Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meanwhile, out in cattle country...

WRANGLERS – worn threadbare at the butt pocket and frayed about the back of the cuffs. Justins – mud or crap caked in the welt where the sole attached to the upper. Dusty chambray – partly tucked in and deeply stained at the armpits.

The rider cantered into the saloon, searched for a chair, found only a stool, took a second look around, then climbed atop, leaning on an elbow – longing for a more comfortable repose after this day.

Requesting a 16-year-old Lagavulin, which presently arrived “neat,” he reflected on the fourteen hours since daybreak, and wished this place favored jazz.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let’s Teach Congress to Wave, Friendly-like

I AM STRUGGLING to get past that good-time feel of being out on the motorcycle, cruising through spectacular scenery and being regularly greeted by an on-coming motorcyclist with a friendly wave or high five. The crotch-rocket sport bike rider drops his hand from the bike’s lowered bars. The dual sport rider lifts his hand. Big rumbling cruiser guys may only raise a couple of fingers – but they do wave. And at the gas station or out-of-the-way eatery, total strangers greet one another with stories of where they’ve been, where they’re going and “Oh, would you like to ride along for a while?” It seems the common experiences of the road expose the commonalities in all of us who ride.

Returning home, I make the mistake of reading the paper and turning on the tube to see what I’ve missed in my three days in the saddle. The blistering cacophony of left versus right versus left versus right makes me long for those pastoral stretches, mountain reaches, coastal vistas, fresh air and friendly waves from folks whose left-ed-ness or right-ed-ness has no bearing on the fact that they are just folks.

The juxtaposition of the civility of the open road with the opposite in the halls of our nation’s capital prompts this little fantasy: What if members of Congress were forced to ride? All 535 of ‘em? Suppose each Representative and Senator were mandated to learn to ride and further mandated to participate in a road trip. Here’s the plan.

• Target the full month of September for the trip. The weather’s pretty good across the nation in September and that gives everyone a chance to brush up on or learn safe motorcycle operation skills between now and then.

• Congress-folk may choose any brand or model of motorcycle they wish to ride. Perhaps members of the majority party might lean toward riding a Victory, while members of the opposition might something different because they wouldn’t want to be seen agreeing with the Dems. No matter. In selecting their mount, legislators vote their individual conscience. They don’t have to respond to a poll or ride what some member of their constituency thinks they should ride, although the representative from Milwaukee probably should be on a Harley.

• In the thirty days of September, all 535 participants must ride from the east coast to the west coast.

• Leaving DC, they must all stop for two-night rallies at each of nine pre-determined locations spaced throughout the nation over the course of the thirty days. This allows for a non-ride, rest day every third day. The rally sites would be secure, so the only yahoos there would be the Congress-people themselves.

• As with any good motorcycle rally, participants would eat together, maybe have a beer or two, listen to some local entertainment and just hang out with one another.

• The route an individual chooses between each point is an aspect of the freedom they all say they support.

• Participants may not bring support personnel, secretaries or chiefs of staff on this adventure. They mount the bike, crack the throttle and are on their own to get from point A to B to C and so forth.

Over the course of this road trip, it would be interesting for those of us who observe to observe:

• How members group up leaving DC, and how those groupings change as the tour progresses.

• Who hangs with and speaks with whom at the early rallies and how that changes as the tour progresses.

• What the specific conversations are about:

REP DON YOUNG (Ak at large): Boy oh boy. The roads in the lower 48 are sure smooth.
SENATOR SCHUMER (NY): That’s because they’re paved, Don.

SENATOR HUTCHINSON (Tx): It takes me a full two days to ride across my state.
SENATOR LEAHY (Vt): If I had a bike that ran that slow, I’d replace it.

REP ROY BLOUNT (Mo 7th): I can’t remember the last time I saw mountains like those!
REP ERIC CANTOR (Va 7th): Sure bigger than what we’ve got back home.
REP MICHAEL CAPUANO (Ma 8th): And what a big sky!
SENATOR BAUCAUS (Mt): Hey guys, there’s this place I know outside of Billings that I gotta show you all. It’s called the Mad Cow and they serve steaks that are…

SENATOR MCCAIN (Az): You shoulda caught the look on that cop’s face outside of Des Moines when you took off your helmet and he saw it was you.
SENATOR HARKIN (Ia): Yeah. But he wrote me up anyway.
MCCAIN: I’da helped you out, but I’m a law and order guy. Besides, I was laughing so hard…

SENATOR BUNNING (Ky): Boy that section of road through me a curve…
SENATOR BOXER (Ca): Wait ‘til you see the Northern California coast!

