Switching from Two Wheels to Two Feet; Venice Beach

Switching from Two Wheels to Two Feet; Venice Beach

A few days ago I went with my son and daughter to Venice Beach.

The boardwalk was filled with people walking, riding bikes, skateboarding, roller skating and using Segways. There were street musicians playing guitars and pianos, singing, folks selling art, henna tattoos, massages, t shirts, cds, Harley merchandise, and every kind of food or drink you could imagine.  Sweating people were playing basketball, paddle tennis, handball and lifting weights. The sand was the color of oyster shells and the sea so blue it must have borrowed some from the sky. The sun beat down but a cooling zephyr of a breeze blew across the boardwalk. The air was fresh and heartwarming.

Judging by the accents there were people from all over the world traversing the wide path. So much beauty, eccentricity and energy! When we were having lunch at an open café, I watched the stream of consciousness pass by, sipped my Firestone 805 beer, glanced at my kids and was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude.

But it was bittersweet, because we also passed folks searching through trash cans and plenty of people who were homeless and/or had mental health problems. A woman sitting on a bench arguing with an imaginary person, a man coming over and speaking a string of sentences that didn’t make sense to me and then abruptly turning and walking off. When you meet one person at a time like this sometimes you can do something about it, even if it’s only a kind word, a few bucks to ease today’s pain. When you see so many people in this condition it’s overwhelming. It doesn’t really matter what religion you are or aren’t, which politician you support, whether you’re a Harley or a BMW rider I figure we all want to see suffering reduced. For them and for us. Yes, it’s not only for the good of the person needing help – we have to get past that narrow notion – it is for ourselves, our own sanity, our own sanctity. I know I need it. The Dalai Lama nailed it:

Experience has shown me that the greatest inner tranquility comes from developing love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove our fears and insecurities and gives us strength to face obstacles – it is the ultimate source of success in life.

Marches, Rides or Walks – We All Have a Choice: Pow Wows and the Dalai Lama.

Marches, Rides or Walks – We All Have a Choice. Pow Wows and the Dalai Lama.


“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message – that is love, compassion and forgiveness … the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

Dalai Lama

This week there was the celebration of the March on Washington which had occurred 50 years earlier, in 1963, and was one of the largest rallies for human rights in US history. The quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” had been running through my head all week like a song you love but can’t get rid of.

I was thinking about all of that yesterday while I rode the BMW up to Ridge Ferry Park here in Rome Georgia to attend the annual Native American Pow Wow. There were hundreds of people there, many having camped overnight in the park. The Roadrunner grille offered buffalo burgers, gator nuggets, Indian tacos and, of course, sweet tea. There were dance competitions for the young and old, with elaborate and intricate hand-made costumes that must have been unbearable in the 90+ degree heat. The drum beating was mesmerizing, powerful and resonated with something deep in me, though I’m 50% Irish (maybe the bodhran drum!) and the rest, French and German. Handmade Native American crafts, jewelry, paintings and music were all for sale. Catchy and thought provoking bumper stickers were also available. For example: “Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492”; “Indians Discovered Columbus”, and “I am Cherokee and Still Living in my Original Homeland.”

The Pow Wow was beautiful, powerful and poignant.

There was a booth selling beautiful tie dyed tee shirts. One caught my eye as it was commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Trail of Tears march. This was when the US government and the State of Georgia began the forced removal of over 16,000 Cherokee people from their homelands to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Over 4000 died on the journey west.   

In Georgia, as well as in other states, you can ride a series of roads called the Trail of Tears Highway, roadways where the Native Americans were forced to march on their way to Oklahoma.

It was a sad chapter in American history; however, to hear Cherokee spokespeople talk about it now it’s also a story of courage, triumph and perseverance.

On September 21st the 20th Trail of Tears Commemorative Motorcycle Ride will take place, beginning in Bridgeport, Alabama and ending in Waterloo, Alabama. It’s the largest annual motorcycle ride in America and it was originated to raise awareness of the “horrible way American Indians of the southeast were treated because of racism and greed”. (al-tn-trailoftears.net/ridehistory.php). Racism – other isms, and greed are still very much with us.  

It got me wondering: In the year 2188 what will our country be commemorating on the 175th anniversary of 2013? I hope it’s a celebration of our actions this year in peace, compassion and in the recognition of national and international human rights, respect for the dignity and worth of all individuals.

