Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Baby Names Are Easy

My family has a long, proud history of naming our vehicles. My theory, although not very scientific, is that the need to name our cars, trucks, tractors and later airplanes and motorcycles started with the few precious farm animals on those early farms.

We're grain farmers. (Well, I'm not, but I'm the first miscreant in more than a century who hasn't got a few hundred acres of barley or wheat or canola growing out back.) Grain farmers don't keep a lot of critters, maybe a milk cow or two, some chickens, a few pigs and, in the early days, the all-important draft horses. In our family, anything bigger than a chicken gets a name. Barn cats are the only exception, but they're all named "Kitty" so they don't get too full of themselves.

When the draft horses my dad cared for as a kid ("Dolly" was the family favourite; his brother, my uncle John, still talks warmly of that horse after 70 years) were retired in favour of tractors, the tractors got names. We had a 1948 Leader tractor that had been Frankensteined into a crop spraying rig. It somehow got the moniker "Spanish Fireball", and it wore that lopsided, runny, spray-paint appellation well into the 80s when it was finally scrapped.

One of the Spanish Fireball's contemporaries was a '49 half-Ford, half-Mercury half-ton (another of my dad's "hybrid" vehicles) that my mother named "Kaw Liga" (pronounced "cow lie ja"), after the cigar-store Indian who was the sad anti-hero of Hank William's 1952 country hit of the same name.

Kaw Liga shared the patch of gravel in front of our house with our two-tone blue '53 Chev BelAir, "Nellybelle", named after the 1946 Willys CJ-2A Jeep that was featured in Roy Rogers' TV show in the mid 50's. Apparently, in our family pop culture was as important as agriculture.

In the early 70s, Kaw Liga was replaced by a short-lived, miserably unreliable mustard-coloured Ford pickup that we simply called "The Yellow Peril". It lived up to its name, terrorizing ditches, stands of poplars and, on one memorable foggy night in Edmonton, a 6" diameter steel sign post. The engine fell right out on the street and the Peril had passed.

For a short while after that we had a front wheel drive Austin America, incongruously named "Steve Austin". The less said about that car, the better.

It was right about this time that I started naming my motorcycles. The first few remained anonymous. But I named my '74 John Player Norton Commando 850 "Spirit" and stuck a brass plaque on the dash of the fairing that read: "Every journey begins and ends within the self, a circumnavigation of the soul." (It was the 70's, I had Hair and thought Deep Thoughts)

That name stayed with all my big, long distance road bikes for the next twenty years and half a million or so miles, up to Spirit V, the BMW R80RT that took me from Vancouver to Halifax in just 72 hours.

So now the svelte, sexy silver R1150RT needs a name. But she's already spoken her name to me and all I can do is acquiesce in the choice. When we spent that long, soggy day riding across west Texas to El Paso, I sang about a hundred renditions of Marty Robbins' "El Paso", the tragic ballad of a cowboy's misguided love for a wicked, duplicitous young woman. It was the only song the two of us needed on that long, cold day and it became our song.

And so, as I was tucking her into her stall that night in the parking lot of the Motel 6 in El Paso, she whispered her name to me. "I am," she said, "Felina."