some racers, he didn’t have to worry about being stiff and sore on Monday and Tuesday. It seemed as if he had been racing all of his life; his body was attuned to it.
As they pulled into the pits Jeff saw many familiar faces. Some had arrived only a few minutes ahead of him; others had camped out here overnight. The late arrivals were unloading, firing up bikes, hurrying off to sign up, or putting on their gear. Practice would start in half an hour, with the first moto going off very close to nine on the dot. They found a pit area near several of Jeff’s friends, and while his bike was being unloaded he walked over to the sign-up table, waving to those he knew on the way.
After signing in, Jeff hurried back to their camper. Inside it was already getting quite warm as he stripped off the Levis and stepped into his clammy leathers. As he was buckling his motocross boots he could hear his Yamaha being started outside. After a few seconds of uninspiring pht pht phts, it began taking the gas enthusiastically. It went rat-a-tat-tat as it came up on the pipe. Satisfied that it sounded right, he pulled on his jersey, cinched up the kidney belt, stepped out of the camper’s rear door to the bumper carrier, and took a short leap to the dusty ground. Quickly he pulled on the helmet and buckled the chin strap, adjusted his goggles, and put on the gloves. Then he accepted the proffered bike, swinging into the saddle as familiarly as he slid into his bed each night.
He rode cautiously to the gate where riders were being admitted to the track for practice. He didn’t want to be accused of being a "pit racer." The man in charge motioned him out on the track; he dropped the clutch, and felt the wheel spin a second before shooting him into the traffic. Deftly he merged with the other practicing riders, quickly shifting into second gear.
Jeff had ridden this course many times before. It felt like home. He knew where all the turns and jumps and berms and hazards were, so he concentrated his attention on the condition of the dirt, watching for any new or unusual holes or ruts. He rode at three-quarters speed, loosening up and getting the feel for several laps until the man flagged him off to make room for other riders.
He stopped to bench-race with three other regulars until starting time for his first moto, the first of the day.
On the line he looked over the competition. The usual group of riders, plus the inevitable few here for the first time, perhaps a couple who had never ridden in competition before. Jeff knew which ones he could expect to do battle with. The new faces were a question mark; was there an ace from another track among them? He’d soon find out. He thought his chances were good; he had won races here before, though not many. Usually he was good for a second, third or at worst a fourth. That kind of consistency in the three motos usually brought an equally good overall finishing position.
Engines were revving now, front wheels pushing against the gate. Muscles were tensed, senses extra alert. A good start could mean the difference between winning or losing. Ahead of the riders, the hill that they would all converge upon, loomed threateningly.
Now the gate went down! Thirty bikes sprang forward, many with front wheels high in the air. A cloud of thick brown dust partially blinded them. The roar of the engines was deafening. Somehow Jeff was aware of a rider to his right going down. He was hemmed in by several bikes struggling for the point. He too wanted to be the first one over the hill, so that he could pick his line. But another rider pulled up on his right and they were bumping elbows. Jeff wasn’t about to back off; after a moment he pulled ahead. He made it . . . the first bike to the top! He shifted into third and powered up high on the berm. hooked the Yammie over and drilled down the chute to the jump. He had it full on as he hit the jump, pulling back on the bars. The bike sailed into the air; Jeff knew that he had never jumped this far before, and he felt proud, aware that the hillside was covered with enthusiastic spectators.
The bike landed perfectly on the rear wheel. Jeff kept the front wheel off the ground for a few feet in a display of skill, then set it down and prepared for an off-camber hill to his right. High up on the berm he went, again, three other riders pushing him hard. No time for errors now - if his line was less than perfect, if he bobbled or made a mistake, if he shut off even for an instant, they would pass him. But he held. Lap after lap, he couldn’t stretch his lead. Not a second to relax; the others stayed on his tail like glue. But he was in front! He was winning! He stayed on the pegs almost all the time, and when the checkered flag finally appeared he was so glad to see it.
