Thursday, February 9, 2012

Motorcycles

It's funny how your views on things change once you have kids.

I still remember that day, 20 years ago, when I was single and childless and I made my way to Rosemont, Illinois for the annual motorcycle show. It was there that I fell in love - with a black Yamaha Virago. I spent almost the entire day salivating over it

Viragos are sweet bikes. They're built like women - curvy, big-hipped and elegant. And low to the ground. At 5'8" I'm not short, but it's amazing to me how many bikes make me stand on my tippy toes when I hit a red light. I wanted my feet flat on the ground. And my heart to soar. The Virago promised both.

And then I went away and thought, "I can't afford one. I don't deserve one. My mother says I'll die if I get one." And yet...

I had spent at least 10 years by that point riding bicycles long distances. Since moving to Chicago the year before, I frequently spent my Saturdays riding from the northside to Winnetka or Highland Park, then west out to Milwaukee Avenue, which would take me home. I had routes of 30, 40 and 50 miles. It was incredibly exhilarating, and it made my Sundays more relaxing than I think I will ever experience again.

It also made me highly road conscious. I could hear and feel and see every driver in my proximity. I had a sixth sense. I was a road warrior.

So why just use my feet to drive the machine? Why not use a motor?

Ah, the dreaming.

Fast forward a couple of years. I was with my girlfriend of less than a year - who turned out to be the other mother of my children and, now, my ex. We were visiting her family in Iowa. We had seen a motorcycle for sale in front of someone's house. On a whim, we inquired about it. It was tall. My toes didn't like that.

So Connie, who thus far had enthralled me with her lack of restrictions - her lack of a mother's voice telling her she was going to die if she tried something risky - suggested we go to a bike store. It was there that we met her. My love. She was seven years old. And black. And beautiful. I wanted her. I knew she wanted me. And I found myself in this strange euphoria when Connie said, "OK, let's buy it."

You can just DO things like that? Without planning and fretting?

I had that bike for eight years, and I found out two really important things. One, Viragos (at least ones built in 1987) are not very comfortable. I didn't do too many long distance trips. Two, when you live in the city - especially when your office is within a half mile of Wrigley Field - there is no better transportation than a motorcycle. You can park them anywhere. As much as I got off on the exhilaration of flying down the street on a beautiful day, I get off just as much from the beauty of practicality and efficiency. And there is nothing sweeter to me than something that serves multiple - and equally important - functions.

Then I got pregnant. And it occurred to me that they don't sell infant seats for motorcycles.

Really, it was the practicality that got me first. We weren't living in the city anymore, and there was no way my ass was going to survive the 60-mile round-trip commute to my office. The bike would just sit in my garage, unused, while I strapped my twins into the car seats of my new minivan. I supposed I could drive it to Walgreens, or the bagel store as Connie stayed home with the girls, but that seemed rather sad.

So one late fall afternoon, when I was six months pregnant, but not yet on bed rest, Connie and I took my beautiful Virago out for one last ride around our neighborhood streets, before the truck came to take the bike to California, where Connie's son was going to school. It was also a perfect bike for beach towns and college campuses. He would do well with it.

Then came the day when Connie decided to impress our daughters with how cool she thought their mother was. The girls were about three or four, and as the three of them were walking down the street, a motorcycle passed. And she said, "You know, your mother used to have a motorcycle."

When my children burst in the door, their astonishment and joy and excitement and admiration blew me away. Yet the realization that they now knew it was OK to ride a motorcycle made my heart freeze and my stomach drop.

You can die riding those things.

They didn't have the road warrior training that I'd had. If they get a bike when they're 30 and past the teenage anger and compulsiveness, that might be one thing. But knowing, even before you can drive - even before you know how to ride a bike - that motorcycles are something you could imagine in your future. No. Not my children.

No more motorcycle dreams.

As the girls have gotten older and my car ricketier, I now wish I had kept that Virago - or traded it in for something a tad more comfortable. So what if I would only ride it every once in a while - or when my car was in the shop. And my kids are not rash. They listen very carefully about road rules when we ride our bikes around the streets of our town. Teaching them early is the key to safety.

And then I saw the little blurb about the International Motorcycle Show in Rosemont. It's this weekend, and I thought, "I could take the girls." Then I thought, "It's not practical. I can't afford it. And I don't want to put ideas into their heads."

And yet...

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