This recollection occurred to me a couple of days ago while I was toweling off the Yamaha. I had just finished giving my XS11 a bath and was drying her off, when from over my shoulder, the sun came out from behind the clouds for just a moment and from that particular angle, I observed the true color of the bike that most of the time, goes unnoticed. It’s a dark brown with fine metallic flakes that you can only really see when the light hits it just right. That moment made me recall a brief encounter that I had with a vulgar old man as I was standing in line at a convenience store while waiting my turn to buy a pack of gum.
Before I forgot about the experience, I draped the towel over the seat and went into the house to dig through my various notebooks to find a journal entry that I had made about a year ago. I knew that I wrote about the experience, as brief as it was, and when I found the entry, it was nothing more than a few quick lines that I had made regarding the moment and that was it. Apparently I didn’t think enough of it to go into any great detail or that I would even recall it a year later. From those lines and my feeble memory, I’ll try to describe the best that I can, the events that took place on an extremely hot day in the middle of summer last year.
“He was the kind of coarse old man that looked and smelled like he inhaled a pack of non-filtered cigarettes every morning for breakfast.” - Journal entry August 4, 2007
I was third in line behind two teenage boys dressed in Goth, and a female Construction worker wearing an orange high-vis vest, and a still visible ring around her sun bleached hair, evidence that she had obviously been wearing a hard hat all day in this oppressive heat. The last Bank clock that I saw when I pulled into the Gas station was somewhere in the triple digits. It was hot. I was standing there waiting my turn to buy a pack of Wrigley’s when from behind me I heard a gruff voice say, “One of the best G**damn bikes I ever owned.” When I turned around to see who had uttered this profane compliment, there stood an old man of probably about 70 years or so.
He was a somewhat shorter gentleman sporting a frost white crew cut, and what looked to be about 4 or 5 days growth on his face that wasn’t much shorter than the hair on his head. His fingers were deformed with arthritis and when he stroked the stubble on his face with his left hand; his index and middle fingers were stained nicotine yellow. It was obvious; this guy had a hard life. As he looked me up and down, I could tell by the expression on his face that there was something about my own appearance that he disapproved of. I gave him a half hearted grin and nodded politely and then turned back around and continued waiting in line. “XS11 Special” he continued, “Same color brown with the fine metallic flake in the paint, you could barely notice the flake unless the light hit it just right.” Obviously this guy new the bike, I glanced out the window at where the bike was sitting by the fuel pumps, with my back still turned to the old man, all I could think was, “My bike is brown?” Hard to believe, but I never really paid that much attention to it. I guess that it’s always looked black to me. Turning around slightly to acknowledge him, I replied, “I enjoy it.” He just stood there kind of looking more through my shoulder blades me than directly at me. I don’t think that he was necessarily speaking to me, rather he was just sort of reminiscing out loud. Now, as I’ve said in the past, I’m the son of a Truck Driver and I consider myself quite fluent in what my Father always referred to as “Speaking German”, but this guy had a mouth on him that could make a drunken sailor blush! Therefore I won’t go into any great detail about the vulgarity of his comments, lest I offend someone.
As the two Goth boys exited the store, I moved up one more spot in line, my helmet in one hand and the pack of gum in the other, all the while wondering if the gum was really worth the crude monologue that I was enduring. This guy was so extremely coarse and offensive, every other word was either a swear word or an insult, but what could I do, in his own Tourette-like way, he was complimenting my bike. Over the next 45 unsettling seconds or so that seemed like an hour, I learned that he had worked as a mechanic for a bike shop in Boise, Idaho back in the 70’s and that’s where he got a deal from a terrified owner on a slightly used XS11 Special. From what I could understand, the previous owner couldn’t quite get used to the shaft-jacking tendencies of the bike while accelerating hard out of corners. In my brief encounter, I could tell that the guy was a wealth of information regarding my bike, something that I have had a hard time obtaining, but I couldn’t stand much more of being seen in public having a conversation with the old man.
As the Construction worker made her purchase I learned the differences in tank sizes between the standard XS1100’s and the XS11 Special, why my exhaust pipes were wrong, and that my sissy bar backrest, in his opinion looked, well........Gay. Thanks for that old feller.
Completing my purchase, I found myself quickly making my way to the exit and gesturing my good bye with a polite nod of the head as I pushed the door open with my back. I’m sure that I was blushing. Out of the comfortable Air conditioned store and back into blast furnace like heat of the parking lot, I zipped up my jacket, drew out a fresh piece of gum and threw a leg over the bike. As I was putting my helmet on, I noticed the ill-mannered old bike mechanic slowly drive by in a rusting Dodge Diplomat with all of the windows rolled down and two hyper-active Yellow lab’s in the backseat, tails wagging and constantly changing places, switching back and forth from window to window. As he idled by, with a cigarette in his left hand and held slightly out the window, he gave the bike one last look before making a right turn into traffic, slowly disappearing into the rush hour congestion.
My Yamaha doesn’t exactly look like much by today’s standards and her 30 year old mechanicals are definitely due for a freshening up. Her pipes make more noise than I prefer, she drips a little oil here and there, and smells of raw gas whenever I forget to close the fuel petcocks at the end of a ride. There are those rare times however, every now and again, when I’m sitting at a stoplight in traffic, and I’ll get this odd feeling that we are being watched. I’ll look around and spy an older gentleman in the distance, either standing there on the sidewalk or in a car idling in traffic next to me, paying no particular attention to me, but gazing with a pensive look in his eyes at my old girl. They all look to be drawn back to a younger time; a time when Carter was President, Saturday Night live was hilarious, and Disco was just leaving, somebody get the door will ya.
I am reminded at moments like those of how our machines are all time machines of sorts; to different people and for different reasons. My Yamaha was quite a bike in her day and there are still older guys out there who remember that, even if some of them are boorish, rude and utterly offensive.
Next time that you’re out with your current ride, take a few extra moments to look at your machine a little more closely and just study its details and think about it the way you do pretty much all of the time and hold firmly to those thoughts so that you remember them well. I have a feeling that 30 years from now, we are going to be that man or woman standing on the sidewalk gazing pensively at a kid on an old bike sitting at a stoplight in traffic. After all, that isn’t just any bike that they’re riding, that was once our bike. And for heavens sakes, if you’re going to say anything at all to the poor kid, be polite, eh?
Now if you’ll excuse me, before it gets too awful dark and I lose anymore of that sunlight, I think that I’m going to go suit up and take my Yamaha out for a ride, you know the one that I’m referring to, it’s the brown one with the fine metallic flakes in her paint that you only notice when the sunlight hits it just right.
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