Earlier this week I wrote that I would be taking an introduction to motorcycle riding class. The class is now finished and despite my initial anxieties I have lived to report that I passed, which means that I’m now legal to threaten the streets of Washington State with my very limited, less-than-qualified, dangerously-inadequate motorcycle riding. Fearful readers needn’t worry as I don’t actually own a motorcycle, which means the risks I pose are, at this point at least, only theoretical.
The class was a lot of fun and I learned a good amount and gained much needed confidence. Specifically I feel good about riding in circles in an empty, blocked-off parking lot, an activity which over time may in fact prove to be rather dull but at this point is tremendously stimulating.
Of course the best part of such classes isn’t the actual learning, it’s the people with whom one learns. I hate to sound like some supercilious patrician, a Judge Smails out slumming it with The Common Folk, but the reality is that by living in Seattle I’m generally presented with a very narrow slice of Washington State residents. My friends, and thus my regular interactions, mostly involve people who are more or less like me; this class was full of folks who are, to put it most directly, not. A few examples.
There was a rather large African American woman named Tequila. “Like the liquor,” she said by way of introduction, as if listeners might confuse her name with the Spotted Venezuelan Tequila-Raptor or the world-renowned Tequila-Arch in Cairo. I’ll give her points for having one of the more memorable names I’ve encountered lately, only it wasn’t spelled Tequila, like the liquor, for when I looked at her name on the roster there was an X and an R in the spelling. That was not a typo (I asked)â€”there really was an X and an R. I thought about copying it down but grew dyslexic just looking at it. I didn’t grow up in Seattle, which means that I’ve actually been exposed to black people in my life, and the simplest way to summarize this is to sayâ€”y’all got some crazy ass names you come up with.
There was also the nerdy, bespectacled Microsoft programmer who was in class to get his scooter license. Yes, his scooter license. He was awkward and clumsy and once literally tripped over his own feet. He wore pleated khakis and had pasty white skin the envy of any vampire and was pretty much everything you expect of a Microsofty, but he was sweet and took the general ribbing about a scooter license well.
Then there was an early-20’s guy named Randy or Eric or something completely uninteresting; in my head I preferred to call him The Kent-Kid, a moniker which I think he would have enjoyed even though it might have been a bit of a stretch as it was far more likely he was from Enumclaw or Buckley than the big streets of Kent. He was a scrawny little white guy who smoked at every opportunity with a nervous zeal, as if at any minute tobacco production might be outlawed. He drove a red mid 90’s Mustang convertible with a black rag top, wore Oakley wrap-around glasses, had Snickers-bar teeth and liked to finish every sentence with a Beavis-&-Butthead-esque Huh-huh-huh-huh. You know the type.
But my all-time favorite in the class was Joel, the 51-yo firefighter whose first self-introduction to the class mentioned an ex-wife and kids who would no longer talk to him. Now I’m not an assholeâ€”that’s some really sad family stuff, but in case I wasn’t clear: this is what he chose to say when we went around the classroom and introduced ourselves on the first day. I like to imagine all the things he’d divulge were he ever to speed-date.
Over the two days of the course he took to peacocking about the classroom, farting loudly and answering the instructor’s every question with accomplished bravado. He had a pinched upturned nose and the skin across his face was so taut it gave him an alien appearance. He looked like a white Michael Jackson, which is not as oxymoronic as it sounds. There were pink puffy scars along his neck and I presumed he had had facial reconstruction surgery, probably from a burn sustained when he knowingly ran into a building that was already on fire. Oh firemen…
For that’s exactly what he wasâ€”a fireman through and through and the rest of you can go to hell. He was perfectly true to stereotypeâ€”a complete and total type-A jock, exactly the sort of person The Village People had in mind when they wrote that famous song about macho men. His hand was raised for every question and every comment received his locker-room asides. On the practice range he constantly pushed his bike to the front of every exercise. He would be first, the best, the loudest funniest manliest of us all (including Tequila), and I believe I heard him mutter “Asshole” under his breath when, on the final riding exam, I scored higher than him.
My favorite moment with Joel occurred in the classroom. We were gathered in a half-circle around a motorcycle as the instructor explained the various components of the bikeâ€”this is the hand brake, this is the clutch, this is the emergency eject button, etc. Everyone was standing and loosely paying attention, but when I looked around I noticed that Joel had taken a knee, which if you never played high-school sportsâ€”and I guarantee you that Joel did as assuredly as I guarantee that those were also the best days of his lifeâ€”means that he had knelt done, placed one knee on the ground and was resting his elbow on his knee; from this posture he was leaning forward expectantly while looking up at coach waiting for the play to be diagrammed, all the while his mind imagining himself scoring the winning touchdown and then fucking the entire cheerleading squad…
Moments like that make me feel that my maturationâ€”which has always been far slower and certainly did not peak in high-schoolâ€”was well worth the waiting for.
And that was my class. I went down to the State Licensing Department today and got everything squared away. I am now not only minimally qualified, but legally minimally qualified. It was a fun experience and I feel far less afraid of riding a motorcycle than I did before, which ultimately was the point. On that score the class was worth every penny, and as an added bonus I got to meet Joel, Tequila and the gang. For now, keep your eyes on the road because one of these days you might just catch me zipping around.