Moonlit Rail ™
Motorcycling — "Last Rights"
To skip right to the story at hand, follow this link. But first, a brief preface to put this story into context.
It wasn't until I had my first GNU/Linux system running in 1993 that I had access to "Usenet" — the colloquialism for the bulletin-board "newsgroups" distributed over the UUCP dial-up network. The first newsgroup to attract my attention was rec.motorcycles — as its name implies, a forum for discussion of all things "motorcycle-related", one whose audience spanned the globe, although the majority were across the USA.
On July 11th, 1995, I made a fateful decision. One day later, I penned this story, and posted it to rec.motorcycles under the title "Last Rights" (and with the caveat "[Long]") for all the world to see. It is emotionally raw.
I have fixed a couple of typographical errors and converted some Usenet-isms into HTML, but chose to leave any other easily-fixed mistakes alone — this story is as I posted it in 1995.
I finally did it. I've been procrastinating for years, literally. Always tomorrow, another day always brought another plan for that dynamic ignition timing, that miscellaneous hop-up idea. And no time. Never any damn time. And so it sat, awaiting an uncertain future.
My first bike was not a motorcycle. Friends always chided me. "Get a real bike," they'd say. Carless in Boston by my own self-proclaimed religious decree, I wanted my own wheels, something more than the myriad of bicycles I've ridden. I looked a bit here, a bit there, giving lots of "that's nice" glances to hopeful salespeople. And then it happened: I walked into a busy shop and saw a moped that made me look again, and again. A moped? This is rec.moto, ain't it? Yeah, well, it looked like a motorcycle well enough to be pulled over by Boston police for lack of a plate. Pointing to the pedals, the officer still didn't look convinced; not until I rotated the pedal armature around did he concede I wasn't bluffing. That it would hit a clocked 44 MPH box-stock didn't help, either.
No, my Peugeot TSM-U3 didn't look like a "moped." It had a long, slender seat as comfortable as anything on a modern sport bike. The gas tank was in-line with the seat, white, with orange pinstriping, chrome trim and spoke wheels. I rode my TSM-U3 on black tarmac and black ice, white sand and white snow. We became one, inseparable, when a cage driver oblivious to road conditions couldn't stop and bent parts of my TSM around me; nerve damage from my cracked spine stays with me today. I rode my TSM-U3 nearly five thousand miles between 1982 and that fateful day in 1985 when I bought my first, as you'd like to say, "real" bike.
From 1985 onwards, my TSM became a perpetual project, adding a battery and charging system, directional signals, brilliant brake lights, a horn louder than anything on either of my current bikes. Used less and less frequently, sometimes only when my CB750F was in the shop, it sat outside, strangely uncovered, awaiting an uncertain future.
I registered my TSM-U3 for what would be the last time in January, 1987. Feeling guilty for not riding it more, I almost deliberately avoided it altogether. Forcing love above guilt, I set out to start it in mid 1987 after many months of sitting idle. Kick-starting it was fruitless. I pushed it around and around the parking lot until I was exhausted, when it finally kicked over. I rode it a bit, then parked it again. In the intervening years, it has been bumped into and pushed by the wind, crashing onto its side, picked up by me to sit in the baking sun and pounding rain, until the next time.
Being perpetually unable to find parking spaces near my apartment, I left my bikes in the area behind the house my mother rented - a ten minute walk away. She just moved, for the first time in fourteen years; the parking spaces gone, I had to clean up. Until I find, or give in to the $100/month/bike fees I've been offered (ouch), I moved my two "real" bikes to my parents' houses, each about thirty miles away. The oil cans, locks, chain lube, bike wash, covers, tools, and all the rest moved or chucked, the only thing left was, my TSM-U3.
I called the Department of Public Works, Sanitation Office, and asked for the person responsible for scheduling large item removal. She asked me what it was. I stumbled. But I said it was my moped. She said they'll come next Wednesday, July 12, 1995 - today. I didn't know what else to do. Rusted, with a permanently mangled rear fender from the back-breaking accident we survived together, the battery now gone, engine probably rusted internally beyond repair, I doubt I could give it away, much less find a good home for it. (Feeling much the way the fender looked, I ponder whether you could give me away, too.)
