The Biker’s Indignity: A Love Poem

Jun 4, 2011 by

THE BIKER’S INDIGNITY:

A LOVE POEM

My abused darling

My bike was recently knocked over twice in one day,

backed into by oafs on four wheels.

At least in both cases they righted her again,

unlike the many times last summer when I found her

on her flanks, downed

by barbarians and left

to lie amongst her spilled fluids.

 

Although not on her side this time, evidence of the offense was there:

the gas stain on the concrete, the displaced side mirror, the scuffs, the bent blinker mounts,

the sputtering protestation when I turned the key (she needed 45 minutes to be coaxed back to purring life).

 

The second strike took place an hour later, while I was in the post office, in a laborious

unmoving

queue

that I finally ditched, muttering

anti-government obscenities

(still riled up over the earlier fiasco).

I emerged only to find a large empty space in front of my bike where an SUV had been parked

and

a postal worker covering up the gas stain next to her with handfuls of grass he was uprooting from a sidewalk tree.

He sopped up the fuel with green clods of earth as I raged:

“I left this much space!” I brayed, extending albatross arms. “Ten minutes I’m inside and look what happens! New York drivers are idiots! How would they like it if tractors plowed into their sides? Morons!”

The postal worker bent to his task, unmoved, as I paced and seethed.

I wasn’t the first fellow he’d seen

go postal.

Anyway, he couldn’t have understood my outrage

just like those miscreants on four wheels can’t understand.

Only riders understand.

Especially New York City riders, who contend daily with the monumental disregard of lead-

footed knuckle-

heads who lane change as if in go

karts and park as if in bumper cars.

 

It takes thick skin,

or better yet, leather

to survive on two wheels

in a world overrun

by those on four, eight, sixteen,

where the rules of engagement are dictated by bumpers, seat belts, side impact protection beams, crumple zones, laminated windshields, suspension systems, electronic brake force distribution, automatic braking, lane departure warning systems &

for worst case scenarios

A/C to stay cool

as you wait behind an airbag for the medics to arrive.

 

No offense, drivers, we all know that your metal cages kill your kind

too.

It’s just that we have no safety apparatus to house us.

Our only protection is our gear:

leather, like the cowman,

a helmet, like the warrior,

maybe even some armored padding on the elbows and shoulders

since an ambush may always await over the hills

and far away

or at the next intersection

(the hand bikers extend to one another on the road is a greeting, but it also carries the possibility of a farewell).

 

If at times bikers strike you as disagreeably in-your-face

with their roaring engines and loud colors, it’s because self-preservation demands it.

Think before you scowl

at the Harley as it rumbles by, disrupting your precious

peace.

Unlike those obnoxious muffler-removing mustang

sallies on four wheels

there are practical reasons for being

heard on a motorcycle:

most motorcycle collisions occur from cars turning left

in front of the biker’s right of way

so from a biker’s perspective

and hopefully yours too

it’s better to disturb the peace

than to go flying over a hood

into a telephone pole.

 

Only riders understand the perils of the road,

just like only parted lovers can know the glittering caverns of heartbreak,

or soldiers the siren song of war and the crags

upon which it wrecks them.

 

I spoke of indignity earlier but I should

confess that

questions of dignity rarely arise:

usually I’m just pissed off

that some asshole knocked my bike over.

 

Only in retrospect, under the mellowing breeze of reflection,

do I see that indignity indeed provoked my ire.

 

Indignity,

because it’s not just some vehicle that’s been outraged,

not some object, some mere thing,

but your steed,

the mare upon which you charge the plain,

the stallion upon which you plunge into battle

(bikes, you see, come in neutral, male, & female

and sometimes even swing

between genders depending on the circumstance).

 

Perhaps I exaggerate.

When you first buy a bike, sure, it’s a vehicle,

but as the years pass,

the miles pass,

the trials pass,

you grow to recognize your history in its scars & dents,

like a kind of photo album

you always carry

when you travel.

 

It’s bulky for an album,

especially in the digital age,

but you never misplace it,

nor accidentally delete it.

Mine holds few family photos

mostly just backcountry scenes, and records

of bang ups & skirmishes.

 

Here,

come out,

take a look:

 

See these crooked handlebars?

They’re an oldie. A decade

ago my lobsterman friend, more adept

on water than land

spun her out a on a dirt road turnaround.

As a result, to ride straight I now have to hold

the handlebars as if I’m veering to the left.

In return, he let me dock his boat

(but didn’t

let me crash it).

 

The gas tank

makes me chuckle. It has a

moral: label any canisters with kerosene,

especially if they usually store gas,

unless you want to gum up

your carburetors and marvel

at the quantity of white smoke an exhaust can spew

(riders too commit indignities)

 

The Yamaha logo

is a microcosmos of my bike, broken & superglued

(from when someone backed

into it on Clinton Ave). And that dent on the other side of the engine? Another knockdown, also on Clinton,

other side of the street.

 

The bent front blinker stand

is from another spill.

Can’t remember which. Same with the jury rigged rear

blinker.

