May 1997. Stockton, California.
“You have to put the strap through the loop underneath.”
He lifted my chin and moved my hands from the helmet. “See? Just loop it once. Twice. Done.”
“It’s not my fault. I can’t see it in front of me, okay?” I felt pathetic.
He grinned and tugged, the silence deafening as the world muffled. He knocked the top of my head as if checking a gourd.
“You ready?” He towered over me. How tall was he anyway, six foot five? What a giant.
“Yeah. Ready as I’ll ever be.” I said. “How good are you at riding these?” I could barely hear the sound of my voice.
He jumped on the motorcycle and started it, revving the engine a few times. “REALLY good!” he yelled. “Now get on, stop procrastinating! It’ll be an experience.”
I awkwardly climbed on behind him, shifting my body weight back away from him. It feels weird being in his personal space. My helmet knocked the back of his and we laughed.
“Okay, I’m going to give you some pointers!” He yelled over the engine. “When I move, you move! When we turn lean with me, don’t lean the other way or straight up. Just go for the ride. Hang on to ME, not the side handles! It’ll be fine, I PROMISE! Ready?”
I nodded. Then realized he couldn’t see my response.
“YES!” I sounded braver than I felt.
He backed down the driveway then took off down the road. I gripped his waist and closed my eyes.
ohshit.ohshit.ohshit.ohshit. we’re gonna fall. this is it…shit.shit.shit.
As we approached the first turn he curved gracefully and I leaned with his body, as he instructed, and we hugged the turn perfectly. He downshifted at the stop sign and paused to give me a thumbs up.
“THAT WASN”T SO BAD!” I yelled, not sure if he heard me.
Before I knew it, we lurched from the stop sign, as I tightened my grip. As we left my neighborhood he sped up with traffic. There was nothing between myself and the road, just the man in front of me. Delta Sierra Middle School whizzed by. Grapevine Comics and Cards, my first high school job, all familiar places I’ve walked to a million times, were left behind in the dust.
Weaving easily past cars on Pacific, he turned on March Lane and the road opened. We flew by familiar restaurants, coffee shops. The sun felt hot on my shoulders and my back sweaty under the heavy jacket.
We stopped at a light and he gestured towards I-5. I gave his arm a bit of a squeeze in understanding.
We were about to get on the freeway. I was trusting him with my life.
Signaling, he merged. We sped up incredibly quick and I gripped tighter. The wind howled and the engine hummed, drowning out everything. I’ve never felt so exhilarated and petrified in my life. It felt amazing.
We’re flying! WE’RE FLYING!!
Suddenly, the engine sputtered and he signaled to turn off. We drove into a 76 gas station and he turned off the motorcycle.
I hopped off, almost falling onto my butt. My legs were shaking.
“OH MY GOD! THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!! MY LEGS ARE JELLY!!!”
He raised his visor. “Stop yelling! I can hear you fine!” he said, getting off the bike, removing his helmet.
“Oh. I didn’t even realize! I can’t hear myself. Look! Look at my hands!!!” I raised it to show off.
He nodded and smiled, as he filled the tank. “Yep, that’s the adrenaline. I knew you’d like it.”
“So what the hell happened on the freeway?” I said, scratching my forehead. “Why did the bike sputter like that?”
“Oh. Yeah sorry. I forgot I was almost out of gas. I switched to the reserve tank …”
“Wait what. We almost ran out gas on the freeway. WHAT THE HELL MAN?!” I fumed.
“Yes, yes I know. Sorry. It completely slipped my mind.” He laughed and waved me off. “C’mon we’re fine, don’t look at me like that. Are you going to be pissed the whole time now?”
I sighed. “No. I’m just surprised. Hell, I’m ready to go again!”
“Good.” he said, replacing the gas nozzle. “Get on, let’s go.”
He hopped back on the freeway going back the way we just came, but exiting far on Eight Mile, in the deeper countryside. We headed towards Bear Creek High School as the sun dipped lower in the sky.
The sky reminded me of rainbow sherbet. Orange, yellow, pink … pink and blue. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. We sped down the countryside, as the engine purred. No traffic just the deep country dotted with new homes. The air felt crisp, the sweet smell of countryside as anyone from Stockton would recognize. It smelled like home. He leaned back enjoying the drive, decreasing his speed. He squeezed my arm and I patted his hand.
After returning home, I dismounted and removed my helmet, a huge grin plastered on my face. He removed his with a look of apprehension.
“Well?” He said.
“Well yourself.” I replied. “That was absolutely amazing and you know it.”
“Told ya. I knew you’d love it. Your hair is sticking up everywhere by the way….”
I laughed. “I don’t care. It was worth it.” I handed him the helmet.
“Thanks Steve.” I said. “I won’t forget it.”
He nodded. “See you tomorrow, Kassie.”
He put on his helmet on and drove away. I watched until he was out of sight before going in.
In remembrance of Stephen M.
Rest in Peace. 1980-2012.