Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Uneasy Rider

Every Spring I get two wheels on the brain. Yesterday I mentioned Robert Pirsig's enlightening 17-day motorcycle journey to California. Some friends of ours have a cycle and are thinking of buying a second so the Mrs. can get her road rash on. More power to 'em! I still get all a-twitter when I see a Triumph or Norton or Royal Enfield (ah, British bikes and roadsters -- maintenance nightmares, but what style).

I'm never going to take that long ride, though, because this cat ran through all his alloted lives in the late 60s and I think a next time would be the last. I did, however, ride nonstop with just $5 in pocket from Boston to Richmond in late May 1967, and that was fun. I have never been so filthy. Traffic was a lot lighter then, and the cost of travelling a lot less.

How this came about starts with a lousy art teacher. In December 1966, I was taking a drawing class final exam in that ugly VCU gym building on Franklin St. I was so fed up with paying for classes I got less than zero from, and taking exams but learning nothing, that I just dropped the charcoal stick (I despise charcoal drawing; it's for cavemen) and walked out. I gave my dad the keys to my car and took a plane to Boston (wretchedly sick from the smoking going on), to hang around Harvard (because of the folk scene on the Square) and listen to the smart people in a stimulating environment. Experience in time makes us much more cautious (OK, makes us weenies) -- imagine pulling a stunt like that now!

I got a job at the Harvard Law Library, in the stacks, and established a HQ in the study carrell used by John Kennedy. I fetched requests and put them on the dumb waiter, and worked in the faculty stacks which was in a metal cage suspended below the ceiling. I even pissed off famous professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, despite getting him exactly what he wanted immediately. Nice guy. Other adventures included buying the first Buffalo Springfield and Doors albums at the Harvard Co-Op when they came out in January, visiting the excellent ice cream parlor on the Square weekly, going to the Automat cafeteria with food items behind little glass doors (they're history now), and going to the "head" and clothing shop called Truc on Brattle St. I just found out what that word means: "knicknacks" in Turkish. The owner looked Turkish, so that explains it.

I almost bought a huge black BMW RS600, but gave up on that idea when it went down on its side and I couldn't get it back up. Scooters and cycles were big with the students at the countless colleges in the area, so, all cranked up with that idea I caught the MTA to Commonwealth Avenue and bought a black-and-white Yahama 305 tourer after I asked Dad to sell my 1958 Mercedes back home (should have kept it, obviously). Right after that, it snowed, and I took my shiny beast on a moonlight drive at midnight along the Charles. The snow rooster-tailed in a beautiful arc from the rear tire, and the white blanket silenced all sound -- it was like gliding along in a dream. One cold Sunday morning I decided to check out Revere beach and actually found it without Mapquest. I was tooling along the sidewalk along the beach, since it was still cool and no one was about, except for the Revere police (natch). They gave me a ticket and a few gratuitous insults, but that didn't dampen my spirits. I got terribly lost on the way back, but the sun was out and abnormally warm for the season, so as it set I found my slum dwelling and returned safe, sound, and with a minor criminal record.

Tomorrow I'll tell you why I should never get on a cycle again.

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