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It's Nelly's World

While My Beemer Gently Sleeps

alec vanderboom

I have a classy garage. Everyone says so. They admire the stone construction, the interesting impossibility of dating the structure, its now-empty stovepipe holes. And they also say, "This would make a such a wonderful little guest house. You should convert it into a writing studio!" Whereupon I recoil in horror: Then where would the bikes go?

I've waited all my life for a garage, and now I have one. Now I have one just the way I want it, filled with bikes.

They're not even my bikes. Well, one is. Parked next to it, also shrouded in a gray cover and wearing the same pearl necklace--oh, OK, mothballs-in-pantyhose necklace, not quite as elegant--is its identical twin, a blue 1992 K75. Its owner, a sharp wit, quipped that if in the spring we open the door to find a lot of pocket rockets scattered around the floor, we'll know what these two have been up to in these long cold nights.

Behind these are Dan's and Ed's machines, the latter brought over at the eleventh hour, an evening at dusk after the first snow; a few minutes before I heard it approaching the house up the hill, I was desperately clearing the grainy ice from the end of the drive, lest its rider take an unintended second turn, lateral. But no, the man, a year-round rider who is the second among my acquaintance to completely eschew four-wheeled conveyance, negotiated the drive, and then backed the bike into its winter lair. Ed already has something like eight motorcycles pressing the very seams of all his outbuildings. Hurray for him.

Around here, it seems, we're all in denial of Zone 5. In the same way that I'm in denial of all my accumulated years, and still find myself in the grocery aisle, holding some package at arm's length to see if there's any way I can learn whether this thing contains high-fructose corn syrup or chicken stock. I can't, not without reading glasses. But who needs reading glasses? Old people. And I'm not one of them. No, I just can't see right. For some reason.

I kept thinking global warming was going to single me out for a special favor--it might be extinguishing the polar bear, but hey, it could extend the riding season--and so I never got around to that final wash and wax. I didn't change the oil, either. There. I confessed.

This gnaws at me. I am not one of those meticulous owners who can check their teeth for spinach in the shine from their rocker box covers, but putting away an unwashed bike is offensive to my basic sense of decency toward a machine that has cared for me so kindly. Now I have to fret about what might be going on with that little spot of wind-blown black grease I just noticed gathered north of the radiator. This is why you always groom a horse both before and after a ride: until you move your hands and brush and hoofpick over every inch of body, you won't find the scab or fresh sore that means something. And that creature is utterly dependent on you to find it, sooner rather than later.

In the days of the Moto Guzzi, the putting to sleep of the bike was a long and involved process, one I dreaded because of this. The wash, wax, and oil change was just the beginning. Then there was the draining of the carbs, the removal of the spark plugs and the introduction of a little fresh oil there. a couple turns of the engine by hand to distribute it. A light coat of WD-40 pretty much everywhere. And, since I lived in a city apartment, the removal of the battery to the warm hallway, where I walked past it every day for months and put it periodically on a charger and checked the water. Then, I would go to the storage several blocks away every few weeks and rotate the front wheel to guard against flat spots in the tire. It was such a lot of work that if January yielded one of those aberrant gifts from the heavens, a fifty-degree day, I could not join my confreres out yahooing on a winter ride. I couldn't face going through all of that again.

Now there's just those mothballs and some fuel stabilizer and, I hope, forgiveness. The K has forgiven so much already--lousy riding, even lousier braking, idiotic mistakes (only her native charm, I believe, protected me from becoming a John Chamberlain sculpture the day I blithely followed a car I assumed was making a left turn onto a highway on-ramp--but both our assumptions were half a block wrong, off-ramp wrong; she somehow cleared three lanes of all oncoming traffic so I could save myself just before the point of no return)--I wonder if she can forgive this neglectful treatment.

At least I have given her company out there in the frigid dark, in a classy garage.

It was suggested to me that I might collect a few dollars of rent, but the idea is almost as offensive as the mechanical maltreatment I have thoughtlessly meted to my companion. I remember the days of garagelessness myself; I remember the unnatural sight of motorcycles stored out in the snow, a blow to the senses. But most of all, I remember that motorcycles, and motorcyclists, have saved me. The things I most value in my life right now were freely given by them. I could not possibly give enough in return to bring equilibrium back to these balances. So more: there should be more bikes in the stone garage. Do you need a place for yours? Bring it here. It would give me something, too: happiness. To know it's there. Just to know it's there.