photo: J. Wilcox
The usual crew began to assemble for the Wednesday night party. Quickly they came from the southern field station. I left Juniper in the care of Kittentoes. I'd gotten into the habit of picking her up myself, racing down at the end of each shift to meet her and ride back together. This time it was too hot to ride, and I needed some moments to myself. I had a couple hours before the riot arrived, so I set out my tools and turned on the only tolerable radio station I could find.
Jaybird was overdue for fresh oil, having now run 5000 miles since leaving Delaware. I ran the engine to heat the stuff, checking bolts and listening to the humming of the cylinders while I waited. She sounded good, maybe even better than when I'd left. The exercise had done her good.
The bike had certainly become a great and intimate part of me. I felt comfortable on the saddle, handlebars and gauges and highway ahead. I'd taken to running my hand down the black steel gas tank, lovingly, as one might a girl, or favorite dog. I listened to the tiny idiosyncrasies of the engine, the thing's heart, and thought about how it would one day stop.
I shut the kill switch and bent low to place a jug below the crankcase. The oil plug stuck for a moment, then popped free. I was met immediately with an onrush of thick, hot oil. The stream shot several inches over my poorly placed jug and onto the garage floor. I thought about the Gulf oil spill for a moment (I wonder if they need bird biologists down there?), then sprang to reposition the jug. Six or seven newspapers sopped up the mess enough to save us our security deposit.
I punched a hole in the old filter and let it drain too, cranking the starter a few times to push out the stubborn bits. It was a relief to have three quarts of fresh oil in her. I pulled out the bike's four spark plugs. Two of the plugs were seated illogically deep in the cylinder head. It was tense, cramped work, and I decided I never wanted to do it again. A few ratchet extensions, four new plugs, a gap tool, and some dielectric grease had things back in shape. I polished up the pipes and ran wax over the gas tank.
Juniper, Kittentoes, and Shrike arrived just as I was buffing out the stray smears of wax. The bike hadn't looked so sharp since leaving Delaware. I was sure she'd make it to Flagstaff. I cleaned up and went in to catch the new arrivals. Juniper hit me with a smile, one that seemed to confess how much she'd missed me in the last ten days. The corners of her mouth turned up into tiny crescents whenever I met her gaze.
It was Mickey's birthday. This provided us with enough justification to throw a party. Our Wednesday night blowouts had become almost tradition, and I was looking forward to the noisy swell that always followed. We made reservations at the Italian joint and dove headfirst into the night.