KTM 690 Enduro Maiden Voyage

 

I heat-cycled my new 2017 KTM a couple of weeks ago on the ride home from the dealer. Today I took it for its maiden voyage on the trails.

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I’m 63 and have about 350,000 miles under my belt on cruisers, touring bikes, and sport bikes.

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I have ridden dirt bikes, too, but I never put in the time to get better than barely competent. The Call of the Asphalt, so to speak.

For those of you who weren’t paying attention in English class, that’s a Jack London reference. Buy the book:

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Although I rely on technique while on the asphalt, I’ve always ridden dirt bikes by instinct. In other words, I don’t know what I’m doing. On top of that, I tend to freak myself out over stupid things. Like mud. And sand. And boulders. Cliffs, too, if they get too close. Riding the twisties fast on a Ducati is a form of meditation. So is cruising Route 50 across Nevada on a Harley. But dirt scares me.

I’m trying to remedy that with the KTM. Partly out of respect for the bike, partly because I’m at that age when I need to rely on technique. So today I focused on weighting the outside peg while turning.

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The terrain wasn’t always cooperative, but I got in a little practice, and it’s starting to feel less awkward.

Mudholes, which I couldn’t get a picture of because I was too busy staying upright, scare the heck out of me.  Especially when they have huge truck tire tracks running through them. Not only does the mud take turns grabbing and letting go of your tire, but the tracks make you pay when you cross them. I rode through a couple of sections that were each about 100 yards long, and somehow emerged in one piece. I hate mud!

A great deal of credit goes to the KTM. I’m not qualified to do a review of this bike, but here’s what I noticed on today’s compared to other cheaper dirt bikes I’ve owned:

  • More stable through the sand, gravel, and mud
  • Wider (much wider) power band, so no need to force a shift at the wrong time.
  • Nimble for a 690.

I rode it mostly on jeep trails, with a little single track.

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The higher I got, the icier the water holes got. This one finally convinced me to turn around.

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Heart Attack Hill brought back memories. I used to race my daughter Beth to the top and do grenades until we couldn’t breathe. First one to collapse lost. It was at the midpoint of one of our conditioning runs. After that sprint, the rest of the run felt like a cakewalk. Whatever a cakewalk is. This is the lower part of the hill:

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It’s much easier on the KTM.

Great views from the trail. If you look closely (sorry for the bad picture quality, took it with an older iPhone), you can see the Denver skyline.

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Be like Butch

I am trying to understand the reasoning of a man who is willing to let our children get their heads blown off in school so he can own an assault rifle.

It’s difficult for me because I have been exposed to a different example. My DI’s in the Air Force, for instance. My friends and relatives who served in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The members of my family who are still on active duty. My daughter, who is about to be deployed. Her husband who works 14-hour days training pilots for the USAF. And Butch Desens.

We bought our current house from Butch, back in 2008.  88 years old at the time, Butch was tall and stood ram-rod straight. He was lucid, gentle, kind, and attentive to his wife, Marilyn. You’d never know he flew P-47’s in WWII. The first time he got shot down over Germany, he was captured and locked up in a prisoner of war camp. He escaped, made his way to his side of the lines, and promptly climbed aboard another P-47. The second time he got shot down, he was captured and locked up again. Once more he escaped. And again he made his way back across the lines and climbed aboard yet another P-47. The third time he got shot down, he was imprisoned, but did not escape. His camp was deserted by the Nazi guards shortly before the Russian Army reached them. That time, he almost starved to death walking back to the Allied lines.

Butch and pilots like him climbed back into their P-47’s because they cared about the people back home. They cared about their own families and the families of their neighbors. About the families across town. The families in the next town over.

When I read about men who believe that it’s acceptable to subject our children to 290 school shootings since 2013 on principle, for whatever the reason, I don’t understand. Not in light of the example set by Butch Desens.

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I’m sure those men believe that by owning an AR-15 they are exercising their right to defend themselves and their families under the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. That they are resisting the tendency of even the best-intentioned governments to intrude into the lives of their citizens. Some even believe that subjecting our citizens and our children to mass shootings, whether at school or a concert, is the price of freedom.

Do we really need an AR-15 to protect ourselves? Perhaps we do, perhaps we don’t. I’m sure that, whichever side we are on, we can marshall arguments and statistics to prove we are right.

But it’s not about who’s right. Not to me. To me, it boils down to the kind of man I want to be. Do I want to be like Butch Desens, who put himself at risk to protect the lives of children, or do I want to be the kind of man who lays the risk on our children so he can protect himself?

