Two Dozen Wheels, Two Dozen Expressions

In a completely uncharacteristic maneuver, I took no pictures of this weekend's motorcycle adventure. Tom and I took a course from the Indiana Motorcycle Operator Safety Education Program - the Experienced Rider Course.

We decided it was a good time to hone his skills, since he's only been back riding again for a few months, and high time I finally got my, um, Motorcycle License. I've been riding with a "Beginner's Permit" since I got my first bike, faithfully renewing it every year with another written test at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which means that I've technically been a Beginner for about thirteen years now.

(Now that I've taken the course, I'll be able to go back to the BMV and get the official endorsement on my driver's license and be cool. Same with Tom.)

And it was a really helpful course. There were twelve of us up at the elementary school in Kokomo, mostly older guys with big, big Harley Davidsons, then us with weird-lookin' Japanese contraptions, and two instructors who went by "Ogre" and "Skipper." (Ogre was big, burly and bald, with denim overalls, a cutoff t-shirt and no inside voice. Skipper was wiry and squinty, with dark prescription sunglasses and filterless cigarettes.)

The teaching went about as logically as I could imagine: One of the two instructors would round us up on the parking lot, showing us the cones they wanted us to navigate between and how fast. Then the other one would hop on a bike and do the exercise while we watched. Then everybody got back on our own bikes and tried it for ourselves. If you got it right, they waved you back to the staging area. Mess it up, or expose a bad habit you'd developed in decades of self-taught riding, and they'd flag you down for some pointers. Then it was on to the next exercise.

I tried to give good feedback on the comment sheet at the end, but I really can't see any good way to improve on the structure of the class or how it's administered. Which is actually a big compliment, even though it doesn't sound like one.

It took about six hours, all told, and at the end they tested us on our ability to swerve without crashing, stop suddenly and safely navigate sharp as well as sweeping curves. All of us passed, and one guy even aced everything. (Sadly, it wasn't me.)

My favorite part was probably The Rectangle. There was a bedroom-sized outline of paint on one section of the lot, and each of us had to ride in and do two u-turns, one to the left and one to the right, without crossing any lines. You have to ride very slowly to change direction in a space that confined, and they take points off if you put a foot down at any point, so it's a delicate balance. Tom and I had an unfair advantage, just as we did with every other aspect of the course, because we weren't riding 800-lb dreadnought Harleys, but it was still a little tricky. For the Road King dudes, it was almost impossible.

And since it was pretty hot yesterday, and Harley dudes rarely wear full-face helmets, the rest of us got to enjoy each guy's expressions as they crept by, trying to complete the turn without scraping a thousand-dollar exhaust pipe on the asphalt or, worse, stalling the engine and dumping the whole behemoth right in front of Ogre and everybody.

We all have these faces we make when doing something difficult, I think, especially men. It was really a privilege to see these ten -- well worth the registration fee all by itself.

One stoic-looking fellow from Noblesville had drooping jowls that somehow seemed to crease more deeply as he approached the paint lines. Once or twice you'd see the tongue-sticking-out-the-side, eyes narrowed approach, and one silver-haired, smooth-faced guy who looked like a JC Penney model had an extraordinarily pleasant open-mouthed grimace involving his bright white teeth and tanned, taut skin. He kind of looked like a superhero, even though I don't recall him having especially good control of the bike.

Nobody had that great, Michael Jordan dropped jaw thing going, or if so I wasn't looking. Tom pretty much just looked more, well, Tomlike, if I remember correctly.

I squinted, of course, because I always do when I'm outside and in this case I had my sunglasses off so that the instructors could make sure I was looking where I should. (They can tell either way, though, just by where your head is pointed. Ogre threatened that if I didn't stop looking at the ground right in front of my wheels and start looking up ahead at the next turn, thus guiding the bike there automatically, he'd tie a strap from the back of my helmet to the waistband on my underwear, and every time I looked down I'd give myself a wedgie. I shaped up.)

And since I uncharacteristically neglected to get any photographs of the event, except one terrible video clip from my cell phone which you'll see in a second, this morning while the movers load our stuff onto two 26-ft trucks and prepare to haul it all up to the new place in Winona Lake I am sitting in the temporary office room of Simply Self Storage and re-enacting some of the faces I recalled seeing yesterday afternoon. I'm hoping none of the mover guys is seeing this through the window. One just carried a mattress past, and I don't think he could have noticed me.

I'll admit that my expressions aren't as expressive as some of the ones I saw yesterday. But I hope you enjoy anyway. Just picture each one as being inside a helmet, instead of inside a cinder-block room, and aged about ten or twenty years. For some of the guys, picture me about a hundred pounds heavier, with a chubby baby face, bald head and goatee. Shouldn't be too difficult.

I wish I'd had Penny there. She makes the best faces, as I've been saying for years.

And here's the video clip I told you about. I don't think Tom appears in it, since he was probably off wheelie-ing across the parking lot unintentionally and getting yelled at. Crazy dirt bike riders.

Most fun I've had since *last* weekend.


Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you that you finally have your endorsement. It was a long time coming! And, hey, you are now in the ranks with me!


Thomas said...

Right on, Ride on, brutha

{ ry | no } said...

The beauty of nicknames like Ogre and Skipper are that you didn't even need to describe them. The picture was already in my brain. But, thanks for describing them anyway. You always seem to say what I'm thinking better than I am capable myself.

Anonymous said...

I like the face that reminds me of Kip from "Napoleon Dynamite." I'm thinking it may be your jowly impression.

The inside voice thing suddenly put a picture in my mind of a preschool class inhabited by burly Harley riders beings lectured about inside and outside voices, sharing, and making good choices...too funny.

Great post!