I knew Paul from my high school class. We also worked together at the Food City. Clad in white shirts and aprons we packed groceries for old ladies and housewives. Like many teens, the money was going up against something. In Paul’s case it was a motorbike. Paul dreamed of a motorbike day and night.
The motorbike came at last, a used Kawasaki 250. It wasn’t a big bike and it needed some work, but Paul didn’t mind. He pored his off-hours into making the bike a beautiful thing. The added costs didn’t faze Paul, who was on the pay-as-you-go system. Everything he earned packing groceries went against the motorbike. He was a walking version of the saying, “all things come to him who waits”.
But not everything. A few “minor details” did not make Paul’s list. Things like a legitimate license, taking the motorcycle test, and safety gear like helmets. You know the age. Sixteen can’t wait to be twenty and details don’t seem to matter. Those are things only adults worry about.
Paul pulled up to my house one day on his bike. He told me to hop on the back and take a ride. “But you don’t have helmets,” I objected. “Yeah, don’t worry I’ll be careful. Hop on, you’ll love it.” he assured me. I was a doubtful rider. I straddled the back of the bike. Paul took off down the street, half popping a wheelie on the way. I started to wonder if this was a good idea.
There is that thing called Murphy’s Law which determines that the worst possibilities will come back to haunt you. Inevitably, we buzzed past a police car. The cop did a rubberneck and then flashed his lights. We heard a siren and Paul laid on the gas. Perhaps sixteen year olds are not well versed on what to do when they cross paths with a police officer who means business. To flee is not on the list of good advice. Perhaps it is human to panic, especially if you have no license and no helmet.
And so the bike ride became a steeplechase. Of course it would be dumb to simply take off down the road. The cop would chase you down, and likely call for backup to block off streets where you were headed. But a motorbike can be a pretty good off-road vehicle, unlike a car. It is light and nimble. So Paul did the only thing he could do. He peeled up somebody’s driveway and took off through the back yard.
The neighbourhood we lived in had interconnected back yards where few people bothered putting up fences because they knew and liked their neighbours. There was also a creek that ran through the area which meant that a lot of the backyards backed onto green space.
Either by panic or design, Paul took best advantage of this available cover. It resembled a bad American movie where the motor bike crashes through family barbecues, clothes lines and kids bathing in paddling pools. He took off through creeks, became occasionally airborne as he bounced over bike paths, veered past fences, and avoided boulders and trees as best he could. It was a wild ride, one for the books. It was wild enough that Paul actually managed to evade the cops. Eventually he doubled back to my place and plopped me by the side of the road. My legs were wobbly. I felt like I had done the roller coaster back to back after drinking fizzy pop. It was like stepping onto solid land after a day at sea. Paul grinned “How cool was that?” he asked. Then he sped away, unfazed.
It occurred to me after all this time that I have some unusual bragging rights. Being pursued by the cops is not your average dinner conversation. I don’t know whether being the captive passenger on the back of an unlicensed bike implicates you for anything. I should check the books.
And so in retrospect I did an internal thumbs-up. There is that old song that seems too often to come true when dealing with the Man. “I fought the law and the law won”. Well, in this case it didn’t. You might score two skinny kids on a 250 motorbike a victory, and the cops with all their resources, a big fat zero. Life won’t often favour you with those kind of odds. So when it comes to memories, it is one worth savouring. Would I do it again? Not likely. Age and experience has made me cautious.
Thanks Paul. I still lie awake some nights when I hear a siren, wondering if I am going to get busted.