Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I had a great father-in-law.  Harry was the kind of man who loved to enjoy life.  He was not dealt the best hand of cards for life, but he made what he had work for him.  He was a man who believed that you work hard for a living and for fun.

When I started dating his daughter he wasn't too sure about me.  I was quiet.  I didn't talk a lot and I was two grades below his daughter in school.  I think this bothered him for a few years until I proved to him that I could and would take care of his daughter.  I had a career and I was a hard worker in a vocation that he respected.  He use to call me "just plain Bill" because of my lack of social skills around him.  When I asked him for his approval to marry Barb the first words out of his mouth was "You are going to finish High School aren't you?"  After I convinced him that I was, he was more than happy to get Barb out of the house.

We had a lot in common though and those things began to show up the longer we knew each other.  I began going to the race track with him every Saturday night at Riverside Raceway and between the two of us we had a great time watching the races.  Back in those days they didn't show every race on television the way they do now but when a race was to be televised I would try to go over and watch it with him.  We started giving nicknames to some of the drivers that was just between us.  I think both of our favorite nicknames that we came up with was calling Davey Allison "Baby Davey".  One Christmas I got him a phone in the guise of Baby Davy's number 28.  He loved it and kept it next to his chair for years.

Another thing he loved to do was to ride motorcycles.  He had talked his other son-in-law into getting a motorcycle and now he began to work on me.  Harry rode a big Honda that was heavy and bulky.  He had me sit on it a few times and the thought of me actually riding that thing out in traffic scared me to death.  He didn't give up though.

One evening I went over to visit with him and there was an used little Kawasaki Motorcycle.  The smaller size was much more to my liking and he had me sit on it.  He said he had found it and thought it was a good deal and just wanted a second bike to have as a change of pace.

I had been wondering about owning a motorcycle for awhile now.  Two of my friends rode motorcycles.  Both Dennis and Ronnie had bikes and they rode them all over the place.  I had rode Dennis' bike once up and down his street in Roeland Park but had never really ridden it as in going for a ride.  Still I knew that if Harry, Ronnie and Dennis all enjoyed the bikes so much there must be something to it.  I began thinking about possibly getting me a bike.

One day Harry was talking about his motorcycles when I mentioned that I had been thinking about getting one.  He grinned and stood up and walked me to the garage.  He pointed at the little blue Kawasaki and asked me if I was interested in it.  He would sell it to me for what he paid for it if I wanted it.  I hestitated a bit and then he offered to teach me how to ride in order to get all my fears set aside.

We both got on the little blue bike together and he rode us up to a local church parking lot.  Once there Harry became serious.  He started lecturing me on how a bike handles, how I should ride it and the responsibilities that come with riding a bike in traffic.  He went over every part of the bike with me from the battery to the clutch and brakes and anything else he could think of to prepare me.  Then the time came.  He handed me my helmet and told me to give it a try.

I was nervous.  I was breathing a little fast but I got on the bike and started it up.  Harry stepped back quite a few paces as I slowly let out the clutch and began the bike to rolling.  I drove easily down to the end of the parking lot and then took a wide turn and started back towards Harry.  As I was riding back I decided to speed it up a little not just for fun. but for Harry's sake as well.  He would see that I was picking up on this motorcycle thing.

Valuable lesson:  brakes on a bicycle do not work the way brakes on a motorcycle work.  On a bicycle the two levers on the handle bars control the brakes.  On a motorcycle one of the levers control the front brake while the other disengages the clutch.  The brake for the rear wheel is controlled by you foot.  As I said, this was a valuable lesson because as I came racing towards Harry my mind went automatically into bicycle mode and I squeezed both of the hand lever on the bike.  The effect was overwhelming.  The clutch disengaged so there was not any power driving the bike while the front wheel locked up bringing the bike to an immediate stop.  The rear of the bike raised up and flipped over the front wheel while I was still sitting on the seat riding along in the same motion as the bike.

Th result was a scraped back, scraped arms and torn jeans.  I looked like I had just had a fight with a pit bull.  Harry came over and picked up the bike and set it up on the kick stand and began looking it over for dents and scratches.  Then he asked me over my shoulder if I was all right.  Obviously the bike was okay or it would have taken him much longer to check on me.

Harry and I then stood side by side looking at the dented motorcycle.  He calmly explained what he thought I had done wrong and he was correct.  He then explained the lesson I had just learned and he hoped I wouldn't have to learn it again.  I did not have to relearn that lesson and we rode the back for another hour before he took me back to the house looking like he had beat learning how to ride into me.

I ended up buying the little blue bike from him and went and got a learners permit.  It would be the first of three permits I would have as I was not confident enough to take the test for a license.  I rode the bike back and forth to the college for a year and then used it to run little errands here and there.  The state wasn't going to let me continue riding with a permit forever though and so it came time to take the test.

The test consists of riding a bike very slowly around some cones and coming to a stop without putting your foot on the ground until the bike has completely stopped.  I was not use to riding the bike in this manner and in my usual way of things I did not practice for the test. 

As I was taking the test I found that it was difficult to keep the bike running at such a slow speed.  It kept dying out on me and the officer giving me the test was starting to get a little impatient.  I finally gave up and told him that something must be wrong with the bike because I couldn't keep it running.  He gave me one of those "whatever" shrugs and walked back into the building as I prepared to drive home in shame to tell Barb I had not passed.

I rode the bike for one more summer before selling it back to Harry.  He in turn sold it and my little affair with the motorcycle was over.  I wasn't going to miss it, I knew.  and I haven't.  I like four wheels instead of two.  I like the feel of steel around me instead of air. I am comfortable driving a car.

Harry wasn't done with me yet though.  He took flying lessons and got his pilots license.  Harry was always looking for something new and adventurous to do.  I am terrified of heights but he talked me into going up in his plane with him one time.  I am sure he knew I was afraid of heights which only made the flight that much more fun for him.  He got the plane up there and then would take these turns that I swore I was looking straight down into the ground hundreds of feet below.  If he was expecting me to try taking flying lessons, he burned any chance of that happening with the first of those sharp turns high in the air on that day.

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