You're Never Too Old - A Motorcycle Story
Your age is only in your mind
You're Never Too Old
It was nearly indistinguishable when Barney first noticed it in the corner of Charlie's garage; a partial silhouette hidden by piles of indiscriminate junk, concealed in a cocoon of musty cobwebs, a forgotten relic, long-ago surrendered to a morass of rust.
"What's that in the corner?" he asked, intrigued..
"Just an old motorcycle." Charlie answered. He seemed disinclined to elaborate.
"What kind of old motorcycle?"
"Indian. Come on, Barney, we’ve got to dig out those folding chairs."
"The bridge game can wait. You know women - they'll just be yakking anyway. Can I have a look?"
"Sure, look all you want - but you're not going to be able to see much back in that dark corner."
"Have you got a flash light handy?"
"Here," Charlie responded rather impatiently, taking one from a shelf and passing it to Barney.
Barney pushed an immobile lawnmower aside, shoved a heavy art deco lamp out of his way, and moved a vintage typewriter to the top of a long-abandoned wringer washing machine. He flicked on the flashlight and slowly passed its. beam over the motorcycle. There was the gearshift on the side of the gastank, topped by a knob bearing the INDIAN logo. On the front of the tank he recognized the once-familiar profile of the Indian chief, his full headdress in a gold paint that was now muted to a dull ocher.
He smiled when he saw the big tandem seat with its worn leather fringes, braced atop a pair of rusted plunger springs. There was the skirted fenders, the spoked wheels, a sprocket but no chain, floorboards, the finned V-twin engine; the girder forks, the bulbous headlight. He reached over and wiped through eons of dust to reveal a streak of faded maroon.
A flood of memories engulfed him. How long ago had it been? It had been 1931, and he was seventeen when he had that first ride. And it had been thanks to old Henry down the street. If it hadn't been for Henry he might never have learned to ride. Henry was a bachelor; and a fireman. He was the only man on the block that had a job, and the only one in town that owned a motorcycle, and he took a shine to Barney.
He could still vividly remember the thrill he felt the first time Henry let him take it solo. The exhilaration was almost indescribable the joy of the cool wind tingling his skin, his hair streaming in the air, his eyes tearing, and the way his body throbbed with adrenaline as the neighborhood kids shouted encouragement to him. It had been one of the most unforgettable moments of his life.
God how he had wanted a motorcycle after that! But he might as well have longed to own the Taj Mahal. It was the depression, and even though his desire was so strong it became a burning need eating at his entrails, it was hopeless. Hell, they were lucky to eat in those days. His clad had been forced to sell their Model T to pay the rent. Hard to realize that was more than a half century ago, Barney reflected.
"Come on, Barney," Charlie said insistently, breaking his reverie, "the ladies are going to be mad. You can see it tomorrow."
The bridge game seemed interminable. He bid poorly and Sally glared at him. They lost every hand. He was incapable of concentrating, his mind furtively returning to the treasure he had unearthed in Charlie's garage.
At nine o'clock the next morning he knocked on Charlie's door. Mabel let him in.
"Good morning, Barney, You're early. Charlie said your golf game was at ten-thirty. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Good morning, Mabel. Yes, thank you. To tell the truth, I had forgotten all about the golf game. Is Charlie up yet?"
"Yes. He's upstairs." She moved into the livingroom and called up the stairs: "Charlie - Barney's here." Then she came back into the kitchen where Barney had settled himself and poured the coffee.
Charlie eased into a chair opposite Barney. Mabel poured him a cup of coffee. "Morning, Barney," he said laconically, "you're early."
"To tell you the truth, I had forgotten this was our golf day," Barney answered apologetically.
"It's Thursday, Barney. We play every Thursday. Have for six months."
"Yeah, well I've got plenty of time to go across the street and get my clubs." He sipped the coffee and took a bite of the doughnut Mable had placed before him. "I was thinking of taking another look at the motorcycle," he explained.
Whole days slipped past as he sanded and polished. He had to take parts out for rechroming. He found himself watching for the United Parcel truck that would bring some long-awaited mail-order part. A few parts had to be machined from scratch. Finding a paint shop that would promise to come up with a maroon "practically identical to the original" was one of the hardest aspects of the restoration.
Then one day it was done. Barney went down to the Harley shop and bought a helmet and goggles. He invited Charlie and Mable over to watch the launching.
When he fired it up, they applauded. Sally took a picture of him straddling it. Cranking it, he felt apprehensive. What if he stalled it? Or dropped it? But as he felt the powerful rumbling beneath him and listened to the mellow throb of the engine his trepidation was gradually replaced with confidence. What the hell, why would he have a problem? Just because he hadn't ridden a motorcycle in over twenty-five years was no reason to think he couldn't still do it.
