Full Metal Motorcyle Jacket

“C’mon Gramps, you’re too slow!” The rain was coming in sideways and I had two inches of water in my boots as I steered the crappy little Yamaha back to the top end of the speed/stop drill in which you had to get up to a relatively deadly pace before braking hard in front of the drill instructor who bore a striking resemblance to “Large Marge” of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I could barely see through the visor in the monsoon-like conditions as I thrashed through the tranny to hike the speed and, apparently, my skirt to get the 200 ccs up to a sphincter tightening velocity.

There’s a lot of talk of bucket lists when you hit 60 – the travel, the novel, the one last spin on the marriage wheel. Few talk about the activities for which it’s a tad too late. No, I’m not going to get scouted by The New York Rangers. I might not ever get proficient enough at the piano to open a little wine bar and warble some clever ditties in a well-tailored tux. And it’s a little late to start riding a friggin’ motorcycle. Such was the revelation last week after two brutal days learning how to “ride” at a local training school which had approval from the local DMV to actually license its students who could successfully run the gauntlet so to speak.

This was about as unpleasant an experience as the first (and last) time I tried hot yoga only to wake up in a pool of my own juices on a gurney in emergency.

The spark for this outing was a “friend” who generously gave me his like new scooter, a low mileage Yamaha TMax with 600 ccs of displacement, perfect for a displaced individual like myself. He was upgrading to a BMW and I thought this was a great opportunity for me to groom my skills in case they need someone to play the Steve McQueen character in a remake of The Great Escape. My only experience with bikes was the fifteen seconds my father spent trying to teach me how to ride his Honda when I was fifteen and the few times I have rented some small bore scooters to whiz around Miami Beach and look like a complete idiot.

And so I bought the gear, some at the last bastion of machismo left on this earth – the annual motorcycle show at the convention center – and the balance at the local leather and testosterone supplement dealership. I took the written test and then enrolled in the course, sleeping through the perfunctory classroom session.

The riding sessions started promptly at 7:45 a.m. not the best hour of the day to drive a car let alone yank on the choke of a motorcycle. The first thing you notice is that most of the class is about a third your age. The fear of death , the inner mortality dialogue – they didn’t have that. There was one fool who was 50 and all the earnestness that comes with that age. Like that Viagra commercial where the guy takes the horses out of the trailer to get his pickup out of the mud with the slogan, “This is the age of getting things done.” When you are 60 it’s the age of, “Let’s just get this over with.”

So it went, from pushing your bike around the course to pushing some 6’5” lug on his bike around the course (he returned the favor) to clutch points and shifting and braking and …. and…. eight hours in all broken by an abbreviated lunch break and the constant yelling of the drill sergeants, “You are worthless and weak and if you don’t do what we say you will die out there! I have never seen such a useless group in all my years.” Felt like Gomer Pyle for a while there.

After it was over I went home, got into a fetal cringe with a bottle of Stoli and did my best impression of Marty Sheen in that hotel room in Saigon at the top of Apocalypse Now. The next morning MPs came in, threw me into the shower dressed me my bike fatigues and choppered my back out to the base. Yes I have a very active cinematic fantasy life.

The second day was conducted pretty much in a typhoon, the NCOs treating me like Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman – “Are you out of it Gross? Because if you are we can bounce you…” “But I have no place to go, “ I cried as the dye from my leather gloves bled into my palms making me look like a very off color vaudeville joke.

We were cornering, accelerating swerving hundreds of times. Then they set up the test course and a few spins on that caused me to give up hope.

Just as the tsunami peaked we were told to line up for the test. I sat in a line of motorcycles for about twenty minutes feeling like I was some poor blighter on a bike at the Battle Of The Marne and when it finally came to my turn I screwed up the hard right and had to touch my feet to the asphalt. Now I’m wet and pretty much done. I angrily finished the rest of the test, or as much as I could because they cancelled the last part because of the rain.

Thankfully there was an ESL student named Mohammed in the class who could play the role of the requisite failure and they passed the rest of us. I took the soggy certificate homem, got into a fetal cringe with a bottle of Stoli….

If someone asked if the course was good, I would say it successfully convinced me that a motorcycle was perhaps the best way of shortening one’s life span this side of a three pack-a-day habit.

Thankfully, it’s too late to start smoking.
Now I know Charlie Don’t Surf… but can I?

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