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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow
By Mike Lauterborn
(Ran as front page feature Fairfield Sun newspaper Sept 9)
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Mother to three children. Girl Scout leader for 10 years. Girls soccer coach for 2 years. Constant chauffeur. Home camp supervisor. Always unselfishly doing for others. Now it’s her turn and her time and the road is her escape.

When Kathleen Silva Tempini, or simply “Kate”, ventures out on her Honda Shadow, she turns heads. Not only is her gleaming cruiser-style motorcycle a beauty, she’s a beauty. At 55, she’s a vision with her slim figure, red-highlighted mane of brown hair tumbling down to her shoulders and sea green eyes sparkling like the sun glinting off the surface of a Caribbean sea. When she’s astride her bike, she makes a “look at me, I’m free” statement, though she would modestly tell you that’s not intentional.

Earliest Inspiration
Kate was born and raised in Monroe, CT, one of four girls in her family -- a middle child with an identical twin. Her dad was a professional truck driver, mom was a homemaker. “I always had the feeling that I could try anything at least once and cross gender boundaries. Dad took us all fishing on Sunday mornings and clamming… he had us paint the house, help move furniture, gut and clean fish, take wiggly eels off a hook, horseback ride. So why not try a cheaper version of the horse?”

She started humbly at first. Dad had a “sit-down” lawnmower and Kate “ran it so much that it ran out of oil and cracked the block.” As punishment, her dad made her mow the yard with a push mower all that summer. She had a go-kart, too, with a little motor. Monroe was very rural back in the 50s and 60s when she was growing up there, so there was a lot of room for riding around.

First Bike
Kate’s first bike was a 1972 Honda CT90, purchased used from a woman in 1978, when Kate was 23. This model was a tough, inexpensive and reliable single-cylinder Trail cycle that, notably, the Hondells immortalized in a 1964 song called “Little Honda”. The song referred to the cycle as “a groovy little motorbike.”

She fondly remembers the summer of 1980 when, as a student on break from Johnson and Wales University, she took the bike out to Block Island. Its 2-speed torque, small size and easy handling allowed her to ride on the sand and go watercress picking, fishing and beaching… or just cruise in the dunes.

Kate held onto the bike, shipping it from place to place, through married life and children, and still has it in her garage. She had a mechanic service it, got it running again and taught both of her daughters – Laura, 18, a freshman at Champlain College, and Holly, 16, a junior at Roger Ludlowe High School – to ride as well as one of her daughter’s boyfriends.

A Re-Awakening
“When my son [Bryan, now 19, but at the time a junior in high school] said, ‘You care too much about the family and not about yourself,’ I reinvented myself.” She redid her resume and landed a job as an ultrasound technician with a local fertility practice. Kate loves the position – “The first heartbeat… unbelievable… I can’t imagine being any happier or more fulfilled… except when I’m riding.”

After raising three kids over the past 20 years (the last 16 of which have been spent in the Fairfield Beach Area), juggling daily schedules, running a day camp out of her home, being a Girl Scout leader, coaching girls soccer and shuttling her son to sports competitions, she realized her own sense of self had gotten lost in the mix.

“When Bryan left for college two years ago, I felt somewhat abandoned. I never thought about who I was or what I liked. I unselfishly thought about the kids. I got the old bike running and started riding everywhere, doing errands, etc.” But this was not enough.

“I decided I needed to get a bigger bike… like I wanted to go further, not just around town, and needed something more reliable,” she concluded. “My little bike would crap out when I put the headlight on. I started looking for a small cruiser-style bike.”

Bike II
“I found a 250cc Honda Rebel that belonged to a little old man in Pennsylvania. It was pearl white. I knew local instruction classes were conducted on Honda Rebels, so I figured it would be reliable,” reasoned Kate.

“I rented a truck from Enterprise, motored to this little trailer park in Altoona, PA and paid $3,000 cash to the seller,” she said. “He rode that bike right up the wooden ramp into the truck with a last hurrah!” remembered Kate, an amused grin spreading across her face.

The upgrade meant she would need to get a license, which she described as a “hard” process. “Practicing maneuvers, panic stops and serpentines down at the marina in Fairfield proved to be a great training ground. I obtained my permit and prepared for the test. On test day, I steeled myself and rode rather shakily on 95 down to Norwalk. Believing body language accounts for a lot, I tried to look tough but was terrified. All the riders gathered. Talk about intimidating… I was one woman amongst 21 men. Somewhere in the middle of the group, I was called. My raw fear took over, I stalled the bike, could not repeat any of my previously mastered skills on the course and subsequently failed.”

