My brother's bike

It was a Kawasaki 900.

Probably a 1978 or 1979 model.

I don’t remember, but it was a beautiful bike.

Dark blue and way too much power for a teenager to handle. Heck, my 5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton mini-bike that my dad bought for me when I was 13 was way too much power for me to handle.

I was a teenager – maybe the 11th grade – and I don’t want to brag or anything, but I had a motorcycle license. In its wisdom, the State of Alabama wouldn’t allow me to drive four-wheeled vehicles at 14, but driving the far more dangerous two-wheel type was just fine.

David is my brother and he spent a lot of time working on the road at construction sites.

The Kawasaki was also his.

He was a welder. No, he was a tremendous welder. And sometimes during my high school years, he and his fiancée got married and moved to Houston, Texas so he could attend tech school and fine-tune his welding skills. Also, being the 1960s hippy that he was, his hair was longer than his wife’s blond locks.

Sometimes during that time, my dad, mom, sisters, and I made the long drive to Houston to see how they were doing. You never know what dangers lurk in Houston.

They were doing pretty well, just a young couple trying to make it in the world. I don’t remember if he was working anywhere, but he was definitely attending school.

One night, we drove to what must have been North Dakota just to watch a movie at a drive-in theater. They were showing a doubleheader and one of the movies was Ode to Billy Joe. I don’t remember the other movie. Did I mention it took a long time to get there?

David was so good at welding that he worked himself up in the construction industry (mainly paper mills) to manage remote welds on nuclear power plants. I don’t know all the specifics, but I remember talking with him about his job and some of the different things that he did.

One of the challenges of his job was that he had to limit his daily exposure to nuclear radiation. Is that something that you have to worry about in your job? Let me say that again, nuclear radiation was a daily concern for David. I quickly concluded that that was something that I probably didn’t want to pursue.

For some reason, he took a great interest in the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in Ukraine.

Who knows why.

But he loved welding and became an expert. Like a lot of welders, he liked working with stainless steel. We made a lot of stainless belt buckles at the Crossett, Arkansas plant, but don’t tell anyone.

Once, I texted him a picture of some nice stainless steel work of a staircase at Fort Campbell, Kentucky where I was stationed at the time. It was just a staircase of a new building, but the stainless-steel work was really nicely done. He later told me how he appreciated that I thought about him and his work.

But, back to the motorcycle. I had my own car at the time that I appropriated David’s Kawasaki. It was a 1973 Dodge Gold Duster, had an imitation snakeskin roof, and some type of clear plastic over the seats. The plastic thing took a little while to get used to. The Duster had a slant-six engine and, while I forget the horsepower, it was just a beautiful car, especially for a punk teenager.

I liked my car, but the motorcycle was way cooler. And one day, David made the tactical error of leaving his motorcycle unattended at mom’s house. So, what’s a little brother to do when the older brother is away?

What would Bueller do?

Exactly.

It was loud. Either it didn’t have mufflers, or they were really bad mufflers, or they were just designed to be as obnoxious as possible.

I suspect the latter.

I hate loud motorcycles, but the cool factor was just too much to pass up.

And, like I said before, this bike was way too much power for me to handle. In the 11th and 12th grade, I would leave school around 11 o’clock or so for trade school in Prichard, which was right beside Vigor High School. I studied air conditioning and heating, just like my dad. He had his own air conditioning company and I’m sure at the time I was planning on going into the trade myself.

On this lovely fall day, I took the Kawasaki. As 11 o’clock approached, I sashayed over to where the numerous other bicycles and motorcycles were parked, beside the cafeteria and the track. I climbed aboard the beautiful Japanese creation and started the engine.

Did I mention the mufflers were loud?

My friend Tim Tutton later told me that although he was clear across campus he smiled when he heard the unmistakable sound of the thunderous Kawasaki rocket cranking up.

It was a beautiful feeling, pulling out of campus onto Maple, then Old Highway 43, then the real 43 and heading south.

I was happy just to be able to use it for a few days and show off on a bike that I clearly had no business riding.

How cool was it to be a clueless teenager and ride such a cool bike when you’re 16 or 17 years old?

Occasionally I’d borrow other stuff too like say, blue jeans. If David was foolish enough to leave his blue jeans at my mother’s house, they were fair game. And bonus if there was currency in the pockets!

I have a few tools that he loaned me now and then through the years. I can’t return them to him because he was killed in a tornado last year in Saint James Parish, Louisiana.

At some point, he grew out of the motorcycle riding, like most sane people do. I did (but I am not making any claim on sanity). I was encouraged to stick to four-wheeled vehicles when I almost became roadkill on Interstate 65 over the Mobile River Delta when a lady in a van drifted into my lane. I am so glad I didn’t kick her van like I wanted to.

I’m not sure what triggered the Kawasaki memory. I long ago filed it away in a dusty file folder in my mind. Maybe that’s what happens when you lose someone close. The dusty memories want to seep out every now and then and remind you that they’re still there, longing for a simple ride in the open air.

 

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