The second I swung my leg over the bike I knew it was right. Maybe it’s what people mean when they say they fell in love at first sight. I am not so sure if that has happened to me ever. Maybe it has and in cynical retrospect my memory has merely adjusted to match the outcome of the at-first-sighted-and-believed-then-it-was-love-but-now-i-know-it-was-actually-hate-relationship. my memory can’t help but be colored by the big box of crayons called the truth.
But the motorcycle hasn’t disappointed me yet. Those beautiful two wheels haven’t lied or hurt me purposefully or tried to shame me or control me. They’ve only propelled me forward, cooling my hot neck with the joyous feeling of flight, wind rushing through my DOT approved Arai helmet (yes that’s an endorsement – the arais are expensive but really, how much is your head worth?).
Of course there was a lot of lurching forward abruptly when I released the clutch too quickly, and I was thrown off a lot, and then that sickening feeling of not being able to balance the bike, 500 lbs of metal and rubber and plastic and glass and gas giving way to gravity underneath your ass as it falls over and crashes to the ground, bending back the handlebars into a beginner’s grotesque, marking up the neon yellow paint job with the evidence of your inexperience. but it’s all ok.
I spent the last 5 days in class and on the range with 8 other prospective bikers in the fantastic Rider’s Edge program, which is about 25 hours of intense education on how to ride safely, and this morning, after a night of fitful pre-test tossing and turning, I went to the downtown LA DMV and got my M1 license, which gives me the right and privilege to operate a two-wheeled vehicle. The motorcycle license never expires in California, and so I have the whole of my life to learn.
I haven’t been to the good old DMV in about 20 years. I am happy to say it’s exactly the same as I remembered it. I was there before 8am, and there was a line snaking around the block of people breathing thick clouds of mist into the cold air as they held different configurations of partial and complete filled out forms in their hands.
The cold in Los Angeles is unbearable to me, most of all in the morning, and especially when I have to pee really bad. We stamped our feet and shook and some suckled dunkin donuts coffee sippy cups as others looked on with blank midmorning stranger faces.
Finally at 8:01, a security guard opened the inoperative automatic doors in a painfully slow reveal, like he was Gypsy Rose Lee, first slipping one coy leg out of the doors, then the other, then his whole body – a government office seduction, his arms spreading the edges of the fingerprinty glass doors like he was singlehandedly holding back the inner sanctum of desks and partial barricades and tired underpaid and underlaid workers – a fluorescent light tsunami of boredom and endless queues and jaded and frustrated people who wield a seemingly small yet actually pretty significant amount of power over the general population – to tantalize and tease us, the horny would be drivers with paper in our fingers.
I was concerned about the eye test (I don’t know why, I have excellent vision, but it’s a trial whenever your body is tested), but that didn’t turn out to be a problem. I had to take the written motorcycle test twice, along with an extra driver’s test thrown in for good measure. I failed both and thought momentarily I would get my driver’s license revoked as well, but then there was another chance thrown at me, and I suddenly passed and before I could say “unflattering picture” I had an M1 license in my still freezing cold hands.
When I tell people I am going to ride a motorcycle, I get squints of concern. It’s a fearsome and dangerous hobby I know, but I am so Mary Poppins/Miss Jane Hathaway about the whole thing. I don’t know why anyone imagines that I would ever go faster than 8 or 10 mph in an abandoned parking lot. Frankly I could just do that and it would be enough. I am no daredevil by any means, but there are certain things that are thrilling. Tattoos, guitars and motorcycles – they seem to all make sense together. You rarely see one without the other and then the third creates a harmony that makes everything music. The sum is worth more than its parts. The sum is a life well lived.