Next Two Chapters, Five and Six, of My Motorcycle Novel- Hope Bats Last; Light the Fire, Get a Cup a Tae, Bring the Wee Dog in, an Relax.

Chapter Five

Day 2 – Somewhere in South Carolina

 

We are significant, precious, and needed, not just for the choices we make and the actions we take, but for our very presence. The scriptures of every major religion attest to it: the love in which we exist loves us for our very being. These words from Isaiah are one example: “I have called you by name and you are mine. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Gerald May

 

I answered the phone early the next morning.

“Dad, how’s the trip going so far?” Colin asked.

“Fine son. No problems. How are you?”

“Good, good, good. Where are you?”

I honestly couldn’t remember. I looked out the window and could make out part of a number in the flashing neon motel sign. There was a restaurant across the street with a sombrero and a cactus painted on the window. “I’m at some motel with a number in its name and there’s a Mexican place across the street.”

“Well, that narrows it down quite a bit.” He laughed.

“How are Siobhan and Stephen?” I asked.

“Good. Siobhan is on Skype with her mother back in Ireland. Stephen’s online playing some internet game with his buddies.”

“Well, I’m doing fine here son. Things okay with you?”

“Yep, yep yep.”

“Well look son. I want to hit the road so I’ll give you a call later.”

“That’s fine dad. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. I heard there were two shootings over in South Carolina yesterday.”

“I heard that too.”

“Well, you be careful.”

“I will son. I love you.”

“I love you too dad.”

 

Last night I drank five Coronas at the Mexican restaurant hoping in vain that each one might help dull the memory of yesterday’s horror. It didn’t work. Alcohol and age seem only to take away the good memories. Why can’t we choose which memories we lose?

Before taking off this morning I did some mindfulness exercises to get my mind back into the present, to let go of what had happened yesterday as well as some painful memories from the past that had been stirred up. Violence begets memories of violence. To ride safely your mind has to be in the here and now. You have to let go of thoughts about the past and worries about the future. You can’t ride with a bunch of ruminations like mental billboards distracting you from the road. Each day is a gift in the cosmic raffle of things and you have to be present to win.

Heading west I cut back into Georgia and rode the old blue highways. On the ancient Rand McNally atlases, the back roads were drawn in blue. These were the tiny roads, the now almost forgotten roads that once stitched the USA together in the early motoring years. Now it’s all interstates. Generally, roads that have even numbers go east and west; odd numbers usually signify a north and south route. So as long as I’m on an even-numbered road and following the sun I’m heading west. That’s all I need to know for now.

I rode for about an hour, came into a small town and stopped for breakfast at a place called the FWW Cafe. It was about half filled. I nodded to folks as I entered, sat at the counter, ordered up some coffee, took off my gloves and jacket and scanned the menu. Grits. You know everything’s gonna be all right if they’ve got grits on the menu. I ordered, “The Widowmaker” which consisted of three eggs, bacon, and sausage, red-eye gravy, a biscuit, pancakes and grits. I closed the menu, handed it to the waitress and glanced around. There was a skinny old man a couple of chairs down from me who saluted me with a forkful of pancake.

“Howdy.” He said.

“Howdy to you too,” I replied and glanced around the place. Old Georgia license plates adorned the walls like trophies celebrating a better time. There were farm and tractor calendars and high school yearbook photos in black and white.

“Where you headed to?”

“California.”

“You couldn’t have started out anywhere closer?”

I smiled. “Nope. Had to start in Savannah.”

“How long do you think it’s gonna take you to get out there?”

“Not sure. I’m not in any hurry. Just want to take my time. Why’s this place called the FWW cafe?”

“Stands for farmers, workers, and widows. Those are the main customers. Get a biker or two like you in now and again. He slid over a chair. My name’s Mike. Mike Crawford.” He offered his hand.

I took it. “Monk.”

“That’s an usual name. Monk what?”

“Just Monk.”

“You a Catholic monk or one of them Buddhist monks?”

“Yep.”

“Well, which one?”

“Both.”

“You can’t be both.”

“Who says I can’t?”

“It’s in the rules somewhere.”

“What rules?”

“The monk rules.”

