Saturday, August 8, 2009

There You Go Again: Part III, Finally

Duality is all. Eleven years after falling into that numbed slumber, I awoke to both new perils and new joys. It seemed significant numbers of people were having serious difficulty these days distinguishing between their right and their left, because both sides of the road were much more often occupied at once by the same rather large car. It turned out I did need to buy some new gear, because there was this new stuff called “armor” they now put inside all the joints of clothing to make you walk funny. Well, better to walk funny than not walk at all, so pony up I did. The wonderful sight of so many, many more motorcycles on the road was tempered by the fact that a proportionate number were themselves hazards to other bikers, when they rode in trick-riding close formation without trick-riding skills, wearing plastic teacups perched atop their heads to protect the exact 15 percent of skull surface that is rarely to never landed on.

Far happier to me was the presence of vastly greater numbers of women riders. A couple weeks after taking possession of my new bike, I had an experience that could never have occurred a decade before: on a Friday afternoon jaunt up Route 28 in the Catskills, a woman rider overtook me in the passing lane at exactly the same moment we both waved to another woman heading toward us in the oncoming. The only three riders in sight.

The omnipresence of GPS units on virtually every other machine made me defensively question what the heck was so bad about yellowing map pockets anyway, as well as the fact that I don’t really like the idea that a satellite knows exactly where I am at all times—not unless it’s going to care about me too. I had resisted a cell phone far into the transformation of human beings into animals who sprouted wads of black plastic and wireless impulses from their left ears. Then, suddenly, the night that found me riding an unfamiliar machine up the Thruway in the dark alone, a decision was made to enter the new century, and lo, yet another monthly bill from Verizon.

But GPS—could I really embrace this? I have yet to really figure out how that cell phone works, after all. And I was always so proud of my well-honed ability to read maps and distill them into magic-markered hieroglyphics easily read at speed. You’re going to tell me this was obsolete.

Well, yes.

The thought briefly visited that I sounded like someone irritably protesting how crank telephones had been good enough for Aunt Olive; what did I need one of those new dial machines for? Then came the evening when a few motorcyclists were visiting, and I brought out my 1997 Rand McNally atlas pulling apart at the seams in order to show off my local-roads prowess: one of them started laughing and said, “Look! It’s analog GPS!” I figured I would soon succumb there too. And figure out how to pay for it later, like so much else.

Yet motorcycling remains a fundamentally mechanical experience in a digital and electronic world, one that is increasingly distant from three dimensions. In it we still put our feet on the pegs, engage our muscles; our eyes relay information to and from our brains, and then there we are, in a real cutting-through-the-air moment. The dirt under our nails is real, and hard to get out. We are members of a society with drive and purpose to life, a world larger than ourselves. We create situations with certain difficulties, then go about solving them—together. Something to do, and in that concrete something, we find a way to be. It allows us to be good, to express that goodness to others. The gift of giving that becomes a gift to ourselves. It’s all a great relief. And this is the secret we hold.

It is still morning for me. I have just arisen from sleep. I learn new things while memories of the first life gently float to the surface, bursting as they reach air. I remember thinking I had written everything I had wanted to say in the first book, but this time I know for certain I did not. I could not. Because this is an infinite experience, spiraling deeper and deeper, all the way into what it means to be human. But how could a simple machine take us there? I do not know. And if you have to understand, I couldn’t possibly explain. But I still just might try.


Bill J. - Loveland, Colo. said...

I enjoy your blog very much. I rode 8,000 miles last year without leaving the state.

It’s my nature to avoid gadgets. A motorcycle only needs two wheels, one piston and a seat. I go A to B -or- A to A.

One might say, “GPS? What for? Just stay away from the edge.” And I agree. Although the world isn’t flat, I always know my coordinates: Here. Here is where the journey is.

ren said...

Use maps, says the cartographer. Maps that are dependent only on your eyes, not on electricity and satellites. The fewer things to fail, the better the experience.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

I hope he doesn't mind being quoted without my asking (a specialty of mine), but my old riding buddy John L. gave me the best take on GPS vs. maps: "In my travels to date, getting lost is annoying or inconvenient, but not harmful or life threatening." (And, to mention the obvious, often leads one into lands of surprise and discovery.) He goes on--so I can have him say this, not me, folks--"Interesting how GPS is used by guys, who are notorious for not asking directions."

Peter said...

I hope that it's OK to quote another writer on your blog: "...the fact remains that motorcycles represent far more than simple transportation. The essence of freedom, they're fast and they're dangerous, and they make you feel alive like nothing else on earth." - Jackie Jouret, former editor of City Bike magazine.

Your last paragraph in Part III is the best news I've had in a long time. Yes, do write another book on motorcycles.
Peter A. San Francisco, CA

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, Peter, that quote says it all: alive. Totally, blazingly alive.

Even writing about them makes me feel alive! And if I can't get my publisher to agree, I might just have to go ahead and do it anyway. (After all, I went ahead and rode a bike even though my mother told me not to, and see where that got me.)

Scott from Devon said...

I am so SO glad you have awoken - because your book put me on a path that I have enjoyed "nearly" every step of the way. Well there has to be some rough with the smooth. :-) I stopped road riding in 1985 and took it up again in 1996, soon after reading an Australian magazine called "Two Wheels", then "Perfect Vehicle". A few years latter I had chucked my job, moved to the UK, gone to the TT and toured all over Scotland and northern England....met my wife..have a daughter... Thanks..and welcome back!!

Scotty from Devon said...

Oh yes - forgot to say; I'm a huge fan of MapNav. I can throw it on the ground hard, jump on it, and it never "goes down", and always provokes those unexepected little adventures that make touring such a joy (for me anyway - I like riding alone mostly).

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Let's hear it for "little adventures."

Some scientist should study the 11-year hiatus: that's the number I hear again and again. And it's the number I was "asleep," too. Glad you've awoken, Devon. I long to explore Scotland, by bike, but otherwise if necessary.

But cars aren't ever really necessary, come to think of it.

Scott from Devon said...

Haha well Scotland I can talk about - in many ways it is quite simply "biker heaven". Have toured a fair bit of it, got rained on quite a bit, met some extraordinary people who were full of kindness, ate food that puts a lining on yer stomach, and just sat on the Kyerlerhea swing ferry crossing the Sound Of Sleat (between Skye and the Mainland) and watched otters play....magical expereinces.