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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

There Was a Day…

If there are two more different people in the world than me and my Phyllis, I’ve never met them. If the old saw opposites attract is true, then we are ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, burger and fries.

There is something primally wonderful to have your mate glued to you on the back seat of a motorcycle – arms wrapped around your waist, thighs tugging at your hips. Even when our first adventure together nearly ended in us being extincted, we recovered and kept on truckin’ for the next 40+ years.

We had been staying at Phyllis’ parent’s home in Long Branch, NJ, and as the weekend drew to a close, it was time to make haste back to Yonkers. The look of angst on Christine’s face said it all: no matter how much she loved me; she didn’t want Phyllis riding on the back of my Honda 305 for the 90 minute journey home. She said nothing but probably prayed a lot.

The adventure started out smoothly enough, but as we were about to mount the Major Deegan Expressway for the last leg of the journey, I felt the rear wheel wobble a bit. We pulled off into lower Manhattan to a gas station and examined the tire. It was a little low on air. Logic had not yet invaded my brain, so I simply pumped up the tire and we hit the road, Jack.

At 125th Street the tire went flat. The only thing we could fill it with then was fear. 125th Steet was Harlem, and Harlem back then had a widespread shortage of honkies. Phyllis was quiet. Mouse quiet. I removed the rear wheel, and we went searching for a gas station to fix the flat. Looking up we saw Puerto Ricans and blacks hanging out of windows watching this fresh meat parade walk on by. Our fear was so palpable that a neon sign or smoke signals would not have been needed to tell the story.

It was as if we were in some demented cartoon where the walls really began to close in on us. Phyllis said absolutely nothing for the hour or so we wandered around looking for help. At six gas stations we were met with the same response: no can do. All we felt at this point was sheer terror – absolutely mortifying “we’re going to die a slow and painful death” terror. The owner of the 7th gas station saw it written all over our faces and decided to do us a solid. He repaired my leaky tire. A dollar and a quarter later we made a 180 and started the trek back to my scooter. Now the only thought percolating in my brain was “Will my motorcycle still be there?” Two hours with nary a word between us, turning the corner to see my bike still standing, we both exhaled for the first time.

Now the issue was: could I get the tire back on the bike and get us back on the freeway before the hounds of hell descended like a pack of rabid African dogs and tear us to pieces, just for the exercise?

Faster than a Daytona pit crew, we hauled ass out of there. I don’t remember how fast we were going, but it wasn’t quite fast enough for either of us. As we rounded the corner on Nile St., we could see Christine standing on the porch. She said nothing as we struggled to climb the four steps to the front door. We were spent. We had nothing left. Phyllis was angry with me, and I had earned every ounce of it. If she had chosen at that moment to take a kitchen knife and slice off one of my fingers, Yakuza style, I would have eagerly helped her.

It took a while to decompress, and I’m not sure how long it would be before she would hop back on my bike again…

The desert was different.

She rode on the back of three of my Hondas, and then my Harley, wherever and whenever. Life was a great adventure to us, and we used any excuse to load up a backpack and head out for the weekend. We braved rain and bitter cold. Saturday evening would find us in Pioneertown at ‘Cantina’, a biker bar in the high desert 40 miles away with the best burritos and live music around. Our travels took us as far as San Diego, taking the long way up Highway 74, snaking through the mountains. Sometimes my buddy Clarence and his wife would ride with us.

The women had time to kill as me and Clarence would pass out on top of picnic tables for a revitalizing snooze. There were no more flat tires, thank God, and the worst we endured was an onslaught of flying bugs nailing us like small missiles.

Whenever I had the audacity of breaking the jovial atmosphere by retelling The Harlem Story, Phyllis would give me the dog eye for a moment. She genuinely thought we were going to die way back when -- and recounting the tale to a new set of ears did not sit well with her.

Please phone me up after reading this story and see if I’m ok. If I’m not in the doghouse when she finds out I’ve let it resurface again, she may have discovered some other way to skirt past my 14th Amendment rights, and I may be in a whole new world of hurt.

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