The Joy of Going Nowhere
by Gary Charpentier
I have a beef with Minnesota weathermen. I’ll choose one in particular, who is the epitome of everything I hate about these foggy-minded prognosticators. Let’s call him “Johnny Yahoo”. He’s a skinny, well-dressed little twerp who pops up on my television every weekday morning at five thirty sharp, and immediately begins chirping about doom and gloom and thunderstorms. Oh, some days I want to hurt him so bad…
But instead of punching my fist through another expensive picture tube, I resign myself to the fact that I have to join the dull ranks of four-wheeled sheeple on the freeway, yet again. I drive to work and go through the motions, occasionally peeking out the window or checking the weather radar on the internet. No rain. The big green blob that was headed our way out of the Dakotas at dawn has been breaking up and dissipating throughout the day before it ever reaches the Twin Cities. What the #$%!? Why, that dirty bastard did it to me again! I could have RIDDEN!
Do you think he knows that riding my motorcycle to work makes all the difference between a wretched, horrible day and a tolerable one? Of course he does! That’s why he always pads his forecast on the pessimistic side; to screw me over and to cover his bony little ass just in case it drizzles during the day. Well… fine. I have an answer for that.
So I tell the boss I have errands to run and I go home early before the alleged freeway turns into a rush-hour parking lot. Pulling into my driveway get out of the truck and head straight for the garage. I’m not EVEN going into the house where I would have to answer questions. My jacket and helmet are hanging from the handlebars and I’m suited up in record time. I turn the key, set the choke and start that beautiful engine. Toeing the shift lever into first, I roll out of the driveway without a backward glance.
Although I have no idea where I’m going, I instinctively head towards the river. The roads there twist and turn out of necessity, following the contours of the shoreline. It is now rush-hour, but the backroads remain relatively deserted. With the wind rushing past my helmet, leaning into the curves, my mind finally relaxes. Going nowhere on my motorcycle is kind of like living a daydream. As long as there is fuel in the tank and the machine is operating correctly, we can just drift along on currents of asphalt.
At some point I notice a rhythm to the curves and I can tell we are getting close to the water. Sure enough, I spy a patch of silver through the trees as we approach a small picnic area. Now the Mississippi River doesn’t have that fresh smell of an ocean or even a large lake, especially not downstream from the Cities. But it’s really not that bad tonight, so I sit with the motor turned off and gaze out at the water awhile.
I reflect on how fast my life seems to be passing, and how I rarely take the time to stop all the frantic noise and commotion, to sit still and just… breathe. I can still hear the traffic on Concorde over the soft rush of the water and I contemplate these two parallel currents that are so opposite in character. I wish I could transform my bike into a boat and sail away down-river but as I glance at my watch I realize that the demands of reality are already pulling me back towards that other, harsher stream.
Heading north on Concorde again, I stop at Dairy Queen for a small cone. As my tongue savors the ice milk, my eyes are surveying the traffic. Ah, here we have Mizz Yuppie Soccer-Mom at the helm of her German luxury panzer, nattering into her Nokia as she orders every single detail of her family’s evening while remaining oblivious to the proletarian traffic around her. Why should she worry? She’s fully insured…
Reluctantly I push off into the current again riding upstream towards home. I pass the once-booming strip of cafes and bars across the road from the old stockyards. It feels like a ghost town tonight. We ride on past Fury Motors where my father bought his first brand new Dodge back in 1960. It was a gorgeous sky-blue and white convertible with a 383 cross-ram motor and a push-button automatic transmission. He named it “The Blue Angel”. Today the dealership has moved out to Hwy 494 and what’s left on Concorde has a rather seedy look about it. Betty’s Café closed long ago, but the sign still remains. I get the feeling that this section of Minnesota Highway 56 was really jumpin’ back in the “good old days”.
Life is all about change. I’ve heard that and read it a million times. That doesn’t make it good, or right… it just makes it true. Most of the changes that have taken place during my lifetime look to me like steps backward or maybe forward into an undesirable future. This is where my very own original maxim “Nothing Cool Ever Lasts” comes from. It seems as though some very greedy people, way above my pay grade, are running the show. Sometimes I have to think really hard to figure out what I can and can’t do about that. Tonight I can ride my motorcycle for a little while and hope to glean some peace of mind from the experience.
Finally, we turn left up the hill towards home and the nightly family routine. Upon arrival, I linger over my bike in the garage, listening as the motor ticks and cools. It wasn’t much of a ride, but it was enough to get me through another day. As I walk towards the house I feel the first raindrop hit my forehead. The clouds have gathered while I wasn’t looking. I guess old Johnny Yahoo got it right after all, just a little bit late.