My first motorcycle was a 1980 Honda CM400E. It wasn’t fast, and the brakes were lousy, but it delivered some memorable rides. One ride was notably short, but it made a lasting impact on a special family friend.
Raymond was the younger brother of my father’s close friend and colleague. It was challenging for Raymond to communicate with words, but there was one message he always conveyed with crystal clarity: He loved motorcycles.
I discovered this one afternoon when I arrived at my parents’ house riding my Honda CM400E. Raymond was visiting, and he was mesmerized. I shut off the motor, but he kept the motor noises going: “Vroom! Vroom!” We were happy to see each other, but what mattered to him most in that moment was one simple fact: I had arrived on a motorcycle.
Raymond’s big brother James, who had stopped by to talk shop with my dad, came outside too. He directed Raymond to stand back from the bike because it would be hot. Raymond adjusted his distance but not his gaze, and that grin never left his face.
Discreetly, I asked James if I could take his brother for a ride, explaining what Raymond would need to do on a slow ride through my dad’s quiet neighborhood. Recognizing the impact my motorcycle was having on Raymond and placing his trust in me, James agreed.
“Raymond,” I asked, “do you want to go for a ride on the motorcycle?” He literally jumped at the invitation and looked to his brother for approval. James smiled his okay.
My spare helmet fit Raymond just fine. My dad’s leather jacket fit well enough. As we suited up, I talked with Raymond about what I was going to do – drive the motorcycle – and what he was going to do – sit still on the seat behind me. He understood.
While I sat on the front seat and held the bars steady, James helped Raymond grab my shoulders, slide his leg over the seat, and drop into position behind me. Snugged in between my back and the sissy bar (remember those?), Raymond bounced with anticipation.
“Now listen, buddy,” I said, “you have to sit tight!” Perhaps interpreting my words as a request for him to hold tightly onto me, he wrapped his arms around my skinny midsection and squeezed. Raymond seemed confident with this approach, and he sure was eager to ride.
I started the motor, gave that little Twin some throttle, and turned onto the street for a leisurely ride with no reason to shift out of 2nd gear. It took the better part of five minutes to make a mile loop, and Raymond howled his excitement the whole time.
As we pulled back into the driveway, my mother snapped a photograph that ended up on the refrigerator at Raymond’s house, where it stayed, gradually fading, for decades. James would tell me how Raymond showed the picture to people who came to visit. “Everyone needs to see Raymond on the motorcycle,” he’d say. When I’d bump into a mutual friend elsewhere, conversations often started like this: “Raymond still won’t let me sit down until I go see the picture of him on that motorbike with you!”
That photo is now gone, and sadly so is Raymond, but his memory helps me hold onto valuable life lessons I learned from his family over many years. He is burned into my heart, notably because of one joyous ride we shared on my old 400. Here’s to short rides with long impact.