Friday, August 15, 2008

Three rules

Thirty years ago, at the end of that interminable summer following high school graduation, it was finally time for me to leave little Roseburg, Ore., and go start my new life at the University of Oregon. I packed up the few things I needed and my parents drove me to my dorm. As we approached Eugene, about an hour from home, my mom cleared her throat and said she had something to tell me.

College is a big change, she said, and you're going to meet a lot of new people and have a lot of exciting adventures. As you should.

"I've only got three rules," she said, "and I want you to promise me you'll follow them. Don't grow a beard. Don't buy a motorcycle. And don't get anybody pregnant."

Well, those didn't seem so imposing. I had no money to buy anything but textbooks, I wasn't even able to grow a beard on my peach-fuzzy face, and lord knows I'd been in no danger of making any babies, even if I wanted to, which I didn't, although I wouldn't have minded being in the vicinity.

OK, then. Good advice, Mom, and no worries.

But, you know, things change with time. A few years later, while still in school, I had wormed myself a part-time reporting job at the Eugene Register-Guard and one spring I did in fact let a scraggly little red-tinged beard grow in. And I had become friends with Mike Stahlberg, who served as my unofficial newsroom mentor and was, as he is now, my poker Sensei.

Stahlberg also owned a beautiful motorcycle -- a 1979 BMW R65 (now a classic, but at the time still a pretty new bike) -- and he let me ride it a few times. Soon he decided to upgrade to a larger BMW, an R100, and offered to sell me his old one. Done. I barely thought about it. I loved the bike, the feeling of power and speed and sensory awakening it offered, and I was thrilled to own it. Mike and I shared many awesome weekend rides through the mountains and the Willamette Valley farmland and I imagined myself to be about a hundred times badder than I ever was.

At the time I was dating a very cool and pretty woman I'd met at the paper, Sheila. Remembering Mom's three college rules I proposed a surprise weekend visit to Roseburg. Mom didn't know about the beard or the bike, so I asked Sheila, who was a much better sport than she had reason to be, to ride down to Mom and Dad's house on the back of the Beemer with a pillow under her shirt.

When we got there, I parked the motorcycle within view of the front door and left it running as we walked up and rang the bell. There we stood with our helmets, my beard and Sheila's "belly" when Mom opened the door. The look on her face is still one of my all-time favorite memories.

All this comes to mind because lately, for reasons I haven't really analyzed, I've found myself thinking again about owning a motorcycle.

I haven't had one for years. I took the BMW to San Francisco when I moved there in 1985 but it was stolen. I bought a crappy Honda off my boss, but it was stolen too. Later, after I moved to Seattle, I bought the same R65 model that Mike had sold me, but it didn't measure up to the original and I never loved it. By the time Gina was born in 1993 I felt through with motorcycles and sold the replacement-replacement Beemer to some guy on the copy desk.

The other day, though, browsing Craigslist classified ads, I spotted a "vintage" R65, which led to a vintage cycle site and finally, this click leading to that, to the Harley-Davidson site. I think I spent an hour reading all about Harleys and contemplating the differences between all the models.

When I mentioned this to Michelle she listed all the good (and true) reaasons I should have my head examined, not least that straddling an 800-pound machine at 60 mph would be a lousy time to have a seizure. She won't even get in the car with me.

Still, the Harley site brought back memories and relit a little pilot light. I noticed that a dealer located south of downtown Seattle offers bikes for rent, so this afternoon, with no agenda or commitment longer than midday tomorrow, I plunked down a few bucks to borrow the above-pictured 2008 "Softail Classic."

I haven't really spent much time on it this afternoon, just a cruise along the Duwamish River and Alki Beach, but I have to say it's an awesome ride. I'm not sure what's driving all this -- Death Wish 2008, maybe, or Rebel Without a Brain, or The Midlife Crisis That Wouldn't Die -- but it felt perfectly natural to be atop a motorcycle again. I like it.

Maybe that's all I needed. When I take the Softail back tomorrow, maybe that'll be that.

In other news, I shaved this morning.


Rita said...

Mom is clearing her throat again!

Although I'm speechless at the moment, I think I feel a speech coming on.

The expression on my face would NOT fall into the catagory of 'all time favorite memories.

mich said...

I want a ride before you return it!

kateco said...

with a ten foot pole, I'm not touching this.

freda said...

Mark, I had no idea you are so naughty, or so funny. My sympathy Rita. I do understand the nostalgia however, I have been reminiscing a lot myself lately. I was watching the Olympics, and there was an ad for coca cola, it said "if you have had a coke in the last 40 or 80 years, (I forget) you are supporting the Olympic games." Well I gave up all sodas many years ago when I found out how bad they are for you, but it took me back to my very first coke. Nesta and John took me to see car racing at Brands Hatch, in Kent, outside London, when I was a young teen, (I was their bridesmaid when I was 14) and bought me a soda, a coke, my first. And that took me off remembering all the good times we had together. I felt like jumping on a plane and going to visit them. I am leaving tomorrow for Virginia, to see John, Yulan and Andrew, and after that trip I'm off to Massachusetts, to see Steve, Sandy and Matthew, then it will be Christmas and New Year, perhaps after that I will take a trip back to the UK.

Janice said...

I'm with Rita on this one!

Mike said...

Gee, thanks Mark, for reminding Mama Matassa of my role in your youthful rebellion. Just when it looked like she was starting to forget and forgive.....

Rita said...

Right, Mike. Just when I was getting over it!

Since your guidance, training and coaching over the years has been so revered and respected by Mark, maybe a few well directed words of wisdom at this time would do wonders. Think in terms of Mama Matassa Brownie Points.

(Course I love ya anyway - brownie points or not)