It was December 1983, and I was with my sister and brother-in-law in Nevis, West Indies. I was completely dumbfounded when, in renting a car at the tiny airport, I was only asked when I would return. There was no paperwork or contracts, the only requirement to show a drivers license. The owner of the vehicle confirmed our agreement as to the rate ($25 per day), asked when I would return the car, and just handed me the keys.
Upon arriving at my inn, the first question I had was to the inn owner about this car rental transaction - the most puzzling and lackadaisical I have ever seen in my life. He said to be assured, the owner would know my whereabouts at any given moment. I asked how that was possible. He told me that Nevis was a very small place (the island nation only has a population of 12,000), and everyone knew everything. I asked how any problems would be resolved. He assured me that everything would be fine, just don't have an accident. This was not comforting at all.
Equally discomforting was a comment made about the safety of motorcycles by a good friend I had in high school who owned many bikes. I have written about him before - you can read the story here. My impression of motorcycles was that of a vehicle which left the driver incredibly vulnerable, sheer lunacy to travel on vehicular roadways completely unprotected. I asked his opinion about the safety of riding such a thing, and his answer still rings in my mind whenever I see a biker on the road: "A motorcycle is the safest vehicle on the road up to the point of impact."
Up to the point of impact. What the hell did that mean? What it means, quite simply, is that the prospects for those in a motorcycle accident are indeed grim and, like renting a car in Nevis, the best advice is just don't have an accident.
On Sunday, on returning from Queens in a car on the Long Island Expressway, I witnessed the most outrageous and terrifying display of motorcycle mania I have ever seen. Hundreds of bikers, many in costumes, absolutely clogged the road with every manner of maneuvers imaginable. Screeching, squealing, weaving only inches between vehicles, driving between lanes and jettisoning sideways across lanes with no margin for safety. The smell of burning rubber lingered in my car after the episode.
I desperately wanted to tell them two very important things I had learned: just don't have an accident and, although they appeared extraordinarily skilled, their skills would only be good, up to the point of impact...