I pulled dramatically into the office parking lot, turned off the ignition and coasted to a stop, the powerful engine reluctantly emitting its final throaty rumble. A co-worker walked over and asked, "Mid-life crisis?"
"Not any more," I replied, pulling off the black full-face racing helmet and tossing my hair from side to side in cinematic slow-motion, forgetting, for the moment, that I have no hair to toss—only glasses, which went flying off my face and ended up under the dumpster.
Okay, so the drama of the moment was lost. Plus, without my glasses I had to ask my co-worker to help my foot locate the kickstand. For lesser men, such events might have muted the power of their entrance, but I was undeterred. As I stepped off the bike, my leather jacket creaking seductively, I knew it was time to strut into the office with the swagger and pride reserved for that most unique of American icons: The Motorcycle Man.
But first I had to find my glasses.
Despite accusing me of having somebody else’s shoulders, my colleagues were generally impressed at my new persona. As I walked by (dramatically), with helmet in hand, I was pleased to hear their snickering whispers of deep respect.
Now, before you jump to the wrong conclusion, it must be said that getting a motorcycle was not the selfish act of a middle-aged man struggling with a sense of his own inadequacies. No, it was purely an expression of love for a family which, I feared, had become woefully out of balance. Consider the facts: My wife teaches autistic children, our youngest daughter works with orphans in Honduras, and our oldest is a passionate organizer and fund-raiser for the environment. In the face of such rampant selflessness, a corrective was clearly needed. The scales cried out to be balanced. Happily, I can report that my family is pleased and, dare I say, grateful, that I intervened.
When I first announced my plans at the dinner table, the daughters were unanimous. "Cool," they declared, turning immediately to the mother, who was somewhat less verbal in her response. With the fork paused in midair and her eyes widened, it was clear she could barely contain her enthusiasm. As she began to slowly shake her head, I could see that she was mourning the fact that our 25 years of marriage had never included a motorcycle.
And who can blame her? After all, motorcycles are fun to ride and provide a great transportation alternative to cars and their annoyingly comfortable seats. Plus, they have several advantages over automobiles, such as eliminating the need for time-consuming windshield maintenance.
Motorcycle riders sit up higher than most vehicles, so they are more visible to drivers of oncoming cars, unless those drivers are talking on their cell phones, which they always are, so forget that one.
When you hit a pothole in a car and get a flat tire, it can take as long as an hour to change it. But when a motorcycle hits a pothole, particularly at highway speeds, the paramedics do all the work, as you wait patiently in a relaxing coma, or peer down euphorically from the branches of a nearby tree.
Not to mention the superior fuel efficiency of a motorcycle, or the convenience of having the gas tank and its three gallons of highly flammable liquid placed right there between your legs.
And a motorcycle builds community, particularly when it falls over during a parking mishap. At 500 pounds, it takes a small group of passersby to help pick it up. Likewise, while car drivers are struggling with steering wheel locks, a motorcycle can easily be secured with a simple 80-pound logging chain, as long as those same passers-by are still around to help lift it.
Of course, adjusting to a different driving style can take a little time, especially when your first instinct is to stop by dragging your feet—Fred Flintstone-like—at 30 miles per hour. (Just for the record: This doesn’t work.)
The important thing is that only on a motorcycle can you experience the thrill of the open road and the limitless horizon that stretches out ahead. It’s just you, the highway, and the shopping list for the grocery store three blocks away.
But make no mistake, a man’s life cannot be fulfilled by material possessions, nor is his value to loved ones enhanced by machines of sport or pleasure. Of course not. When a man reaches midlife and begins to question his worth or doubt his accomplishments, it takes much more than a motorcycle to reaffirm his sense of self.
For that you need a jet ski.
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.