Gene’s Back Story and Hopes

Back Story and Hopes for the Trip

In July of 2012 I moved back to Georgia and settled in Rome, which is a truly wonderful town. Prior to this I spent 16 years living in Northern Ireland – a magnificent and magical place which I loved. Unfortunately, over the last 2 years before I left there the magic wore out for me. The kids had grown and were away, my marriage fell apart, my job suffered and my heart broke. I needed to heal. I needed to find hope. I left everything and came home.

A character in one of my stories describes how I felt:

The other night a good friend of mine who is Jewish came down to Tybee to see me. We sat on the screened porch and smoked a couple of Hav-A- Tampa Jewel cigars and hoisted a few beers. We were talking about God, as one does in moments like this, and he told me this old Hassidic story. It’s about a student who asks his rabbi a question about Deuteronomy 6:6. “and these words, which I command thee this day, shall be put upon thy heart.” The student asks the rabbi: “Why does God say it this way? Why are we told to put these things upon our heart rather than in our heart?” He paused at this point and took a few puffs of his cigar, the grey smoke disappeared rapidly in the breeze. I don’t know if it was for dramatic emphasis or what but we both just stared out through the screen. I watched the brown palmetto fronds rubbing up against the side of the house.

He looked at me and said: “The rabbi tells the student that it is beyond our power to put God’s teachings directly into our heart. ‘All we can do’ he says, ‘is to place them on the surface of our heart so that when our heart breaks the teachings will drop in.’” I could picture that, feel it, my heart breaking and something falling in. I think it was hope. (Knight of Faith)

With the help of friends, family, prayer, God, writing, reflection, mindfulness practice and, of course, motorcycle riding, I have found hope. Through all of these I am trying to stay in the present, to let the painful memories of the past go and to live in gratitude and practice loving-kindness, some things on which all religions agree.

So my hopes for the trip are to enjoy the ride. Appreciate the friendship, wit, orneriness, and camaraderie of my great pal, Jeff Stafford. See my daughter and her husband. Stay focused in the present; a mindfulness that motorcycle riding forces upon you. I want to appreciate the new lands we travel through and show kindness to everyone we meet (especially drivers who try not to hit us). To ride with gratitude, prayer, awareness and, of course, hope.

Crank her up!

Ape Hanger Anger

Two weeks ago I ordered 10 inch ape hanger handle bars for my bike along with the 73 inch hydraulic clutch cable needed for the extra length. The current handle bars sit low and wide for my reach and cause me to ride straight armed, a position leading me into early fatigue and soreness in the neck. I could manly this out for @5,000 miles but I’d rather not. I ordered these things from a local HD dealer. The ape hangers are in stock but I haven’t seen the clutch cable and all I get when I call inquiring about the clutch cable eta is, “It’ll be here in a couple of days.” I’ve had enough of this ping pong communication fiction spit swappin’ via the phone and I drove up to the dealer to settle the matter in person. After I arrived at the dealer and parked the car I began rubbing my eyes and poking my fingers into the eyeball to make sure it looked like I’d been crying. I walked in and asked for the Parts Manager. He found me checking my eyes in a chrome slip-on exhaust; my eyes looked like red slits above a huge nose. The nice gentleman introduced himself as Stan; he’d just been there a week and was still putting out fires. He asked me if the pollen had been messing with my eyes. I replied, “Not really. Now look here Stan, I ordered this 73 inch clutch cable about two weeks ago to match up to the 10 inch ape hangers that I’m getting so I’ll be more comfortable when I leave in just 10 days to ride cross country and see America with my pal. Y’all keep giving me the run around and it’s about to make me a nervous wreck ‘cause I don’t want to ride my Harley in pain around the world like I was sitting on a café racer! Y’all also tell me there’s no other handlebar option for comfort other than the 10 inch ape hangers!” I’d worked myself into a true tear-fest and Stan offered me a shop towel. Stan consoled, “Jeff, you call me tomorrow @3pm and I’ll have this all sorted out!” I called Stan today, April 29, 2013, @ 3pm and he advised me that the clutch cable vendor had never gotten the fax order. I heard train horns blowing out of my ears. “So Stan, did you order that cable and have it expedited?” “Yep, sure did, it’ll be here in a couple of days.”

