Dad’s Motorcycle Diary

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The City Section

Published: January 21, 2007

By Ivor Hanson

I first noticed the rusting motorbike, which was chained to a fence at Peters Field, on Second Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets, in the summer of 2005. That was when I, a former rock drummer and window cleaner turned stay-at-home dad, began taking my then 1-year-old daughter, Annika, to the August St. Gaudens Playground a block away.

On our daily morning and afternoon trips, Annika and I regularly paused at the bike, a Garelli Monza GT, and did our best to look beneath the bike’s torn and disheveled cover. Blown almost entirely off the bike by the wind, the wadded clump of grimy vinyl served as an impromptu death shroud for the Garelli’s faded bronze-colored frame and predictably flat tires; a ”World Champion” sticker just below the padded seat was peeling away.

But the headlight of the Italian bike still jutted forward, just as its angular gas tank and pronounced shock absorbers continued to connote its past as a sleek scamp of a bike, a moped doing its best to be a motorcycle. Even then, the Garelli appeared nimble, eager to please if given the chance. On sunny days, I could imagine it speeding off, its engine emitting a high-pitched squeal; a cute piglet racer charging downtown.

So who used to ride the bike? My neighbor Kim, a jazz musician who owns two vintage BMW motorcycles, considers the Garelli a kid’s bike, something he would have ridden for fun as a youngster in his hometown, Ribe, in Denmark.

Well, Peters Field does serve as the hard-top playing field for the adjacent Simon Baruch Junior High School. Perhaps the owner attended that school and simply outgrew the moped, leaving it behind when he moved on to high school. Or maybe the parents of that student forbade him to have the bike, and so he had to walk away from his Garelli.

Then again, the School of Visual Arts is just off Second Avenue on 21st Street. Maybe one of the school’s students had to choose between her bike and pricey painting supplies, or a camera, or a computer.

Or perhaps the Garelli belonged to a police officer who attended the Police Academy, just three doors up from the School of Visual Arts, and now, years later, he’s a member of the Highway Patrol. I like to think that this officer never removed his moped from its wrought-iron resting place because he liked to glimpse it while gunning his Harley-Davidson down Second Avenue escorting some visiting dignitary. It reminded him where he came from.

At some point last week, someone took the Garelli. Maybe the police officer grew nostalgic, or maybe the art student sold a big painting.

Musings and imaginings, for sure, but I definitely can’t see myself on the bike. During a long-ago summer in Italy when I was 14, I happily rode a moped on a weekend visit to Naples until I skidded on some cobblestones and nearly got run over by an Alfa Romeo. And motorcycles? I’ve ridden on one as a passenger only once, just before college. That high-powered BMW shot down a stretch of midnight road at 90 miles per hour, a true thrill ride that was also enough of a ride for me. It’s simple: If Lawrence of Arabia can die in a motorcycle accident, I certainly can.

As it is, I’ve had plenty of close calls riding my own self-propelled two-wheeler: I have been sent airborne by a car, sent sprawling by a pickup, knocked over by a cab. So no motorcycles or mopeds for me. Or even bicycles: I haven’t ridden my mountain bike since Annika was born.

Still, I understand the allure of the motorcycle and the idea of vroom-vroom-vrooming away, ”Easy Rider” and Marlon Brando style. Though I don’t own a motorcycle, I have worn my motorcycle jacket for 20 years. Scuffed up, worn in and then some, it cost me $100, and I have since spent $300 to replace the liner, zipper, pockets and even sections of leather. What’s more, the thing needs at least $200 worth of further ”restoration” work.

I ADMIT it. Sometimes I feel like a fake, what with my motorcycle jacket but no motorcycle, especially when I come across Kim revving up one of his cycles outside our respective walk-up apartment buildings. So be it. I’m sure a majority of motorcycle jacket wearers in New York don’t own motorcycles. Besides, didn’t some people consider Lawrence of Arabia a poseur? So, no. I’m no biker.

I’m also not drumming in bands, and apart from the occasional Saturday job, I’m not cleaning windows, my longtime day job. Instead, as Annika’s full-time stay-at-home dad, I take my daughter to the library and play dates, on errands and to the playground. My new day job — no surprise — is the antithesis of the motorcycle escape or the rock star life.

That’s cool, if unexpected. I just never pictured myself a father. Indeed, when my twin brother’s son was born four years ago in Manhattan, I remember telling my mom in the hospital’s waiting room, ”I am not ready for this.” Now I can’t picture another sort of life.

When I lift Annika onto my shoulders and we head for the swings, slides and jungle gyms of St. Gaudens, at some level I am, well, her motorcycle, her moped. I take her places. I am her wheels.

The other day while we were washing our clothes, Annika jumped on the scales at the Jin Chen laundry on First Avenue, and we learned that she’s now 22 pounds (and would cost $19.10 to be washed, dried and folded, although Tsering Lhundup, a worker there, offered to give us a discount because we’re such good customers).

The scales confirmed what my back has been making clear lately: I am hitting my limit of what I can comfortably carry. It may be time to give in, time to put Annika in her stroller, her actual wheels, at least for now. One day, along with my motorcycle jacket, she’ll have her own bicycle. Or, perhaps, her own Garelli.

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