Having turned the clock back only a few hours before, it was really 6:30am, but the total absence of light suggested a day without dawn, like the morning following the day I last said, “I do.” (I am not married to my current love, a condition of cohabitation upon which she insists. I live here at her pleasure, which I tend to stretch to the point of transparency, and which accounts for why I wear see-through harem pants, do her bidding, and let her call me, “Asp.”)
I swung my feet to the bedroom floor and tip-toed out of the room. Actually, I stepped on a white dog who is as fat as a pig, tumbled backwards onto the bed, and planted my hand squarely on a sleeping woman’s ass. Despite being on a first name basis with the lady in question, this was the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm in a Marine Corps. barracks.
“What the hell are you doing,” she asked, without opening her eyes, but using a tone that suggested she was again enduring the kind of pain associated with a gunshot wound to the head.
“I was thinking of going for a motorcycle ride,” I replied.
“For that you needed my ass and Scout?”
“There was a time when you would have been more curious than critical,” I returned.
“And there was a time when you were more man and less mass.”
I answered her with the glaring look of a lifetime, which amounted to nothing in the pitch black room. (This was just as well considering I am on my third year of double secret probation and the house is mined with trapdoors, covering chutes that lead to the street. My exit is likely to be as quick as it is ignominious.)
The rain was bad news for my riding plans. These included meeting Matt Piechota, charging up to Hudson County, New Jersey (one mile west of Manhattan), and taking pictures of our bikes against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty (Jersey City) and the Tear of Grief (Bayonne) -- both located at dramatic points against the New York City skyline. The agenda then called for a sausage lunch at a bier stube (Zeppelin Hall) or running into the City for a sandwich and a beer at McSorely’s (the oldest bar in New York). I was then going to visit with my mom for a bit, before we headed back.
Above -- The old Central Rail Road of New Jersey Teminal and Ferry Slip restored at Liberty State Park (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)
The rain stopped at dawn, leaving the ground covered with a lethal parchment of wet leaves, capped with the kind of mist that encourages improv actors to break into scenes from “Macbeth.” I had absolutely no desire to roll the bike out into that porridge just for the thrill of scraping all that crap off of it at the end of the day. At least that’s what I told myself. In truth, I’m a bit of a “faint heart” when it comes to riding under questionable weather conditions. I’ve done it enough to qualify for the title of “Reluctant Viking,” but it is very hard for me to justify leaving a nice, dry house (well-stocked with beverages) with certain death lurking at every turn.
Above -- The Tear of Grief -- A monument to the 9/11 horror from the People of Russia to the People of the US, in Bayonne, NJ. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)
Yet the question at hand was, “What to do about Matt Piechota?” Matt is one of those good natured Mac Pac riders who thinks all of this is on the up and up. He participates in track days, goes on rides tagged as “spirited” and mounts a classic “naked” BMW with a boxer engine. These were exactly the kind of conditions he would laugh at and I was relatively certain he’d be at the rendezvous at the appointed time. I decided to tell him the truth, “that Scout was walking with a limp and I had to take her to the vet.”
I had barely begun to type the words when a note from Matt flashed across my computer screen advising me that he wasn’t feeling well and that his decision not to ride had nothing to do with the chicken-shit emotions I myself was likely attempting to overcome just to get on my bike.
My first inclination was to issue him an insulting challenge... But what would I do if Matt accepted? I graciously excused him from the ride, with the hope that we might try this again, at a future time when he had greater confidence in his riding skills. Then I switched off the computer so he couldn’t reply.
From dawn until noon, I consoled myself that I would have ridden if it weren’t for the weather. And then it started to clear.
If Thomas Jefferson had appointed me to explore the Louisiana Purchase, the United States would today end at the town of Fuckett, Missouri. It’s not that I don’t qualify as the adventurous type. It’s just that I can be talked out of anything with little effort. Sometimes, all it takes is the swish of skirt. With regard to the real estate deal just mentioned, if Chief Knotted Sinew had said to me, “They have these huge, hide-covered spiders out west. You’re better off drinking here with us and bathing with the women...” I would have declared the nearest stream a tributary of the Pacific and sent Jefferson my bill.
But I am versatile.
When there is no one to talk me out of something particularly life threatening or tedious, I can do it myself. Years ago, I talked myself out of painting the bathroom for so long that the existence of a paintbrush was regarded as a myth in my house. I once talked myself out of marrying a certain woman for fear of getting poisoned; and then talked myself out of telling her face to face (in favor of an e-mail) for fear of getting stabbed.