Tentatively, he eased the clutch in with his foot and pulled back on the shift lever. It slipped into first gear with a soft clunk. Slowly, he let the clutch out and gingerly turned the throttle on. The Indian rolled wobbly out the door into the driveway. Behind him he heard them cheering. He was riding it! He was enraptured!
As he gained confidence, he gradually fed it more gas. It responded smoothly. He didn’t look back. He rode it for two hours.
That night they all got pleasantly drunk.
After that, Barney rode every day that it didn't rain. Sometimes for only an hour nor two, sometimes for several hours. He discovered all the pleasant country roads in Central Florida. He rode past orange groves and lakes, crested green hills, glided past grazing cattle, idled through peaceful villages, and breathed the soft salt air of the Atlantic Ocean one week and the Gulf of Mexico the next. Once he mustered up the courage to cruise down the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach.
He became a familiar figure at the Harley shop, where he frequently dropped in on the pretext of needing wax, or oil, or a magazine, but where he mostly enjoyed the friendly camaraderie he’d found among fellow motorcycle enthusiasts. From them, he got tips on good places to ride. And, as time went by, he was able to offer some tips of his own.
Only one thing was diminishing his pleasure - Sally had not yet been persuaded to join him. He couldn't even coax her into a ride around the block. She obstinately refused, frequently repeating her opinion that she was "too old for that." Then one night at a bingo game a widow mentioned that her husband had been a motorcyclist. She told Barney that she would just love to have one more ride. Barney promised that "one of these days soon" he’d take her for a ride. Sally just smiled. But when they got home that night she told Barney she had decided to give it a try.
She grumbled about how she looked in pants, how awkward the helmet and goggles Barney had bought for her fit, about how foolish she felt. She locked her arms about him in a death grip, making it difficult for him to control the bike. But as they rode along palm-lined boulevards she gradually began to relax, gaining confidence in his ability to control the machine. When they got home that night she grudgingly admitted that she had enjoyed it.
After that she began accompanying Barney on his jaunts. They started taking longer trips - to the keys, up to Georgia, or to the Florida panhandle. They stayed in motels. Barney suggested they try camping, but Sally drew the line at that.
One Sunday they sought out a drive-in restaurant where Barney had heard that dozens of motorcyclists could be found in impromptu gatherings on nice days. As he had hoped, many of the riders appeared keenly interested in the Indian when they pulled in. Nonchalantly, he parked it, waited for Sally to dismount, then got off himself. As a few riders began approaching the bike, Barney guided Sally over to the take-out window. They ordered root beers, then sauntered around, looking at the other motorcycles.
The state of the art in motorcycle design and engineering was represented: Turbo Kawasakis, six cylinder Hondas, Suzuki cafe racers, shaft-driven Yamaha fours, Harley low-riders, a couple of Ducatis. Barney took his time, leisurely gazing at the many esoteric bikes gleaming in the sunshine. But he was aware of the small crowd that had gathered around his Indian. He wanted to savor this moment, to relish it..
Finally, he could wait no longer… he and Sally ambled, calculatedly, back to his bike.
When they reached the Indian a small crowd of admirers were closely examining it, speculating about its vintage.
"It's got to be from the late forties," opined one.
"I don't think so, man - I'd say it's a fifty something," ventured another.
"Here's the owner," said a third man, seeing Barney and Sally, "ask him."
"It's a forty-eight," Barney told them.
“Man, that's a real classic!" one of the admirers enthused.
"Thank you," Barney answered. He was ecstatic.
Where'd you find it?" another wanted to know.
"A neighbor of mine had it stuck away in his garage," Barney told him.
“How long did it take you to restore it?" someone else asked.
"About a year," Barney said proudly.
"Would you like to sell it?" a man asked, earnestly.
"No. I think not," Barney smiled.
"I'll give you twenty-five hundred," the man persisted.
"Shit, Fred, you're trying to steal the man's motorcycle. I'll tell you what, friend," the man said to Barney, "I'll give you thirty-five hundred. Cash."
Barney's eyes twinkled as he took Sally's hand and guided her over to the bike. He patted it, lovingly. "Sorry boys," he said, "but my Indian isn't for sale. Not for any price. Because to tell you the truth, to me, it's priceless."
This little story is an excerpt from my book, OVER THE HANDLEBARS, a collection of 24 short stories and articles about motorcycling, most of which have been published in motorcycle magazines. The book is available from Amazon.com.
I also have two novels about motorcycling available from Amazon. All 3 can be read on your computer for just $2.99 each. For more information, go to motorcyclenostalgia.com
MY OTHER BOOKS
In addition to OVER THE HANDLEBARS, which is a collection of short stories, I have also written two novels about motorcycling. All 3 are available to be read on your computer from Amazon.com. for just $2.99 each. For more information, please go to motorcyclenostalgia.com