“I’ve never seen the monk rules.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.” He shook his head and looked away but then glanced back. “But why ‘Monk’ anyway?”

“A friend thought I acted like a monk. He called me that and it stuck.”

“You married.”

“I was. Twice.”

“Divorced?”

“Nope. Both wives are dead.”

“That’s bad luck.”

“Yep. You?”

“One wife. Just made it to our 50th wedding anniversary last week.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks. She’s a hoot. Said to her last week: ‘I’m proud of you.’ She pretended not to hear me and said: ‘I’m tired of you too.’ Ha! Great sense of humor.”

“You hope so.”

“What? Oh, ha! I get that!”

I grinned at him and then my food came.

We chatted off and on between bites and he told me that he had a daughter and a grandson but that his daughter was married to a “no good peckerwood son of a bitch”.

“That’s rough man. Do you get to see your daughter and grandson much?”

“Yep. She drops him off and we babysit while they’re working.”

“At least you’ve got that.”

“Yep, could be worse.” He looked away and warmed his hands on his coffee mug.

 

Chapter Six

 

We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can we learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.

Oscar A. Romero

 

I couldn’t finish the pancakes but the rest of the meal was great and soothing. Especially the grits. Nothing like connecting with a memory from your childhood, unless your childhood had been awful. Having said that, grits alone, usually made by a kind grandma, have redeemed many a bad childhood. When I lived in Ireland, every once in a while I’d start jonesing for grits and I’d have my sister send some over. For Colin, she’d throw in a couple of bags of candy corn, another delicacy and southern staple you couldn’t find over there.

I paid my bill, left a tip, said goodbye to Mike and got some recommendations of his for back roads to take.

The clouds to the north and east were gunmetal gray, the wind was stirring and it was decidedly colder. My boots crunched on the gravel as I walked over to the bike and circled it to make sure everything was okay. I pulled on my helmet and gloves, cranked Big Red up and headed out the blue highway that Mike had recommended. I figure that the more I left things to chance the more easily God, Fate or the Universe could intervene.

I hit Dahlonega late in the afternoon and hopped onto GA 60. I leaned into the curves and tight turns and felt a strong connectedness with Big Red and the road. Curvy roads challenge you and bring out the best or worst in your riding skills. I passed the rock pile grave of a Cherokee princess and a place called Woody Gap where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road. Colin and I used to do some hiking on that trail years ago. The bike managed the curves almost effortlessly, which is, of course, the secret to good riding.

Daoism has a concept called wu wei which can apply to motorcycle riding. Wu wei happens when you use your natural abilities and intuition to flow with the environment. Its actual translation is “no doing” but it’s better understood as a kind of effortless action. Applying this to motorcycle riding means finding the flow, going with it and then taking no action or thinking beyond what’s needed. You learn to position yourself in the lane correctly for the curve, trust your intuitions, look where you want to go, relax and just lean into the curve. Inexperienced riders think too much, panic, focus on the obstacles ahead instead of the path, tighten up, overreact and manhandle the bike, often resulting in a crash. If you find a metaphor in there for life you’re welcome to it. I’m too old for metaphors.

Here’s the place I was looking for. I pulled off the road into the parking area of Two Wheels of Suches, a rustic wooden lodge and motorcycle campground I had visited off and on over the years. It had a long porch filled with rocking chairs and picnic benches. The gravel crunched as I rode over it. I backed my bike into a parking area. I put the stand down, switched off the engine and the lights, tapped the tank with my knuckles, thanking God for my safety and climbed off the bike. Next, I pulled my helmet and gloves off, stuck the gloves in my saddlebag and put the helmet on top of my handlebar mirror.

“That you Monk?” A voice hailed me from the porch.

“It’s me.” I headed up the path to the steps. “Who’s that?” I said toward a grizzled, bearded man in a leather vest heading toward me.

“It’s me, Skunk. I ain’t seen you in years.”

“Monk,” I said extending my hand while at the same time recognizing the redundancy of my introduction.

“Don’t you remember me, Monk?”

“Skunk, my memory ain’t what it used to be. Never was actually.”

