THE TRUE FABLE OF "CRASH"
This true fable takes place
during those ancient times before cell phones and personal computers; the
sixties. At the time I was enjoying the state of New York's educational system.
But the lessons I learned from this tale had nothing to do with school.
It was during the Sixties when I met a man who would help shape a lot
of my ideas about motorcycles and motorcycling; his name was Otto. Otto was my
motorcycling mentor; he and his partner Bill owned a small motorcycle shop in
my home town on Long Island (New York). I was semi employed by them, and from
time to time they actually let me work there as a bike washer, mechanic, and
salesman. But, mostly I performed the needed function as the number one go-fer.
I got sent out for anything that was needed and wasn't in the shop, I was sent
out for parts, coffee and anything else anyone needed. I learned a lot from
them about street riding, dirt riding and the basics of motorcycle repair and
This little shop sold several
brands of motorcycles; Suzukis from Japan shared the tiny showroom floor with
Bultacos and Montessas from Spain, and Velocetts from England. There was always
a stray BSA or Triumph on the floor, but these were used or motorcycles that
were for sale on consignment. I loved being there; it was a Mecca for riders,
the tiny showroom was always buzzing with conversation about motorcycles,
racing, and performance and of course coffee and occasionally girls.
We had one customer, who was given the nickname "Crash". He was a regular not
because of his desire to be social, but it seemed he was always there either
dropping off or picking up his motorcycle. He somehow always managed to be the
victim of an unplanned motorcycle mashing mishap. At first I thought he had to
be the unluckiest human walking the planet. Later I learned that some people
should never ride a motorcycle; and he just happened to be one of them.
His first day on a brand new motorcycle lasted about thirty seconds
before he managed to use the rear of a stopped car to abruptly halt his forward
progress. He rear-ended a car at the first intersection he came to.
After saying good bye to all of us at the shop, ole' "Crash" mounted up his new
motorcycle pulled out of the shops very small parking lot, turned right on to
the avenue and promptly ran into the back of a car waiting for the light to
change at the corner. He managed to travel about one hundred
This isn't to surprising when
you consider most motorcycles especially those with English heritage built
during these ancient times where not known for their great braking ability. And
although he was an adult with motorcycle riding experience; his braking skills
didn't seem to be quite perfected; at least the part about when to apply
We ran over and helped him up to his feet; we righted his
motorcycle and rolled it back into the shops parking lot. This is where he, the
police officer and the owner of the car, went over the fine details of the how,
why, and what of the accident. Once he was finished with his explanations and
the police officer was done, it was our turn to look over the damaged bike and
figure out a repair plan.
After several weeks
of intensive repair work and waiting on parts "Crash's" motorcycle was ready.
He was excited when he arrived at the shop about getting his bike back. After
all it was a new motorcycle and he was eager to see his first mile register on
the odometer. His first ride lasted all of a hundred feet before coming to an
Once again excited and eager, "Crash" mounted up on his new
motorcycle which was sitting in the parking lot in front of the shop. We all
were standing with him; Otto reminded him to be careful and we all watched as
he let the clutch out and started to roll away. He was sporting that big grin
that every new motorcycle owner has when he leaves the dealership for home on
the new bike. As he rode out of the parking lot he never slowed down as he
approached the avenue and pulled into the line of traffic. No sooner was he
straightened out on the right hand side of the lane, heading in the correct
direction, he was side swiped by a passing car.
I wondered if he
needed glasses. We all saw the car that hit him, I know he saw it too, but for
some odd reason he pulled right out in front of it. It was these kinds of
accidents which plagued "Crash". A few weeks later on his next try he actually
managed to leave the shop and arrive home without incident.
weeks later before we saw "Crash" again and this night was when Otto christened
him with the name "Crash" after a night I'll never forget. On hot summer
evenings, from time to time we would form up a group consisting of whoever was
at the shop around closing time and take a long ride on the way home. These
rides always included a cruise of the Long Islands' North Shore's better roads.
