When I lived in New Orleans I rode a motorcycle for about five years. It was a dark red Honda Shadow, VT600C, paid for with money I made as a bartender. I must have paced New Orleans and its surrounding areas several hundred times on that thing. My friend Sara taught me how to ride, and once I started it was hard to ever get off.
I remember very well getting out of the UNO newspaper’s office, where I was editor, at two in the morning on layout night, and driving across town through the empty night on my way home. I would come down Elysian Fields, with its pocked, rough roads, skirt the French Quarter where the music still played and you could smell the beer and the river and the cooking food, drive through the Central Business District and all the lights, through the Lower Garden District and smell the baking bread, and then up Prytania Street, where night blooming jasmine flooded the air with its scent. It was a direct engagement with the city at night, something that’s impossible to replicate in the shell of a car. Even in the heat of August, the wind cooled you as you rode.
I remember riding south into bayou country, the small ribbon of road carving a modest path through green crops of soybean or sugarcane, huge and venerable oaks, the roadside seasoned with old, stormbeaten homes. I remember smelling the Gulf’s salty air and feeling the sting of blown sand on my face. Riding in the rain, the fear galvanizing, every nerve extended, every dip and chunk in the road a possible end, each finished trip a celebration of will, ability, and luck.
I sold it when I got divorced and moved to Asheville with Mia. I couldn’t justify the risk involved while I was a single parent. Sometimes it was hard to justify even when I wasn’t single. But I think about it a lot. Especially lately, as I close in on seven years here, and I find myself still working a job I thought would only be transitional, still single, still trapped in amber. And also as there are signs of forward progress at last, as my first book moves closer to reality and the first novel is underway, with a strong momentum. It’s a road novel, in some ways, and so naturally my mind returns to my favored experience of the road.
I won’t be getting one again any time soon. At least not while Mia still lives at home. But someday I will. I’ve always wanted to take a month-long motorcycle trip through Alaska. By myself, or in the company of someone else … it doesn’t matter. I can feel that day coming closer.