Trackday Diaries: Kellee and Me.

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

I’m not the type of person to, you know, name things. Well, I did name my 1980 Marquis Brougham “The Love Train”, thus expressing a sort of pre-hipster irony, and I also call my emerald quilt-top Godin LGX-SA the “Green Destiny” in definitely non-ironic homage to the sword in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Those are the proverbial exceptions which prove the rule.

After a few weeks of riding my ’75 CB550, however, I’ve decided that she needs a name. Oh yes, this bike is a “she”. She is cranky when it’s cold in the mornings. She is temperamentally carbureted, responding to a quick roll of the throttle with a sullen shudder. She spits raw fuel all over my business-casual Zanellas when we lean hard in the turns. And when she is hot, she is too hot to touch. So she needs a name.

My senses of sentiment and propriety combine to determine that she can’t be named after any woman whom I’ve known, or even spoken to, recently. Instead, she should have a name that makes me wistful, sad, and nostalgic. You know, the whole recherches du temps perdu thang.

So. I named her after the one burning regret of my entire romantic life. A willowy, utterly perfect blonde who wrote like Saul Bellow and smiled like the sunrise. A woman whom I loved with a consuming fire and who may have even loved me in return.

It was twenty-two years ago. We started off sitting across the circle from each other in Creative Writing. I wrote a not-quite-fiction story called “Days Of Wine And Roses” about minitrucking, slumming for skanks, and irresponsible recreational use of firearms; she wrote one called “Mintaka” about a little girl and her stuffed bear. Then I wrote a story which placed her stuffed bear in an alternate universe where stuffed bears run the drug trade. You know. The way self-important people flirt when they are young.

The end of the semester interrupted that extended flirtation and she decided to take a summer job working in Florida. I wrote to her that I loved her, after a fashion. She wrote to me that she loved me, after a fashion. I read that letter and decided to drive my trusty Fox down to see her. Then I decided it wasn’t responsible to skip work to do so. A week or so later, she wrote to me to inform that she had met someone. She didn’t come back to school in the fall. I never saw her again.

Her parents had named her Kellee in what I felt to be a not-our-kind-dear excess of Midwestern nomenclatural enthusiasm. Kellee it is, then, for my little CB. In the past fourteen days, we’ve done all sort of commuting, minor errands, and what I, during my marriage, thought of as “excuse rides”:

“Oh, man, we’re almost out of shredded cheese, I’ll hop on the bike and grab some.”

“Need to check the post-office box. I’ll take the bike.”

“I wonder if Crown still has that cherry 560SL for sale? I’m gonna fire up the bike and swing by real quick.”

I’ve started eating Little Caesars “Crazy Bread” in lieu of actual dinner because it’s easy to stuff in my jacket while riding. My friends and clients are experiencing a phenomenon which was previously unknown to them: the unanswered call to my business phone. For over a decade, I have always picked up my phone. Even when I was sleeping, or working on something else, or participating in what I was once told were the “Four S’s” during which one is not required to wear one’s pledge pin. Hell, I’ve answered the phone on the racetrack a couple of times. No longer. Leave me a message; I’m out riding.

Riding slowly, I would add. The little Honda, which once churned out an optimistically-rated fifty horsepower at the crank but surely no longer does, is eager to reach forty-five miles per hour or so but slows noticeably afterwards. The electric-motor infinite push one finds on a Hayabusa or even a strong 750 superbike simply doesn’t apply here. Around town, Kellee is about as fast as a four-cylinder Accord or Camry. Maybe not quite, actually, and certainly not on the freeway, which I avoid.

I’ve yet to scrape a footrest or ground the mufflers during cornering. As a motorcyclist, I know my limits and respect them. It’s thrilling to lean a bit on the way into a corner and throttle properly out at the apex, but these thrills take place at an almost comically low velocity. I even use the clutch to shift up and down out of some consideration for Kellee being une femme d’un certain age, born just three years after her namesake.

We are not in a hurry, Kellee and I. We ride in the slow lane, we look around. I open the visor of my hilariously tasteless Bell helmet, which was purchased on a whim a few years ago because it features a graphic of a giant octopus forcibly disrobing a curvaceous scuba diver, and I experience the outdoors. Two days ago a harried, phone-focused woman in a Mitsubishi Outlander simply took my lane away from me and I yielded without rancor, tapping her driver’s side window lightly with a relaxed hand as I rode along the shoulder until she got the hint and moved back over. As a twenty-something motorcyclist, I was endlessly looking for someone to violate my space so I could righteously rage in return. No longer. At stoplights I watch the rear-view mirror, tap my brake to catch the attention of the Escalade which is threatening to paste me into the car ahead, and make sure I have room to lane-split for a quick exit.

