My grandfather (“Pappaw”) was proud of a certificate that attested to him having put more than 100,000 miles on his Harley-Davidson, so he obviously liked riding motorcycles. And his son—my father—was much the same. He sometimes told stories about adventures he had with his buds; the one that stands out was when they rode from Dallas to Austin in 1950 to see Texas and SMU play football. The Mustangs were No. 1 in the nation at the time and the Horns No. 7, but the guys in orange and white prevailed, 23-20.
When I was in ninth grade at Hill Junior High School, several friends like Mark Rice and Gary Fralin had motorcycles—certainly not big, throbbing Harleys but small-bore Hondas, Yamahas, Kawasakis and Suzukis. I wanted one, too, but the old man said no. Too dangerous, he insisted. ("Don't do as I did, do as I say.")
Not until 1972, my sophomore year at UT, did I buy a motorcycle. I had just spent an interesting summer as a deck hand on a tugboat plying the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, so I had some money. A guy named Don Swindler (!) was offering his 175-cc Honda for $500. I took it for a test ride and bought it rather impulsively. It was not dependable, and often I could not get the engine started; these were the days when you did not just touch a button, but you had to kick-start it. I remember kicking and kicking this thing, often cursing as I left it sitting outside my dormitory. Sometimes it ran, of course. I have fond memories of going out in the countryside with my main squeeze, Pam Grover. A couple of college kids, one M and one F, riding a motorcycle on a Saturday afternoon, cruising over hill and dale, wherever we wanted—oh, it was fun.
Pam had gone to Virginia to see her family for Christmas, whereas I was going to Dallas. It was probably December 20, 1972 when I got out on Interstate 35 and headed north. The day was cold, and it only got colder. I seem to remember heavy traffic and unpredictable crosswinds that sometimes threatened to blow me and my Honda into the ditch. I stopped at convenience stores in Temple, Waco, Hillsboro and Waxahachie mainly to thaw out. When I pulled up to my grandmother’s house in Oak Cliff, she and my brother had to slowly remove my frozen fingers from the handlebars.
After nine months, I sold that crummy motorcycle and did not buy another one until 1979 when I was living in Denton. This was a Yamaha 175, and I purchased it from my uncle. I mostly used it to get from home to job, with a bit of zooming around outside the city. What do I remember about this one? Two minor accidents. One happened while I was riding on an icy street near the North Texas State University campus. My caution notwithstanding, down I went. Fortunately, the damage to me and my Yamaha was minimal. The other mishap took place when the weather was perfect. I spilled while going too fast in a gravel parking lot. In this case, I came away with a bloody gash on my right arm.
My third and final motorcycle was a unique matter. Having little money, I was attracted to an ad in the Austin American-Statesman. A guy wanted just $50 for all the parts of a Yamaha 360. I merely had to put them together and I’d have a bike! Sad to say, however, I did not have anything like the skill set needed to handle that task. I made an arrangement with a friend named Donny to do the work. He took his sweet time, but eventually the thing was up and running. It was not trustworthy, so I seldom went too far on it. I have no idea how I disposed of that motorcycle.
Perhaps if I’d had more experience—like Pappaw, for instance—I would have become adept at riding a motorcycle. But I never really got the hang of it. I admire these guys who boldly and nonchalantly weave in and out of traffic on Seoul’s congested streets and highways. They zip by on their "crotch rockets," displaying a devil-may-care attitude. I was not like that with my Honda or my two Yamahas.
I am now 63, and the chances of me ever owning another motorcycle are microscopic. And yet I have not forgotten the sheer exuberance and joy that come from riding. A Harley-Davidson dealership is located in my neighborhood, and just behind the glass is a sexy black one. Among the smallest Harleys available today, it is a 750-cc beauty. I gaze at it in a reverie of sorts. It virtually speaks to me. It's saying, "Richard, you know you want me. I want you, too. Come on—buy me." Maybe, under different circumstances, I might…. No, absolutely not. Those days are over.