Jan 28, 2024

Getting A License in 1992

After I left California in late 1991, I spent exactly one month in Indiana working for the dumbest company I’ve experienced in my long life. After I’d given up that experiment as a loss-leader, I flew a bunch of resumes in westwardly directions and landed my first medical devices job in Colorado. The company moved me and all I had to do was get my lazy unemployed ass from Elkhart, IN to Denver in 60 days, when I’d start my new job. I’d shipped my two motorcycles ahead with the moving van, outfitted my 1984 Toyota Van as a marginal camper, and I was starting my westward meander with a dinner in Chicago with an old friend. He and another of his friends spent a good bit of energy arguing out a safe place for two black guys and a goober from Kansas for a late night dinner. We settled on a pizza place in western Chicago and, mostly, that worked out well. I didn’t have to pay for anything and didn’t realize until I stopped in Springfield, MO and realized that someone had lifted my billfold in the restaurant’s hatcheck back in Chicago.

My step-brother lived in Springfield, which is why I’d taken that route, and I stayed with his family for a couple of days while I chased down credit card replacements and did the usual 1990’s routine for a stolen identity. The state of California and my insurance company were gracious enough to send me evidence that I was licensed and insured, but I did drive the rest of the way to Colorado without an actual driver’s license. Since I had no reason to be in a hurry, it took me almost a month to make it the 1,000 miles from Chicago to Denver. A few weeks after I arrived, I was living in a friend’s basement waiting for my new job to start. Not having an official license to drive meant that I had to take the whole Colorado driving test, including the driving part. After I had that, I had to take the motorcycle endorsement written and driving test at the DMV.

I had a 1983 Yamaha 550 Vision and a 1986 Yamaha XT350 to choose from for the test and I’d been spending most of my previous 5 years on the XT350 commuting in L.A. and riding offroad in the southern California and Baja deserts. I was as comfortable on my XT as any motorcycle I’ve ever owned and loved. So, it was a no-brainer; the XT350 it would be.

It was January 1992, but the weather was practically Californian and I wanted to be legal as soon as possible. The written test was easy and I’d lucked into being able to go immediately from paper to the DMV alley where the examiner gave the test. The rest range was pretty weird. Since there wasn’t much room to work with, parts of the “course” was overlaid on other parts; like the cone weave, the swerve, and the quick stop tests. The cop administering the test had to reset the course for each section of the test, moving cones as required. All of the exam was incredibly easy (as all US motorcycle endorsements tests have always been) on the XT and the last test was the quick stop. I’d never had to take any sort of test for my motorcycle endorsement, because when I got my first license in 1964 you didn’t have to do anything but ask for an “M” stamp on your cage license. I was feeling pretty cocky and sure of myself by that last portion of the test.

As I remember, the runup to the quick stop was about 50’; according to the examiner that was barely enough space for a lot of motorcyclists to get up to the required 15mph. He was a little irritated that day because he’d just flunked a couple of cruiser riders and a Denver cop for failing this part of the exam. I was having fun and didn’t take note of his mood (I’m notorious for that kind of obliviousness.) and I was absolutely convinced that getting my endorsement was a given. I squared up at the start line, gave the bike a little more gas than necessary and took off aggressively toward the stop-box. The examiner was obviously startled and as I went past him he seemed excited. A smarter guy might have played it safe, but at that moment in my life I felt more free to express myself and be me than ever before (or since). Worst case, I fail and have to come back in two weeks and do it again on the same test fee. The moment my front tire hit the stop-box line, I nailed the front and rear brakes, lifting the back tire about 2’ in a spiffy stoppie. The examiner had warned me about wheelies, but he did not mention stoppies.

Turned out, he’d never seen a stoppie that resulted in a stop that didn’t also include a crash. Earlier that week, a couple of arrogant Denver cops (not motorcycle cops) had brought their Harleys in for the exam and both had not only sailed past the stop-box but had panicked so completely that they’d put themselves in the dumpster at the end of the alley. That was my examiner’s most recent experience with dumbasses overdoing the quick stop test. Turned out that I just made him laugh. I was so pumped up that I offered to do it again for both of our entertainment, but he’d had all the laughs he wanted for the day and I left with a Colorado motorcycle endorsement.

Since then, I’ve been renewing and transferring that same endorsement from Colorado to Minnesota for the past 30 years. In late 2000, I started on the path to becoming a Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Instructor and I’ve given something resembling that same test to several hundred wannabe motorcyclists. I’ve seen a couple of stoppies, usually accidental, during the course and the endorsement test. I might shake my finger at the student and offer a bullshit warning, but who am I to flunk someone for showing a little style?

1 comment:

Kofla Olivieri said...

Thanks for the laughs about the police officers taking the test on Harleys. I took my first test in 1973 in Puerto Rico, and when I moved to New York in 83, all I had to take was a written test and that was it.

In 1985 I rode my KZ-900 from Brooklyn to Phoenix Az to attend Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, without motorcycle insurance. Upon graduation a year later, I rode back to Brooklyn also without insurance. I was fortunate that I didn't get involved into an accident the entire year.