Henry’s Louisianna Grill, Horns and Motorcycle Maintenance

Just left Jeff at Henry’s Louisiana Grill in Acworth. Amazing little store front restaurant . You walk in and feel like you’re in New Orleans. Long bar with ceiling fans. Yellow walls and dark wood trim. Cajun music.   Uber-friendly staff.

I got the sampler with red beans & rice, Louisiana shrimp & grits, and jambalaya. Jeff ordered  the Louisiana Ooh La La which had shrimp, oysters and crawfish,” flash fried and tossed with tasso, spinach and roasted garlic, all in Henry’s Cajun Cream Sauce”. Dang it was good!

Then we settled down to important last minute discussions before the trip.

“Jeff, how you gonna pack all your toiletries like your hair dryer and all your creams and moisturizers. They’ll take up a saddlebag alone.”

He gave me a stern look. “I’ll get everything to fit. You worry about your own load son.”

“More importantly Jeff, what are we gonna do about our nap time?” With semi- retired old geezers like us it’s important to factor in the essentials.

“I’ve been worrying about that too.” He replied. “Might need to sit out somewhere and catch some shut eye.  Park bench or something.”

“By the way Jeff, when was the last time you replaced the air filter in Big Red?” Jeff owned Big Red for most of her natural life until she came to live with me last July.

“I don’t recall. You can check the filter though.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that but I wasn’t gonna let on. “Might as well. I’m going over to Harley dealer in Cartersville to get the horn checked out. I could get a new filter.”

“Horn still not working?” He asked.

“Nope and I feel naked without it.”

We said our goodbyes and I thought: Why not check the filter myself? It’s only an air filter. It’s nothing electrical. So I got the tools out, took off the chrome cover and examined it. I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to look but it sure did look dirty to me. I put the cover back on.

I drove over to the dealer where the nice folks told me that I had blown the horn. The seam had broken. Fuse relay had burned out. “The best sound I can get it to muster is this,” The mechanic said as he pressed the horn button. “Munffff” Sounded like a dying animal. No way would that work. Wouldn’t be safe and in Jeff’s eyes it wouldn’t be cool. The mechanic and I hiked over to the parts department and found a Kuryakyn deluxe wolo bad boy horn for a hundred dollars. I thought about taking it home with me and installing it but I realized I didn’t have a very good track record on my own repairs. I’d installed the broken horn and it blew and I’d blown a fuse while installing the cigarette lighter charger. But, to my credit I had at least fixed that problem.

“Do you mind putting the horn on since you’ve already got the other one off?” I asked.

“We’ll do it in a jiffy.”

“Oh and while you’re at it can I get a new air filter?” To save some dignity I added: “I’ll put that on myself.”

“Sure thing. We’ll come get you when it’s ready.”

While they fixed it I sat out in the sun on a picnic table.  The weather was glorious. Sunny, about 80 degrees. I tried to just stay in the present moment but I was worrying about things: how much this was going to cost, my preparation for Tuesday and Thursday’s classes (Do they like me?), getting stuff ready for my writer’s group that night (Who’s gonna be there? What should I bring?).

“We got you ready.” The mechanic announced. I walked over with him to the bike. It looked good. Shiny chrome. I pressed the horn button and “Yowsa!!!” it screamed. It sounded like a diesel truck horn. “If they can’t see me they damn well will hear me!” I said to the mechanic who had his arms crossed and was nodding.

“Yep”. He replied. He opened the saddlebag and pointed inside:  “I put your old horn and its parts in here, and there,” he said pointing to a cardboard box, “is your air filter.”

“Thanks.” I replied and penitently went in to pay my monthly Harley membership dues.

But now I could hit the road and feel safe again! People will definitely hear me coming!

