I blame my obsession on Tom Cruise. But this isn’t about Thetans, Nicole Kidman, or Oprah’s couch dance. And to be fair, all old Tom did was star in a little film in 1986 called Top Gun. Now, you might thinking that Tom’s role in Top Gun inspired me to attempt a Don Quixote-esque run at becoming a Naval Fighter pilot or a military loving blockhead with Ronald Reagan and nuclear warheads tattooed over his heart, but you’d be wrong. Stallone’s roll as Rambo almost did that. Just kidding.
Nope, my obsession came about because of a helmet-less Tom roaring around Southern California on a Kawasaki Ninja 900 throughout the movie. But it was and has continues to be a sterile obsession.
I was sixteen when Top Gun came out and I had gotten my driver’s license a few months before. I was having enough trouble piloting around my car at that time without killing myself or anyone else. Adding a Rice Rocket or Crouch Rocket, or even the kinder and cooler sounding SuperBike to the mix would have surely landed me in the hospital or worse.
At that time I had only ridden a tiny 100cc dirt bike a handful of times. Even though I’m roughly the same height and size as Tom Cruise I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to handle a big powerful bike like the one he rode in the movie. That didn’t stop me from dreaming though and I carried that SuperBike torch with me well into my early twenties. If I would had the money I might have bought one, but fortunately poverty and a story my dad told kept me driving vehicles with four wheels instead of two.
When my dad was around twenty-two he borrowed a friend’s Triumph for a nice little ride through the spring countryside in Washington State. My dad realized too late that his friend had installed a racing throttle and he roared out of an alley doing a wheelie for about one hundred yards until a parked car stopped his flight abruptly. Some road rash and a bruised shoulder were his only injuries, but he developed a life-long passionate dislike of anything motorcycle because of it.
His crash story didn’t deter me though and dreams of roaring off into the sunset with a beautiful girl on the back of my very own Samurai motorcycle death machine still spun round and round in my little brain.
It took witnessing someone else’s crash story first hand to finally change my mind. My dad and I were working at a construction site near Livermore, California in the late 80’s. There were housing developments popping up all over the place back then. And Northern California was building new roads as quickly as possible to accommodate them. We were driving to a job site on one such road early in the morning when a guy on a SuperBike, a Suzuki, blew past us at well over one hundred miles an hour. The road was two lanes, wide, flat, and empty, but my dad still muttered, “That guy won’t live long,” as he passed us.
Low and behold, the poor dude on the SuperBike hit a chunk of truck tire in the road a few miles up and took a nasty spill. We were pretty far behind him at that point and couldn’t see all of the high-speed acrobatics when he hit the pavement, but we did see the sparks shooting from mangled metal parts of the bike as they skidded down the road. Fortunately, the rider had been smart enough to wear a full leather riding suit and helmet that day.
We watched as his bike skid off the road into the ditch and catch fire. He ended up in the oncoming lane. Luckily was able to jump up and run to the shoulder before he got squashed by an SUV.
When we drove past he was standing on the side of the road with his helmet off talking to the driver of the SUV who had stopped to help him. He seemed to be okay despite the insane accident he’d just gone through. My dad slowed our truck down as we passed by, but didn’t stop. When I asked him if we should try and help the guy out he just said, “Looks alright to me. The guy in the SUV is there now anyway. Can’t help fucking idiots like that usually anyway.”
At the job site as I spent the rest of the day standing in a dusty utility trench while my dad ran the creaky old Backhoe. I thought about my dad’s crash, his words about not being able to help “fucking idiots” and the SuperBike rider I’d seen nearly die that morning. I realized if Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun had taken a fall like that in the movie the Navy would have been scraping his remains off the pavement with a snow shovel. I decided risking death wasn’t worth the chance to look cool.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.