The Motorcycle

In 1975, as a parting gift from the Chattahoochee River towns of Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama, was a new Kawasaki motorcycle. Our family was moving away from our generational hometown, Columbus.

We arrived in New Windsor, New York, about the same time that Jimmy Carter, a nationally unknown Georgia governor, announced he was running for president. Our new address would be 272 “Y” Street.

I started my freshman year at Washingtonville High School. Washingtonville was a small, mostly Italian town that is only known for its winery. Brotherhood Winery was one of the few that remained open during prohibition. That distinction makes it the oldest, continually operating winery in the United States. The clever Friars sold “communion wine” to the masses. Never before had that many people converted to Catholicism.

My accent was quite a novelty, and people tried to mimic it every day. I immediately became the center of attention, and of course, I liked that. The fact that I had a motorcycle at 14 years old drew some attention as well.

My best friend, Ronnie Parkins, lived across the street. He had an older brother, Richard, who drove the coolest car a teenager could operate, a Volkswagen Thing.

Ronnie and I were the same age, and he had a deep affinity for beer. That love got him in trouble more than one time in our high school years.

My parents converted our basement to my bedroom. I thought it was incredibly cool. I had wood-paneled walls. There was a steel beam down the center of the room. I lined it with 7-Up cans with all 50 states on them, a blue crushed velvet bedspread against my fire engine red headboard, and gallon wine bottles with candles around the room’s base. I thought I was the epitome of coolness.

Because it was a basement room, the windows were toward the ceiling. On the night I am describing, it was probably a foot of snow outside my window. Ronnie snuck over, dug my window out, and knocked. “Hey! Let’s go out and ride your motorcycle!” I really thought this was not a very good idea but went anyway. We pushed the motorcycle quietly across the street and into the schoolyard Little Britain Elementary. We took turns riding the bike around the parking lot.

Ronnie was in no condition to be riding my motorcycle. As he rounded a quarter, the bike went down. He was fine, but my bike had a large dent in the gas tank. I knew that my parents would find out. I put it back in the garage and hope no one would notice. Footprints in the snow in the snow were a dead giveaway. I was busted. That was the first time I was restricted from riding my motorcycle, but not the last.

The Jerowski’s were a family that lived down the street. Our parents became fast friends. They had five children, and there were five children in our family. Their oldest, Michelle, was a great friend and a frequent dance partner (there’s an entirely different story that I will tell one day.) Patti, Michelle’s mom, absolutely made it clear to both me and my mom, that I was never to take Michelle on a ride. I thought “they will never find out.”

Big mistake.

By this time, Ronnie had a motorcycle as well. We met at the aqueduct, a tall raised area with the motorcycle path on it. Ronnie had Bonnie as a partner, and I had Michelle. We spent a couple of hours riding up and down that path. I believe it was Michelle who spilled the beans.

I was busted.

I was too old to spank, and traditional groundings were so frequent that I had learned to make light of them. My mom decided to get creative and make me read Pat Boone’s Twixt 12 and 20, Pat Boone Talks to Teenagers, and make me do a book report on it. I wish I still had that book. It was selling on Amazon for $728.

To say that I hated it would not be an overstatement.

A former student of mine has the Boone’s as neighbors. I’ve often thought I should tell him that story.

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