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Zen and the Art of Saddling

Aside from being dead before I hit 15 because there would be no insulin, I think I would have liked life in the late 1800’s.

Not for the gadgets, for crying out loud (a phrase I am bringing back). Or the toilet. Nor the lack of Skittles.

But the mode of transport. I don’t know what it is about the horse, but god I love it. So fast, huge, flaring, utterly streamlined, down the mane. All atop four toothpicks which, if even one fractures, likely kills animal and rider. How’s that for a harmonious ecosystem? Screw you, nature.

Still, I can’t help but be mesmerized. Mom and Dad used to tell the story of how, as a toddler, I took a pony ride once at a petting zoo. Round and round, I must have imagined myself an original member of the James Gang: ramrod straight, stern glower, tight jaw — until I saw my parents, who, unlike me, couldn’t keep a straight face. stern

Yet I remain that wannabe cowboy. Maybe that’s why I prefer motorcycles.

I use any excuse to ride. I ride to Teddy’s vet just to order his epilepsy meds, instead of calling. More times than I’d like to admit, I take off on the bike with no idea where I’m going. The way will decide.

Lately, the way has been a 50-mile roundtrip trek to Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway, through San Fernando’s amazing canyon roads. It morphs from mountains to seaside, green to brown, and the temperature changes more than 25 degrees on the scoot from Valley to water.

But you can’t help but feel…alive. The terrifying reality of a bike is that it’s a terrifying reality. Driving a mile a minute is insanity enough. But on two wheels, with L.A. traffic that buzzes like an angry wasp, you realize that every trip, no matter how short or brief, requires your undivided attention. There’s a reason you never hear about motorcycle drunk driving. Sober, cars are threat enough.

Still, there’s something to being aware on the drive. How often can we say we remember a car drive we took?

A few things I’ve learned on the bike:

  • Nothing smells as good as spring jasmine.
  • Everyone smokes weed in their cars.
  • A comfortable dry heat is bullshit. A microwave gives off dry heat. It will still pop your Orville Redenbacher.
  • Everybody is pissed off.

That last lesson I learned recently coming back from the PCH. I was idling at Vanowen and Balboa, a half mile from my house. Then I heard something.

“Hey!” a woman in a wheelchair yelled. “HEYYYY!!!!”

She was trying to roll across Vanowen, where an SUV douche sat at the corner. He was gunning his engine, trying to bully the Kia to make a turn on red. It did, and douche was next. But he wasn’t bothering with the crosswalk, only northbound traffic. And his jacked douchemobile was too high to see the wheelchair.

“I’M CROSSING!!!!” the woman screamed.

I put the bike in neutral and was about to get behind the woman and push her across. The other nice thing about a bike: people tend not to honk at someone in a helmet and leather. You never know. They could have a criminal record. Or muscles.

Feigning both, I begin to step off the bike. Traffic can go around.

Suddenly the woman’s legs began to work. Both, scuttling on the pavement, arms churning. Kind of like a frenetic beetle upended. I’m not sure if her butt was paralyzed, cuuuuuuz her arms and legs seemed to work just fine. And she was definitely gaining speed.

When the SUV driver finally saw the woman, he stopped gunning the engine. Fine, I’ll wait 10 seconds, though I really should pay homage to work. He, too, was caught off guard at seeing the miracle of her working legs.

Once the woman knew that douche saw her, she did something odd. As she neared the corner, she began to coast. Legs back up, feet in footrests, arms in her lap. Looking at the driver. Fuck you, Mr. Escalade. Wait for me. Once she reached the curb, she seemed to take a particularly long time to roll up the sidewalk slope. Maybe it just seemed long, because she probably could have picked up the wheelchair and placed it on the curb.

Cadillac must have thought the same thing, because he screeeeeeched out of the intersection when she finally made it curbside. I kicked the bike into first and, dumbstruck, puttered home.

That’s one way to remember the ride.

 

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