Friday, June 27, 2014

Mile 2,251: Good Memories, Good Brothers

I hit Big Jew in the chest with a half-eaten corn cob. We were on the back porch at Eyeball's cabin on the lake. The sun was going down a couple of hours after we had finished an easy ride up from Houston in anticipation of waking up the next day to ride up to the Nac clubhouse. Eyeball had the grill going at full tilt, cooking all kinds of meats and vegetables including corn on the cob. Every few minutes he handed us roasted treats that we devoured without effort.

As I finished one particular treat, I decided (for some odd reason) to underhand the spent cob out into the woods. But in a moment of failed dexterity the cob instead flew up out of my hand, hit the patio ceiling, and bounced right onto Big Jew's chest with crucial force. And since I was a lowly Prospect at the time, I held my breath not knowing what the following moment would include. Laughter? Facepunching? Thankfully, it was laughter.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that was almost three years ago. To say that "a lot has happened" in that three years would be less than an understatement. Thousands of miles, some good, some bad. Sunshine and rain. Times to celebrate, times to mourn, and some in between.

But one thing life in an MC has taught me is how easy it is to get distracted. Like any organization, it is tempting to focus on things that really serve to... well... distract us. But as I said to Mouthpiece at breakfast recently at a Mexican dive on a Saturday morning in Seguin, Texas, I have committed personally to life in the Gypsy Motorcycle Club that ideally includes two things, and two things only: Riding motorcycles and having fun.

Motorcycles and fun.

For me, that combination is the benchmark. If any single thing or activity does not fall under one of those two categories, then we have to ask, "What for?"

Moreover, if you are a member of my Gypsy MC family, then riding motorcycles and having fun needs to be our standard. Period.

These were only some of the things I thought about last Saturday as Mouthpiece and I rolled back to Houston. I thought about these things again over this past week, especially in my conversations with people about motorcycling and everything the lifestyle entails. It was refreshing to listen to those who restore old bikes, as well as those who buy brand new ones, talk about how much they cannot wait for the next long ride. As I look back on my week, even the frustration of having to plug a new tire carried with it a certain amount of joy as I worked on my own bike by myself. Just me and Rocinante in my garage. The door was open, the rain fell gently outside on the driveway, the fan was on, and the concrete floor served as my seat where I was anything but a spectator.

The same is true for the ride. When you are on a motorcycle, you are anything but a spectator. Even if you are riding on the back, you are actively engaged in the ride, the scenery, the smells, and the occasional Junebug that hits you right in the shin and makes you flinch.

What makes the memories of barbecues on the back patio so special is the conversations that go with the meat and onions and corn. Stories after the ride. Remember that idiot that pulled out in front of us as we rounded 59 by Minute Maid Park? Did you get sandblasted too as we approached that 18-wheeler? That little bit of rain actually felt good as it cooled us off from the baking heat.

Why would anyone want to pass that up?

Today, I took the bike out for a little spin just to make sure the plug took hold. It was a ride devoted strictly to function. Not a joy ride at all. But even at that, it was a ride filled with joy. Only one thing would have made it better:

Big Jew on my left. Wango right behind me. Bill the Cat right beside Wango. Mouthpiece. J2 on his new trike (soon?). Bobby monitoring the pack at the back.

The Houston chapter rolling somewhere, anywhere. GMCH on the highway. We stop for the night. Cookout wherever we wind up. But next time, I promise to throw my plate away gently in the trash so as not to hit anyone in the chest.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mile 2,226: Crying Over Spilled Nails

You know that sick feeling you get when you see a nail in your brand new high end high dollar motorcycle tire that you love and dream about to an almost unhealthy extent? No? Well try to imagine.

I do not cry easily. But I almost... almost!... cried yesterday when I saw a little white spot on my rear tire. The closer I got, I realized that it was not a smudge. And when I rubbed my index finger against the spot, and it felt like metal...

A little over four hundred miles. Not even broken in. And there's the nail. Not the way I wanted to christen a tire that I am getting ready to ride thousands of miles just a few weeks from now.

