The Last Ride
“Named it after a goddamn ball player,” Amado said in an unidentifiable accent. He was born in Madrid but grew up in parts of Germany, England, Scotland, and Ireland, which made some people think he was from Australia or New Zealand.
Joaquin sat across from him on the smaller couch. He hadn’t seen Amado, his father, in almost year. Joaquin planned to stay in El Paso through the summer and fall and wanted to wait to see his family in the suburbs of Santa Fe for the winter holidays, but his mother, Maggie, called with the news in early June. Now, he sat and enjoyed his father’s voice.
“Can you believe that?”
“What’s that, Da’,” Joaquin said, thinking about the accounts he needed to follow-up on at his office.
“This sickness. Named after a lad named Gehrig. Baseball player. Bollocks.”
Joaquin missed his father and hated himself for being so consumed with work. His mother, Maggie, was in the kitchen, talking to Joaquin’s sister Jess on the phone.
“Maggie,” Amado said towards the kitchen. “Could you a make us some tea?”
“I can get it, Ma’. I want coffee anyway,” Joaquin said.
“No, no you sit right here,” Amado said.
“It’s fine I’ll—”
“He’s gonna stay in here…tea, honey,” Amado said over his shoulder. “How have you been, Joaquin? Busy with the day trading or whatever you call it?”
“Yeah Da’, just working.” He paused. “Started riding again.”
Amado’s eyes lit up.
“That’s good. That’s good. You finally buy another motorbike?”
Joaquin thought about why he said it. He knew it would get his father talking, take his mind off the illness.
“A Sportster. You know, Harley Davidson. Barely even used. Found it online. The dealership had some leftover ‘05 models. It barely had any miles on it.” Joaquin tried to make it seem like an incredible deal, but in reality, even Joaquin knew he paid too much for it.
Amado mumbled something in Spanish, but all Joaquin could make out of it all was “bollocks.” Then, there was a whistle in the kitchen.
“The kettle,” Amado shouted.
Joaquin looked down and rubbed his hands together. Maggie came in with the tea and set it on the coffee table.
“Your sister’s bringing the kids tomorrow night. I’ll pick her up at six,” Maggie said.
“Cool,” Joaquin said.
“Wonderful. Did you hear what our boy did?” Amado said. “Bought a motorsickle.”
Joaquin always liked when his father said it that way.
“Oh, wonderful,” Maggie said.
“A Harley,” Amado said.
Maggie frowned and wrinkled her forehead, as if someone had told her their pet fish just died.
“Jesus.” Joaquin bent over, elbows on his knees, and rubbed his hand through his thin hair.
“Good for nothing.” Amado sipped the tea that Maggie held to his thin lips. “Online. Nothing but criminals on the online.”
“Honey, he didn’t know,” Maggie said.
“He damn well should. I raised him. Going off buying an American motorbike.” Amado drank more tea. “I bet you’d get a Ford motorbike if they made one, that right?”
“I don’t know Dad.” Joaquin thought about his Harley Davidson Edition Ford F-150 that he drove. He thought about all the guys from the office that had Harleys and convinced him to get one.
“BMW, Triumph, BSA, Norton, Royal Enfield,” his father said. “Would it kill you to get a Honda?”
“Well it has two wheels, doesn’t it Da’?”
Joaquin woke up early and looked around the guest room. Dust covered the AMA trophies his dad collected when he was young. Pictures. Newspaper clippings. He dusted them off with his pajamas. Maggie started breakfast and Joaquin helped her.
“Joaquin,” his father called out from the living room. “Come here.”
Joaquin looked at his mother, asking for permission to leave the kitchen. She smiled and shook her head.
“Yeah.” Joaquin sat next to his father.
“How does it handle? The Harley.”
Joaquin didn’t know for sure. He only rode it around the block maybe every other Sunday.
“Good. Pegs sit a little too far forward. Front end dips a lot under heavy breaking. It’s OK though.”
“Thicker fork oil will fix that.” He sighed. “You shouldn’t’ve gone without me.”
“I know. I should’ve shopped around.”
They sat silently while Maggie slammed the cabinets in the kitchen.
“What is it dear? Why the racket?” Amado said.
“There’s no pancake mix. I’ll be back, I’m going to the grocery.”
“Don’t worry Ma’, we can have something else.”
“It’s just up the road, two minutes. Watch your father, will you?” And she left.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Amado said.
