Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Ain't Las Vegas, Darlin'!

Thus spake Laurie at the front desk when I asked her to call me a cab. "If you need a cab this morning, you should have ordered one last night", she explained, employing some advanced temporal logic pioneered by Stephen Hawking.

She did provide me with the numbers of three cab companies. Two were local, one of those was out of business and the other said he could have a car there in "an hour or two" but declined my business completely when he learned I only had to go a mile and half. "Not worth my time, sorry!".

So I walked. It was a liveable 80 degrees and the humidity at 10:00 in the morning wasn't bad. Across the parking lot, up the grassy slope to Woodbury Road, across four mostly deserted lanes, down the other slope, and into the Burger King for an OJ and a breakfast thing. Back up the slope and across the overpass, then a mile along rural Hudson Road I ambled, eating my breakfast, accompanied by a cloud of various butterflies, dragonflies and serenaded by prairie songbirds.It was quite beautiful.

The bike was in the center of the showroom floor and looked as good as a 39 year old motorcycle can look. The staff had the paperwork ready and all they had to do was have me sign for the keys. This is where things started to unravel a bit - no one could find the keys to the bike. Much increasingly frantic searching ensued, and no keys. Finally, I offered to draw a picture of a BMW /5 key. All three staffers looked at me like I was insulting their intelligence, offering to draw a picture of a key fer chrissakes, but I explained and drew and suddenly "Oh, that's what those are!" and I had my keys.

The BMW "plunger" key. In use since the 50's.
An aerodynamic wonder in ultra-modern Bakelite. 
I'd made a checklist to work from for inspecting the bike, an antidote to my usual blind euphoria at the excitement of a new motorcycle (this is exactly like dating!) and went over the bike thoroughly. It all checked out. Even the inside of the tank was rust-free and clean, although there was not much fuel left. Enough, surely, to ride the 1.5 miles back to the gas station by my motel. I was out by .5 of a mile.

So I walked. By now it was much hotter, I was wearing black riding pants, a black T shirt, carrying a helmet and 2 gallons of gas in a $20 gas can.I slung the helmet over my right elbow and drank a large Gatorade as I walked. Every time I took a drink, the helmet whacked me in the ribs. Plus I was surrounded by insects and irritatingly noisy birds.

Eventually I checked out and started the 40 mile trek across Minneapolis to Charlie Johnson's BMW shop in Wyzata. Charlie triaged the bike and gave it a clean bill of health, too. It was reassuring to have an experienced BMW mechanic confirm my lust-clouded judgements. Although I had arranged to use a fellow BMW rider's garage to work on the bike, there really was nothing left to do so I headed west in the 95 degree heat, planning on Watertown, SD, about 200 miles away.

It took an hour or so to settle in with the bike, like learning to dance with someone new. We found our rhythm and I stopped stepping on her toes and we wandered across miles of Minnesota prairie in the oppressive heat. Vetter fairings are still the gold standard in weather protection but that was not an advantage in the stifling heat. The air behind that over-engineered mass of black plastic was dead still. I had to lean out past the side of the windshield or stand up on the pegs to get some air through my mesh jacked.

And the seat took some getting used to. It is a well-made custom seat built on the original seat pan. I've got a small butt and good thing, too, with this diminutive seat. Unfortunately I found after about an hour that I had a Windjammer in front of me and a nutjammer under me. A roadside stop to make some - ahem - adjustments and my disposition improved dramatically.

At 65 mph, this old BMW was silky smooth, the mirrors were still, crisp and clear and it was so quiet I could ride without ear plugs, enjoying the whirring of the valves, the characteristic mating song of the BMW air cooled twin. I was riding what was, 40 years ago, the finest touring motorcycle that money could buy: smooth, reliable, 300 mile range, fabulous weather protection and hard luggage. Things we take for granted today but back then, this bike set the standard. And, frankly, a lot of touring bikes sold today could take a few lessons from this ancient beemer. Maybe Laurie was right: if I'd wanted the perfect touring bike today, I should have ordered one in 1973.