In the late 1960s, our neighbor Mr. Lynn introduced my Dad and brother Stavro to the exciting world of motorcycles and they fell in love. Soon our two car garage was filled with all manner and makes of bikes: dirt bikes, street bikes, minibikes and even a couple of mopeds (the kind that have pedals to start the motor).
Our weekends soon consisted of family day trips out to the Phoenix desert to ride until it became dark. Round and round we’d go, racing through dry river beds and over cracking dusty roads. I remember stopping only to eat lunch and gaze at the beautiful brown Arizona mountains. Even at that young age I was filled with an awe for their dangerous majesty. I love the memory of those times.
Sometimes the urge to ride couldn’t wait until the weekend and Dad would pull out a street bike and take me for a quick ride after he came home from work. At that time, there were still pockets of places we could take a mini-desert ride inside the city. Phoenix was still sitting on the edge of the mega city it was to become.
On one particular evening, Dad said, “Let’s go!” Never willing to pass up a ride, I climbed on the back of the motorcycle, safely wrapped my arms around his waist, hooked my fingers tightly into his belt loops and off we rode heading for the empty lots between two neighborhoods. We slipped past the bar recently planted to keep cars out and into the wilds of Phoenix suburbia we rode. We did our usual circuit and then Dad hit the little mounds of dirt to make me bounce and laugh. I laughed so hard, I was breathless, but with a child’s enthusiasm kept urging, “Again, Dad, again!” It was on one of those last go rounds that I happened to look behind us. Someone else was out for a ride and closing on us fast. He had lights mounted on his bike.
I tapped Dad on the stomach to gain his attention and motioned for him to look behind. “I think he wants us to stop.” Seems the last bastion of space we could ride free in the city was now under police state and some non-motorcycle loving resident ratted us out.
We left our little haven with a blue slip of disappointment. Dad was a bit embarrassed to have to admit to Mom about the ticket we received, but of course nine-year-old little me thought it hilarious and kind of scary exciting. It didn’t occur to me that our evening rides in the last little oasis were over. In a child’s mind things last forever. But of course, they don’t.
Stavro traveled to Phoenix a couple years ago and visited our old haunts. The empty lots are filled with houses. The desert we rode upon is swallowed up by urban sprawl. The dusty roads and river beds paved over. The beautiful brown mountains in the distance are now crowded up to their bases and shaded with pollution.
And my Dad is gone.
I know that Dad would want me to keep pushing onward, to stay on the bike and keep riding, even taking the chance of seeing the lights flashing behind me again. He was proud of me for taking on some pretty bouncy and terrifying mountains throughout my life and conquering them. He never failed to tell me that.
What I failed to tell him was that in my heart I always had my arms around his waist, with my fingers hooked into his belt loops knowing that if I held on tight enough, just over the next hill was the promise of breathless joy and laughter. There would be an open space to ride free and say, “Let’s go!”
But there will never be another evening ride. No more, “agains.” Grown-ups know these things and that’s the hard part.
I’m trying Dad, but without you the motor is terribly hard to start.