Gene advised yesterday that he wanted to spend four days in L.A. visiting with his daughter and son in law. I understand. I’ve been studying the maps all day; reconfiguring routes, stretching miles per day, and trying to decide if I ride on as planned once we hit Santa Monica with Gene meeting up with me after his visit. I could stay with Gene for the four days but…what’s there to do in Los Angeles?

Planning the Trip: Harleys, Country Fried Steak and Gravy, Great Craic, A Trip to the Harley Shop, Beef Jerky and Cookie Selling Scouts and Zen

Our USA Rand McNally map was inaugurated successfully yesterday with coffee cup stains and bits of country fried steak and white gravy at Wes-Man’s restaurant in White, Georgia. Jeff and I unfolded the big map on the table and we began pointing at routes with our forks. “Can we get to Fort Smith the first day?” Jeff asked his fork hovering over Arkansas.  

     “Buddy,” I replied, “I think that might be a wee bit much.” I realized immediately and regrettably that I had used the Northern Irish vernacular “wee” in the sentence. Sixteen years in Northern Ireland leaves its trace in your language as well as your heart. The other day he had asked me how the Briar’s Club Night had been at Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome and I had responded: “Terrific. The craic was great! Ninety.”

     “The what?” He had asked. “You boys using crack cocaine?”

     I laughed. “No, craic in Northern Ireland means…” I rolled my hands trying to think, “great banter, a really enjoyable time, good clean fun.”

     He eyed me suspiciously. “And ninety?”

     I raised my shoulders. “For some reason that’s the best the craic can get. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t make up the rules about it.”

     But now Jeff was shaking his head again and had a look on his face like he’d just smelled something bad. “Look here pal, don’t you start saying “wee” again. I’ve told you that real men don’t use the word “wee’! I don’t want to hear any of that Irish lingo. We’re Americans, tough bikers and we’re about to ride cross country on our Harleys.  We’re gonna look and sound like bikers!”

     I ignored him. “Jeff, Atlanta to Ft Smith would be about 700 miles. Unless, you’re practicing for the Iron Butt competition that’s a … bit much for our first day. Why don’t we stop in Memphis. I’ve never been there.”

     He shook his head in agreement. So at least we had our first destination planned: Memphis.

     After eating we drove down the road to the Cartersville Harley Davidson where a big shindig was going on. The place was packed with bikes and pickup trucks. Outside people were mingling, burgers were being grilled and music was blaring. We went inside and were immediately met by uniformed cub scouts and girl scouts selling beef jerky and cookies, respectively. The place was packed with people looking at the over 200 bikes on display for sale.

     I shook my head. “This is bad.” I said as I moseyed over to a magnificent looking bike. “This is a 2013 CVO Road King.” I drooled. “Says the color is ‘diamond dust and obsidian with palladium graphics’.

     “Palladium, I thought those were some of those people living in Sri Lanka?”

     “No those are Dravidians.”

     “No, those are them boys down in Waco Texas.”

     “No, those are Davidians.”

     “Purty bike.” Jeff said.

     “Yeah,” I replied, “and the list price is only $30,000!” I shook my head. “This is bad.”

     “Why?”

     “Cause I want it and I shouldn’t.

     “Why not?”

     “Cause Buddha says that suffering comes from a desire to be something or have something. I want that bike!”

     “Aw man! Don’t go all Zen on me. Bad enough you went Irish on me back at the restaurant.

     “God says the same thing.” I replied defensively.  

       He wandered off and I followed. Jeff looks every bit like the archetype of a biker. Strong, well built, tough sounding, thick grey hair (he was bald for a while), chiseled face, chin bearded, biker swagger, and he had this drawn out way of eyeing you up and staring at you that could make you want to confess sins you hadn’t even committed yet. If you ended up in a fight you wanted Jeff on your side. Even if you were assaulted by jerky and cookie selling kids you wanted him there to protect you.

     I didn’t look like a biker. I looked more like a mad professor, a tamer version of Doc from the Back to the Future films. Make him shorter, chubbier and take away his intelligence and you’ve got me!   

