On the rented bike, a magnificent and majestic Harley-Davidson Sportster Low, with only three miles on it so far and the brand new shiny chrome catching the sunlight and beaming it back into the world in hard, blindingly brilliant rays, my emotions and opinions about motorcycling vary wildly from second to second.
When I am up in third gear, flying down an industrial street with few cars or pedestrians, just two other riders, one, the adept and skillfully sensitive teacher Luis, the other, the avid and keenly aware student Ryan, I scan my field of vision and I think 3 things -
1) What is happening in the street 12 to 1 seconds in front of me?
2) This is the best thing I have ever done.
3) I love the heads in the helmets in front and behind my gaze.
Whenever I have to stop, downshift and clutch and brake and put my boots, left then right on the ground and wait at the intersection, holding the heavy bike between my skinny legs, I think -
1) My hands and feet are inadequate.
2) This is the worst thing I have ever done.
3) I still love these hot bikers I am riding with and their straight backs and faces held high and looking where they are going – their bodies and bikes as one perfect and very fast being – and I love all motorcyclists I have seen and met thus far, and rejoice saying hi to them as we pass in the street and will gladly talk to any one person in possession of 2 or 3 wheels and an engine for hours about nothing else – yes I love all y’all, but I am never doing this again.
It gets even more extreme in the hills, cornering and leaning into the black diamond turns and curves that make up Griffith park, which reminds me ever of James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause”. They shot that film up there, can you believe it? Right up on the top at the observatory. Yeah I know. Amazing. I think about how incredible they all are and also how dead they all are even though they should be alive right now and getting lifetime achievement awards and Kennedy Center honors and presenting at the Oscars, maybe even doing one arm pushups, being the face of what to look forward to with age and legend that lives on. Sadly they are not any of these. They each disappeared way too early in a hot flare of mystery and tragedy. But the bike didn’t claim them. It was respectively – car, knife and water. I’m gonna try to stay away from those three. I am gonna stay up, on this bike. No, I am not. At the next horse crossing, I am going to park this hog and hijack an old circus mare and clop home.
When I ride, I am in my body, which is rare. I am never in my body, having been chased out at an early age, but here, as part of this glorious mechanism and gyroscopic wonder, I am the proverbial ghost in the machine, and if I don’t stay in my body I will be separated from it, seriously. so I stay. I have to stay. I have to lean into this turn. I have to pull my not inconsiderable weight over to the side like a real racer, like steve mcqueen – who rode the best, who is also dead, however again, not by the bike, but from cancer.
I have to apply all the knowledge that I have in me and trust that its real and good and lives in my brain and my hands and feet and I don’t even need to think about it, I will just do it. The wisdom is there to catch me as sure as the wind is on my back. I am part of this thing, a big part, and I daresay I am not sure if I have ever been a part of anything this urgent, this important. I am this ride, and I have to be this ride only. No going nowhere. I am used to giving up, but here I can’t give up the ghost because if I do then I will be a ghost literally, so I stay here. I am here. I think this is the solution to a lifetime of ignoring the moment and what is in front of me. I think this is what I will do forever. Then I think there is no such thing as forever. There is only right now. I am riding right now. And now. And now. It’s always now on the bike. It has to be. Or else, you will become a then. How zen. It even rhymes.
What I noticed most about riding in the street is how many people who are driving cars actually aren’t there.
I look into their darkly tinted windows and I can see them texting, or possibly sexting, as they seem super involved in the tiny type of their conversation. If they aren’t texting/sexting, they are looking for deeply buried songs that aren’t in any particular playlist on their ipods or googling the name of a movie/medicine/shoe/diet that someone said was good.
They stare unbelieving at their GPS and look for addresses that seemingly don’t exist and not looking at you, who is existing leathery, loud and glinting in front of them.
There are weary moms turning around from the steering wheels of their fearsome SUVs and I see the backs of their heads yelling at children and they are holding the steering wheel with an elbow while the other hand goes in back presumably to break up a fight between siblings or to give a crying child something to really cry about.
There are people talking on the phone, laughing and negotiating and sharing good news and bad news and they are with their friend on the other end of the line probably in another car somewhere and neither are nowhere near where you are right now, in their path of travel. There are people applying makeup (even mascara!!) and emptying big coffee cups into their mouths and eating fast food, balancing fries and burgers on dashboards.
I have seen motherfuckers flossing. Their fucking back teeth. Molars and shit.
There are drivers doing infinite combinations of these activities and might be engaged in all of them at once, I have no idea. People are limitless in their ability to multitask and I can only give them each a fraction of a second because my eyes have to continue their search for dangers assessing everyone out here with me and I can’t dwell on just one.
Even if they are guilty of none of these crimes against automotive awareness, there are many just kind of dully and blankly staring forward with no life in their eyes. They are looking right at me as I am trying to assess whether they will turn left suddenly without signaling or not fully stop at the stop sign and they don’t see me at all. I am used to being invisible, which I have always fought, and so I am used to making myself seen and heard, sometimes forcing it, and this is essential when you are on the road on two wheels trying to navigate amongst four wheel vehicles which are exponentially larger than you and no one is paying attention.
I get scared because I feel like on the bike I am present and no one else is. I feel alone and without my tiny motorcycle club here with me I would actually be alone. Thank goodness for them.
All my gratitude to the Rider’s Edge and Harley-Davidson and Luis ‘tico’ Chacon, my fantastic teacher. you save lives. Mine and everyone else’s. Also great thanks to my fellow student and rider Ryan Kwanten. You look right handsome on that bike. Be careful everyone. Stay up.