Kellee smells like hot oil and gasoline evaporating through a dozen tiny pinholes somewhere. Her throaty voice tells me whether or not her engine is warm. I can’t twist the grip without hesitation until she is really hot. Otherwise it’s a slow roll. I remember how cars used to be like this as well, in the era before fuel injection. You couldn’t jam the throttle open and trust the computer to work things out. I’d also forgotten how to operate a vehicle that didn’t have a little bit of “driver logic” worked into the throttle. Modern cars know your approximate traffic situation and interpret your right foot with a diplomat’s care. Kellee expects that I will adjust to her whim, so I do.

I love her for not being a cruiser, for not being part of a club, or a society, or a lifestyle, for belonging to me alone and not someone else’s perception. I love the way I can walk out of a restaurant and kick-start her into life while the Harleys whir their Nippondenso starters like bitchy cheerleaders. I love the adjustments necessary to make her work; choke, stop/run/stop, the fussy ignition switch. As we come close to our destination, I close the fuel valve in the same preparatory fashion as a husband catching his wife’s eye when it’s almost time to leave a party. Not yet, but soon.

When I started riding back in 1993, every motorcyclist waved at every other one, out on the road. By 2002, when I sold my YZF, the Harley guys had stopped participating. Now, nobody waves. I make at least a gesture at everyone, and have gotten one back out of dozens given. From an older black guy on a Virago. He remembers the code, I guess. Motorcycling, like everything else in America, has become riddled with cliques and rotten with stratification.

Kellee needs a new gas tank. We’re looking on eBay. Once that’s done, we might restore a few more of her rusty parts. Or we might not. We might just continue as we are.

The other day, I found myself near a freeway entrance and I wondered about the idea of taking that freeway and just riding until I found myself at the door of the woman who inspired Kellee’s name. It’s about four hundred miles, I reckon. It would be romantic, to ride that far just to say hello, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything. The time to see her, to make that hopeful trip, is long gone. Best to forget. Kellee and I will stay close to home, as free as we want to be, but tied to the present, like we all are.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • SoCalMikester SoCalMikester on Dec 04, 2013

    my first bike was an 89 kawasaki 500 EX, the big bro to the 250, lil son to the 650 and higher. it WAS, as cycleworld said... half an 1100. i freakin LOVED it. it would do an honest 115 top end, smoke all cars from a light, 3.5 to 60mph, cheap to insure (60 a year, full coverage) i miss my EX, and stand by my XT225 until i can sell that. Then its all about my TMax, forever

  • -Nate -Nate on Jan 24, 2020

    1.24.2020 I just found a link to this in one of your Riverside Green posts, it's wonderful . I wonder of you still have or ride, this bike . As mentioned, it's obviously out of tune, these weren't insanely fast but they sure are (not were) _quick_ ~ I have V.J.L.A. buddies that still ride them . I hope you keep riding, new year's eve morning 12.31.19 I took a mountain ride with the So. Cal. Vintage Norton Club, a graat bunch of fellows, we rode up the Angeles Crest Highway and in the shadier corners was snow and a few times, ice ~ this frightened the crap out of me and I used to ride the snow all the time, I'm getting older and the pain never quite goes away . I'm now considering selling my '74 BMW R60/6 and sticking to a Tiddler, Honda CB125S ~ I've ridden those to Death Valley and back easy-peasy, on the flat they'll go 70 MPH so I ca ride across Los Angeles to my Sweet's house where even my Foster boys will tell me I should stop riding.... I have loves lost I still miss too, it is what it is . -Nate

  • FreedMike This would be a good commuter module for someone with at-home charging ability. But if you just couldn't live without going Nissan for an EV, a base Ariya would be a far better bet, doesn't cost much more, and has way better charging capability (and is not limited to CHAdeMo). And, yes, Nissan dealers will deal like crazy on one.
  • ToolGuy Wave a flag in an American's face and all rational thought disappears. Same thing works with breasts.
  • SCE to AUX "Relevant metrics include how often you interact with your phone, how frequently you speed, how many times you have to stop quickly, how often you drive at night, and even the average distance you drive. Location data has also been rumored to play a role. For example, vehicles that frequently traverse high-crime areas may be subjected to higher rates."Those are very relevant metrics.I don't use these apps, I don't speed, I don't own expensive-to-insure cars, and my rates have not gone up. I've also been an Erie policy holder for 35 years, so I don't shop around every few months looking to save $100.
  • 2ACL Too much, but at least it can get out of its own way. One adjustment I don't think I'll ever make to the modern automobile is sub-160 hp beyond $25k.
  • MaintenanceCosts The black wheel arches and rocker trim are ghastly. Looks like to get them in body color you have to downgrade to the N Line. And you can't get a 360-degree camera on the N Line. Oh well, I'm not a compact CUV customer anyway.