SCENE OF THE CRIME: The busy shopping venue of 82nd Street in Jackson Heights.
DAVID SNOW AT THE SEEDY X-BAR & GRILL
“Did Sally ever slip when you had an audience? I always wondered what my face looked like when it happened to me.”
82nd Street in my old Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, is an iconic shopping area revered by residents (shown in the photo in 1963). In fact, if you say to a Jackson Heights resident, “Hey, ya wanna go ta 82nd ta scope out the new releases at Records Spectacular?”—the person you would be posing the question to, would fully comprehend what you were talking about. To answer David Snow’s question, the answer is “Yes,” and that “audience” I accrued after Sally “slipped,” congregated on 82nd Street, on a busy saturday shopping afternoon in 1970.
But allow me to first elucidate the meaning of David’s question. At the time, I was riding my 1968 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLCH, “Sally The Bitch.” Now, Sally was named this way because well….she was a bitch in almost every way. Like a haughty, spoiled tart who was used to having her way, she would refuse to start as requested. Ya see, Sally was a kick-only motorcycle, with no electric start. There were many times, I cursed at and pleaded with her, as I started my 15th or 16th kick, sweat pouring off of my brow, during the process—and she refused to start.
It is a given in the XLCH Annals, that Sportster XLCHs like Sally were hard to start, unless the owner had a secret deal with the devil. Even worse than the recalcitrance to start promptly, was the ugly habit of XLCH’s kick start levers to “slip through,” meaning that they wouldn’t “catch” on the motor, and simply push through, without any resistance.
Imagine yourself suspended in mid-year during kickstarting, ready to plunge all of your weight down on the kickstarter, when this slipping through happened. Hey man, sumpin’s gotta give on your right leg on the way down to Hell, and it ain’t yer thigh or lower leg. It would be that complex and fragile joint in between, known as your knee. Subjected to all of that unexpected force on this little gem of a joint, the results would be devastating: A total tearing and destruction of the joint, with all of the attendant pain and injury that one could imagine.
I was proud of my motorcycle. I was one of the first of my younger generation of Jackson Heights bikers, to get a Harley. Sure, there were older bikers like Big Mike Merurio, and my big brother and biker mentor, Stevie Biondo, who had Harleys for years, but among the younger group, I was the first to get a Harley-Davidson.
On that fine summer day in 1970s, I rode back to Jackson Heights, to hang out with a couple of friends, two brothers named Mike and Eric. Mike and Eric both rode Kawasakis, because they couldn’t afford Harleys. Harleys were the coveted prize, and among the three, I was feeling like the BMOC (big man on campus), because I alone–had the Harley.
In 1970, I was also the only one of us three, to have gotten married, moved to The City (Manhattan), and had a son. I was working at the time, as a medical photographer at the Pack Medical Foundation in the City. So, you could say that I was pretty much feeling on top of the world that day.
Mike, Eric and I were big Grateful Dead fans, and on that day, we decided to ride our bikes to 82nd to take a look-see in one of the two record stores on 82nd Street, for any new Grateful Dead releases. The name of this record store, was Records Spectacular. if you look carefully at that 1963 photo, Records Spectacular is the store with the orange and white sign right after “Sid’s Pants” on the left.
We rode our bikes to Records Spectacular, and parked in front. After going in and checking out the new records, we left to start our bikes up and leave. I got to my Harley Sportster, retarded the spark on the magneto, and turned on the gas. I had gotten quite proficient at starting Sally up, as my big brother Stevie Biondo, taught me proper kickstarting technique.
I prepared to kick ‘er over, by placing my left knee on Sally seat, my hand on the handlebars, as I got ready to hoist myself up in the air, ready to put my full weight onto the kickstart pedal. After a couple of priming kicks with the ignition off, I turned on the ignition, and away we go!: Kick that sucker for all she was worth, to get her motor running.
Then it happened.
The dreaded “slipping through” happened. After that first resistanceless kick, I laid there on the ground on 82nd Street, wondering how in the world how such a little joint such as my knee, could cause so much pain and unhappiness. I’d never felt such agonizing pain before. After laying there on the blacktop, for who knows how long, I attempted to stand up.
I was able to stand, but barely. I could not for the life of me, put any substantial weight on my right leg. After painfully assessing my chances of starting Sally the normal way, I tried to start her with my left leg, to no avail. I simply did not have the technique to be successful, on my opposing leg.
Next, Mike and Eric both took turns in trying start Sally up. No good. They’d had no experience in kickstarting a Harley, and never would be able to, even with my crash-course directions to them on the spot. There was only one thing to do: I called my friend Big Mike, who dutifully came down and helped me out. With Big Mike’s bulk and 260 pound body weight, he started Sally up with one kick.
Before Big Mike got to Records Spectacular however, there was scene that all Harley Sportster riders have become accustomed to:
It was quite a spectacle. There must have been a crowd of at least 20 people congregated on the sidewalk, waiting to see what would happen next, to this hairy, uncouth biker. Me writhing on the street, in extreme pain. Then me, a semi-crippled biker, trying to start his bike, with his unaccustomed left leg. Then my hapless friends, who didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Then my behemoth friend Big Mike, coming along like a refugee from the World Wrestling Federation, coming to bounce troublesome opponents off the turnbuckle. Bike Mike’s starting Sally, natch, dispersed the unruly crowd. Goddamn spectators. Always there, when Sally was giving me agita.
“Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Show’s over!”