Savannah, Georgia, 1790 Inn, Ghosts, Sauntering through History, Craic, and Mindfulness on a Motorcycle Sojourn, Pascal.

I had a couple of days off for Fall break and so I decided to head to Savannah. Savannah is featured in my last two and latest book – The Adventures of Sid- novels and I wanted to make the scene locations as accurate and vivid as possible. You can check out all of my novels here: https://www.genepowers.org/ . The biggest anticipatory problem with driving to Savannah from Rome, Georgia is that it’s pretty much 330 miles and you have to go through downtown Atlanta. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King cruised along beautifully, except for the red warning light about my battery that appeared and disappeared at random. I figured it was the regulator. I also figured that on a Sunday morning there wasn’t much I could do about it other than keep riding. After meeting with my buddy Joe and his family at Starbucks in Macon the battery light went to sleep for the rest of the trip.

I decided to stay at the 1790 Inn again because it’s in the center of town, where I can walk everywhere and because part of it was built by my great grandfather who lived there with his family for years. Supposedly there are ghosts there, but there’s no extra charge for that. The hospitality is always wonderful at the Inn which is probably why the ghosts like to hang around.

Not much I can say about Savannah that hasn’t been said before. My favorite bar is Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub and I have been visiting there for over thirty years. Irish beer on tap, Irish music seven night a week and no televisions or gaming machines. In 2016 it was voted the Most Authentic Irish Pub in the World, even beating out entries from Ireland, which is bizarre when you think about it. Some of my favorite places to eat are the Crystal Beer Parlor, Hilliards, the Pink House, and the Pirate’s House, which even gets a mention in the book Treasure Island!

But what I love most is simply walking around the historic district, through the squares filled with majestic live oak trees and swaying Spanish moss. And traipsing down the cobblestone ramps to River Street.

The historic area is not a great place to ride a motorcycle in, because of all of the stop and go traffic, the blind spots, pedestrian walkways, and the cobblestone roads down to River Street. Better to park the bike and walk. Save your riding for the beautiful trip along the marsh, palm trees and oleanders down to Tybee Island.

Before I headed home I spent a couple of hours in the Inn’s bar. Nice comfy place with a lot of folks I could tell were regulars. However, every 15 minutes or so a wave of people flooded the place, having been dropped off for a drink by one of the Ghost Tour Operators. It was fun talking with some of them and hearing their thoughts on Savannah and on whether they’d seen any ghosts. None had so far and they didn’t seem to care. They were just enjoying the craic, as they would say in Ireland, the fun of it all.

I spent about six hours each way on the bike and although it was all interstate I enjoyed it. Personally, I don’t listen to music. One of my favorite philosophers, Pascal, once said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I just enjoy thinking and meditating, riding with awareness, mindfulness and gratitude, especially gratitude. Pascal also said: “In difficult carry something beautiful in your heart.”

What’s Your Dream? Green Eggs and Ham.

Last Thursday, at dinner time, I sat down with the beautiful Latino kids I sit with each week. The sweet 8 year old girl beside me suddenly said: “What’s your dream?”

“Good question.” I replied, partially so I’d have more time to think.

“Don’t say it.” Her brother chimed in. “Or it won’t come true.”

“No, that’s wishes.” I said. “You don’t tell people your wishes. You have to tell people your dreams so they can help you make them come true.”

The little girl surprised me with a hug. “I love how you sit with us and let us read to you and you make us airplanes.”

“I love being with y’all.” Sometimes dreams begin by just putting yourself in new places, challenging places. I was going to ask her what her dreams were when she flipped open the book Green Eggs and Ham and, well, it’s one of my favorite books and I wanted to hear it again. When she finished reading, which she did with only a little help, I was going to ask her what her dreams were but then dinner came and, well, I was hungry. I’ll sit with her and her friends next week and I’ll ask her then.

There’s a credit card advertisement here in the USA which concludes with: “What’s in your wallet?” My spontaneous answer to that is immediately: “Not a whole heck of a lot.”

But when you think about it, what’s in your wallet doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is what’s in your heart, for that’s where dreams come from. What are your dreams? Where are they beckoning you to go? How do you discover them and start your journey?

If you’re not sure where to start then ask a child. If you’re lucky she’ll read you Green Eggs and Ham.

