Friday, July 1, 2011

Failed the test!

I should know better than to invite wifely ridicule by posting this story, but I would hate to deprive a few readers I know of a smile or a laugh, so here goes.

I wanted to get my motorcycle license endorsement. This was very silly of me, according to Aimee, who has no place in her cosmos for the humble motorized bicycle, but nevertheless I wanted to get it, against all wifely wisdom and economic common sense.

I had previously owned a motorcycle license, and even a couple of different motorcycles, when I lived in Montana, but I was literally so broke when I came to Maine to work at the college all those years ago, still struggling to finish up that expensive education, that I couldn't afford the extra twenty bucks to transfer the license over.

At the time I told myself I was done with motorcycles anyway, that from here on out such frivolity would be disallowed, that instead I would work hard and marry and raise a farm and maybe a family, and so it wouldn't matter that I didn't have the twenty bucks for the permit transfer.

That was before the price of gas went up. And I had forgotten how pleasurable it could be to ride a motorcycle, especially one you've repaired yourself.

The fact of that matter is, I just like fixing things that go. I always have, since I got my first motorcycle at age 15. A very silly Italian 50 cc two-stroke trail bike, it had a major problem, a broken crankshaft, and so I only paid fifty pounds for it, but I replaced the crank and, miracle of miracles, made it go, and thus began a major career of repairing everything from excavators to fighter jets.

I'd actually rather repair airplanes than cycles, and there are even a couple of flying clubs around that I could join, but cycles are cheaper. I enjoy classic cars, but they take up a lot of room, and you pretty much need to keep them in a building here in Maine in the winter. I like old tractors, but only really need one tractor on this farm, and I have that already. I'm definitely going to get an old Land Rover to replace the Nissan farm truck when it dies, but that Nissan seems to want to live on forever, no surprise given the love and care it gets, and so the Land Rover will have to wait.

A man only ever needs to buy one Land Rover in his life, anyway.

A major Nissan brake overhaul is going to be required this fall, as soon as I have the money for parts, which job I'm already looking forward to, but we're not ready to do that job yet, because when we do the truck will be off the road for a few weeks, and we still have some summer farm chores to do and the brakes still work.

So, motorcycles are the best alternative, and getting my license just a step on the project road.

I suppose I could fix lawn mowers, but that seems a little low, don't you think. Another of these crusty old Maine guys that tinkers with lawn mowers and has a shed full of them, always for sale.

I'd have to smoke a pipe too, if I were to do that. Those fellas always smoke pipes. And Aimee wouldn't like that.

Anyway, a guy can dream, can't he? I'd really like to have some old British bikes. One of these days I'm going to build a really superb workshop here on this farm, a bright, clean, heated, fully electrifried, epoxy-floored palace, a veritable Taj Mahal of maintenance technology, and when I do, I'll have a BSA or even a Matchless to love and feed and water in that workshop.

Just because.

Aimee of course sees all such occupations as a total waste of money and a complete and utter diversion from what husbands should be doing, which is all the heavy work around the farm, and the endless honey-do list.

But a guy can dream, can't he?

Accordingly, a couple of years ago, and against wifely advice and instruction, I took the Motorcycle Safety Class and got a two-year learner's permit, which in Maine makes you legal to drive any motorcycle without a passenger within the hours of daylight. But at the end of two years, or before, you have to take the road test, or at least take another written test and get another two year permit

My two years were almost up, and so I scheduled a road test. It seemed best, a better investment than another two-year jobbie. I didn't have a bike, but thought to borrow or rent one. I found a buddy at work with a scooter, and was able to get the loan of it to take the test.

The great day arrived.

And rapidly went haywire.

The first blow to my plans was that the Internet (bloody FairPoint again!) was down at our place and so I couldn't look up directions to Belfast Methodist Church, which apparently doubles as a Maine DMV road test center during the week.

Still, I thought, I have time. Lots of time.

I didn't want to have to drive such a tiny scooter all the way from its home in Thorndike to Belfast, where the test was scheduled to be held, and so I went looking for the motorcycle ramp I had made a couple years ago, when I was tinkering with an old Yamaha Virago. Then I drove the farm truck over to my buddy's house and we loaded the scooter, a 125 cc Yamaha with Vespa-like styling. He showed me how to get into the storage compartment under the seat where the inspection sticker and registration were stowed. I drove away with plenty of time to get to the test site and unload and drive around a bit to get used to scooter. Organized, on time, thought-through. Going well.

So I thought.

It was as I was driving away that I realized I'd left both my Instruction Permit and my Motorcycle Safety Class certificate in my den at home. These silly slips of paper were on the list of official documents I needed to take the road test.

Looking back, forgetting these slips was the actual moment I failed the test. Everything else that went wrong was just a cascading chain of events from this moment. I just didn't know it yet.

I could have stopped right here and saved myself all kinds of trouble.

So, watching the time now, I drove back home first to get the stupid slips. This was about an extra fifteen miles of driving on a bad Maine road, and I began to feel the cortisol flooding my system as I bounced down the stupid rutted back road short cut, hoping I'd strapped the bike on well enough, watching it in my rear view mirror.

I hadn't, of course, and so another five minutes were wasted with ratchet straps. I don't know how you feel about ratchet straps, but I like them fine, until I start to get stressed, and then they don't work so well. I was all fingers and thumbs.

Things were not looking so good.

Then there were the durn roadworks.

