I have three motorcycles and they all have names. Some people think that’s stupid, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My Harley-Davidson is named Lucy, and my two Suzukis are named Jackie Blue and Jackie New.
I was ruminating on this today as I rode Lucy in the rain through the countryside north of Toronto, on my way to a Celebration Of Life. I’d never attended a Celebration Of Life before – they’re the gatherings you have for people who have died, where you remember all the good things about them without getting religious. Kind of like a wake with less liquor. It put me into a contemplative mood, though, and I let my thoughts run for a while in the silence of my helmet.
The Harley is called Lucy because her paint is “Anniversary Copper”, and she’s named after Lucille Ball, the famous fiery red-head comedienne. Lucille seems like a fitting name for a motorcycle. Her full name is Lucy Low, since she’s a Low Rider, and I waited a while to name her, to be sure of the right fit.
I’ve owned Lucy for 10 years now and ridden her clear across the country. She’s exactly what I want. She’s not too fast (no tickets!) but not too slow, and she’s comfortable. Hey – I’m getting old.
Getting old. I guess that’s why we have celebrations of life. A life should be well lived, and when it comes to an end, it should be celebrated. All the good things remembered, without too much focus on the bad. Sounds like a motorcycle ride to me.
I’ve owned Jackie Blue and Jackie New for longer. They’re both DR600s with a single-cylinder thumper engine and a kick-start, and Jackie Blue once sent a cocky mechanic to hospital with a busted knee, when the kick starter pedal recoiled back and smacked his knee into the handlebar. I told her story once in my book, Zen and Now, when I rode her to California:
I bought my Suzuki brand-new in 1985 with a plan to quit my job and ride around the world. I quit the job, but the ride around the world was trimmed back to a year or so of wandering North America, up to Alaska and the Northwest Territories, down to Mexico and Florida, with stops at many points in between. I called her Jackie Blue for her colour and my girlfriend at the time, who was the first woman I ever loved; as well, there’s the ‘70s song “Jackie Blue,” in which the singer’s Jackie is ‘goin’ places where you’ve never been.’
The long-suffering girlfriend left me soon after I sold my first piece of writing, to a motorcycle magazine, which described how I’d named the bike. “She’s called Jackie because, like my girlfriend, she’s great if only I can get her started,” I’d written enthusiastically. “Until then, she just sits around and coughs and costs me money.” Understandably, Jackie wasn’t amused. I don’t know where she is now.
But my bike stayed with me, rotting quietly and sheltering mice. I fixed her up a few times, but she kept leaking oil, and the transmission that years before shouldn’t have lasted the month finally began to slip. Parts became more difficult to find. The plan was to restore her and leave her on display at home, but then I learned of another bike, an identical machine, sitting in a garage in the city and up for sale.
“I haven’t ridden her for a few years now,” said the owner as he drew open the garage door. The motorcycle had only a thousand miles on her; I could see her clearly, parked in the bike shop with a mechanic doubled up in pain, lying on the floor clutching his knee.
The purchase was a formality, and the bike, called Jackie New, came home with me to continue life’s journey.
Life’s journey. It’s why I was on that long ride today, to think about life and celebrate it and remember a life well lived.
I reached the house, parked Lucy with care on the loose stones of the driveway, and went inside to pay my respects to Jackie Casselman, the first woman I ever loved, 25 years after I saw her last and just 10 days since her death from cancer, aged 56.