That old Belvedere I wrote about in Thursday’s post didn’t last long at all. It had been so neglected, the thing was practically dead on arrival at our place. I got to drive it around the yard a bit though and got to hear what a car sounds like in that condition… clunking, coughing, sputtering and then just dying.
After the Belvedere died, and after Keith and I left the un-killable VW Bug, in his dad’s pasture to rot… there were no more free cars showing up for our amusement and education. Until I got my permit and then my license, I was occasionally allowed to drive one of the family cars but only with Dad riding along. Dad had bought a very nice 1966 Buick Skylark but he rarely let any of us drive it. Even with him riding along. We also had a 1975 Mercury Bobcat at some point but my memory of these cars are all jumbled and for now, I have no stories involving them jumping up into my current consciousness so…
So this story will be about the time (from the spring of 1975 to the summer of 76) when I mostly didn’t drive a car, I drove a motorcycle.
It was a 1970 Bridgestone 200cc two stroke. I bought it from that budding business wiz Danny Bilko. I remember seeing him on the bus one day and he just knew I was in the market. The guy had an instinct for selling stuff. He could smell it when someone had extra money on hand. I’d been saving for a while and although I would soon get my permit, It would be some time yet before I had my license. Danny reminded me that I could drive a motorcycle right away with just the permit.
I told him that I hadn’t thought of buying a motorcycle. I associated them with assholes like Bobby Marks. A lot of the Kings Park bullies were bikers. The older ones rode Harleys of course, but Bobby raced motocross bikes so pretty much any motorcycle kinda turned me off. Danny knew this and was ready with his pitch. I can still hear the scheming tone of Bilko’s thin but clear voice. He lived and breathed to make deals. His body language, eye contact… every thing he said and did was carefully calculated.
And it worked.
“It’s not a dirt bike, it’s made for the road.” He said with the confidence of a man who knew his customer. “Just come on over and look at it.”
Danny Bilko knew it would not be good for business to sell me a lemon. Besides, he probably also knew I’d bring Keith over to check it out before parting my with hard earned cash. The Bridgestone was a good bike. It ran very smoothly and Keith gave it the thumbs up. I handed Danny my $200 without trying to haggle, and drove it home that Saturday afternoon.
I drove the Bridgestone all that summer and it never let me down. I took it to Keith’s nearly every day I wasn’t working. I loved how I could ride it there on the road and then take the trails of his father’s land, back to the river where we’d swim and camp over night. It gave me a taste of the kind of freedom that might have made me into a motorcycle dude if it weren’t for that one time…
It was near the end of the summer and I was coming home from King’s Park. I’d been down to Buck Anderson’s place, I can’t remember why. As always, I punched it as soon as the Bridgestone’s tires left the gravel of Kings Park Road and grabbed onto the blacktop of 18th Avenue. It’s a little more than a quarter mile from the top of the hill, to where I had to turn onto Steiger road. Just enough space to open it up and get to top speed before I’d have to slow for the turn.
That bike was fast. Scary fast.
I like to think I got it up to nearly eighty-five mph but I was too busy to look at the speedometer. The thrill of that speed is intoxicating, especially for a teenager in the open air of a motorcycle. I completely understood the attraction but I did not (and never will) have the kind of reckless abandon some do. The desire to really let it go and truly push it the way people like Bobby Marks did. I’d seen him pop a wheelie at the top of that hill and hold it the entire way down it and up the next hill. Disappearing into the distance. Still holding the wheelie and going so fast, I couldn’t imagine. It was like he had a death wish.
And not too many years later, Bobby crashed and died. Only it wasn’t his dirt bike, it was his racing snowmobile. He drove it into a culvert hidden by a snow drift when he sped off the road into the ditch to avoid a car.
Right there on 18th avenue. Right near where I was testing my ability to get the Bridgestone up to top speed.
It was scary. Fun… but scary and in a fraction of a second, I got distracted by something. Probably just the momentary realization of how dangerous this truly was. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Enough to cause me to take that brief moment too long before starting to slow down. I should have bailed on the turn. I should have kept going straight, passed Steiger Road and slowed down properly. Then I could have safely turned around and gone back.
I should have done that, but I didn’t.
I also should have anticipated the bits of gravel from Steiger road, kicked up onto the black top by cars all day. I didn’t do that either and so I made my turn, too fast and not at all under control. My front tire immediately slid on the bits of gravel and the Bridgestone laid right down. Sliding for about five or six yards on it’s side with my left leg between the bike and the road.
Yes I was wearing bluejeans but that gave little protection from this kind of abrasive power. All the skin came off my left kneecap and I was picking gravel out of my leg for weeks.
I was done with motorcycle riding after that for the rest of the season (Mom wouldn’t let me hear the end of it) and when the spring of 76 came around, my knee was healed but the Bridgestone didn’t run well anymore. It was something electrical. I took it over to Keith’s and he took it apart (completely… and I mean completely apart) but he could never get it back to the smooth running machine it once was. I was still able to ride it but only bothered to do so when I absolutely had to go somewhere far enough to need a vehicle.
Like when I went to Sally’s.
I never bought another motorcycle and the Bridgestone sat in the garage for nearly ten years. After which, it’s 200cc motor then became a way too big of an engine for a far more scary go go cart, I built for Clark to drive way too fast down that same hill.
Some things change, some do not.
But that is a different story of a different time.