Everyone needs a friend like Eric Beaumont. Funny, creative, warm, welcoming. But most of all, generous. Generous with his time, his friendship, and certainly generous with all the quarters he spotted me for videogames. He and I both went into the videogames industry, on different paths, but my path was paved by the stream of quarters that came out of Eric’s pocket.
Eric was also generous with his moped.
Borne on the back of that moped (and take a minute to imagine the sight of two 6-foot-4 high school kids sharing one of these things), we were able to hit multiple arcades and malls. It was wonderful. Eric drove. I hung on. I ran out of quarters. Eric spotted me his, knowing that I would repay him if I could, but also knowing that I never could. Everyone needs a friend as good as Eric.
But that’s not the amazing thing about Eric. What was really amazing was that Eric shouldn’t ever have let me near his moped, with my record of two-wheeled motorized idiocy. He saw what trouble I could get myself into first-hand, and he let me ride on his moped anyway. THAT is a friend.
Our story consists of three parts.
Part 1: The Cousins
Years before I had met Eric, I visited cousins in upstate New York. They had a little 50cc motorcycle, just big enough to get yourself into trouble. In my two weeks there, with near daily rides, I never mastered shifting gears. No one simply explained them to me. I would just go up to fourth gear, plow through gears 1-3, get to fourth and stay there.
Part 2: Taking Toby’s Moped for a Slide
Before I met Eric, my step-father, Roger, acquired a moped just like Eric’s for twenty bucks. Seriously. He lived in an apartment complex, and a moped had been chained to a lamppost for about a year. It hadn’t been moved — the tires were flat, and the kickstand had even sunk into the asphalt. Roger figured the owner had moved and left the moped behind, so he snapped the chain with a bolt cutter, filled the tires, changed the sparkplug and lo and behold, the damn thing fired up. He presented it as a gift to his oldest son, Toby. Later, the owner showed up and saw what we had done, and instead of blowing his lid, he just asked for a nominal twenty bucks, which Roger instantly paid.
I was incredibly envious, because to me, the moped represented freedom.
Roger was much smarter than me, though, as I rather promptly crashed the moped, proving that I couldn’t be trusted.
Toby and I were taking turns riding the moped around the apartment complex parking lot. I took a corner too fast, and laid the moped down like someone sliding into second base. Scratched myself up pretty good. Did that stop me? Of course not! Again, I refer you to the name this blog.
Part 3: The Ewok on the Motorcycle
Eric and I had a friend named Brett Carpenter. Brett had a motorcycle. A real, honest-to-goodness, fire-breathing motocross bike. The three of us headed out into the Irvine hills, planning to ride amid the partially graded spots that would soon house multi-million dollar mansions.
“Ever ridden a motorcycle?” Eric asked.
“Sure!” I said. “My cousins had a little 50cc bike in New York. Rode it quite a bit.” Note that nowhere in that sentence will you find a literal untruth.
Brett rode first, deftly going over small jumps. Eric hopped on and took his turn, his skill the equal of Brett’s. Then it was my turn.
Let me offer a defense,Your Honor, of the debacle that came seconds later.
- Brett’s bike was a 250cc model. Five times more powerful than my cousin’s bike. Simple math has never been my forte.
- Brett’s family was a family of gearheads. In later days, Brett drove a hot-rodded MG roadster juiced up with aviation fuel. God knows what they had done to that bike.
- The bike’s power band was wildly different than anything I had ever experienced. It was rigged to go from zero to Warp 9 faster than you can say, “Dude, be careful.”
So, I hopped on, put it in first gear, twisted the throttle to the max and took off.
Eric said his initial reaction was that I had been sand-bagging them all along. That I was really a super-experienced rider and had been downplaying my experience. “Oh, he’s going to show us up. The jerk.”
Eric was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
In about two seconds, I realized I was in waaaaay over my head. I was just stuck, with the throttle wide open at the peak of the first gear power band. The proverbial deer in the headlights. Except deer are smart enough to generally avoid riding motorcycles.
Brett said he was running through all the things I could do to get myself out of the situation. “Let go of the throttle. Pull the clutch lever. Pull the brake lever. Something.”
I jumped off the back of the motorcycle. I just let go with both hands and magically floated to earth, landing on my feet. The bike drove itself another 20 yards or so before falling into the dirt. I turned around to look at Brett and Eric, who were running toward me.
“Whoa,” I said. “I’m OK. I’m not hu…”
Brett ran right past me. He couldn’t care less about me. Brett had priorities.
“My bike!” he said.
“Yeah, that was way more powerful than I expected. But it’s OK, I’m not hurt or anyth…”
“My bike!” he said.
While Brett took stock of the actual damage (there wasn’t much,thankfully), Eric sauntered up.
“Should’ve pulled the clutch,” he said.
“Or just let go of the throttle,” he said.
“It’s OK. You just got stuck in the power band. That’s the trouble with that bike.”
Like I said — that’s a friend.
I never rode another motorcycle alone again. I’m a passenger, not a pilot.