Last weekend, as I usually do, I rolled the bike out of the garage and pointed it down the road. No real plans, just a need to get out of the house and burn some fossil fuels. A couple of hours later, in a small town that was slowly dying as the population moved off to better options and fewer people in the community, I pulled over for some gas, a cold drink and a smoke for lunch.
Once I fueled up, I pulled the Sportster over to the side of the store, lit up a smoke, and took a long pull from the Coke I’d bought.
The funny thing about these small towns – they all look alike. A dried up old commercial area, one “good” gas station, two bad ones, and a whole bunch of closed up storefronts. The people I’ve met in towns like these over the years have almost always been friendly and accepting, even though they know that the place is going down the tubes.
I guess they have better things to do than to worry about me.
Anyhow, about four puffs into my cigarette, a county sheriff’s car pulls up with what has to have been the oldest law enforcement officer in the state at the wheel and he gives me a long stare through the windshield, then gets out.
I was looking at the archetype of every small-town law enforcement officer that we’ve ever seen in the movies: mirrored sunglasses, crisply pressed shirt and trousers, and this guy still carried a revolver.
I felt like I’d slipped back to my childhood, except he was driving a new Charger.
I soon found out that this gentleman was the Sheriff and had been since 1984. It turns out that he had worked for one of the men that had been responsible for getting me into the Academy 25 years ago and while we’d never met, we knew a lot of people from that time. Then the questions started about the bike – what was it, how long had I been riding, you know the standards that we all get.
And then I found out something about this old man – I’d seen he had a helluva limp when he got out of the patrol car – he’d been a rider, too, forty years ago. Motorcycle cop in a big city for two years before, you guessed it, a bad crash in a high-speed pursuit.
“What’d that look like, Sheriff?” I asked.
“Well, I had that damn Kawasaki wound out running down in the warehouse district chasing this old heroin dealer and waiting on the patrol units to get there when another car pulled out in front of me. I had time to realize that I could swerve and miss them and maybe hold the bike up but I didn’t see the loading ramp that I swerved into. It was a damned nice flight, though.”
He’d flown something approaching 20 feet off the ground and nearly 100 feet before he and the bike separated, crashing him into the metal siding of another warehouse left foot first.
Of the 206 bones in the human body, he’d broken 47.
He was in the hospital nearly seven months before they got him back to something resembling human and in the process, his left leg, broken in 28 places, ended up about three inches shorter than the right one.
After that, he’d jockeyed a desk for a few years while he learned how to walk again and then returned back to his hometown – the one we were standing in – and been elected even with the physical limitations he’d had.
Did he ever ride again?
“No, I figured that I used up all my luck that night and that the Good Lord didn’t need me to go pushing it any more. Just because I can don’t mean I should.” He took a long look at my bike, toed the bell on the front of the frame, and said, “keep it between the ditches and have a good day, son.”