Not Here You Don't

 

The exorbitant cost of free motorcycles

 

It would start with a phone call. Or a word from someone in passing. Someone was moving. Someone was divorcing. Someone lost storage. Something had to be done. Right away. This afternoon. At the latest, tomorrow. OK, Friday, but not Saturday. Alright, Sunday could work.

 

They would ask if I wanted to buy it. No, I would say. They would ask if I could store it. No. And then, in the middle of the afternoon, they would yell up from my backyard. I would run to the window, whip up the sash, and look down at two men and a machine. Soon to be my machine. My friend and his brother insisted on starting it for me. I asked them not to. They started it anyway. My neighbour, who worked nights, walked out in his bathrobe and called my friend an asshole. My friend looked up for support. I had already lowered the sash.

It took me years to understand that there is no such thing as a cheap motorcycle. A free motorcycle is an expensive motorcycle. Once you’ve replaced the cables, and the o-rings in the fuel system, and found grounds for wayward wires, and fixed a stripped exhaust port thread, you will have spent as much money as it would have cost to buy Lawrence of Arabia’s Brough Superior. (And tires. I forgot tires. And tubes. And rim strips.) 

 

But still they found me. A two-stroke Bridgestone at a yard sale whispered my name. A year of work later it ran. Beautifully. My father was riding it when it seized. I was behind him. I can still hear the sound—a high-pitched boing like a bullet grazing a 55 gallon drum. He put both feet on the ground and rode it—heroically—to an upright stop. But I was a cocky kid, and asked why he didn’t just pull in the clutch and coast. “Don’t be an asshole,” my father said.

 

But regardless of how many (or how few) bikes I’ve owned at any one time, one would refuse to run. And it would torment me. In the sleepy, half-awake hour before dawn, I would hear the whispered voices of friends, sorting through my garage after my death, saying things like, “He didn’t get to this one. He just ran out of time. Maybe it was too much for him. Do you know if his girlfriend’s dating again?”

 

Enough. Everything I own now must run. Or have been running before I high-sided it. Or before the valve dropped. Or the electrical fire. And for a few days every summer, everything will run at the same time. Just don’t ask me to prove it. The neighbour may be sleeping, and he’s still sore from the time I started the Ducati after midnight. How was I supposed to know he was back on the day shift?