Breakdown #3

October 29, 2010

I rolled slowly out of Joshua Tree campground. Stopped, took photos, looked around… I don’t really want to leave.

It’s an incredibly beautiful day, the air is still cold but the sun just broils. A nice mix of extremes. I pulled over a few times to let cars go by. This scenery is incomprehensible. Boulders out of the ground, expelled from the earth for some reason, hills that look composed of thousands of perfectly placed rocks, embedded artfully one into another the construction of a compulsive, obsessive artist. I know, it’s erosion but who said erosion could not be an artist?

And the trees…

I stop. Get off the bike, walk off the road onto the land. Cross that line of concrete separating man made and nature made.

The stillness… I walk carefully not wanting to disturb, crush or frighten anything on my path. Two of these constructed rock sculptures stand side by side. I climb on one and just sit there. So quiet. Listening to silence. Letting the noise embedded in my mind and ears slide along my skin to be absorbed in the rock.

So quiet.

A couple of really small lizards casually hang out. They check me out, wander around. Everyone is calm. No need to get excited in the desert I guess. Waste of energy and water, that would be.

So quiet.

I sit on that rock for quite a while. Thoughts drifting as the wind glides by. The only sounds are the planes that once in a while cross the skies overhead and the lone tourist cars, stopping, humans coming out, stretching their arms out with a camera, holding them out for a second then climbing back into their vehicles, disappearing in the next turn.

Imagine if you didn’t know what a camera was and you’d see the humans coming out of the cars, stretching their hands… A prayer? An exercise? A devotion? What are they doing? And why don’t they stay?

After a while I get off my rock and gently walk around. Flowers. The bushes look terminally dried up. Dead. But there, a fragile face peers out, delicate, almost invisible. Life.

I walk and find them, the purple ones, pink, yellow… one by one, they came out because of the rain last week. Life bursting while it can.

The Joshua Trees are the giants in this theater. They reach to the sky, then they fall on their knees, whiten and die. Like us.

I see a black beetle minding its own business, no hurry, no concerns, it does not care about me one bit. I guess I should go… LA waits for me with all of the plans and projects and people… things to do. I take a few more photos and reluctantly, slowly gear up, ear plugs, jacket, helmet, gloves and re-start the bike.

My starter has been slowly deteriorating. It makes a nasty squeaky sound at the end of the start cycle… The bike has been feeling disconnected here and there…. I had the thought in Nevada “ feels like a weak battery” and wished it away.

I know there is a Starbucks in the next town, Yucca Valley. An espresso would be really good… I get to the entrance of the park, roll down the hill, still in a pensive state absorbing the view, pulling over to allow for people in a hurry to pass me, they all are…

Down to the highway. I head West.

A few miles down on my left I notice a motorcycle dealership : Harley, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki… a sign of the times… with the economy being what it is, consolidation is the thing to do… I imagine the clientele, men and women from different tribes having to mingle while looking for their next machine…. I roll on, check the GPS and right there on my right : the green sign and crowned siren announcing the proximity of my caffeine fix : Starbucks. I’m looking for a parking spot… Not this one… this one…


Click! Fffrrrrrrr…….

“Shit”. I said that quietly and calmly.

Baby’s dead.

I knew this was not good. I pushed the bike about 12 feet into the parking spot. I inspect the bike to see if there is anything abnormal, oil or anything out of place. Nothing. Turn the key. No power.

Hmmm…. OK baby. I pat the tank. I’ll take care of you. I grab my laptop and walk into Starbucks. You know your steed loves you when it breaks down at Starbucks instead of the middle of the desert. This thought does not escape me.

This place is strange. It’s crowded with people with laptops and I Pods and geeky gizmos but they don’t look the part. But all of them young and old have gadgets and they talk loudly about them. I look like a certified outer space alien that just landed. A young guy with earbuds, I Pod, laptop and phone says :

“Nice jacket!”

“Thanks” I reply. But my mind is on the business at hand. OK, #1. get the espresso…

“What would you like?” the genteel Starbucks associate asks.

