Dads, motorcycles, golf and beer

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Father’s Day is Sunday, so I thought I’d cover a few topics that the dads out there might enjoy; motorcycles, golf and beer.

I rode my first motorcycle in sixth grade, after more than a year of my dad driving me around to mow lawns for neighbors and family friends. I saved every penny I could, and finally earned enough to buy a 1985 Honda XR250 — a stable, four-stroke dirt bike that filled my summer days and after-school times with joy as I scrambled around the hills and valleys near our log cabin in Westmond.

Those times were some of the first instances of freedom that I experienced in life. I’d say farewell in the morning and fill my tank with gas from the garage, then disappear for hours at a time. A few friends also had dirt bikes, and we’d sometimes meet up on Loop Road to create healthy mischief. Most of the time, though, it was just me on my dirt bike, exploring the world that I would soon join as an adult.

Years later, I bought my first real motorcycle — one that I still own. I was managing the Downtown Crossing bar on First Avenue (the building now gone due to fire) and managed to accrue $600 from tips over three days of Lost in the ’50s. A friend mentioned his uncle had an old 1980 Kawasaki 750 LTD that wasn’t used anymore and we drove out to have a look at it on that Sunday — my eyes still swollen from no sleep, the stack of small bills still reeking of whiskey and failed dreams.

Although it was probably worth double that, I was able to hand over my entire pile of tips from the weekend and purchased the Kawasaki. I derived some strange satisfaction that tips from a bunch of sweaty drunks were what I used to purchase the bike. I rode that thing everywhere, not only to save money on fuel, but because I loved the feeling of the wind in my hair.

One year, during a warm stretch in January, I packed everything that would fit on the bike and rode all the way down to Mexico, stopping along the way to camp and visit with friends. The trip was a success, except for the incident about 10 miles south of Portland when the drive chain snapped in half and sent me skidding across five lanes of freeway traffic, narrowly missing a couple of cars and screeching to a stop on the side of the road. It was terrifying, but I fixed the bike, picked myself up and kept riding.

Just recently, I brought the bike out of storage again after a few years off. I’m a terrible mechanic. There is no Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in my world — only cursing and clumsy attempts to fix simple problems while, ultimately, creating more problems along the way. Thankfully, I met a new friend named Ezra who helped me clean the carbs out and smooth over a few problems that needed work. The old bike is running as clean as it ever has, and I’m enjoying the hell out of my time with it this season.

I had a similar experience with golf, except it was my stepdad who first took me golfing. I despised the man, as many 14-year-olds whose parents had recently divorced would, but after he took me golfing for the first time, I fell in love with the sport. Eventually, I took a job washing golf carts at Hidden Lakes Golf Resort — now the Idaho Club — and spent eight years of my life working out there.

Those years are some of the most formative in my life, working for Ken Parker, Mike Deprez and Jamie Packer — each of them teaching me something important about life that I haven’t forgotten.

I was never a scratch golfer, but I enjoyed it enough to pursue it as a career. I began teaching lessons and worked as a PGA professional for a number of years before my taste for golf ultimately waned, too.

After watching the course rearrange itself multiple times and, eventually, price the local members out, I wanted nothing to do with the sport or the business anymore. Like everything else in life, it seemed, golf betrayed me, showing me that it was indeed only about money, not the love of the game.

I hung up my clubs for close to 15 years, only playing a couple random games until last season, when something kicked loose and I realized I was yearning to swing a club again. I picked up the dusty old sticks and started hacking at the ball again. It was a painful road back, but I’m now feeling my swing return, like a stray dog who finally made his way home.

Finally: beer. The first beer I tasted in life was Milwaukee’s Best. My dad loved beer. He would always drive home from work carrying a six-pack missing at least one can. He always said the same joke when we ran out to welcome him home: “Looks like the store gave me a five-pack again.” While watching TV, he would send me to the fridge on the back porch for another can. One day, after I delivered it, he cracked open the tab, handed it to me and said, “Want a sip?”

I took the sip. It tasted horrible, but also good? Years later, there is nothing more satisfying than drinking a cold beer on a hot day after working in the yard — the cheaper the better.

I can’t help but trace back all of these passions of mine to a father figure. Without them, I may have never ridden a motorcycle. I may have never picked up a golf club. I may not have continued to drink crappy beer. It’s the simple things in life, I guess.

Happy Father’s Day, dads.

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