So this afternoon I went into my garage with my plug kit and did the painful task of removing the thorn from the lion's paw. It was just as painful for her as it was for me. That awful sound of the air escaping, watching Rocinante's brand new shoe go flat. It hurts to even write that.

I took the reamer and jabbed it into the tire. It was like surgery that I knew would make her better, but such a violent procedure.

I took the plug, covered it in rubber cement, rammed it into place, pulled the tool back out very carefully, and then trimmed the plug down.

Turn on the air compressor, air the tire up to 40 pounds while rubbing soapy water on the dressed wound. Nothing. No air leak. Good so far.

Now... time to ride and see if the stitches stay in place. Keep your fingers crossed.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mile 2,193: A Good Time Was Had By All

The rides there and back again yesterday and today only had one thing in common: the motorcycle. Even this faithful writer was different today than yesterday. And how could it be otherwise?

The long road to Yoakum I mentioned yesterday was filled with adventure and memorable moments. As I rode south out of Houston on 59, I got to El Campo before I felt a few drops of rain. Not bad rain. More like a heavy mist that takes the ninety degree sunshine and replaces it with a refreshing cool down. When you are flying down the road, overtaking cars, and leaning into the turns, the concentration requires a certain physical attention that after a couple of hundred miles begins to feel like a workout. So any kind of cool down on a summer ride is actually welcomed.

When I turned up a little country road called 111 in Edna, the roads were drenched with puddles and fresh rain. It was not raining, but I could see the cell up ahead of me moving north. And since it looked like it just stopped, my guess is that I would catch it. I'm a good guesser. I caught it.

Unlike my ride over Memorial Day, however, yours truly brought his rain suit this time. (Go back to Mile 1,438 if you haven't already read about my worst ride to date.) And why, pray tell, would I bring a rain suit on a summer day when the rain chance for all of the Texas Coastal Plains was only 10%? Simple answer: Because weather forecasters are about as dependable as tarot card readers. Fool me once... So I pulled over on the shoulder just as I caught up to the cloud, donned my rain gear, and got right back on the horse.

I felt kind of arrogant as I rode up the lonely country road, mainly because I was pushing through some pretty heavy rain without a care in the world. The bike had new shoes, and I had rain gear. No worries. Then by the time I left the museum in Gonzales, all the rain had stopped, and it was dry all the way to Seguin where I would spend the evening with my Gypsy Motorcycle Club.

When we woke up this morning, it was with great memories of being together the night before. And this is where my earlier statement comes into play about being different today than I was yesterday.

My Gypsy brother, J2, lost his leg in a severe accident a year-and-a-half ago. He was completely out of it for a few months, and we were not sure he would live. The healing was painfully slow for him, but after countless surgeries, he showed up last night at the run for his first Gypsy event since the accident. By the time he got there with my Whataburger order I was starving. So as I sat there eating while hordes of people surrounded him with love, I think I probably would have been more emotional if I weren't so dang hungry. But it was a priceless moment I will not soon forget.

Add to that mix two of my other chapter brothers, Bill the Cat and Mouthpiece, and let's just say as my brother, Mouthpiece, would say: A good time was had by all.

Moreover, as we all visited there in the city park where we camped for the night, one of my favorite visits was the time I spent with Jester talking about motorcycles. Imagine that. Two guys in a motorcycle club talking about motorcycles.

And that brings us to this morning's ride back to Houston.

Mouthpiece and I grabbed some late breakfast at a Mexican dive that was out of this world good. I got my usual breakfast tacos, and Mouthpiece got a chile relleno (yes, for breakfast) and a huge bowl of Menudo. I swear watching my brother eat breakfast is a performance.

It was precisely these "good times had by all" that shaped me today differently than yesterday. Those times you spend with your brothers solidify a bond all over again, a bond that's already there, but can always be strengthened a bit more. I am grateful for my friendships.

Once we finally finished eating--(and by "we" I mean Mouthpiece)--we loaded up, and jumped on I-10 to burn home, a crowded nowhere filled with cars and trucks that all want the same thing: To be somewhere else.

