Again, an anecdote out of chronological order. We were in Tikrit in 2003 and me and Johnny Nano accompanied a sit-down between Brigadier General Kelly and some local tribal sheiks. Senior leaders. Enjoy.
We feasted standing up, as normal. We all stood around a huge table laid out with bread, rice, yogurt, and various goat dishes. The general, his officers and the tribal elders rubbed elbows. Johnny and I ended up talking to the tribal sheik’s son, the ‘emir.’ The elders were discussing their bullshit, making promises that would never be met, so Johnny and I sat down with the emir.
Johnny lit up, he was in his element. There was no real information to collect, so I could give a fuck about what happened. He bullshitted with the emir for a while, and suddenly he turned on me, a fat smile spread across his short, bald face.
“Mick! The emir loves motorcycles, just like you!”
I laughed, “Johnny, did you tell him I was into bikes? Really? THAT was your conversation?”
He was ridiculously happy he’d made progress with the emir, so I went with it.
“Mick, he says he’s going to go get something for you.” Awesome.
The emir was smiling, though. He jumped up, his dishdasha getting into a tangled mess. He barked something in Arabic at one of his buddies/underlings and they both jumped into his Mercedes and took off, rolling out of the compound.
I was puzzled by the emir’s sudden unexplained departure, but, whatever. Johnny didn’t really have an explanation for what had just happened, either. So, we hung out for a few minutes. I went back to the table and got some more rice, that shit was delicious, smothered in goat sauce.
The sight that greeted me as I came out with some delicious bread and goat in my hand was a bit surreal. The emir was pulling up to the compound on an ancient crotch rocket. A massive predecessor to the Yamaha YZF R-1. To explain, if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, this bike could have blasted the competition. Um, in the 80’s. It was a big bike. A big, relic of a bike.
As he pulled up, the emir was grinning from ear to ear. He put the kickstand down in front of me, jumped off and proudly offered me the bike.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to ride. I hadn’t been on a motorcycle in far too many months, and I was dying to ride. I have always owned a motorcycle since 1997, when I bought an old-ass 1992 Yamaha Seca II when I first came into the Marine Corps. The bike the emir put in front of me had at least 1000 cc’s, though it was hard to tell because all the stickers were pulled off. It was old, though, and I had no way of knowing if it would blow up on me if I took it out for a spin.
Johnny was excited, his little brown ass was practically jumping up and down as he told me how proud the emir was of his motorcycle, how Saddam had outlawed bikes like his, but the emir’s father had allowed him to keep it (yes, a strong suggestion as to how tight the emir’s tribe was with Saddam). The emir wanted me to ride it, who was I to say no? I took off my armor, and handed Johnny my rifle. I still had my pistol, but I knew in the back of my mind that if I got out on that road by myself I was taking my life in my hands. I could easily get captured by Iraqis loyal to Saddam, we had only just taken the country, after all. A little Beretta 9mm wouldn’t have been much in the way of defense.
I got on the bike anyway. I peeled out, spraying dirt. I felt alive. I drove up onto the blacktop and tore down the pavement. It was a shitty road, though, and I was still a bit nervous as to the quality of the bike. There’s no way it had been looked at by a qualified mechanic in years. I took it up to about 80mph, and then turned around, heading back to the compound. I was scared as shit, taking that bike out. Scared it would break, scared I would crash it, scared I would get out of sight of the compound and my lone idiot self would be captured by Iraqis. But my dumb ass rode that ancient Yamaha. I wanted to ride, I missed being on a motorcycle almost as much as I missed getting laid. When I looked at that old-as-fuck bike, desire overcame fear. Which, when I think about it, has been the subtext for most of my romantic relationships.
I lived. Again. The stupid things I’ve done in my life…