Me, I’ll stand on Butch’s side of the line, and give up my right to own an AR-15 or any kind of assault rifle if it decreases the chance that our children will get shot up in school. And I’ll ask my friends to take their assault rifles and ammo to the Sheriff’s office. To follow the example of these men.

You might argue that there is no statistical proof that by turning in their AR-15 law-abiding gun owners will help reduce mass shootings in schools. Of course there isn’t any proof: we haven’t tried it, yet. Butch didn’t have proof that the Allies would defeat the Nazis before he dedicated himself to the effort. But he was willing to try. If you don’t understand why he would do that, perhaps you should meditate on these lines of John Donne. Guys like Butch knew them by heart.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

 

Brr-Dam

OldColoradoCityIt was 16° F (-9° Celsius) when I left Perry Park at 7:45 this morning on my way to the Pikes Peak BMW Club meeting at Mother Muff’s Kitchen in Old Colorado City.

The Gear

Base layer for my torso was a thermal turtleneck from waaaaaaay back in the day.  The thing is warm, itchy, and indestructible.  Next was a thin cashmere V-neck sweater.  Cashmere is warm, soft, and can be had cheap at Jos A. Bank.  The combo is surprisingly warm, but leave the pipe and David Niven accent at home.

Over the top of the sweater I zipped up another old favorite, a fleece jacket from The North Face.  Finally, my trusty Klim.

I covered by bum and netheregions in the quick-dry UnderArmor motorcycle shorts, which are, oddly enough, cozy warm.  Then a pair of Hot Chilis.  Then a pair of casual BMW riding pants with the rain liner in.  Thermal socks.  Aerostich Combat Touring boots.

Under my Arai helmet but over my Klim jacket I worse a fleece balaclava, and just about pulled my back out making sure there were no leaks around the collar.  I put on an ancient pair of Dainese winter gloves, and turned the heated grips on my R1200RS to High.

Once you get all that gear on, the only cold weather hassle left is dealing with the fogging lens on your helmet.  Easy enough to manage, though: keep helmet open until you pick up some speed, and open it each time you slow down.  The RS has the stock shield, which directs plenty of air at my helmet, so that approach worked well for me.  Dealing with fogging would be more of a hassle on a bike with a full fairing.

The Ice Cream Headache

It was a sunny morning, but the Front Range was completely frosted over.  I didn’t take a picture, but this one is pretty close to what it looked like the entire route from Larkspur to Old Colorado City.

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http://sergiophoto.photoshelter.com

It took about 5 minutes for the ice cream headache to show up.  It wasn’t the worst I’ve had, but I did have to concentrate to get past it.  My setup had no air leaks anywhere, and the heated grips kept one side of my hands warm.  The topside did get a bit chilly, but never numb.  The tips of my thumbs went numb, and my feet felt about as chilly as the top of my hands.

The only other rider I saw was a guy in jeans and a hoodie riding his 600 home along I-25.  I wonder what the story was behind that early morning ride.

Mother Muff’s Kitchen

I felt immediately comfortable with the crowd from Pike’s Peak BMW club.  Craig, Lee, and Bex were kind enough to invite me to sit with them.  It’s always nice when the locals are friendly to the new guy.  Made me glad I rode up there.

Mother Muffs is the red storefront at the upper right:

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By the time I left, temps had warmed up to the low 40’s, so I stowed my gear, slipped on my flip-flips and Hawaiian shirt, and rode home singing Gypsies in the Palace.  The temps in Larkspur were only 36°F by the time I got home (around noon), but it still felt downright tropical compared to the first part of the ride.

Old Colorado City somehow manages to hang on to its low-rent charm at the foot of Pikes Peak.  I always enjoy riding down there.

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Father Bartolome

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And, as so often happens in Catholic school and horror movies, a figure materialized on the teacher’s platform. No one saw or heard him walk in. A little unsettled, one by one we, the students, we turned in our seats to face the apparition. He was a towering man in a dull black cassock and crisp white priests’ collar. His giant hands clasped a bedraggled Bible against the front of his body. He was completely bald. He was ancient, and his old cassock hung thinly over his broad, bony shoulders, the sleeves not long enough to cover his arms or hide his powerful hands. Though two  meters of height, he stood straight as a redwood. A priest that tall had to be North American, I thought, but his leathery skin was more olive than pink, and his features were almost indian, his eyes almost black.

He studied us with great concern, and remained silent until the last student had turned around.

“I am Father Bartolome,” he said in a voice that crumbled like old wood. “I am here to teach you social justice.”

