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GOING THE DISTANCE
Photo by Genghis
PROUD OLD HIGHWAY WARRIOR: My '72 Vette "Mary"
We rolled out of Mary's garage on Delancey Street in the Lower Beast Side of NYC in the caress of darkness.
Mary is my 1972 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
Dawn's early light was but a twinkle in the night's waning eye at this point, yet a full two hours away from fruition. Her engine still cold and on full choke, Mary and I wheeled down to the FDR Drive and hit the highway running, rushing headlong down the three lane blacktop toward the Brooklyn Bridge. In the full cloak of darkness, the lights of the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge glittered in the night sky like Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, sprinkling Magic Stardust on us as we filled the not so deserted lanes of the road with the angry growl of Mary's V-8, passing sleepy citizens in their sedentary sedans in our wake as we made our way to the ton mark. Even at five in the A.M. in NYC, there's mucho traffic slippin' and slidin' its way to God Knows Where.
I often compare the experiences of riding Mabel, my stroker Harley to driving my Vette, and the sensation is different, yet similar. With the former, one is aboard this machine with its V-Twin vibrating powerplant between ones legs, like a fairy tale phallus ready to penetrate one's consciousness and the ready road ahead with full intrusive presence. And Mabel does that, in spades. With my Vette, I'm propelled foward with great haste and great love, with that big, thumping V-8 inches ahead of my feet, pulling us into the vortex the way that only volumetric excess can do, while I'm ensconced in Mary's airplane-like cockpit, tightly positioned for takeoff in a two-seat cocoon. It is womblike and it feels good in there.
Motorcycle riding is often likened to riding a horse, but in many ways, driving my Vette is more equestrian-like. You've got your four wheels as your horse's four hooves. Each and every bump is reacted to independently, just as a horse's four feet react as separate entities to the vagaries of the trail. Anyway, have you ever seen a two legged horse? I didn't think so. A motorcycle would be a two footed horse. Piloting a motorcycle may be more like riding an ostrich.
The exhaust note of my Chevy, like the exhaust note of my Harley, is worth the price of admission. What is the price of admission to this Magic Show? Simply the willingness to own forty year old machines, make 'em your own and to use 'em as God intended: to travel tarmac to gain profound satisfaction.
Sweeping off of the highway at the end of Manhattan, we swung around back onto the highway heading north toward Alaska, where I can see November Second from my friggin' house, man. Up the steep hill we climbed, my foot buried in Mary's throttle and my hands at ten and two, we crested the hill like we were airborne.
Mary's 350 cubic inches are singing now, man.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a Chevy Stingray, baby! Hittin' the curves of the tight winding highway at higher speeds than the surrounding traffic, Mary's vaunted cornering power at full display, my hands on the steering wheel making minute corrections as we hit small bumps that want to send us astray...NO WAY, MAN! This car sticks and moves like nobody's business. And it is nobody's business but ours, me and the Mary, so mind yer own friggin' business if ya can't relate. The East River's off to our right as flash by. Mary's BF Goodrich T/A Radials are mere yards away from the shimmering, lapping water, the lights of Brooklyn across the river, along with the illumination from the bright lights of the City That Never Sleeps, good 'ole Manhattan---sparkling on the river's surface like thousands of scintillating scotomas.
This river has reflected untold numbers of stories in the naked city where there are the proverbial million stories. So many people, so many lives, generations of people of all kinds, who've lived life to fullest for some, and the emptiest for many. It doesn't matter. Blasting by in a 40 year old muscle car in this 'burg is magic. The best kind of magic.
Is this hyperbole? Maybe. However, the words I chose to describe driving my Vette were the most accurate that I could evoke for what my feelings, thoughts and sensations consisted of. If the descriptive terminology I used best depicts what driving my Vette is, then it is what it is, and it is accurate, hyperbolic or not. I'll tell ya what, though. There isn't enough magic in most people's lives. I count myself lucky that I have elements of my life---which pretty much stay constant by the way---that elevate my life by injecting huge amounts of magic into it. Without that magic, I'd be pretty bored and unhappy, like many people are. What are these elements of my life that are magical? That's easy, and it's a formula that can replicated by others, but others don't have to select the same elements as mine to have magic in their lives, but I'd recommened having something.
