Monday, August 25, 2014

Uneasy Rider

A guy up in Maine -- wish I knew his name -- did this and gave it to Rocky. It's very cool, right?
A few weeks ago I went to New York and visited with my brother Rocky. One night we went to the Caramoor Center to see Patti LuPone. We rode to the concert on his Harley.  Most of the time the thought of riding on the back of a motorcycle scares the hell out of me; so many things can go wrong. But on this night, I ignored that nervous Nelly voice in my head and turned myself over to my brother’s care, and to fate, which seemed friendly and encouraging on that lovely summer evening. I had recently read an essay in a Buddhist magazine about becoming one with whatever you were doing. I decided to become one with my brother, just as he becomes one with his mighty Harley when he rides. For good measure I reminded myself that Rocky, my baby brother who is now in his fifties, has been riding a motorcycle since he was five years old.
Rocky with Mom and me in pre-Harley days.
Back then he had a mini-bike. He had a trail through our yard. There were ramps and jumps on a ride that took him past the front porch, around two trees, down the driveway and into the back yard, along the edge of woods, and up a grassy hill into the front yard again. The whine of that little engine was background noise to many seasons. 

Rocky was a neighborhood phenomenon – an adorable little boy in perpetual motion. Who better to trust with my life and my limbs? And although I know fate is an arbitrary thing, on that beautiful sultry night I easily abandoned my absurd notion of having some control over it, and relaxed into the wonder of the scene around me.
Country roads where we grew up. We love them!

Rocky letting his hair down in Key West.  You're so handsome, 'Bro'!
The ride was spectacular. We roared through the country roads like a jet through the clouds, the trees on the side of the road a blur of greens. It was twilight, and it occurred to me that traveling on a motorcycle was so much more honest than riding in a car. Every curve was a revelation. Sensational.  And as I hugged my brother’s back and screamed and laughed with the sloopy joy of freedom, I knew why he loved riding so much, and why he’d ridden thousands and thousands of miles like this, through tree-lined country roads and deserts and mountains, through Indian Reservations and National parks, on steep cliffs far above ocean shores and along the reedy beds of lakes and river.
My best friends. Michael Keith and Rocky Mazza. In Tatamagouche.     
After the concert, which was in no way as exhilarating as the journey to it (LuPone did not thrust her arms toward the firmament and belt out “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”) we climbed back onto the Harley and headed off into a much colder, darker night. 
Treen Cottage, Malagash. Another Nova Scotia summer with my boys.
I tried in vain to warm myself on Rocky’s back as we rode, huddling ever closer to him, which only made my helmet butt into his helmet until he finally asked me to please stop. I concentrated on tolerating blasts of moonless night chill waiting at the far side of every curve. No more crazy joy; no more happy memories; just a desperate need to make it back to Rocky's house and between the flannel sheets of my bed.

“I see why you love it so much,” I told him later, when my teeth stopped chattering.  “It’s wonderful! It’s thrilling!”

“It’s not as thrilling as it used to be,” he said. 

It was like hearing of a divorce, or coming close to the end of a book you were loving reading. I felt sad to hear that something so fundamental to his character had lost its thrall.

"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I  love riding. But nowadays I don’t feel safe. People are in such a hurry. You have to be on the defensive every minute. It's not like it used to be.”
 Michael, Susan Pitts (our daughter) and Uncle Rocky. They look so innocent . . . don't believe it! I can't imagine what they're up to, but clearly, they're up to something.
Last summer Rocky was riding on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, on the final leg of a cross-country trip, almost home, when a truck changed lanes and side-swiped his bike. Amazingly, Rocky stayed upright, but his foot was smashed and so was his Harley. The truck didn’t stop. Maybe, Rocky says, the driver didn’t know that he’d hit someone. An ambulance took Rocky to the hospital where the broken bones in his foot were splinted and wrapped. His Harley was towed away and repaired. It could have been far worse, everybody said. Yes, that is true. But the darker part of that wreck is what it did to his soul.  It robbed him of his innocence, a bright and shining thing, that Rocky had managed to hold onto far, far longer than most of us ever dare to.