Did you ever have something you just loved so much as a kid that it changed your whole world? A car? A drum set? For me, it was a motorcycle. A 1982 Honda XL250R Dual Sport bike with a Pro-Link Suspension. God, I loved that motorcycle.
But let me go back a bit. Growing up, I had a pretty strict father who certainly couldn’t give a crap about the things I was into. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was into punk rock, skateboarding, Vespas, the Mod movement, and of course, girls. I had no luck with girls and my parents wouldn’t let me have a Vespa, so I mostly rode my skateboard and listened to the Clash or the Specials. My dad didn’t see the importance of these things, and to avoid seeing the look of disappointment on his face, I mostly tried to stay out of his way. And except for assigning me chores or lecturing me, he mostly tried to stay out of my way as well.
Then came Christmas 1982. When my two sisters, my brother and I rushed into the living room that morning we saw, perched incongruously among the presents around the tree, a motorcycle. Now, it took my brain a minute to calculate what was going on here. “That cannot be for me,” I thought. “But if not me, then who is it for?” It didn’t make sense, and I just stood there dumbfounded.
The rest of the day was a blur. I couldn’t stop staring at the bike, and I also couldn’t stop sneaking glances at my father, who I was seeing in a whole new light. Maybe I had him figured all wrong? Maybe he did understand me after all. I mean, it wasn’t a Vespa, but the appeal of a Vespa had taken a sharp downturn as soon as I’d laid eyes on the Honda, which was an absolutely badass, terrifying, freedom-giving assault machine. And you have to understand that the Pro-Link suspension was very new, and made the bike, in my 16-year-old eyes, look no different than the machine that Donnie Hansen had won the 1982 Supercross title on.
My mother was clearly not a fan of the motorcycle, and used language all morning worthy of a legal agreement absolving herself of any responsibility for me killing myself or someone else on this death machine. She also made it clear that this was my father’s decision, and not hers. It was the strangest, most wonderful Christmas ever.
However, by the end of the day I had only been allowed to start the bike in the front yard (even that was more thrilling than you can imagine), and my father had laid out the rules of engagement, which brought me back down to earth pretty quickly: I would have to raise my grades to a B average if I wanted to ride the motorcycle (pretty much impossible), I would have to take an intense motorcycle safety course before being able to ride the motorcycle, I would only be able to ride the motorcycle off-road for one year, and I would have to scrape all the old paint off the house (I think he just added that one in there because he was on a roll). Also, once I completed all of these tasks (I had already realized I would never be riding the bike), I was never allowed to go on the freeway (this will become important later).
I would like to tell you that I immediately became a good student and was on the bike in three months, but that just wasn’t the case. Except for a few off-road trips, the bike mostly sat in the garage. I would visit it every day after school, wash it, oil the chain, and dream of the day when I could ride it to school.
I kept pestering my dad about the motorcycle safety course, and he finally set a date. Somehow, I not only passed the course, but managed to get the highest score on the maneuverability and braking sections. And my relationship with my dad began to improve. He bought a used 1981 XR 500 (a four stroke beast) and we would go trail riding. My friend Eric got a motorcycle, and the three of us would explore trails all over Southern California. Eric rode his motorcycle everywhere and mine had to sit in the garage, which was painful beyond words, but my father was still holding fast to his rules about grades.
Finally the day came when I brought home my report card – a whole year had passed, and although it wasn’t quite a B average, my parents relented, and promised I could start riding the motorcycle to school and around town. “But no freeways.”
This was the beginning of my obsession with my Honda. Trail riding had been great, and it was all I wanted to do. But being able to wheelie down the street, rev the throttle and pull into the High School parking lot on this badass machine was pure heaven. I played it off as best I could, taking off my helmet with what I thought was a cool and disaffected nonchalance, and walking off to class. But inside I was bursting. And I couldn’t wait for each day to end so I could get back on the bike. I spent hours each day exploring the streets, horse trails, vacant lots, and dirt roads of my city. I was finally free. I would bungie my skateboard to the back of the bike and head off in search of an empty pool I had heard about. I would pack my motocross gear into a backpack and ride to Saddleback Motocross Park and bomb the trails and tracks of south Orange County. I would find jumps and steep streets to launch the bike into the air. I remember one day in particular: I’d found a steep horse trail that led up to a cul-de-sac street, and I would hit the hill in second gear and wind it out; at the top of the trail I would launch into the air and land in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Eric and I were jumping it one day when I got the front end way too high, and the bike came down on its tail, and I slammed into the pavement. Eric thought I was hurt, but I bounced up immediately, only concerned about the bike. It was missing its tail light and rear blinkers entirely, which had come clean of the bike and bounced over a neighbor’s fence. We got a big kick out of that one.