Last night, or is it this morning, at about 2:00 am, I walked, with no small amount of trepidation, to the now nearly deserted area behind the house. With an old, worn tire pump in hand, the same one I pumped the TSM's tires with years ago, I inflated the long-since deflated tires for the last time. I don't know why. I was tossing the tire pump because it was rusted, working poorly at best; but it would still work one more time. I scrawled "large trash removal" on a piece of paper and affixed it to my TSM-U3.
Walking it slowly out to the front of the house, my TSM-U3 rolled effortlessly. The chain, unoiled for eight years, moved freely and smoothly over the sprocket teeth. The handlebar felt smooth and steady, the TSM turning on a radius that makes my "real bikes" look like school buses. I could hear gas sloshing in the tank, still there after all this time. Though unlocked, I found its key on an old key-ring, shiny as if new, removed it from the ring, inserted it in the fork lock anyway, which still turns. Putting it up on its stand, on the sidewalk, where the trash goes, I stepped back to admire it. And I stepped up to admire it. I felt it under my hands. It felt familiar, safe, comfortable, inviting. It felt like and old friend wanting desperately to talk with me.
Instinctively, not habitually, I reached down and turned the fuel valve on; it turned easily. Not being able to remember how to start it cerebrally, I put my hands on the bars, my fingers on the choke and decompression, my foot on the pedal, going through the motions under control of a less logical part of my brain, for reasons I know not. I knew the motor wouldn't turn. Logic dictated that. After eight years, I hate to think what it looked like internally. The air filter was probably a mouse-nest. The carburetor's jets were probably caked with oxidation. The belt was probably cracked and would snap if I spun the pedal. But I spun the pedal anyway.
The crankshaft turned, I heard it. But more than that. The engine kicked! I gave the pedal another spin. The engine started; the headlight shone brightly; the speedometer became illuminated softly all the way around by small lights I thought would never work again; the muffler spurted gentle puffs of exhaust; the TSM-U3, nay, my TSM-U3, was alive, as if to beckon me to give it another chance! Made nervous by the police car which had just pulled up on the opposite side of the street, I killed the engine, shut off the fuel valve, and started to walk away. I came back, thinking frantically, my brain more shorted out than what I had assumed of the TSM's electrical system would be. Awash with a storm of feelings, feeling everything and nothing at the same time, nearly in shock, I walked away again, not looking back, unable to look back, afraid to look back.
I pictured in my mind a child whose father had left with neither warning nor cause, walking in the door years later, a well-practiced smile on his face, "heeeeerrrre's daddy!" booms from the lips, and I want to run, run like hell. Maybe he, the child in the image, wants to run; but I want to run, to run like hell, away from my TSM-U3. Hell yes, mister well-adjusted piece 'o shit, you're right; it's just a bunch of rusting metal parts, oxygenated hydrocarbons, inanimate, mechanical. I don't suppose it has a soul, now does it? And if it did, do you suppose that soul, or a piece of that soul, would live in me anywhere, now do you? Of course not; you don't have time, mister well-adjusted piece 'o shit, to bother with such illogical and useless shows of such rank sentimentality. According to such practical logic, I surely just walked away, whistling dixie, one more piece of unresolved trash taken care of, never to be thought of again. Hah.
I wonder where my TSM-U3 is at this minute. Did the trash man take it yet? Is it thrown, unceremoniously, on some heap somewhere? I wonder, when I discarded it, what part of me went with it; I know some part of me went with it, because by most peoples' observations, my brain "ain't all there." This is hard. Really, really hard. I have to type this slowly; when I type quickly, my face distorts, my eyes can't see. I feel as if I should run, run back to my TSM-U3, run back to make it mine again, and then do what?
Oddly, I never expected this emotional outpouring to be anything other than my own personal catharsis. Yet in the intervening years, this story has been quoted on other websites; I am glad others have found it of value, or at least, "entertaining".