“Double espresso in a ceramic cup, for here”

“Will that be all”

“Yes, thank you”

“That will be $1.95”

“Here we go.” I hand him a couple of dollar bills. I get a nickel back. I don’t have enough money right now to leave a tip… what I call my coffee Karma. But I know I have accumulated a lot of coffee Karma interest over the last few years….

I set up the laptop, the magic jack, get my phone out, my wallet with the AAA card. I get my double espresso, take a sip and start. The dealership up the road… I find them online, Google map to the rescue… I call them.

“Hi, I have an 83 Suzuki, just broke down, I am in the Starbucks parking lot”

“The diagnostic is $180, then we charge $90 an hour. What’s wrong?”

“No power, electrical I guess. I’ve had trouble like this before… Can you come and pick the bike up? You guys are really close I believe.”

“We can come and get you, that will be $20.”

“Well, I got triple A, I got to watch my money… I’ll just call them. See you soon.”

“See you soon”.

He was very nice, nice can sound expensive… I call AAA and it’s a mess. They say I have not paid my renewal… I know I did… I go check on my laptop and find the email confirming the payment. The guy’s tone change, he’s getting stern as he thinks I am trying to rip him off.


I say thanks and call BCAA, in Vancouver. As I wait on hold I am looking at the receipt… I realize that the membership number is different… Oh, I see… someone comes on the phone.

“BCAA, how can I help you?”

I tell her,

“Can you give me your 16 digit membership number?” I recite it once more. “Your membership is expired… The I explain to her the other membership number found on the invoice.
“Oh, you got duplicate membership…. Let me see… Yes… but we can’t proceed : you owe us $17.99”

At this point the $20 tow fee from the dealer seems like a golden deal… but I persevere : “this invoice here indicates that it’s paid in full, that was back on August 28… blah, blah, blah…”

“Oh, yes….” clickety, clickety, clickety, (keyboard sound) “I see, Yes… You are covered…

I hang up, they will be here in 45 minutes.

Right on.

I go sit outside. I’m a bit tired, I think about the bike, repairs, hoping it’s not going to be too bad or too onerous…

The truck pulls in. A young guy. I explain what happened.

“I can give you a boost” A boost? I’m thinking that is not going to work. Then wonder if it would. All right lets try. I unload the luggage from the top of the seat, undo the saddle bags, take the seat off. He puts the red clamp on the red terminal and the black one on the black terminal. It starts. Hmm.. maybe I can drive the bike to the repair shop, I think for a moment but I did not have time to put the seat back on and it went dead.

“it’s not holding the charge”

I knew that…

OK lets put the bike on the tow truck. I push it around as he lowers the bed to a 45 degree angle.

“All right, bring it on to the edge of the bed, hold the brake on and I’ll bring you up” I stand there, front brake on and the bed goes up, then forward. He puts on the ties and I see that he knows what he’s doing (not trying to put the ties on the forks or something of that nature… ( I’ve seen it) We roll down about two miles down the road. Repeat the reverse operation, get the bike down and he leaves.

Here I am at Hutchins Motor Sports. Nice people, clean place. I cross my fingers. They get the bike inside and I wait for the verdict. I walk around and meet the owner, Chris Hutchins. He knows Oliver from Harley Davidson of Glendale, we chat, look at some bikes.

Imagine having all the funds in the world and just buy a new bike and head out… No way…. There is just no way I could do that…

Finally I hear the diagnostic : bad news, the charging system is down.
“You could not go down the hill the way it is now”.

Big sigh.

The words, stator, regulator, rectifier, run around in my head. Internet search, days to wait for parts to arrive, hotel fees… That whole crisis happened back then at about 7000 mile mark, now it’s 7000 miles later. It happens again… could it be that… And I think of finding these parts… the money… Oh boy…

I can’t stay here. I’d be prohibitive and they would not go and find the parts, they don’t really know this bike, it’s quirks, there are no computers to hook it on to. This is a job for someone who knows old bikes…

I call AAA again. After some discussions, it appears that they can take me to LA. All right. Lets do it. At this point it’s around 4 PM. The lady on the line says : “they won’t be able to be there until at least 7 PM.”

