John rode his dad’s new Honda CB450 chopper straight into a stopped car. Problem was, he wasn’t supposed to ride it in the first place. Gold-plated, 8-inch extended fork tubes tucked well in, the front tire nearly touched the engine. Parts that stuck out were either smashed or bent. Proximity to the crash brought the problem to my house. The plan we came up with was unoriginal yet suited the simple minds involved. The Everglades is where everyone in Florida buries their mistakes. We would dump the battered motorcycle there before John’s father found out.
After 33 years in a steel shipping container, the ravages of humidity, pestilence and gene
In a daring maneuver, we parked the 450 under cover in its usual spot alongside John’s house, gambling on insider knowledge that the old man’s habits did not ordinarily include an evening motorcycle ride. We lured another kid into the cabal and the F-team rendezvoused at 02:30. Under the nose of its sleeping owner we loaded the chopper into a pickup, and then, straddling the railroad tracks, drove west into the tangled camouflage of the ’Glades.
The police department in our small town was not a Cracker Jack unit. They took down the particulars from John’s dad and promptly gave up the stolen 450 as a lost cause. We expected this: The local fuzz never recovered anything. The insurance investigator, however, was forged of a different mettle. Given his dogged determination, one would think that his personal bank account suffered in the event of a payoff. The I-man divined the tag number of our truck and found out the names of the thieves from eyewitnesses who were awakened by the racket we made loading the bike.
Armed with this scrap of information, the police picked up two of the F-team and subjected us to the rubber-hose treatment. We didn’t squeal. Parents were called; we lied. John was picked up separately and worked over in a more thorough fashion. He did an admirable job bamboozling the police, but cracked under the sharp, steady backhands of the father who knew him best.
Things went from bad to operatic. My dad, upon learning I had lied to him instead of ratting out my friends, was furious. In a scene straight out of the Poor White Trash Hall of Fame, pops worked me over in the front yard. My mother was circling the periphery of the bout, crying and saying things like, “Don’t hurt him! Careful of his glasses!” The beating caused lasting psychological damage: I haven’t been able to steal a motorcycle since.
That night I grabbed my savings and my 50cc Honda and left the miserable affair in my rear-view mirror. Riding free, the whole expanse of the world opened before me: intoxicating, exhilarating, frightening. Clipping along at 35 mph toward Nowhere in Particular, the little Honda died. Fifty cubic centimeters of Easy Rider Freedom Machine silently coasted to the side of the road: a clear-cut case of mechanical Karma if I ever saw one. Mosquitoes descended in a blood-thirsty cloud.
Events had gotten far ahead of my ability to control them. During the long walk home I replayed the day over and over, looking for answers. I came to understand that I had made some poor decisions. A larger motorcycle was clearly in order. I needed more power.
For 33 years the Honda laid in state inside a steel shipping container. The oak floor rotted and the 50 fell through to the dirt beneath. Years of humidity, termites and corrosion wreaked havoc. The front rim rusted severely. The gasoline in the tank reverted to oil. The carburetor was full of white chalk. The land under the container was sold, and I exhumed the bike for internment at our present house.
Amends? I have a few, so I’m gathering parts to restore the little Honda. A brand-new Lifan 140cc clone engine slots into the pressed-steel frame, needing only a few spacers and a 45-degree twist of the intake manifold. I’m going to have the entire bike galvanized. One day the 50 and I may have to run away again.
This time we won’t fail.