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From Ninety to Three Hundred Fifty in Eighty Bucks

Troyce Walls  | Published on 8/6/2020

By the time the old black pushrod 90 was approaching 30 grand on the odometer I had started my college training, if I may use the term loosely.  There were lots of pretty girls there and some not so pretty, but everyone seemed to expect me to focus on all these classes and tests.  That was something of a bother, always classes and tests. 

One afternoon as I was trying to think about the test to which I was on my way aboard the ol’ pushrod, but was actually admiring a young lady strolling down the sidewalk.  Sometimes I was able to do two things at once, like walking and breathing without swallowing the gum, but I should never have let it get much more complicated than that.  Three things, as an example, were at least one too many.  There I was, riding my motorcycle with two different thoughts vying for attention, neither of which had anything to do with riding the bike.  About the time I started to turn left onto a side street I absent-mindedly looked to my right to see the front bumper of a car about three feet from my right ankle.  It was a Ford Falcon bumper, I found, because I then had an opportunity while lying there in the street to observe it closely.  

 
Also available was proof that more than two things usually cannot occupy the same space at the same time, at least as far as my little brain, Falcon bumpers, ankles, and non-folding foot pegs are concerned.  Incredibly - considering the circumstances – I noted that the pretty girl didn’t even stop to observe the drama that had just unfolded in the street.  

"Not even that," I found myself thinking, lying there on the cot in the infirmary.  

The 90 was bent in the middle.  All the laces were split down the middle of my right tennis shoe from where my foot had squirted out of it from between the folded non-folding foot peg and the engine.  
By the time of the accident I was a sophomore and so was able to have sort of a car on campus which I then brought into use.  The little bike had afforded me the convenience of parking right outside the doors of the buildings where I had classes, whereas autos had to use parking lots and sophomore stickers allowed one to park as near as the next county.  Being a commercial art major, which, as far as I can tell in retrospect was a good thing in the following instance only, I constructed a proper grad student/instructor level sticker, thereby alleviating the parking problem.  Next, I had to fix the 90.  A friend, who had just recently purchased his first bike, a CB125SS, wanted someone to ride (read: race) with and so helped me find the parts.  We found an old frame way out towards Mississippi in an old farmhouse filled with the relocated contents of the local Honda shop’s graveyard.  Even found a little short handlebar with the throttle groove/cable hole cut in it that the fellow tossed in for free.  Five dollars for all this; times were different then.  In the basement of the dormitory we stripped all the good stuff from the bent 90 and put it on the newly acquired frame.  The old marvel cranked, after sitting for months, on the fourth or fifth kick.  Back in the saddle again, was I.  
A couple of months later rumors of a Kawasaki 350 that could possibly be purchased for the paltry sum of eighty dollars floated down the hallowed halls of the dorm.  It was said that it was up for sale by a fellow who had arrived at the sad state that many have occupied in college when we had to sell pints of blood to the local hospital and part with our Led Zeppelin albums.  The prospective Kawasaki turned up just after I had received a check from my part time job that was supposed to be used for the purchase of art supplies and other noble ends.  Being in what could loosely be called "The Black" financially there was about 80 bucks, the magic number, available.  We proceeded to go check out the bike.  The owner had hair to his waist and didn’t know if the Kawasaki ran or not.  
"Did once," he said.  "No kiddin'!" I said.  
The rotary-valve, 2-cylinder, 2-stroke, was poorly painted a hazy metallic purple (running all thru his brain).  So were the wheels.  I asked for the key to see if it would run.  
"Uses a key?" he responded.  

Along there somewhere it occurred to me that this bike may have had a circumspect history.  I let the guy float back inside to his pad, as he kept wanting to do, so I could inspect the unit without his dreamy non-specific inputs.  Finding the key in the ignition, I turned it on and cranked the motor over.  There was a little compression, not much, but more than I had expected.  There was stuff sloshing in the tank, and it didn’t smell like Korean war surplus so I turned the petcocks to reserve, pushed the enriching lever and kicked again.  The second jab fired it up with a great flurry of oily gray pollutants.  A trip down the street proved all the gears were available for use in the tranny.  When I returned the purported owner of the bike was back outside, weaving a bit more than before with even smaller eye openings.  He had changed his mind about the price, obviously after consultation with his "Ol Lady," who was standing firmly there beside him.  She looked a bit grubby herself but attempted to appear very businesslike.  I threatened to take it regardless since he had started the whole affair with an attitude that 80 bucks was probably too much.  Thing was, he hadn’t heard it run then, someone had probably left it with him as barter for pot, and he hadn’t even found the ignition switch yet.  Eventually they backed off and I intimidated them into a bill of sale, hoping to avoid the future complications that seemed more likely by the minute.  Intimidating dazed hippies wasn’t too tough for us apparently clean-shaven types, and they tried to avoid us, as a rule.  They would drink our beer at our parties though.  And if they had known the extent of our use of recreational artificial alternate reality inducements, they might not have been intimidated at all.  

A fellow in the dorm took my price for the 90 so by the following week the purple paint on the ‘Saki had been replaced by primer in preparation for a splendid paint job that never happened.  The bike didn’t always run exactly right in the beginning and no amount of plug cleaning, carb tuning, or ignition setting ever helped.  It would run like a flying furry mammal from Hades until it got to operating temperature, at which point it would shut down at higher revs and go "Buuunnnnnhhhh.”  Finally, the funny noises from the engine got decidedly less humorous on a not to be completed trip home for Christmas.  This being the same trip wherein I discovered that an hour or two of riding in freezing rain is decidedly almost unimaginably uncomfortable, and that it’s entirely possible that at the end of such a journey, one will have to slide one’s hands from the handlebars sideways.  But I digress.  Disassembly of the Avenger’s top end revealed a conspicuous absence of piston ring parts.  The slots were there in the pistons, but the rings didn’t fill much of them.  After a relatively cheap rebuild with first over pistons/rings everything worked much better and I began to hunt Honda 450s to which to show my taillight.  

That summer was my first as a mechanic at a nearby Honda store and was the same summer in which I bought a nearly new CB350.  I parked the Kawasaki out front of the store with a "For Sale" sign on it asking $500 and hoping for maybe $350.  The first person to stop wanted a Honda CB350 but as our business sense challenged manager would not come off even a dollar from the MSRP of the Hondas, the customer took my bike for the asking price!  That probably qualified as a conflict of interest, but who cared in those days.  The CB350 is another chapter in my motorcycle life, and a rather lengthy one at about 23,000 miles in duration.  
The end for now.  

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