The Columbia Hotel is accessible through an almost comically narrow entrance from one of Ashland, Oregon’s busiest sidewalks. The stairs begin right at the threshold so someone as vertically advantaged as myself must scrunch down a couple of inches when descending to get through the door sans concussion. Opening the old hardwood door from the street reveals that there is no landing and one must immediately start climbing the Victorian funhouse creaky, time-worn stairs toward the antique counter in the lobby above, where an appropriately formal hotel person welcomes you. This trip to Ashland those stairs seemed a little steeper and a little more of challenge. I was limping a bit.
I’ve clocked almost 40 years on motorcycles and have, so far, successfully eluded the North American Clueless Driver (Genus: Asshole). Four decades ago when I first chose to become a target of the two-ton unguided road missiles, their pilots were often distracted from the tedium of driving by slapping in a high-tech 8-track tape while batting the wispy smoke from a Marlboro out of their eyes. The evolution of driving idiocy has brought us to the age of cell phones and handheld lattes. While taking elusive measures to dodge vehicles rocking everything from the Bee Gees to Beyoncé I have bounced over curbs to avoid mercenary merging, elected to go down ditches rather than into oncoming traffic, ended up in the landscaping rather than get hit by what might have been a cooler ejected from an untarped load, but I’ve never fallen over or hit another car. We will not speak of my misadventures while sliding around off-road.
The Columbia stairs were a little steeper this visit, due to an accident that happened to involve a motorcycle the day before I left Corvallis.
My 1000cc Honda was perched majestically atop her center-stand inside my shop, tucked just out of the rain, which had arrived suddenly. So suddenly that I had donned all of my safety gear and was ready to head out, and turned to the doorway just in time to see the sky cut loose with liquid laughter at my plans for a dry ride. With all my gear on, it was the perfect time to try to fit the bike for highway pegs and adjust for proper seat height. In minutes the rain had passed and I went to dismount the metal steed. Standing on the foot peg, I swung my leg over to step off. Well, my boot slipped off the peg and my pant leg cuff snagged on it. This kept my boot from getting to the ground which did unkind things to my ability to stay upright. Being dangerously off balance, I grabbed the handlebars, which exacerbated the problem.
I tipped the motorcycle right down on top of me. All five hundred and three pounds of it.
Well, this was fun. And loud.
This was not the first time I’ve been under a bike. However all the previous times had been in the dirt or sand and the bike weighed about half of what this beast does. This time I was on concrete and the passenger peg was concentrating most of the bike’s weight onto the side of my boot. Attempting to pull my leg out from under the bike bloody hurt and I couldn’t get situated properly to lift the beast off of me.
This just kept getting better.
So, I’m about to go all 127 Hours and rip that bad boy boot out from under the bike, because, well, it bloody hurt. But, I’m rather fond of my foot and planned on using it again, and the bike was not on fire—nor was the river rising or a ravenous chihuahua bearing down on me. So I paused to consider other options. A brief appraisal of the situation revealed that I was alone at my remote shop, my non-perpendicular bike was basically riveting me to the concrete, and I was twisted in the wrong direction. In the plus column I had all my safety gear on when I augered in.
I removed my gloves and helmet to fish out my phone from the jacket armor. The question became who the hell can I call in southtown who has the strength to lift this bitch offa me AND not freak out? No one came to mind except my friend Michael. Being the South Philly douche that he is, his assistance would have been preceded by him taking a series of photos and a doing video roast before deigning to lift the bike from my bruised carcass. Since my sense of humor was also in danger, with my foot getting numb and my knee being less than delighted to be trying to go flamingo, I’d rather have waited to have my buddy in Vegas fly out to help me.
Gosh darn it.
I heard a sound a few units away where an enterprising family had set up shop recycling metal and electronics. To my delight, it sounded a lot like one of them was in the shop. Nice. I let out a couple of loud of as-yet un-panicked cheery hellos and one of the workers peeked his head around his doorway. He seemed unimpressed to see me in perhaps the most undignified position I’ve been in with my clothes on. He ambled over with a cigarette in his mouth, “How’s it goin’?”
