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Motorcycle

Last week I renewed my driver’s license, saved $11.00 and broke my heart.

Only took ten minutes.

I received a little card in the mail telling me it was time to renew my license. Since it’s something I do once every four years, I have absolutely no memory of the process. The little card told me I should pre-apply online and I did so. The online form showed that the renewal would cost $34.00. I don’t have a checkbook anymore – when I write a check, I print it from my computer, which, given the appalling state of my handwriting, is better for everyone.

Anyway, when I got to the driver’s license bureau, the person there looked up my file and told me I owed $45.00.

“Huh,” I said. “Online it told me $34.00.”

“Did you check the box for your motorcycle endorsement?”

“I didn’t know I had to. I thought I was just getting the same thing I’ve always had – car, motorcycle, and any single unit truck or bus.”

“Well, you had to. If you want the motorcycle endorsement it’ll cost $45.00.”

I’ve had a motorcycle endorsement since 1970, but I haven’t actually been on one for about thirty years. I didn’t have $11.00 in cash with me to make up the difference, and I had about 12 other things I wanted to get done, so I told her to go ahead and run the application through without the motorcycle endorsement.

And then I was sad all the way home.

My first motorcycle was a Cushman scooter notable for only one thing – a previous owner had taken apart the throttle control and put it back together backwards. It wasn’t a big deal to me, because I didn’t know any better, but then Dennis Eastman, a much-valued member of the football team, took it for a quick spin, accelerated into a pothole, and crashed. That put his appearance in the next game in jeopardy and put me, as a non-valued member of the team, on a very hot seat indeed. If Dennis hadn’t sucked it up, I would’ve been running wind sprints for the rest of my life.

After some time, I was looking to move up, and my dad had a friend with a dust-covered Honda 305 Dream sitting in the corner of his machine shed. It had a massive windshield and saddle bags, but since it only had a 300-cc engine to push it along, you could barely go upwind on a breezy day.

My parents didn’t see a downside to that.

I did. I tapped my college fund for $800.00 and bought a brand-new Honda 350. Donnie Karsky had a matching Honda and we rode them to Dickenson, North Dakota to visit his relatives. I still clearly remember I-90 out of Fargo…a road so straight and so flat you could see it clear to the horizon. If I remember correctly, he had seven uncles who all ranched and we arrived in the middle of haying season. While we may have imagined ourselves as two motorcycle studs on the road, what his uncles saw were two seventeen-year-olds with nothing to do. We hauled hay bales everyplace we stopped. I came home exhausted, but with more money than when we’d left.

About a year later, I was zooming down a gravel road in the night when a cat jumped out of the road ditch. I swerved to miss it and hit a pile of gravel the township grader had left in the middle of the road. My last clear memory of what followed was looking down at the headlight from above and in front of it.

The motorcycle needed some refurbishments after that, as did I. Following a plan that made sense only to me (which can be a theme in my life), I bumped it down the outside stairs of our house into the basement and spent the winter taking it apart and putting it back together.

By spring some of the dents were smoothed out, it had a new paint job and a wrought iron sissy bar I’d made in our shop. I bumped it back up the stairs and, in the fall, went off to college with everything I owned tied to the new sissy bar.

That summer after high school was great. There’s nothing like the feeling of going down a road on a motorcycle, leaning into the curves, attuned to the wind and road the way you never can be in a car. Many of those miles were with my girlfriend, soon to be my wife, snuggled on the back, on cool days with her hands in my coat pockets and her head pressed against my shoulder blades. I sometimes wonder what memories I’ll be sifting through on my dying day – I hope that’s one of them.

The next year, the college fund ran dry and I had my dad sell the motorcycle. About twenty years later, I ran into the guy who’d purchased it and he laughingly told me how he’d bent the sissy bar out flat and used the machine to haul hay to his sheep, until it finally all fell apart.

I almost punched him.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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