I was ten or twelve when it took hold. The infernal combustion disease. The seeds were sown by the first power lawnmower I was trusted with. The Johnson sisters had a vacant lot between their house and my grandmother's place, a big pie-shaped lot that needed mowing in the summer. Apparently they thought I was up to it. They pointed the mower out in their garage, along with a gas can. And they paid me. I'd have paid them.
I not only figured out how to start it, I adjusted it to run at optimal speed and duration. I'd had plenty of experience with model plane engines and their needle valves, choking and priming them, all stuff that translated to bigger machines. I loved that mower. I removed the muffler and reveled in the noise. I was alerting the world to bigger things.
One of the sisters had a son named Bill who had just returned from the war. He had bought the mower but soon tired of it and it fell to me to maintain it, use it, nurture it. It gleamed from being cleaned and even waxed. Safety issues: I was aware of the whirling blade beneath it as I'd been aware of the propellers on the model planes. And back then we were unencumbered by safety glasses, ear protection, or steel-toed boots. I made it all the way to motorcycles injury free, save for a barely noticeable slight hearing loss. What?
A digression. Another reason I loved the Johnsons aside from the mower, free Cokes, and the firecrackers they gave me to scare away the pigeons, was Bill. He treated me like an equal. And he'd somehow acquired an olive drab fifty caliber dual mount machine gun complete with tripod and dummy (I think) ammo belts. He set this rig up in the front yard and we took turns following cars with it, making ta-ta-ta sounds. He sat behind it knees supporting his elbows and told me about direct hits and how tracers helped, how not to fire in extended bursts for danger of overheating. Then the police came.
I was sent home. I never saw the gun again, but Bill's mood was upbeat and he seemed undeterred by the incident. He bought an Olds convertible and I saw less of him than I had before. He allowed me to peruse the engine of the car, work the top, sit behind the wheel occasionally. Then the school year began and I returned home.
Fast forward. Motorcycles. I was fourteen and discovered a place on Troost that rented BSAs. This was biker summer. I also discovered that bikes didn't stop as quickly as cars, ending up beneath the rear bumper of a 1950 green chevy. I remember that car. A woman drove it and stopped in the middle of a secondary highway. Just stopped. I tried to stop. Her car helped me in that regard. At impact, she took off again. I wheeled the BSA to the side of the road, limping. I finally got it started again, and, lesson learned, returned to the dealer who didn't notice the damage or didn't care. I used an older boy's license in this activity and rented several more BSAs. I learned a great deal that summer. I learned that by shifting after winding out I could lift the front end off the pavement. Not a valuable lesson, perhaps, but a thriller to me. I also learned, by mishaps, the difference in handling of some machines. Triumphs, for instance, were a little light in front, and such shenanigans could flip one. Same with the bigger BSAs. A lesson I forgot along the way.
Fast forward again. Years later I took a modified BSA chopper to Omaha. I was sitting at a stoplight on Dodge Street minding my own business, when a noisy Monte Carlo full of teens pulled up next to me. They fishtailed off when the light changed. We were next to one another at the next light.
The weather was springlike, I'd had a couple of beers, and thought oh what the hell. The light changed, I got on it hard, and, owing to the bike's extended forks, the whole thing went flying backwards over my right shoulder. It landed in pieces.
That was bad, but what put the black icing on the crow pie was, they put it in reverse and squealed backward until we were side by side once more. The passenger said, "Eddie missed that. Is there any way you could do that again?"
I think he was serious. They were all very wide-eyed.
The gearshift punched a hole in the gear case, the fork was bent sideways, the seat was off, and I was learning lessons again. I called a friend with a pickup and he took the bike to repair it. The oil and gas deposit looked in need of a haz-mat cleanup.
I've exceeded the word count for most of us short-spanners involved in social media by about 800 words, and there's so much more to tell. High speed wobbles in the rain on a BMW. Trying to speed through Iowa in a snowstorm on a Harley. Riding a fallen Bonneville by sitting on the hot engine and holding onto a fuel line as it spun around on its side. And more. Maybe later. I no longer ride. And if I do, decline to sit behind me. I may still be learning.