Sep 4, 2010

Life, Balanced On Wheels

In any parent's life there are milestones. They seem to come fast and furious after your little one first enters your life: birthdays, first steps, first words, there's always another first. As they get older the birthdays still come, but the big milestones start, thankfully, to slow down a little, but by the same token they seem to get BIGGER.

My only begotten daughter is at that stage. Her last big milestone was last year, starting high school. Attendant to that milestone was one other: learning how to drive. Now, I've taught folks to drive before. Heck, I've taught a number of people how to drive motorcycles, and that takes some doing. I've even taught a handful of folks how to drive vehicles with clutches, so I'm no stranger to Driver's Ed. Until it was my daughter behind the wheel.

What is it that changes when it's YOUR child you're teaching? What happens to all that objectivity, that calm, controlled Teacher Mode. Right out the electric window.

We started out easily enough: short trips down the driveway, across thirty feet of quiet country road and down a gravel road to my brother's driveway and back again. Then Driver's Ed in school, and today, today we had a milestone: her first time on the highway. I would have written about this early this morning after we got home but my hands were shaking too violently. Don't get me wrong, she did fine, for a new driver. She used her turn signals appropriately. She parked well. She even merged into speeding traffic for the first time. Thing is, she is like any new driver: hesitant, and hesitating in Louisiana traffic is liable to get you crushed underneath a four-wheel drive truck. But, she did it. Several big driving milestones passed.

Allow me now to diverge just a little bit.

If you've read this blog more than twice you know I utterly adore motorcycles. I've ridden since 1992 and have never regretted a moment I've spent on two wheels, which is more than I can say for my life on four. When I was in servitude to The Giraffe there were several of us who rode, but there was one guy, Dan, who was The One on a motorcycle. He was one of those guys who was born in the saddle. He could ride a bike backward, blindfolded, while juggling a bowling ball, a tiki torch and an infant child, and do it well. He was just that good. I think the only thing that stopped him from having a career as a professional motorcycle racer is that he was a little bit on the heavy side. Which was probably caused by the munchies he often had as a byproduct of the truly astounding amounts of pot he consumed daily.

But, bong notwithstanding, I decided that my child would grow up with a bike too, if she wanted. Her first ride on a bike occurred while she was in utero, and probably her hundredth ride also occurred before she ever opened her eyes to daylight. When she was born I'd make little vroom-vroom noises to her to soothe her to sleep. I thought long, hard and often about buying her one of those tiny little Honda Z50 dirt bikes to ride in the back yard, but finances and family pressure nixed that pretty fast. I quickly found out that in Louisiana a child had to be eight years old before they could passenger on a motorcycle, but when that milestone birthday came riding on the back of a bike was nixed again. Undaunted, I kept at it. Every once in a while I'd bring it up, but it kept getting knocked down.

Actually most of it came from the wee child herself. She is, oddly enough, a lot like me. She's retiring, quiet, and would much rather see someone else burst their skull open before trying to leap off the roof herself, so clambering on the back of a motorcycle, even with her dear old Da simply didn't rank high on her Must Do List. Me being me, I never forced her. I knew that when I was a kid and was forced to do something I soon came to hate it, and I'd sworn never to do that to my child. So, she didn't ride, and I let that little flame of hope gutter pretty low.

Until today. I decided, and told her as much, that since she'd tortured me by making me ride around with her while I ran my errands in town (Co-Op, bank, library) I was in turn going to torture her by making her ride with me to Wal-Mart, the one trip we'd forgotten in our haste to get back in time for lunch at Grandma's. So, on went the Missus' new helmet and her yellow and black riding jacket, on went the tall leather boots, and out we went to Sally.

I gave her the usual pointers that I give any new rider who decides to passenger with me: "This is hot, don't touch. Don't put your feet down EVER. Hands here, back pressed against that, don't spit without raising your visor first." And we rolled out.

I stopped at the end of the lane just in case she'd changed her mind or had peed on my seat or something. When I asked her if she was okay she replied with a sardonic "Yes, Dad" and so we went on. Ten gentle minutes later taking helmets off at our local Wal-To-Wal Mart I asked her the all important question. "Well? How was it?" Now in total truth I expected to hear "Meh," or "It's okay." What I got was "It's so cooooooool!"


So, our next stop after jabbering about motorcycles all through Wal-Mart (and don't think I wasn't the PROUDEST papa there--gear on, helmet in hand, and my daughter equally attired, helmet in HER hand) was right up the road at the local bike shop. I had the tremendous pleasure to introduce her to Miss Johnnie, the wonderful old lady who answers the telephones there, who remembers me working there the FIRST time, almost fifteen years ago, when my child was still in my arms. Then we looked at swag. She tried on jackets, and we talked about leather versus textile versus the perforated stuff. We covered the absolute necessity of armor, and the ins and outs of wearing that gear in Louisiana summers. We even peeked in the displays at a few helmets, but our local motoshop is pretty slim on swag, and the only women's helmets they stock run to pink and flowery, which is NOT my daughter's taste. Oddly enough even the pink and white Icon Motorsports jacket with the glittery stars on it was scoffed at, even though it fit her pretty decently.

Then came the fun part. Trying on motorcycles. Oh, I'm in no position to buy her even the smallest street bike now, and she's quite a few thousand miles in a car shy of hitting the tarmac on two wheels, but it's in her near future. She told me as much. Getting back on Sally to leave Wal-Farce she stated it. "Daddy, I want a bike." Simple as that, and her tone brooked no refusals. In the face of that much determination, determination that seemed awfully familiar to this old man, I did the only thing I could do.

I said "Okay!"

We scoffed at the scooters. We rolled our eyes derisively at the wide selection of used Harleys. We gazed longingly at some of the big touring bikes (well, I did) and we gazed longingly at some of the factory customs. Then we got serious and let her try the Kawasaki Ninja 250 for size, which now looks like a full-on crotch rocket, way to go Kawi design team! We also let her settle onto a little black Honda Rebel 250. Both fit her pretty decently, she's got decent leg length, but she made her papa proud when she returned to the little black and chrome Rebel.

A cruiser, just like her dear Papa. Aaaah, it does my heart good. I would have liked her to try out the Star 250 also, which I just found out Yamaha DOES in fact make for this year, but yet again my motodealer failed me by not having one on the floor. Ah well. Maybe a road trip to Natchitoches is in order, to see if my beloved Honda Village has one on the showroom.

Guys, watch out. The next generation of my family is ready to embrace life on two wheels, and she's not gonna play around. Just like her proud father.