Happy birthday, pandemic! It’s been a long, strange year since the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading like wildfire and the world went into lockdown. With vaccinations rolling out, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But this time last year? Not so much.
Days before the initial lockdown in California, Honda had delivered a couple of new motorcycles to us. One was a Monkey in a new color, Pearl Glittering Blue. My original plans for it were nebulous at best. Honestly, I just loved the color, and I figured the story would come to me when it was ready. As it turned out, I was right, in an unexpected way.
The streets in my neighborhood were eerily empty. Shops and restaurants were closed, so there was nowhere to go even if you wanted to. Even the beach was off-limits. There wasn’t a lot of smiling going on, as we all tried to find our footing in this suddenly off-balance world. When I looked at the Monkey it brought back fond memories of the press launch event, held what felt like a millennium ago on Catalina Island. Wherever we rode, people mirrored our smiles. The cute little Monkey bike is impossible to frown at.
“That’s what we really need now,” I remember thinking one day last April. “A reason to smile.”
So I grabbed my open-face helmet and headed out for a ride. You’ll never ride far on a Monkey, but around town, topping out around 35 or 40, it’s the bees’ knees. I stuck to residential streets, many of them with people in the front yard, grilling or gardening. Mothers walked with kids in tow. No one was smiling. And there I was, putt-putting by on a miniature motorcycle with 12-inch balloon tires, ponytail giving a 25-mph wave, enjoying the rare sensation of the breeze on my face and grinning the grin that the little Honda Monkey provokes. And people smiled back.
COVID-19 might be contagious, but so is happiness.
Small businesses everywhere were struggling, including the karate dojo where I trained three times a week B.C. (Before COVID). Like many others, the Sensei (head instructor) was scrambling to adapt to the “new normal,” transitioning to online Zoom classes even as he lost students to their own economic struggles. We wanted to show our support for him and for the dojo, so we organized another new normal activity: the drive-by party. Minivans and pickups filled with kids in their white karate uniforms lined up for the parade, festooned with signs that read, “We love you Sensei Shawn.”
When I rode up to join the line, wearing my white karate gi and my blue belt matching the Monkey’s paint perfectly, it was decided that I’d lead the parade. It’s Monkey magic.
We motorcyclists are often seen as part of some dangerous societal fringe, but I like to remind the Average Jane or Joe that we’re just like them. We ride because it brings joy to our hearts and cleanses the mind and soul. It’s exactly what we needed in those early days of the lockdown, and what we will continue to need in the days ahead. The little Honda Monkey, as it turns out, tells that story very well. In the face of despair and darkness, it induces smiles and connection. It’s a super-spreader of happiness.