Saturday, November 13, 2010

Motorcycles are everywhere.

Elvis Presley.
A motorcycle sets a body free.  I’m not discussing a wreck, in which a body can potentially really be set free, soaring through the ether to land tumbling against a rock or a hard place.  I mean that sitting balanced between two wheels spinning at high velocity gives a person the confidence to tackle any of life’s challenges.  Being able to navigate the world on two wheels is something an automobile driver will never know.  The vulnerability paired with the skill it takes to stay upright and in motion inspires confidence in one’s abilities.
I have yet to encounter a hill worth mentioning in Louisiana.  The landscape that stretches from the east and west banks of the Mississippi River is level and flat.  The roads are straight.  I’ve travelled the following parishes on the back roads: Orleans (of course), Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, and, today, Plaquemines.  
Leaving New Orleans, a person enters another world in the territory surrounding this great city.  I am not in New England anymore. There is little that is picturesque in the architecture, mostly pre-fabricated homes or housing developments built on spec, strip malls, chain stores, shopping centers out of an corporate architect’s box. It is industrial land full of oil refineries, marine welders, offshore supply outfits, scrap metal yards, quarries, sugar cane plantations, cows(!), shrimp boats, and swampland.  Odd land indeed.    
Driving southern Louisiana’s back roads doesn’t offer much test to a motorcyclist’s skills but the scenery along the roadside makes up for the lull in hairpin turns and need to downshift.  The people who live in this country aren’t necessarily used to an errant traveller gawking about so a motorcyclist is advised to keep his or her senses sharp.  As usual, we are in the minority and often invisible when we aren’t expected.

I never want to hear these words again: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” 

Frank Sinatra.
This is what an automobile driver invariably says after a near miss or a spill.  Both my knees are a mess of superficial scar tissue because I chose to lay my Little Ninja down and take a slide on the pavement rather than collide with someone’s front fender and take a sail over their hood.  I bear no animus against those who drive cars but I wish they would pay more attention.  I’ve sat in cars and I know it’s very cozy to be enveloped in structural steel with a seat belt and air bag at the ready to preserve my life while I listen to the radio and rummage through the glove compartment and have a snack and a sip from the cup holder.  I have no patience of forgiveness for those who are talking on their phones when they pull in front of me, however.
Overall, I can say that within the City of New Orleans, automobile drivers are courteous of those of us on two wheels whether we are driving a motorcycle, a motor scooter, or a bicycle.  The city contains its own challenges, pot holes mostly, but other modes of transportation sharing the roadway aren’t a major concern.  The good citizens of New Orleans, because of the state of most of the city’s roads, move slowly and are just as focussed on moving carefully and strategically as a motorcyclist.  It is a pleasure to drive a motorcycle in New Orleans.  It is only when one travels in other parishes that mind reading and safety become major concerns.
Whenever two motorcyclists encounter each other they part company by saying, “Ride safely.”  No one who has ever steered the handlebars or leaned into a curve needs to be told this.  It comes with the territory.  It is a way of life that lets us arrive in the territory ahead, Heaven willing.  It is a phrase we repeat and offer each other not to remind us to be careful and sharp, we say it as a charm that others will see us.  As motorcyclists, we hope against the odds that someone will see us before they cut us off and bring mayhem to our trajectory. 
Clark Gable.
The freedom a motorcycle grants is the chance to move like the wind through the elements.  When an fluid force like a motorcycle meets a solid object like a car, there can only be one outcome: two wheels will see the sky while four are planted on the earth, bones will be broken, skin will be broken, blood will flow...  A motorcyclist knows whose blood that will be and that is why a motorcyclist has a certain swagger and confidence.  He or she has cheated Death every increment of a mile both through his or her own skill and the providence of whatever angel watches over those who travel on two wheels.

Look twice.  Save a life.  Motorcycles are everywhere.

Thanks to The Selvage Yard for today's illustrations.  "Get yourself a motorcycle.  'Nuff said."

I'll see you on the road with the rubber side down.

I've added a sidebar in the (your) left column of this blog collecting the posts about my motorcycle journey to New Orleans from Boston.  This was a trip I waited all my life to make, all back roads across a part of our great nation.  Rereading these posts makes me yearn to travel other roads I haven't been on yet.  The future holds promise.

Ride safely,


Anita said...

All you say about two-wheeling in New Orleans and South Louisiana is true. Crossing the bridges can be anxiety producing and there a lot of them down here. This is virtually an island, after all.

Hills are gentle but interesting on the roads from Alexandria to Monroe and generally along the western side of the state. The trees are different and so are the people. Around Christmas time, the lights on the river at Natchitoches are worth seeing. That town is where much of Steel Magnolias was filmed and it is picturesque. Pine forests above Alexandria are interesting as is the old Bentley Hotel in Alexandria.

It might be interesting for you to see the contrast of the New Orleans area, other parts south Louisiana such as Evangeline country around Lafayette and the rest of Louisiana, which, as far as one can tell, could be Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas or any other southern state. There is an Indian casino at Marks, the American Rose Society headquarters in Shreveport, paper mills and military bases, farms, plantations and sleepy little towns like Washington, Bunkie and Lecompte (with its justly famous pies at Lea's Lunch Room) throughout the state. It is really only this flat, subtropical extreme south of Louisiana that is entirely different from the rest of the south.

Whalehead King said...

It's nice to see you back, Anita. Thanks for the tips.

Anita said...

Thank you. I always read but sometimes don't write.

The casino is at Marksville, of course, not Marks.


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