Big Red and I took a few days off during Fall break to hightail it down to Destin, Florida from Rome, Georgia. I needed to get my “head showered”, as the Irish say. Clear my mind. I’m starting work on my new novel: Name’s Sid: Buddhist Detective. It features a brand new “hero” and is set in Savannah, Georgia.
The trip down to Destin, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico, takes about 7-8 hours but is worth it. I guess every ride is worth it as long as you don’t think too much about your destination and instead focus on just being aware of everything around you and loving the journey as it unfolds. I did that as best I could and made mental notes of what I saw and experienced on the way down:
Leaving Rome and dodging the drizzling rain. Stopping to put the rain gear on, take it off and then put it back on again.
Cotton fields with white puffs looking like snow.
Houses and yards decorated with Halloween ghosts, goblins, skeletons and thick spider web.
At the McDonald’s -men with holstered guns on their belts.
Cypress trees in flooded lowlands.
Spanish moss in Live Oak trees.
Firewood for sale.
The scent of fresh cut pin trees coming from stacked logging trucks.
Deer processing signs
Brother and Sister David’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival. The tent is being set up.
National Peanut Festival
Signs for gun shows.
Good Luck Miss Eufaula signs
Hunts Oyster bar
Bonsai for sale
Included in the journey was a scene that unfolded like this: “There has got to be a gas (petrol) station around her somewhere.” At least the warning light hasn’t come on. Ten miles later the light comes on. There has got to be a gas station around here somewhere. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Twenty-five miles of nothing. Okay, I need to just accept the fact that I’m going to run out of gas. Only a matter of when. So let’s keep calm, just pull out my Zen mind, stay in the moment and enjoy the scenery. Riding at about 65 mph now. I ride to the crest of a hill and see nothing. I smell a wood fire burning somewhere. Balls of cotton are blowing across the road. The engine cuts off and I pull the clutch in and just coast. I’ll see how far I can get. I’m going mostly downhill and then back up another one. I’ve got my turn signal on and cars are passing me. I drift a surprisingly long way and keep going until the bike slowly and wobbly comes to a stop at the top of a hill. I squint my eyes and see a sign about a quarter mile off but I can’t tell what it is. I know that even when Big Red runs out of gas sometimes if you shake the bike from side to side you can free up so more gas that’s hiding in the tank. Had to do that once on the California Freeway in LA. I shake her and bless her heart she cranks back up. I get her up to about 60 and I’m getting closer to the shop but still can’t make out what it is. If it’s a gas station it doesn’t have the usual large sign high in front of it. I cut over into the left lane as I get closer and damn if it isn’t some tiny gas station on the other side. of the road. I signal to turn left at the next opening in the median. The bike cuts out again and I see a chance coming up where I can drift across the road between segments of oncoming cars. I go for it and the bike coasts right up to the gas pump.
Later, I’m smiling and feeling grateful as I ride along the coast staring at the crystal blue, blue, blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.
I start scouting for a cheap hotel, something with a number in its name and I find it.
Heidegger, that pesky German philosopher, had a lot to say about existence. My hacking of his thought goes as follows. We find ourselves as a being in this world. This, I imagine, is like us coming to our senses, patting ourselves down: Hey, I got arms, legs, stomach. I touch my head; there might be a brain in here. Next, he says we always find ourselves in a mood. The mood has to do with how we are relating to the world; happy, sad, fearful, anxious. Every guy who has ever gone to pick up a girlfriend has thought at least once, if not more: I wonder what kind of mood she’ll be in. But our mood is more than this. It’s pitch, tune and timbre. It’s how we find ourselves attuned to the world. It can be like a sound track playing in our head. For me, when I think of heading out into LA traffic I hear the soundtrack from the movie “Jaws”. Heidegger also talks about thrownness, the idea that we are thrown into this world into a concrete, historical time and place where choice and possibilities are always limited. There used to be a TV show called the “Time Tunnel” where scientists Doug and Tony went traveling into the past (and future). Whenever they landed in a new place they fell down onto the ground and rolled. Why? Because, like us, they were thrown! We are thrown into this world. Can’t help here but think of Jim Morrison’s lyrics from “Riders On The Storm” (The Doors).
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm
In many ways what we make out of life is what we make out of our “thrownness”.
And when you ride a motorcycle it’s like you’re trying to take a little more control over this “thrownness”. You ride it. At the same time you’re maximizing your openness and vulnerability to your environment. Not just the sights, sounds, smells of the road but also you open yourself to meeting folks everywhere you put your kickstand down. No drive throughs or take aways for you.
Sometimes the “thrownness” can be a bit scary as in yesterday when I chose to hurl myself at LA traffic. Granted, I was on my trusted Road King but this environment was different. Not the peaceful back roads of Hwy 50, the “loneliest highway in America” but instead, the California interstate, the Devil’s Highway. I needed to get an oil change for Big Red and thought I’d see the Pacific Coast Highway again as well. I was on the road before 7 am, but so was everyone else. Uneven surfaces and folks in a tremendous hurry not to be late for a job they don’t like. In California, they allow “lane splitting”, sometimes called lane sharing or white-lining, when you can ride between lanes of cars. I had to do this a few times because the traffic was so slow, or stopped and my engine was over-revving and over-heating. I made it to the dealership, had the oil and filter changed and “You need to get that exhaust looked at. It’s leaking a bit but it should do you till you get back to Georgia.” I guess we will see about that.
Then I “threw” myself down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway riding along the turquoise ocean. I stopped for coffee a few times and walked out onto the Santa Monica pier (remember those Rockford episodes!). Then I had to head back onto Interstates 10 and 405 and finally the Ventura Freeway. I was so busy avoiding bumps and uneven pavement that I didn’t notice that I was almost out of gas. I shouldn’t have been. Normally I can go another 20-30 miles on a tank of gas but then I remembered the over-revving and over-heating. I decided to take the next exit and cut over (carefully) three lanes of traffic to get to the exit lane and I did. I just didn’t get off the freeway. The bike died. I stopped and did what most bikers do and shook the bike sideways a few times to see if there was any more gas I could get into the system. I cranked it up and rode down to where the exit hit a main road. Then it died again. More shaking, cranked her up and I got a quarter of a mile down the road to an intersection where there wasn’t a gas station but there was a parking lot. I coasted into a space, parked it, turned around and there was a beer shop. Synchronicity!
Since it was after 5pm and I was hot, sweaty and exhausted I “threw” myself at the beer store and bought an Anchor Steam lager, took a few swigs and called my daughter who was just 10 minutes away.
I plan to engage in more “thrownness” on this trip but I’m hoping to stay away from the Devil’s Highway.