Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ducati People

2006 Ducati S2R 800
I was done in by my undying adherence to the "slower traffic keep right" principal. That, or my general incompetence at driving large trucks. No sooner had I eased the 14 foot U-Haul over to the right lane, than it was jolted by the impact of its (really quite sturdy) right outside mirror smashing against a tree leaning a little too far over the road. So long, mirror. Then the steering got squirrelly and I ran over a curb, lurching me to the left. My first thought was of rolling the truck over. When that didn't happen, my second thought was of the state of the shiny, almost-new, not-even-broken-in, 2006 Ducati Monster S2R 800 I just bought, which was strapped down in back.

Thinking that running over the shattered remains of the mirror assembly had given me a flat, I scrubbed off speed to get the truck back under control. I took the next side street and parked in the somewhat staid Washington DC suburb of Chevy Chase Village, less than two miles from the interstate that would have gotten me out of DC.

Somewhat in shock, I called my brother-in-law Brian to make sure that driving the remaining 299 miles from DC to New York, without a right rear-view mirror, was indeed a bad idea. He agreed. The U-Haul emergency help rep told me to take the truck back to the U-Haul rental facility, across town. Fun.

Most motorcycle aficionados keep a mental list of the 5 or 10 bikes they'd like to own. I certainly do. Some of my past and current faves are the Aprilia RSV 1000, Suzuki SV 650, Harley Davidson Sportster 1200, Yamaha YZF R6, and Honda CBR 600R. Sometimes, for no good reason, I'll narrow the list to three, or even one. In other words, what single bike is best for me, considering my age, finances and geography? Sometime last summer, I chose: the Ducati S2R 800 -- in red and white, naturally.

Last September, just such a bike came up for sale on craigslist. Its owner had installed a set of Termignoni carbon-fiber exhausts, though, whose loudness he described as an '8' on a scale of 1 to 10, with '1' being a stock Honda cruiser and '10' being a Harley with straight pipes and a Stage III kit (that's literally how I put it to him). I'm not really a loud pipes guy, and my wife Courtney would definitely resent even being associated with a loud pipes guy. The pipes, the lateness in the riding season, and the inconvenience of transferring ownership of a vehicle from anyone other than a dealer made me pass on the bike.

After that, I took a little trip to my local Ducati dealership, with my checkbook in my back pocket. Mentally, I was on the brink of buying. If they had had the color I wanted, or a reasonably aggressive sales staff, that would have been it. But they didn't, so I went home, thinking maybe I'll wait until the 07's are out. By then, it will be warmer, and an 07 will hold its value longer an 06.

As the pages of my CycleWorld calendar fluttered away, I became regretful. 2006 took the record for being the warmest year in US history. The riding season that normally ends in October lasted until about a week ago. Regrets. Missed opportunity. Then Ducati announced that the '07 model would come with black wheel rims instead of white. Black is more practical, but those white rims... They remind me of Raquel Welch in white Italian go-go boots. More regrets. I should have bought an 06 when I had the chance.

I (again) psyched myself up to go ahead and buy one. The alternative, to obsess about it ad infinitum, was not acceptable to me or to Courtney. I would scour craigslist, eBay, and the Ducati Monster board for a suitable model for sale. I wrote a PHP script that let me check craigslist pages for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington DC with one click. I checked eBay and the Monster board almost daily.

Finally, I spied with my little eye someone selling the exact model I sought, at a fair price, with less than 400 miles on it. The seller was in Washington DC. I jumped at it, offering to buy it sight unseen. Thanks to PayPal, I was able to send the seller a small deposit to hold the bike until the weekend when I could get down to DC and seal the deal.

The first question was where to store it. Answer: my friend Chris, who lives in Brooklyn, offered to let me use a slice of his parking space in his building's garage. As a backup, my friend Gustavo said I could use his place in Edison, NJ. I'm not sure if he was serious, but that would be his problem. Long term, I intend to find parking closer to my home in the city.

The next question was how to get the bike to New York. My inclination was to ride it back, as I'm not a fan of driving large vehicles with limited rearward visibility on unfamiliar streets. Plus loading and unloading adds complexity. Two problems with riding back were the weather and that the bike would not yet be registered in my name. At first, I made arrangements to borrow a license plate from a biker friend of Brian, named Andrew, but when the forecasts started to go south, due to an impending winter storm, I chickened out. I made reservations with U-Haul to rent a 14' moving truck, the smallest available with an integrated ramp.

