Thursday, October 3, 2013


For financial and logistical reasons I avoided dealing with my motorcycle's slipping clutch until it failed entirely, leaving me and the motorcycle stranded on Gough Street in San Francisco. A precipitous hill dropped off behind us; the summit was a few staircase-steep yards ahead.

First priority had to be to discourage the bike from going into free-fall backwards down the hill and taking me with it. Between us, the bike and I weighed about six hundred pounds. As long as I stomped the brake as hard as I could with my right foot and maintained a death grip on the hand brake, we stayed put. If I let up at all on either brake, we started to roll. My left foot, of course, had to stay on the ground to balance us.

I might have lowered us to the bottom of the hill a few inches at a time, releasing the brakes and then grabbing and stomping them again, probably hundreds of times. I might even have managed it without ending up in the hospital. But I felt strongly that there was more potential energy in the system than I wanted to risk releasing at a rate that I wasn't at all sure I could control.

I tried to back up and turn around, or at least park; but I couldn't support all that weight at anything like the angle that was developing between the vertical line of the bike and the dizzily tilted pavement. Long before I made any progress toward the curb, the hill fell away dangerously under my foot. Nor did I begin to have the strength and agility to get off the bike and lay it down or drop it.

I looked around for a pedestrian, preferably of the young male persuasion, who might be willing to help. There was no one in sight, not even any cars. I thought about bursting into tears, but it wasn't clear what good that would do. So I sat there for a few minutes, immobilized, my mind racing and coming up empty.

Then, exactly because I couldn't think of anything to do, I gingerly let the clutch out. It caught, sort of, and we moved slowly and tentatively up and over the hill (I was told later that the plates in the clutch must have cooled off enough to function). I drove home by the levelest route available between San Francisco and the Peninsula, and continued to hang out in the lowlands to the extent possible until I was able to get the clutch fixed. I'm not sure I ever came home from the Avenues by way of Gough Street again.