The Calm Between the Stormscafelogo

by Gary Charpentier

The time had finally come for me to get my name back. The serious young Human Resources Associate raised an eyebrow over my employment application and informed me in his best Nazi accent, “Your papers are not in order.” Rather than risk 30 days in “the cooler” or whatever the modern equivalent is, I decided it was time to replace my stolen credentials.

Some weeks ago, I was playing blackjack at a local casino when I became a victim of one of the local professional pickpockets. (I stopped wearing the wallet-with-chain when I parked my last Harley.) Knowing that I was going to be hired at my new job soon, I had my license, social insecurity card and birth certificate nestled in the folds of said wallet ready to prove to anyone who inquired that, yes, I am a real person and a taxpaying citizen of these United States. The pickpocket stole my dwindling assets along with my identity in one fell swoop.

Now, I really hate dealing with bureaucracy. I break out in a cold sweat every time the registration on one of my vehicles comes due. There is really no justification for this in Minnesota, as the DMV here is relatively efficient. But I have experienced the vehicular version of Gestapo Headquarters in the DMVs of Southern California, and those ordeals have left me scarred for life. But this was an inescapable dilemma: either prove I am who I am or give up the new job. I took the rest of the day off to tackle this seemingly insurmountable task.

I have told you all this to set the stage and to explain why I decided to cut off my caffeine intake for the day. I could only imagine what it would be like to stand in lines for hours, vibrating with excess energy, humming some tuneless melody and waiting for my number to come up, so I could plead with some brain-dead ‘crat to give me my identity back. So when I stopped in at the KickStart to prepare myself for the quest, I ordered a soda instead of my usual “Liquid Crank.”

Well, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had built it up to be. Four hours later, I had receipts for my license and SSC and a brand new, certified copy of my very own birth certificate. This left me with the rest of the afternoon to RIDE!

Shift gears now.

Down at the bottom of Ton-Up Hill flows the mighty Mississippi River. We who live in the Twin Cities often take it for granted. Here in the fast-paced urban jungle, the only time we notice this famous body of water is when we have to slow for traffic across a bridge. Then we steal a glance right or left and think, “Wow, that’s kinda pretty.” We watch the sun rise or set over the skyline, and our mind begins to drift to kinder, gentler things…until the idiot ahead of us suddenly hits his brakes again for no apparent reason, and we are jerked rudely out of our reverie. That’s the price of city life, I guess.

This night I went out riding solo with no particular destination in mind. The threat of rain was in the air, but so were the myriad colors of twilight, and I figured I had at least an hour before those dark, sullen clouds on the horizon parked themselves over my head. The only direction I can ride from my driveway is down, so that’s the way I went.

Gogo and I found ourselves burbling along Concord through South St. Paul with the mixed aromas of refinery and stockyard on the breeze. Soon we turned towards the river and came to a toll bridge. This was the first time I have ever paid to ride anywhere in the state of Minnesota, and I was rather astonished to find nothing of interest on the other side of this 75 cent crossing. I had been hoping for some sort of winding, undulating snake of a road following the bends of the river, but I just found a storm ravaged residential neighborhood with lots of debris from the recent harsh weather. Several children were out on bicycles. Their parents were clearing fallen trees from their yards. I rode slowly and waved a lot.

On the main drag through St. Paul Park, I was struck by how small townish everything looked. Here, right on the verge of the metropolis, was a small Minnesota town with several bars, a couple stores, and I think I saw one gas station. You can find carbon copies of this town several miles in any direction from the cities, but it was rather strange to suddenly come upon it without the usual scenic transition. But I guess St. Paul is mostly made up of a bunch of small towns just kind of crammed together quite unlike its cosmopolitan and oh so sophisticated neighbor, Minneapolis, but let’s not go there.

After a brief blast down the freeway, I pulled off on Plato and rode along the south bank of the river across from the capitol city itself. I pulled into a kind of cul-de-sac where many cars were parked and put down the kickstand. I shut down the motor, doffed my helmet and gloves, and walked out along the water’s edge. Here, in the shadow of the High Bridge, I found a few people fishing. Mostly couples, they stood along the bank casting all manner of bait into the water with similar results–not a single bite. I don’t think actually catching fish was the point. It was to stand there and gaze out at the city lights, the passing boats and barges, and simply enjoy a peaceful moment before the coming of the storm. The rods and reels, worms and minnows were props. Minnesotans are funny that way; we don’t want to appear to do things without a reason.

We saw a flash of lightning reflected off the windows of the King Plant, and some began to pick up empty buckets and walk back to their waiting cars. I looked back over my shoulder, saw the clouds breaking over the hill, and came to the same conclusion. Gogo and I cracked the ton on the way home (as is our habit), and I was warm and dry in front of my computer when the first raindrops fell.

I suppose I should be disappointed. I didn’t find anything to challenge my skill or courage tonight. I did not cheat death. I didn’t even thumb my nose at him. I went for a ride, nice and easy. And you know what? It felt good. Maybe I should do this more often…


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