It's chrome and black and badass. I look at it, and the sight sends a subtle shiver up, then down my spine. It scares. It excites. I mount the machine and fire the engine. I am Odin. I sit atop my Valhalla throne and command Thor to shake the earth with his V-Twin hammers.
I am unlikely to ever kill a beast with a gun or bow. I am unlikely to ever fight another man bare-knuckles for honor or respect. I am unlikely to climb Everest and scream from the top of the world. This is my substitute.
It's after work. It's early October, and the sun has already left L.A., hopped a jet west. I'm cruising over a canyon road from my work in West Hollywood to my home in Sherman Oaks. The air's got a chill, but it's not cold, just crisp and lovely. The bike handles the canyon's curves well, as I climb over the Hill and into the Valley. The brisk air and the engine's rumble awaken me from the dayjob listlessness. I roll on the throttle and flash over Mulholland, down Beverly Glen. Life is good.
But still I wonder why I bought this ghastly beast, this demon's pet that can at once exhilarate and intimidate, enthuse and abuse. And there's the thing: no matter how much I love this two-wheeled monster, I question the validity of its purchase. Was it mere macho bullshit? After all, nothing screams mid-life crisis or penile compensation louder than a motorcycle. Was it misguided frugality? It cost a fourth of the price of a new car, and it gets around 70 mpg. I wrestle with these questions almost every time I ride. This night is not unlike the others. And as I try to crunch these socio-psychological self-absorbed equations, the answer comes to me, and not I to it:
I pull up behind an ambulance, quietly idling at the intersection, resting, waiting for the light to turn. No sirens. No flashing lights. No screeching tires or desperate acceleration. The rear windows resemble a divided TV screen, as if a medical reality show plays before me. It would've been a dull episode. On the right side sits a stethoscope, hanging onto a severely overweight paramedic, who calmly converses with the contents of the left side: an elderly lady, lying on a gurney. Now, she isn't struggling; she isn't writhing in pain. She's doesn't sport an I.V. or a respirator. Nothing about the scene resembles an emergency, besides the vehicle itself. I wonder if the ambulance were even necessary. But then, the lady looks at me with hints of pain, sorrow, loneliness, and fear. Her eyes spoke to me. They said,
Never grow old. It hurts. Your friends die. Your family dies. You watch half your world die. The ailments come and go, slowly chipping away your youth, until one day you look in the mirror, and some random grandmother looks back at you. Your life is nearly gone; the whole thing is reduced to a flood of befuddled memories; and it's difficult to discern what happened when, where, and with whom. You start to wonder whether the memories happened at all. And as you're staring into that mirror at the tire tracks time has laid across your face, an ambulance appears, and some fat bastard helps you into it, and all you can think is "aren't you the one who needs the medical attention?" And that's the kicker (and it kicks you in the gut, hard): you don't cross the finish line as much as the finish line crosses you. So, do me a favor. Don't grow old.
And then I knew why I had bought this damn motorcycle.