One day after school I decided to go to Flower Street, which was a drainage ditch in Santa Ana popular with skateboarders that I had been visiting lately. The surface street route took forever, so I’d been ignoring my dad’s rule about freeways, because I could save about 20 minutes by getting on Interstate 5 for a few miles.
When I hit the back of the Toyota Celica I was going 40 miles an hour, and the Celica was at a dead stop. I remember slamming my head into the rear window louvers, and the next thing I knew I was laying on the ground and a very shaken looking man was kneeling over me. “Oh God, I thought you were dead,” he exclaimed. “My bike!” I said. I tried to get up, but he held me down. “Just lie still,” he said.
I will never forget the look on my dad’s face when he got home from work. I’d gotten a ride from the tow truck driver after convincing him I didn’t need to go to the hospital. Walking was uncomfortable (I had two massive hematomas on my thighs where they hit the handlebars, and my helmet was caved in on one side) but I was otherwise okay – thank you Simpson Helmet Company. My dad’s face was a mixture of disappointment and disgust. It was like he hated me. He didn’t say anything; he just shook his head, started to walk out, and then turned back to say, “Don’t think for a moment that this gets you out of your chores.”
I realize now that when my mother and dad got home, the first thing they saw was the completely crushed Honda lying in a heap in the driveway where the tow-truck driver had unceremoniously dumped it. My mother had immediately feared the worst, and had nearly had a heart attack. She gave my father hell for allowing me to have a motorcycle, and I’m sure she didn’t let up on him for weeks.
As for me, I mourned the loss of the Honda like a best friend. I was despondent. And worst of all, I knew I had disobeyed my dad, and that he would never trust me with another motorcycle. Sure enough, a few days later he made me take the bike to the Honda shop and sell it for parts. I think I moped around for six months, but the effect of losing that bike was much more deep seated. My relationship with my father, always tenuous at best, went back to an exercise in avoidance. He never discussed the motorcycle, and pretty soon we were discussing nothing at all.
I eventually got back into riding motorcycles as an adult and even raced a few motocross races on a CR450F, a machine so frighteningly fast and powerful, it would belch flame out of the exhaust and lift into effortless wheelies in third gear. I spent a few years bombing trails in the Hungry Valley/Gorman area. But nothing ever replaced the feeling that I had as a 16 year old – that aura of invincible freedom. I have dreams about that bike to this day. In the dream, the accident never happened. The Honda is gleaming red, and the engine is throaty-sounding and powerful under me. I am riding down the street, feeling the wind course across my body. I am doing an effortless, mile-long wheelie, and I am free.
In this issue I sit down with Sarah Silverman. She is a no-nonsense, down to earth person whose comments about keeping her overhead low and living simply struck a chord with me. She owns her car and her apartment, and doesn’t buy expensive jewelry or fancy purses. I think her lack of materialistic desires allows her to take on only the projects she loves without worrying making a lot of money. That feeling of freedom is important to her, and she attributes her success at least partially to being able to be herself, all the time.
The process of self-discovery is essential to the growth of an artist. When an artist knows him- or herself well, they can create and share in a universal way. Sarah is a shining example of that, and I applaud her courage in being herself in the public eye. She stands up for what she believes in, doesn’t back down from a challenge, and constantly pushes the limits of her art. I hope you find what she has to say as fascinating and enlightening as I did.
As I grow older, I find I want fewer material things, and more meaningful experiences. I want to find connection with the people I love, and appreciate the value of time spent simply, in the presence of those people. I am fine with my books and movies and music existing in the cloud. I don’t need a bigger house or a fancy car. I don’t covet expensive clothes or collect fine wine. But god, would I love to have that Honda back in the garage, gleaming and new, like that Christmas day in 1982 when everything changed.
Sam Jones, March 2014