This passage was inspired by a real priest who taught one of our classes at Colegio Santa Maria. I’ve since forgotten his name, but he challenged us. O did he challenge us! Relentlessly. He didn’t use the term, but he was challenging what today is referred to as our privilege. We were as reluctant to accept that label back then as we are today.

I chose Father Bartolome as his namesake because the real Father Bartolome de las Casas fought, unsuccessfully, for an end to the slavery and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Plus, he was a soldier before he was a priest, which I really dig.

The except is from Chapter 33, “Burguese’s Lower Lip,” in So Long John Wayne, (previously known as Tocayos), available from Amazon in Kindle edition or paperback.

Springer in the Moonlight

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The ride home from Palmer Lake normally takes 20 minutes, but at night I slow down so I can dodge the deer who like to play Spook The Biker along that stretch of 105.  That’s a perfect road for a Softail, and at 45 mph the ride lasts even longer.  The moon was out tonight, lighting up the edges of the clouds.  I’m scared of the dark.  Less so outside than inside.  But when the moon is out I am comforted by something that feels like the mother energy of goddesses.

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Photo courtesy of http://1000awesomethings.com/2010/04/14/527-the-night-before-a-really-big-day/

I’ve ridden Route 50 across Utah and Nevada a few times.  It’s always best on an FX Softail such as a Deuce, Night Train, Standard, Custom, or Springer.  I wish Harley would go back to designing elemental motorcycles like the FX Softails instead of putting all its energy into making its baggers more and more like cars.

I’ve traded my FX Softails for baggers so often I’ve come close to despair.  I always go back.  I love riding the FX Softails so much I want to ride them more.  So I trade them for baggers, which let you ride farther and longer.  But baggers are different.  Even the Road King, a Bagger Lite, is different.  The difference is subtle, but it’s important to me.

I’ve got an 05 Springer, now.  Instead of forcing it to do 600-700 mile days, I’m going to try something new.  I’m going to imagine being satisfied with 300 or even 200 miles days.  Ride the two lanes, not the highways.  Ride nice and slow.  And stop when I want to.

I’d like to ride the Springer under moonlight across Nevada’s Route 50 with that attitude.  Bucket list for sure.

GiG

Photo Blog: Following Missus Fender Bunny Up Mt Bierstadt

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It’s known as Colorado’s easiest 14er, but it’s still a 7-mile round-trip with a climb from about 11,400 to 14,000.  You actually have to descend a couple hundred feet before climbing back up, but who’s counting.  If you really care, see the map here:

Map of Mt Bierstadt

Three months ago Missus Fender Bunny, in her early 50’s, was released from an 11-day stay at the hospital weighing 98 lbs and unable to climb a set of stairs.  Since then she’s been doing about 30 minutes of weight lifting three times a week plus some calisthenics now and then.  Not what you’d call rigorous preparation for high-altitude trekking.

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Here she is on the part of the trail that descends from the road to the marshes.  Mt Bierstadt is the round mound on the top right of the picture.  The map said it was 3.5 miles away, but it felt a lot longer.  I googled “altitude factor” to see if there was a way to multiply mileage by elevation and ruggedness of terrain, and found this:

Altitude multiplier

It reads more like a gut-level multiplier than anything scientific, but made me feel better.

The lower part of the hike is a pleasant stroll through marshlands.

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After what feels like a mile but is probably less, you cross this stream …

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… and begin the ascent.  While climbing we met some really nice locals.

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We met a ship’s captain from Virginia who was recovering from open heart surgery.  He’d prepared quite a bit at sea level, and was having a blast hiking up the mountain with his son.  One couple kept me in stitches.  The guy was from Japan and full of exuberance, his companion was an American woman with a wicked sense of humor.  I heard the term “Coloradans” for the first time, but I assured her it was not a widespread trait.  We met more than one couple on their first date, which left Missus Fender Bunny in shock:

Are you kidding me???

One couple was hiking up with their 5 month old baby!

When’d you bag your first 14er, George?

The dogs were cool.  Lots and lots of dogs, but hikers were great about picking up after them.

The vistas from the other side of the river were cool.  Here’s a view across the marshes and the road:

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Missus Fender Bunny and I stopped for breakfast at a midway point that felt like it was another mile up the road, so it was probably just another 1/2 mile up the road.

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We stopped for secondsies a little higher up the trail.  And 11sies beyond that.

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After a long zig-zag up the shoulder, you reach a large field of tundra scratching out such a meager living between the rocks that it would have made the Koch Brothers weep with joy.