I had to fight that urge on the ride home today, to want to be somewhere else. After all, I was on my bike. The weather was perfect, not unbearably hot but the 85-90 degrees that I prefer. So why would I want to be anywhere else at that moment? Mouthpiece was on my right, the bikes were holding happily steady at 80, and other than a couple of gentle rain clouds to cool us off, it was smooth sailing.

By the way, Rocinante seemed happy today with her new tires, kind of like a little boy gets excited about new shoes that he's convinced will make him run faster.

Mouthpiece and I parted company at our usual spot in Katy just west of Houston, I rolled the rest of the way home alone, came in, took a shower to wash off the 400 miles, and then sat down to write this entry.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mile 1,984: Come and Take It

I stopped for a few minutes at the Gonzales Memorial Museum in Gonzales, Texas. This marks the spot where the first Texas flag was flown, the one that had one star, a cannon, and the words "Come and Take It." This is just part of the Texas spirit that I love so much. One of the things I have enjoyed on the ride today is the big Texas sky. The trees are green, but not tall enough to block the view. The sky today is blue, covered with huge clouds, and the occasional rain shower. Like I said earlier, that's Texas. And I love it.

Mile 1,956: The Long Road to Yoakum

Houston to Seguin is a straight shot on I-10. But traveling on the interstate on a motorcycle is like being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. So I shot south on 59, turned up 111 in Edna, and made my way to Gonzales through Yoakum. It has absolutely poured down rain on me twice. That's what happens when there's a 10 to 20% chance of rain in Texas. I don't believe in weather forecasters the way atheists don't believe in God. And while I do believe in God, I just can't bring myself to trust weather forecasts. The good news is that I am mostly dry. Guess who did not leave his rainsuit at home? This guy. Time to get back on the road.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mile 1,818: New Shoes

I'd say she was in her sixties. Wearing camo cargo shorts and an Eric Cartman t-shirt that demanded, "Respect My Authority." Let's just say she stood out.

She has nothing to do with this particular little essay, except that she was at the restaurant where my wife and I ate lunch after I dropped my bike off at the shop to get new tires.

Ah... New tires. They are like a new pair of boots. Uncomfortable at first, but once you get them broke in, they are like heaven. But like an old, comfortable pair of boots, it's hard to part with well-worn tires that have taken you so many places. I do not let my tires get to the threadbare stage. Too much at stake. But even when you go a few miles too far, they still just want to keep hugging the road. And staring this morning at Rocinante like I am known to do, it was as though she just begged to go for a ride.

I think about the 10,000 miles covered by the rear tire that's now gone. What a dependable shoe. I swear by a brand that does not come stock on Harleys, not only for the extra miles, but for how tight they handle. And once you get them broken in... well... they're like a pair of comfortable shoes. If Forrest Gump were into motorcycle tires, he would look at these and say just that: "Those must be comfortable shoes."

But not yet. These are going to take a while to break in. High-performance tires need a little more time, a few more miles than usual. Just the way I like it. So I think I'll go for a ride. Be back in a few days.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mile 1,742: Chasing Ghosts

Sometimes I feel like I'm chasing ghosts. I ride Rocinante down crowded highways and rural dirt roads, but the ghosts always stay one step ahead of me. If I ride 70, they ride 71.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the day my Papaw stepped onto Omaha Beach with the rest of the 612th Tank Destroyers. I have been around for well over half of those 70 years, but he was only a part of 12 of them. He was the closest thing I had to a dad. And his memory, though always near me, feels at times like it's always just ahead, pulling me down the road as I try to make sense of it all.

I spent the day with my Houston Gypsy Brothers, which was about the best way I could have spent today. Another sunny day on a motorcycle. I could say more, but for now it's enough to just write a few words. Friends. Dads. Brothers. People I ride beside who understand what it means to chase ghosts, to put down a few more miles knowing full well that we all carry memories, hopes, and dreams about what will be around the next corner, and what we will get to see once we get over that next hill.

As a child I would box with my grandfather. He would say, "Put up your dukes," and I would. And I would imagine that we were fighters that we would watch together in the ring on Friday Night Fights. And every once in a while I would knock him out, and we would count to ten as loud as we could, and we would clang the imaginary bell at ringside.