   I followed Jeff around as he pointed out things I needed for the trip. Before we got out of there Jeff had hooked me up with saddlebag liners, a three pocket windshield pouch attachment, a personal electronics magnetic pouch to hold my phone on my fuel tank, some Plexus plastic cleaner, Bugslide (“The Cleaner, Polisher and Bug Remover with Attitude”) and some beef jerky and cookies.

     With a handshake and a manly hug we said our goodbyes and agreed to meet next Friday at Old Havana in Rome to smoke a cigar and continue our planning.    

Reconcilling Motorcycle Riding Differences: Speed and Expressing Loving-Kindness

Jeff and I have a lot of things in common when we ride our Harleys. We love the muffled, chortling sounds they make when you’re accelerating, climbing the gears, slowing down. These are not the extremely loud unbaffled shouts some bikes make when the rider is seeking attention. Our bikes are different: as we slalom through the countryside our bikes make the sounds of strength, determination, gratitude and reverence.  My bike, maybe a bit more.

We love the smells too. I can still remember the sweet scents of confederate jasmine and wisteria I inhaled as I rode around the squares in Savannah on my old BMW. The smell of pine straw burning always brings me back to autumns of my youth.  Certain scents take us through the vaulted aisle of memory to moments of our past. The French writer Marcel Proust, the author of “In Search of Lost Time” wrote that “after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone,” remain “like souls, remembering, waiting  and hoping…”.

Up here in Northwest Georgia I’m attracted more by the alluring scents of wood burning fires, and the wafting aroma from barbecue joints. In some future posts I want to write about the scents -good and ugly- that one encounters on a motorcycle but now I have more serious issues to address.

While Jeff and I clearly have riding themes in common, admittedly, we’re going to have a few challenges reconciling our differences in how we like to ride on a trip. For one thing, Jeff’s always in a hurry. He wants to get to the next destination as quickly as possible. To him the trip is not about the journey it’s about speed (fast), miles (lots of),interstates (loves them),  destinations, coffee, meals, cigarette breaks, verbally insulting me and looking cool on his bike. (I will admit that he does look cool on his bike.) Whereas, my riding philosophy is about taking the back roads, the blue highways as William Least Heat Moon called them, savoring every moment of the journey, getting into that Zen mind, stopping now and again to appreciate the scenery, express gratitude,  and to demonstrate loving –kindness for all sentient beings present . I have yet to tell him that I plan to stop frequently in various towns, taking time to visit the florist section of a Piggly Wiggly or a Winn Dixie and buy flowers which I will hand out to people passing by, with special attention to individuals who have been overwhelmed by the exhaust fumes from Jeff’s Harley.   This may take some time.  Jeff will have to be patient. You can’t rush loving-kindness.

Considerations for The Road

-Ride at least as fast as other vehicles.
-Most jurisdictions allow 9 mph over the speed limit. However, some state troopers aren’t that considerate.
-Don’t let me lose sight of you in my rear view mirror, I worry easily.
-We shouldn’t have to find each other.
-When it says last chance for gas let’s top off.
-We will meet nice people that are interested in our motorcycles, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. Anonymity and mystery are good.
-Stay well hydrated.
-Gene, remember to wear your “Depends”.
-The map is not the territory.
-If the bike begins to wobble, slow down.
-Trust our intuition.
-If a café offers mountain or desert oysters you should eat them.
-If one of us gets abducted by a UFO all bets are off.
-We should stay in at least one suspicious and seedy motel.
-Don’t try to get me to skinny dip in that lovely pool of water.
-When we find ourselves at a crossroads let’s stay true to our course.