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This part of the hike feels kinda long since it keeps going and going.  Suddenly, you get to the ridge line and can look over the other side.

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At that point, if you have any sense of self-preservation, you take a Left and hike along the ridge line to the foot of the summit, where you are met with a wall of rock:

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This is one of the spots where your imagination takes over with vivid images of broken ankles, arms fractured backward at the elbow a la Steven Segal, and other reasons to turn back.  Which Missus Fender Bunny considered doing for a moment or two:

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But she’s a tough broad, and in spite of feeling a little queazy about scrambling up the bone-breaking, spine-shattering, skull-crushing rocks, she made it the rest of the way.

The summit is loads of fun because it’s full of friendly, happy people:

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We agreed to take photos of the couples up there only if they promised to flex.  They insisted on returning the favor:

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The hike down in the afternoon was spectacular, too:

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Given our level of conditioning, if we hadn’t stopped to take pictures or stop for meals or to chat with all the friendly people on the trail, we probably would have hated the climb, LOL.  It took us about four hours to get to the top, and about 3 to get back down.  Anyone who hikes regularly at altitude could cut down that time by quite a bit.  If they wanted to.  But why hurry?

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It was a real treat, and Missus Fender Bunny is already planning our 2nd 14er!

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GiG

The Beaches of Tocayos

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Photo courtesy of Aaron Chang

The primary beach in Tocayos is Playa Norte.  In the sequel to Tocayos, which I have not yet published, much of the action takes place in a second beach, which I refer to as Playa Sur.  Playa Norte and Playa Sur are fictional locations, of course, but they are inspired by two actual beaches, Punta Hermosa and Villa.  This can get a little confusing, so here’s a table:

In Tocayos In Peru
Playa Norte Playa Norte beach, in the town of Punta Hermosa
Playa Sur Villa Beach, in front of Villa Beach and Tennis Club

The actual Punta Hermosa in Peru has two beaches, Playa Norte and Playa Sur. Tocayos remains true only the actual Playa Norte.  It was the gathering place for surfers heading out to Pico Alto:

Pico Alto is a monster wave that breaks over a submerged reef a kilometer to the west of my family’s beach house. The reef requires so much force to make a wave that it breaks only a few times a year. Semana Santa is one of them. Every year during Semana Santa the surfers, the very best surfers from all the beaches north and south of Lima, they come to Playa Norte.

They arrive in ones and twos, driving Beetles and bathtub Volvos with long, skinny surfboards strapped to the roof. Some belong there, some do not, but they all gather along the malecon overlooking the beach, just below my house. There they walk back and forth, in a study of the ocean, each other, and their own hearts. Some go back to their car and check their glove compartments for lost bars of wax. Then they check the seams in their front seats for the keys they lost last summer. They untie and re-tie their bathing suit strings. They walk back to the malecon and warm up their muscles. They stretch their bones. They walk back to their car and examine their surfboards, still on the roof racks. They examine each other’s surfboards. They invite the other surfers to examine their surfboards. Anything to keep from thinking about what is going to happen to them.

Villa, the inspiration for the fictitious Playa Sur, is closer to Lima.  It’s known for its beach and tennis club, and its really nasty surf.  The only beaches I’ve found, read about, or seen pictures of, that have breakers more hollow and vicious as those of Villa are Sandy Beach and the shore break at Waimea.  Both are on Oahu.  The Wedge, in Southern California, is a body-surfing E-Ticket, but not as vicious as Villa.

Outside, the waves in Villa are big, hollow, powerful, and impossible to board surf. A few board surfers tried surfing them when I lived in Peru, but their broken boards washed up on the beach and they seldom ventured back out.  When that lip hit your board, it was all over.

Inside, the surf is just as hollow but thick with sand.  The wave scoops up sand from the bottom like a commercial fishing trawler scoops up fish.  I could seldom get through the middle section of Villa without carrying a fistful of sand back to the beach in my shorts.  The only way around that was to get lucky enough to ride an outside wave all the way to shore.  Since the big waves usually closed out, that almost never happened.

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It’s hard to appreciate the appeal of body surfing from shore.  You almost never get to see the action.  Board surfing is much more exciting to watch.  But if you’re drawn to the heart of a wave, body surfing is pretty cool.  This picture is not of Villa, but the wave resembles an average size wave at Villa.