His eyes narrowed and a worried expression swept over his face like the shadow from a Sunday cloud. “You got that Alltimers Monk?”

“The doctor thinks I do but I think I have something else.”

“What’s that?”

“Buddhism.”

“What the difference?”

“Not much from what I can tell. Both say ‘Live in the present’. With Alzheimer’s you can’t remember the past very well; with Buddhism, you want to let go of it.”

He took a step back. “This Buddhism, is it contagious?”

“No, not really, unless you want it to be.”

He waved his hands. “No thanks Monk. I’ve got that shingles and that’s enough for me.”

I smiled, sucked in and let go a deep breath. The air was fresh, smelling like fir trees and the aroma released by freshly dug soil. There was the sound of a nearby waterfall and the tinkling tabulations of a stream.

We sat down in the rockers. “It’s so beautiful up here Skunk. Why don’t we just live here?”

“Dang Monk you say that every time we meet up here. We’d start to lose our ‘preciation of it if we lived here all the time.  All things wear out. Even good things.”

“Especially good things. Where are you staying?”

“I got me a room upstairs. Too old to be camping out anymore. You?”

“I’m in the tent.” I pointed to the little bridge. “Gonna pitch it over there by the stream. This is my last trip.”

“Tent huh? Wait, what do you mean it’s your last trip?”

“Well, uh,” I stuttered, not wanting to say much. “I’m getting old. Not sure how many bike trips I still have ahead of me.” I raised my shoulders. “It’s just a feeling.”

“Huh.” He sat back in his rocker and got a faraway look. “Remember that time when my wife and I met y’all up here? You had that old BMW. Your wife was on the back. Was it Clare?” He leaned toward me and stared.

“Yep, you got a good memory Skunk. That was Clare. Hell, that was a long time ago I had that BMW. It was a black 1966 R60/2. I’d forgotten that. Thanks.”

“No problem Monk.”

“Hey, what did you ever do with that thing?”

I paused and searched my mind but couldn’t remember. “Can’t remember Skunk.”

“And how is Clare?”

“I’m afraid she’s passed. About three years now. Cancer.”

“I’m real sorry to hear that Monk.”  He was shaking his head and I felt like crying.

“What about you? You were married, weren’t you? Sorry, I can’t remember her name.”

“April. Her name was April. She’s fine Monk.”

“I remember her now. She was pretty.”

“Pretty as a speckled puppy under a shiny red wagon. That’s what I used to say.”

I laughed.

“Where’s she now?”

“Busy babysitting the grandkids. We got five. You got any grandkids?”

“Just one, Colin’s boy. Name’s Stephen. Smart as a whip. My daughter Hannah’s married but they don’t have any kids yet.”

“What are your kids up to?”

“Colin works at the public defender’s office in Savannah. Hannah is living out in LA. She’s studying to be an elementary school teacher and is trying to get into some modeling, last I heard tell.”

He smiled, sat back, looked into the distance, rocked a few times and shook his head slowly.

“We’re lucky our kids turned out well Monk. Thank you, Lord.”

“Amen to that brother.” I sighed and looked around. The Lord thanking mood had come and gone off me over the last few years. A steady diet of loss and grief can do that to you. It’s a sad but tireless companion, which you can quickly grow accustomed to having around. And it’s hard to let it go when you don’t have anything to replace it with.  But this trip was about letting go of the siren sadness of the past, and instead riding in the present, where things reveal themselves, and being thankful.

“Well, look Skunk, I’m going to go set up my tent and everything, take a shower and then I’ll be back up here later for dinner.”

“Sounds good. But if you want a steak, let me know. They sell out fast.”

“Nah, I’m okay, thanks.”

I walked down the steps to the bike, took the bungee cords off my gear and carried it over toward the tent area. I clomped across the little bridge over the stream and onto some grass and pitched it right there. Thank God the instructions for setting up the tent were still attached to the tent bag because I had poles and pegs heading every which away until I spotted them. After it was up, I threw in my gear, sleeping bag and opened the self-inflating foam pad. I am too old to sleep on the hard ground. I glanced over at the stream and watched it burble and roll. The sound of the water was soothing. You can’t step into the same river twice. The river changes but so do I, moment by moment. Each time I step in I’m a different person. I climbed into the tent.