Real Kindness Only Happens When You Slow Down

Being both a rider and a writer I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and fast food places. Yeah, I’m the guy that’s a little sweaty, wearing bulky, black riding gear who’s hunched over a tall glass of iced tea, or maybe warming his hands by wrapping them around a steaming mug of coffee. I may look a little dazed depending on how far I’ve just ridden, how hot or cold it is outside or whether I’ve just ridden through a feverish downpour. (Feverish downpour? Yeah, I guess that works.) But despite the look of wind-blown wild abandon on my face, regardless of whether I’m riding or writing, let me assure you that I’m listening and watching closely. Part of it is that I seriously buy into all of this Be Here Now and Mindfulness stuff. Another part of it is, as a writer, I’m listening and looking for unusual expressions and conversations. The last part is that I’m just flat out nosy (or nosey for some of you).
In this hectic world that relishes speed and quickness – how fast can you get there? – acts of kindness can just whizz right past us. We don’t see them. Hurrying and being preoccupied with getting somewhere else we devalue or become unaware of where we are now, of what’s happening around us. We don’t notice others’ acts of kindness, don’t feel them when they’re done to us and we miss grabbing chances to perform acts of them. We’re too busy trying to eat as quickly as possible, read and send text messages and check our Facebook page. Now I’ll hold my hand up right this minute cause I’m guilty of this too at times. I have to keep reminding myself that kindness comes only at one speed: slow. If you’re moving too fast you’ll miss it.
Let me give you a couple of examples. On my ride back from Myrtle Beach I stopped at a Hardees (if you’ve read my blog you’ll know this is my favorite breakfast place!) in South Carolina. There was a line at the counter and the woman at the register was slightly flustered trying to hurry the orders out to the customers. She didn’t say much to me. But when the line cleared I watched as she greeted a stooped grey haired woman who must have been one of her regulars. She welcomed her warmly and carried her tray to her table. But then she also inquired about her health (which I can assure you from what I saw and overheard wasn’t all that great.) A few minutes later she came back to ask the woman if she had been taking her medicine. The woman nodded but added that her brother was in the hospital. The worker said she was surprised because she had just seen him last week and that he looked all right. Later the same worker is talking to a guy with his trousers pulled half down. They have a playful banter going so I’m sure she knows him. She says to him that he needs to dress better. He replies that he just got up and that he ain’t trying to impress anyone. She says: You might be meeting your future wife in here. He says he don’t care. She replies: You need to work on your attitude if you’re going to make it. Later, back on the bike and down the road I got a hankering for a doughnut and some coffee and I pulled into my second favorite doughnut place and got them. It took the staff quite a while to come to the desk and I was beginning to feel impatient. Then a worker showed up, apologized and told me they had a water leak they were dealing with. I got my order and sat down. Next, an older man whose leg was deformed, came in steadying himself with a cane and dragging his leg behind him as he walked. He was laughing and joking around with people. Again, they brought him his order and took it away for him when he was finished.
I thought about the old man later and how tough his life must be, having to get around like that all the time. I’m not sure I could do it. I remember one time when my riding buddy Jeff and I were having breakfast somewhere in Arkansas and I spotted a man moving snail-like with his walker. I told Jeff that if I ever got this way I wanted him to just take me out back and shoot me. Jeff, being the great friend that he is replied: “If you get like that I’m going to trip you.”
Great to have good friends you can count on!
But I guess the point is that if you are hurrying too much, you don’t see what’s going on around you. And because you don’t see it you think nothing’s happening, that the place is, in a way, a non-place, with little value. One of the reasons I like Hardees so much, and I’ve written about this, is that for some reason older retirees feel comfortable gathering there, usually at breakfast time. It’s usually a group of people, some married, some divorced or widowed that seem to enjoy the almost daily gathering. It’s a slowed down place where they get to share news, maybe some vegetables they’ve grown, make jokes, tease each other and help sooth a bit of that almost unbearable loneliness that can happen to older people who have no families, or whose children live so far away. In the place I sometimes stop at on the way to work, I sit on the edge of their formally-unreserved/informally-reserved zone and have my breakfast. I smile and nod to anyone’s eyes I can catch. Folks wander over and talk to me about my bike, or share stories about the motorcycles they once owned. Believe me, like the TV maid Hazel used to say: “I’ve heard some real doozies”. I feel enriched by it all, grateful.
But I’ll confess, I don’t always slow down. On this last day of the ride I was tired and ready to be home, plus I knew if I could stick to the interstates I could make it home that evening before dark, possibly even in time for The Briar’s Club meeting, the weekly gathering of pipe smokers that meet at my “local” (as they would say in Ireland).
I rode over 430 miles that day but made it there, just in time to stop, slow down and visit with the friends I’ve so recently been blessed with. The ones that sit in their formally-unreserved/informally-reserved pulled together round tables, where they shake hands or give hugs, share news, make jokes, tease each other, but always, each in their own quirky ways, showing kindness to one another.
It can make the roads we’re all riding on less lonely, more loving. But you’ve got to go slow. If you’re in a hurry you’ll miss it. Real kindness only happens when you slow down.