Maine has two seasons, it is often said, winter and road-mending. Our harsh winters do for our roads and so they must be fixed every year, more or less. Added to this imperative, the famous or infamous stimulus package came with a lot of bridge money, and so pretty much the whole road system of the great State o' Maine is under bridge repair right about now.

Tourists be damned, The tourists come anyway. They must like sitting in two-mile long lines of traffic on Highway One. I suppose it's a much more scenic traffic jam than they can find in Jersey or inside Boston's I-495 or, increasing, from within the M-25 London beltway.

(What was it Bette Midler said in "Big Business"? Eurotrash!)

Two sets of bridge works on Route 7 ate up my last ten minutes. It was just 10 am when I pulled into Belfast, and I still didn't know where to go! More stress hormone. I knew that the best place to get directions to a road test would be the downtown parts store, and I was right, but it took ten minutes, and the silly church wasn't even really in Belfast, but across the bridge almost in Searsport, and so by the time I pulled into the church parking lot, my hands were shaking, and I hadn't even unloaded the cycle yet.

The official ladies behind the desk in the church's community room were polite but firm. I was late. I'd better go get my sticker and registration pronto or my test would be cancelled. I tried to explain that I needed a moment to clam down, but they didn't seem to get that at all.

Back out on the bed of the truck, straps all askew, I tried my hardest to get the durn luggage compartment open, hands shaking, mind a blur. There was a trick to this that my buddy had showed me. You had to turn the key back to a special position, push, click, and that was how it was supposed to happen. Pops right up. Right under the seat.

Neato. Or so it seemed in my buddy's driveway.

But it wasn't happening for me. I prayed. I twisted. I turned. I tried every combination. I finally realized if I just forced the seat up, I could slip my hand in and grab the plastic bag with the sticker. I ran into the building with my papers.

But the testing lady wasn't having any of this. Too late. Couldn't do it. Very sorry, but you were supposed to be here, ready to go, thirty-five minutes ago.

More to explain to myself what the heck it was that I was going to do now, I said despondently if that was the case, then I probably wasn't going to take the silly test, ever. It was just too much trouble I said, to take the stupid safety class, and find a borrowed bike, and get over here to this stupid out-of-the-way site, to take the silly test. And of course, in the back of my mind was what Aimee would think of all this. And I suppose I must have seemed pretty downhearted.

Miracle of miracles, the test ladies relented.

If I could get the bike off the truck in the next two minutes, I could take the test.

Now, if you can at all imagine, a 250 pound guy who spends his summers splitting wood and wrangling 80-pound anemometer tower parts can always find a way to get a little tiny bike like that off a truck in two minutes, but that probably isn't quite the way you want to watch him get a bike off a truck.

And it certainly didn't do anything for my nervousness. Neither did the two-way helmet radio they gave me, with the somewhat shrill test lady instructions ringing in my ears. Now I know what it's like to hear voices in your head telling you what to do!

Voices other than Aimee's, that is. I hear her voice in my head all the time.

Never mind the fact that I'd never ridden this bike before. My pulse rate must have been a hundred and five as I fired up the bike and ran through the light checks.

None of it mattered in the end. It wasn't my road handling of the unfamiliar bike that killed me. It was forgetting to look over my left shoulder when moving from a right hand to a left hand lane in a one-way system.

Do you know how many one-way systems there actually are in the great State o' Maine?

Not many, that's for sure. So, of course I forget to look over my shoulder. I checked both mirrors. I used my flasher. I kept the proper lane position in both lanes. I remembered to cancel the flasher when I got done with the lane change.

But I didn't look over my stupid shoulder.

Actually, I though I did pretty well myself, especially on the so called "hill start". This is where you need to be pointing diagonally uphill, with your back wheel against a curb as if parked, and then move out into the road. The test designers probably don't know about automatic clutch scooters that have to be turned off and rolled if you want to go downhill backwards, and neither did I as I tried to follow the instructions, but I figured it out totally on the fly.

I was strangely calm as I received my test results. The test lady was unfailingly polite. I was polite in return. Very British. Stiff upper wotsit. Manners are everything in moments of stress. The Queen would be proud. I told myself another two years of a learner's permit wouldn't kill my motorcycle fixer-upper plans, if ever I could find a few hundred extra wife-free dollars to buy some kind of fixer-upper project anyway.

I began the project of righting my keel, metaphorically speaking. I did it very deliberately, the stress hormone antidote. I loaded my scooter much more carefully than I unloaded it. I strapped it down extremely carefully, making sure to appreciate the ratchet straps fully. I very slowly did a couple of other Belfast chores. I even got myself a cup of coffee and a slice of pie at the food coop, ignoring the flipping tourists dawdling around in the aisles.

(Why do they have to stroll so slowly, and annoyingly, through our food store? One somnambulant tourist family in your supermarket would be enough, but we get ten or fifteen of them at once, and it's a very small store. One of these days I'm going to go to their store, wherever that is, and leave fifty untended shopping carts with broken wheels in their aisles, at 6.30 on a Friday evening, when they're desperate to get home with dinner. We'll see how they like it! Is this madness? Do I need to see a doctor?)

Then I drove to my buddy's house. Luckily he was out, so I didn't have to tell anyone how badly I'd done. I unloaded the scooter yet more slowly and carefully. I drove home very slowly indeed. I fed the dogs and tended to the sheep and pigs and chickens. I stashed my motorcycle test papers away nicely. I even read through the form to apply for another two year permit.

And I took a very long nap and slept it off.

And then, and only then, I told my wife.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
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