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  • Robert Farago

Arc de Bonneville Triumph

Wherein the author confronts his younger self

Once upon a time, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. I fell through the air a while, enjoying free fall. Total misnomer. Even in Rome, Georgia my journey through the ether wasn’t cheap. It almost cost me my life.

At the appropriate moment, I pulled my rip cord. The next thing I knew I was staring at a ribbon of silk waving hypnotically from here to infinity. It took me a second or two – call it a hundred feet – to realize I was looking at what’s called a “streamer.” A parachute that, for whatever reason, failed to open. The reason being I flirted with the parachute packer’s smoking hot girlfriend.

The sheriff didn’t believe me either. Anyway, there’s a simple protocol for not falling to your death tied to the end of a fouled parachute: release the main chute and pull the reserve. Unfortunately, I was falling upside down with my feet tangled in the nylon cords attaching the unintentionally hallucinogenic parachute to my harness.

After an unsuccessful fight with gravity, trying to reach my feet, I thought screw it, and pulled the reserve. That’s a skydiving no no. If your reserve gets caught in your main, the reserve does nothing useful in the deceleration department. I don’t know or remember what happened above my head. Sorry, feet. Suffice it to say the trees did their part in stopping me from “bouncing.”

I hit the ground with my right foot, which did an immediate 180. I felt an enormous bolt of pain that was so powerful that I felt… nothing. My brain decided fuck that shit and cut off all sensation from that part of my body. Which left me staring at my foot with calm detachment. It was pointing right. The bone stuck out to the left.

The bird observing me from a nearby branch chirped incessantly. I don’t speak bird, but I think it was saying “evolution is a bitch.” I was glad to be alive, in a way I’d never been glad to be alive before. I’m not a religious man, so it wasn’t a “thank you God, I’ll spread the word” kinda deal. It was more of a “what the hell am I doing with my life?” thing.

I had plenty of time to consider the possibilities. One of which was dying. Not my first or best option, but I was miles from the drop zone, bleeding here and there thanks to my close encounter with the aforementioned trees.

About an hour later, I caught sight of a pickup truck wending its way through the woods. A local had watched me fall and decided he had nothing better to do than investigate. He smiled, looked me over and said “I think you sprained your ankle.” I thought it best to get a second opinion.

My new friend lifted me into the truck’s bed and drove me to the hospital. He left me in the back, trying not to look at my foot. I watched him amble into the ER. About ten minutes later he emerged. “There ain’t nobody there,” he informed me. “Well they’re not out here,” I said by way of motivation. He nodded contemplatively and returned for another look.

The ER nurse pumped me full of pain killers. Lovely! And then informed me they had to turn my foot back to the face the normal direction. I don’t mind admitting they had to hold me down and I screamed.

Not because I was in pain. Because it was the freakiest thing to happen to me since Nancy “Just Say No” Reagan told the anchors at my CNN job that Ronnie Jr. had avoided the scourge of drugs thanks to engaged parenting. The same Ronnie Jr. that smoked weed with me on a chairlift in Aspen, Colorado. I hated my job so much I was about to correct her when a nearby Secret Service Agent stared at me and shook his head.

Where was I? Oh yes, answering the nurse’s pre-op questions in a drug-addled haze. “Bobby, did you have a big breakfast?” I confessed I had. “Well I want you to know you could choke on your vomit and die.” Words to live by! They wheeled me to the OR and left me in the hallway by my lonesome. Wouldn’t you know it, there was a dead man across the aisle. His pulchritudinous form was covered by a Forest Lawn blanket.

“Sir, did you have a big breakfast?” I asked my silent partner. “Bobby, you know he’s dead,” the nurse pointed out. “That doesn’t answer my question,” I countered.

I never found out what happened to my fat friend. But I did get a plate and screws attached to my skeletal structure. After the enervated doctor found a radio to listen to the Georgia v. Georgia Tech football game. An epic battle whose result I can’t recall, that accounted for my driver’s inability to find caregivers.

After a brief stay in the hospital, after learning that a gruff-sounding lesbian had stolen my girlfriend, I quit my job, sold my stuff, booked an around-the-world airplane ticket, bummed around Australia and the Far East, bought a motorcycle in Amsterdam and travelled the length and breadth of Europe and Scandinavia – as one does.

The two-wheeled chariot in question: a BMW K100 RT. Also known as “the flying brick.” That monster and I shared some of the most precious moments of my life. No job. No career. No friends. No family. Too hot in Spain? Off to Sweden. Back to France for the world’s best ham sandwich. Germany has good beer. And England held my future wife.

Flash forward thirty years. I packed up my Ducati Multistrada V4S, sent the perishables down the garbage chute and headed for the open road. Four hours later I had enough.

The Duck had none of the Beemer’s wind protection and I had precious little of the sangfroid of my younger self. I was thinking about trading the Ducati for a BMW tourer when I got knocked off the Italian bike and sent flying. Now what?

For a while, nothing. For seven months, as my shoulder began its long march to freedom. At 63, was I done? Would I go bikeless into that long good night? I would. And then I wouldn’t.

I missed the freedom that only a motorcycle can deliver. The thrill of not dying – except maybe of heat prostration (we’re talking Texas).

I had to decide what kind of motorcycle I’d buy.

My fast bike days were over, for sure. But could I really see myself astride an Indian Super Chief, a gigantic motorcycle born to eat-up the miles that handles like a Skidoo and makes me look older than Methuselah. What about a BMW that crushes highways but loves the city as much as a Mormon missionary? Nope. Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster.

It’s a tiny little thing, as intimidating as a Labrador retriever. So light it’s best not to sneeze near it. You sit on it, rather than in it, reminding me of nothing so much as a motorized lawn chair.

It’s a naked bike – no windscreen or fairing. It’s almost as fun at 80 mph as playing badminton in a wind tunnel. In fact, the ironically named Speedmaster is the perfect beginner’s bike. A fresh start?

Truth be told, I’m not sure what the Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster says about me. I’m sure it says something.

I guess it’s a two-wheeled admission that my wandering days are over. That I’m leaving long distance motorcycling for riders who need a reverse gear, and corner carving for riders who laugh at the term “donor cycle.” It’s the perfect bike for bar hopping and commuting the few miles to any of the three cigar lounges that define the majority of my spare time. And that’s about it,

If I’m honest – a writer’s way of telling readers he has no clue what he’s talking about – the Bonneville represents the triumph of age over experience.

Weird. I never thought of myself as sensible. My bank balance proves that point. Nor do I consider myself old. But now, well, here I am. Riding a motorcycle that’s more about style than any sort of adventure.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m slowing down. I don’t know if this is a phase and, if it is, if it’s the final phase. But I’ll say this much: youth is not wasted on the young. Not in my case.

If that young, broken man sitting in the forest waiting for rescue could sit here with me, he wouldn’t be disappointed with the life separating us. He would see me on my baby bike, smile and say “It ain’t over yet, old man. Enjoy your Triumph. There’s a Beemer in your future.” Bastard.

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