Oddly enough, I get apprehensive about my motorcycle, especially if I haven’t been on it for a while. I’ll plan some interesting ride, either a pleasant diversion or a more challenging run, and begin to imagine the fun I’ll have. This fun includes the crisp bite of the autumn air, the wind whistling around my helmet, the sensation of power in the K75‘s grips, and the way women undress me with their eyes when I buzz past. Inevitably, my thoughts will also turn to a couple of blind curves I have to run through, deer that leap out like suggestions from a marriage counselor, clouds laden with rain, and piles of leaves that wait until they hear me coming before drifting out into the road. Once I start down this pusillanimous spiral, it is but a short stretch to the conclusion that I’m too stiff to ride, or that its now too late to go, or that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone.
The truth is that I constantly have to prove something to one person... And he can’t be bullshitted.
It was 3:30pm when I roared out of the driveway and picked up the Pennsylvania Turn Pike. Even though I had gained an hour during the night, the sun looked like it was putting in a cameo appearance before heading out. The great Irish philosopher, Aiden Murphy, once said the sun can be held suspended in the sky by the throttle. I sure as hell tried. The K75 felt good on the road and I felt good on the bike. The tach was pegging the engine’s tune at 65 hundred and the speedo was like a compass needle aimed at the meaning of life.
This is a little-known fact, but engineers at BMW designed K75‘s motor to sound like Patti Smith on steroids at the higher RPM. I was in the second chorus of “Because The Night” when I noticed the landscape on either side of me had blurred in deference to my speed. The gas light winked on 15 miles into New Jersey and I pulled into the Arthur Bedlam rest area for gas. (New Jersey rest areas and fuel stops are named after “Garden State” patriots or famous residents. Arthur Bedlam is regarded as the “Father of New Jersey Driving Patterns.”)
Traffic changed around Exit 8. It increased in density until it was like driving through 8 inches of newly poured concrete. The Garden State’s semi-annual Douche Day Parade was being held in the left lane. This is where a hundred thousand douches -- all driving minivans -- take turns speeding up and slamming on the brakes, with their eyes closed. The overall illusion they try to create is a five-mile-long caterpillar, humping itself in surges. The effect is rather remarkable and may be the subject of National Geographic special.
The New Jersey TurnPike splits between Exits 8 and 8a, with cars headed to the left and all commercial traffic going to the right. I didn’t hesitate, and threw my lot in with the trucks. They were moving like the hammers of hell, and I was going faster. I zipped past New Brunswick and the exit for Perth Amboy, which I have always associated with the beginning of the shore points from the time I was a kid. (It really isn’t. The exit just sort of smells that way.)
Above -- The most dramatc views -- albeit brief ones -- of Newark Airport are from the New Jersey Turn Pike. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)
Ten minutes later, I was on the outskirts of the oil refineries in Linden, separated from Staten Island (New York City) by the narrow puke strip that is the Arthur Kill, arguably the most polluted and ugliest waterway in North America. The New Jersey Turn Pike parallels the runways of Newark International Airport (now renamed Liberty International, like some kind of dopey Disney character) and the massive cranes of Port Newark. Although I’m sure renaming this most dignified of the Metropolitan area’s three airports (Kennedy, formerly Idlewild, is another, and the hellish La Guardia is the third) was a scheme of the NY/NJ Port Authority, the Garden State has some of the most pretentious monikers for the most confined regions to be found in the most densely populated square-footage in all humanity, including the alleys of New Dehli. My favorite is “The Skylands,” billed as New Jersey’s “Great Northwest.” This entire area is about the size of five family farms in Nebraska. And if you have a free week to tour it, try riding five miles on Route 15 at 5pm on any Friday night.
The mechanical wonder of the area surrounding greater Newark is a mixture of amazing things built by man, in an environment that was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Mordor. The cranes that unload container ships in Port Newark are among the largest moving structures on earth. The ships are almost on the shoulder of the Turn Pike. Landing aircraft at Newark seem to race the traffic less than a hundred yards away. Railroad lift bridges of the oddest configuration, some with three levels of tracks, are stacked next to each other like beach chairs in a mad confusion of black iron. The majestic Pulaski Skyway, built in 1932, stretches 11 miles from Newark to Jersey City like a noose. My brother, Jerry, got to Paris before I did. The first thing I asked him was, “What is the Eiffel Tower like?” His response, “Imagine the Pulaski Skyway sticking straight up in the air.”
Above -- The Pulaski Skyway stretches 11 miles from Newark, NJ, to Jersey City, NJ, like a noose. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)
Yet it was here that my fears started to get the best of me. The fastest way to get to the heart of Jersey City was from Exit 15e... Which leads to two poorly placed lift bridges, built in 1932. (One has four lanes of traffic, and the other has six.) I remember both as having steel decks, and one with the approach ramps from the Turn Pike going into a right angle turn, terminating at a “Yield” sign, at the deck’s edge.
