I remember the first time I really understood. It was Halloween night of 1992, around one AM. I'd been working since early the preceding morning on my first motorcycle, a '76 Yamaha 500. Her name was Julie, for no real reason other than I liked the name. Two cylinders full of carbon, chain drive all stretched to hell, air filters removed, a "friends don't let friends ride yamahas" sticker on the gas tank, and carbs poorly balanced. I was 17, and had no real idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to get her to run that night, so her birthday would be Halloween. The oldies station was playing, as usual. I was covered in dirt and grease, occasionally making up new cuss words on the fly if the standard obscenities didn't seem to quite "say it". The air was thick with gasoline smell and cigarette smoke, not as dangerous as it sounds, really. At 17, that garage was my heaven. Bit by bit, I had brought her into working order. Electrical systems, wheel bearings, fuel lines new and filters cleaned, carbs, drive gears, oil and grease, my best guess at the foot-lbs of torque on the bearings, eyeball guesstimated ignition timing, and clutch plates "reconditioned" by the concrete floor. Looking back, I have no idea which deities were backing me, but they must have been numerous and capable because a bit after midnight a shot of ether and a screwdriver across the solenoid bridged the gap 'twixt the quick and the dead, and she spoke.
I still remember her voice, that first night. It was awful, rough and unsteady, but it was the sweetest thing I'd yet heard. On the first shakedown ride, the magic started. It was like falling in love. Half way to Clewiston, I opened her up, and she made her way slowly up to her absolute top speed of about 95 MPH. That's nothing to yell about these days, but I was awed and more than a little scared. (loved it) Bringing her down to 60, I completed the rest of her shakedown run around the lake, about 100 miles all told. It was like flying, like no other freedom I'd ever known. Independence, freedom, completeness, and power. The feeling is amazing, and not a thing easily forgotten.
Every bit as amazing, but much easier to forget is how fragile the human body is, and how misleading those fine feelings can be. All it takes is one miscalculation, one x-factor unforeseen, or one moment of inattention to be brought to a more correct understanding of the way of things; for a few milliseconds, at least. If you're lucky, you get to remember the mistake and so learn from it. But that's only
if you get lucky. The hapless fuck that rear-ended my truck at over 120MPH last night on Southern blvd did not get lucky.
I was headed into West Palm on SR80/Southern between Seminole Pratt-Whitney and Binks rd., doing about 60. I saw something coming up behind me, moving like the proverbial bat out of hell. From the single headlight and inordinate velocity, I knew it was a crotch-rocket ridden by an idiot. Morons running 5 parts testosterone to 2 parts blood on a super-zippy 2-wheeler out to prove their manhood to the other motorists are a dime a dozen in major cities. So I wasn't especially shocked. It seems to be a favorite game of this kind to run up behind a larger, slower vehicle and then swerve around at the last second, like a one-sided game of "chicken", maybe. I noticed right away that he was moving unusually fast, and my instinctive urge was to get the hell out of his way. However getting out of his way was both inadvisable and impossible. Inadvisable because the only direction for me to move would place me in the only possible path around me, and impossible because the F-150's inertia was simply too great to move laterally in the time remaining. There was nothing for me to do but watch. I don't know if he ever actually tried to swerve. I do know that he never hit his brakes, and he hit with oodles of kinetic energy. Luckily, the cars behind were well behind, so I had time to turn around and put the truck between him and the oncoming traffic. Then I dialed 911 and went to see what could be done for him. His helmet (full-face) was still on and cohesive, his limbs were all attached and not too far from natural angles. His torso was intact, but shaped irregularly, like a pillowcase filled with shoes. His breathing was quite erratic (1-2 per minute, avg) and the sound was not one I want to hear again. One young woman wanted to administer CPR. I tried to explain to her that CPR was not a good thing for someone so recently mangled, especially given the apparently new arrangement of his ribs. The 911 operator wanted my name and phone number, for some damned reason. He tried to move. I knelt next to his head and told him to try to hold still, if he could hear me. I didn't think that he could, but it was worth a shot. Then the operator asked me how old the guy was, right about the same time that the chick suggested taking of the guys helmet. I told the operator that he was wearing a full-face helmet, and covered in blood, and told the chick that taking off his helmet was a very bad idea. Right about then a second voice on the phone asked my name and phone number. I was now uncertain as to whether the CPR chick or the 911 operator & Co were dumber, so I simply said "fuck". Which seemed to be the right thing to say, as the two guys on the phone conversed among themselves, leaving me out of it, and the chick stopped suggesting things that involved rearrangement of the lumpy guy.
Then the cops got there, followed by the ambulance and then the 'copter.
The guy was loaded into the chopper, and I was told to wait for the homicide investigator to arrive. Then, they told me I couldn't have a cigarette. ... fuckers. A cop babysat me for about half an hour, during which time I got a look at the back of the truck. I'm not an expert... but for that little bike and his body to make that big a dent in my truck's ass, he had to have been moving better than 130/140. The worst part (to me) of the damnage to the truck was the fact that I could clearly see both the helmet's imprint in the steel of the tailgate, and blood.
The investigator finally arrived, and interviewed me, and then took a bunch of pictures of the truck's hind end. While he was interviewing me (into a little tape recorder) He casually remarked that the last bit of faint yammering from the radio had been an officer at the hospital, reporting that the guy had died. Then he turned me loose, after ascertaining that I was "ok"
By this time, I was running on autopilot, so I just continued onward, and went on to respects to give James a thing I'd brought for him. Got myself a drink out of habit, then I finally clued in to the fact that I didn't want to be there, and so went back to my house. I'm still trying to figure out how it happened. I know "what" happened, but not "how" it happened. The how of it is taking my head apart. I mean, what mistake(s) can a person make that gets them to move that fast in a certain direction without seeing the GIANT RED ILLUMINATED ASS of a TRUCK ?
music: The Cruxshadows - Monsters