As I began to pull out onto the road a car cut across my path. I quickly slammed on the front and rear brakes, stopped, and gave them a stern look. The guy flashed a “sorry’ wave and went on.  I shook my head and pulled out onto the road. Damn it! I forgot to use the horn!

I gave it a long blast but nobody looked.

Motorcycle Horns and Mindfulness

Yesterday I took Big Red up to Dalton to work and I kept thinking:  I can’t wait to head out on our trip. Hopefully, we can stay off the interstates as much as possible and keep to the old scenic blue highways.

But first I have to get my horn fixed. A few months ago I installed a new horn for Big Red. The horn was a Pro Pad Mini Beast Air Horn that runs around 128 decibels.  That’s about twice as loud as a car horn. I wanted to make sure that if drivers couldn’t see me they would at least hear me. And it’s louder than Jeff’s horn so that’s all that really matters.

It’s been working great though I haven’t had to use it much. Yesterday, while riding Highway 53 I heard it go off, which was surprising since I hadn’t pressed the horn button. Maybe my finger accidentally touched it? Then it happened again. I thought: this will be great if the thing starts going off and I can’t stop it! But wait, sure I can. I’ll just pull those wires out on the handlebar and that’ll stop it and then I can find the problem and rewire it up later. A smug smile came over my face. The satisfaction that comes from even the tiniest amount of motorcycle maintenance knowledge.   Then the horn went off  again and I looked at the wires I was going to pull out and realized that those wires were not for the horn but for the fog lamps I’d installed. (If people couldn’t hear me I wanted to increase their chances of seeing me!). Then I remembered the horn wires were inside the chrome horn casing on the left side of the bike

I stopped a few miles later at a Bojangles to get a sausage biscuit and checked out the wires in the horn casing. It didn’t look good. Apparently some of the wires had slipped out and had decided to warm themselves against the engine. The coating on two of the wires had burned off. The fuse block also didn’t look that healthy.  I tried the horn and it was dead. I continued on to Dalton and taught my class. As usual, the students were great.

I took the twisting back roads home, practicing how to manage the curves, the leaning and countersteering that’s required for safe and enjoyable motorcycling riding. And I worried about the horn. Could I fix it? Was I going to have to take it to the Harley dealership and have them laugh at me! Then I realized that I wasn’t “in the moment”. My mind was in the future. I remembered the words of David Bader who said: “Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?”
I needed to recover my mindfulness. Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn is an awareness that comes from paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment. You have to let go of the past or the future.  I looked around: the sun was shining, the sky Carolina-blue, it was about 80 degrees and I was passing a grassy field, lit up with intense-yellow buttercups. Romping through the grass were a few shiny, chestnut- brown horses. The juxtaposition was perfect and the symmetry magical. I took a deep breath and thanked God for the moment and the beauty I was riding through. I’d worry about the horn tomorrow.

Count Down to May 10th Departure!

Three Weeks to Go Before We Head Off

And we’re making the final preparations. Follow us on our blog:

Here’s the schedule so far:

May 10th : Day 1 Rome/Acworth Georgia to Memphis, Tenn.

Day 2 Ft Smith, Arkansas

Day 3 Oklahoma City

Day 4 Amarillo, Texas / Tucumcari

Day 5 Gallup, New Mexico

Day 6 Sedona, Arizona

Day 7 Grand Canyon

Day 8 San Bernardino, Cal.

Day 9, 10, 11, Los Angeles area

Day 12, Monterey Bay

Day 13 Yosemite National Park

Day 14 Death Valley

Day 15 Las Vegas

 Day 16 Cedar City, Utah

 Day 17, 18 Santa Fe, New Mexico

 Day 19 Oklahoma City

 Day 20 Springfield Missouri

Day 21 Southern Illinois/ Tenn.

 Day 22 Home

 And our good buddy Kevin Grigsby is going to join us for some uproarious days in Santa Fe!

