Monday, October 20, 2008

Chrome Horse Diplomat

What most people never think about is, there’s so much goddamn road. For days I could ride straight. And not like a car, where everyplace I go really I’m still in one spot. On a motorcycle I’m somewhere new every mile. Every inch. On a motorcycle I’m everywhere all at once.

And today, on my Sunday. On my day off. What I’ll do is ride out for five hours. Ride out and then ride back. Then sleep into tomorrow and another workweek.

This, what I’m about to say maybe it won’t sound like anything too agreeable. But once I rode right through Iowa with no stop. What it must’ve been is something like the time of year to sow. And through the whole of the state, all told just more than two hundred miles, only thing I smelled was fertilizer. And like I stated before, maybe on paper this doesn’t sound too agreeable. But nobody I know ever caught a ride on paper.

Like once, in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, when I guess the butterflies were in migration. Each one against my visor like the impact of bubble gum popping. Until they hit with such frequency that I couldn’t wipe the beige splatter away fast enough. And waiting it out in a hardware store dwarfed beneath the pines, I listened to a guy play Billy Joel’s Piano Man on an acoustic guitar.

And when he’d finished I asked him, aren’t you being irrelevant? And he told me, “Sometimes that’s the point.”

But in a car I’d never have felt the hundreds of insect kamikazes. Just turned on the wipers. The way I’d never have heard Piano Man as played on guitar. Not even noticing the hardware store in my rearview. The way I’d have thought Iowa smelled of dangling tree-shaped air fresheners and stale coffee.

In a car, my Sunday would be a waste. My day off.

* * *

Halfway through I roll into the parking lot of a diner. All tall steep roof and giant empty windows. Inside, twenty maybe thirty booths. And not one occupied. Here, as far as I go. Everything after, just closer home.

Before I can walk through the greasy glass door, a man standing outside and smoking a cigarette, he grabs my arm. “You’re running from something,” he says. And I say, no. “You’re running to something,” he says. And I say, no. “Out of guesses,” he says. And I say, just trying to move.

The man tells me long ago he was a preacher. Or a priest. Then one day he came to the realization, if there’s a God, then we’re all screwed. And if there’s no God, then we’re all screwed. So the man, and maybe he’s an ex-pastor, he says, “Now I aim for peacefulness. A standard more concrete than Godliness.” He says, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Gandhi said that.” And as I walk into the diner I say to the man, no. I say, that leaves the whole world with piss-poor depth perception.

I sit at the counter in the vacant diner and order a hamburger. The waitress looks at me for a beat. Two beats. Three and I know she expects something from me but what it is I can’t tell. Finally, “How would you like that done?” And she sighs. Medium. I ask what beers she might have and she lists, counting on her fingers, “Budweiser, Bud Light, and Heineken.” Then, “Oh, and cans of Milwaukee’s Best for a buck.” And I say, if it’s the best of Milwaukee than it’s good enough for me. She walks back to the kitchen.

When she returns and I pop open the aluminum can, I ask her, is she alright? And she says, “Yeah. Yeah I’m alright.” And I wait a beat. Two beats. Three and she goes, “That’s the problem. I’m always alright. Time was, as a little kid, I would be over-the-top happy one moment and devastatingly sad the next. Time was, just a candy bar, a stubbed toe would get me going. Now, I’m always alright.” I say, time does that to us. And she says, “It does.”

When my burger arrives I bite into it and then pull a few flakes of oatmeal from my teeth. The grain added to the meat like coke cut with baking soda. Stretching the product. The waitress asks me what I do. I say, all sorts of things. “Like, for a living,” she says. And I tell her, I’m a mailman. “So you drive a truck down the street at a crawl. Same few blocks everyday?” And I say, Yeah. Exactly.

I tip well and then walk to my bike. Through the window, I see the waitress pocket the cash and smile.

* * *

The sky shifts from red to black and I’m thirty miles from home. Tomorrow, another day of work. Another day that will be alright.

But nothing like the day I drove through Texas. Across roads freshly paved and so smooth I could’ve mistaken them for polished marble. And I thanked the Lord for mild weather and rain would’ve killed me and I laughed and sped up and left Texas behind.

Nothing like topping out at 120. The way I don’t even feel like I’m moving anymore. I just stay still and watch as all around trees and fields and mountains sail past. Like a rollercoaster. Like flight

Nothing like the way I can ride straight for days. Because there’s more than enough road in this country for anyone, I don’t care how wild you are. There’s so much goddamn road.

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