A Periwinkle Blue Sky and a Magical Ride on the Harley

It had been over a month since I last rode Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King. The weather today soared to the high 50’s and the sky was periwinkle blue. The feeling of being back on the bike again was magical: the wind, the staccato sound of the exhausts, the leaning into the curves and the sheer power when we accelerated. I had an incredible feeling of freedom and a hint of more adventures waiting out there for me. I felt ready to hit the road again, to keep on going. The past two years I’ve ridden across the country and back. I got lost a lot; last year I crossed the Mississippi five times when one would have been enough. But I also got found a lot and met some amazing people who enriched me with their presence and their stories. When you get right down to it most people’s stories are about losing something/someone or finding something/someone. And it is our soul that stores all the lost and found parts of ourselves.
Riding concentrates the mind moving you from mindlessness to mindfulness. You have to let go of thinking about the past or worrying about the future. You have to be present, here and now. Within a few miles of riding today, when I was crossing bridges and riding into the countryside a wave of gratitude swept over me. I was flooded with a warmth, like a slow spiritual anesthetic, and it helped heal my heart and soul, which had been a bit sore lately. It’s good to take a moment and take stock of all that we have now, not what we’ve lost, nor what is yet to be found. That’s down the road. May you ride with peacefulness and gratitude on your journey.

Concluding Thoughts About My Journey

Reflections on My Journey
I spent 24 days on the road, covered over 6700 miles and crossed 18 states. A personal accomplishment for me but many people have ridden much longer and farther than I have. The record apparently goes to Emilio Scotto from Argentina. He holds the Guinness record for the world’s longest motorcycle ride: 10 years, 279 countries and a total distance of 457,000 miles (735,000 km).

So what did I learn?
I don’t know about you but I can easily get lost in ruminations about the past or worries about the future. I have some great memories and some tragic ones. But these worries and memories often rob me of enjoying the present moment. What has helped me over the years has been to try and develop “mindfulness” which is a practice anyone can do. It’s not owned by any particular religion and is no more ‘new age’ than sliced bread. My sister uses it with a cancer group that she runs. It helps the patients let go of their worries and embrace the holiness of their remaining moments.
I have tried to practice the concept of mindfulness when I ride.

Mindfulness – The Chinese character 念 is composed of two parts, the top 今 meaning “now; this” and the bottom 心 signifying “heart; mind”. Beautiful! I’ve included a good quote about mindfulness, and how to practice it, at the bottom of this entry.

So here are some things I discovered, or rediscovered.
1. That silence can be holy and healing. It’s strange to call it silence when you’re riding a 1400 cc bike with a thunderous V twin engine and you can hear its constant staccato hum. But after a while the hum sounds more like a hymn, your holy hymn and you settle into it. There’s a sense of peacefulness and patience. You’re riding through different states but mainly traveling in the state of gratitude.

2. That you have to trust the journey. Whether you believe in God, Mohammed, Taoism or whatever, most of us have a belief that there is some meaning in our lives, that things happen, good and bad, for a reason, which we may never understand. We’re on a journey and our lives have some purpose. But we also have to let go of the illusion that we have power and control over the most important things. It was hard to resist the temptation of planning how many miles I would do each day, where I would stay, what roads I would take. Hard not to use the GPS. As much as I could I tried to “abandon myself to Divine providence” (Similar to that recommended in the book by the great Christian mystic Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence). Of course this resulted in me getting lost a lot, like crossing the Mississippi five times when one would have been sufficient! But If I hadn’t gotten lost then I wouldn’t have taken the ferry ride across the river with the kind and generous, young river boat captain (who gave me half a tank of gas as I was about to run out) who told me about his life. Which leads me to the next realization.

3. Getting lost is good for you. I love what Barbara Brown Taylor says: “If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? I am not speaking literally here, although literal lostness is a good place to begin since the skills are the same: managing your panic, marshaling your resources, taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.” Lost is the new found.

