Thursday, December 3, 2009
Road Reflections 9: The Open
I often hear motorcyclists talk about the joy of the open road or the feeling of freedom one has when cruising a desolate interstate. These aren’t cats that I can talk to for very long.
The road is not open. It is, in fact, a concrete catalogue of constraints. It has borders that restrict more than the median or the double yellow line ever could and it will bite those who lack attention, luck, or self-control. The road is not your friend. And though it may be a means of travel, one could be justified in cursing it for bringing us to some of the sorry places we have been.
I speak harshly because me and the Black Yamaha still can’t put weight on our wrists. Because my man has a titanium rod in his femur and his nerve endings are on fire. Because somewhere in the city there is a beginner on a little Ninja who needs to be wary.
But the road is also the site where things that we cannot imagine transpire.
The other night I pulled onto a stretch of road beneath an overpass. I stood there with the Atlas, snapping shots, not thinking or imagining. Before I could set the shutter speed, the Jacket rolled up, lights flashing. I expected the usual shuck and jive, but he came upon me with an urgent question. Have I seen a girl on this road, young, barely clothed, in distress. No, I said, and he leapt into his squad car and took off. I stood with my camera until the officer’s panic infected me. Then I jumped on my bike and went searching the avenue, brights aglow. I rolled through office building parking lots and sleepy neighborhoods. Many U-turns and double-takes. No lost children, save for the baby Jesus surrounded by wise men standing on a few grassy lawns.
My wheels couldn’t help the missing and my mind wasn’t right for a dark corner. So I traveled home, remembering at last why people prayed and hoped.
On the next day I set myself to return to the streets. But the sky opened up a torrent and made me reconsider. For a moment I was thankful that the danger was so obvious. Sometimes the layers of sand are too difficult to see. Or the careless driver to difficult to predict. Or the lost child too difficult to find. Yeah, I was thankful for a moment that I wasn’t subject to the tyranny of the road. I would ride or die another day.
Looking out at the storm from my window, I heard an inline four flexing through the distance. I thought about the feeling of freedom that it is said motorcycles provide.
It is a myth of course. The freedom that is a feeling is a freedom that is not real. Like the beautiful vista that Hurricane Carter saw from his prison cell. It is a feeling crowned from the oppression of life, maybe. A feeling of escape, which, after all, is another myth. This is not to say, of course, that it is a feeling that I do not have when I am at the apex of a corner, ready to twist the throttle into oblivion. I feel it all serious. It’s just that it evaporates as soon as the kickstand comes down. Which makes one want to put the kickstand back up. Yeah, it is a feeling to which one can get addicted. And that might make it the opposite of freedom.
The roads are a danger. We can look to them for a feeling, or a destination, or a lost connection. But we should never put wheel to road without great care and just a bit of terror.