~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

"I Knew A Guy..."

If you've been riding motorcycles more than about a month, by now you've encountered at least one person who, when they discover you ride, immediately says something along the lines of "I knew a guy once, he rode a big ol' Harley, only had the thing about a week when he left O'Malley's Tavern dead drunk in a snow storm and he crashed and was killed. You couldn't get me on one of those things!"

A variation is the concerned female who will look disapprovingly and say "I have a dear, dear friend who lost her step-son on one of THOSE THINGS five years ago. Poor Jimmy was just riding home after work and he was hit by a cement truck." It's hard not so make some crack like "Yeah, I'll bet THAT left a mark!"

In some previous blog entry here I'd mentioned my own dear father's story of Ernie, who crashed and "was never right in the head after that." Odd thing, for as many years as as I've been riding, I have not collected that many stories of people I actually knew who were killed on a bike. Currently the number (and I hope it does not increase) is two. One fellow was in fact going home drunk on his Harley (but not in a snow storm) and the other was a kid way over his head into a turn on a borrowed Kawasaki 900 Ninja.

When you show up somewhere on your bike, a party, a family gathering or whatever, I have to wonder why people feel they must, MUST tell you about the death, destruction, and dismemberment of some hapless rider they knew, knew about, or heard about on the news last week. "Yeah, I heard the other day one of those guys on a crotch rocket lost control at over 150 mph on the freeway, flew into the air and went 'SPLAT" against the I-10 interchange sign. And he wasn't wearing a helmet!!" Gee, do you think speed played a factor in the accident or did the motorcycle just decide it wanted to crash and took him with it? I know motorcycling is not as safe as driving a car so stories told to me by other people, stories of mayhem and carnage are intended to do what? Stop me from riding? Shall I shout "Oh my God, I didn't know bikes were THAT dangerous, I'll walk home tonight!!"? It's really difficult not get sarcastic with some people.

Are people well meaning and genuinely concerned for my safety or is it some way they morbidly sample the excitement of riding without actually riding and taking the risk? I'll ascribe concern to my parent's motives and morbidity to everyone else. No wait, there's a third group, those who simply have to vocally disapprove of anything which falls outside their live-in-a-cocoon existence.

I guess I've heard the "I knew a guy.." story countless times over the years. Most recently was a co-worker in the lunch room at work who, after he saw my Aprilia Falco said "You're gonna kill yourself on that thing!" I replied (loud enough so everyone could hear me) "Earl, I'd rather die in a horrific, flaming crash at 150 mph next week than in an old folks home drooling on myself when I'm 85 years old." To Earl's credit, he responded, "Yeah, you probably have a point there."

I've used variations on what I call the "shock 'em" concept at different times depending how polite I wanted to be to the other person. Condemning absurdity by giving an absurd example works pretty well: "Yeah, I crash a lot too. Got hit by Buick once. Sucker drove off and left me laying there with my leg tore plum off. Had to bungee cord it to the back of the seat of the bike and ride myself to the hospital to have it re-attached. Kickstarting the bike was a real pain, I hope to tell ya."

More often than not, being the polite fellow I am, I just say "Well, I've been riding over thirty years. Life is full of risks and riding a risk I'm willing to take."

And on the subject of death, here's this week's wanderings:

The weather today was perfect: 73° and blue skies. It's the kind of day that makes enduring Arizona's blistering summers worth while. I rolled the Aprilia out of the garage to do a short ride and try out the Vista-Cruise throttle lock I installed last night. As usual I headed east toward Coolidge and Florence. I should have ridden a lot farther and in fact intended to ride down towards Tucson and Aravica but I've pranged my shoulder somehow so decided to give it a bit of a rest.

I took a different road out of Florence this time, a nice little two lane bit a couple of miles long with a few curves. As I zipped along I saw out of the corner of my eye and old cemetery. I'm a sucker for anything historic, historic markers, and the like and given that the cemetery had no sign by the road and looked unkempt, I decided to turn around and see if maybe it was the local pioneer cemetery. It's always interesting to visit those places and see what bits of history can be gleaned from the grave markers. I parked the Caponord by the small entry way, the stone posts are left but the gate is long gone. I imagine it was ornate and attractive and so long ago was swiped to decorate someone's garden.

The Adamsville Cemetery is pretty run down. There are perhaps thirty grave markers still there. I suppose it was used much more than that but time and neglect have erased any sign of many of the graves. I couldn't help hoping as I wandered around that some empty spot where I trod would not give way and send me into the nether reaches. A few of the graves retain their ornate, iron fencing but most have been swept flat and smooth over by time and only the markers, most broken or tumbled over, indicate a grave. The most recent folks were laid to rest in 1997 but they are the exception, most arrived for their big dirt nap between 1880 and the 1930's. The local ground squirrels have been busy throughout the cemetery digging their burrows though. No doubt they have found some spacious accommodations in course of their tunneling.

