Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Night Road

Riding north on the Thruway late last night. The entire rest of the world save myself and the steady breathing of the engine--well, maybe every once in a while the cold fingers of the air pressing on my neck, and maybe a sudden awareness of my hands on the grips, the right one starting to cramp--was merely a suggestion. The world reduced to Might exist; might not. And That's not my concern anyway.

There was only me in a large blackness. This led to a long riff on the nature of riding as ideal metaphor: We are all essentially alone; we glance off substances, and we occasionally sense others as well as the ether around us, but we're always riding alone.

Actually, this thought did not occur to me, true though puerile. That's because I was busy doing it. There was no time to think about it.

Here's what I was really thinking: Thank god you got off Long Island intact--those freaking urban drivers are maniacs. I love feeling the risk of an Infiniti taking off my footpeg at 85, don't you? And man, my taillight must look so small they won't know what exactly it is until they hit it. I wonder how well the reflective tape on my jacket and helmet is doing? And does 287 really turn into 87, or do I have to exit? Wait--that was a deer crossing sign: Pay attention! Do not forget!

Does my high beam suck too much power? Is it okay to run it against oncoming traffic?

I can't see the watch I velcroed onto the dash; you know, I thought it had a luminous dial. Oh well. The tach's gone, too, broken; the only thing I have to gauge my passage the speedo, and the wheels and dials (so lightly calibrated! so meticulous in all they measure!) inside of me. That's how we really know we're going, no need for anything else really. I have the sensation of being here. It's small enough and big enough all at once.

Actually, the metaphor is apt. I am going through it alone. My dear friend, the one who has always been there for me, in times of trouble and of happiness but mainly the former, which is why he is so dear, is once again counseling me. "Until you see that being alone is not lonely, Melissa, until you are able to embrace solitude and being with yourself, you will not be happy."

The ride alone last night was composed of solitude, and I could see exactly what Tony meant. I felt it. I've had rides that were lonely, so that's how I knew. This felt different. Full and rich: simple, just a straight shot up the highway on a late summer evening, but sufficient unto itself. I was attentive to the risks, but not their prisoner; I knew I would be home in two hours, but I was happy I was not there yet; I trusted the thousands parts of the little Guzzi valiant underneath me, every working piece (every clap of the tappets audible in their millions when I listened--the amazement of it!) put together with love, in love, and loved in return, which is how she runs.

There have been moments recently, I regret to report, that have caused a lump of self-pity in my throat: Why do I have to handle all this alone? Just a little help. That's all I want!

I know the response this will call forth from my friends, but they can save their energy: I've already excoriated myself for it. Now I would like to report some new knowledge. I can turn anything around, at least in my mind, even if it doesn't stack the firewood or fight with the school district or repair the broken shower. That's because those aren't the real problems, I now see; feeling that they are is the problem. All our big battles are always fought alone, whether our armies contain one, or two. The victories, too, belong to each in isolation. So I can keep the phillips-head screwdriver in the bathroom, and that takes care of that. The rest is just like that ride on the night road: done, and everything.


Shybiker said...

You were on Long Island?! That's where I live (and ride). You're right about the drivers here: they're bad. They endanger me on a daily basis.

I'm sorry about your malaise and sadness. I hope you find your way through it. Riding and thinking deeply helps, up to a point.

I concur with your friend Tony about the benefit of learning to enjoy solitude, or at least not fear it. Then again, we are by nature communal animals so being with others fulfills us in important ways. All of us should have a few close friends, with whom we can share our experiences and feel bonded.

The bright light of your writing illuminates the path ahead like an aftermarket set of headlamps.

julie said...

The night road sure feels different in the light of day.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Both of you speak the truth.

I'm figuring it out, I guess. And lucky to have the chance to do so.

Joe said...

A comment and a query:

Reading your piece, I am reminded of the great Eliza Gilkyson and her song "Not Lonely" (to wit: "I'ma alone/I'm not lonely," as she declaims.

True words.

My query: You're back on a Guzzi?! Which one? Or is this piece pulling up a memory of your Lario or V50? Too cool (you're a main reason I'm an inveterate Guzzista, but that's a thread for another time). I thought you had gone BMW when you reentered the motorcycle world...

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

I love Miss Gilkyson!

Yes, Joe, I'm on a Guzzi now (as well as the BMW). The story of how a new Lario came to me--pretty much the most amazing thing that's ever happened in my life--appears in my forthcoming book. Not a sales pitch: just that it takes a chapter for me to tell the story. Suffice it say for now that it proves that Guzzisti Rock! Like no other people.

The trip to LI mentioned here was to go see the collection of another Italophile: Billy Joel. I don't know where you live, Joe, but if you're anywhere in the eastern U.S., 20th Century Motorcycles in Oyster Bay is worth a trip.

Shybiker said...

I'm glad you visited BJ's place. All us locals went there when it opened (and met the man himself, just after his hip-surgery).

Green Mountain Realty said...

Great Post, Thanks for sharing

Joe said...

Awesome on the Lario. I almost, almost bought one from Steelhorse Classics in Williamsburg, VA (I'm in Richmond) a couple of years ago. Went with a Norge instead (Red Molly). I bought a black Griso 8V recently as my "small" second bike (Nera). Love 'em both tremendously.

Can't wait to hear about the Lario acquisition (and I'm sure you've sorted the cam/valve issue well by now, eh?).

And I saw your picture from the Billy Joel event, posted on Wish I coulda been there--he's a true Guzzista!