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Monday, August 8, 2011

Harley Therapy - "The Summer Wind" and Riders Errant

by Steven P. Velasquez
Aug. 8, 2011

This past weekend I found myself in an unfamiliar position. My calendar was clear; no work, no teaching, no family obligations. One daughter, Nicolette (15) was in Phoenix, AZ with her mother at a fine arts festival and my youngest, Brianna (4) was with her mother in Boston, MA for a weekend getaway. As always, there was plenty of opportunity to pick up shifts at one of my employers but, like a recovering addict at a bar, I said no and removed myself from the situation. My calendar was clear but my mind was not. It was time for some Harley therapy.

In my traditional form, I mounted Rocinante, my trusty steed, and headed in a direction dictated solely by happenstance. That direction was south and this rider errant, "the Medic of La Mancha," was off on yet another two-wheeled adventure.

I packed what I could fit in my saddlebags; some books, my laptop, my camera equipment and even some clothes and toiletries.

About 75 miles into the trip, I left the Garden State Parkway (no real reason why) and entered the town of Smithville, NJ which, according to the welcome sign, has been here since 1637!  I felt like I had gone through a window in time.  You'll see why shortly. It's an absolutely gorgeous day with temps climbing into the 80's.  I traveled down Route 9 and visited a local Wawa. While outside the store enjoying an enormous Granny Smith apple, my mind began to wonder; how is it possible this is the same Route 9 that runs through the Newark and Jersey City areas? Route 9, home of hot sheet motels, heroin and homicides is also home to the summer's scent of salt water, the sound of seagull's and steeples tall (on churches that is).

Seagull's weren't the only crooners on this day. A brown Mercury is parked before me with its windows down and the stereo blaring. The sounds, strangely not annoying, were familiar, but of an era not mine. "Old Blue Eyes" (Frank Sinatra) is belting out "The Summer Wind" and the driver, an older man, is seated seemingly transfixed, waxing nostalgic, probably of summer's gone by.

A pickup truck parks and a man with a weathered face and a distinct southern twang sees me looking at a map. Unsolicited he asks where I’m headed. “No idea,” I replied. “Cape May Ferry perhaps?" He offers me directions, south on 9 till I get to a country club, then go right on Jimmy Lee’s till you see the Parkway. "How polite" I thought. I asked where he’s from. He replies; “Texas.” I asked what brings a man from Texas to New Jersey? “My wife" he said. Jokingly I counter, “Are you still mad at her?” He didn’t smile. He drew a breath and replied; “She’s passed.” YOU IDIOT! I thought to myself  as I seemingly shrank to the size of an action figure. (I actually envisioned my mortified mother whacking me about the head repeatedly with her chancleta (slipper)) He seemed to forgive my gaffe and stared intently at my bike. By my estimates, his stare was 10% admiration and 90% nostalgia as he pleasantly relived his own riding history.

Today, he works as a boat mechanic and remains in NJ because of his family and grandchildren. His mind however, still lives upon his Indian motorcycle traveling across six states decades ago. He readily regaled me with some of his favorite encounters. I could tell as he spoke he was no longer here and, as if I were a ghost, he didn't even see me standing before him. I wasn't offended. He was "in the zone."  I fully understand that phenomena. Because, like a young fool, I often try to explain it to others. But, like trying to describe what a banana split tastes like to a blind person, it's something one can only appreciate after living, tasting and feeling it. It is an experience reserved for people like us, the rider's errant.

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