Tuesday, August 16, 2011



THE TALL YOUNG MAN looked like me about forty years ago. I mean: the spittin’ image. He was doing jumping jacks next to the northbound lane of highway 65. Northerly traffic sped by.

About twenty miles from the barn at the end of a 300-mile day during which temps touched 100, I was thinking about how good a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon would taste. I’d just crossed the UP tracks and saw his antics. He was exercising next to a stalled motorcycle so I pulled the Beemer onto the opposite shoulder just to see what might be going on. Deliberately, I removed my gloves and helmet, then looked across the road. Furious traffic sped by in both directions. It would be futile to call out.

I waited. Breaks in the southbound rat race didn’t coincide with breaks in the northbound. This fellow’s problem, whatever it was, was not worth me getting crushed by an on-hurtling Subaru or a gravel truck bound for the Yuba River pits, so I looked across the two-lane and smiled. Two or more minutes elapsed before I could saunter across.

“It just died back there.” He pointed southward. “Back by those houses.”

Immediately adjacent to him rested a vintage Yamaha Virago, circa 1980. Its seat was removed, sitting in the weeds next to the pavement along with a jacket, a helmet and a duffle bag.

“It just died,” he repeated pointing at on-coming traffic, “and nobody stopped.”

More cars whizzed by.

“You must have seen me waving.”

“Looked to me like you were doing calisthenics for some reason. You know. Jumping jacks. You always work out next to the Interstate in 96 degree heat?”

“It just died back there.”

THE YAMAHA VIRAGO is a bulletproof motorcycle. Legendarily so. At least the old ones are. Being a Yamaha, the V-shaped motor and the shaft final drive are engineered so that nothing, nothing! ever goes wrong. But something had with this one.

I’m not a mechanic by any stretch, so all I could do was ask: “You got a cell phone?”

He pulled one from his pocket. “Yes. But I couldn’t pay the bill last month so it got cut off.”

I reached for mine. “Use this.”

He dialed a number.

I looked at the Virago and imagined its history. Clearly, it was older and perhaps far more experienced than its young rider. Once upon a time, it was smoke gray in color. Now most of the color had faded under decades of sun, rain and other elements. The machine reminded me of a trusted bird dog. Skilled. Smart. But just plumb tuckered out. During another one of those quiet two-way breaks in traffic, I heard the soft tink, tink of the hot engine cooling to ambient temperature.

“Who you calling?”

“Grandma. But she isn’t answering. I’ll try mom. They live together.”

PICK UP. PICK UP MOM. I’m broken down by the side of the road just below Sheridi… “Hello. Yeah. I’m okay. I just broke down on 65 just below the tracks at Sheridan… I don’t know… Yep… No… Okay.”

Graciously, he wiped my phone against a dry portion of his upper shirtsleeve and handed the unit back to me. “Thank you sir.”

“Ah. You’da done the same for somebody else, I’m sure,” I said. “Someone coming?”


Another one of those sporadic breaks in traffic. I started across. “You gonna be okay?” I asked from the middle of state route 65.

He nodded.  And there was some eye contact.

“Where they comin’ from?”

“Just Lincoln.” (Lincoln, California is about six miles south.)

“Then you’re okay.”

LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES had elapsed. Hopefully, the young lad’s day would improve. I knew the beer would still be cold once I got home.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. A Pashnit reader responds:

    Nice... sometimes all it takes is something as simple as what you offered to touch another human being's world and, hopefully, affect them for the positive. Pay it forward.

  2. Pay it forward, right on. Stimulate a little positive energy. Lord knows we can't get enough of that.

  3. Tony (the wrench) DelgardoAugust 16, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Most likely ran out of fuel. Did he take off without opening the petcock? I've "fixed" way too many gas starved vehicles and usually on bikes its a case of switching it to reserve and finding a station.

  4. Tony: You may be on to something, there.

  5. Another fine Pashnit reader responds:

    I like the way you write. You're a good, solid storyteller and you paint a nice picture of the subject line. :clap

    And, not that I'm trying to hijack your thread, but on Sunday I, too, encountered a stranded rider. The end result was she got a push start from me to get her bike going. The significant point is that as I passed her at 60+, I gave her the "thumbs up / question" hand sign, and she responded with a "hang loose" hand sign (index finger/pinky finger/thumb), which completely bewildered me. Since I didn't get the expected "thumbs up" or "shoulder shrug/calisthenics", I was curious as to the situation. I U-turned and checked in with her. Turned out she needed help. Her conflicting hand signs almost got her left on the side of the road with me blissfully whizzing along thinking all was ok with her "hang loose" hand signal. This teaches me that if or when I'm on hopelessly stranded on the side of the road praying for my Kharma points to kick in, I should wave my arms like I'm doing calisthenics to get the needed support.

  6. JP suggests:

    Of course you stopped, you are D2. Today you threw a pebble of goodwill out...hopefully he will stop the next time he sees someone exercising or princess waking by the side of the road.

  7. So.... I'm the "tall young man." I'm a new rider, started riding last week. I did run out of gas. Still learning. Thank you so much for stopping and letting me use your phone.

  8. Dear "Tall Young Man,"

    Glad it was a simple fix. About 40 years ago, I did the same thing on the Skyway going toward Paradise on my Trail 90. The thing only held about nineteen cents worth of gas back then, but damned if I didn't run out. Traffic wouldn't stop and I was jumping up and down. Finally an old gent on what I think was a Moto Guzzi Ambassador pulled over and somehow gave me a few ounces of petrol.

    It was nice to meet you. No need to thank me, just, as other folks have said here "Pass it forward." I hope to see you on the road again under less inconvenient circumstances.

    All the best!

  9. This was after spending an hour in Healdsburg with daughter, Jessica and granddaughter, Emilia. Both events are the kind of thing that makes life that much sweeter. I'm proud to be your life partner.