Most towns have a “Dead Man’s Curve” too. In Hudson County, New Jersey, this was on Kennedy Boulevard, the dividing line between Union City and North Bergen, around 58th street. The traffic lights on Kennedy Boulevard were set to sync in those days, and it was fully possible to get up a decent head of steam — 55 to 65 miles per hour — early in the morning, and later at night. Then you’d hit that damn curve, which was tighter than a loan shark’s ass. So many people were killed there that it was one of the first places I ever knew to have a Jersey barrier... Even before US-1.
The old iron 14th Street viaduct in Hoboken, NJ ends at a “T” intersection about 25 stories in the air, clinging to two inclined roadways on the face of the lower Palisades. To the left is Jersey City and to the right is Union City. The nightmarish traffic jams that occur on this structure (which looks like it’s about to fall down) are legendary. This is 25% of the only four ways to enter the holy city of Hoboken, and it is about midway between the Lincoln and the Holland Tunnel river crossings into New York City. (It should be noted that the retaining wall on the cliff face here has fallen down a couple of times.)
(Above) The "Helix" dropping down into the Lincoln Tunnel. This picture is so old, that the third tube of the tunnel is not yet open. Photo from Wikipedia.
These places are on my mind tonight as I have had a bit of an adventure on all of them. My race on Secaucus Road nearly ended in the swamp. I have almost been squeezed flat between a bus or two and the divider on "Dead Man's Curve." But the first time I ever leaned a motorcycle far over (like the big kids) was on the "Helix" coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel. But I wasn't quite myself at the time.
I was working on my first major literary project in 1976, and had engaged the services of an artist I had known in high school to illustrate the material. Ramone R. had a great talent for illustration and a rare sense of humor that often came out in his work. He was a minimalist when it came to line drawings, yet these were among his best stuff. Ramon lived in midtown Manhattan at the time, in a shithole of an apartment that defied description. A lot of my friends lived in Manhattan. I used to think they had contests among themselves to see who could find the shittiest place to live. My pal Scott Volk used to seek out apartments that were so shitty, roaches refused to live in them. (But I beat them all. I rented a place off Congress Street and New York Avenue in Jersey City that my father described as the prototype of Ralph Kramden’s dump in the television classic “The Honeymooners.”)
On the day upon which this story takes place, Ramone R. and I had been working for 6 hours straight and failed to find the connection between his art and mine.
“Fuck this,” said Ramone. “We’re getting no place fast. What we need is inspiration.” With that, he pulled out a plastic bag filled with shredded vegetation, and rolled a doobie as big as a hog's leg.
Now I was a late bloomer. In fact, there was talk that I was never going to bloom at all. I was 20, and had never smoked pot. I had long since discovered the benefits of the ancient Irish distilling process and would routinely go on a tear. But I didn’t smoke cigarettes and had never been a fan of inhaling the cigars I had started to enjoy. So for me, passing the bone or bong in a group was a given.
Ramone R. looked at me in disbelief when I told him this.
“You’re gonna get an education today,” he said. “This is really dynamite grass.”
The high I got from Ramone’s doobage was unlike anything I had experienced before. My ears went numb. I was utterly relaxed but pensive. I started to speak like a late night talk show host at a time when Joe Franklin (on WOR) was regarded as one of the kings of after-midnight talk TV.
Then Ramone’s girlfriend walked in, sniffing the air like a beagle.
In truth, she looked a lot like a beagle too. I expected her to lift a hairy leg and piss. She claimed to be a devout communist and had named her cat after Stalin’s wife. (I was tempted to ask if Stalin's wife shit in a reeking box under the sink in a kitchen.) Lots of women who looked like Ramone's squeeze were resigned to being communists in those days, apparently. They plotted to kill all the good-looking women and all the shallow guys who bought them nice presents too.
She wasn’t Russian but had taken a Russian first name that meant “Red Death To Those Who Thought With Their Dicks.” Not only did I think with my dick back then, but I used it as a kind of compass needle to point out the hottest female asses in large gatherings of people.
