“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Two-faces. One or the other. Two sides of a coin flipping in mid-air. When I left home today, Dunlops rolling over acorns busting open with crackling pops, I looked up, squinting, and I couldn’t tell if I would encounter rain. All I could see were swells of grey. But I needed to ride. I was already soaked with stress like I had just been dumped into a pool and was climbing out, looking at my dripping clothes, trying to flick the water off. The only thing I knew to do was to hop on the Kawasaki, tuck in and rev, until all of the stress of the day began to evaporate. Until a clear head settled in, and I found myself, as if for the first time, on a motorcycle, looking at my arms and hands, squeezing the grips like I had just been beamed in. I snapped my faceshield shut, zeroed-in, and said, “School traffic is an hour away. I’ve still got time for a ride.”
At the first traffic light, I gave the sky another look. The swells had cleared, revealing more pink-tinged clouds and baby-blue skies that now replaced the grey. It was 77 degrees outside. The coin was flipping itself into a lovely day.
Taking my favorite Farm-to-Market bend, I could see a brown mare grazing in pasture, looking up, and flicking around her tail. The grasses bowed up and down, worshipers waving reverently with the incoming breeze. But I couldn’t gaze too long, the road was filled with tar snakes scribbled like doodles across my lane. Cars were coming in hot from the other way. Low-siding into oncoming traffic would surely mean giving up the ghost. The cross on the side of the road said so. I didn’t push it coming out of the turn, but boy did I want to, and I looked up at my gauge: 14k miles. Due for a valve adjustment. I still don’t know what that means or what it entails. I pictured a piano repairman with glasses low on the nose tuning a thousand frizzy piano strings. And after changing my spark plugs this summer, I was in no mood for DIY. I felt like a midwife that day, my arms inserted deeply into the heart of the machine, feeling around for a better grip, straining for it to give, desperately pulling out glued coils and guck from four, caked NGKs.
As I got closer to my rural speedway, I started to get some chop, my one-size-too-big jacket filling up with wind like a popping sail. If my riding garb doesn’t feel snug when I ride, my whole game gets thrown off. Timing on my shifting goes out the window and I lose my edge. I immediately decided against a high-speed run, but...the torque was immediate to the touch, and I was already in 4th, the fingertips of Adam and the Creator just slightly apart. And, well, you know... remember that old cartoon, ‘He-Man, Masters of the Universe?’ When he unsheathes the sword hidden behind his back and looks up? Yeah, well, I ended up setting my new high speed record today and it kinda felt like that. Bike and rider surrounded by a comic book burst of colors with a ZAPPING sound: III HHHAAVE THE POWERRRRR!!! It wasn’t just fast. I was getting pulled into a turnpike black hole that could bend light. Like space junk sucked into a gravitational slingshot. And I’ll never understand what always happens next. Suspended in some strange headspace. Almost stateless. Conscious, yet, bodiless. Why do I get so calm when I’m travelling that fast? It’s like my mind shuts all its sensory doors and goes quiet, where all I can feel is my transportation. My ZX didn’t quiver, rattle, or shake. The faster I went, the smoother it felt. The stability is legendary. The ZX’s suspension becoming its own jet stream. And then I thought to myself, that’s a death cocktail you’re sipping on, Starboy. Relax the grip on the throttle. Spit it out. Right now. You’re running out of road.
And then 80 mph felt slow, and I wanted more. But I knew the next traffic light was slow, and my engine temps would hover around 200 degrees. So, I didn’t go. I went back the other way and kept it respectable.
A bug I could not identify splattered across the top of my gloveless hand. All I could see was his yellow death skid, like dried paint, like a wet smudge of saffron. Delicate. I’m used to paintball-grade insect kamikazes, so this was a nice change. In fact, I noticed at every stop light Monarch butterflies lightly bouncing and gliding in the air. What is this, an imposter Spring? It’s November! I’d stop and watch them, tree-hugging hiker that I am, and snap out of it, when the light turned green. It was now 72 degrees and I breathed in all the fresh air through my nose. Slap that coin on top of the wrist, I win. What a beautiful day!
And then, the coin fell to the ground flipping to its other side. Was that a whiff of non-potable water from all the construction on the side of the road? No. And then I looked two cars ahead of me. A flatbed truck hauling eight Porta-Potties chained together for emptying. I didn’t want to think about all of the contents sloshing around like a watered-down dookie stew. Yuck! Those poor butterflies in my mind’s eye were overtaken by a swarm of black, evil, emerald flies on the way to the doo-doo!!! It smelled so bad I took a detour through a small town south of Austin. And after a few good views of Onion Creek, I was back to myself, toying with the powerband.
I rode down an old road and back, and out of the blue, I decided to have another run on speedway number two. I was racking up tolls, but I had time. School traffic wouldn’t be out for another thirty minutes.
Anxiously slowing down by the yield sign to get on the highway, guess who passed by, headed the same way? The Porta-Pottie Express. No! Gladly, by the time I caught up to him, he was going another way.
I wanted to launch on the straightaway, but in addition to an uneven, bumpy road, big rigs on my right crowded my lane, causing wind shear, so I took it easy. I took the first turn-off, something I don’t normally do, and I rode on Farm-to-Market roads, exploring. These were the good ones, with twisties, right by old-time telephone poles and expansive green fields. I stopped to take photos of cumulus clouds and my motorcycle by tall, billowing weeds on the side of the road that looked like corn stalks. I love stopping to look at the countryside, breathing in fresh air, and admiring my motorbike. I rode back on the same road, but alas, on this day of opposites, this stretch was two-faced, as well. Like a mini-fault line, the middle of the lane cracked open like dried brownies in a baking pan. I was being pumped out of my seat by bumps like I was sitting on a steam engine bicycle. And then there was the dead raccoon on the road, nothing left but fur and bones and a screaming skull, lying by a spraypaint line of blood. I headed back, got stuck behind a bulldozer on the road, and carefully studied the ground for bolts and debris that wanted to poke my tire with a puncture hole.
When I got back, just before reaching Old San Antonio Road, I could see a homeless man sitting on a median, under an umbrella, with roughly tanned skin, counting coins in his hand. I saw another homeless woman when I turned in, sitting on the curb with a yellow sign with words I couldn’t read. I crossed the bridge that curved over a beautiful section of Onion Creek, and lifted my visor. Wind on my face, I was only five minutes out from the house. Right before I turned onto my street, I saw two police officers asking a squatter sitting on a bench to leave. The squatter looked straight ahead, dismally, as the cops gave him calm ultimatums. I thought, well, he probably needed to leave. But then I asked myself, “What if that was me?”
I turned into the road by my house and mused some more, my tires rolling over acorns popping on the street. The stresses had indeed dissolved off and I felt a lightness, but a quick thought stuck to the top of my mind. There are two sides to everything. Depending on which way you’re going, how fast you’re moving, and whose shoes you’re standing in. And much of this depends on whether you can even see.
I lifted the coin from the grass and placed it on top of my hand. I laughed until I lifted my palm; the image on the coin gleamed. Each side had an engraved eye. One an eyelid closed, the other, an eye opened wide.
Maybe today I saw both sides?
Maybe, today I could see.