So there we stood, in the lobby of the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, waiting for the Million Dollar Quartet to start its final performance. As an usher that night, I was greeting people as they came in from the snow falling outside. I spotted Shar, talking to a small group that had arrived a little early for the show. She waved me over, and when I approached the group, she greeted me with the truly unforgivable question. “You know who this is don’t you?”
Since an honest answer wasn’t advisable, “Uh, no, I don’t have a clue,” I just stood there with a silly, confused expression. Fortunately, she only left me hanging for three or four seconds before introducing me to Dan Hills and reminding me that I’d bought a 1981 Honda CRX motorcycle from him… a very, very long time ago.
Of course, I remembered him. Dan seemed like a really nice, good looking young man. The CRX was a special motorcycle to me, and apparently Dan shared the feeling that it was special. It has been almost twenty-five years since we met that day. I spotted a motorcycle for sale sign in his front yard, and the exchange of money for motorcycle took place.
I felt surprised when he asked if I still had the bike in question. And I was definitely uncomfortable explaining that I had completely worn it out about nine or ten years ago. The truth was that the CRX was one of those machines described as absolutely bulletproof. In fact some referred to it affectionately as “the Water Buffalo.” Most people would have described it as ugly, but I, and Dan as well, saw a beautiful, sturdy, deep throated machine. He had kept it in perfect condition.
But, in spite of all it’s fine points, I did wear it out, and ended up selling it for one dollar to a man who, in the face of all logic, thought he could make it good again. Dan truly seemed disappointed, hurt even, to think that it had moved on to the possession of a stranger. That motorcycle obviously meant something special to Dan. He questioned me about how it had worked out for me. Did I have any problems with it? Was it still okay? (Seriously, that bike would be going on thirty-five years old now.) In Dan’s mind, it existed just as shiny and beautiful as it did the day I rode it away from his house. And I know how he must have felt. Motor vehicles can make romantics out of the most unlikely of us, and once in a while some mechanical marvel will steal your heart.
In my case, the car was my first car, a 1959 Triumph TR3. I bought it in 1963, shortly after graduating from college. We had gone, “just looking,” my dad and I, on a perfect June evening, and I spotted it at Rapids Chevrolet, a used car lot on 1st Avenue in Cedar Rapids. It was beautiful. British racing green. Low, sleek, a convertible from the days before wind up windows. It had what we referred to as “side curtains” with little sliding windows on each side. White fabric top and white leather interior. I was in love. Dad, in his wisdom, agreed that it was well worth the $1,200 they were asking and, by the next day, it was mine.
British sports car enthusiasts constantly joke about leaking fluids and electrical components that could only be trusted to fail, but mine either had no faults or I was blind to any and all deficiencies. I was twenty-one, and wind up windows were for wienies. Shar and I put in a lot of happy, windy miles with that car. And I seriously wish I could track it down and own it again.
As long as we’re on the topic, I should point out that even Shar had one of those inexplicable love affairs with a car. Shar’s love was a 1955 Mercury, mostly green, and with a totally undependable carburetor. She was likely the only human being on the planet who could see any redeeming qualities to that automobile. When it was gone, I felt no remorse, but she still talks about it occasionally. We’ve had lots of cars in the last fifty years, but that’s the one she’d like back.
What is it about motorized vehicles that warm our hearts? If you have a heart, I’m betting some special car or motorcycle holds a place in your memory. And there’s a good chance it might have been your first. What is it, and why was it so special to you?