That could have been the end of it, but Kate returned to the DMV. “One of the nicest employees there returned my paperwork and gave me a huge dose of empathy. She said, ‘Honey, those boys just ate you up alive. You come back in two weeks and try again.’ Through tears and thoughts of resignation, I rescheduled a repeat test… and passed! The rest is history. Now I feel like Pippi Longstocking flying in the breeze and nearly always sing to myself while riding.” Smiling, she adds, “My daughter did not always like me showing up at Field Hockey practice on my bike, so I keep it low key when I need to. But inside I am on Broadway singing my heart out, riding and steering the bike like a good cutting horse.”

Kate held onto the bike for about a year and a half then sold it to a 19-year-old woman, last fall. “I felt I’d outgrown it, and had begun to entertain the thought of joining a motorcycle group. I knew I would need more than 250cc’s to keep up.”

Out of the Shadows
“I found a Honda Shadow at a Honda dealer in Hicksville, Long Island,” Kate related. Specifically, the bike is a 2007 Honda Shadow VTX Deluxe 600cc, “a stepping stone” Kate says from her last bike and a good fit for her 5’7” build.

“I drove in my husband’s truck to the dealer, brought the bike back to J & R’s (an auto repair shop on the Post Road in Fairfield) and backed up to the lift.” When it was lowered down, she left her “husband’s truck right there, got on the bike and rode it home… no plate, no nothing, I was so excited. I was hooting and hollering (inside) like I was in my own parade! It’s got a fat-ass back tire -- that makes me feel good.”

New Beginnings
A friend acknowledged the purchase with a gift of a silver “Guardian Bell”, with the engraving “Lady Rider” on it, which now hangs from the front area of her bike. Legend has it that Evil Road Spirits have been latching themselves on to motorcycles for as long as there have been bikes on the road, and are thought to be responsible for mechanical problems and bad luck on a journey. By attaching a small bell onto your bike, the spirits theoretically become trapped inside the bell. There, the constant ringing drives them insane, making them lose their grip and fall to the ground. Apparently the bell is twice as powerful when given to the rider by a friend or loved one, as in Kate’s case.

Kate also purchased a pink helmet and a windshield and rides with an iPod. As to clothing, she favors equestrian-style riding chaps, a leather jacket and boots with “no square tip”. s

A Woman in the Wind
Kate learned about a women’s motorcycle club -- the Nutmeg Chapter of a national organization called “Women in the Wind” – thought she’d find fellowship with them and joined. “I can call up one of the members when I get out of work at noon and say, ‘let’s go riding’. I like the solitude, the smell of the lilacs, that briny smell by the sea.”

Like a line from the Al Jolson tune “Me and My Shadow”, for Kate, life going forward “is gonna be we-wow-whee for my shadow and me!”

J & R to the Rescue!

Fairfield, CT – It took a few helping hands at Fairfield’s J&R Service Station to help Kate Tempini realize her dream.

“Kate was supposed to take the bike home and unload it there,” said station owner John Ellis, 54, about the day the Fairfield mom called on him for help with the Honda Shadow motorcycle she’d just purchased. “But she didn’t have enough bodies to help. So she came here, thinking that the three of us (Ellis, lead tech Ronnie Farrington, 45, and tech Roberto Zurlo, 35) could lift it off (the back of her husband’s truck). She was really excited about riding it!”

As he recalled the process, Ellis said, “We backed the truck up into the back bay and used the drive-on ramp to unload it. Ronnie sat on top of it while we moved it off. As soon as we got it on the ground, she hopped right on and drove off!”

Kate made a follow-up visit to J&R two days later. “She had gotten her registration and had the bike all waxed and polished,” said Ellis. “It looked beautiful!”

Ellis has known Tempini for 14 years, first encountering her while she was a waitress at Avellino’s Restaurant, right next door. “We’ve worked on her family’s cars for years,” said Ellis. “That’s why she figured we could do it. She knows we are creative problem solvers.”

“Kate’s very bubbly. No moss grows under her feet. She’s very active, very giving,” continued Ellis. “I didn’t know she was a ‘biker chick’ and that she’d owned bikes in the past! She’s having fun running around town in her little pink helmet!”

Ellis related Kate’s story to a customer, former Fairfielder and now Lordship resident, Carolyn Angelo. “A lot of bikers go down our street. I always get a kick out of ‘senior’ bikers. They’re so joyful. Good for Kate!”