“OK. I’ll wait”.

From the blissful, eerie quietness of Joshua Tree to waiting in a garage’s waiting room for a tow truck to take me to LA.

I sat there for about 2 hours when Mr Hutchins offers me a company pick up truck to go eat. Wow… So I get into a white Ford 150 full of logos. He said : “the only rule with these trucks is no swearing or fingers or anything… our reputation” he jokes. I laugh and go out to eat a bite.

I waited until around 7 PM. The truck arrived. We repeat the same routine, bike on the edge of the bed, then up, then forward. Tie down the bike.

“We are going to pick up another car in Joshua Tree”


“Your AAA won’t quite cover this trip. It’s a 120 miles and your membership covers 100. It’s $6 a mile after that”

“Oh.. AAA did not tell me that”… “that is going to be another $200 dollars, I can’t afford that. Maybe you can drop me off at the 100 miles mark. If I had known that, I had a friend that could have come and get me… I’ve been waiting here for hours… and you are getting a two for one with the bike.”

“Well, we’ll handle it when we get there”

“Uh, no… I can’t just handle it when we get there. I have to know what I am getting into here.”

“It’ll be all right” he said. And somehow, I got it. It was going to be OK. And I let it go at that.

We went down the road and picked up this other car and its driver.

“Oh, but what do we got here!?! Who’s riding this bike?!!”

The car’s driver climbed in the back of the cab. He wore a bright orange shirt, he was loud and unapologetic. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the patronizing woman on a bike talk or what… He asked me where I came from, I told him about the trip and all that jazz… Ok he’s not going to be patronizing. Thank God.

He started to tell the story of his breakdown. Walking into a restaurant with only 2 seats, where the cook made food from scratch and carried conversation. “Then a “right out of the sixties” looking woman walked in, waving an amulet around and singing like a didgeridoo… Omgngngngng.. Omgngngngng… Omggngngngingng….”

He said he wondered if she was nuts. He said he was amazed at how fast he had judged her… She had heard his conversation with the cook about having to wait 3 hours for a tow truck… She waved the amulet, sang some more and declared : “The truck will be here in 30 minutes”

The truck was there 25 minutes later. He was ecstatic.

“Well I don’t know if it is just a thing of luck, you know, 50/50 she gets it right and she’s a genius or gets it wrong and she’s a kook but it worked for me!

We drove down the rest of the way talking about bikes, people, and how we interact. Suddenly he said, You know, YOU are a real biker. These guys that go out and buy the whole kit…. they’re not for real. The way you do it, with that old bike… you have guts, you are a true biker, you ride this machine, you love it… and you’ll figure out your problems and you’ll be riding a long ways still.

Then I learned that he’s been riding since he’s 14… has been homeless in Hawaii.. lost a wife to a best friend and has a daughter with a new wife and loves her daughter to death. “It’s a lot of work… but I love her and she loves me so much”

Another tiny window in someone’s life. How we course this planet trying our best with the abilities we got. We arrived in Apple Valley, unloaded his car, said goodbyes and we were on our way to Los Angeles.

I chatted with the driver. He’s from the Midwest. Raised on a farm, has been driving equipment since he was a child, drove semis, now this tow truck… He’s very efficient, precise with an economy in gestures and words.

We get to the bike shop. Take the bike down. I go see him and wonder about the extra miles… He said it’s all good. I sign the form and he’s off.

I stand in this dark parking lot. I put the bike behind a dumpster so it’s not so conspicuous. I undo the saddle bags, Oh my. To leave you here. My heart flutters a bit. It will be fine. I know. I just have this separation anxiety every time I leave my baby behind…

I throw the keys under the door as I was instructed. I grab both saddle bags, luggage, helmet, laptop, back pack…. got everything. it’s heavy. Oh my. Here we go. Alone.

Deep breath. Ozzy and Melanie are coming to get me. New page, new ways, new place, new people. And the adventure continues.


One Response to “Breakdown #3”

  1. Josee Says:

    NOT AGAIN!!!!!!!!

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