REP JOHN DINGELL (Mi 15th) to anyone: I’ve wanted to do this forever!

• Whether, upon return in October, because of this common experience, folks are able to reach across the aisle, or whether, in October for the most part, the aisle simply disappears.

It seems to me that if we create shared experiences that reinforce those values that unite us, we will have better success when addressing issues about which we do not agree.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, March 19, 2010

You meet the nicest people on a ...

Back in the 60s, a fledgling Japanese motorcycle manufacturer concocted the slogan: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” The concept still holds true. Having completed nearly 600 miles in two days riding the California coast from Marin to Fort Bragg, here are some conversations with people I met along the way.

AT A 76 STATION JUST OUTSIDE OF SONOMA: “You from Georgia or South Carolina?” I asked the young black man riding what appeared to be a vintage Harley Davidson. From a distance, the tiny license plate looked like it had a peach on it. The young man wore a beautiful Dianese leather jacket and matching pants. Definitely not Harley attire.

He carefully monitored the nozzle pouring 92 octane into the tank. “The UK.”


“Ah’m from the UK. Staying in the city.” That would be San Francisco. “I con’t believe ah’m in the US riding the Sonoma vineyards on a Harley!”

“You picked a great day.”

“Mate, every day’s a great day in California, as I see it.” He’d completed his fill, fastened his helmet and rode off with a jaunty wave and the words “See ya!”

I knew I wouldn’t, but I wished I’d asked him several questions. The lingering one – a stupid question in retrospect - would be: “What do you ride when you ride over there?”

AT THE HARBOR LITE MOTEL IN FORT BRAGG: “I feel so sorry for you guys riding motorcycles up here most days. So cold and wet.” The young lady at the desk might have been out of college and was certainly amiable.

Today hadn’t been wet, but it wasn’t warm. “Today was perfect,” I said.

“You know, I don’t ride. Dad says it’s too dangerous.” She smiled. “So I surf.”

My teeth chattered. (Damn!) “And you think riding a bike is cold?”

“I don’t know. You guys always look frozen when you come in.”

“No. Today was perfect.” I finished checking in and immediately went to my room and thawed out with a hot shower. “Ahhhh…”

AT A CHEVRON STATION IN GUALALA: “I never rode me one of those.” The old man had exited a blue Jetta and was pointing to my BMW. “Well, I did ride when I was younger, but only in the dirt fields.”

“You gotta be careful,” I said.

“I was going to tell you to be careful,” the old man said. “Where are you headed?”

“Home. Sacramento area. Just came down from Fort Bragg.”

Wistfully: “I wish I’da spent some time on the road when I had the chance.”

The old man’s daughter (perhaps granddaughter) approached from the convenience store. “C’mon, Papa. It’s time to get back in the car.” She directed him into the passenger seat and helped him fasten the shoulder harness.

We made eye contact and he lifted a crippled pair of fingers to the window as they departed.

AT A NO-NAME GAS STATION IN HEALDSBURG: “I’m wanting to take the Skaggs Springs Road. You guys know if there’s gas on the coast?” The young man had his Suzuki pulled up to the pumps, but wandered over to see Sam and me as we parked in a restaurant lot.

“We just did Skaggs Springs,” Sam said. “Great ride.”

“Yep, there’s gas at Stewart’s Point. 47 miles,” I said. “Great ride.”

“I was just wonderin’ if I should fill up now or wait until I get there.”

Sam and I looked at each other, then to the young man who’s Suzuki was parked at the pump. “Fill up now. Then you can enjoy the ride without worrying about gas,” I said.

Sam added: “And watch out for the decreasing radius turns.”

The young man thanked us and went to fill up, but I wasn’t convinced he knew what a decreasing radius turn was and hoped we wouldn’t read about him in the paper tomorrow.

AT THE LAUNCH RAMP FOR THE CITY OF NAPA WATER RESERVOIR ON 128 EAST OF NAPA: “You like that bike?” The kid in the fancied-out red Jeep looked too young to appreciate such things as fine as my GSA. He was maybe 20.

“It’s better than I deserve. You ride?”

“I’ve got the F-800 GS.” Score one demerit for my preconceived notions about kids in fancy Jeeps. “My dad’s got the 1200 GS, but not the Adventure. We go everywhere on ‘em. Where you been?”

