Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Range

The riding range, affectionately referred to as the range, is a large parking lot that could fit three football fields east to west and two more north to south. All students arrive 15 minutes early for fear of not being able to ride at all if late. We are split into two groups, six riders on opposite diagonal sides of the range. The morning is bright, the sky is a deep cobalt blue, and the hot sun is beating on our fully clothed arms and legs. Six shiny motorcycles sit lined up tire to tire across the parking lot, blue, red, black, silver, red, and black. They look so pretty, so enticing. Ride me, they say. The chrome shimmers in the sun playfully winking at us.

Our instructor’s name is Walter Champion. What a fabulous name. He’s an African American gentleman in his sixties with freckles, kind eyes and a welcoming smile. He wears a long-sleeved khaki-colored shirt with vents on the sides made for hiking or safaris. His hat is wide-brimmed, a slightly lighter khaki, also used on safaris, and I start to wonder if we’re going to see Lions on this tour. He’s wearing green riding pants and black motorcycle boots. Outside of the goofy hat, he’s the coolest cat on the range.

He checks us in, ensures that each of us have a helmet, gloves, long pants, ankle-high boots, and long sleeves. After gear approval, he requests we start intros that includes our name, where we’re from, where we live, and what kind of bike we have or want. There’s Maggie and Sean from San Francisco. They want to get their license so they can legally rent scooters when they travel to Italy in a few weeks. Adrian, a nineteen year old Chines kid, who looks 27 and wants to learn how to ride the dirt bike that was given to him as a gift. Flavio is in his mid-twenties and works for Twitter as an engineer. He lives in San Francisco and wants to buy a Kawasaki Ninja sport bike. Erica is in her early thirties, full-figured and she’s here because her boyfriend rides and he asked her to get her license so he can drink and she can ride them home. There’s a free dinner to a fancy restaurant in it for her if she passes the test.

Satisfied with our intros, Walter explains he has three rules, but the first one is the most important. “Obey me at all times,” he says without a smile making eye contact with each of us to show he is not joking. In fact, Walter Champion doesn’t joke much at all.
This ought to be an interesting couple of days.

Motorcycle School

School classroom in Japanese high school

Thursday night, motorcycle training starts in the classroom. I arrive ten minutes early and it feels like five minutes late. The instructor, a heavy-set, middle-aged white man with a handlebar mustache (no cliché here), is seated at the dated desk in the front of the room with his reading glasses resting on the tip of his nose.

“Name?” he asks without looking up from his list. I give him my last name, he holds out a white envelope and tells me to address it to myself. While I write, he reviews the six or seven pages of paperwork I completed before the class. It contains consent forms that remove liability from the instructors and the school should I fall off the bike and hurt myself or some other poor soul during the riding portion of the training. He informs me that I missed a signature, which I remedy on the spot. He tells me to find and take a seat.

The room is full. Twenty-two people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors, some shifting in their seats, some watching me, and others reviewing the pamphlet that is resting on the remaining open desks. I slide into an open seat and recognize the Motorcycle Safety booklet. The fifty-odd-some pages cover all the motorcycle rules and best practices of the road from cornering and lane positions to proper gear and blood alcohol limits.

Class begins promptly at 6pm and one student is left knocking on the outside door at 6:03pm. The instructor, Dale, goes on with his opening speech unfazed. Another student finally opens the door and lets the thirty-something year old Latino man inside the classroom. The instructor gives the mortified student the self-addressed stamped envelope and reminds him and the rest of the class not to be late on Saturday or the door will be locked forcing he or she to drop and re-enroll in a later session.

Dale fires up an old PC to display an antiquated Powerpoint presentation, which appears to have been created in 1996. The material he covers, however, is relevant, informative, and terrifying. For example, a motorcycle rider is thirty-three times more likely to have an accident than a car driver. Not double or triple or even quadruple, but thirty-three times more likely. We learn quickly that how you gear up matters: helmet, boots, jacket, reflective gear, gloves, and so on.

