Let’s Go For A Ride

Dad_motorcycleIn the late 1960s, our neighbor Mr. Lynn introduced my Dad and brother Stavro to the exciting world of motorcycles and they fell in love. Soon our two car garage was filled with all manner and makes of bikes: dirt bikes, street bikes, minibikes and even a couple of mopeds (the kind that have pedals to start the motor).

Our weekends soon consisted of family day trips out to the Phoenix desert to ride until it became dark. Round and round we’d go, racing through dry river beds and over cracking dusty roads. I remember stopping only to eat lunch and gaze at the beautiful brown Arizona mountains. Even at that young age I was filled with an awe for their dangerous majesty. I love the memory of those times.

Sometimes the urge to ride couldn’t wait until the weekend and Dad would pull out a street bike and take me for a quick ride after he came home from work. At that time, there were still pockets of places we could take a mini-desert ride inside the city. Phoenix was still sitting on the edge of the mega city it was to become.

On one particular evening, Dad said, “Let’s go!” Never willing to pass up a ride, I climbed on the back of the motorcycle, safely wrapped my arms around his waist, hooked my fingers tightly into his belt loops and off we rode heading for the empty lots between two neighborhoods. We slipped past the bar recently planted to keep cars out and into the wilds of Phoenix suburbia we rode. We did our usual circuit and then Dad hit the little mounds of dirt to make me bounce and laugh. I laughed so hard, I was breathless, but with a child’s enthusiasm kept urging, “Again, Dad, again!” It was on one of those last go rounds that I happened to look behind us. Someone else was out for a ride and closing on us fast. He had lights mounted on his bike.

Hello, Officer.

I tapped Dad on the stomach to gain his attention and motioned for him to look behind. “I think he wants us to stop.” Seems the last bastion of space we could ride free in the city was now under police state and some non-motorcycle loving resident ratted us out.

We left our little haven with a blue slip of disappointment. Dad was a bit embarrassed to have to admit to Mom about the ticket we received, but of course nine-year-old little me thought it hilarious and kind of scary exciting. It didn’t occur to me that our evening rides in the last little oasis were over. In a child’s mind things last forever. But of course, they don’t.

Stavro traveled to Phoenix a couple years ago and visited our old haunts. The empty lots are filled with houses. The desert we rode upon is swallowed up by urban sprawl. The dusty roads and river beds paved over. The beautiful brown mountains in the distance are now crowded up to their bases and shaded with pollution.

And my Dad is gone.

I know that Dad would want me to keep pushing onward, to stay on the bike and keep riding, even taking the chance of seeing the lights flashing behind me again. He was proud of me for taking on some pretty bouncy and terrifying mountains throughout my life and conquering them. He never failed to tell me that.

What I failed to tell him was that in my heart I always had my arms around his waist, with my fingers hooked into his belt loops knowing that if I held on tight enough, just over the next hill was the promise of breathless joy and laughter. There would be an open space to ride free and say, “Let’s go!”

But there will never be another evening ride. No more, “agains.” Grown-ups know these things and that’s the hard part.

I’m trying Dad, but without you the motor is terribly hard to start.

4am Sight Seeing

I see a lot of things driving home from work late at night/early in the morning.

I see deer along side the road, as well as hookers, drug dealers and homeless people pushing their grocery carts.  There’s been the occasional large scale police activity, as when they made a major drug bust at a so-called men’s meeting.

I see the after-the-club crowd hanging about Krystal’s and the convenience store loungers leaning on their cars. I’ve also experienced the scary, weird drivers who think its funny to tailgate you at 4 in the morning.

But this morning on the way home I saw something new and kind of unusual.

I was just moseying along like normal, singing off key to the radio when I came upon a motorcycle rider.  He was going a little under the speed limit and I didn’t want to ride up on him, so I changed lanes and passed him.  He was polite and turned down his high beam as I pulled along side.

South Carolina does not require that riders wear helmets, so he was like many, riding on the highway bare headed. (Its funny to watch the riders stop at the Georgia state line to slip their helmets on before crossing the river – I think its silly and stupid to ride without one, but that’s just me.)

I out distanced him in short order, but could still see his headlight in my rearview mirror.

As we approached the speed limit drop outside of one of the small towns I pass through on the way home, I noticed that the motorcycle had picked up speed and that there was a pickup truck traveling beside him.

Both vehicles caught up with me just before we entered town and zoomed past. The motorcycle pulled back in front of me.  The truck remained in the left lane parallel to the motorcycle. It was then something odd happened.

The motorcyclist reached down and adjusted something under his seat and then drew his legs up.  At first, I thought he was just stretching because his legs had been resting extended out on the touring pegs.

But to my surprise, he hopped up on his seat and stood!

He raised his hands above his head, clapped them together and then held his arms out at right angle to his body. His head was thrown back and he faced the sky.  It was if he was saying to the night, “Look, Ma – no hands!”.

He then took a little hop and dropped straight down back onto his seat, sped up and made a left hand turn from the far right lane in front of me, crossing behind the pickup truck that was turning right from the left lane.

The whole thing was so bizarre that it took a moment to register. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds.

Had the guy in the truck asked or dared the guy on the motorcycle?  Why did he wait to do it in front of me?  They had caught up to each other well before.  Was the guy a former stuntman?  Circus performer? Daredevil?  Just a country boy with lots of time on his hands to practice?

Mysteries I will never have answered. I am left with another memory and puzzle to add to my list, although the more I think about it this one is pretty cool.

I guess that’s how it should be for 4am sight seeing.