 

The battery,

ah, the battery!

Don’t get me started. Let me merely say that phasing out

the kickstart was folly.

 

Here’s one last one, the latest

addition to the album:

The dried oil under the engine

is from when my bike sprang a gushing leak outside Holland Lincoln

Tunnel a few weeks ago, stranding me in impatient

midtown traffic, leaving me gloomy

that my ’82 Yamaha Maxim, which I bought my junior year

in high school off a friend for a mellow $400

($1 per CC)

and which has endured a symphony

of outrages over the last 17 years,

some of which you now know about, may at last be

in its dying throes. I was

wrong: “You have to know when to jump

off,” the mechanic said, “but you’ll still get a few years out of her.”

 

His words were oil to my ears.

You see, as your album grows,

your bike transforms

from thing to steed.

(imagine my indignation

when I once heard her referred to as an “old thing”)

 

In fact, I partly owe my fierce love for my bike

to the indignities she has suffered

for without them

our album wouldn’t be nearly as

colorful.

 

In the end,

one can even celebrate these indignities

for they are part of the unruly

seas of riding, much like those

of love.

 

As with love,

you can go from 0 to 60 in a flick of the wrist

and 60 to 0 even faster.

 

As with love,

there is much to negotiate:

right hand for throttle & front break, left hand for clutch, right foot for rear break, left foot for shifting gears.

You may be on two wheels but

like spiderman

you must maneuver with all four limbs.

 

As with love,

you deal with exposure,

hard rains, breakdowns,

& close calls

like when my rear tire skidded out briefly on the Manhattan bridge last year after fast-slowing traffic forced me to to sharply brake and downshift

(caused by my daydreaming and consequent slow reaction

but fret not, mother, I

don’t dream & ride

anymore)

 

As with love,

sometimes you take a bad spill,

like when I was on a moped on the Greek isle of Skopelos

and braked hard

on a slick, steep, downhill

around a sharp bend

and

the front wheel flipped out,

sending me and the rental sliding across the opposite lane into the ditch seconds before a truck blasted by around the corner

 

As with love,

sometimes you do insane things that you hope

never to do again

like when a friend,

during a rough spell,

dislocated his shoulder

upon striking a Mustang while fleeing

the cops.

 

As with love,

riding is a high,

the addict’s rush and relief as you open the throttle, a brief movement of the wrist,

as simple as a thumb depressing a syringe

and usually not as dangerous.

 

As with love,

you have to know when to let go,

or as another friend, Zeke, (who has repeatedly crossed the continent and makes me look like a backyard putterer) put it,

“sometimes you have to bury your bike

before your bike buries you,”

like when the engine of his Honda

seized up on him on Route 3,

his tires instantly locking,

his bike suddenly skidding along

on two wheels at 50 mph

(he managed to stay upright)

burning rubber the length of a football field

until he came to a standing stop,

the bus behind him braking just in time.

He then rolled the stricken Honda into the field,

removed the plate and registration,

a rider’s sky burial,

and walked away

to find a new one.

For all he knows, the Honda is still out there,

sprouting poppies.

 

But me, no, I still have more photos to put in this album,

My bike and I.

True, we occasionally have to part ways,

she at the shop, me at the writing desk,

both of us being repaired,

but that’s just a matter of upkeep.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me,

my steed awaits outside

this coffee shop,

still standing,

I hope.

_____

 

 


 

 

 

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11 Comments

  1. Jasper

    Bravo!

  2. Big Don K'Shayne

    Dass deep baby! I’s feelin cho pain.

    Issa sad day whenchoo kno datta dear, bee-lova memmur ochurr famlissis sick annonniss lass legs, horsin diss case, wheel.

    Butchew hain told me chet iff yo trussy steed’s gossa naimes sornot.

    Hinquirrin mines wanna kno.

    Fur reelz.

    Stay ubbeat, an done git too yamaharr-broken.

    Follo?

    -Tha BDK

    Werd

    • No name yet. I don’t even have the gender hammered out (seeing that it’s now a NYC bike, I’ve been keeping him/her gender-flexible). If you have any suggestions for a name, let me know.

      I do have a skiff on Monhegan Island in Maine called Boumboulina. She takes in some water but she’s a sturdy old girl.

  3. Sarah Southerland

    We’re having a grumpy morning here in my new little home full of mamas and kiddos and visiting sisters, practical procrastination and creative doubt- thanks for the story

  4. Elaina

    Nice. Can feel your seething at the situation and overall love for your bike shine right through.

    p.s. Holland Tunnel is not in Midtown… or is that poetic license?

  5. Papa Laracy

    Love the Poem, Chino Lee, but as Vasia correctly implores “Bury it!!” and as our wisest of wise friends adds, “…before it buries you.”

  6. Keep on Truckin’, Cuz!
    (“Bikin'” in this case!)

    • I will, cousin. But never with your flair. I doubt I will ever be able to say that I rode so far north that I saw the sun dip down and rise again without touching the horizon. If there is any exemplar of “biker,” it is you.

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