The North Shore is an area in the middle of Long Island on its
northern shore (between the townships of Oyster Bay and Huntington) this area
was full of great roads with lots of switchback corners and hills. This North
Shore area is also where the ultra rich and famous people live, like Billie
Joel the singer and David Letterman.
The two lane roads that criss
cross all over the north shore where well kept and had very little traffic. It
was safer on full moon nights; back then even lighted roads were pretty poor
and most back roads lacked illumination of any kind. If you were riding in the
sixties you can remember how headlights on motorcycles left a lot to be
desired; remember this was the time before Halogen light bulbs. Headlights were
known to dim or brighten depending on engine rpms
the better lighted main roads we would form up into a single line with Otto in
the lead; he knew this area well. Everyone else fell in according to his
ability or the size of his motorcycle. I usually brought up the rear. After
about ten miles the group would stretch out, if it wasn't for the motor sounds
and the occasional brake light you could very easily believe you were out here
Although we exceeded the
25 mph speed limits we never really reached speeds much faster than 40 mph;
riding these roads at night in utter darkness seemed to enhance the effect of
speed. Staring into the little tunnel of light your feeble headlight threw on
the ground in front of you; kept your heart pumping hard and full of adrenalin
as you pushed to go faster through the turns and to keep up with the group. You
pushed your envelope on more than one occasion. But everyone knew the group
would stop and wait for everyone before turning off the road. No one was told
they had to keep up.
On this night ride we were on a particularly
twisted and hilly road. Most sections of this road where extremely dark even
with a full moon, the trees alongside the road were blocking most of the
moonlight; the road climbed up the hill for what seemed like forever. But it
was only about two miles. The road crested and then descended back down. The
downside of the road was at a much steeper angle. The road abruptly flattened
out and made a ninety-degree turn to the left.
I remember as I crested
the hill and started my downhill run how my motorcycle seemed to have found
more speed as gravity started to work on us. I caught a glimpse of a red
taillight glow and the dark silhouette of a motorcycle making the turn well out
in front of me. There was enough light coming from the house that was directly
behind the corner in front me that it allowed me to pick up speed and close on
the light. Light was spilling out from the house's windows and open door,
illuminating the road and enough of the yard where I could make out figures
moving in the dark. The taillight glow on my left had disappeared as I started
to brake and set up to make the left turn.
I could have easily missed
that left turn had it not been for the house lighting up the corner so well.
About ten miles of
riding later, our group gathered up and pulled in a parking lot in front of a
diner where we had planned to stop for a coffee. It was then that we discovered
our group was short by one. Otto and I left the group at the diner and retraced
our route in search of the lost rider. We retraced our route to the hairpin
corner and traveled up the hill and on for about 15 miles.
no sign of our lost rider. We turned around and this time traveling slower and
watching the sides of the road we headed back toward the diner and the waiting
As we crested the hill and came toward the house with the lights
on, a lone figure was standing with the light behind him waving at us from the
As we pulled closer we could see he was motioning for us to
stop. It was the homeowner and he was quite excited. We weren't too sure just
what he was trying to tell us. But, as we got closer and pulled up in front of
his house we could see his front gate was not in the best condition. It looked
like someone had blown it off its hinges with an explosive charge.
started to get a little nervous when he ran up to us cursing and shouting about
how his house was just destroyed and some other stuff, which I couldn't make
out except for the words "cops and ambulance". Once he got a chance to catch
his breath, he explained in a much more understandable tone, how we needed to
call an ambulance and the cops. He said he would have done it, but his phone
Otto and I walked to the house to see what was going on.
