Hanging Out in Rockford: The death of a friend—part one

Back about 30 years ago, back when we were still young. Back before I decided to move to California, back when I worked for the Royal Crown Cola Company, we decided to ride our motorcycles to Mexico. Ron Mackey and I had ridden our bikes to California. We had had the time of our lives. Now, the following summer, we decided to journey down to Mazatlan. Brad, my ex-wife Robin’s cousin, was coming with us.

I had bought my first BMW motorcycle, a 1971 R75/5. Ron was still riding his 750 Honda, the same one he rode to San Francisco with me. Brad had the best bike of all, a beautiful sports model R90 he bought hand-me-down from Ed Maitsen, who owned the Ideal Uniform Company, where he worked. We prepared for weeks, carefully planning what to take with us. The Register Star somehow found out about our trip, and they ran an article about our going all the way to the tip of Mexico.

Just before I was to leave, just before the trip of our lives, my boss at RC, Bud, tried to change the date of my vacation. I calmly told him I could find another job. We were pretty set on going. He gave in. He knew I was serious. We were nervous and excited, impatiently awaiting our departure. Finally, on a Friday evening about 7, we set out. I had proposed the idea that if we once got on the road, we would settle down. It worked.

We rode a ways down 55, and camped along the freeway in a roadside rest area. That night, it rained and it blew Ron’s motorcycle over, destroying the windshield on his fairing. This was a harbinger of things to come. The fairing was unique—a Daytona not made anymore. Actually, I had sold it to him when I replaced the one on my BMW with a more modern one. We called around long distance, and found a dealer in St. Louis who stocked a replacement windshield. We drove to St. Louis, but failed to get the part. That night, we camped in St. John’s, Mo.

About 3 in the morning, we were hit by a tornado. It knocked our tent flat. The rain was coming down like ice water. We huddled in the roadside camp’s shower room in our underwear. Finally, I took the lead and ran out to the bikes and grabbed our rain suits. Then, I stood shaking in the shower as I poured hot water over myself trying to raise my body temperature. Brad and Ron put on the rain suits, and went out to recover our stuff. About 5 a.m., we set out again with everything we owned soaking wet.

We drove all the way to Texas. We drove all the way to Perry Bushong’s BMW in Fort Worth, where we knew they had the part. As we started to reach the outskirts of Fort Worth, Brad’s bike started to make a sound that sounded like a turkey gobble. It would flatten out as he accelerated, but then whenever he slowed down, the irritating noise would return. Brad was pretty upset. He was supposed to have a Cadillac, and instead, it sounded like he had a turkey.

At the BMW dealer, they identified the problem with Brad’s motorcycle. It was in the rear engine main seal. It was getting dry, and then when the engine vacuum was high, at low RPMs it would suck air past the seal, and the gobbling noise would result. Perry, the owner, said he didn’t have time to repair it for us, but he recommended a place in San Antonio, and he called ahead for us. Later that day, we rode to San Antonio, and stayed in a nice hotel. We spread all our wet stuff out to let it dry. We went to a classy restaurant with pretty waitresses, and ate Omaha beef. We were pretty happy. The guys at the shop repaired Brad’s bike. They didn’t charge him an arm and a leg.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Jan. 17-23, 2007, issue

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