Friday, September 10, 2010

Morpook, The Little Motorbike That Could

I didn’t start out wanting a motorbike. 

My father, as part of his midlife crisis, before he dumped my mother for a woman my age with my sister’s name, bought a foreign sports car and a new house across town – the horror of it all – the school district of my high school’s greatest rival. And worst of all, the rival high school did not have Russian, which was the foreign language I was studying for my college requirements. It also didn’t have a cabinet for earplugs, which my father clearly needed because he was always yelling at his 3 children to BE QUIET!

I filed and got permission to take my senior year at my old high school, provided I could get there.  I’d always biked the 3 miles to school.  The new house was too far to bike.  My father didn’t care about my Russian classes. He didn’t care where I went to high school. If I wanted to continue taking Russian, I had to figure out how to get there.

I still didn’t think about a motorbike.  I was 17. I thought about a car.  My grandfather said, “Buy American!”  I couldn’t figure out why the country of manufacture mattered. I was studying a foreign language. I was learning folk dances from many countries.  It seemed to me that people in any country could make a perfectly good car.

My father took me to his car dealer, where he’d bought the foreign sports car.  The dealer said he had the perfect car for me.  A German Ford, a Taunus.  It cost $350.  That was about the exact total I expected to earn from my summer job with Head Start.  There would be $40 left over.  With that I planned to buy a manual typewriter.  I agreed to buy the car.

From the beginning, that car was trouble.  The driver-side door wouldn’t stay closed. The gear shift kept jamming.  I kept applying grease to the door tooth.  A friend stuffed one of my stockings (that had a run) into the gear shift channel and that helped it move more easily.  I got through the summer without major repairs.

But come school year, that mean car started needing real repairs. An alternator. A carburetor. And worst of all metric grommets that I had to order from Germany.  I had to take an after school job at the Girl’s Club, teaching crafts, just to pay for the repairs and the gasoline and oil changes. About six months of this and I saw I could not afford a car.  That’s when I started looking at motorbikes.  

Vespas were cute with their low step through, but the price was too high.  Hondas were attractive, but you had to carry an oil can with you and measure out oil to mix with the gasoline whenever you filled the tank.  I settled on a Yamaha 50, which had separate tanks for the oil and the gasoline.  It cost the same as my Taunus, and my Taunus, had unbelievably lost value in the few months I had owned it.  Don’t used cars ever bottom out in value?

Plus by this time, my father and I were totally on the outs. He slapped my face when I told him I wanted to move out.  As soon as I graduated from high school, I took a full time job at an electronic assembly plant, found a furnished apartment to rent for $40 a month including utilities, that had a place to park my motorbike, and I started taking night classes at the junior college, which at that time in California was free, except for books.

I also met my husband at a folk-dance café.  He was fascinated with my motorbike. He wanted to ride my motorbike.  “Sure, if you know how to ride a bicycle and you have a helmet.”  He had neither qualification.  But he was serious.  He bought a bicycle and helmet and he learned to ride.  We rode my motorbike around the city. He rode my motorbike to his college graduation.  We took the motorbike to Berkeley when he went to grad school.  We moved it to Colorado when he became a post-doc, and eventually a professor.  

Morpook was a good investment. She got great mileage. She almost never needed repairs and when she did, they were affordable.   By now, we had children.  No matter how much they asked, I would not let them ride on Morpook.  

I was invited to try out a new kind of motorized bicycle, and write about it for the local paper. One of the forms on the questionnaire before the ride was, “Are you comfortable in the English language?”  No, not really. I’m a poet. I’m always struggling to find just the right word and always feeling let down by the words I choose.  But I don’t think that’s what they meant, because the next question was, “If not, what language are you comfortable in?”  Certainly not Russian. I only studied that language for 3 years.  I had almost 3 times that much experience in English.

I rode the motorized bicycle around the demo course.  It didn’t accelerate as easily as my 11 year old Morpook. The seat wasn’t as comfortable.  I concluded my article by saying, “I’m not selling Morpook.”

But about a month later, I hit a pile of sand in the road. Morpook stopped and I didn’t.  Morpook wasn’t hurt. I was bruised and scraped.  It seemed to me that I needed to drive something more safe, now that I had children to take care of.  Morpook was for sale.  Her new owner loved her immediately.

We bought a station wagon, that we named Square. He was really a rectangle. He was made in America. He ate gasoline and repairs.  He never got in an accident. And everybody laughed at me when I admitted I drove a station wagon.

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