April 27, 2003: Headlines: COS - Colombia: Stories: Motorcycles: PCOL Exclusive: La Moto Sala (Bad Luck Motorcycle)

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Colombia: Peace Corps Colombia : The Peace Corps in Colombia: April 27, 2003: Headlines: COS - Colombia: Stories: Motorcycles: PCOL Exclusive: La Moto Sala (Bad Luck Motorcycle)

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - on Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - 8:44 pm: Edit Post

La Moto Sala (Bad Luck Motorcycle)

La Moto Sala (Bad Luck Motorcycle)

Read and comment on this story written by Colombia RPCV Dennis Lynch about a motorcylce he owned as a Peace Corps Volunteer and the trouble he had keeping it from being stolen. Note: In Cartagena Spanish, this episode would be titled (La Moto Sala' ie. La Moto Salada--meaning "Bad Luck Motorcycle"). Cartagena Spanish is the approximate equivalent of Jamaican English, a Caribbean patois that often baffles the ear of even Colombians from the interior of the country because so many letters are not pronounced and it is spoken so rapidly. Read the story

La Moto Sala (Bad Luck Motorcycle)

...one night I caught a young scoundrel just as he was accelerating away, stealing (with a skeleton key) my new Yamaha trail bike--when he jumped off the bike and ran (taking his key with him), I jumped onto it, jammed my own key into the ignition, and pursued him on the sidewalk right into the dining room between the tables of a large nearby beach hotel which was full of Saturday night diners--a short physical confrontation between us sent him to the floor, but he scrambled to his feet and escaped back out to the street with me again in pursuit (I never dismounted the bike, and the engine never shut off)--with a roaring doughnut in the middle of the tile floor and without running over any patrons, the chase was on.

About two blocks down the street the would-be thief stopped running, out of breath and, as I dismounted the bike and looked around trying to decide what to do with him now that I had caught him, realized the entire crowd of diners had emptied the restaurant to chase our drama down the street to its conclusion in the middle of an intersection--a bystander had grasped the thief from behind by the shirt and by his hair and demanded he give up the key clenched in his hand and with which he had stolen the motorcycle. When he refused, someone stepped forward and whacked the fellow such a good one in the snout that he hurled the key over his shoulder, right into the hands of another bystander who then stepped forward and handed it to me. I thanked the crowd of over a hundred "for coming to my assistance" to catch the thief, and it seemed that the event satisfied their quest for excitement that Saturday night, plus their sense of justice that a thief had been caught and punished.

The following Monday afternoon, on my eighth visit to the local Motor Vehicle Department, dutifully trying to register my new motorcycle, a bus driver coming down the boulevard discovered he had no brakes and chose between me sitting on the bike emerging from a driveway and a car attempting a U-turn in front of him--the impact threw me out of the path of the bus but pulled the motorcycle under it and dragged it a couple hundred feet tangled in the bus's axles. Though I was knocked unconscious, a pickup truck full of medical students on their way to the nearby University Hospital was right behind the bus, a student neighbor of mine among them, and they tossed me into the back of the truck and I was in the emergency room within minutes. The motorcycle was totaled, but insured, and due to the miracle of Colombian motorcycle surgery, within six months it was once again operational and streetworthy. I lost a tooth and tore some shoulder ligaments, but a walking cane helped me limp to a taxi and go home to lick my wounds.

After going down five times in twenty years, I got really good at licking my wounds--after crash number four, I decided to start wearing shoes while riding (though there are few things in the Caribbean as pleasurable as feeling the air flowing thru your bare toes at highway speeds). A footnote: despite my Irish pale-face heritage, it took two years to fade the tan on my be-sandaled feet back to lily-white after relocating to California and wearing shoes every day as a court interpreter. I even wore sandals to my Caribbean wedding--though I did buy a pair of shoes to wear to other people's weddings...decorum, you know.

Not long after the resurrection of the motorcycle, my bride of eleven months said it was time to go to the delivery room and bear our baby, a shiny new boy-child born at four AM--and, lo, when we later descended to the parking lot, my cherished Yamaha was nowhere to be seen, despite that it had had a heavy chain and padlock on it--thieves had hoisted it onto a truck in the hospital parking lot and carted it off. I was beginning to think that motorcycle was jinxed (and, apparently it was).

I was fortunate to have an American friend who had an older Yamaha that he had stored after his first fall with it, and sold it to me for a modest price. A couple of months later, riding down the street with my wife on the back, we spotted a trail bike similar to the one stolen from me, a young man sitting on it cross-legged while parked near the entrance to the navy base. It was a different color, had different fenders, but had chrome handlebars like the ones that replaced the black originals after my accident with the bus--my wife and I stopped and asked the young man what the problem was as I did a full visual scan of the bike--he said he had run out of gas.

I bent down, looked at the serial number (and voila), pulled my old key out of my pocket, stuck it in the ignition, and the light went on. I hailed down a passing navy officer friend on his motorcycle, informed him we had the fellow who had stolen my bike, and within a minute he sent two MPs jogging over to escort the thief (now pushing my motorcycle) to the entrance of the base-the thief did not try to escape-my wife and I are both six feet tall-she is the tallest Colombian I have ever met, of either gender, and very imposing. As I grasped the handlebars and rocked the bike from side to side, I could hear gas in the tank, opened the reserve lever, and started the engine. The fellow who had the bike knew so little about it that he was unaware that there was still gas in the tank. The look on his face when he saw me start the engine? A Kodak moment.....priceless.

He said a friend had loaned him the motorcycle--I had every reason to believe him. He looked very small sitting on a long wooden bench with three MPs on either side of him, all holding vintage M-1 rifles, all there raining justice down on the young man who took for granted an innocent ride on an expat PCV's stolen motorcycle. Ignorance is no excuse for violating the law--know who your friends are, lest you pay for their crimes.

If I really wanted to press charges against the young man, I would have had to leave the motorcycle with the authorities where it would surely have been dismantled by the time we went to trial, so I opted to keep the bike and thus forego my right to prosecute, a trade-off in the Colombian judicial process. I ended up recovering the motorcycle and giving it back to the agency from which I bought it in exchange for freedom of obligation--it was then sold to one of the agency's own mechanics, from whom it was subsequently stolen, but that is another chapter in the case of the "salted motorcycle"--he decided to change back to the original black handlebars and lose the only real subtle identifying mark it possessed. The last I heard was that the motorcycle was never seen again. Oh, I forgot to mention that in the first week I bought the bike, the rubber air-intake hose under the seat squirmed onto the muffler and melted, preventing oil from mixing with the gas and burning up the engine.

Other than all the above, it was a great motorcycle--every Peace Corps Volunteer should own at least one and learn the meaning of Japanese revenge, true cultural enlightenment. The contraband Yamaha motorcycle I purchased in 1969 from a Navy sailor was only the third such vehicle in the entire city of 200,000 inhabitants at the time--when I departed the city twenty years later, no less than 10,000 such motorcycles were registered to residents who then numbered one million in the same city.


Much to my dismay, one night I inadvertently helped a thief steal a motorcycle without realizing what I had done until.but that is another story in the life of an expat PCV-the road to Hell is truly paved with good intentions--PCVs often need considerable time to overcome our level of naivete.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: PCOL Exclusive

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Colombia; Stories; Motorcycles



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