by bj max
The best advice I could give anybody when it comes to riding a motorcycle in a storm is: don’t do it. Having said that, I guess I could end this story here and now and move on to something else. But that might force our all knowing and elevated editor in chief to dock my already miserable stipend; and that just wouldn’t do. So I guess I’m bound to flesh out the rest of this mediocre piece and blather on for another thousand words or so. I am but a slave to the powers that be, so please bear with me.
It’s Super Tuesday. I don’t particular like any of the candidates, but I held my nose and pulled the lever anyway. Hopefully for the lesser threat. It’s getting to where I can’t tell the parties apart anymore so I am now a certified Independent. Not only are the candidates a threat, but there is also a threat for tornados today.
You’ve heard it before. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, then all of a sudden… Uh-huh. I thought you had. And if you take a little spin with your rain gear hung out to dry from an earlier ride, you just might be hung out to dry yourself.
Sugar Booger volunteered me to run up to the store for a loaf of bread. It should be noted here that the term “run up to the store” is an authentic Southern colloquialism and like all Southern “ism’s”, it should never be taken literally. I wasn’t going to physically run to the store. The store is three miles away for goodness sake and at my age I would probably kick the bucket (again, not literally) trying to run that far. No, I was going to hop on the motorcycle and ride to the store. Well, I wasn’t literally going to hop…you get the idea. It really was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. However, here in the hills of Tennessee, instead of the horizon being thirty miles distant, it’s only, what with all the trees and foliage, at best three miles. So, unbeknownst to me, lurking just beyond that limit, waiting in ambush, was a wicked and malicious tempest stirred up by the rain gods; seemingly just for me.
I slipped my helmet on, mounted the bike, plugged in the umbilical and pressed the starter. While the engine warmed, I pulled on my gloves, then pushed the little blue button on the dash and magically, my garage door opened. We bought this house just a few months ago and us rednecks ain’t used to a garage, especially one with a door that opens all by itself. I am still fascinated by the thing and watch spellbound as it rises. Incredible. What’ll they think of next?
I dropped the bike in gear and in seconds I was zipping through the suburbs towards a nearby Kroger store. At the edge of our neighborhood, the street T-boned into SR 193 and I eased the ABS equipped bike to a stop.
Across the road, astride a beautiful bay gelding, sits a neighborhood fixture; a figure from out of the past. His big white stetson, western boots and grizzled appearnce inspired me to nickname the old cowboy after the Fannie Flagg character, Smokey Lonesome. Smokey is a victim of urban spraw, as most of his once fine horse ranch has been swallowed up by urban sprawl. Old and gray and with few chores to do now a days, he spends his afternoons on his horse, parked there in the edge of the woods, smiling and waving at everyone who passes.
But today, Smokey doesn’t smile. He points to the right and mouths something, then looks back at me then points left. I shrug my shoulders and tap my finger on my helmet as if to say, “I can’t hear you.” He points again to the right and shakes his head, then points back to the left. I switch my turn signal from right to left and look at him for approval. He smiles and nods. I don’t really understand why, but I salute my appreciation for his advice, bank hard left and zoom away from the city towards the palatial and pristine hills and hollers of the greenest state in the land of the free.
Now, even though I didn’t really understand why, I am quickly putting distance between myself and the supermarket. No matter. There’s a country store about ten miles distant. I’ll get bread there and have a nice ride ta-boot.
I rolled on the power and twisted and climbed through the many curves and hills. These roads date back to the horse and buggy days and have been worn down to six foot depths with a canopy of hardwood trees shading the whole thing. The beams of sunshine splotching the pavement enhance my sense of speed and I feel as though I am streaking through a Star Wars scene bestride an Imperial Speeder.
In minutes, I arrive at my destination, a small country store with architecture right outta’ the fifties. There’s a screen door in front with a pull handle advertising Colonial Bread. Inside, the store is cluttered with everything from a genuine wood burning stove, to twist tobacco hanging from the ceiling. And for a modest price, the storekeeper will whip you up a great boloney sandwich. And with an RC Cola to wash it down and a Moon Pie for desert, there is no finer lunch served anywhere in the world.
I fought down the temptation of a boloney sandwich appetizer before heading back, ambled out to the bike and fired it up. Almost at once, from my view atop a small ridge, I can see what Smokey was warning me about. Lying in the vicinity of my home was the blackest cloud I think I’ve ever seen. Lightning stabbed the ground repeatedly and the muffled boom of thunder was reminiscent of an artillery barrage. My heart sank as I remembered my riding gear draped across the trailer, and more importantly my face shield left on the workbench. I can not ride in the rain without that shield. So what do I do? Well, I’ll just have to cowboy up and out run that danged storm.
I rolled on the power and thus began a race for home and safety. I was riding east on a collection of curves, turns and switchbacks that were fun and exciting earlier, but now have become my enemy, impeding my progress. The storm, on the other hand, was moving west unobstructed, trumping my superior speed.
I bank onto the street towards my neighborhood. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that Smokey has disappeared. Gone to the barn I guess. The first few drops of rain dot my windshield and the wind picks up. I crank on more speed and hope the man is to busy storm spotting to notice minor outlaws such as myself.
My home comes in view under an ink black sky. It’s so dark the streetlights are prematurely triggered and blaze a trail to my garage. Then, just like Bat Man, I press the little blue button on the fairing and the secret entrance to the Bat Cave magically opens and I rocket in. At that moment, rain mixed with pea size hail begins bouncing on the pavement. But it’s too late. I press the button again and seal the entrance behind me. The storm rattles the door in frustration, but its quarry has prevailed.
As I stand at the kitchen window watching the trees bend and the rain marching down the street in sheets, I shiver at the thought of my close call. Three tornados would drop in on Memphis this day; one within a mile of where I stand. And several buildings and businesses will be destroyed as well as a friend’s Dodge Intrepid. Super Tuesday, for me and the good folks of Tennessee anyway, now carries a whole new meaning.
Ride safe and may the Armadillo always jump from your path.