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Memories Of A Pathfinder

Part 5, Motorcycle Fever -- 05/19/04

I first dreamed of owning a motorcycle at some point during the Summer of 1964. That's when I first saw a Honda color flyer showing the various models on sale. My friend, Gerry Jandeska's older brother, Bob, was said to be considering buying one, it was his flyer that I reviewed. I was only fourteen years old and I had no money for one, but I wanted one nonetheless. Such is the power of 'Motorcycle Fever' when aroused by powerful marketing literature and the imagination of a young teenager bent in independence.

In the months leading up to my 16th birthday, an older friend, Mark Anderson, let me practice driving his Honda 50 motorcycle in the alley behind his house. It was totally cool, and I couldn't wait for my birthday so I could ask for my own.

When I was sixteen I talked my mother into purchasing a black Yamaha 60 motorcycle for me. Harry Swidler, from the bicycle shop I was helping out at, had a friend that sold motorcycles and asked him to accept a reduced price as a favor. It was a fun cycle and I took it to school and everywhere else I could drive. That is, I took it whenever weather permitted, which was a severe limitation in Chicago, known for its harsh winters and thunderstorms.

I was in my Sophomore year at Bowen High School in the Spring of 1966. I loved the fact I could take my Yamaha to school and avoid the CTA buses. It is pure freedom to own a cycle, it becomes part of your very being. For the first week or so of May 1966, I parked my cycle at a nearby gas station at 89th Street and South Chicago Avenue. The owner charged me $5.00 a week to park there. That was a lot, but I thought that was the only place I could park it.

Around the time I received my cycle, a few other friends owned cycles too. I recall Pops (Bob) Springer had a Honda Sport 90 (shown below), Rudy Wardian had a Yamaha 100. Others had them too, but we didn't know how many then. That would become very apparent soon enough.

I was telling Pops Springer about my paying to park my cycle. In his usual riled way of reacting against authority, he blasted me for paying. He told me to park my cycle next to his at the street bounding the rear of the school on 88th Place (shown below). So, the next day I parked my cycle next to his back there. It was public parking so it made sense to me that we could do that. Within a week or two the entire section of the parking area was filled with motorcycles. It was more than a place to park--it was a statement, a marking out of our territory.

That parking space we used was to the side of an apartment building and the owner was alarmed at the sight of motorcycles on the street there. He complained to the Principal of the school and the matter was handed over to the Vice Principal for resolution. Keep in mind this was 1966, the time in American history of young folks starting to speak up for themselves. Authority was not blindly followed, in fact it was outright questioned most of the time.

I don't remember where I was when I was summoned to the Vice Principal's office one day. When I arrived, I was told to sit down and wait until the Vice Principal was ready to meet with the rest of the boys. About four or five of us were gathered, including Pops Springer. Pops was rather agitated about being called out of class for this meeting, I didn't know myself why I was there or anyone else was there. That changed very fast once we were called into the VP's office.

I don't remember the entire conversation. I do remember the VP starting out in his usual tough voice about how some hoodlums were breaking the law by making noise and the illegal parking of their motorcycles behind the school. He demanded to know if we were the leaders of a new motorcycle gang! He then started in on how upset the apartment owner was over the problems we were accused of causing. He wanted us to stop parking there.

I tried to explain that no one was making any noise with their motorcycles. The VP cut me off with a stern look of admonishment. Before he could start his next tirade, Pops Springer told him in no uncertain terms that he was way out of line on this. First off, Pops said this wasn't a school matter and therefore none of the VP's business, so he had no right pulling us into the office. Secondly, Pops told him that the space we all used was public parking, anyone can park there. Third, he told the VP that we paid our license plates fees according to law, so we can park wherever public parking is allowed. When the VP countered with the complaint about the apartment owner, Pops told him he didn't give a damn what the owner said, he was going to keep parking there. At that point Pops said he was leaving the office. I followed him, so did the rest of the guys. After-all he was way out of line just as Pops said he was and we needn't listen to his BS. Nothing was ever said again about parking back there. To my knowledge no problems ever surfaced about parking back there. Most of the students thought it was cool to see half the street parked with various makes and models of motorcycles. I wish I had a picture of all of them from that time, it was truly a sight to see.

Angel Rodriguez and I had a close call one day on westbound 83rd Street heading towards South Chicago Avenue. A lady driving in a car eastbound made a U-turn directly in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and skidded to the right of her car, Angel's knee was slightly hit by the impact. I was pretty scared and angry at the driver and Angel pulled me back from trying to reach in the car for her. We decided not to press charges, but it was a serious close call and could have ended up worse for Angel and me.

