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Ep 02: Mommy Dearest Transcript

1974 Moto Guzzi Ambassador (V750)

I cast a wide net in my Craigslist searches.  After all, why should something as piddly as a few thousand miles keep you from at least knowing what’s out there?  I’ve found great deals on really hard-to-find projects in completely different time zones and while I couldn’t move on it, I passed along the info when I could through twitter or facebook, because by God, SOMEONE needs to get over there to pick up that Triumph GT6 or Parilla project. 

One fall evening I was flipping through the usual notifications and saw a listing for a VERY dusty, fairing-ed out tourer scheduled for an estate sale in North Dallas –vaguely titled, ‘Moto Guzzi bike’.  I could see that it was an Ambassador, the slightly smaller 750cc brother to the Eldorado’s 850. The price was right, but the timing and location were not.  The Ambo was up for public sale only on the following Friday morning, and there would be no holding on the part of the seller – first come first served.  

I’ve gained a certain level of acceptance of the multitude of  deals that I can’t get to, but this one was actually near my hometown - where my mom still lives.  SURELY we can make something happen.

My mother is awesome.  If only because she’s a good sport with my weird (read: normal) interests and hobbies. 

When I collected baseball cards as a kid, she would haul me to some hotel convention center on the other side of Dallas for a trade show; or during my comic book freak phase (which is still ongoing, I think) she would patiently wait in the car while I pored over bins of old clearance books or drooled at the collectible ones behind the counter of the one comic book store in our hometown.  True to form, she humors me even now by asking about my recent auto or moto acquisitions.  I’ll share my recently acquired knowledge on the history and peculiarities of any given mark or model and practice my justification of why I’ve picked up yet ANOTHER non-running vehicle.

This sale was in a particular area of North Dallas, which was at a residence not far from her office.  I also knew that her boss (for whom she has now worked for more than 20 years) would quickly forgive tardiness if it had to do with a ridiculous motorcycle errand.  He and I have shared a few motorsports stories when I visit and I’m extremely jealous of his stable. 

I gave her every opportunity to say no to my crazy proposal, but when I suggested she pop in to the sale to recon the situation, she was in – easily.  If nothing else, it looked like they had some neat antiques. 

Now I had a local accomplice in adopting this neglected Italian - more than 2000 miles away.

Here’s some more you need to know about my mother.  She’s short – exactly 5 feet tall – with wispy blonde hair and a little frame that’s.. we’ll say ‘top-heavy’.  In her younger days, and even now that stereotypical busty blondeness was a foil  for her extreme decency and common-sense. At first blush, she’s pretty easy going. Maybe even unassuming.   But, and maybe because she’s a Leo –she can be a damn lion when she wants to be.  She is savagely loyal –her pride is paramount – in every sense of the word.  While her height may make her easy to overlook, underestimating her won’t do you any favors.  I say all that because it makes what she did on Friday all the more impressive.

On Thursday night, all the pieces were in place: I had called the estate sale guy and told him to expect my ‘agent’, i.e. My firecracker Mom, in my place to see the bike (he still wouldn’t sell it early).  Mom was going to get to the sale a few minutes before it opened, and I had a tow service on speed-dial if things went well.

Mind you, I’m 2 hours behind Dallas time, so I was only mostly awake at 6:30 when she called to tell me that she had arrived at the sale to see a line from the front door of the house all the way to the sidewalk.  She got in line anyway (remember the bit about loyalty) and after some inevitable Texas we’re-all-in-line-together- chitchat, it turns out that the big loud guy in front of her was there for the Guzzi.  First-come-First-served. 

The cards didn’t seem to be stacked in our favor.  However, to continue the metaphor – she kept her cards close and didn’t reveal her intentions. If I know her at all, she probably said something like, “oh that’s neat” and maintained her appearance of some sweet lady just here for the antiques – no threat to a big man about to do a deal on a motorcycle.

We checked in via text every 5 minutes or so until the sale started.  At 9:07, she replied “U want it??”  (She used the letter U, omitting the Y and O) and I didn’t need an explanation – I replied “yes plz!” (Opting for plz instead of spelling out please –  I agreed that the situation required efficiency).

At 9:15 she called me with the story: as the line filed into t he sale, the dusty Guzzi was largely sidestepped for the housewares and fabulous antiques until the would-be buyer big man gave it a once over and asked the seller if they would take less than the asking price.  Of course, having just opened the sale, the seller said no.  But big man played it cool and did a “I’m thinking about it and don’t want to seem interested” stroll around the sale.  Then the short, unassuming blonde grabbed the seller’s attention and quietly declared, “I’ll take it.”  I like to think the seller immediately recalled the phone call he had the day before with some dude in Seattle and smiled.  They shook hands and she turned her attention to the carnival glass in the corner that was calling her name. 