As I wandered around, camera in hand, reading the headstones, two markers caught my attention more that the others. The first was an obelisk, now broken and it's top setting on the ground next to the base. As often is the case, the inscriptions tell a sad tell of hard times in the old west. One side of the marker reads "Our babies Lou, age 21 days Died 1884 - Lulu, age 3 years, Died 1887" The other side of the marker lists what I took to be the father's name, a Mr. Bailey, and his departure in the year 1888 at the age of 38 years. Even over 100 years hence it's hard not to be moved by the apparent plight of some poor woman, in the harshest part of the wild west, her children and husband all gone in the space of four years.
The other marker was for a Mr. Granville H. Oury. Clearly Mr. Oury was a prominent fellow and it seems has friends to this present time. Born in 1825 he shuffled off this mortal coil in the year 1891. What made Mr. Oury's marker remarkable was the inscription. Seems he was a member of the Arizona Mounted Volunteers. That in itself isn't so surprising given the man's place in time and the wars with the Indians here in Arizona. What was remarkable was the inscription underneath: "CSA" What was the connection between the Arizona Mounted Volunteers and the Confederate States of America? I knew there had been one small skirmish of the Civil War fought here in Arizona. Was Mr. Oury a participant in that? Interesting stuff! I won't tire you with the whole story of Capt. Granville H. Oury. Suffice to say that I had no idea that Arizona had once been declared a Territory of the Confederate States of America and even had a Confederate governor. Oury had quite a life and covered many miles. Funny that in the end, after so many adventures, he should wind up in an obscure little cemetery outside Florence, Arizona. You can read about him here if you're a history buff.

After a bit I walked back out to the Aprilia, packed away the camera and started up the bike. The 990cc v-twin is more or less muffled by Remus aftermarket mufflers and they are not loud enough to wake the dead but are loud enough to make me smile. The ride back into town was very nice and not at all sad or depressing considering I'd just spent 40 minutes or so in a windswept, nearly forgotten graveyard. Each and every step in such a place tends to remind one of our own fleeting existence, our impermanence even in the history of our own families. It's tough to be sad though when your mode of transport has so much character and stirs the soul, not belabors it. The Caponord continues to impress me with the way it functions in a sporting but unassuming manner, much like a really good horse might have seemed to Capt. Oury. I've put about a 1,000 miles on the Aprilia and I like it more every time I ride it. And ride it I will if only to gather more stories and take more pictures in the most exciting way possible. Also because there are few adventures left out west, no more opportunities to belong to the Arizona Mounted Volunteers of the Confederate States of America. The Arizona Aprilia Mounted Camera Guy is as close as I can get.

3 comments:

DJ said...

Very thoughtful words, thanks! My favorite "I knew a guy" personal story: I was getting on my bike after gassing up and preparing to ride though a canyon that's a favorite spot for sport-bike riders. This guys walks up and asks "You head'n down the canyon?!?" "Yep", I said. Then he tells me, full of excitement and smiles, "Well, I saw 'em take two of them out there in body-bags last week!" I invited him to try and follow me in hopes he might get lucky and get to see another one taken away in a body bag. :-) My theory is that guys who tell you these stories are too overcome by fear to ride, but wish they could. Basically, they're trying out their fears on you to see if you react as they have. When we just laugh and ride away, my guess is it bugs the heck out of them.

Dan

DJ said...

Very thoughtful words, thanks! My favorite "I knew a guy" personal story: I was getting on my bike after gassing up and preparing to ride though a canyon that's a favorite spot for sport-bike riders. This guys walks up and asks "You head'n down the canyon?!?" "Yep", I said. Then he tells me, full of excitement and smiles, "Well, I saw 'em take two of them out there in body-bags last week!" I invited him to try and follow me in hopes he might get lucky and get to see another one taken away in a body bag. :-) My theory is that guys who tell you these stories are too overcome by fear to ride, but wish they could. Basically, they're trying out their fears on you to see if you react as they have. When we just laugh and ride away, my guess is it bugs the heck out of them.

Dan

Anonymous said...

I've just started riding after a thirty-year layoff from trailing as a kid and I've already got a collection of "I knew a guy" stories. I was filling up the other day and left my helmet on in the process, listening to my I-pod. Up runs an older guy in a rant about something...flailing his arms and all. I try to tell him to wait a minute, but he doesn't stop. I think that maybe something is wrong, like I'm on fire or something. I finally turn off the I-pod and flip up my visor. They guy is right in the middle of an "I knew a guy" story. This "guy" had swerved to miss a dog, slid across the pavement, and rolled 80 feet or so in the old guy's yard. I never had a chance to acknowledge-just nodded as he kept talking. He ended with "I'd never get on one of those...you'd better be careful." I had never seen the guy before, but he was compelled to passionately let me know his story.
MC

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