Renting BSAs with lies, cash and a borrowed license.


Used to be, in olden times, (of yore) a garage redolent with intoxicating fumes of internal combustion engines, on 18th and Troost. I was 14, and visiting my grandmother's house for the summer on Manheim Rd. right off of 39th and Troost. I lived in Tulsa at the time, but would move back to my native KC for high school and beyond. But this was summer, and I had adventure on the mind, having outgrown model airplanes and AirBoy comic books.

On a trip downtown, the streetcar passed the above-mentioned garage, and I saw, in the flash of passing, a tangle of motorcycles and a sign that had "RENT" in the message. I had ridden small motorbikes in Tulsa, anything with a motor on it. I recall a Whizzer, a sort of motorized bicycle. But i was up for bigger game. I was hard/firm on the path of an obsessive limerance with motorcycles and it has never left me, though my riding days are over. Through the years I've had mostly Harleys, but those were interspersed with other brands, British bikes among them.

I got off the return streetcar at the garage that rented BSAs and wandered through them, my hand floating over fenders, gas tanks, seats, headlights. Taking time to read the full sign I was informed these chrome and lacquered beauties were available to anyone with a valid license and a certain amount of cash for deposit and hourly fees. I would fulfill these requisites.

I borrowed a license. I had brought lawn-mowing and pin-setting money with me from Tulsa. Two days later I was back at the BSA garage of dreams.

There were no pictures on driver's licenses back then. Within minutes I was revving a BSA. One minor setback: I started to sign my real name to the contract. The man who was in charge, looked at me with narrowed eyes, said, "Not your license, right?" I flushed. He said, "Oh, go ahead." Took my money, stated a time limit, waved me out. Not exactly a business model for today's litigious society. Life was good back then.

I rode up Troost for awhile, turned west, ended up in the Plaza, and pulled into Winstead's. I left my BSA parked next to a sedan, and swaggered inside for a burger. I ate it seated on my freedom express dream machine. Then I kicked it alive, headed south for the open roads. Hair blowing, bugs peppering my face, this was living. Then it almost wasn't. Some woman in a Chevy ahead of me slammed on her brakes, and I slid sideways until I hit the bumper, part of me under her car. I was okay until she took off. The rear end of the car lowered enough to catch part of an arm and leg, then she was gone.

Mainly road rash and bumper scrape, my injuries looked worse than they were, and the BSA had suffered no ill effects, a scratch or two. A learning experience. I told the adults responsible for my summer welfare I fell out of a tree. Nutty kid, they shook their heads in total belief. The incident did nothing to curtail my passion. I rented more BSAs that summer, and, at 15, I was the proud owner of a Harley knucklehead. Paper route money bought that motorcycle, even though my folks forbade me to even ride on the back of one. So how is it possible to own a motorcyclle with no plate, no title, no driver's license, and no parental consent? That's a story for another time.