Even though the sound of his voice has worn thirty years thin, I can still hear him. And I think when I rolled the throttle extra hard this afternoon on the way home, I imagined like I child that I was about to catch him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mile 1,679: Nothing Happened

Happy trees and fluffy white clouds. I remember boring Saturday afternoons from my childhood summers. Everyone in my house worked, so most of my memories are of a gentle confinement to the house where I was not allowed to go outside. The happy trees and fluffy white clouds that the painting lessons guy on TV talked about with such enthusiasm were my window to a world of possibilities. Remember him? Big hair, beard, and happy trees? Probably not.

But the joy of my adulthood is due in part to my ability to roam free, to experience things firsthand that in my childhood were limited to other people's experiences I only read about in books or watched on a little black-and-white 13" screen in the 1970s and 80s.

A recent ride out in the country where the trees seemed a little greener and the sky looked a little bluer was a ride where nothing really happened. No rain. No hypothermia. No kindness of strangers needed on that day.

Nothing happened.

My wife and I rode out of Houston, travelled the planned roads up to Brenham where they make Blue Bell Ice Cream, and came back as the sun went down on an evening with no wind and a comfortable eighty degrees.

These are the rides that you hope for, that you dream about. Rides where you get into an easy zone, kick back, and take it all in.

We go through our lives meeting occasions of great stress and disorientation. The rides with the flat tires and rain storms are the ones you remember. Kind of like life itself. You do not tend to hold the days where nothing happens in your memory banks. But we long for the smooth days. Rainstorms and flat tires every day would be too much.

And while I may not remember this particular ride for long, a ride with happy trees and fluffy white clouds, it is the one we live for. Everything goes smoothly and according to plan. We may think that would be boring, too. But after having gone through so many storms, I would be willing to try boring for a while.

That's not just true of motorcycling.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mile 1,510: There Is No Spoon

I learned to ride a motorcycle on the edge of the badlands of West Texas where the people are gentle and the wind is cruel. It was impossible to come home from a ride without feeling sandblasted. But out there in the early 1990s is where I graduated from the back of my grandfather's Shovelhead to my own bike.

Other than my friend Randy's fat-tired mini-bike--(which to a ten-year-old was the most awesome thing ever invented)--my experience on a motorcycle was limited to the backseat of the ugliest ratbike ever made, but a bike to me that was a thing of beauty.

My grandfather's image has only grown richer in my adult life, now thirty years after his passing. He was one of the last true cowboys, a rancher who herded cattle and sheep and pigs from the back of a real horse. No four-wheelers or fancy ranch pickups with air conditioning. A man who could not care less about silver spoons. But he embraced his transitional role in that last generation of old-school cowboys when he would throw me on the back of his motorcycle to go out into the pastures to chase the cows. Those Beefmaster cows and steers must have considered us a strange sight, a leather-skinned Irishman in a cowboy hat on a Harley hauling around a five-year-old toehead with a Dutch-boy haircut.

Those images haunted me with a strange comfort as I spent my own early motorcycling years out in the desolate cotton-farming counties of West Texas. One particular man named Nolan reminded me a lot of my grandfather. He had two pairs of overalls: a pair for everyday life, and a nice pair just in case he needed to gussy up for a special occasion. He cared nothing of his appearance, and everything about the people around him. He was Texas. A rugged face with a gentle heart.

The ghosts of Nolan and my grandfather continue to inform who I am (and want to be) as a man. The focus is to be on caring about friends, not the distractions of our material culture. It was hard for me to leave West Texas and enter into a decade of places that cared a little too much about purchased things and keeping up appearances. That life just never made sense to me after spending my first twenty-five years around farmers and people of the land.

And even though today I spend most of my forty-something years here in one of the biggest cities in the world, I cannot escape the ideals of the badlands where the only truth is the people. When your tractor breaks down, you go fix it. When feelings get hurt, you go fix that too. And then you keep going.

The most important things are the people, not the things you can buy with a credit card. And after such a realization... then... the most comforting truth of all is this: There never was a silver spoon in the first place.