Ramone’s girl sat down opposite the two of us, and took the smoldering roach from his hand. “Red Death” inhaled in such a manner that the lit end glowed like a ruby in a fantasy novel, and served as a portal for all the smoke in the room to enter her body like she was some kind of a human air filter.
She then pulled off her shirt to reveal breasts that had never been confined in a bra, but which had taken on the shape of the drooping Chechnyan economy instead. I was never picky about things like this, but I wouldn't have picked these. (In those days, my standards were wide open. A pulse was pretty much the baseline requirement.) I recall she had a mole on one. Not the kind of mole that looks like an inflamed freckle, but one that was covered with fur, having the approximate dimensions of a hedgehog. (I had just seen the cult film classic Eraserhead and the pot I had smoked convinced me this mole could jump off and run around the room snarling.)
I was never one to judge people by their looks... Especially when it came to women who would take off their shirts on one hit of a joint. But I had met Ramone's girlfriend before. She was the most disagreeable communist who ever lived. Her face was constantly twisted in an expression of disapproval and the purity of her political beliefs were alleged to be proven by her aversion to hot showers, shampoo, and soap. She never called me "Comrade," but this was because she knew her mission in life was to publicly denounce those of my cushy ilk — if we were unfortunate enough to survive the revolution.
Ramone had met her at a party (a real party not the communist kind) and decided that she was the best option for getting laid that night. Their relationship kindled when he put on a beret and told her like he wanted to live like Ché Guevara. (Personally, I have never had to get laid that badly.)
“You should stay and meditate with us,” she said. "We'll smoke some more and get in touch with what's important." I suspected that meant I could look at her tits until I bought dinner, in the true spirit of the Revolution.
Now under the circumstances, I would have had a natural curiosity to see where this was going. But it was as if she had triggered a reflex reaction. My dick flipped me the keys to the bike down on the street and demanded we leave at once. I remember looking at the clock and saying something diplomatic like, “Don’t anybody get between me and the door.” I swear she hissed like a snake with a slow leak.
It was the summer, and the streets simmered in full daylight at 7:30pm. The pot had given midtown a softer quality and I felt oddly isolated from my surroundings. The curtain had gone up on Broadway, but the Saturday night crowd had yet to shuffle in. As usual, the Kawasaki 750 H2 started on the first kick, and I roared down to 9th Avenue, easily moving in and out traffic. I felt like I was part of a strange ballet, and this was so preposterous that I found myself laughing behind the cheap plastic face-shield, snapped onto the open-faced helmet.
In the next instant, I dove into the Lincoln Tunnel. It was like flying through a tube designed to magnify that bizarre two-stroke sound “Ying... Ying... Ying... Yinggggggggggggggggg.” The dim lights on the edges of the tunnel roof flashed by like an effect from a Stanley Kubrick movie. I came out the other side, feeling like a circus performer being shot out of a huge cannon... Then I flew up the “helix” doing about 65 miles per hour. Twenty minutes later, I was at my girl’s place. She was not a communist. She had been a star on the college equestrian team... She didn’t have a cat, and if she did, it wouldn’t be involved in a plot to kill the Czar. She had the kind of flawless breasts that ancient Greek sculptors would spend entire lifetimes trying to recreate in stone. She gave off a faintly scented pheromone that had an all-American girl air to it. The compass pointed straight and true to the red, white, and blue.
I was still pretty stoned when she opened the door, though the sensation was starting to fade.
“What are you doing here,” my squeeze asked. “I didn’t think I’d see you at all tonight. I figured you and Ramone would get into some kind of trouble in the city.”
“You have no idea what ideological hell I escaped. Do you have any ice cream or Oreos,” I asked, putting my arms around her waist, burying my face in her hair.
She kissed me and asked, “Are you fucking high?”
This is a story about an evening in my youth upon which I rode a motorcycle. Neither the author nor the editorial review board of Twisted Roads advocates the unsafe operation of a motorcycle while under the influence of substances that normally make individuals like myself susceptible to suggestions offered by topless women. The names have been changed in the odd event that someone I know, like Ihor Sypko, will figure out the real players, and inadvertently spill the beans. There is no moral to this story. And if the gentle reader wants to know if I learned anything from this experience, the answer is “no.”
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA the Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle View)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)