Wheel-Standing up Kings Cross

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

SOMETIMES WHEN I was younger, I did the odd thing I’m not proud of. Some of those thing were plain dumb, but Jeez, they all seemed like a lot of fun at the time.

We’d turned up to a street party in Woods Lane, Darlinghurst, a polluted tributary of the sewer that is Kings Cross and East Sydney. A shitload of us had ridden over from the Northern Beaches, full of booze and bad manners. I suppose we only added to the rich tapestry of life represented at this soiled soiree. As it turned out, it was a party celebrating a marriage but I didn’t find out this and other important details until a few days later. Like I said, we were all pretty maggoted as we stood around yappin’ and groovin’ to the music.

Judy and Lindsay Apartheid’s place was a converted garage that led straight off narrow Woods Lane. It was tiny, with the bedroom big enough for a double bed and nothing else; the kitchen, lounge room and everything else were in the front half of the ex-single car garage, with a 900 mm high bench half-separating the two halves. It had a backyard big enough for a Ducati and a Triumph, but that was all. Not ideal for a bike owner and I never worked out how they got the bikes through to the backyard. It was a given that all their parties would be street parties.

Virtually every address in that God-forsaken lane was the same, and if the Heritage Council ever found out the reason for this style of urban landscape, they’d slap a preservation order on quick smart. That’s because all these little converted garages were being used as knock-shops at the height of the Swinging Sixties when brothel owners were being blown up and shot dead weekly. And if that’s not part of Old Sydney Town’s rich history, then nothing is.

The street party was raging, there seemed like ten thousand people there, and I still had about three-quarters of a slab of Toohey’s Old left. Good people and good grog—two-thirds of the ingredients for a perfect do—but there were no bloody nibblies. I was so hungry I could a eat a horse and chase the rider. The fella to whom I was talking was of the same opinion. It was the first thing we’d agreed on, as he was trying to convince me that his Kawasaki 900 was the best bike in history and I was telling him it couldn’t be, because all Jap bikes were shit.

It was decided that we’d go up the Cross and get a burger or something. Dilemma time. I couldn’t leave the beers at the party (not all the people were good) and I always believed that walking through Kings Cross on a Saturday night with a collapsing slab of beer under the arm was inviting trouble on all different levels.

“Jump on the back of the Kwakka,” my new friend Steve goaded. “That’s if you can handle being on a real bike,” he added with a sneer.

In those days everyone had helmet exemptions so no hats were necessary; off we choofed on a shitbox Kwakka with a case of Toohey’s under one arm.

We’d no sooner turned onto William Street that Steve asked, “Are you hanging on?”

“S’pose so,” I replied because I supposed I was hanging on enough for any normal eventuality.

Turns out a normal eventuality for Steve was a monster two-up wheel-stand amongst all the other late-night drunks and fools you’d likely meet travelling up William Street. Through first gear, into second, and then third, the Kwakka stood up tall on the back wheel.

Now, I don’t know the performance specs on a Kwakka 900, but if you’re doing a wheelie, ya gotta keep that throttle on, and by the time you get to third gear on one of those bikes, well ya just gotta be expeeding the seed limit (and all that was worked out while under the affluence of alcohol).

Steve finally put the front wheel down and we speared up the ramp that turned left onto Darlinghurst Road and into the disgusting guts of Kings Cross.

Darlinghurst Road was always one big traffic jam back then. That didn’t worry Steve though—he even managed to pop a little wheelie down the centre line between the grid-locked cars.

About opposite the Pink Pussycat club, the middle aisle was so skinny that wheel-stands were impossible (thank bloody Christ for that!) but threading through at walking pace, we ran into problems in the shape of a large group of sailors, some of whom were yelling, “Hey, he’s got beer, giz a can, will ya mate?”

I figured they were RAN blokes as they were all bad tattoos, shithouse haircuts, big biceps and drunk.

“Hit it, Steve,” I yelled as he popped a pathetic little wheelie which almost—but didn’t quite—took off about 30 wing mirrors.

We arrived at Springfield Avenue and more trouble—a group of cops were standing around a General Duties Holden Kingwood cop car. As they ran towards us, pleading with us to behave, good ol’ Steve-O chucked a radical U-turn and howled off back from whence we came. Of course, within 50 yards, we were confronted by an even larger group of drunken sailors playing in the traffic. It was different this time, though. They all stood aside to let us pass.

“Let ’em through, lads, the wallopers are after ’em,” one of them shouted. “Giz a can, will ya?” he added hopefully.

Threading through the thinning traffic of Darlinghurst Road at the Top of the Cross, Steve yelled over his shoulder, “So all Jap bikes are still shit?”

“They do good wheel-stands,” I shouted back.

Then, for some unknown reason, I did what I did so well when I was a young man, and that was to snatch total annihilation out of the jaws of defeat. “I reckon my mate Skraps could do better two-up wheel-stands on his old Trumpy,” I goaded.

Things went quiet from the rider’s seat as we turned right to go down the steep on-ramp from Darlinghurst Road to William Street.

“Can your mate Skraps do this?” Steve said as he proceeded to hang a gi-normous, number-plate-dragging mono all the way down the on-ramp and all the way up to at least 4th gear. Man, we were flyin’, so much so that when the nose wheel finally hit the tarmac again, the front tyre chirped rather loudly and set up an annoying shake, rattle and roll.