“Pretty good. How are you?” I ask while putting my hands behind my head like I’m working on my tan.
“Say, if you have a second, think you could lift this bike offa me so I can get out from under it?”
He nodded and put his cigarette in his mouth before grabbing the handlebars. I pushed on the back end and slipped out, getting my good foot underneath me, and pushed the bike up.
“Ya alright?” he asked.
“Let’s see!” I walked a few paces, then a few more, then a few more.“I’m good.” I shook his hand. He nodded, then headed back to his shop.
I’m possessed by the macho demon that renders me loathe to admit that I’m hurt. So much so that I fired up the bike and rode it to the theater before securing myself in the privacy of my office to remove the boot and stem the bleeding from my leg into said boot. It was not pretty but I’ll live, thought me. Because I had installed crash bars on the bike soon after buying it, there was no damage to the bike at all. My 25 year old Chippewa boots were done, having sacrificed their structural integrity to keep the passenger foot peg from drilling into my flesh. And my helmet will need to be replaced, having nailed the ground with my head in it.
After a handful of ibuprofen, I mounted up—carefully—and rode to Albany to meet Monty and Buddy at a buffet that was more dangerous to my health than being trapped under a bike. My nonchalance around my injuries was weak and I ended up having to tell them both the humiliating and embarrassing tale of my funny walk and stiffness. They asked, in unison, “But, is the bike okay?” I think they eventually let slip a molecule of concern for my health between the Mongolian noodle and dessert trips to the buffet.
The next day I was off to Ashland to a film festival. For many years my movie amigo Brad and I have shared a room at the Columbia while taking in a splendid array of films and meeting up with old friends. Brad is in IT and self-describes as “risk averse.” Though he is one of the most itinerate friends I have, traveling about the country in his RV, he keeps his exposure to bodily harm to the absolute minimum. He also happens to be one of my smartest friends.
I did a good job of hiding my boo boos until Brad saw me in my shorts getting ready for bed and inquired with some alarm as to my injuries. I hadn’t thought about the cut in my shin since cleaning it off and it was little gnarlier than I remembered. My foot swelled nicely while blooming into a lovely bouquet of spring colours, not helped at all by spending the morning enjoying that lovely town on foot. He allowed that if it became more colourful or swollen, he’d insist on a trip to urgent care. (Before you pronounce me a total idiot tough-guy, I’ve spent my life getting owies and know when something's really wrong. There was no real pain, suggesting nothing had broken or torn.) While wrapping my foot, it became apparent I’d hyperextended my wrist, so I wrapped it too. When people asked how I’d hurt my hand, I told them I just discovered internet porn. It surprised me how many people didn’t think I was joking and suggested I be on the lookout for blindness.
Proving my self-evaluation of my injuries correct, I was walking up to five miles a day and it actually seemed to help. The Ashland Independent Film Fest is centered around the downtown cinema, the Varsity, a lovely old single-screen movie house that has been successfully converted into a cozy five-plex while maintaining the charm of its old self. The movies likely to draw the largest audiences were shown in the Ashland Armory, about five blocks away. For the sake of more screens, some films were exiled to Ashland Street Cinemas, one and a half miles down the road. I try to get in a movie there every day or so for the chance to walk. This year was no different. Not wanting to push myself too hard, the walk took about 40 minutes and in typical Ashland style, within the time of that walk I experienced warm sunshine, rain, snow, and ice pellets, topped off with 40 mile per hour gales.
Once back in Corvallis I ordered grippy foot pegs for the Honda (shout out to Knight Design, a local shop that produces a great product), reducing the chances of my boots sliding off. New, armored boots are coming. I’m planning a Viking’s funeral for my old boots. While waiting for the new ones to come in, I’m looking up distributors for the films we loved the most.
Final note: EVERY one of my motorcycle friends asked if the bike was okay before asking about me. God, I love these people.