A few minutes before 10pm, Dale concludes the class and reminds us to be on time to the range, that is the motorcycle riding range, on Saturday morning. The plan is to practice riding for half the day on Saturday, then return to the classroom to complete a written test. If we pass the test, we can come back on Sunday. If we don’t pass, we can re-enroll at a later date. Assuming we pass the test, we ride on Sunday morning and take the riding test on Sunday afternoon. If we pass, we can apply to take the DMV test afterwards.

One class down, two days of riding and two tests to go. So far, still here.


Like a Taylor Swift song, no matter what evasive tactics I’ve employed, such as humming new melodies or attempting to jam-pack my mind with other things, you know, work stuff, writing, surfing social media feeds, pondering how Meisha Tate lost her UFC belt so quickly, any distraction, nothing seemed to shake the proverbial motorcycle love song in my head. The moto bug, as I’ve coined it, has me, and it’s infected my soul.
While racking my brain for a solution and browsing through bikes on Craigslist, a new idea, like a beacon of shining (head)light, dawned on me. What better way to get this out of my system than to force myself to go to a classroom with boring textbooks and long lectures and tough tests. Nobody wants that kind of punishment, especially not me. I’ll simply enroll in a motorcycle training course, hate it, and end this internal battle. Affliction cured.
After a little research, I landed on the Northern California Motorcycle Training course held in San Mateo. The course and instructors received good reviews on yelp, which made it feel relatively harmless. Besides, what did I have to worry about? I’d probably drop out after the first hour or so, right? Maybe I’d make it through the lecture, but as soon as I’d have to put on a helmet or coordinate my feet on pedals with my hands on levers while balancing on two wheels, well, that’ll be the end of it. I’ll fail, get discouraged, and walk off the asphalt, a bona fide motorcycle school dropout.
So there, it’s done. I’m registered. If the course does its job, I should drop out and rediscover my disdain for motorcycles. I’ll have succeeded in putting this incorrigible idea to bed, buried deep in a dark coffin under many layers of dirt, asphalt and concrete. Before long, I’ll be saying to myself and others, remember that time I thought I wanted to ride a motorcycle and then dropped out of motorcycle training? Ha, what was I thinking? I or others will laugh at the absurdity of it all. Oh, what a goofball, a motorcycle of all things. And the whole idiotic insinuation will become a distant memory. It’s a perfect plan.

The Bug


Something happened to me. Call it a bite or a cold or a bug, I’m not sure, but it’s possessed me. At first it was an unsettling feeling, like the start of the stomach flu, slightly nauseous and unnerving, feverish even. I couldn’t quite keep my balance as the paradigm of how I’m supposed to live my life started shaking under my once steady and by-the-book legs.

Not a big deal, I thought. This will pass. Once, not so long ago, while reading The Goldfinch, I wanted to see if I too, like one of the characters, could spend an entire day, morning to night, completely drunk. It seemed like an interesting concept at the time. But as friends and enemies alike pointed out, as a person who can barely handle a few drinks before spewing them out sometimes making it to the toilet and sometimes not, I thought it wise to put the idea on the shelf for a while. The same thing should, will, must happen again. It’ll just go away, like a one night stand disappearing in the middle of the night so when the morning comes it’s hard to remember if it ever happened or if it was just a dream.

Instead the idea, call it infection, grew. This newly found deep desire to swing a leg over a saddle, wrap my fingers around grips, and take off briskly with the wind in my hair, dust in my path was infecting my mind. Before long, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Would I like motorcycling? What kind of motorcycle would I buy? Who else do I know that rides a motorcycle? In the midst of taking a shower or doing a run, I’d find myself thinking, would I like wearing all that motorcycling gear and a helmet? While cooking pasta the thoughts would pervade, is that a motorcycle going down my street? and I’d need to hurry over the window straining to see what kind of bike it was growling down the block.

Whatever happens when you suddenly find yourself obsessed by an insidious idea that for so many years you thought was detestable at worst and obnoxious at best has its fangs tightly wrapped around your throat and isn’t letting go. Who am I? Why is this happening to me? Motorcycles are for gang members and outlaws, not normal people and definitely not me.

Whatever happens to make a person want to ride a motorcycle, apparently I got it. And I got it bad.