100,000 Miles on my 2004 Harley Road King Classic

WP_20170712_13_06_25_ProThe photo is of my odometer just after it had turned over 100,000 miles. I was exiting I-75 at exit 312 in Calhoun, Georgia, pulled over and snapped the photo. I bought Big Red from my good buddy El Jefe Stafford, who nurtured her for her first 25,000 miles. When I moved home to Georgia after being in Ireland for 16 years I didn’t have any vehicle to drive. My buddy loaned me Big Red. I eventually bought a Jeep Wrangler and an old BMW but Big Red has been my lifeline, physically, mentally and spiritually. I have put 75,000 miles on her in the last 5 years, riding to work, taking trips and going cross-country 4 times, including Alaska once. (Stories from those trips are in this blog.) That’s a lot of silent miles to think, reflect, give thanks and pray. And I’m hoping to stick around to watch her cross the 100,000 mile mark again. The mileage is no huge deal. I met a guy out in Arizona who had 250,000 miles on his BMW and a woman passing through Rome, Georgia who had even more than that on her old Harley Shovelhead. And she did all her own repairs! At the end of the day, all we have are our own little challenges, goals and victories and with a grateful heart, that should be enough for us.

Day 1: Over 500 miles. Beautiful Ride, rain, sunny, lost, rain, found, more rain, windy, motel doesn’t have my reservation, wow, gratitude.

These are the comments I wrote when I stopped.

Left at 7:45am. 70 degrees. Cool, misty, beautiful creamy white magnolia blossoms. Soft pink primroses. Fill me with joy seeing them I feels myself smile each time I see them. The bike is riding great.

Abandoned chimneys have always fascinated me. Deep breaths and feelings of gratitude.

Old men meeting together to socialize at a McDonalds. Beautiful ride through Lake Weiss. Gadsden, Alabama.

Horse Camp. Beautiful horses romping in a field. Camp? Maybe they will learn archery and go canoeing?

Rain. Slashing. Stopped at an overpass to put my rain suit on. Road on.

4 miles south of Memphis it poured. Rain splattered on my windscreen, my helmet visor and my glasses. Hard but not impossible to clean them while I’m riding. Rain starting to slip into the nether regions. Raining so hard I can’t see, so I find an exit.

Off ramp is flooded so I have to ride carefully.

Dairy Queen! I say to a woman in the parking lot: “Nice weather.” She replies: “My Harley friends say they love to ride in any kind of weather.”

“Yeah, well, any day on the bike is a great day.” I mumble.

With the water falling off my clothes I make a big puddle on the Dairy Queen floor. Radar looks bad. More rain ahead. About 150 miles to Little Rock.

Rain died down eventually. Headed back out.

Okay. I get lost a lot. If you’ve read my blog before that you know. I don’t have a GPS or a map. And maybe I reentered Mississippi and Tennessee a few more times than necessary and maybe added about thirty more miles than I needed but eventually I found I-40 West. I crossed the Mississippi (once!)

More rain. Got soaked. Then it cleared. I dried out some. Then it rained more.  Finally, made it to my motel. They didn’t have my reservation. I phone Expedia. 45 Minutes later it’s finally sorted. I have my room, only the TV isn’t working. The desk clerk comes down and can’t fix it. She moves me to a room a few doors down.

Finally here, now. And I feel grateful. And pleased that I had no expectations for how the day would go. No expectations = no frustration. I went with the flow. More than the tautological ‘It is what it is’. It’s letting go of expectations, accepting that what happens was meant to happen. This Buddhist thing is working!

Feel grateful, thankful for even such a wild day.