Back at the truck Jeff sat in the sand, drinking a Coke and trying to take advantage of what little shade the camper provided. A man walked up and asked if he would like to try his hand at another class. Jeff had been looking forward to an hour’s rest before his next moto, and the class the man wanted him to ride in would be on the line in fifteen minutes. But the man was a motorcycle dealer - he would supply the bike. And if Jeff did well on it . . . maybe there would be a chance for a sponsored ride each week. Jeff said okay.
He didn’t do as well. He was a little tired. It was an unfamiliar bike, bigger than he was used to. But he didn’t do badly, either. He came in third. The man seemed pleased and wanted Jeff to ride the other two motos for that class. Jeff agreed.
Half an hour later it was time for Jeff’s second moto in his regular class. He felt rested by now, but the heat was oppressive and seemed to drain some of his energy. Jeff missed a shift heading up the start hill and wasn’t the first rider to the top. He was running fourth at the jump, when the third-place rider shut off a little. Jeff kept it on and got by him. The other two riders weren’t far ahead. Jeff hooked it on hard in an effort to catch them, but as he entered the whoop-de-doos, the back end whipped around and spit him off. He wasn’t hurt. Nor scared. But as several riders went past he felt very frustrated. He picked up the Yamaha and felt a little encouraged when it started on the first crank. The rest of that moto was catch-up, and he finished with a fifth place.
Back at the camper, everyone was solicitous. Was he okay? Was he sure he still wanted to ride in both classes? Was he getting enough rest? They didn’t want him to push too hard. He assured them he was fine. But all too soon the dealer had returned. It was time for the second moto in that class. Jeff took a long pull on his warm Coke, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and grinned at the man. "I’m ready."
He did the best he could, but it seemed like these guys just went a lot faster. Maybe the spill had taken a little wind out of his sails. Maybe he just had to get more used to the bike. He finished sixth. It was a good finish considering there were 30 riders in the moto. And good for a rider who hadn’t even seen the bike before this morning. But Jeff wasn’t satisfied. He had really been turned on by leading that first race all the way. Out front was the place to be.
Still, the dealer seemed pleased. He said that he knew Jeff would do much better when he really got the feel of the bike. That he was sure Jeff had what it took to be a real champion. The inference was clear that Jeff would be a sponsored rider. He felt really pumped.
His enthusiasm gave him a needed boost. His own bike still felt as familiar as ever, but after having ridden a couple of motos on the bigger bike it felt lighter and more maneuverable than ever before. Moreover, Jeff had never taken a first overall and today he wanted to. Today could be his day. He was determined to give it everything he had in this final moto.
He got a very good start. As they charged up the hill he converged with two other riders for the lead. Jeff was on the outside as they swooped around the U, and he rode so high up on the berm that several spectators jumped back, thinking he was about to lose it. He kept the power on hard, using all his strength and body English to throw the bike through the next turn to the left. It was a risky, difficult maneuver, but it gained him just enough ground to crowd in ahead of the other two leaders and set up for the jump. One of the riders dropped back a couple of bike lengths, but the other one stayed right behind Jeff, his front wheel usually even with Jeff’s rear wheel. Jeff was tiring, the strain of the extra races beginning to take its toll. Going over the whoop-de-doos he eased off the throttle for just an instant.
It was all the other rider needed. He had been waiting for Jeff to do something like that, and now he got by. The positions were reversed. Jeff was right on the other guy’s tail. He stayed there for half a lap waiting for the other to make one mistake. Jeff was riding full on, but he just didn’t have enough steam to pass. As they came by the finish line, the flagman gave them the last-lap signal. Somewhere in the next mile and a half Jeff would have to get the lead back. His mind did an instant replay, surveying the entire course. The jump. He had been taking the jump better than ever before, and better than the other riders in his class were taking it today. That was his best chance.