Needless to say, I surfed Villa with Duck fins or Churchills.  Without them, I couldn’t get enough force to slide down the face before going over the falls.  I have gone over the falls at Villa, and one time I hit the sand so hard I couldn’t walk for a week.  The calcification on my spine still shows up in X-rays.  The fins also came in handy for dealing with rip tides, though we actively looked for rip tides.  Rip tides helped us get through the surf quicker.  Carlos didn’t surf Villa much, but when he did, he did it without fins.  Carlos was a purist.  And a fish.

There’s a lot more action in Playa Sur in the sequel to Tocayos.

Rick

About Pico Alto

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The first time Carlos invited me to his beach house in Punta Hermosa, we immediately went body surfing.  The water off the coast of Peru is surprisingly cold, so when we got out of the water, we warmed up under the afternoon sun on the porch.  The beach season hadn’t started yet, so we had the porch to ourselves.  He loved to spin yarns about Pico Alto.  Those conversations inspired the description in Tocayos.

Here it is, in the voice of the narrator, Carlos:

It is a terrible wave, Pico Alto. Sullen from its long slumber, it rises heavily into a deep blue wall four stories high, eager to punish the mortal who has dared to awaken it. It takes a special man in an unusual state of mind to paddle his board into the path of Pico Alto. As the wave rises beneath him, he must thrust his arms into the water and paddle down the catapulting mass with the frenzy of a madman so he can reach the crest with enough speed to hop onto his fluttering board before the wind rips it out of his hands. As he slaps his bare feet onto the board he is suspended in a wind-blown burst of sea spray for a heart-stopping moment of weightlessness. Then he drops into the concave abyss yawning open beneath him.

If you are a big-wave surfer, you dream of this moment. You can imagine what you will do, but until you put yourself in that place and time, you cannot know what you will do. You might drop fast enough to slip under the collapsing tonnage, and with a menace of unbelievable proportions rising behind you, find the courage to dig the rail of the board and carve a stream of starlight into immortality. O, to share heaven with the gods! To roar back up the shoulder of the wave and burst into the sight of your friends with your arms straight in the air and your shorts stiff with bravado! To know, as the board skids across the water and slows, as you drop to your chest and paddle slowly back into the lineup, that you are a Great One.

Or perhaps not. It can be something as tiny as a drop of sea spray in your eye. Or a hurried waxing that allows your foot to slip on the wet board. Maybe you cannot quite find your balance. Or your nerve. The top of Pico Alto is a bad place to lose your nerve. The gods watch with disinterest as you fall that great distance with your board twisting and turning around you like a leaf in a whirlwind. When you slap into the surface of the water forty feet below, they turn away as the brute force of the wave crushes your twig of a body, thrusting you down, ten meters beneath your next breath, pinning you in a swirling, lung-bursting tumble for thirty seconds before it lets you crawl to the surface for a single gasp of foam-filled air. Only one. Because while taking that breath your panicked brain realizes that you are now in Poseidon’s Anvil, where you will experience the singular terror of turning to face the next wave unfurling four stories above you.

The picture of Pico Alto, above, is from National Geographic.

You can download Tocayos for $4.99 here.  (You can read the first 20% for free.) I’ll have a print version available from Tattered Cover Press soon.

Rick

How I Met the Real Carlos

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In the novel Tocayos, Carlos describes meeting Charly in class:

I continued to move down the aisle, banging my metal lunch pail and my old leather book bag against the desks and shoulders of my fellow students. Some moved over, some shoved me into my fellow students on the other side of the aisle. It was pleasant mayhem until I saw Charly the American. He was sitting in the last seat next to the window, his desk tipped on its back legs in exactly the same way that I liked to tip my desk. Not only this, but contrary to not only school rules but school custom, he had discarded our school jacket, he had loosened our school tie, and he had rolled up the sleeves of our school uniform’s light blue shirt. His head was lodged into the corner, looking out at the gardens. He turned it slowly and rested his eyes on me.

I met the real Carlos in basketball practice.  Shortly after we both made the team, I found out he took the bus to get home, and had to walk a half mile home from the bus stop.  At the time, I lived a block away from school.  I wanted an excuse to drive the car, so I told him I’d give him a ride if he would claim it was too late to take the bus.

We owned a 1967 baby blue Chrysler 440 Coronet similar to the one in the picture above, and a white Rambler station wagon.  Showing up at dinnertime with Carlos in tow put my Mom on the spot.  She had to either interrupt dinner preparations to drive him home, or let me drive him.  She gave me the keys to the Rambler.  I didn’t have a license, but in those days, you first learned to drive, then you got your license.

That’s how I learned to drive, and how I became friends with the Carlos on which the narrator in the story is based.

Tocayos is available for $4.99 from Smashwords.  You can read the first 20% for free.

Rick