4. Riding solo was not as bad as I had imagined. I’ll confess to some fear before I left thinking about heading out on my own. What if the bike broke down in the middle of nowhere? I am almost completely incompetent when it comes to doing any mechanical repairs. If it involves anything more than spit, juicy fruit, and the Lord’s Prayer then I am out of luck. What if I had an accident? What if I got lonely? I certainly missed my riding buddy Jeff, and phoned him a few times, but being on my own was actually exhilarating. I could chat as long as I wanted with folks. No destination, no hurry. And I managed to survive without any major mishaps. The trip built up my confidence and sense of self-reliance. Still, in the back of my mind I knew that if I broke down some kind-hearted soul would stop to help me.

5. The people you meet. I went through some amazing landscapes, crossing the Mississippi, the Continental Divide, visiting the Devil’s Tower, slaloming along river hugging roads in South Dakota and Colorado, the seemingly endless holy, sacred deserts of Arizona and Texas; it was all incredible. I thought a lot about God, faith, my mortality and the capriciousness of nature. But the profoundest impact on me came from the people I met and the stories they shared. I’ve recounted most of these in the blog. It is amazing what people will share with strangers, the winsome stories of their hopes, heartaches and struggles; and the strange coincidences that have occurred in their lives, as have in ours, which brought us all to where we are now. (And, of course, as someone said, coincidence is just God’s way of remaining anonymous.) But to hear new stories we have to take the risk of treading down new paths.

6. The thoughts you have. The trip provided me with a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Through deep breathing, especially after I almost hit the buck, (“Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile”) I was able to stay calm and not overreact to events or bothersome thoughts. I was able to practice letting go of the past and worries about the future and to concentrate on the present. I don’t have this problem conquered yet, but I know what to do about it. God, the universe, can only reach us in the present.

7. Lean into the curves that life throws at you. Don’t overreact, or over control, run away from or pull back from them. You have to go through them, experience them, understand their message to you as best you can and trust that you will make it safely through them. And you will.

8. Try out new roads. We need to experiment with new roads, new paths that take us out of our comfort zone. There’s an old saying that some people prefer the security of misery to the misery of insecurity. We need to abandon the old roads and paths that aren’t working for us and have the courage, and trust, to blaze new ones. Sure, we’ll be insecure for a while but new destinations and treasures are just up the road. Relax and enjoy the ride.

9. Look where you want to go. Some of the best motorcycle advice I ever read is encapsulated in these words. Don’t focus so much on the problem at hand, focus on the solution. If you keep staring at a ditch you’re heading towards you’re likely end up in it. Instead, look where you want to go. Bikers are advised to look at where they want the bike to go, the clear, safe space up ahead, and the bike will go there. It has always worked for me, when I remember it. Have a vision of where you want to go, instead of dwelling on all the obstacles.

10. Don’t forget to gas up. Just because you’re on a journey doesn’t mean you stop thinking and planning. Rest stops on the highway and in life can be few and far between, with the amenities being abundant or sparse. And there are a lot of deserts out there. A whole lot of deserts. Trust your journey but make sure to take care of yourself and your ride.

11. Gratitude on your journey is your best companion. Within a few moments after heading off on any ride I begin to become overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude: To be alive, to have the friends and family that I do, to be on this incredible motorcycle, to feel the wind in my face, the smells, the sounds. I’m not special or unique. All of us have a tremendous amount to be grateful for. I’ve heard it said that at every moment we have everything we need to be happy. It’s our illusions that tell us that we can only be happy when we have ”this” happen, whatever “this” is –money, new job, new town, new relationship. Mindfulness and gratitude help bring us into an appreciation of the sacred moments our journey is taking us through.

What are you grateful for in your life?

Thanks for riding along. Hope you enjoyed it.

“Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what’s happening — without judgment and without interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us connected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us, so that we’re not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives.
We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Breathing in, we know we’re breathing in; breathing out, we know we’re breathing out. It’s very simple, although not easy. After just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments and fantasies.
This habit of wandering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again.
Slowly, though, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This environment of inner stillness makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought— that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power.
Notice the difference between being lost in a thought and being mindful that we’re thinking. Becoming aware of the thought is like waking up from a dream or coming out of a movie theater after being absorbed in the story. Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds.”
~ Joseph Goldstein ~