Big man pushed his way through the shoppers to plead his case of ‘dibs’, but the deal had been done – his plan of hardball had backfired. Sorry buddy.

 Mom bought a few things she didn’t need (apparently a hereditary trait) and the seller agreed to hold the bike until the next day, after all the sale hubbub had died down 

The pick up wasn’t very noteworthy except to pass along this little tip.  Triple A doesn’t endorse the show (ahem) but they are a fantastic for those of us who often need to pick up non-running vehicles, but my assumption of their usefulness in this case was a disappointment – the account holder must be present when a vehicle is towed.  More precisely, you can’t tell them you WON’T be there.  Luckily there was a tow company I could get over last minute.

I was worried that the bike would be too big of a bear for her to handle, but sure enough, Mom was able to charm the driver into not only getting the dirty, flat-tired beast of a bike up on to its center stand, but also clearing out some space in the garage at her house.

In two months, I would drive from Seattle for Christmas, pulling a small rented trailer, eager to meet my new Italian friend and bring it home. And of course see my family and wait for Santa Claus.  But, any down time during the rest of the visit was spent in the garage diagnosing what it’d take to get it running and practicing restraint in taking things apart before I could get it back to Seattle.

The bike was in full dress with a pinstriped Wixom fairing (which I still think looks like something Batman designed) that shrouded a custom dashboard, with AM/FM radio and CB tucked between the gauges – sporting a punch-label sticker that read ‘Hogs are Dogs.’

I’m so in love with this bike.  There seems to have been a population in the 70’s and 80’s that defiantly stood out among the 1 percenters – a cadre of motorcycle guys: not Hell’s Angels, but not necessarily one of the nicest people you might find on a Honda.  They had bikes like this – weird Europeans that were niche and anomalies among the crowds of American steel you see at Sturgis.

Luckily, time could have been a lot less kind to this Ambassador – when I got it back to the shop I began disassembly and inspection.  The engine was free and cylinders were in great condition, though the diehard Guzzi guys online insisted that the cylinders were ticking time bombs unless upgraded to the spendy Nickasil kit.  Probably, but while throwing money around can solve a lot of potential or perceived problems, there would be plenty of time for upgrades after the basics were met. The original generator was tired and needed new belt, an option was a $400 alternator conversion, but I opted to just rebuild it for $7. 

The first start up involved large pieces of rusty exhaust baffle flying out of the muffler and chipping the paint on my truck – expelling it like a good cough should I suppose.  I should probably replace the silencers, but I kind of like the note.  Bahdum-bahdum-bahdum

My first ride was with a crazy-uncle-type friend who I’ve known for decades – he was visiting Seattle on his incredibly tricked out Harley whatever-a-glide, which, or  really whom, he refers to as “Priscilla”.  If the speed limit were ‘as fast as you can’, then it wouldn’t have worked, but we kept an easy 70 mph pace and I enjoyed riding giant cruisers with my friend.

At the end, we stopped at a car wash so he could detail his chrome, and while waiting, I just gave the gas tank a good wipe and caught pokemon on my phone. 

I looked for some sort of poetic link between my mother and the Ambassador, but it seems  like to do so would of course do them both a disservice.  I guess  you could say they’re both still healthy and well adjusted socially, but insist on doing their own thing. 

However, my Garage sale Guzzi is my favorite bike – it’s a blast to ride and sounds like a diesel truck, but to be honest, it’s really because my mommy got it for me. 

I hope that if my daughter ever calls me one day and asks me to do something as ridiculous as take time off work to stand in line for something as ridiculous as an old motorcycle, I want to have my mother’s sense of adventure and ‘why not’ attitude, knowing that we’re still creating stories together.  Because now, being on the other side of parenthood, I’m getting a sense of how special and precious those stories are.  Being a father has given me a tiny bit of retroactive insight that it didn’t matter if my interest was baseball cards or comic books or Italian cruisers.  In my case , it’s now Unicorns and serving cookies to stuffed lambs because those things are crazy-exciting for my little girl -  who by the way, has claimed this Moto Guzzi as her own. 

Just physically showing up is the foundation for any story and can often be enough tinder to spark joy for others.  Time spent in participation is fleeting, and finite.  So I’m extremely grateful for the things I get participate in with the people that I love, even from 2000 miles away.