I recently treated myself to a “mental health day.”
With my wife off visiting her family in Minnesota and the weatherman promising bright sunshine and temps in the high 80s, the conditions seemed perfect for some serious self-care.
I arose early and by 6 a.m. I’d fed and walked the pooch, taken out the trash and loaded the dishwasher.
Household duties duly dispatched, I headed to the garage for the ancient and mystic ritual of awakening my vintage 900 cc Honda.
After keying the ignition, I always check to make sure the green “neutral” light is on, after engaging the manual choke, I hit the starter button and stand around sipping coffee for another 3-4 minutes. When the engine is sufficiently warmed up, I back off the choke, reveling in the mellifluous four-cylinder symphony.
The auditory and olfactory stimulation accompanying this ritual affect me pretty much the way all that bell ringing must have affected Pavlov’s dogs.
I’m ready to ride.
Cruising a ribbon of fresh two-lane blacktop up near the Belgrade Lakes, I encountered plenty of other bikers with the same idea as me. I couldn’t help reflecting upon how far the sport of motorcycling has come since I started riding in the late 60s.
Back then, the prevailing image of bikers involved scruffy leather-clad outlaws looking for trouble. But this stereotype, reinforced in movies (like the “The Wild One,” featuring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin attempting to terrorize the good citizens of a small California town) was about to be eclipsed.
Nobody could have imagined that a scant dozen years later, those bad-boy bullies would be sent packing, not by some rival motorcycle gang, but rather by a cheerful assortment of middle class housewives, Ivy League jocks, coeds and buttoned down junior execs zipping around America on a new breed of brightly colored, inexpensive, gas sipping Japanese motorbikes.
The sound track for this two-wheeled revolution was a catchy Top 40 style advertising jingle, the chorus of which promised: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
So it should come as no surprise that I took my very first motorcycle ride on one of these diminutive imports.
That brief ride was all it took to convince me I had to get my own bike. In the spring of my senior year at high school I did just that after I spotted my dream machine parked in a dusty corner of a shabby used car lot on Route 196 in Lewiston.
The bike’s Ferrari red paint job and gleaming chrome tank cast a powerful spell, temporarily blinding me to its long list of less than stellar qualities including, but not limited too, its tiny size, skinny tires and conspicuous lack of anything remotely resembling actual horsepower.
Ah, but the clincher was the price. How could I possibly go wrong when the salesman promised I could drive it off the lot for under $250 including sales tax and 14-day plates? How indeed.
Did I mention the part about me driving it off the lot? Despite my utter lack of two wheeled experience or a valid motorcycle permit, I managed to talk the salesman into forking over the keys and my friend Bill into driving me to Lewiston to pick it up and to follow me home to make sure I got there in one piece.
Bill was one of the genuinely cool kids in town, due in large part to the fact that he drove an electric blue Chevy Malibu 396SS, one of the hottest muscle cars on the planet.
Only years later did I realized what a ridiculous sight the two of us must have made driving into town on that warm spring night.
The bike I’d just spent my life savings on was a well used Honda “sport 65” which might have hit 55 mph flat out in top gear going downhill with a strong tailwind.
At 6 foot 3 inches and 200 pounds, I’m sure that on the road I resembled a Shriner who’d lost track of the original parade. Bill, following close behind me in his rumbling muscle car, must have only served to accentuate the visual absurdity.
None of that mattered to me, of course. I finally had my motorcycle and the freedom was absolutely intoxicating. But that freedom was, sad to say, short lived.
Within a matter of weeks the bike and I came out on the losing end of an altercation with an octogenarian motorist piloting a huge battleship grey Plymouth Fury.
Sadder but certainly a bit wiser, I survived the encounter with nothing more serious than a bruised ego, a broken leg and the memory of my brief stint as a “rebel without a clue.”