(Likely to be continued…)

The Back Story

Gene and I are planning to depart Atlanta @May 15, 2013 for a cross country motorcycle trip.  Gene will be riding Big Red, a 2004 Harley Road King Classic.  Big Red used to be my motorcycle until it fell in love with Gene when he rode it during a trip to New Orleans.  When Gene relocated to the Atlanta area I let him keep and ride Big Red until one day Gene told me he wanted to own her.  That was fine with me because I was weary of being cheated on by my pal and best gal.  We agreed upon a price, exchanged paperwork, and I was sad.  I started looking for THE BIKE to replace Big Red and I found it in New Haven, CT via eBay.  My new bike is a 2005 CVO Electra Glide that is stark raving yellow and loaded.  It was important that my new bike be loaded (chrome, performance upgrades, dyno tuned, etc.) because I had loaded up Big Red and I didn’t feel up to loading up another bike.  I wish it known that I wasn’t in any hurry to name my new bike.  Gene kept bugging me about naming it and he started calling it, “Yella Fella”.  That name was like calling it “Toilet Water” so  I came up with the name “Sundance” because I knew the name would appeal to his romantic ideals.  I don’t call it Sundance or any other name but I let him call my bike by that name so he’ll be happy and leave me alone about it.

Gene and I share the love of riding our motorcycles: the smells, fluctuations in temperature, the sense of flight and freedom, and most important the golden glow of gratitude while thanking our higher power for allowing us to experience His magnificent creation and beauty.  I meditate, entranced while I ride.  Happiness, freedom, and joy.  Once we both had bikes the next shift was towards road trip, cross country.

 

Our plan is to be gone about three weeks.  We want to head west on and around I 40, riding as much of the remainder of Rt 66 that is able ridden until we arrive at the Pacific Ocean.  I used to travel  with my family from southern California to Arkansas and back via Rt 66 durning the 50’s and 60’s and I am looking forward to riding through that part of the country again.  Gene has never been to the Grand Canyon and riding there is a priority.  I’d like to cut south from I 40 through the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, and spend a day at Sedona, AZ.  From Sedona we’ll head north to the Grand Canyon, ride the rim road, and head west on what looks to be a solid stretch of RT 66 to Kingman, AZ.  From there we’ll follow any remnants of Rt 66 to the Pacific.   I’m thinking that termination of our western journey at the Pacific at the Santa Monica pier feels right because Rt 66 used to end there.  My only concern about stopping at the Santa Monica pier is that Gene will likely want to ride the merry go round, eat cotton candy, and shop for starfish key chains, for hours.  We have roads to ride!  We’ll turn right heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway. 

The Art of Motorcycle Repair, Without any Zen Whatsoever

Beautiful day yesterday, sunny, the sky kindergarten-blue. I decided to take Big Red up the fifty miles to Dalton to teach my class. Might as well get some practice on the bike in before the cross country trip. Loaded up my saddlebags with marked test papers, handouts, books, a few cigars and a thermos of coffee.

Drove down a few streets past prone dogs, charging dogs, car repair shops, fast food places and hair parlors offering feather extensions at $40 a plume. Got on the ring road and looked longingly at the sleeping Rome Braves baseball stadium and imagined I could hear the crack of the baseball bat and someone yelling, or spilling, “peanuts, cracker jack, cold drinks”. Turned left onto highway 53 where the speed limit goes up to 65, traffic lights are rare, the scenery mostly pastoral (except for the outside antiques at Bill’s Bargain Barn) and I can get into my “Zen”. Officially Zen is a type of Buddhism, zen being the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character “chan”, which in turn is the Chinese translation of the Indian term “dhyana”, which means meditation. My “Zen” is a Georgia motorcycle boy’s translation of this into: breathe deep, be in the present and let go of worrying about the past or the future, thank God and express gratitude for all I have, think compassionately about friends, begrudgingly struggle to do so with enemies, enjoy the scenery, watch out for cars turning in front of you and suicidal deer. Normally, I can achieve this stillness in motion, this peaceful alertness for a brief while, but not when the “check engine” light goes on and something unusual is happening when I shift into second gear. Like most drivers with any experience at all, I ignore the light and, what the heck I hardly ever use second gear. I’ll drop by the Harley shop in Dalton after my class.