The Dalai Lama said: There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”

We might not have the inclination to ride with groups or the opportunity to march for justice but, every day as we journey in this world there’s nothing stopping us from showing compassion and loving kindness toward absolutely everyone we meet. Marches, rides or walks, we all have a choice.   

Biker Mind in a Cage and Enlightenment in Piggly Wiggly

I was having problems with my Jeep about a month ago and I took it to Mike’s to have it checked out. Mike has a reputation for doing good, honest work and he’s a nice guy.

“I’ve got good news and bad news for you.” I was told.

“What’s the good news?”

“You only need one part replaced.”

“And the bad news?”

“It’s your engine.”

So began the journey of various Jeep engine parts to Rome Georgia, an odyssey which is still going on.

No big deal, I thought.  I’ve got the bike and over the last few weeks, rain or shine, I’ve ridden her faithfully and wetly.

But today was different. I had to run a few errands (“messages” in Ireland) and I needed a car. I’d been asked by a friend to drop off some food for a housebound woman. No big deal for me, I was honored to do it.

My nephew Matt loaned me his and it was a strange experience. First of all I tried to get in on the wrong side of the car because my old reflexes from Ireland kicked in. (The steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car over there because they drive on the wrong side of the road!) I finally managed to get into the car, something we bikers call a “cage”.

Now, how do I operate this thing? Right, take the parking brake off. It’s already off. Again, I have to remember that I’m not in Ireland where they always use it. I crank her up and since it’s an automatic I reverse easily and then head out. First thing I have to do is roll the window down. I have to have the wind on me. There’s a great quote I heard which says that only a motorcycle rider understands why dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows. I mosey up to the main four lane. I’m thinking: There’s a cage turning, probably not paying attention. What about that lady driving talking on her phone? (Illegal in Ireland.)  I don’t try and make eye contact with her to confirm her driving intentions instead I stare at the car’s front wheel to make sure it’s not moving. It isn’t and I pull out onto the highway.  I realize what I’m doing. I’m driving a cage like a biker. I’m scanning the area looking for hazards, especially people who don’t see you and cut in front of you. I had the biker mind going in the cage. It was weird. I relaxed a bit and I thought: hey this isn’t too bad. Got a roof over my head, listening to some blues music. I can take a sip from my coffee cup. Smoke my pipe if I want to. (But not in Matt’s car!). This is kinda cool.

But I still had the biker mind going and found myself waving a salute to other bikers as they passed by.

I had to pick up some groceries for myself and while wandering around in the Piggly Wiggly I was thinking: better not get too much I don’t have a lot of room in the saddlebags. Then I realized again that I wasn’t on the bike. I could get anything I wanted; there’s plenty of room! This was great. But I didn’t like how my mind was shifting back to the idea of “buying stuff”. I used to be quite a collector of things: books, old coins, baseball cards, bad habits-you name it. But when I left Ireland after 16 years I gave most of my stuff away and managed to pack my life into four suitcases. It wasn’t easy or fun. In fact, it was painful because I was attached to all the things I had and the people I knew and loved. And yet it was freeing at the same time. It helped me to realize how little I really needed; what was important in my life and what wasn’t. It reminded me of what the Dalai Lama said: Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.

Non-attachment means letting go. It means recognizing that all things are impermanent: material things, our bodies, even our relationships. This might sound depressing, but it isn’t. It’s actually liberating. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”. You don’t suffer from worrying about getting something or losing someone. When I can keep this kind of awareness in my mind it helps me to appreciate every moment, to be centered and content with what I have, to be aware and grateful.  I’m much happier and healthier now.

I bought the few things that I needed and got back into the car. I drove over to the house, dropped the food off, rang the doorbell and left. On the way home I reverted to biker mode: watching for potholes in the road, tar snakes, inattentive drivers, road gators (bits of shredded tires from semi-truck tire blowouts), and steering aids (Bikers hate these! They’re gouges/ruts in the road from trucks. The ruts can guide your front wheel in a direction you don’t want to go.) None of us want to get into ruts. To go in directions we don’t want to go, because of someone else.

Surviving these hazards today, I came home. If I can stay centered I might survive tomorrow as well.

It was fun driving the car. But I still prefer the bike.