Dead Battery, Running Out of Gas (petrol), Getting Soaked Equals: Practicing for My Cross-Country Trip

It’s been a tough month, riding the 90-mile round trip to work, on Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic. The bike wasn’t the problem though, it was me. If you’ve read some of my stories from the last few years you’ll know that I’m one biker who makes a lot of mistakes. It’s not unique to my motorcycling either because I make a lot of mistakes in pretty much every area of my life. At least I’m consistent. So, it came as no real surprise to me when I left my lights on and had to get a couple of guys to push me, which didn’t work and then I had to get a car to jump me off. I ran out of gas two times, and yes, Big Red does have a warning light, and I was watching it, but she died on me. Each time though I managed to shake the bike left and right enough to get some gas flowing so I could ride and then coast into the gas stations.  Running out of gas on the Trans-Canada Highway last summer should have taught me a lesson, but I’m a slow learner. I also forgot to bring my rain trousers and so I got soaked a few times. I’ve decided to just call it all” “Practicing for my Trip”.  The only thing I haven’t practiced is getting lost, but then I don’t really need any practice with that. I’m an expert. This year I’m heading to California for my daughter’s graduation from university. When I leave California, I’m going to leave my next destinations up to Divine Providence, which has at least one thing going for it: you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you’re heading. I’ve gotten the bike all spruced up in preparation. She’s just shy of having 92,000 miles on her so she needs tender loving care. I got all the oils in the bike changed, two brand spanking new whitewalls and I replaced my windscreen, so she’s ready to go.

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And hula girl is properly installed. Doesn’t she look good for a 13 year old bike!
I’ve been practicing too. I’ve been eating granola bars and beef sticks and dining at some sketchy restaurants. I also bought a new Saddlemen S3500 Deluxe sissy bar bag to hold all my belongings and a Nikon Coolpix P900 camera so I can get good photos of the graduation and the trip. To top it off I bought 10 nice Acid Kuba Kuba cigars to put in my travel humidor for the trip. I like to smoke a good cigar when I’ve achieved something or when Big Red’s broken down and I need to Zen out and think.

We head out on May 12th. Last year we rode from Georgia to Alaska and then down the west coast along the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. After that we headed home. You can read my previous blog entries if you want to see how that trip shaped up. As Hazel the maid from TV used to say: “It was a real doozy.”

This year, after California, I don’t know where I’ll end up. When you abandon yourself to Divine Providence and Fate you can’t pick and choose your destinations. So, stay tuned.

Thanksgiving: Tybee Island; Doc’s Bar; Head Showered, and Kindness.

With my kids in LA. (not Lower Alabama!) and London, I decided to skip the local family reunion and head to Tybee Island, Georgia on Big Red, my Harley Road King. I needed to clear my mind (get my “head showered” as they say in Northern Ireland), think and work on my latest novel. My last novel: “I Should Have Seen it Coming” is out now on Amazon.

So I took off Wednesday and, despite a bit of traffic, after 340 miles I made it safely to Tybee. It has been beautiful here! Highs in the mid 70’s, clear blue skies and the ocean as welcoming as ever. So I’ve been walking the beach, soaking up the sun, writing some and enjoying the comfort of a few friends. Doc’s Bar helps too. When inspiration isn’t flowing you can be sure the beer there is. I took Big Red on a tour of the island, including where I used to spend my summers, and we also caught the golden rays of the setting sun as they languished in the reeds and grass of the salt marsh. Why would the rays want to leave? So beautiful.

So tomorrow I plan to do much of the same. I have a lady friend who’s coming later to meet me and we’ll walk the beach and grab some dinner. Why she would want to spend time with me is beyond my comprehension but we have to be thankful for such gifts, as unearned as they may be.

And Saturday, head showered or not, Big Red and I’ll have to head back to Rome, Georgia. Thanksgiving is never about a day plucked out of the calendar. It’s about stopping wherever you are, and whenever, and giving thanks for the unearned graces you have received; that we all have received. And it’s about somehow transmuting this thankfulness into kindness towards others.

At least that’s how Big Red and I see it. Kickstands up.Ride safely.

 

 

Patron Saint of Motorcyclists -St. Columbanus of Bobbio’s Feast Day! November 23rd.

I’m packing up Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic, and heading out on a trip tomorrow. Here in Georgia USA the weather’s supposed to be in the low 70’s. I’ve got hula girl standing and swaying on the bike where my clock used to be- she’s there to remind me to have fun and not take things, myself included, too seriously. In my windshield bag I’ve got a cross and some prayer beads – to keep me reverent, and I’ve got a medal celebrating the patron saint of motorcyclists – St. Columbanus. Tomorrow is his feast day which should augur well for a safe trip. But who decided he was the one who would be the patron saint? Apparently, the Vatican and the Harley Davidson company who made a medal promoting him. And just who was this St Columbanus of Bobbio?

