Saturday, May 9, 2009

You Meet the Nicest People on a BMW

Maybe returning to biking after long years away is analogous
to becoming pregnant a second time: only a severe and pervasive amnesia preventing recall of the physical details permits one to dive in and do it again. Then, when it's too late, you go, A-ha. It all comes flooding back, the sensations, the joys, the miseries that feel like joys.

At night, after the first ride, you unclothe and see that mysterious forces have been at work on your body without your knowledge: there's coal black stuff under the skin of your fingertips, which you haven't seen in eleven years, like the return of an old (unkempt but convivial) friend. And a bruise on your shin, another on your thigh--you have absolutely no recollection whence they came, but you know their wandering about your person is to become a permanent feature of your skin for as long as you ride.

You find yourself suddenly wishing you did not have to work anymore, because it cuts deeply into your riding time. But just as quickly you reflect on the fact that after all you do need some way to buy all those hyperexpensive BMW parts, key fobs, and coffee cups. (Not to mention rally fees, hotels, and gas.) It all adds up, Sigh. You vow to keep working, harder than ever now.

You know what cold is once again; 80 mph in the early-spring-night cold, that is, which is a special brand. The next day it has taken up residence in your neck, which is so painful you can barely turn your head. Now you remember you need to remember to bring that green wool neckerchief you last wore all those years ago. It is still folded in the underwear drawer, and now you take it out and look at it for a while. It is not saying anything, but it knows all about every mile you ever put on your former bikes.

You get the experience, at long last, of walking into the convenience store at the gas station and looking around the racks, total permission to have anything your eye falls on and desires: sticky honeybun, fake pie, peanut M&Ms, anything. (Except liquid: there are the stirrings of a need to pee, and since the bathroom is in the building behind the pumps, and motorcycles are only good for what's before you, you no longer want to take time to go back, anywhere. Riding alone, especially, is about proceeding--into space, into the future, into the experience of going into the pure air of what's ahead.) So you choose a big slab of prepackaged carrot bread. And you know that you can take its caloric load and burn it all in the next twenty miles; there's been no dinner, and who cares, when you can have cellophane-wrapped carrot bread eaten in chunks off the bike's seat while you put your gear back on, oh, and the ear plugs too that you had forgotten for the first sixty miles.

Also forgotten all this time was the weight of guilt for those you've left behind, in others' care. The wondering dog--oh, the dog. What to do now about the poor, sweet pooch? Since there is no answer to the splitting of your loves right down the middle--riding away to the places you want to go; staying with the dog who wants you to stay--you do a Scarlett O'Hara and tell yourself you'll think about that tomorrow. Although you know that tomorrow it will be as unsolvable as it is today, and just as fretful to think about.

How was it, how possibly was it, that you had forgotten that a hundred dear friends, fomrerly strangers, were waiting on the other side, and that as soon as you opened the door again, they would spread wide their arms, say "Welcome back!" and mean it with a sincerity that is stunning for its depth, unknown to any human bond but this? You want to weep for its strength, for its warmth, which we need.

Before you left on your first voyage after such a time, something, you don't know what, caused you to run back to the bedroom to root through the jewelry box: there it is. The talisman. The ring you never once forgot to wear, under your riding gloves, on your right hand. Lucky charm. You need to cling to this, that you'll be safe, that there is a way to make yourself safe. You put it on and rush out the door, into what awaits.


{Not my bike up, there, but damn . . .!}

17 comments:

Charles said...

:)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

And I, the emoticon-challenged, can only say in return: ;)

John Leffler said...

Get your motor running,
head out on the highway.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

The soundtrack to life, always playing . . .

seanny said...

A biker, truly one, and an extremely eloquent one! Most excellent piece.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Thanks so much for that. You know, once upon a time I thought I'd said pretty much all I had to say about biking. But nope: there's still a hell of a lot more.

Bill Jensen - Loveland, Colo. said...

You want to be safe? Safe from what? I want you to acquire a motorcycle and go scare yourself. ----Feel alive. Often.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Hey, Bill, I feel unsafe and thrillingly alive from the second I put the key in until the moment I manage to get it back on the centerstand. Not a moment goes AWOL: the only time in life this happens (except perhaps during one other unmentionable activity).

Michael said...

It's nice to see that you're riding again, and writing about it as well!

The BMWs are certainly nice, but please don't forget that there are some nice Moto-Guzzis -- new and used -- around as well. The new V-7 Classic is based on the Lario and V-50.

Take care,

Michael
Vancouver, BC

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Thanks, Michael. I did indeed have my eye on a new Guzzi--either Breva or the pretty V7. Then I looked at the price tag, alas. Life is offering much less time than before to tinker with temperamental old bikes. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this particular new old bike will be steadier in that regard. But as soon as I get hold of some more cash . . .

seanny said...

Ever notice that one's motorcycling budget always seems to be oddly less than one's "actually needed" budgetary allotment? ;)

As in, I could have a million bucks to burn on scooters, but then I'd need half a million more just to make my collection complete and buy all those performance upgrades... LOL

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Ain't it the truth? There's always some pretty little carrot dangling on a stick in front of the motorcyclist's eyes. I can't tell you how often I've heard (just in the past week alone) people saying, "Well, I really don't have the money, but I think I'm gonna a buy this new bike anyway . . ." Lo and behold, the universe provides the way. Usually.

Alex said...

Despite the financial hardship motorcycles sometimes will cause their owners, they are also often the release needed. How sweet it is...

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

True, Alex. Somehow or other, we always find room in the budget for the things we *need*: food, bikes, spare parts. Everything else is gravy.

Mike Laatsch said...

I am re-reading The Perfect Vehicle...12 years into my own completely unpredictable fascination with motorcycles. I enjoyed seven years with a Moto Guzzi V11 based partly on your emotive descriptions.....so all in all....good to hear your have returned to the fold.

The other twist in this message is that we grew up in the same lovely neighborhood in Akron. Trust me, none of the life uncertainties you have described in your writing ever seemed to be present in your bearing during those simple, sweet times. You and your next oldest sister always seemed to be vibrating at a higher level that the rest of us. As the Irish-Catholic kid with a single parent I always felt a bit of the outsider in the neighborhood and a certain inadequacy whenever coming home to visit during those wonderful Fourth of July celebrations. Seeing your perspective through your writing, and 51 years of living, has somehow eased a bit of that....everyone's life is full of twists and turns and the journey is never over.

Ride safe,

Mike Laatsch
laatschmichael@yahoo.com

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Twists and turns, Mike--you sure have nailed it there! Physical and metaphorical both (including the fact that you have here found a way in which to reconnect to the long-ago past: wow). No, I could never have known where I was heading to; and I still don't. I'm just happy that, now, motorcycles will be one of the ways I'm going to get there.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yep, you're right about the brain chemicals. I just had a little injection of adrenaline just now, on a mountain road near my home . . .