Bitter, Knowing Laughter

The Bulwer–Lytton Contest results for 2004 are out. A fine tip o’ the chapeau to Mr. Balko for bringing it to my attention. There’s a lot of horrible prose displayed and I urge you to go read it. I was most struck by the entry of one Mel Hughes of Jacksonville.

"I've never done this before," she said softly, and she was trembling, shaking really--shaking like a Harley-Davidson idling at a stoplight, one of the ones with the old Evo-style engine, where people's dentures vibrated out as they rode--and yet when I touched her skin, it was smooth and inviting like one of the new Harleys, the ones that copy the Japanese engineering and use rubber mounts and counter-balancers . . . not that I would know, because I ride a British bike anyway and haven't been able to get it cranked in nearly six years, which is why I was shaking hands with her, because she owned a bike shop and had never touched a Vincent Black Lighting.

Hah fucking hah. I’d find this funnier if I hadn’t spent my summer trekking back and forth across town to the Triumph dealership trying to get them to figure out why my motorcycle wouldn’t start or consistently run. The highlight of the entire experience was when the yotz that runs the service department called me and told me it was ready. I drive across town bright and early Saturday morning, making this trip number SEVEN to the bike shop at an hour, one way, each trip. I get less than a mile from the shop, right to the interstate, and the bloody thing shuts off and will not start. I am standing by the side of the road while the dippy service manager tries to find a truck to come get the bike that is supposedly “fixed”.

I was somewhat less than pleased.

Time for a little family background, I think. My dad is a guy who’s had some form of small British convertible for most of my life. He’s been through all of them, I think. Austin-Healy, MG, Triumph, whatever. At some point, he’s had one of them all. I have fond childhood memories of going for drives in the little toy cars. I have less vivid memories of sitting around in Mom's Pinto station wagon while he went in to pay mechanics to fix the perpetually breaking things. He finally sold the last one, an old Triumph TR 250, a few years ago when he realized that spending his sixties working on old cars wasn’t what he wanted to do.

When I first bought the motorcycle in ‘99, I called my father to tell him. Anyhow, he listened politely to me blather about my new and exciting purchase. He stopped me when I said it was a Triumph. The conversation as I recall it went something like this:

Dad: Triumph? Is that British?

Me (smart-ass): Well, yes, Dad. Triumphs are made in England just like they’ve always been, so that would make them British.

Dad (deadpan): You bought a British motorcycle.

Me: Yes.

Dad (exasperated): Has all these years of watching me taught you nothing?

At this point I parroted the Triumph nonsense that it’s all new, reborn phoenix-like from the ashes of the past with a completely new manufacturing facility and engineering and blah, blah, blah. He just laughed at me. In retrospect, Dad’s old school cynical pessimism was the correct approach. I can now admit freely that, no, I didn’t really learn anything from watching him. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the times when the cars didn’t work. My motorcycle is classically British. It is a joy to behold and when it is running right is a fabulous piece of machinery. When it’s not running right, it’s the most annoying piece of crap I’ve ever had to deal with.

Anyhow, I’d like you to forget everything I just wrote. Wanna buy a motorcycle? 1999 Triumph Daytona 1200 SE. Runs great. For now.


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