The Red Machine - 1978
by Michelle Reutty

The world was a beautiful, kaleidoscopic blur from the back of Joe’s Honda. It was compact and powerful and rust-colored, as was Joe.

 “Wanna go for a ride?” he’d ask. And ride we did. He revved the bike’s engine as I donned my helmet.

“Hear that, Mickey?” he said. “That’s the way I feel about you.”

“Yeah, Joe, your engine’s running, but you’re getting nowhere.”

“OK, I can wait ‘til you’re ready.”        
           
We rode through a rain storm and parked under a trestle, laughing and joking until the rain let up. We traveled to parks, where kids would gather around the bike and Joe---both natural kid magnets. We cruised into Carvels, where parents in their station wagons crammed full of little deductions would gaze with envy at us.

One spring day, Joe drove me to his apartment and fixed me dinner. As the tomato sauce simmered, he dipped a slice of smoked mozzarella in it and, after blowing gently on it to cool it down, he fed it to me. How sensual on so many levels… We engaged in some mild flirting, but I wondered if I was supposed to be dessert.

As we did the dishes together, I said, “Joe, the dinner was wonderful, and so are you.”

“Then when are you going to give in? It’s just a matter of time, you know.”

“Joe, I love you dearly---as a friend.”

“OK, I’m a patient man.”

“Good. Now take your hand off my thigh and drive me home.” We went home.

One day I asked Joe, “How about teaching me to ride? I think I’m ready.”

“If you get your permit, I’ll teach you” Joe slipped his arm around my shoulder.

“You got a deal,” I said, unwinding his tentacle from my neck.

“Your right hand grip is the throttle, your left hand controls the clutch. This caliper on the right is the front break, but never, NEVER press it without engaging the rear brake first with your right foot. Your left foot is to change the gears, three up, one down. When you are in neutral, a green light will appear on the control panel. Now, ease the throttle toward you until you see the tachometer needle hit the green, and slowly let out the clutch. Slowly---slowly. Damn-you stalled again. NOW, let’s try it one more time."

“Ease the throttle toward you until you see the tachometer needle hit the green…”

In one Sunday afternoon, in an abandoned parking lot, I learned how to start, stop and to shift. I made circles, first around the parking lot, then smaller and smaller, until I could circle around Joe. I even learned how to zig-zag between imaginary barriers.

“OK, you’re ready.”

I stopped and Joe climbed on back.

“Are you sure I’m ready for this? Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“I wouldn’t get on if I didn’t think you were ready. Head on out for the street.”

I drove up and down the side streets, and was gaining confidence. At the end of one of the streets that fed onto Route 22, he motioned for me to pull over. He told me to pull into traffic when I saw a break.

“Joe, I’m not ready for this.”

“Yes, yes you are. Trust me. Trust me. And after we’ll go back to my apartment and we’ll cook up something special to celebrate.”

I entered the slow lane and was doing fine until I saw the amber light ahead. I knew in my head I had to do three things to slow down and stop, but I forgot which three. And in which order.

And the light was closing in. At the last possible second, I remembered to ease up on the throttle, depress both the front and the rear brakes, but I forgot about the clutch. We chugged to a chattering halt and the cycle stalled.

The light was red. I jumped off the bike, shaking with fright. “I told you I wasn’t ready,” I yelled at him. Joe moved up and I climbed on behind him. He drove me back to my house in silence.

Joe called a few times after that. We went for rides, Joe driving, of course. Then one day, Joe stopped by without calling. I was sitting on my front steps with a new guy who had the potential to be someone special. Joe said he’d call me back later, but he never did.

It’s been years since that someone special disappointed me, but sometimes, especially in the summer, when I hear a motorcycle winding out, I say to no one in particular, “Wait for me. I’m ready. Wait for me.”

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