Over the Summer of 1966, I was often found riding my Yamaha with another mutual friend of Angel and I, Scott Soti. He had a Honda SuperHawk 305. We went all over the place together. He had a slightly different interpretation for the rules of the road and I naturally followed him. Scott wasn't much like Pops Springer, but the anti-authority streak ran through him just the same.

Gerry Jandeska and I had a very close call with death one day that Summer. We were going westbound on 88th Place just before South Chicago Avenue and fast approaching an intersection when I noticed a Chicago Garbage truck coming towards the intersection from the north on that cross street, he wasn't slowing down. That driver probably didn't see us coming. At the speed I was driving, I knew I wouldn't be able to stop without colliding with the truck. In an instant, I gunned the engine, told Gerry to hold on, and aimed at the left-hand sewer next to the curb and leaned so that I could just clip the sewer's edge at the opposite curb in a sweeping curving motion away from the path of the truck and coming back to continue westbound on 88th Place. We both felt the swish of the truck as it passed just behind my cycle, missing us by no more than a foot or two. My timing and leaning was enough to clear the approaching curb right at that moment and therefore we made it out of that predicament safely. We stopped about 50 feet further up on 88th Place and just shook from the experience. That was my second of many close calls on motorcycles.

In the Fall of 1966, Pops Springer, Larry Dalke, and another friend, and I started riding around Jeffery Manor at night with our two motorcycles. Larry rode with me, and Pops had the other guy. It wasn't long before we started racing each other and that soon evolved into cycle tag. Maybe it's a good thing when Winter came that year. A bunch of teenage males feeling their oats on cycles is not necessarily the best thing for society.

In the Spring of 1967 I sold my Yamaha 60 to Fred Gellman. He payed me with a coin collection he had had for many years. We've talked about that transaction a couple years ago and I still feel bad that he used up a valued set of coins for the purchase, but as I said earlier, motorcycle fever gets in your blood and strange things happen.

Moving ahead to the Spring of 1970, I had just returned from my U.S. Naval Reserve training. I was working as a telephone installer for Illinois Bell and had enough money to purchase a Blue-and-White Honda 175 Scrambler (shown below). I loved that cycle. When I told my friend, Bill Artus about the purchase, he told me he was picking up a Triumph 650 in just a few days himself. Wow! My best friend and I drove our cycles all over Chicago during the warm months of 1970 and Spring of 1971. We had several close calls with death ourselves, separately and together.

One time Bill and I were leaving a toll booth returning from a week-long trip down to Champaign, Illinois. I was just ahead of him and accelerating up to 70 mph. All of a sudden my engine froze up. I started to flip upward over my handlebars, then fell back into the normal sitting position. As I struggled to maintain my balance and control during my rapid deceleration, I looked in my side mirror and saw the horrified look on Bill's face. He was coming up on me at 70 mph himself and he managed to lean enough to the right so that his left foot-peg took off my right shoe without scratching my skin! Thankfully Bill was able to miss me or both of us might have perished that day in early November 1970. I never did get that cycle completely fixed after the engine froze. I sold it "as is" to a friend in the Spring of 1971.

The last motorcycle I owned was purchased in April 1972. I bought a brand new Gold Honda 500 for $1,650 cash. I kept that cycle for two months. I met Sherry in May, 1972 when I was visiting Angel and showing him my new cycle in his garage. She lived next door to Angel and his wife, Linda and was curious who I was and what was going on. I never gave her a ride on that cycle and she still reminds me of that. In the last week I owned it, I was almost killed every day on it. I felt someone was trying to send me a message and I listened. I sold the cycle to Lenny Clark for $1,200. He didn't have it long, it was stolen before he obtained insurance on it.

Of the three motorcycles I've owned, the Honda 175 Scrambler was my favorite. Pound-for-pound it was the most responsive cycle I ever drove. I had the most fun on that cycle and the best times with my friend, Bill riding his cycle with me. There are many adventures that I have left out mentioning here, suffice it to say that I had an exciting time in the years between 1966 and 1972 involving motorcycles.

Since June 1972 I've only driven a couple motorcycles and only on private property. Once was in 1982 in Fort Collins, Colorado during a visit to a friend's family and the last time at Larry Dalke's home in North Bend, Washington during July 2001. I never forgot the feeling of independence on my cycles, but I feel better having made my choices of sticking with cars for my mode of travel.

Still, I look at motorcycles and talk to their drivers and riders when I can. Motorcycle Fever never goes away it seems, it needs close attention now and then, but I sure wouldn't want to be cured of that ailment.

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Don


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