Monday, August 10, 2009

A lesson in humility - I guess

April 5, 2008 - Saturday

I have been driving the Beastie for about six months now. I’ve put more than 8000 kilometers on it since I bought it in October. It - and my guardian angel - have carried me through rain, wind, snow, sleet, ice and a couple risky maneuvers, safely. And yesterday some son of a monkey named Turkovic had the gall to tell me I wasn’t ready for the full license.
The test was at 1300 hours, so I worked at SIMO that morning. I got a little nervous toward midday, but I left early, and the drive to the Strassenverkehrsamt calmed my nerves. I got there about 20 minutes early, but no matter. Around quarter till I was joined by an ancient Honda VF1000, and big old battleship of a touring machine, driven by a guy whose hair was longer than mine and all matted into rasta gunk. We chatted, he smoked, and I found out he’d never done the emergency brake from more than 30 km..h, that he had driven off and on during the winter, but especially in the last few days, and that he, like me, had started out straight with the big machine. But he must have been over 25, because he was driving his open, full power.
Two other bikes were having their test at the same time as us - a Ducati Monster and that pathetic little BMW model with 63 PS that can’t pull for the life of it.
The two experts came out five minutes late. Ours introduced himself, checked our papers and the function of blinkers and brakes, glanced over the tire profiles, and said we’d start out with the maneuvers. He was rather haughty and now that I think back on it, seemed like he was out to prove something.
He asked me if I’d driven a lot in the winter. I guess he saw my rusty exhaust. I told him I’d let the bike sit in the garage for three days because the weather was too bad - otherwise I’d driven almost daily.
I had been most worried about the Spurgasse, a 5 meter stretch that you’re supposed to take at least 15 seconds to do. The BMW and Ducati went first. The BMW wasn’t great, but he managed. The Ducati wasn’t ready at all. When Turkovic, our "expert," asked which of us wanted to go first, I jumped.
I was barely three-quarters through the Spurgasse before he waved me to drive on. I was immensely surprised but did the slalom and the figure 8 without any problem. Turkovic nodded and told me to go down to the emergency braking track. I did, thanking God for giving me success thus far.
I got a 7.5 coefficient in the braking. During practice with Kevin, my best was 7.9, so that was great.
The VF1000 driver did the maneuvers passably, but he killed his machine on the braking and had some sort of trouble on the slalom. Everything was in my favor.
We deposited my backpack and headed out. Turkovic sat behind on the Honda first. We drove through Zurich, up the Triemli, through Uetikon to Bonstetten, where Turkovic switched to sit behind me. From Bonstetten we drove to Wettswil, Birmensdorf and then on the high road back to Zurich. It was stretch I can drive in my sleep. The roads were dry and the weather good, despite forecasts of rain. I kept to the speed limit, unlike the Honda, who’d driven 10 km..h below it a good chunk of the way.
We got back to the Strassenverkehrsamt, and Turkovic told me blandly that the negative outweighed the positive on my driving.
For a moment I thought I’d heard wrong. I just stared at him. He went on to say something about using my back brake too often, and that I have great front brakes, and if I pressed too hard on the back brake my back wheel would lock up and I’d start sliding...
I didn’t bother to explain that I knew how good my front brake was, and that was exactly why I’d used the back brake more. I’d tried to drive so my passenger would be as comfortable as possible. The back brake allows for easy dosage of braking. The front brake would have had him jerking forward every time.
He then said that it was easy to tell I liked driving curves, and I drove them well, but I hadn’t taken the second person well enough into account. Another lame excuse. I’ve driven maybe five times with somebody on the back - of course I wasn’t going to be an expert at it. But there hadn’t been a single moment where I was ever in danger of losing my balance or control of the bike, or where the passenger should even be uncomfortable. He said that a quick weave I did to avoid a manhole cover had been a "dangerous situation" - the same thing about a turning car that I supposedly got too close to. What a load of crap. One expert will tell you to never, ever drive over manhole covers and crosswalk lines; another says don’t swerve. And swerve was a sissy version of the serpentines I’ll drive in a lane when I’m waiting for a slower drive to catch up. I did not get to close to the car. I let the engine brake instead of actually pulling the brake, which sufficed perfectly to let me pass as he turn. Turkovic was just angling for excuses not to give me the license.
I said barely anything as he talked. I just wanted him to shut up. I was furious. Hub spikes, airbrushing, opening up the bike to full power were all on hold until after the test - and now they have to stay on hold for another few weeks.
Kevin warned me about the experts. Twice he took the test on his KTM, and twice they flunked him for contending reasons. The third time he rented a BMW, and he passed. It wasn’t that his driving improved. He started out on a 50; that kid knows how to drive. It’s just that the experts think that kids on the road on big, powerful machines are to be discouraged. So they pass hippies on rusty full-power Hondas and the guy on the BMW, but the girl on the shiny new castrated Buell can take the test again. (The Ducati didn’t pass either, but he had problems with the maneuvers, so that was more justified.)
When Turkovic finally shut up I drove straight home, told Mom about it and took Retta and the pony up into the woods for a while so I could have a good cry and think about it.
I had to take the car test twice too, and when I came home to first time, I was upset. But there I was upset at me. I knew I’d screwed up some things, and I knew I deserved to have to take the test again, even though it was a nuisance. But this time I’d driven very well, better than the guy who passed, and yet I was back where I’d been a month ago - waiting for a new test date.
After putting the pony away I sent Cinzia and Kevin an text message with the result, like I’d promised. Then Mom and I headed into Zurich to the annual garden show in Oerlikon.
On the way there Cinzia called, and I got to tell her all about it, and she was sympathetic and it helped.
We gate back from the garden show about 2100 hours, and I was somewhat back to my old self. I caught Kevin online and told him all about it too, and he got mad at the experts - he’d been through all that himself - that I felt better. Both he and Florian said they’d work with me on the riding double. Kev brought up the option of renting a BMW, but I’m only going to stoop to that as a last resort. I know my bike, what it can do and how it handles, and I want to pass the test on it, not some wussy little Bimmer with no power and ABS.
On Monday I should get a letter from the Strassenverkehrsamt. I’m going to sign up again right away. If the experts think they can discourage me this way, they’ve got another thing coming. (And speaking of that, I got to pick up the new flyscreen and back seat cover from my mech today. Finally. Two pieces to go, and then I can take them all to the airbrusher.)
It was late before I got to bed yesterday, and when I did, I tried to figure out why I’d flunked. I mean, yeah, the experts don’t like letting youngsters start right with the big bikes. But I believe everything happens for a reason, and in this case, I’m guessing God let me flunk because I’d been sure I’d pass.
I purposefully didn’t think about the outcome before the test, and I told myself I was ready for either result, but I see now that wasn’t true. I’d put in a lot of practice. I knew my bike. I knew all the routes they were likely to take me. I was sure I would be sending a text message afterwards saying "Bestanden" - "Passed."
Maybe yesterday was God’s way of saying to take it slow, a day at a time, an hour at a time, like I usually try to, and don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Or maybe He was trying to tell not to set so much store by my motorcycle... But I think I want to doubt that.
As is, I know I drove well. There are some things that can be refined, but nothing that wants fixing. I have a great brother and a great friend, and God willing, next time I’ll pass and be able to move on. Without renting a BMW.

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