Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Road Reflection 5: Images and Ghosts
I was playing a video game one night. It is a motorcycle video game. My avatar looked much like myself, riding the same bike that I ride in the real world, though the track on which the digital rider was lapping is the pixelated reflection of a place I will most likely never visit. I ran the track and at the beginning of the second lap, a transparent image of myself joined me the moment i crossed the finish line. It was a "ghost," a recording of the previous lap, replayed alongside my current one. From this point on, I would race against the ghost of my fastest lap. And this I did for the first few laps of the session. A new ghost alongside for a new lap. And after a point, the same ghost, for I could not beat my time. I would run wide. Or crash. And I would recover only to see myself ride off into the next corner. I was leaving myself in the dust. I have heard it said that small events can lead to big break downs. What could be smaller than some polygons on a TV screen? But that rendered landscape is desolate and my room mates slept soundly. I was alone in front of the TV and alone on that track, apart from my ghost. Just the three of us. And it's not a ghost because it is transparent. It is a ghost because it is the past. I was in conflict with myself on an old leather couch, or on some racetrack in Japan, or nowhere and this depressed me to the core of styles. The virtual scolded my reality: I'm afraid my history will be better than me. These crashes and missed brake markers are just reifying my fear. Video games are supposed to be more fun than this.
Away from the video games, I brought up an image on my computer. There is a new rider on a new bike on my favorite team for next year. This was a photo of him testing the new machine. It is a shell of thing, without paint or even a powder coat on its frame. Just metal, carbon fiber and gasoline. Rawness. The rider's leathers look old and worn. He is so sure of his path, and is traveling down it so fast, he can barely look directly at it, much less keep the front wheel of the bike on the ground. Add just one more number to his plate and I would be sure that he was the Devil on a desperate escape from hell. I stared long into this picture, feeling its truth. A rider at the top of his game on a machine that will soon be at the top of its class. But I wanted in the first person what this image was in the third: the hard rocking of an exit. But it is impossible to be something without going through a process of becoming. I can’t be that anymore than the rider in the picture is himself. Those exits that I want to rock don’t really exist. And there I was, seduced by the lie of all pictures that steal moments from motion. These simple moto-related pleasures are getting more complicated, I thought.
But finally, something like reality, with my bike, my body and the streets that I guess belong to everyone. Far from a video game console and a computer screen. Only the “present instant of flight.” My shadow is cast behind, then around, then in front of me by each passing streetlight. Like I am the central axis in a clockwork of shadows. The pipes grumble. The engine buzzes and vibrates. The forks compress and rebound. The wind shakes my helmeted head. I am only here. The ride peels back worry. But the undercurrent comes back to claim me. There is music in the mental recess, faint strands of melody and lyric that grow so strong that sometimes I want to check my ears for wires. The jams play softly and the tug of their message pushes into the plane of my conscious action. I twist the throttle, for the first time perhaps, out of blind emotion. It lasts for only a moment but the action shocks me into calm. I let myself slow to an almost legal speed. After all, there is no speed I can reach that will rock an unreal exit, that will perfectly frame my escape. The night chill finally drifts through the leather into my bones and I shiver. I get back to the crib in need of heat. I wrap myself on blanket on a couch in the dark. My room mates sleep soundly. I look at the game console and remember that I saved my fastest lap on that track in Japan. I think that, yes, this is why it is said only of ghosts and pasts that they haunt. Then I grab a controller and hit the power button.