Before I discuss these magical elements in my life, let me clarify: these elements are above and beyond the basic necessities of life such as spouse, family, friends, employment, food, a roof over one's head, etcetera, that combine to form one's base of happiness and contentment. No, it goes without saying that without these base requirements being met, there is no magic, no matter what one does. The elements I speak of, are the elective opportunities we must grab onto, to complete our lives, to enrichen our lives beyond the bare necessities. These are the options that make life worth living to the fullest. You know what I'm rappin' about here. We've all heard the negativists say to us, "You don't need that motorcycle. You don't need that old Chevy." They want you to get rid of all that "nonsense" in your life and be like them. To these, individualism is a societal malady to be eradicated for the sake of conformity and the greater good.
Okay, here are my magical elements, in no particular order of importance to me: my Harley, my Vette, photography and writing. These are my Four Iron Horse Men of Avoidance of The Apocalypse. These represent constants in my life that've hung around since I was a teenager. They are anchors in my life. Let's call this not a "return to roots" but a "fidelity to roots." Stay true to yourself, young man. Stay forever true to yourself, not-so-young-man. Just go the distance with what works for ya, and you'll be fine. Hey man, I need these four markers in my life. It ain't about lifestyle, it's about need. People often say to me....."You live in Manhattan. Whaddya need a motorcycle for? Whaddya need a car for...?" They're missing the point, because these are the same people who have no magic in their lives. They subsist on the basics, and have no optional inspiration in their existences.
There is a huge hole in their lives, where passion could exist, if allowed in and permitted to flourish and expand.
It could be a passion for anything to fill this gaping void, not ncessarily motorcycles or cars. If one doesn't have a burning passion for something beyond the basics, then one can't truly appreciate---or even recognize that passion in others. They cannot relate because they are blind to the possibilities.
Taking their logic a step further, one might ask what one needs photography in his or her life for. Why write, if ya don't get paid for it? These folks don't get it. I don't feel complete unless I sit down to write from time to time. I feel less than happy if I don't have pictures to process and put into my web galleries. If these things aren't done, if I don't ride the bike, if I don't drive my Chevy---than I feel unfulfilled. I have often written about riding motorcycles, as a compulsion. I've also written about the compulsion to take pictures. I'm convinced that "compulsion" and "passion" are interchangeable, or are at least symbiotic. The acts of photography and writing are symptomatic of the creative spirit, but that is a discussion for another time.
Writing for me, is definitely compulsive.
I write, therefore I am.
With my Vette, it's not just the driving that inspires. This 38 old car is an historically significant icon of Chevrolet tradition, just as my 39 year Harley-Davidson represents a real-life, rideable example of motorcycling tradition. To quote an old H-D marketing phrase, they're more than machines, man. They are righteous machines from an era when righteoueness and class shone like a beacon among the mundane. My car's presence is palpable and extraordinary. Not many cars look as timelessly righteous and moving visually, as my Mary. I believe this Vette to be the best looking car in the world, bar none. Today's cars look so sterile and anonymous by comparision to the early '70s Vettes.
Tradition is important to me. Tradition in the biker subculture imbues special significance to every time I fire up my shovelhead-powered bike. The shovelhead motor is so righteous, much moreso to me than other Harley sister powerplants. It looks special, sounds special and just plain motorvates down the road in a special way. Likewise traditionally, the '72 era Vette is special in looks and function, it's all-around independent suspension and rompin' Chevy V-8 mill rendering it unique and beautiful in a way that other era Vettes can't touch. With this car, you are in touch with the road. With contemporary cars, even new Vettes you are isolated from the road.
Bikers and car people know what I'm talking about. To the uninitiated, I might as well be speaking Cantonese to 'em.
You can bet that no stardust gets in their eyes.
Here's something that I've found to be characteristic about Manhattan, that there is no prevalent car culture in this borough like there was in Queens when I grew up. Car culture in Queens was a solid entity, that you could feel and touch on every corner of every neighborhood. That's missing here in Manhattan. There are isolated car people here in Manhattan, but the phenomenon that is car culture, doesn't permeate the streets like it did in Queens. Manhattan people in general, have no understanding about car or bike culture. There is a wine-tasting, nose-up-in-the-air attitude toward anything as plebian as car and motorcycle culture. Manhattan truly is different from the rest of America, and I don't mean that in a good way. Manhattanites' disdain for car and bike culture, is in line with the attitude towards guns here. Pretty much everywhere else in America, gun ownership is considered part of the demographic norm. Here, gun owners are viewed as if they were martians.
Nevertheless, I love NYC. As long a stardust rains down on me, nothing else matters. Later.
The biker sat down in front of his blank computer screen, clearing his mind to search for the words. The words that he would fill the screen with, in an effort to fill his mind with satisfaction. The words came to him. The words always came. He typed them onto the void....and he felt better....