They sat together silently, father and son. Amado sat up straight. His legs together and leaning to one side, his left arm limp. He could still change channels with his right hand, as long as he didn’t have to grip the remote control. When he pressed the buttons the remote sank into the couch cushion.
“You want anything?” Joaquin asked.
Amado sat there. He rubbed his chest with his right hand.
“Lets look at the bikes. Take me to my garage.”
Joaquin pulled his father’s wheelchair next to the couch. Amado was a small, compact man. Short and light, which gave him an advantage in his racing days. Joaquin cradled him in his arms and set him in the chair.
Joaquin cleared out the path towards into the far side of the garage. He opened the big, aluminum garage door to let more light in. He uncovered three motorcycles. An almost new BMW K1200GT, a vintage BMW R60/2 equipped with a sidecar, and an early Brit bike, possibly a Triumph, with no engine.
“You know what I want?” Amado said. “I want to go riding with you.”
“Me too. I should have lived closer. We could have ridden everyday.” Joaquin held back tears. He pulled a shirt out of the dirty laundry and started to wipe off the dust from the bikes. He dusted the sidecar. He used Armor All, Windex, and some Pledge to get the bikes looking shiny again. He sat in the sidecar and leaned his head back.
“Remember this? I used to look straight up while you drove me around.”
“What? Want me to drive you around?” Amado asked.
“Something like that,” Joaquin said.
Maggie pulled into the driveway and blinded the men with her daytime running lights. She had four bags of groceries.
“Hey boys, am I interrupting?” she said.
“Da’ wants me to see if this little tank still runs.”
“That’s good. Don’t get too dirty. Breakfast is on its way.” Maggie went inside.
“It’ll run. Like the day it was made. Get the gas can and some starting fluid, third shelf.”
Amado talked Joaquin through the process: take off the gas tank, drain the old gas into that bucket, now fill it with good gas, take off the air cleaner, spray some starting fluid down the throat of the carb, prime the gas, roll on the throttle.
“Watch for smoke and fire!” Amado said.
Joaquin moved him out of the way of the exhaust pipes. He turned the key to the on position, made sure the bike was in neutral, held the front brake, pulled in the clutch, and hit the start button. The bike roared.
“Give it gas!” Amado yelled over the flat-twin engine.
Joaquin rolled on the throttle and the garage began to fill with white smoke. They laughed. Joaquin set the bike on its side stand and let it idle. Maggie entered the garage.
“Good God.” She coughed.
“Look Ma’, it still runs.”
“It does. Look boys, your food is getting cold, and I need to pick up Jess from the airport. I’ll be back in an hour.” Maggie left, swatting away the smoke on her way out.
“One hour?” Joaquin said.
“One and a half, at the least,” Amado said.
The Beemer was loaded and ready. Joaquin looked on the wall for a helmet that fit him. Amado was a proponent of wearing protective gear at all times, so Joaquin knew he’d need a helmet, gloves, and jacket before they hit the road.
“Get me my white jacket,” Amado said, “You can wear my suit.”
Joaquin put a white textile jacket on his father. He found the leather racing suit his father wanted him to wear. Joaquin worried about the heat and the gaudy colors. It was the colors of the Spanish flag, red with yellow trim, logos and patches of sponsors, the old Dunlop logo, and scuffs from the pavement. Amado wore slacks.
“Which lid do you want?” Joaquin said.
“Not this time. Get your helmet. Just get my goggles.”
“All the gear, all the time,” Joaquin said.
“I can afford to kill myself, you can’t.”
Joaquin was upset, but knew his father was right. Their idea was foolish. It was also foolish for Joaquin to put on a ten-year-old helmet. It would disintegrate on any serious impact.
“You really want to do this?” Joaquin asked.
“The only thing I want more is to be in the saddle, with you in the sidecar. This’ll have to do.”
“Do we leave a note?”
Joaquin wrote: ‘Be back in a few days.’ And they left.
Joaquin pulled into a gas station just outside of town.
“92 octane. Burn all the shit out of the fuel system,” Amado said.
“Got it. You comfortable?” Joaquin said.
“My bum is already getting sore.”
Joaquin finished gassing up and pulled a few shirts out of the luggage on the back of the bike. He lifted up his father and wedged them between his butt and the seat of the sidecar. Amado’s limited mobility was enough for him to shuffle around in the sidecar, but not enough to hold his own weight.
“I’m comfortable,” Amado said. “How about getting on I-25 and going south?”
“You tell me. I’m just along for the ride.”