I explained then added: “Wanted to do the Lost Coast.” (Humboldt County from Highway 1 to Ferndale.)

“I’ve done that! Mattole Road. Nasty but really neat. Had me a street tire on the back and a knobby on the front.” He pointed at the bike. “That’d be great for it.” The he added: “Maybe dad ‘n’ me’ll see you up there.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An Open Letter to Congressman Tom McClintock

I want to compliment you. First of all, sir, know that you and I are probably as opposed politically as any two folks can be: gay marriage, health care, banking regulation, the role of the Federal Government.

That said, I am writing in response to your recent survey of District 4 voters. Unlike past surveys, this tool actually gave respondents the chance to reply without feeling like an idiot for opposing something to which you or the Republican Party may be predisposed. I appreciate this. It shows respect for the electorate; something your predecessor was unable to do. It shows your willingness to engage in discussion and learn from those whom you represent, again, something lacking in the past.

As you listen to your constituents and view the input from survey respondents, please: VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE whether or not it is reflective of the majority opinion you receive from those living in District 4. You were elected because of your deeply held beliefs as a representative of the people – not to represent any one person or group of people, even if that group polls to be a majority. Please continue to let your bedrock tenets guide your decision-making for the District, even if, when reflecting on the input you may receive, you change your mind about a specific issue. Pandering to the vocal whims of a boisterous few is, in large part, what has reduced our democracy to its knees.

Whether we ever agree, my charge to you is to continue to fight the good fight for that in which you believe. If the majority of folks find your actions match their desires, your tenure in Congress will be long and storied. If, on the other hand your constituents believe something else, your commitment to principle and the integrity with which you approach each tough decision will prove to be a legacy of far more importance than just having occupied the seat or a long time.

With deep respect, and yet, pretty general disagreement: best to you sir.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


THERE IS A NATIVE AMERICAN MYTH telling the people that when the world was created, a great fissure began to split the earth. Humans were caught on one side of the chasm, animals on the other. The dog, however, seeing the gap widen, leaped across to the human side, where he has been ever since.

IT IS MARCH, only a week before the spring equinox; normally a time of rising temperatures with lows not as low as a few weeks ago. But not so today. An air mass from the Gulf of Alaska has slipped southward and it feels like January. Edward, the once-stray lab-mix puppy, has, in his year, grown into a full sized black dog. Now weighing about forty pounds, he is sleek and shiny, has a pleasant face, and is generally of good disposition. He stays on a pillow close by.

Working on my project, "The Curious Demise of Pug LeBreaux," I alternately sit at the computer to type and revise, and retire to the futon where I can recline and read, edit and reread the section I’ve just burnished. On this cool morning, Edward believes this is his time. Without asking, he climbs atop my supine body, placing his butt at about my knees, and stretches forward with his pleasant black face atop my sternum. There, he exhales twice or three times and, soon, is in some other realm.

Dog temperature is superior this morning to the temperature in my chilly office. I set my work aside, touch the velvet fur near his whiskers, stroke his head a couple of times, and when I awake, another twenty non-productive minutes have ticked by. Edward is still at rest atop me. I feel his soft exchange of air, punctuated by a quiver of a front paw followed by a muscle in his hip. His eyes begin to roll beneath their closed lids. Soon, still sound asleep, his body is a swarm of tremors and quakes and little paw twitches. He is chasing a bunny, stalking a squirrel or, perhaps, reliving the moment when his ancestor leapt across the great fissure.

WHEN I DIE, I pray that the last thing I remember will be a human touch: someone ushering me over to the other side, wishing me peace and wellness and asking me to be patient until her arrival. Short of that, if my final sensation could be that of an Edward or a Jax (the Aussie) or a Sadie (the boxer) loyally, lovingly next to me, keeping me warm as I journey across the divide, heck, that’d be okay, too.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


[In this scene, protagonist screenwriter Steven Meyer and wife Jane have hiked to the top of Cisco Butte to check out a possible location to stage a film. Only the day before, Steven’s attempt to climb to this summit was thwarted.]

…From this vantage point Steven thought he could pick out which square mile sections the government owned and which were in private hands.

“That’s odd.”

“Jeez, what now?”

“Looks like mine tailings right off over here.” Steven pointed to a talus slope of fresh, crushed rock about where the little ridge that flanked from the log building intersected the side of the butte.

“Mr. History Man,” Jane said, “the gold rush. Forty-niners before football. You know: washboards, banjos on knees...”

