Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 187: Let's Call This Research

          I made the decision one day after staring in frustration at one of my manuscripts. See, I'd just written my protagonist into a bit of a corner, and now he was engaged in a high-speed chase down a partially-blocked street. There was no way his car could fit through the gap.
          Ugh, I hated doing that. After a moment's thought, I decided on a logical conclusion. I'd just change out my protagonist's car for a motorcycle. Perfect. I could even do that without much editing to the scene! (The thought of rewriting the surroundings somehow never occurred to me.)
          There was only one problem. I had no idea how to ride a motorcycle, and I liked making my scenes as realistic as possible. I shrugged and pulled open my internet browser, searching for used motorcycles. Hmm, they were a lot cheaper than I expected. Time for a trip to the DMV!
          When I walked in, the DMV was actually fairly deserted (fortunately; I hate lines!). I went up to the counter and politely inquired how I could go about getting a motorcycle license.
          The DMV official behind the counter shrugged. "Well, do you have a permit?"
          I shook my head. "No. Do I need one?"
          He gave me an odd look. "Well, yes. You have to take the written test first; if you pass, you get your permit. Then you come back later with a bike and you can take the driving test. If you pass that, you get your motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license."
          "Ah." I thought for a moment. "What classes do I have to take?"
          "Well, are you over eighteen?"
          I fought back a laugh. He was the fifth guy that week to ask me that question; the other four had included a couple of very skeptical bouncers who had been fairly convinced that I had a fake ID. "I just turned 26."
          He blinked. "Okay. Then no."
          "How much to take the written test?"
          "First three times are free," he explained. "Fail three times, and we start charging you ten dollars per attempt."
          "Fair enough." I handed him my driver's license on a whim. "Sign me up!"
          After a heroic effort to not roll his eyes at the wildly unqualified nuisance, the DMV official took my driver's license and assigned me a computer. I sat down, fully prepared to fail but amused at my own audacity, and...passed, ten minutes later. Reflecting on the wisdom behind the old saying "fake it until you make it" and wondering if there was a "BS clause" somewhere in there, I returned to the counter. "Okay, got it!"
          The DMV official handed me back my license. "Well, you can come back and try again later--"
          "Actually, I passed," I informed him.
          He checked his computer. "Oh. Um...well...good job. Here's the paperwork?"
          I filled it out as quickly as possible and left with a permit before the DMV could change his mind and reevaluate the permit requirements. A week later, I'd purchased a cheap motorcycle of the "crotch rocket" variety (I'm informed they're called "sport bikes," but I think the other moniker is funnier) for testing purposes.
          Bear in mind, I'd still never ridden one before. Much less started one. I got it to my house via trailer and pushing. By the time I'd pushed the bike off the trailer, parked it in the garage, and returned the trailer, it was too late to try my first ride. I decided it would be the next day, when I went to Taekwondo. (Needless to say, I'd be taking back roads.)
          The next day got crazy busy, but I somehow managed to finish up work with an hour to spare before I had to leave to Taekwondo. I grabbed my helmet, wheeled the motorcycle out of the garage, and turned the key to start it.
          Click. Nothing happened.
          I flipped the key again. Still nothing. Hmm. I examined the labels around the key hole. Off, On, Lock. Must not be a Start option up there. I switched it to on and started looking for another button to start the bike. A small thumb button near my right thumb looked promising, so I pushed that. Still nothing.
          Okay, I knew this bike worked, since the previous owner had driven it around for me. Why wasn't this thing starting--oh, wait...the big red rocker switch on the right handlebar had two pictures on it: one with an engine and one with an engine with a big red X through it. The rocker switch was currently pushed to the side with the X. I switched it back and tried the thumb button again.
          The bike started.
          I grinned triumphantly and tried to kick up on the shifter to get it in gear. The bike lurched and stalled. After a few seconds of thought, I remembered that motorcycles are manual vehicles (there had been a clutch question that I'd somehow successfully guessed on the DMV test) and that I'd forgotten to pull in the clutch. Oops. I grabbed the clutch lever, pulled it in, and downshifted back into neutral before I started the bike. Then, after I started it, I pulled the clutch in again, kicked the shifter up, and slowly released the clut--
          The bike died again.
          Fifteen minutes later, I was still not grasping this whole "shifting" thing and was getting annoyed. I stomped into the house to grab my computer, reflecting on the inadequacy of the DMV test for actually determining readiness for motorcycle driving, and googled "How to Shift a Motorcycle." I almost smacked myself. According to the article, neutral existed between first and second gear, which meant you had to shift down to get into first, then up to get into second. I'd been trying to go straight to second like a complete moron. (I was way too used to the four-wheeler I'd driven growing up, which also had a foot shifter but had all the gears lined up, neutral-first-second-etc.) I was also a little mad with myself for not figuring that out, because of course you don't accidentally want to put the bike into neutral on the road. Duh.
          Man, I was really getting my money's worth out of this experiment. And just for one scene in my book...
          I went back out for another try. After forgetting about the stupid clutch on my first try, my second try had me rolling out the driveway and down the street (about thirty minutes later than I'd expected to leave the house, but hey--I gave myself an hour for a reason). I burned the remaining thirty minutes getting to Taekwondo via the most remote back roads I could find, only killing the bike three times at stop signs because I kept forgetting about the friggin' clutch. (It's worth noting that, on the trip back, I didn't stall it at all!)
          I didn't quit practicing, though. After a few weeks, I was comfortable enough to begin training for my book scene as well as my motorcycle endorsement test...
          ...but that's another story.

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