I hate shit like this.
But a gap in traffic magically appeared and I was on the first bridge in the blink of an eye. Amazingly enough, the steel deck had been replaced by a paved roadway. No problamo. I started to laugh in my helmet. And then I was on the second bridge, sandwiched between two trucks, on a steel deck that was a slippery as the cross-examination of my second wife’s divorce lawyer. I hit it doing 55 mph, and I was over the deck in a second or two. It had been 30 years since I last rode a motorcycle over this particular bridge.
Above -- The Communipaw Avenue lift bridge was built in 1932. It spans the Hackensack River with a steel grate deck that is six lanes wide. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)
The first traffic light brought me to the intersection of Rt. 440 and Communipaw Ave. in Jersey City. I learned how to ride a motorcycle in Jersey City, I can assure all of you it is a highly over-rated experience. Riding down West Side Avenue, and then Kennedy Boulevard on Sunday, prompted me to think, "This is some shit for the birds."
One forgets the genteel nature of Jersey City. Arriving at the parking lot recommended by my brother, the attendant greeting me warmly by saying, "No motorcycle parking... Get that fucking thing outta here."
My first inclination was to return this typical Jersey City salutation with a cheery, "How about I get off this bike and shove that stupid little gate up your ass." But I didn't think that would help the situation. Instead, I showed the man a ten-spot, which is all he wanted in the first place. Three minutes later, I was parked five feet from the elevator leading directly to my mother's floor. We had a pleasant three-hour visit.
When I departed at 8:30pm, it was full night. Still, I had no trouble retracing my route to the New Jersey Turnpike (in Newark). At the toll booth, however, the automated ticketing device refused to issue me a toll ticket. There is a doorbell button on the machine to signal trouble.
I pressed it.
I pressed it again.
I pressed it 25 times.
I pressed it and held it down for 25 seconds.
Then I started to scream, “You fucking assholes," at the top of my lungs to unseen members of this state authority. This resulted in a fifteen-minute delay, during which they undoubtedly debated whether I wanted them to fuck assholes, or if I meant they were the assholes. This is the stuff of debate in New Jersey. Throughout all this time, there was no traffic behind me. I backed the bike all the way out of the booth, and tried coming through again. It was a that point the machine issued me a ticket.
Swinging onto the New Jersey TurnPike proper (I-95 South), I switched on the deadly HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights that I had installed over the summer. The night pavement held no secrets. It was like riding through an operating room. Their effects intensified on the darker stretches below Exit 8. A car slid into my lane (typical Jersey) and got in front of me with about 6 feet to spare. He lasted 30 seconds. My lights made an x-ray of the driver’s head on the windshield of his car.
Now the temperature was 56º when I left the house in the afternoon. It was 13º cooler now. I was wearing my Joe Rocket ballistic jacket over a long sleeve shirt. I didn’t think to put the liner in the jacket, nor to bring it in a saddlebag. The cold began to creep into my joints from my extremities. But I didn’t care. The road was clear... I was going like hell... My lights were effective... The moon was out and looking very cool... And my clutch... What the hell was the matter with the clutch?
It was just before 10pm, and I pulled into the Harriet Tampon Rest Area, just below Exit 8a. (I forget what Harriet Tampon invented, but New Jersey is impressed with it.) The clutch was clunky and uneven. The bike changed gears easily enough, but something odd was happening at the caliper end. I sensed a strange kind of binding, and then I knew: the cable was breaking. I didn’t panic. I counted to 10 and said:
I carry a spare clutch cable with me -- all the time. I have the required tools -- all the time. I have a flashlight -- all the time. But I don’t know how to install a clutch cable. It might just as well have been a nuclear reactor core or a Jarvic 7 artificial heart. I had heard of guys riding these bikes great distances, and shifting without a clutch. If necessary, I could figure it out too. But maybe it would hold. At least as far as Pennsylvania.
I babied it, thinking I could get as far as Valley Forge.
I thought, “What the hell? It’s only 9 more miles to East Goshen. Maybe my luck will hold?”
It did. It held until I parked the bike in the garage. And it is still holding.
Fellow Mac Pac member Brian Curry dropped by two days later to show me how to install a clutch cable... But there was nothing wrong with the one I had. The pin holding the caliper to the handlebars was missing, however. The caliper assembly was being held together solely by the tension on the cable. I looped a cable tie through the opening as to such time when I can get the appropriate OEM parts tomorrow.
It was a nice ride for me... 212.5 miles alone... With 106.25 in the dark.
Nothing special for most of you. But look at all the stuff I got out of it.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)