Despite the Italian ‘Bobbio’, this guy was an Irish dude! What a surprise! During the dark ages in the sixth and seventh centuries when the Irish were saving civilization and Christianity, he ventured away from Ireland wandering up and down Europe starting monasteries and spreading the word about Christ.
How do we know he was Irish? Apparently what cinches it is that that we know he lived at home with his mother into his 30’s, he wasn’t married, and he didn’t have a job. Ha ha! (Old Irish joke).
Seriously though, the story goes that he was tall and good looking and the girls chased him (I can relate to that except for the tall bit, and the good looking part and, well…). He was also a bit of a wild guy with the ladies, who chased after him -okay, okay so there’s no resemblance between us at all! Gimme a break. Anyway, a holy woman put the fear of God in him and he decided to change his wild ways and become a priest. When his mother found out she tried to block the door physically with her body, but he just stepped over her, signed up and got his traveling orders. He traveled throughout Europe, to Germany and Switzerland and ended up living in decadent France for 20 years, establishing three monasteries there before he moved to Italy. He carried his Celtic Christian ideas and practices with him.
He lived in a cave for years, was very pious and is said to have wrestled a bear. But unlike Davy Crockett he didn’t kill it; instead he tamed it and yoked it to a plow.
He is quoted as having said, “Love is not orderly.” You gotta love this guy!
Miracles credited to Columbanus include:
Once after being surrounded by wolves, he simply walked through them
When he needed a cave for his solitary prayers and a bear lived there he asked politely for the bear to skedaddle and he did.
When the Luxeuil Abbey granary ran empty, Columbanus prayed over it and it refilled.
He cured several sick monks and gave sight to a blind man at Orleans
But my favorite is that he multiplied bread and beer for his community. We’re talking about craft, micro-brewed beer here! Bikers love their fresh beer!
If Columbanus were alive today I imagine him riding a Road King like mine. If not, maybe a Harley Fat Boy. The Fat Boy is a living legend. Arnold Schwarzenegger rode one in “Terminator 2”. Its got a 1,584cc pushrod V-twin engine, six gears, massive torque and you’ve got to love those shotgun-style tailpipes. It’s nimble, has no saddlebags and is perfect for itinerant monks flying around on those twisty heathen roads in Europe. Combine all this with Christianity and you can’t be beat! Love and a Fat Boy can conquer all!
I like what the Monk Jonas wrote in the seventh century about one of the miracles of Columbanus.
A while after, Columbanus went to the monastery of Fontaines and found sixty brethren hoeing the ground and preparing the fields for the future crop. When he saw them breaking up the clods with great labor, he said, “May the Lord prepare for you a feast, my brethren.” Hearing this the attendant said, “Father, believe me, we have only two loaves and a very little beer.” Columbanus answered, “Go and bring those.” The attendant went quickly and brought the two loaves and a little beer. Columbanus, raising his eyes to heaven, said, “Christ Jesus, only hope of the world, do Thou, who from five loaves satisfied five thousand men in the wilderness, multiply these loaves and this drink.” Wonderful faith! All were satisfied and each one drank as much as he wished. The servant carried back twice as much in fragments and twice the amount of drink.

So I hope you will celebrate his feast day on November 23rd in some appropriate fashion. I’ll be hitting the highway.

May he always help us keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.

(Some of this is taken from one of my previous blog entries.)

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Angels, Saints, Elijah the Prophet, the Lamed Vav, and Big Red, the Harley Road King.

