Occasionally when I sit down to write, I stop and think, What would I like to come across in these pages that would make me stop and spend a few minutes reading? Today I thought I would recount a ride I took one Memorial Day, the kind of ride where the universe sneaks up on you and gives you something you hadn’t counted on or expected.
My day started glumly. My girlfriend was away on a girls-only weekend, and I found myself dwelling, as I am wont to do at times, on what was missing rather than what was present. It was a beautiful day, the start of summer. I had no particular place to be and no schedule to keep. I decided to just ride to the hardware store for some supplies for a bike project I had been putting off.
Supplies procured, I headed toward home but inexplicably kept going. My sights were set on a burger at Moo, a local joint up the road. As fate would have it, Moo only takes cash and the ATM was out of order. I’ll just head down along the river until I find someplace to eat, I thought. An hour later, I was in Frenchtown, NJ, at an outside table enjoying a Cajun cheeseburger and watching the bikes and people go by. I saw an artist carving a tree stump and helped another shopkeeper close up for the day. Mostly I wandered around thinking about my father (who had served in the Navy) and about my friend Jack who had seen combat in WWII.
These aren’t things I stop and think about all that often, but a motorcycle ride can take you places you hadn’t intended to go. The seemingly mundane ride to the hardware store can quickly become a contemplative process that flattens out and exposes tucked away folds of memory. I thought of the many stories I’d heard my father, “Mr. Bud,” tell me a hundred times. My favorite involved him and his shipmates cheering the bulls in Spain, a stunt that got them chased from the bullfighting ring. The posters they pulled from the walls as souvenirs of the event are framed and hang on my walls some 55 years later.
Jack’s stories, while also tending to be humorous, often left me with the feeling that he’d seen horrible things. I think in the 13 years I worked for him, I’d only seen him angry once. I imagine that after having been through the horrors of war, the mundane things people get upset about can seem pretty silly.
As I rode out of town on the pegs and I crossed over the bridge spanning the Delaware, I spotted a man on a bicycle watching the traffic go by. He was largely being ignored, and as it happened I stopped directly next to him as I waited to turn left for home. We nodded to each other and he said, “When was the last time you was in outer space?”
“Never been,” I said back to him. He grinned a wrinkled, friendly, hug-of-a-smile, happy to have been acknowledged as I waved and rode on.
Riding home along the river, I thought about how I almost let this day slip away from me. Later, relaxing with a cold beer, I couldn’t help but smile and feel a sense of gratitude for the memories, the sunshine, the characters I’d come across that day, and my satisfaction for having ridden out to let come what may. Motorcycling gives back some of what life and time consume. Sometimes all it takes is deciding to head out the door, mount up, and let the universe fill you up with all the things inside you that you forgot were there.