“Yeah, but we're at eighty-eight hundred feet. Wasn’t much gold to be found at this elevation. I mean, who’d have the energy to dig it out?”

“People who didn’t know any better?”

Steve pointed. “Someone dug a big hole over there, and I don’t think gold was what they were prospectin’ for.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling,” Steve said. Then he added, “Actually Janie-biscuit, I don’t really know much of anything.”

She smiled knowingly.

THE TEMPERATURE continued to climb. The air, sweet as nectar. A rock promontory just beyond the communication antenna offered a three hundred sixty degree view. The spot begged for a pair of picnickers. The panorama from the Sierran crest all the way across the valley to the coast range, incomparable. A bite of cheese and Rykrisp washed down by some refreshing, cool beer seemed the perfect compliment to this nearly postcard-perfect scene.

Steven took a draught of Pabst. “Whadaya think, dear?”

Jane responded with a comely smile and dancing eyes. She reached a hand behind his neck and pulled him slightly. Steven leaned over and touched his lips to hers again. Something about the wilderness made him feel extra-human or sub-human or maybe just a little animalistic in certain regards. Steven liked this – everything about this. He liked the high sun in a topaz-colored sky. He liked the smell of the sage. He liked the above-it-all view and the romance it inspired. He liked the honey-sweet smell of Jane’s hair, the subtle fire of her embrace and her kiss. Kisses up here, Steven thought, have all that magic of a first kiss. All that magic all over again.

What her eyes told him made him love her more.

This is what heaven is like.

Not long into this lunchtime diversion, with a whistling roar that was anything but natural, Steven felt the earth move again, accompanied by a peppering of granite bits and a furious blast of spiny, brittle twigs. He covered his wife, shielding her from the angry squall of soil and debris. From a yawning chasm, something rose that Steven had seen only once before and quite recently.

Something Jane had tossed off as one of her husband’s creative delusions; but something, about which, she would soon believe.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Southbound Hwy 49 to Westbound I 80

TWISTING THE THROTTLE, I lean heartily right, nearly dragging the valve covers of the big boxer engine, and race into the curve. I feel the Olins compress with whatever g-force accumulates over a nicely banked turn. This length of road is about performance. Not necessarily speed, but line, curve and camber matched with carefully metered acceleration and deceleration. In the blink of an eye, I’m easing off, feeling the shocks relax and rise. But in an instant, I’m again banking and diving – this time to the left. Another blip of the throttle. Whatever scenery is on the by is a rushed blur like a Monet painting of a windstorm. The tarmac corkscrews with a rise and a dip and another twist to the right. Ahead, standing like an affront to anything capable of velocity, the abutment for a U P trestle, planted in and towering above the right shoulder. And immediately, there are lanes to my left.

I glance once, twice, three times over my left shoulder. There’s a spot, just big enough to slip the GS through to a faster lane without irritating the young man piloting a battered, twenty-year-old GMC behind which I momentarily pull – “NObama” sticker on one side, “Cheney 2012” (Yikes!) on the other, NRA on the back window next to a scrubbed over Harley logo and American flag sticker; a crumpled beer can riding the furious tornado swirling in its bed – or the Camry driver who’s shock of white hair and heavy-rimmed dark-glasses-just-before-dusk prompt me to operate the BMW as though he is not aware of my presence. Or anybody else’s.

So much to see, so much to calculate, so much to appreciate in just twenty-eight hundredths of a mile. Seventeen, maybe twenty, seconds to do it all.

In less than the span of a couple of breaths, I am in the number three lane heading toward home, thankful that I didn’t enter that connecting ramp behind a Winnebago or a Buick Century or a tractor trailer loaded with alfalfa; thankful, too, for the engineer who designed this graceful little interlude; and worried about both the redneck and the old gent in the dark glasses, and when (not whether) the beer can will be flung from the cyclone and hit the old man's car.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Evidence of Spring's Approach

LIKE GHOSTLY FINGERS from a life gone, now, one long year, green shoots rise from the soil. Growing daily. Reaching heavenward. Remnants of rebirth after a slow, withering death.

Longing to touch the sky. Fresh. Clean. Pure.

Harbinger of spring in late January. Longing to burst forth and again breathe. But only momentarily.

AT AN OPPORTUNE MOMENT, a grubby little hand plucks the bloom from the stalk and delivers it, tenderly, to his first true love.

He makes coy eye contact.

His Kindergarten teacher is moved. She always is. She always stops short of saying, “Please don’t pick the daffodils.”

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press