thumb_DSC04715_1024 (2)Aren’t you afraid to ride a motorcycle?

Terrified, actually. And that’s kinda the point. My life kept getting smaller and smaller as I let my fears gain traction. Then one day at age 48, I knew I had to face those fears or my life would shrink up to nothing. It started with the motorcycle, which I bought the day after my father died. Soon I was able to confront other, bigger fears that had been constraining my life, like dealing with my falling-apart marriage, then becoming a single woman and learning to date in midlife. Along the way, I became willing to risk being raw and exposed and vulnerable in my life and in my writing work. Somehow, I felt invigorated by that shift and that inspired me.

 

harley-and-me-front-cover-v3.inddPrologue

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

—T. S. Eliot

 

The day is finally starting to soften with the onset of evening as a storm assembles to the southeast. The sun has been scorching my retinas all day and is just now starting to dim. I’ve been riding my motorcycle more than eight hours today, winding first through the stunning canyons of Utah, veering into Idaho for a bit, and now entering the spectacular open range of western Wyoming. My forearms are leaden; my shoulders sag. I vaguely remember the tasteless lunch I ate hours ago, but now I’m hungry. The air is hot, even hotter inside the road armor I’m wearing. I am saddlesore and this is only day two.

Rebecca and I are trekking by motorcycle from Los Angeles to Milwaukee and back, a sixteen-day, five-thousand-mile adventure, the first extended road trip for either of us. We originally met in the mommy realm, room parents together at the small, parochial grade school our kids attended. Now, our children are mostly grown and both of us have only recently left long-term marriages. Having fled the cocoon of the suburban world we’d long inhabited, we find ourselves at midlife, crossing the country on motorcycles, unsure of the road ahead but determined to move forward anyhow.

Please explain what just happened.

I’m not really sure. One day I’m a struggling comic and truck driver, barely making ends meet, then all of a sudden it’s a whirlwind of mountains, steep cliffs, and foreign countries, People all over the planet suddenly know me. It’s cool, but I’m not sure it’s really happening. I have this fright in the back of my mind that I’m going to wake up to find out that it never happened.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Living in Louisiana and Texas as a little kid. A good place for a young explorer to discover the world, but bad places to be raised culturally diverse.

 

If you weren’t a comedian/truck driver, what other profession would you choose?

I would probably work as a linguist. I love to travel, and even more, I love to talk with people from all places and walks of life.

Please explain what just happened.

I opened an email from Slade and just started typing.

 

What is your earliest memory?

A rocking chair that I used to flip over when I was about three. I landed on my head quite often actually, which explains a lot.

 

This is a continuation of my series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1.

17. Nobody deploys the witty put-down quite like Wafi and Safi boys (and girls). You know it by many names: “the dozens,” “snaps,” “cracks,” “yo mama jokes,” and such. The tradition of non-violent contests of wits through rapid-fire mutual insults is well know anywhere Black culture has left a mark. But in my travels I don’t think I’ve met any group that dishes it out quite as expertly as folks from the Niger delta towns of Warri and Sapele (AKA Wafi and Safi), rendered in the particularly extravagant brand of Pidgin English for which that region is famous. I myself still bear the scars from some such encounters. And if you are trying to get cozy with a girl from that region, you had better come correct, or you might not survive the resulting put-down.

I was busy feeling unimpressed by Mt. Rushmore when I noticed the people around me. Four busts over a medium-sized ridge stared deadpan into the clouds as a collective image reproduced so often the original was an inevitable and sorry letdown.

The visitors, though, were something to behold. Among well-dressed Germans, Boy Scouts, sweaty fathers setting up the tripod, earnest tourists listening to the Lakota version of the audio tour as an act of solidarity and even a few Minnesotans, I also noticed bikers.

Every other person at Mt. Rushmore, after I started counting, was clad in bandanas, leather and jeans. Of vehicles in the overflow parking garage, a full two levels teemed with Harleys.

There was a one-word explanation: Sturgis.

*This post is by Greg Boose and Claire Bidwell Smith.


GREG:

It’s common sense; it’s not just something you are told as a child and then realize is bullshit by the time you’re nineteen.

You don’t touch motorcycles that aren’t yours.

If you touch a stranger’s motorcycle, there’s a chance it could fall over.

And after that, only a variation of four situations can play out: