Leno’s Coolest Gesture of All Time

There we were, my pal Dana and I, riding company-owned bikes on a Sunday morning up in the southern California hills near Malibu figuring we’d eventually end up at one of the country’s best-known motorcycle haunts, The Rock Store, for coffee and breakfast.

In my mirrors, I see a lone rider, approaching very fast. His headlight is enormous and the bike’s got a superb rumbling exhaust note that I can hear even from a quarter mile in front of him. At a stop sign, I watch as he blasts up right next to me, reaches out with his left foot and gives me a kick in the leg. Before I can wet my pants, he flips his visor up and it’s Jay Leno, who we’d just watched recording his show two nights before. He was riding a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning — one of the world’s most revered, lusted over and rare motorcycles — tuned for racing. Easily worth well into six figures. God what a bike. We followed Jay and his riding pal/mechanic up to the Rock Store and that’s where the fun began.

As we dismounted our bikes, a geeky dude (he was wearing khakis and sneakers, if that’s any indication) waddled his tall BMW GS up next to Jay’s bike and and hopped off. We’re not ten steps from our bikes when we hear a shout and turn around just in time to see the BMW tip over and hit Jay’s museum piece, which in turn falls over and hits his buddy’s bike, which falls over onto mine while promptly plops onto Dana’s. All bikes are fine except Jay’s. The 40+year-old fiberglass on his fairing just exploded in lots of small pieces, a mirror was gone, brake level mauled, etc. Within seconds, with riders running over to help pull the bikes upright, Jay lightened the mood by pointing at my bike and shouting, “Hey! That’s Sonny Barger’s bike!” (Barger, if the name’s not a bell-ringer, is founding president of the Hell’s Angels.)

The BMW guy looks like somebody who knows he’s about to get machine-gunned and puts his head in his hands. A large crowd has gathered by now and everybody’s muttering about what a great tragedy this is. Jay put his arm on the BMW guy’s shoulder and walked him away from the group to settle him down while Dana and I ran into the Rock Store to buy a roll of duct tape. (Can’t imagine why they’d have it there. Can you?)

With Jay’s mechanic pal leading the effort (wish I could remember his name. Help me out if you know it), we taped up what we could and jerry-rigged enough to make the bike operable. Jay said, “Let’s get outta here before this gets worse,” and we began a slow and careful ride back down the mountain.

Just before the freeway, we stopped at a burger joint to get a more thorough assessment of the damage and to de-compress. When we were seated, I said to Jay, “Wow. I’ve got to say, you really handled that well back there. I think most people in your shoes would have had a coronary.” His response was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever heard. “Well, I could see the guy felt terrible so I didn’t want to make him feel any worse. And besides, the way I look at it, I’ll just write a check and the problem’s solved.”

God bless America. Don’t you wish you had a fat enough wallet to say something like that?

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