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Wheelin’ and dealin’

December 17, 2010

As far as I'm concerned, the last word on motorcycles came from Brother Ron Burdick.

"There're only two kinds of bikers," he says: "those who've crashed, and those who're going to crash."

Which is why my career as a biker was such a short one. I got the bike in early June 1966 and sold it about a month later.

Not that I didn't like riding - I did. Just is, I realized no matter how sensible or cautious I was, I had no control over the people in cars, most of whom I assumed were either legally blind, certifiably insane, homicidal, suicidal or prone to random out-of-body experiences.

And if, perchance, one of those people hit me - even just a little - the chances for disaster were far more than I was willing to take.

By the way, statistics bear me out. Most car-motorcycle accident injuries are the car's fault. Which, if you're on the bike, is no consolation - even with a huge insurance settlement.

But even if I never got creamed by some workadaddy nutcase in his Rocket 88, there was always the chance I could do myself in. Given blind curves, loose gravel, wind gusts, rain, sleet or an occasional deer, it wasn't unlikely that at some point I'd pave the road with my tender tush and a vital organ or two.

Motorcycling's dangers are probably one reason it's so appealing to men (who are, after all, just little boys, gone old). It's also one reason bikes can be a great source of contention to the bikers' partners. And no one illustrates this better than my pal Panhead Ted and his wife, Hardtail Gail.


The wheels

If there was ever such a thing as a marriage of inconvenience, it was theirs.

He was as laid-back, likeable and loosey-goosey as they get; she was always wired and wound to the breaking point. He was always smiling; she was always frowning. If one thing went right in his day, he was overjoyed; if one thing went wrong in hers, she was furious. He could leave a couple of dishes in the sink; she cleaned the ashtrays before she used them.

And as for his motorcycle? It wasn't a bone of contention - it was the whole skeleton.

Like everyone else who knew them, I stayed out of her fields of fire until by total fluke I got trapped in her crosshairs.

It was an early midsummer evening, and as I drove by the Waterhole I saw a crowd gathered in the street. On its side in the center was a motorcycle, and sprawled out next to it was a guy in full leathers. I knew immediately it was Ted since his helmet was the only one I'd seen covered with a Mr. Natural decal.

I pulled into the Sears lot (obviously, this was many years ago) and ran back to him.

Some jamoke, attempting a three-point turn on Main Street, had backed up without looking and T-boned Ted as he putted by.

Ted was bumped and banged up, but apparently had no serious injuries. But his concern wasn't his injuries; it was what'd happen to his bike. Since he lived on Church Street, I offered to take the bike there. After the rescue squad came and hauled him off, sirens blaring, I was on my way.

Pushing the bike was difficult, but not impossible. But what I feared was impossible would be dealing with Gail. So as I made my way up River Street, I contrived a game plan.

I figured as long as the element of surprise was on my side, I could handle Gail. I'd knock on the door and straight out tell her Ted was in an accident, was hurt but wasn't hurt badly, and the accident wasn't his fault. If I hammered it fast enough - bad news, bad news, good news, good news - she'd be disarmed and perhaps even mollified. It all depended on me taking the initiative.

I turned up Church Street, went past St. Bernard's playground, and their house came in sight.

Suddenly an image came to me. It was from those old cowboy movies, where the deputy rides back into town leading the sheriff's horse without the sheriff on it.

I was almost at their walk when, hypocrite that I am, I started praying.

"Dear Lord," I mumbled, "I know you know I don't believe in you. But I'm not asking for much. Just keep Gail in the house long enough for me to put the bike out of sight and get to the front door."

Since my hypocrisy knows no bounds, I was about to utter, "Amen," when, as if bidden by the Anti-Christ himself, the front door opened and Gail stepped out.

I froze.

She gave me one long look and then folded her arms across her chest.

"As soon as I heard the siren, I knew it was that jackass and his bike," she snarled.

"Look, it's all right, really," I sputtered. "Everything's gonna be just fine."

"You mean I'm a widow?" she said.

I figured two could play her game.

"Yeah," I said, "you are ..."

I thought I saw her face light up before I whipped my punch line on her.

" but not for a long time."

"Too bad you're not on TV, funnyman," she said. "Then I could turn you off."

"Hey, I'd love to continue our conversation, it being so pleasant and all," I said, "but where do you want me to put his bike?"

"How's about in the friggin' lake?" she snapped.

I put down the kickstand, leaned the bike on it, turned on my heels and left.


and the deals

I was right about Ted not being injured. After a bunch of X-rays and tests, a bunch of pokings and proddings, the hospital released him. So the poor sod never even got to spend the night in peace and quiet, away from his ball and chain.

But this was the last straw for Gail. Within days, she'd gotten a hold of some downstate shyster and sued Ted for divorce.

The settlement was predictable: She got the house, the car and the savings account.

He got the debts, the cats and his bike.

Then before we knew it, she cashed in everything and moved to Florida, where in no time flat she married an octogenarian millionaire.

It was a classic shafting, one that outraged everyone who knew about it. But Ted didn't seem the least bit bothered - if anything, his sunny disposition was even sunnier.

A few months after The Great Divide, a bunch of us were having coffee in Alice's Restaurant and Long John Carhartt said what we'd all been thinking.

"Ya know," he said, "I feel bad about the lousy deal you got with your divorce."

"Lousy deal?" said Ted. "What lousy deal?"

"Well," said Long John, "Gail got the house, the car and the money, right?"

"Sure," said Ted. "But I got everything that mattered: my bike, the kitties and best of all, my freedom. No need to feel bad for me."

Then his face split into a lopsided grin.

"But if you really wanna feel sorry for someone," he said, "you can start with that sorry old millionaire."



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