A New Bra

Jeff and I hunkered down at our favorite watering hole Wes-Man’s the other day. It’s just north of Cartersville, off  I-75 at the Harley Davidson exit. You head east a few miles until you get to White, Georgia. The wood clad restaurant has a waterwheel on its side and an old 1940’s truck out front that Wes paints messages on every day: anniversaries, birthdays, benefits, even wedding proposals. Inside the restaurant you can buy a Tee shirt that says on it: “I got my name on the truck.” iffen, of course, you did.  There are only about 10 tables, one reserved for Elvis, and the décor is rather eclectic with old license plates, stuffed animals, newspaper clippings, photo pages from 1970’s high school yearbooks and a few miniatures of Disney characters. Up on a shelf I spotted poor Woody from Toy Story in the jaws of some stuffed animal; Buzz Lightyear was nowhere in sight. Clear plastic bags with water and shiny pennies in them hang from the ceiling. Every time we ask we get a different explanation of what they’re for.

I was having the Hamburger Steak and Jeff the Teriyaki Pork Chops. Amid bites Jeff announces, too loudly for my liking, “I go a new black bra.”

“Shush” I say maybe too sharply, and look around to see if anyone’s staring. Thank heavens they weren’t. I continued: “Look bud, I don’t want to hear about these personal proclivities of yours. Just keep them to yourself.”

“Har, har,” he laughed in his snarly way and stared me down. “I don’t like your insinuations there bub and it ain’t none of your business anyway but the bra that I got goes on the front fairing of the bike to protect it against stone chips and bugs. Sundance’s wearing it, not me.”

I shivered a bit. “But why do you have to call it a bra? Why not just call it a fairing protector, or something?”

He let out a sigh. “Gene, real bikers call it what they want. They don’t care what other people think.”

I looked out the window and searched for his bike. I had yet to see it today. He had parked on a different side of the restaurant than I had. I was late and when I arrived he was sitting in the rocking chair outside the front door waiting for me, left eye cocked up shaking his head. But now I could see his bike, a bright yellow Harley with a black front. To be honest it looked like a bumble bee but I didn’t want to tell him that. Jeff can get a bit sensitive at times, especially when there’s a high pollen count.  But of course I had to tell him the truth the way real pals always do: “It looks real nice there pardner.” I said.

He smiled and nodded.  

We talked more about our plans for the trip, mainly about our days in LA visiting with my daughter and her husband, Saturday Bill. We stretched the coffee-stained map out across the table and started pointing with our forks at different possible routes home, discussing their merits.

“Wonder where Kevin might hook up with us?” Jeff said as he stretched back up. Kevin Grigsby, our good buddy, is hoping to join us for part of the trip, but he’ll be in a car. Last year the three of us took a 2000 mile bike ride from Atlanta to Panama City Florida to New Orleans. It was a great trip. We dodged a tornado, went to a casino, ate in some great restaurants and Jeff got a new tattoo. But back to Kevin. One of his many doctors gave him the title “the luckiest, unlucky motorcycle rider ever” in honor of Kevin’s exploits last August when he managed to drop his bike, land on his head and break part of his neck. He made an amazing recovery, thank God, and he’s back to his own strange version of normal again, except for when the metal pin in his neck sets off the metal detectors at the airport.

“Once we get our route figured out,” I replied, “We’ll send it to Kevin and see where he can join us.”

We sat back down and finished our meal. Jeff, always the perceptive one, said: “Bub, you seemed to get overly flustered when I mentioned the bra. Something wrong?

“Nah” I replied, “Just brought back a memory.”

“What’s that?”

“I told you how they used to laugh at me over in Northern Ireland when I said things that they thought were funny.”

“You mean like the time you were talking about your pants to your mother- in- law and she thought you were discussing your underwear? Har, har, har!” He added.

“Yep, I was always getting things wrong and misunderstanding things.”

A big grin came over his face. “Fess up bud, tell me about the bra. What did you do?”

“Well a few years ago I went to a store in Coleraine to buy my wife a new bra and the woman at the counter said to me: “What bust?”

I wasn’t sure what she meant but I replied: “Nothing, I think it just wore out.”