“Yeah. Let’s go south.”
The road was medicine. Amado smiled at his son. The gravel and bugs hitting his face felt good. Children waved from cars and busses, and he did his best to wave back. A couple on a giant Honda Goldwing that looked like a La-Z-Boy on two wheels rode past them and they could hear Neil Young playing on their stereo system.
Two hundred miles later, they stopped for dinner. Joaquin ordered burgers and fries for them at a drive-in. He held the burger to his father’s mouth.
“Christ, this is good,” Amado said, his mouth full.
“Yeah. Damn good.”
When he finished the burger, Amado drank his lemonade quickly.
“You know, I won’t be able to eat on my own—”
“Come on, Da’—”
“Or breathe on my own,” Amado said. “I’m not ready for that yet.”
Joaquin found a hotel after dinner as the sun went down. They were both tired, but neither said it. Joaquin went into the lobby.
“I need a room until tomorrow morning,” Joaquin said.
“Single or double bed.”
Joaquin knew his father wouldn’t move in his sleep, and this trip was already on a budget. “Single, please.”
Joaquin unloaded his father first. He lifted him up, cradled him, kicked the door of the room open, and put him on the bed. Amado panted, as if he had just carried someone into the room. He moaned.
“You OK, old man?”
“I’m fine. Just sore, all over.”
Joaquin unloaded their clothes and left everything else on the bike. He went inside and Amado was still breathing heavily. Joaquin found his father’s pain medication.
“How many do you need?” he asked.
“Just one. I only take two if it’s really bad.”
Joaquin sat him up and gave Amado one of his pills.
“Jesus, you stink,” Amado said.
“We both do. But you dress for the fall, not for the ride, right?”
“That’s right. And your Ma’ says you don’t know anything.”
“No, she doesn’t. Shit.”
Joaquin rummaged through their luggage. He pulled out his cell phone. Fifteen missed calls. A dozen voicemails. Eight text messages. Home. Ma’s cell. Jess. Home. Jess. Home. Home. He didn’t bother with checking the messages. He stepped outside and called his mother.
“Where on earth are you? Where’s your father?” Maggie said.
“We’re fine. We’re at a hotel. Calm down.”
“Your sister is here asking where your father is. The kids are asking about grandpa—”
“We’re fine. We went for a ride. We’re having a great time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Joaquin, he can’t be out in his condition.”
“You wouldn’t have let us. And he’s sitting in the sidecar. Just like he sits on the couch. Same thing, right?”
“No, Joaquin. What if something happens?”
“He has his white jacket and his helmet.” Joaquin felt bad about lying to her about the helmet, but it was necessary. “That jacket held up at triple-digit speeds. The Beemer won’t do over 70.”
“The white jacket, really?” She laughed or sobbed, Joaquin wasn’t sure. “How does he look?”
Now he was sure she was crying.
“We’ll be fine Ma’. He’s asleep. Say hi to everyone.”
“You should come home.”
“Love you, Ma’.”
Joaquin went back inside.
“How mad was she?” Amado asked.
“Worried. Thinks we’re crazy.”
“Well, glad everything is normal.”
“I’m going to shower.” Joaquin paused. “You should, too.”
“I know. I’ll wait.”
Joaquin took a quick, warm shower then directed his attention to his father, still on the bed.
His father didn’t speak or instruct. Joaquin took his father’s jacket and shirt off. He pulled off shoes, socks, and the slacks. Joaquin soaked and soaped a washcloth. He ran it over his father’s pale body. He scrubbed under his arms, his neck, and back. Amado moaned.
“What’s wrong?” Joaquin asked.
“Muscles are tense.”
Joaquin wet his hands and started to massage his father’s legs. Amado sighed. Joaquin turned him over, massaged his lower back, and cried. The tears fell onto the old man. Joaquin rubbed the tears into his father’s back, which was decorated with scars from accidents on the track. He dried his father off, turned him over, and put pillows under his head and feet.
“Goodnight, son,” Amado said.
Joaquin kissed him goodnight. They had a long day ahead of them.
© A.J. Ortega
A.J. Ortega is a writer from Texas. He lives in Utah where he teaches English. His writing has appeared in Front Porch Journal, American Book Review, Rio Grande Review, Southwestern American Literature, The Texas Review, and various newspapers and websites. He’s working on his first collection of short stories. He’s an active member of the Popular Culture Association, where his presentations focus on professional wrestling, combat sports, and Mexican American identity.