Monday, February 6, 2012

Seeing a Man About a Mule

I had just spent all morning answering tough questions in an interview for a promotion at work. I was forced to answer mostly existential character-type riddles. Good thing I do love to prattle on.

When I got out I had two calls to make -- two ads for the same year and same vintage bike, both well within my price range. At the first call, the word was that someone else wanted the bike but had to wait until the next day to get the cash and they would let me know if it all fell through. When I told the wife that I had cash in hand  and was heading right past their house, I got a quick call back from the husband saying that he was going to work but to stop by. I called the other place and got a thick Spanish accent. Of course the bike would be available. I got directions and an address and was told to give a ring when I got to Yelm and he would guide in to where the bike was located. He was in the process of moving, but he would be happy to show it to me.

I picked up some ramps at Lowes and promised my wife that we could use them to borrow her dad's riding lawnmower this summer. Then I called the first guy back again - got a message.

The first bike was about 45 minutes closer. From the Craigslist pictures, it was loaded up with accessories and in good shape. It had over 50,000 miles on it. The second bike was out in the country, it had a dent in the tank, but since these are often starter bikes, they almost all have dents in the tank if they've been around a while. I kind of liked the idea that it had a few scratches, a few things to repair. I wanted to make it my own, if not customize it, and the thought of doing that to a pristine bike made me uncomfortable.

I also thought of the guy who looked at the bike, but had to wait a day to get the cash together. I would hate to swoop in and steal it out from under him. Bad Karma.

I arrived in Yelm and followed my GPS down descending dirt roads to a lane tucked in behind the great horse ranches that dominate the area now. At the end of a long dirt road was a yellow shop and a mobile home. The shop was big - the kind designed with truck sized doors for semis or yachts. It was surrounded by old cars and motorcycles. Off to the right stood a clean by tiny mobile home with a tidy grass lawn and a statue of the Virgin Mary out front. There was no gravel driveway, just some ruts in the lawn.

There stood Roberto next to a red motorcycle. Roberto was older with gray hair and a gray beard and round wire-rim glasses. He worse a gray sweatshirt. He seemed mildly befuddled by the whole situation. He told me he had the bike for three years, and that the dent in the tank was there before he bought it. He said he had ridden the bike on several long trips without problem but does not ride anymore.

He showed me all the paperwork, title, a shop manual that looked like it had never been opened. Service receipts -- the most recent from Sept. when he had the carbs cleaned, rejetted and synced and the front wheel alignment checked.

The bike was dirty, and sitting in a muddy lawn. The seats where in good shape, but the paint and wiring showed signs that at one time it had been stored outside in the sun. A Texas license plate clip indicated that it had not spent its whole life in the Northwest. The bike started right up, the clutch worked. The seat and ergos were very comfortable. I gave him the cash while he filled out the title transfer.

The next problem was how to load it. I had my eyes open for an embankment or ramp I could back up to, but everything in the area was pretty flat and fenced. I asked Roberto and he said with the ramps, he could get his friend to help.

Roary pulled into the driveway a few minutes later behind the wheel of a restored white 1970 Corvette. He was tall with a OD fatigue jacket and blonde ponytail sticking out of the back of his black ball cap. He wore jeans and lugged Harley Davidson boots. His Aussie accent was unmistakable, but it also sounded like he'd been in the states for some time. While I struggled with my new ramps, he looked at us like we were both idiots. Since he was wearing the HD boots, he lead the loading effort -- even showing me how to shoehorn the long bike into the truck in a way that let me close the rear tailgate.

As I drove away, I had that buyers self doubt I always get when I make a big purchase. After all I was making this decision alone, after a mentally taxing morning. However, the bike ran, and had a reputation for being bulletproof with an air-cooled V-Twin married to shaft drive. Yamaha makes durable bikes and this one was known to be able to take a lot of abuse.

I got it home and we broke off a turn signal unloading it, but still it rode fine and the coordination required to clutch and shift started to come back to me on the ride home from Amy's dad's place. I took a few pictures in the driveway and it looked like read vintage warrior in the mud and gloomy sky. An old Army Mule -- not pretty, but ready to move out when ordered.