Only a few weeks after I arrived in California, I was wandering the neighborhoods in Costa Mesa, looking for a home, a place to rent that would cost slightly less than my annual salary. About nine in the morning on a Sunday, I came upon a biker curled in a fetal position in the middle of a residential street. Twenty feet away, his ape-hung Harley lay crumpled against the curb with assorted bits scattered between the biker and the bike. Parked on the road, a few yards past the bike, sat a white Honda Accord containing a hysterical female driver.
I stopped and was practically assaulted by the driver, screaming for me to "do something." I parked my Honda between the fallen biker and traffic and attempted to check his vital signs. As soon as I touched him, he started crawling toward the curb. I tried to convince him that he might be hurting himself even more, but he was too intent on doing his inchworm imitation so I just tried to keep up with him.
About then, a distinguished looking guy in a suit and a white Mercedes showed up. He had a phone in his car and he was calling 911 when two bike cops arrived. The Mercedes had distracted the crawling biker and he'd diverted his path to the car. When he managed to get to the right front wheel, he curled around the tire like a kid with an oversized teddy bear. And returned to unconsciousness. This was a scrawny California Harley guy, about 1/3rd the size and weight of our well-fed Minnesota types, so he was able to twist himself up under the tire until it looked like he was bearing a good bit of the car's weight. For some reason, the cops instantly jumped to the conclusion that the biker had been squished by the Mercedes and got real intense with the car's owner.
The biker was a pitiful sight and California motorcycle cops are really sensitive, caring sorts of guys who instantly assume that an idiot in a cage caused every car-motorcycle accident. I can't blame them, there is an incredible surplus of caged idiots in California and quite a few of them appear to have a magnetic attraction to motorcycles. Life on one of those oversized, under-powered, un-maneuverable cop bikes has to be pretty tense.
While the Mercedes guy and I were trying to explain how the Harley guy got under the Mercedes, the Harley guy unwrapped himself from his comfy tire, stood up, and walked over to my bike and made himself comfortable there. He swatted my gloves off of the seat like they were a cockroach building a nest on a perfectly good sandwich. My helmet and jacket, resting on the mirrors, got the same treatment. The sound of my helmet hitting the asphalt attracted the attention of us all.
It took me about two seconds to remember that my keys were still in the ignition and another couple of seconds to fix that error. My sudden movements distracted the cops from the Mercedes and finished off any sense of comprehension that they might have felt earlier. Now, their squished victim had arisen from the dead and was sitting on a completely undamaged bike, obviously trying to get the thing started and leave the scene of his demise. I escorted the Harley doofus from my bike to the curb and led the cops to the lady who completed the crash equation. The Mercedes guy backed slowly away from all of us, to his car, and exited as quietly as possible; probably never again to consider rendering aid to a downed motorcyclist.
Now, the paramedics arrived and began looking for a victim. The victim was back on my bike, the cops were engaged in conversation with a totally hysterical female who appeared to be drifting into shock, and I was stuck explaining what had happened, for the third time, to the paramedics. They didn't believe me and tried pretty aggressively to administer some kind of first aid to me. After I threatened to stuff their blood pressure apparatus up their personal exhaust pipes, they reluctantly moved to the Harley guy.
They asked him what year it was.
He guessed, "1976." It was 1983, a perfectly natural mistake. They asked if he knew who was President.
He answered, "Nixon." Still, a question that might confuse a rational person, Nixon/Reagan, who can tell one LA Times President from the other? They asked him if he knew where he was.
He answered, "San Jose."
Instantly, we all knew he was screwed up big-time. Nothing about Costa Mesa could be confused for San Jose. San Jose is hip, rich, old California, and clean. Costa Mesa is . . . Orange County: conservative, an industrial slum, and as groady as a street bum's socks.
The cops joined the conversation and asked the Harley guy if he remembered what happened.
They asked what he'd had for breakfast. An odd question, it seemed to me. The Harley guy said, "A six-pack or two. I don't remember for sure." Now the question made sense.
At that point, I started pulling my gear together to make my own escape from the scene of weirdness. One of the cops told me that the lady driver had said she was just leaving her home, had barely entered the street when the biker shot out of his driveway and slammed into her car. The car's damage backed up her story. The bike had caved in the passenger-side door. I could hear the biker trying to convince the paramedics that he didn't need to go to the hospital, that he was fine, and just needed to get back to his bike and meet his friends at a bar for more breakfast. I really wanted to get on my way in case he was still confused about which bike was his. Just before I fired up, I heard him bawl "Aaw man! Look at my ride! Who the f... did this to my bike? I'm gonna kick somebody's butt." And so on. One of the cops was fingering his handcuffs and I took my leave.
I'm still trying to imagine downing a couple of six-packs for breakfast. I still consider this experience any time I hear about an accident where a biker claims that someone "pulled out in front of me." I always want to know what the biker had for breakfast.
MMM August 2002