I wanted to do a modified version of Jake’s quote from The Blues Brothers where he quietly says, “The car’s got a lot of pick-up,” but I was too busy shitting myself, and besides, the film hadn’t been released yet.

Steve wasn’t sure which street we needed to turn left into to find Woods Lane again. To be honest, in all the confusion, I kinda lost count myself. But I was still aware enough to realise that this sort of riding in a crowded place usually attracted cops.

“Hey listen, Steve,” I yelled over his shoulder. “If you get pulled over by the cops, let me off and I’ll stall them while you piss off—I’m not carrying my licence and I’m not doing the wheel-stands so I’m in the clear.”

No sooner had I spoken when sirens and blue lights came on about 50 yards behind us. Steve did a quick left turn into a narrow laneway and skidded to a stop.

“Here’s your chance, hero,” he yelled as I stepped gracefully off the left pillion peg.

He hadn’t really stopped completely, and as he gunned that sucker again, I sort of got spun around rather badly, ending up staggering backwards trying to keep my balance. Running backwards at about 18 km/h with a case of beer under my arm up some narrow lane in Darlinghurst gave me a fantastic, ringside view of what occurred next.

The wonderful, low-level aerobatics show involved an XC Falcon 351 Coupe cop car (just like Mad Max’s, only white, and the Mad Max movie hadn’t been released yet either). The cop car had attempted the same tight left-hand turn into the lane, but not done it so well, crashing over the corner of the gutter and becoming slightly airborne. When the wheels hit the deck again, the brakes locked all wheels, as the cop car could go no further because there was a drunken fool with a case of Toohey’s Old under his arm running backwards up the lane.

It would’ve needed three different camera angles and the video referee to prove the cop car didn’t actually knock me over but I’ll admit that I took a dive. It did get me a bit as I had some serious bark off both my shins, and the car was actually right on top of me as I laid flat on my back on the road. My beer cans were sprayed all over the road and some were even punctured; a few cans were making wild, hissing, Catherine wheel-style sprays as they rolled down the lane into Palmer Street. My tootie-toes were being toasted by heat from the extractors and man, there was some hot air coming off the motor!

Just my head and shoulders were sticking out from under the front bumper bar when the two cops jumped out to check on my welfare. They were absolutely shitting themselves, judging by the quavering tone of their voices as they kept asking, “Are you all right, mate?”

The driver backed the car off me and they checked me out. “Are you okay?” they kept asking.

A smarter, more rat-cunning mongrel would’ve lain doggo, waited for the ambulance and then plotted escape from a hospital bed, but not me, not good ol’ Dufusbrain.

“Do you think you can stand up?” one of them asked.

“Um, I think so,” I answered honestly and like a dickhead, stood up.

“Do you think you can walk?” enquired the other.

“Um, I think so,” I stupidly answered again.

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” they both said in unison as they looked at each other like they were Heckle and Jeckle. And so the flogging began.

The long, long passenger door of the coupe was thrown wide open, the passenger seat tilted forward and I was thrown into the back seat of the cop car.

It’s funny what thoughts go through your mind in situations like this. Mine was remembering reading contemporary road test reports of the Falcon Coupe and how they all mentioned that rear seat access was easy. “Yeah, easy,” I thought. “But only if the passenger actually wants to get in.”

A few serious swipes of the baton made access possible and a couple of threatening waves helped keep me there. I was more concerned with covering up than recalling that those same road test reports also criticized the lack of headroom in the back. A really comprehensive road test would’ve bemoaned the total lack of baton-swinging room in the back. Lucky for some, I say.

And here’s the really funny thing. While the off-sider was hunkering over the headrest teaching me the meaning of the word ‘respect’, and the driver was murmuring, “Err, I think that might be enough, matey,” and I was cowering down as deep as the plush black vinyl seat would allow, all three of us missed the most amazing sight. Right there on the footpath at the top of the laneway, a bloke named Steve was frantically hopping around his Kawasaki 900. It was up on its centre-stand, the seat was lifted up and flames, smoke and sparks were leaping from the under-seat area. The fantastic Kawasaki had stalled and caught fire not 50 feet from where he dumped me off. I only found this out the next day but he reckons the V8 Coupe rumbled past within five foot of where he stood waiting to be spotted. And nobody saw him!

At Darlo lock-up, I was flung through the doors and into a fairly full cell. It was my first time in a cell and I’ve gotta tell ya, I didn’t like it one bit. Like Arlo Guthrie from Alice’s Restaurant, there were mother rapers and father stabbers standing there right next to me in the cell. Some of them even tried to make friends but I just kept my distance, hanging on to the bars, waiting to be let out.

Admittedly, I could almost see the TV the sergeant had on the desk. The England vs. Australia Rugby League Test was live on tele, and you wouldn’t believe it, but the Sarge actually angled the box so we could see the action. Good old Sarge! It was a great game and pretty soon we were all slapping each other on the back and talking about all neat criminal stuff and everything.

Life went on and I was let out in the morning. Not long after sunrise, I was hitting the sack in my own bed, checking bruises and grazes, pulling all the loose tufts of hair from my head and wondering if perhaps I could’ve done things better than I did.

By lunchtime, it was time to get on the bike, head off to a mate’s BBQ and prepare for a Sunday night up the Harbord Diggers club.

Just another average weekend…

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