Have you ever received a gift you didn’t deserve? Ever? Me either, until a few years ago. Have you endeavored to really clean out your basement? Ever? Me either, until recently. These two questions became inextricably tied together for me recently. Here is how: At the bottom of a very long ‘Honey-Do’ list at home is scratched the words “clean out basement”. Not clean basement, not straighten basement, not tidy up basement – but “CLEAN OUT” basement. This implies not just oil and filters tune up but a full overhaul, basement “CLEAN OUT”. My wife, the ‘Spanish Fox’ insists. I’ve been married too long to miss this cue. So with an eye towards marital harmony and the implied benefits of spousal satisfaction I took to the ‘clean out’ like a frog to a June bug. Most items were easy: old Christmas decorations, 10 years of “Hot Rod” magazine, kid’s homework projects, old winter clothes decorated worn and moth bitten, and so it goes. A plethora of items I thought worth preserving in years past relegated to the garbage can or good-will in the name of marital relations!!
If your house is anything like mine there are rooms that are solely the province of the wife. The kitchen, while I eat there, brew coffee there, hug kids before school in early morning light there, crack a Friday night brew there, it is still my wife’s room. And orderly it is. The basement, like the garage, for whatever evolutionary reason, is the domain of the husband. That’s me. However, despite the ultimate responsibility for this portion of our home falling on my ever weary shoulders, said spouse still reserves the right to object to its condition. Especially if said condition is unkept. My basement is a classic ‘man cave’. This is understood. The mounted big block Plymouth motor with tunnel ram and double Edlebrock carbs is not objected to. The 1952 Panhead beside my desk, no objection. The 50 vintage motorcycle helmets hanging from the ceiling trey, nothing. The 1945 flathead mounted in the bookcase, silence. The various vintage moto parts decorating the book shelves propping up volumes of Yeats, Thoreau, Thompson, Kerouac and Twain, no problem. This is because the aforementioned items are clean, orderly, and neat.
So notwithstanding some of the ‘orderly’, there exists an element of disheveled. It is with zest that I dig through basement closets, bins, boxes and shelves to rid my abode of the unwanted chattel that stand between me and perfect marital bliss!! Some junk is easy, some not. The real issue becomes apparent as I pile up milk crates and bus boxes full of old cams, crash bars, torn seats, rocker covers, and all those things that I’m sure if time and ingenuity allowed would rise up to become a complete and beautiful motorcycle someday. My lovely wife Yvonne is many things but a motorcycle aficionado she is not. She glares at the pile like it was my fat cousin Sean attempting to move onto the basement couch. ‘Get rid of it’ is the look. Not the words, but the look. Both Sean and the old parts is the implication. I frown and acquiesce that surely I will never amalgamate those parts into a breathing huffing rolling motorcycle. But in a last ditch effort to make my case I attempt an explanation of each part. The possible utility of that crank, that carb, that wheel. One thing catches my eye. A gas tank. I reach down and pick it up. I have not pondered this part in some time. My wife peers at me as my eyes widen and I take a deep breath. She senses something and immediately realizes the gravity of the moment and sits on the couch. I remain standing and swallow, licking my dry lips as if I were about to deliver a losing argument to a Jury, which I might add, is very rare. This is the story that I relayed to her of that forgotten green tank. True now as it was that night: “Hon, you’re not going to believe this. I don’t think I ever told you this story”. I sit beside her, the tank between us like when our kids were infants.” Years ago I was at a biker swap meet. It was summertime and hot. The meet was in the parking lot of the Andretti’s speedway in Roswell, Georgia. I drove the truck in hopes of scoring parts for an Ameracchi 250 I had been cobbling together. I had some of my pals and my staff with me and we yucked it up with fellow bikers and passed out some coozies and enjoyed the biker camaraderie. It was clear who we were given the signage on our truck and that we had sponsored the event. At the day’s end when vendors rolled up wares and bikers chugged off a young man I did not recognize approached me. He immediately introduced himself with an outstretched hand. I regret that I don’t recall his name, lost in the confusion of the minutes that followed. What he said to me in our few minutes together took me by such surprise that I cannot recollect much prior to his solemn words. I immediately noticed that he carried a ‘peanut’ tank under one arm. The young man seemed intent on telling me about his older brother. He spoke of his brother with a forlorn tone and I suspected that the story would not end well. He told me that his brother was a true biker and loved his bike, the open road, the curves, the people and all things two wheeled. The young man explained that he had sought to meet me with specific purpose. He and his brother had mutually shared the enjoyment of my monthly moto writings. He recalled his brother looking forward to my “Musings” in the monthly biker mags and his brother relaying to him that my “Curves In The Road”, penned years prior, was the only complete book he had read in years. They would speak of the stories while out on the open road and laugh about the commonality that binds riders together through experiences on their bikes. They read my stories and laughed with “me too” approval. Then the young man’s story slowed and his voice deepened. He shifted on his feet and looked about, seemingly upset by what he was about to tell me. All the while clutching this roughly painted green gas tank under his left arm. My intuition was confirmed by his tragic tale. He relayed that his brother was in fact killed in a motorcycle wreck years before. A wet roadway, an errant turn, a mechanical failure, it didn’t matter. He explained his brother, who enjoyed my stories, was dead. Excepting the obligatory “I’m sorry…”, I didn’t know what to say. His eyes did not fill with tears and he did not break down and cry but he simply relayed his tragedy to me and thanked me for sharing my stories with him and his brother. It was then that he surprised me. He took the tank that was minutes before tucked tightly under his arm and handed it to me. He told me his brother would have wanted me to have it. He did not know, nor did I, if I had ever met his brother. I could not recall him by name, by bike, or by description, nary how I tried. I accepted the gift with hesitance puzzled by the offering. He walked off slowly. I stared at the gift in my hands. I looked at my wife with raised eyebrows. This tank, not negotiable. It stays!
I did not understand the gesture at the time. I have often looked at the tank and pondered its place in my life. It seems a fitting metaphor for my own life. A life on two wheels, a life of stories, a life of writing tales of the open road. A simple gift, a small green tank, worth more to me than any part on the pile. It sits on a bookshelf in my basement office now. I trust it will remain there. I have many old tanks from many old bikes. None that I couldn’t replace. I did not know the dead brother. I honor his death nonetheless. I think of him despite my ignorance of his life. He keeps me cautious. He keeps me vigilant. He reminds me of the dangers of our lifestyle. My wife does not understand the ‘life’ of motorcycling. However, despite the reminders to clean OUT the basement, that tank is not an issue! Rest in peace brother, whoever you are.
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home. Written by Steve Murrin, the ‘Original Biker Lawyer’.