Weather or Not… (Here I Come!)
By Gary Charpentier
I’ve never been a patient man. The fact that I turned forty last year is simply a chronological curiosity. It is nothing more than another mile marker on what is turning out to be a long and difficult journey. Age has not mellowed me at all, especially when it comes to spring fever. I still get the same jittery urges I’ve always had `round about this time of year. As soon as the snow cover gives way to mud and dead flora, my throttle hand starts twitching and my mind begins playing those old road movies again.
But Old Man Winter is a stubborn brute. He is hanging on by his fingernails, blowing his last frigid gasp into the middle of March, stirring up the final, feeble snowstorms of the season, and keeping those salt-slingin’ plow trucks in business. I hate that wretched geezer! Why can’t he just retire gracefully and go back to the icy hell that spawned him? Could this be yet another sign of global warming? NOT! (Sorry Mr. Soucheray…)
So far the month of March has given me a couple of false starts. Twice this year I have ridden Kermit to work, and while it wasn’t exactly pleasant, it wasn’t too terrible either. I dressed in my trusty leather snowmobile gear and braved the elements with minimal drama. When I came to ice on the road, I just rolled across it with a steady hand on the throttle. You have to stay loose in these situations, ready to respond but not all tensed up. The scenery wasn’t all that great, as late winter is the ugliest of seasons here in Minnesota. All the stuff that died last fall has been smushed down and slightly decayed under heavy mounds of disgusting snow. At least it hasn’t begun to stink yet….
As usual, the biggest hazard by far was the four-wheeled traffic of SUVs and pocket-rocket punk cars. They don’t expect motorcycles to be on the road yet. “Not until the sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and birds are singing.” as an old “biker dude” once told me. Sitting tall in the saddle of my KLR, I realized quickly that I wasn’t as confident as I had been on my sneaky-fast Ducati or even my old Cafe Scrambler. Kermit doesn’t always have the horsepower necessary to blast our way out of dangerous, confining situations. Cars and trucks get faster and larger every year, which makes them more dangerous to those of us who choose two wheels for transport. Meanwhile, drivers get more distracted with gadgets and fast food and psycho talk-radio as they try to hustle their way to work. I really had to keep my head on a swivel and use the horn and high beam to make sure I was noticed. It was harrowing, to say the least, but a thrill nonetheless. Sparring with violent death has always been one of my favorite hobbies.
The weather forecast for the next week contains snow showers separated by partly cloudy days in the low forties. Well foggitaboudit, I’m gonna ride! Simply put, I’m done with waiting. If Old Man Winter gets in my way, I’m gonna kick him in the balls and ride a wheelie over his writhing, withered carcass! I know this means that I will expose my nearly new motorbike to salt-spray and somnolent motorists. I am truly sorry for that. But a man can only take so much, and I’ve reached my limit. I will rinse off the salt as best I can and blow everything dry with compressed air. Then I can squirt on a coat of WD-40 to help ward off corrosion. Worst-case will have me disassembling my faithful steed just like my old friend the M-16A1 and lovingly apply a coat of gun-oil to all of it’s working parts. Can’t hurt, right? (I love the smell of gun-oil in the morning!)
Just to test my commitment on this, I took a little ride tonight. It was twenty-six degrees, the roads were full of salt and sand, little patches of ice here and there, but certainly navigable to someone who had ridden in the depths of winter before. Kermit and I roamed the side streets of South Saint Paul, leisurely exploring the old neighborhoods, taking note of Turnabout Books on Southview for later investigation. I say that because with all the gear I was wearing, it just wasn’t convenient to stop in and browse for literary treasure. I’d have looked pretty silly waddling around the store in my black leather space suit. I think I’ll wait until spring really gets here to pay them a visit. Besides, by then I’ll have installed my new Dirt Bagz panniers and we’ll have more luggage room for the ton of books I almost always buy. Turnabout had to close their store on Smith Avenue, which is closer to my home. There was a lack of foot traffic and parking in the area. That’s a shame, but too often it’s the inevitable fate of Mom-n-Pop stores located in the urban jungle.
So on we rode, right to the end of streets overlooking the Mississippi River valley and the old stockyards. I stood there astride Kermit at the guardrails, looking down and remembering the horrible stench that used to emanate from the abattoirs. I recall riding in the back of Dad’s `65 Plymouth station wagon over the 494 bridge, knowing we were close to home by the presence of that putrid odor. It’s mostly gone now, but on some days if the wind is just right, you can still catch a whiff.
We followed serpentine pavement down the hill to familiar Concord Avenue, turning right to take that road south past the great 494 loop and into the southern suburbs. It’s interesting to note the juxtaposition of new development with the landscape of my early childhood memories. It seems like two different worlds, set in uneasy proximity. When I was only a toddler, my parents rented an apartment along Concord with a spectacular view of the Ashland refinery. I remember dark winter nights when my breath would mist on my bedroom window as I gazed out at the flames of waste gas burning from the tops of those tall pipes, all set in a sea of brilliant mercury vapor lights. “Puff the Magic Dragon” was on the Top Forty charts at that time, and I would hum that song to myself as I dreamed up fantasies of fire-breathing monsters and castles made of stars.
Just before we got to Highway 52, I turned Kermit around to head back home again. The chill was starting to get to me, and Amy would have dinner ready by the time I arrived. We rode back past the defunct Indian Motorcycle dealership. The place now sells something called Big Dog. Bunch of over-priced, over-painted, baubles-on-wheels if you ask me. But apparently some people like them well enough to keep them in business. Subtlety doesn’t seem to be in fashion these days. We passed the sign for Betty’s Truck stop and Cafe, which closed only last year, and affirms my maxim that nothing cool ever lasts.
After climbing up the backside of Ton-Up Hill, we pulled into the garage and I shut Kermit down for the night. We are supposed to get an inch or two of snow by tomorrow morning. I don’t know if that’s true, or if the weather geeks are trying to cover their collective asses. Doesn’t matter much to me. I’m all through with waitin’. Tomorrow we RIDE!