They went up the hill, around the U, up on the berm. through the next hook, and then set up for the jump, the bikes only inches apart. Jeff kept it dialed all the way on and braced himself for the jump; the other rider backed his Bultaco off just a shade. Jeff’s heart was in his throat. For a long instant he was afraid. He thought he would crash. It was like flying. And he had pulled back so hard on the bars that he thought the bike would come over backwards. But he made it. Now Jeff was a full bike length ahead. All he had to do was hold it for the rest of this lap. He did.
When Jeff pulled off the track, he was wiped out. He had never, never felt so exhausted. But he was surrounded by enthusiastic fans. Somebody was taking his picture for Cycle News. People were patting him on the back and telling him he had run a fantastic race. And several people talked about the way he had taken the last jump. With two firsts and a fifth for the day he was assured of a first overall. They brought him a huge trophy, and again they were taking pictures. He was elated when he got back to the camper, feeling like King-of-the-Mountain. He was also terribly tired, and there was still one more moto to ride for the dealer, 45 minutes from now. It was too hot to go inside the camper, so he lay down in the dirt beneath it to take advantage of the shade. He dozed; in a little while he was being awakened. Time to get ready for his final race of the day.
Rather than refresh him, the nap seemed to have made him a little groggy. Jeff threw a little water on his face, then pulled on the helmet and goggles. By now the heat and all the previous races had really taken it out of Jeff. He got off to a rather poor start, and at the end of one lap was running about midway back in the pack. But evidently the other riders were tired from the long hot day of racing, too. Gradually Jeff passed them one at a time until he was in seventh position. Then, with only a couple of laps to go, there was a pile-up. The third, fourth, and fifth-place riders went down. Jeff was now in fourth. He stayed there until he got the checkered flag.
Wearily Jeff rode back to the camper. His finishes of third, fifth, and fourth in this class were good enough to earn a fourth overall. The dealer asked if Jeff would like to ride for him every week. Jeff said he guessed so but that he would have to think about it. He promised to come in and see the dealer that week.
On the way home Jeff pulled off his boots and leathers, and changed back to his Levis and tennis shoes. Then he lay back on the camper’s bench. As he drifted off to sleep, he could hear his mother and father and sister up front in the cab talking. The last thing he heard was his father’s voice:"
Yessir, it was some kind of day for an 8-year-old racer."
If you like my writing, I also have two novels about motorcycling, as yet unpublished, which you are welcome to read FREE. The first, THE NEXT BEST THING TO SEX, is about racing for the national championship on the American Motorcycle Association's series in the 1960s. Riders in those days - like today I would imagine - were pretty wild and crazy guys, so there are some adult situations throughout the book.
The second, A WAY WITH WOMEN, is not directly about motorcycling, but it does have some fictional desert racing and street riding included. It is the story of a scoundrel who rises from short order cook in Mississippi to the head of a Los Angeles advertising agency by using women. There are "adult" situations throughout this book.
For either one, just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. But remember, these are both over 300 pages long, so be prepared for a slow download.
KAWASAKI CONCOURS like the one I rode on Don's last Big Ride
These stories are part of OVER THE HANDLEBARS, which is a 293 page paperback available from Amazon.com. To give you an idea what's in the rest of the book, I am showing the Table of Contents below: I also have written two other books about motorcycling available from Amazon.com. You can read all 3 of them on your computer for just $2.99 each. Go to motorcyclenostalgia.com.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE MACHINE THAT CORRUPTED SANTO TOMAS
HAPPY HAULIN’ ON A HARLEY
SOME GUYS HAVE ALL THE LUCK
LOST IN DEATH VALLEY
CYCLE KNIGHTS REVISITED
HOW TO SUCCEED IN MARRIAGE AND MOTORCYCLING
WHY I DIDN'T WIN
THE MOTORCYCLE SHOP THAT WILL BE
LET YOUR MIND ROLL ON
DESERT RACING (IN THE 60S)
HAPPINESS IS A WARM MOTORCYCLE
YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD
WHAT IF EVERYBODY RODE MOTORCYCLES?
DON’S LAST BIG RIDE
You can order a copy of OVER THE HANDLEBARS from amazon.com
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