It’s been hot in Georgia (USA) the past month with temperatures up into the high 90’s (35C). It was so hot at times that chickens were laying boiled eggs. So hot that when I went outside to smoke my pipe the tobacco lit itself. So hot that men have been spotted marrying tall women just for the shade. That kind of hot. So it was a relief for most of us these last few days when the temperatures dropped overnight into the 40’s (7C). I almost went out last night to throw a blanket onto Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King. By the way, I added her mileage up and we’ve ridden over 38,000 miles in the last three years. She deserves some tender loving care. I was thinking about this while I was watching a woman I know from a nearby community who was handing out blankets to some of the homeless that sleep rough in the woods in tents. One man said to her: “you’re my angel.” and she responded, “wait till you get to know me better!” I imagine that’s the typical angel response that they teach you in your Introductory Angels class.
Now, in my reckoning, saints are easier to pick out of a line up. Mother Theresa, for most people, was clearly a saint. Dorothy Day was a saint. Some are campaigning that the great baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died while trying to help others, was a saint. (Babe Ruth was clearly no saint.) Angels, as we know, are harder to identify. They may be doing angelic things, which makes it a darn sight easier, but they can also come like Elijah the prophet, in disguise, what Emerson called, “disguised and discredited angels”. Elijah, in the old stories, was often found using various disguises such as a beggar, a prostitute, a court official, and an Arab. And though he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot (I’m guessing a Harley Road King with the Screamin Eagle upgrades) people still claim to see him today. He’s still wandering around in disguises testing our commitment to showing compassion and hospitality to strangers.
So you might not be an angel, or a saint for that matter but don’t worry, you can still be in the running for being one of the Lamed Vav. “Who are they?” you ask.
In an old Hasidic story it claims that throughout history at any one time there are 36 people upon whom the survival of civilization depends. If not for all of them, the world would come to an end. The 36 are described as humble, modest, righteous, anonymous people who appear when an emergency comes, somehow avert the disaster and then return to anonymity. They don’t have any superpowers, they’re just unassuming people in various disguises who use their innate talents and abilities to help others. They could be a beggar, a teacher, a pastor, a monk, a candlestick maker for all we know. They themselves don’t know that they’re one of the 36. In fact, thinking you’re a Lamed Vav is considered proof that you aren’t. The real Lamed Vav are too humble to believe that they’re one of the 36. They appear when they are needed, do their thing which is really about being who they are and then they disappear. So how do you recognize them? They don’t wear masks like the Lone Ranger. The simple answer is that you don’t. But the fate of the whole world rests on their shoulders so we had better treat them well.
In a reading I found on the Internet, a Rabbi Raymond Zerwin questions how we might act if we went around suspecting that the people we meet might be one of the Lamed Vav? That somehow hidden inside this person are the talents or resources that will be needed someday to save the world. Would it affect how we treat others? Who might these Lamed Vavs be disguised as? What if we might be one of the 36 ourselves? If you don’t think you are then that means you’re still in the running. Just in case we are one of the 36 we should go easy on ourselves, not be so critical of ourselves, and not so critical of others.
So who knows? The people you meet could be disguised and discredited angels, saints, the prophet Elijah or maybe the Lamed Vav. I don’t know about you but the possibility of it makes me want to look at people a little more carefully.

The Road Taken: A Tale of Two Motorcycles

The Road Taken: A Tale of Two Motorcycles

 In 1989 I sold my 1971 BMW R60/5. I could have cried and almost did. I didn’t want to sell her but a rite of passage was knocking at the door and I had to let the bike go. I was going to be a father for the first time. I remember my wife saying: “You’re gonna be a father soon. You can’t go gallivanting around on that bike anymore. Plus, we need some money to fix up the nursery.” (She was Irish and a red head with a fiery temper so I knew I’d better listen!) But it’s hard to let go of a good bike, especially when I’d had her for 12 years and she’d ridden or followed me in my moves from Georgia to Florida, to Kansas and to the frosty hinterlands of Pennsylvania, Minnesota and finally Wisconsin. She was a great motorcycle. The reliability, the thumping sound of the engine, the smooth ride, the easy maneuvering, the great balance and the slow but steady acceleration.

I didn’t buy another motorcycle for 24 years, until after the kids were grown and out starting their own lives. Last year I bought Big Red, Jeff’s 2004 Harley Road King. And then, six months ago I managed to buy another old BMW R 60/5, same model, but a 1973 one. As soon as I hopped on the bike I was transported back to a different time: sensations, feelings and memories flooded back.