After 20 miles the road curves in towards Calhoun and the scenery changes to scores of fast food places, gas (petrol) stations, beauty parlors, people standing near the side of the road dressed like the statue of liberty spinning advertising signs and shops where you can pawn gold jewelry and buy guns, often in the same transaction. I’m idling at a light on a four lane and spot a Bo Jangles and think that I have just enough time before class for a sausage and egg biscuit. The light changes, I shift from neutral to first, and then to that pesky second, almost. It won’t go. The bike’s stuck in neutral. I panic out of my zen state. I’m on a four lane highway with cars behind me, no road shoulder, the black top is not tipping downhill and the Road King, just out of the shower weighs in at 731 pounds. We’re not going far.  Still straddling her I manage to walk her into a right turn lane where there’s enough room for cars to safely pass me by. I look down at the gear shifter and it’s rocking free like a see saw a kid just pushed.

I would like to report that I am well trained for just such emergencies but I can’t. I’ve always aimed to be a “jack of all trades’ but, at best I’m a three of clubs. I can’t even change a tire on a motorcycle. I’m lucky if I can change my mind. I put the side stand down, get off the bike and bend down and examine her like I know what I’m doing. I perform the obligatory scratching of the back of my head. This is a basic posturing technique all motorcyclists perform to reassure onlookers not to worry, that the twins – confidence and competence – are at hand. In my case it’s usually all show. I study the bike and except for the loose and floppy lever the left foot uses to change gears, everything looks normal.  I size up the problem quickly and professionally: That lever has to stop being floppy. I open my saddlebag and dig out a set of tools my buddy Jeff gave me. I take a deep breath and have a Zen moment: Thank you Jeff.

Amazingly for me, I spot where the lever has come loose, has disengaged from the thingamajig that connects to the whatchamacallit that makes the gears change. If I can put that back on and re-tighten it we might be good to go. I fiddle with it for fifteen minutes and finally get it back on. I am so proud of my usually incompetent self! I go to shift gears and realize that I reattached it at the wrong angle and now part of the gear shifter is under the foot rest. I take the lever back off, reposition it, reattach it and it works. I look around but there’s no one there to be suitably impressed. I put the tools away, phone Dalton to let them know I’m running late and to let the guest speaker for my class begin and I hop back on Big Red. I crank her up and we take off. She winds out fine, the check engine light is off, I thank God and all is well with the universe.

I’m now on the bleached and battered concrete interstate where vehicles are rushing by and the zen state is both impossible and dangerous to attempt. Only constant vigilance will do. I make it safely the next twenty miles to Dalton, only ten minutes late for class. Everything’s fine and I go on to teach and facilitate the three hour class.

Afterwards, before getting on the bike I check the gear lever and it seems tight. I crank her up and take off. The check engine light comes on. I ignore it, pick up speed and shift to second, where it refuses to go. The green light glows telling me I’m still in neutral and the gear won’t move. I pull off to the side of the road and once more assume the basic bent posturing position. The gear lever is floppy again. I re-tighten it and say to myself: “If I can just get to the Harley shop!” It’s about a mile away. I crank Big Red up, put her in first and take off. I decide to just ride in first gear and wind her out as much as I can. Traffic light, turn left, cross the interstate bridge, past McDonalds, turn right at the light, and down to the Harley shop.

I speak knowledgeably to the service engineer about the gear shift lever, the thingamajig and the whatchamacallit. He scratches his head but then nods and says: “I think I know what it is.” I follow him back out to Big Red and he assumes the basic posture and examines the bike. This time the twins – confidence and competence – are present. He explains what’s wrong, that it’s not uncommon and that he should be able to fix it and get me back on the road in “no time”. I’m thrilled, agree, give him my details, and walk around the store looking at the Harley merchandise and pondering the existential meaning of “no time”.

In a Wrigley’s Believe It or Not moment the bike is repaired within 15 minutes and at a cost of only $40! I am stunned, appreciative and thankful. I hop back on the bike and take off. She moves easily and happily through the gears, chortling her appreciation. I’m back on the interstate again. I’m slaloming past trucks, their wind drafts sucking me out and in. I listen to the hum and hymn of the engine. I thank God, think of all the things I’m grateful for and keep my eye out for the Zen exit.