Monday, August 10, 2009

The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did

The last week or so, I've been riding bikes with my stepdaughter, dropping her off at the camp she's been spending her days at. In doing so, I've been passing the Jewel's-- or what's left of it-- on Southport Avenue. It's being torn down, to be rebuilt. I was reminded of a little over 20 years ago, when I lived in the neighborhood, shopped there-- and had to walk there on crutches, thanks to the stupidest thing I ever did.

Back in 1988, Mark Evans, one of my closest friends, and I decided to get an apartment together. We were both single, young guys, so proximity to the Gingerman Tavern, our favorite watering hole, was a strong consideration. We got in his car, put on some good tunes and went cruising around the Wrigleyville neighborhood.

We were looking for a three-bedroom place; our college friend Jay was going to room with us. The first day we looked, we found a marvelous place, the first floor of a beautiful greystone, for only $825 a month. That would be only $275 each-- cheap, even in 1988.

Not wanting to miss out on the place, Mark and I signed the lease and paid the deposit without Jay. The next day, Jay told us that he couldn't move in with us. Mark and I scrambled to find another roommate. Luck was with us; our friend Dan, who had graduated recently from Eastern, the school we'd all met at, had decided he was ready to move out of his parents' house.

Our house became the party house. We had at least a party a month. When Dan and I get together with our college friends, we reminisce about that year-- and about our friend Mark, who was shot to death in a robbery three years ago.

It was a strange existence that year. We were three guys who were trying to get their start in the world. We worked a bunch of jobs and at crazy hours. We'd sometimes go a day or more without seeing another. None of us were working at anything resembling what we'd gone to school for. Mark worked as a sales clerk in a record store; Dan worked as a bill collector; I was working as a waiter. There were a million stories from that year, which seemed like five years. I've told some of them in this blog; some are waiting to be told.

That summer, I was pensive. I felt like my life was on hold. I'd ended a big relationship with someone I loved a lot-- someone I'd discovered was married. I was trying to figure out my next move. I was strongly considering grad school-- going to Georgetown and getting a PhD in Political Science.

In the meantime, I was working and palling around with my friend Dhyana. She was a lot of fun to be around-- a tall, beautiful , half-Colombian woman with a wild streak to match mine. We worked together, and frequently found ourself hanging out after work.

We got some kind of notion of buying motorcycles and going on road trips together. We started saving to buy our bikes. I was planning on buying a Triumph Bonneville. Later, I discovered that this was the very motorcycle Bob Dylan was riding when he had his near-fatal crash. Oddly, if you look closely at the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, he's wearing a Triumph motorcycle shirt. A premonition, perhaps.

One day, I got a call from Dhyana. She'd bought a motorcycle-- she'd gotten a good deal on a used Yamaha 750. We made plans to get together after work-- she was off that night, but we were to meet at the Oasis, a 4 O'Clock bar down the street from the place we worked at.

I went to the Oasis after work, and at 1 am or so, Dhyana pulled up on her motorcycle. One of the guys from work had spent an hour showing her how to ride it-- yes, a whole hour-- and she was now eager to show it off.

We were all hanging in front of the Oasis admiring the bike and talking, and Dhyana gave short rides to a couple of co-workers. She got back with one of them and insisted I get on the bike and take a ride. I hopped on and she roared off.

I noticed that she was still a little rough shifting gears, and a little wobbly handling the bike, but having had a couple of beers, I wasn't all that concerned. And of course, I was dressed appropriately for urban motorcycle riding-- cut-offs, sneakers, a t-shirt and not a thing on my head.

We roared north down Sheridan Road, curving past the sharp turn right at the cemetery and up into Evanston. We pulled into a parking lot, turned around and roared back toward Chicago.

She was getting more confident, so she really gunned it. As she approached the sharp turn-- you know, the one by the graveyard-- I wondered if she remembered that it was there. And it was at that moment I realized she didn't-- until it was too late. She saw the turn and locked up the brakes on the motorcycle. It spilled, falling to the right.

After it had stopped, I took stock of things. I had thunked my head pretty hard on the pavement, but could still feel and move my arms and legs. Dhyana had been protected by the side bars, and was almost uninjured. I wasn't.

I suddenly realized that I could not get up because my foot was stuck under the 500 pound bike. I also realized that a car could come flying around the blind corner at any second. She was freaking out, crying and apologizing. I calmly told her that we needed to get me out from under the bike, and get the bike off the road. She was able to lift the bike up enough for me to get out, and hopping on my left foot-- my right foot was numb-- we got the bike up and off the road.

We took a moment to assess things. I could not put any weight on my right foot. I was also cut up pretty good from my right shoulder down to my right foot.

A couple of months before, when my work had offered insurance, through an HMO with Illinois Masonic Hospital, for only 25 bucks a month, I'd taken them up on it. I was really glad, at that moment, I'd spent the money. Since I was able to move and wasn't bleeding too badly, we decided to hop in a cab and go to the hospital.

We got out of the cab and went into an emergency room, where I began talking to the intake people. I laughed a little, telling Dhyana that one of the two people who'd ever warned me to stay off of motorcycles, my ex-girlfriend Rita (the other one being my father, who'd had a motorcycle crash when he was a young guy) worked at that hospital, in the Intensive Care Unit.

Now, a couple of years ago, Bubs mentioned in a post about why he never trys to get away with anything-- because he always gets caught (it's #6). He and I must be brothers in this. And that night was no exception. A couple of minutes after I mentioned Rita to Dhyana, Rita walked into the room, clipboard in hand.

She'd been transferred, I discovered a moment later, to the Emergency Room the month before.

She had that look on her face like your parent when you you've come home late.

A motorcycle accident. A gorgeous brunette. Alcohol on my breath. An ex-girlfriend who had broken up with me when I was arrested on the way to a date, who thought I was a little too wild to begin with, now treating me after a motorcycle accident.

I didn't bother trying to explain that Dhyana and I were just friends. I was busy trying to figure out how I was going to explain a late-night motorcycle ride with my lady-friend to the woman I'd been dating.

As they wheeled me into a room, Rita smugly asked what had happened, though I knew that she already knew. I told her to feel free to say "I told you so."

As she cleaned the dirt and small rocks out of the wounds and prepped me to be X-Rayed, we caught up for a few minutes. As she finished up, she asked if I had learned my lesson.

I had. The lesson learned? I never, ever get away with anything.

It wasn't until about 5:30 am, the sun having risen, before my friend Dhyana could drive me home. As I walked up the steps unsteadily, learning to use my crutches, a mild hangover tempered with the codeine pills they'd given me in the Emergency Room, my roommate Dan was exiting the front door. Dan, who'd come to think of me as an out-of-control party animal lothario, looked at me, looked at my new cast and crutches, looked at Dhyana, and then after doubling over laughing, walked on out to his car and drove off to work.

I wonder if it would do any good to warn my kids to stay off of motorcycles.


Mnmom said...

Yowza, that WAS stupid!!! But I've taken rides on many motorcycles in my youth, without helmet. But as a Social Worker I had several clients who's lives were ruined by head injury and I'm a changed woman.

Like you and Bubs, I always get caught too. Always.

Erik Donald France said...

Oh. man, what an epic. And very understandable, all down the line.
Ain't it good to be alive?

Flirted with the idea of a bike around the same time, but too many people had spills so I went to Europe and hitchiked around instead -- or took a train.

Suze said...


purplelar said...

They're tearing down my Jewel. I used to walk there or ride my bike to get my stuff. Oww, my past hurts . . .

rozydesouza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.