The BMW is lighter and more nimble than the Harley and I began to use her mainly around town, saving the Harley for long distance driving. But it got me thinking about the differences between 1989 and now; how much bikes had changed, and I had changed.

The 1971 model was the first BMW with an electric starter. But the short wheel base of the bike allowed only for a small battery which was next to useless unless the temperature was over 70 degrees (In 1973 BMW added a longer wheel base to the bike which allowed for a bigger, stronger battery). Under 70 degrees I had to rely on the kickstarter. Until the mid-1970’s this was the main method of starting any motorcycle. Kickstarting doesn’t really involve any type of kicking motion. It’s better described as putting one’s foot up on a ratcheting lever, like stepping on a stair and then pushing down. You push on the pedal until you hit maximum resistance; you release the pedal and then push down with all your weight, keeping your knee slightly bent in case the engine backfires (in which case it could break your leg!). Repeat as necessary, which was often. The final way of getting the bike started was to roll it over to the top of a steep hill, hop on, put her in second gear, let gravity take over and pop the clutch. Somehow I always got it started. And when I did the ride was always smooth, balanced, and nimble. I had a wind screen to protect me from the elements: rain, stones, Atlanta pedestrians and Wisconsin cows.

The 2004 Harley has an electric starter and fuel injection but no kick starter. It makes for a smooth and effortless start as long as the battery’s not dead. If it is you have to get a charge from somewhere else. And believe me, it doesn’t like to be pushed down the road and have the clutch popped. Not that I’ve tried such a foolish thing.

In the 1970’s the BMW was the heaviest and most powerful bike I had ridden. She had a 600cc engine and checked in at 463 pounds naked, right out of the shower.

The Harley is a Goliath comparatively. She has a 1400 cc engine and tips the scales at 731 pounds.

It got me thinking about all the changes that had happened over the years, with me and with motorcycle technology. I’ll start with the bikes. Surprisingly, not all the changes have been in favor of the newer bike. Here are some pros and cons.

Gas mileage:  

The 2004 Harley’s range is from 37-46 mpg.

The 1973 BMW ranges from 48-57 mpg.

The Harley has a gas gauge with a warning light so you can tell when you’re running low. On the BMW you just open the lid on top of the gas tank and peer in. If you can’t see gas, you shake the bike sideways and listen to how much it splashes. It doesn’t have a warning light. But don’t worry the BMW compensates by having a reserve gas tank. Start to lose speed? Flip the petcock over to the reserve tank and you have another half-gallon.

The Harley has a side stand.  

The BMW has a side stand and a center stand that you can ride off.

The BMW came with a RPM gauge though the dial got funky after a few years. Mine moves up and down faster than a fiddler’s elbow. No RPM gauge on the Harley.

Better balance in the BMW but more speed in the Harley.

Maintenance was easier on the BMW. With the cylinders sticking out at a 90 degree angle it was easy to change the spark plugs and adjust the timing. The Harley you’re safer taking to the dealer and having them hook her up to a life support machine.

Vibration is another issue. Set my helmet and glasses on the BMW while I crank her up and the slow hum of the engine ensures that they’ll stay right where they are. On the Harley, in seconds they’re flying off the bike like popping popcorn.

So who cares about any of this? Who cares to spend time comparing the past with the present? The past was slower, like the BMW, and things are faster and more efficient now, like the Harley. I too was lighter then and much heavier now, but we won’t go into those measurements. You probably have your own yardsticks with which you measure the passage of time: people, places, times, blessings and tragedies.

In 1989 I gave up the BMW for the sake of my daughter. She’s 24 now and doing great. It was a good trade. She was followed by my two boys who are also now grown and studying at university.

We all look back on the roads we’ve taken; some were filled with potholes, some with dead ends, many were roundabouts, and then there were the smooth rides which seemingly promised to go on for years. I can see that path and I’m grateful. It all brought me to this place in time, this way station. It’s all about the journey. The roads and passengers of the past and those new ones trickling off unknown toward the mirages glistening in the future. But I find that I live best in the present, in the here and now. The past is gone and the future has yet to be. God, friends and motorcycles can only reach you in the present.