Something about being on a motorcycle late at night makes you want to open the throttle. The cooler air wakes you up, makes you more alert, while the warmth of the bike draws you in closer, bonds you to it. What cars are on the road announce themselves before you can even see them with splashes of light on the asphalt and concrete, and you feel almost prescient as you anticipate them. When the traffic disappears the road is laid out to you alone as an invitation, designed for the sole purpose of providing passage of smooth, effortless speed, and to ignore that purpose seems wasteful.
Saturday night was one of these nights. Leaving an industrial warehouse bar in the borderlands of the arts district as Irish music still reeled feverishly from the stage inside, I cranked over my bike in heightened anticipation of the ride home. The seemingly infinite freeways of Los Angeles go from miserable immobile gauntlets of the masses by day to what is considered manageable traffic anywhere else in the world by night, and freedom of movement is an even higher pleasure than usual. I rumbled through the canyon of darkened warehouses, peeled off onto the freeway on ramp, dumped a gear and hit freeway speed with a roar and a jolt.
Twenty minutes of 5th-gear exhilaration later I’m hitting the home stretch, pulling free of the infamous 405 freeway, a length of road seemingly purpose built for the suffering of both motorists and their vehicles, and headed into the curve onto the 90, the last blast of high-speed freedom before returning to the mercy of traffic lights and hard corners. As I lean into the long curve, I keep the throttle open, flush with the feeling of hugging the bike into the turn, the road rushing past my shoulder as the rubber frictions hard against the will of physics. And then, so fast I can barely register it, my back end flies free as my tire loses hold, and there’s nothing left to keep me from the pavement.
A lot happens in a matter of seconds when things go wrong at high speed, and my brain can only capture moments at a time, like the shutter of a camera. The hard impact as the back of my shoulder meets concrete; sliding; my bike outpacing me and disappearing into a cloud of dust or smoke, likely both; a shower of sparks piercing the cloud; the acrid taste and smell of dirt and hot metal; the final slow to a stop on the shoulder, and my first thought: “Move slow, it’s not going to hurt like it should yet.”
I start with a quick basic inventory: first my head and neck, then moving my limbs. Improbably, everything looks and moves like it’s supposed to. Some 15 feet away my motorcycle lies on its side screaming, the throttle likely pinned wide open in the crash. We’ve both landed perfectly on the shoulder out of the way of traffic, so there’s no rush. I stand up slowly and shuffle over to my bike, the scream silenced on its own just before I hit the kill switch, something finally giving way under the strain. Then all I can do is stand for a moment, dazed and starting to properly hurt. My body is beginning to clench instinctively, making moving difficult. I look down at the bike to try and assess the damage, and notice big drops of blood starting to fall on it and the pavement around it, but I can’t tell from where. I’m functional, but I’m definitely hurt.
A young Asian girl stops her car and reverses across from me, wide-eyed, asking me questions. Most of them are about me not imminently dying. She offers to either call 911 or take me to the nearest hospital; I choose the latter since my bike isn’t in anyone’s way, the nearest ER is 2 minutes straight ahead, and I don’t want to wait an indeterminate amount of time for police and an ambulance. I manage to pull the bent key from the ignition and return her courtesy by keeping my blood to myself for the ride.
The ER is shockingly quiet for 1am on a Saturday night in LA. Luckily this means I get a bed almost immediately and strip down, lying back gratefully. Doctors and nurses tut at my wounds and bicker with each other, poke me with an IV and apologize for everything they do, but I’m just happy to get cleaned and patched up. They do not however offer me any pain medication, which I was rather looking forward to. Meantime the weekend crowd picks up as patients wander in from their nights of excess, bleeding profusely and in various states of incoherence.
Three hours and a brief visit from the police later, I’m released. Someone had called in a scene with a broken motorcycle splattered with blood but no body, a concern I did not anticipate. Luckily I had made all appropriate calls to loved ones ahead of time, so Liesel was not woken at 2am by the prospect that I was dead and missing, and could point the police my way. They made sure nothing nefarious had occurred, and left satisfied to sort out the wreckage.
I was beaten, but not mangled. My motorcycle did not escape so easily. But I would sort that out tomorrow. Now I just wanted to sleep, in my optimism disappointed that I had destroyed plans and property alike, but no less appreciative of the fact that I was walking to bed and would wake up to ride again.