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.
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.