In his efforts to impress a beautiful young lady, our hero makes a tragic rental decision.
In my experience there’s no story involving a man and his ego that doesn’t include a mistake.
So, in 2008, when Jesse, the redheaded siren and center of my life in Los Angeles, whispered that she wanted to take a trip to the Salton Sea, I should’ve known better than to rent a motorcycle.
My mistake: I didn’t rent your average motorcycle, I rented the one I thought looked the coolest: an old, beat up café racer. And while most motorcycles are held together with more than bailing wire and chewing gum, the one I picked might have been held together with less. Hector was the name of the mechanic who rented me that deathtrap, and to his credit, he did ask how much I knew about motorcycle maintenance.
But boasting has always been a weakness of mine. I told him I’d “taken a couple apart, put about as many back together.” It sounded good. I think it even impressed Jesse, and that’s no small feat. Hector shook his head when he handed me the keys. “Pendejo,” he said.
I would later learn that pendejo meant, “fool.” Hector was a smart guy.
The Salton Sea is 160 miles south of Los Angeles, nestled deep within sunbaked Imperial Valley. I stocked up on water and sunscreen. Jesse supplied the sandwiches – tuna, with fixings. We escaped LA County on our two-wheeled crucible and for a good hour I thought we were in for the weekend of our lives.
(Well, we were.)
I smelt it first, like hot pavement on a dry day, and then I saw it: smoke, in the side-view mirror. Jesse wouldn’t notice—she’d have to look back to notice, and something about the death grip she’d had on my waist since Mira Loma told me she wasn’t about to look back. I had a choice: pull over, confess my hubris, and call a cab. Or…
That’s when I saw the square-shaped sign, in familiar Parks-Department-brown. “Scenic Overlook,” it said. It was here my ego kicked into gear.
We made maybe a dozen stops on our way down Route 60. I’d see the smoke and pull off at the next half-decent excuse, stopping just long enough to let the engine to cool down. It started well enough—the scenic overlook was first, followed by an abandoned church. But by sunset I was watching for smoke in the red glow of the taillights and I’d run out of excuses. We hit two rest stops and a gas station before calling it a night.
I won’t forget that trip. It was an adventure in its own way, better even than the Salton Sea (and certainly a better story). The next day was the comedown. The bike wouldn’t start, we had to hitch a ride, and Hector practically spat at my feet while teaching me a whole slew of new Spanish words. It was every inch a mistake.
But I can’t say I wouldn’t make it again.