First Ride

by Jay Johnson

When I was growing up, the foremost thing my Mother taught me against, was ever riding a motorcycle.  Her second husband, Dick, had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident when he was a teenager.  A sequence of resulting health problems lead to his early death and she was naturally quite fearful of the dangers.

On the other hand, my faint memories of Dick are that he was a fun-loving guy who had a passion for cars and motorcycles.  He loved to race and spent all of his spare time working on engines.  Even though I was only 8 when he died, he must have planted a seed in my brain that made me long for the adventures of the open road.  Five years later, his brother watered that seed.

When I was 13 years old, the great loves of my life were my dog, Amber and my sturdy Sears bicycle.  I had an after-school paper route and needed a big heavy bike to haul the newspapers up and down the streets on the slopes of Beacon Hill, in Seattle.  Pushing all that weight up hill every day, I dreamed of owning a Vespa motor scooter to carry me effortlessly up and down the steep roads, to the houses on my paper route.  I was too young to get a license and I could never earn enough delivering papers to pay for a Vespa, so I did what every kid did then …  I peddled my bicycle and made motor noises with my mouth.  BRRRRRR …

 In those days, I was rarely off my bike, but one Saturday, I was actually walking in the neighborhood when suddenly, the biggest Harley Davidson motorcycle you’d ever seen was next to me at the curb.  The rider was one of Dick’s brothers.  At the time, I thought he was just passing by and stopped to say “Hi.”  In later years, I have wondered if he hadn’t been looking for me.  I know my Mom must have told him not to let me near his motorcycle.  The temptation to share his passion could very well have spurred him to seek me out that sunny afternoon.  In any event, the offer was there: “How about a ride, J.D.?”  the Harley had a large saddle, big enough for two people to share comfortably.  “Hang on to the belt on my jacket.”  We rode off into the wind.

I don’t remember where we went, or what we saw, but I remember the feeling of power and pleasure from that magnificent machine.  I remember the wind in my face and hair.  I remember the lean in the curves and the looks on the faces of the people we passed.  Today, when folks ask how long I have been riding motorcycles, I tell them I started in 1959.  In truth, it was that sunny Saturday afternoon in 1953, when I was 13 years old that I became a life-long motorcyclist.  I just didn’t get my second ride for another six years.