Friday afternoon, January 23, 4:15pm. Ducking out of work early.
Security guard: you ride a motorcycle, right?
Me: Yep. Commute on it every day.
Security guard: Last week, a car hit a motorcycle right here, this intersection. Guy died instantly.
Security guard: Yeah.
Me: Welp, have a good weekend!
When I left my last job, basking in the warming glow of gainful funemployment, I found myself going on a lot of long, meditative motorcycle rides. They usually took me, and I usually took the Moto Guzzi, out to the Pacific Coast Highway, along the sweeping turns against the ocean, past the throngs of tourists in Santa Monica, past the Valley commuters shortcutting it through Topanga Canyon. I didn't know where else to go. The whole effect was meditative— to lean through the wide, sweeping corners, to smell the ocean through my helmet. It reminded me of Cape Cod, of quintessential ocean, of an experience natural to humanity. The Guzzi roared and pulsed underneath me. I gripped the throttle and turned it up and the roar became guttural, like a wild horse kicked into liveliness, snarling and willing and a wild animal, tamed by its owner, and stroking its ego as a result. Filling his heart with joy. Joy of machine…
Joy of machine. The machine that serves as a conduit to our hopes, dreams, values, and what we hold dear and true to ourselves: motorcyclists like to portray themselves as lone wolves, every single one the hero of his or her own existential movie, but we are all bound by a shiftless camaraderie, ever changing. Buoyed by the sound that every fast car, every fast motorcycle, produces: it is the sound of a voice whispered into your ear, at the peak of mechanical cacophony. "You will never die."
You'll always remember the mood you were in opening the taps to 90mph, never wanting to stop, the desire to ride until the road ends, somewhere in Alaska or the Yukon territories—then one stop, one brief one, I swear, a stop to watch the seagulls lap up fish among the shallow rocks, ocean brine and freshly cut grass and rocky petrichor in your nose. The motorcycles ride past and some of then glance over and give you a brief nod, or at least a stare, eyeing your bike, inspecting it, what is that? What the hell is that thing? Motorcyclists are forever curious of each other's machines and usually a little bit envious.
But I believe that a man should only own one motorcycle at a time, instead of a garage full of 'em, languishing and spilling dust and oil into a permanent mixture onto the garage floor, the driveway, the backyard shed. One motorcycle, at all times, and one must learn to adapt: off-road, knee-dragging, a canyon, a trackday. Adapt, and push the bike and yourself right up against the point of failure—that's the only way to find out what your bike is made of beyond metal and chrome and what you're made of beyond soft, malleable flesh.
I want to ride this motorcycle in the manner for which it was designed: quickly and competently. Yet I lane-split through stopped intersections like a skittish bird, first raising its wings: I nervously steer and angle the motorcycle past mirrors and door handles, past buses and the jagged metal edges of box trucks. An obstacle course, at eye level. Alarms ringing, voices angered, if I tap any of them. An escape route, a clear and shining path—yet, the only way out is through. Get to the front, sit in the crosswalk, watch for glaring pedestrians, wait for the light to turn green. Feel the metaphorical hot breath from the drivers behind you—is this what it's like to cut in line? A social taboo enabled by two-wheeled life. The only reason motorcyclists get away with this is because we tell ourselves, and the drivers around us know we do, that this is all worth us risking our lives.
Death? There is always the risk. But there is no dignified death on a motorcycle. Every motorcyclist who dies is splatted up in some truck's windshield, run over in the wheelwells like roadkill—fallen over like a toy soldier, knocked over by a child. That's no way to go, even when in a sense—dying while doing what you love—it is. Best not to think about it, then, and give into the siren sound: every twist of that throttle, every roar out of the stoplights, to give heed to the voice that shouts: you are invincible. You are timeless. You will experience this sound, this joy, this carefree naivety, forever—because you will never die.
Image via Autoweek