Did I mention, I don't like driving a large vehicles with limited rearward visibility? Yet, somehow I managed to maneuver that orange, silver and white elephant across DC -- whose streets are intentionally arranged like pick-up-sticks to prevent invading armies and suicide bombers (in rented trucks) from finding their way around town.

It took a while for the seller and me to load the bike, as we had a problem owing to us incorrectly deploying said integrated ramp. Eventually, we got things settled and I was under way. My preoccupations were: a) finding my way out of town; b) not scraping against any cars, buildings, or pedestrians; and c) whether the S2R was properly secured. One thing I wasn't preoccupied with was whether the beautiful trees lining Connecticut Avenue, on the way to the I-495, were encroaching on the road a little too much for a 14' U-Haul truck to make it by.

After losing the mirror and pulling over, I looked for signs of a flat but found none. I realized that I was underestimating the width of the "dually" rear end, causing the rightmost tire to ride up on the curb.

Lugging the U-Haul back to the facility, with no right side mirror, was no picnic but I managed. Once there, I had to deal with the not unexpected "they told you to bring it back here?" attitude. I'm not sure if it helped, but I had (for once) purchased the $85 super insurance-up-the-wahzoo option. They eventually got me another truck and helped me transfer the bike from one truck to the other. Picture two trucks parked back to back, with a metal ramp spanning the 6 foot gap between them, and me tip-toeing the Ducati backward along the ramp! On the bright side, the bike (now facing out) would be easier for me to unload, especially if I had to do it solo.

Eventually, I was back on my way, though behind schedule enough that I would probably not get the truck to New York U-Haul before it closed.

I was just about to get on sweet, sweet I-495, and bug out of town, but I saw it was marked "cars only, no trucks allowed." Looking back, I think it probably meant no trucks bigger than two axles. At the time, I took 201 instead, which probably cost me 15 minutes. It eventually got me back to I-495, further north, a mile or two south of I-95, which would take me all the way through New Jersey.

The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. The rain and cold temperatures that had been forecast were mostly a no-show. The Goethals Bridge leading from New Jersey to Staten Island was narrow and I was gun shy about running the right side of the truck against the cement barricade. It was dark and I was tired, so I just took up both lanes and tried to go fast enough not to piss off the people behind me. This was my first time in Staten Island.

Driving along 278 through State Island, over the Verrazano Bridge, and into Brooklyn was dicey, but I managed. While I was desperately looking for exit 28A, I saw a sign that said all trucks over 12'2" must get off at exit 27. I didn't know how tall my truck was, as was too tired to even estimate. I saw that an 18 wheeler ahead didn't need no steenkeen exit 27, so neither did I. He was in the outside lane, though, and I was on the inside. The road started curving right under a cantilevered overhang (I think we were driving under the Brooklyn Esplanade). One of the night's final anxieties was whether one of those cantilevers would whack the top off my truck. I braced for impact. But it didn't come.

I eventually made it to Chris, and his lady friend Laura's, DUMBO apartment building. The neighborhood has a noir, warehousey look to the place. To boost the effect, there was some kind of tanker parked on the street, with swirls of steam emanating, lit up by a high power outdoor lamp -- like the kind night roadwork crews use. Chris was out of town and Laura was not answering her phone/buzzer. Strange, since I had phoned ahead with my estimated arrival time. I unloaded the bike by myself. It wasn't that hard. I tried calling Laura again, when I realized that the clock in the truck, which I'd used to estimate my arrival, was on Central time, not Eastern. I'd arrived an hour "early!"

I decided to wait for one of the residents to exit the garage and sneak in before the automatic door closed. It never came to that, though. As I was warming up the bike for my charge, Laura and her (actually Chris's) gigantic half wolf, half Siberian Husky came back from their walk.

The last challenge was to get the truck back to a U-Haul store. Courtney helped me out by finding one on the World Wide Web and Laura gave me directions on how to find it. I looped around DUMBO a few times, but eventually found the right street. It was in a fairly dark corner of Brooklyn, near the Battery Tunnel. Still, the night shift guy watching a blurry TV on a beat-up La-Z-Boy looked like an angel.

After that, I hailed a cab. The cabbie stopped and warily cracked his window. "Manhattan", I said in as loud, clear, and non-threatening (read: white) a voice as I could.

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