The front door looked as though a swat team had blown it down during a drug
bust. The amount of debris and wood splinters was unbelievable. We stepped
through the front door into a hallway about twenty feet long. The lower half of
the hallway walls were covered with well finished pine panels this waist
coating walls were still intact except for the area from the floor up the wall
about two feet. This bottom of the wall now was ripped, splintered and stripped
bare of wood in places. You could see parts of what used to be a highly
polished wood floor in amongst the scratches, gouges, and wood debris. Nowhere,
on the sidewalk, on the porch or the hallway floor could we find a skid mark.
The family had finished eating dinner and left the table moments
before their evening was abruptly disturbed by the crash of the front door.
This turned out to be a good thing, because the dining room was located at the
end of the destroyed hallway. As bad as the hallway looked the dining room
wasn't any better.
Through billowing blue exhaust smoke and over the
whine of the motorcycle's still running engine we could see the shattered
dining table. It was splintered into barely recognizable pieces. With the
remains of dinner flung all over the walls and ceiling, resembled an
impressionist painting. Still intertwined with the table, food and hallway
debris was the still running 650 Triumph Trophy with its dazed rider still
sprawled underneath this mess of wood and metal wreckage adorned with tomato
sauce, spaghetti and shards of glass. With the motorcycle still running its
rear wheel was still spinning as we approached.
When we reached the
rider, he was struggling to get up. I reached over and killed the motorcycle's
engine, which somehow managed to continue to run, filling the room with smoke
and the smell of burning rubber from the spinning back wheel rubbing against
the remains of the kitchen's waxed linoleum floor.
As we got "Crash" to his feet we
were surprised that he appeared unhurt, except for a minor stab wound. His
jeans and summer shirt where shredded and his now naked butt was exposed with a
fork firmly implanted in his right butt cheek. Once he was standing up, he
calmly reached over and pulled the fork out of a very red butt cheek. We helped
him outside and made him sit and wait for the ambulance.
who by now had regained his composure, as he handed Otto "Crash's" helmet; or
at least the half he was able to find, it must have been split by the impact
with the front door, he asked looking at "Crash" sitting on the ground, "What
"Crash" now more coherent, began to explain, that he
thought he had fallen too far behind the rider in front of him and he was
trying to close the distance between them. The motorcycle and rider that was in
front of him was out of sight by the time he crested the hill. Of course the
left turn wasn't obvious because the road was enveloped in its normal darkness
the front house lights were not on at the time.
His feeble British
headlight couldn't throw enough light on the road for him to see the turn in
time, when he finally saw the turn it was too late. He was traveling about 60
or 70 miles per hour. There were no house lights on when he came into the turn;
the area in front of him looked like an open field in the dark. When he
realized he couldn't make the turn he decided to just run into the field and
come to a stop.
To his surprise it wasn't an open field, he charged
straight through a closed wooden gate in a picket fence; up a side walk about
20 feet long, up the two steps on the front porch, through a very solid oak
front door. His ride didn't stop there as he continued down the hallway to the
dining room where he finally came to rest.
The homeowner, who was
quite decent considering how his house looked and how near death his family
came during an ordinary evening at home; explained how he was glad no one was
hurt and that his wife had gone to the neighbors to call the law and an
I don't remember everything that happened after we
extracted "Crash" and his motorcycle out of the rubble. I know the two Suffolk
County Cops who showed up where real serious as they listened to "Crash" retell
his account of what happened.
It seemed like they would never stop laughing.
The ambulance crew wasn't any better. The fork wound got some comments and
chuckles from them.
Once "Crash" was safe in the ambulance and on his
way, Otto and I pulled the bent and battered Triumph from the dining room
rubble and deposited on the front lawn explaining to the homeowner how we would
come by in the morning and recover it.
A few days later Otto told me
that "Crash" wasn't riding anymore. He felt it was too dangerous and expensive
and how he was having trouble finding an insurance company.
had a good paying job; a job which most of us only dream about but consider it
way to dangerous. "Crash" was a test pilot, flying F105s for Republic Aviation.
Yea, "Crash" was one of the best test pilots of the sixties.