I was heading west on University Parkway, the stretch of US-29, a four-lane divided highway, between Athens and Atlanta, GA. It was late afternoon on a Friday and a thunderstorm was threatening overhead. People don’t mess around that time of the week. They are ready to get home to start their weekends or, like me, are already on their way to the party and are in a hurry to get there. Time is of the essence when the workweek is done. The average speed on the west-bound side was between 70-75 miles per hour. The east-bound side had been shut down due to a traffic accident and was backed up for miles. I gave quick thanks to the God of Speed for not being stuck in that mess.
Traffic was medium-heavy and I was averaging about 80 mph, making sure that I wasn’t the fastest vehicle on the road but keeping up with the faster cars of the crowd. I noticed a white sedan that had passed me, but then settled down to about my pace a little distance ahead. I eventually caught up and passed the car again. No big deal, it happens, I paid the car no mind as I continued to fling myself westward toward the horizon, bouncing around in my seat, tapping out the rhythm to some Lady Gaga tune with my right foot; I think it was “Bad Romance”. My thoughts were already occupied with playing in the twisties that were scheduled for the following day. The car eventually picked its way back through traffic and got ahead yet again.
Now it’s getting a little weird! After a while boredom and curiosity get the better of me and I am in hot pursuit of my highway stalker. It doesn’t take me long to catch up with my target. The car is still hanging out in the left lane, so I scoot over and slowly pass them on the right. I see what looks to be four college-aged kids bouncing around in their seats, hair flying, talking animatedly and obviously checking me out. Oh, shit! A carload of cheerleaders! They point and wave at me and I smile, — even though they can’t see through my darkly tinted face shield — I nod and give them a peace sign with my outstretched clutch hand. Then I grab a fistful of throttle, twist it quickly to the stop and treat them to a completely “unnecessary display of horsepower”. Gratuitous. I can’t help myself. I have no excuse. I pull triple digits for a few seconds, pass another vehicle by executing two acute lane changes to get a little high-speed lean for effect and then let the engine slow me back down to the speed of traffic.
It doesn’t take very long for them to catch up. Two songs, maybe. I’m astonished to see them again. When they pass me on the left, I see one of them is holding a sheet of notebook paper up to the passenger side window. It reads in bold-red Sharpie print:
I prop open my visor so I can make eye contact as I pace them. I smile and give them a thumbs up and a fist pump with my free hand. I yell: “Hell yeah!” even though they can’t hear me. I speed up and they stay directly behind me as my wing women until we part ways at a red light a few miles up the road. I turned right and they kept going straight. Each of us heading towards weekend adventure. I wish I could have taken a picture of this or had the video camera going. It’s the little things like these that make even a bored and hurried flight down a two-lane seemingly never-ending straight worth it. For one little instant my path merged with that of four strangers and life was just good.
That’s one of the reasons I ride.
Riding a motorcycle connects you intimately, even if only for a short moment, with others and the world around you. You become part of that world, rather than being isolated and distanced from it like you are when sitting in a car. This is one of those reasons why bikers refer to cars as “cages”. I’m sure of it.
I must be a glutton for punishment, because there is no other reason for me to go play in traffic around 4pm to duke it out with the crazed Christmas shopper cager crowd. But that’s me. Hardcore. I don’t “plan around”. I was on a mission to exchange my DOA Jawbone BT earpiece for a new one and I had to get some gift cards for the teenagers on my Santa list. Yup, hardcore and procrastinator extraordinaire. I was burning up a clutch tooling down Washington Road at painfully slow speeds, practicing the Slow Race. For about a mile, I was riding the friction zone, with my feet up on the pegs, to see how slow I could actually go before the Fat Lady decided she might rather take an asphalt nap instead. I was so absorbed into the task that I neglected my mirrors. I know, I know. Situational awareness is everything. I shouldn’t be rolling down the street blissfully unaware of my surroundings. La-dee-da… Therefore, it came as a complete surprise when this blue sedan slowly eased up next to me in my lane space. I was riding the right wheel track, looking down the dashed white line, between the long lines of cars. The thought of white-lining it all the way to the next red light occurred to me briefly, but some of the vehicles where too offset to grant me safe passage. I fought the impulse to squid it on down the boulevard being the envy of every cager stuck in the jam without options. So, here I am, being squeezed by two old ladies in their old-lady car and am completely speechless. No, I’m not. I put my foot down. Literally. I had to or I would have fallen over, maybe I should have. Fallen over, I mean. Right into that shiny blue passenger door of theirs, with my helmeted face plastered against the glass. Heh. The good ideas always occur to me after the fact. I could have gotten myself some new Tupperware on the left, which is marred from that unfortunate incident of temporary dumbassery we’re not going to further mention here. Tupperware, a new stator cover, left side mirror, and throw in a new can on that side, too. A repair upgrade due to a ‘not-my-fault’ happenstance after the original fact. I can see it now… stating my case between sobs: “But officer, they nicked my mirror with theirs, scared the shit out of me and I fell over. I AM entitled to the entire lane, no?” with tears streaming down my face and the most innocent and sad Bambi look I could possibly muster without cracking up. Damn! Another missed opportunity… But I digress, so I’m sitting there, inches away from a mirror-to-mirror kiss and I can’t help but stare at them and yell something to the effect that I would like to know where they think they are going to go. The driver is saying something to her passenger and she rolls her window down. I flip up my shield and yell over my ear plugs and tunes: “You know that I am entitled to the ENTIRE width of my lane, right?” while animatedly waving a pointed right index finger in front of me, indicating the lane we were currently sharing, “Just like a car.” The driver is starting to look a little shocked. I almost feel sorry for her. Almost. I watch them talk animatedly, hands waving in the air. After they fall silent, I add: “You know, it’s stuff like this,” more finger waving, “that can get me killed!” I almost regret it as soon as the words leave my lips. Almost. They both now look very apologetic and a little bit shaken, the driver more so than her friend. I think I’ve made my point. I ease forward, power-walking The Fat Lady into a spot between them and the car in front of them. I don’t want to look at them anymore, because now I really do feel bad. And I’m sure they’ve had enough of me, too. I figured it’s better I move before somebody is having a heart attack. Why do I feel bad? Old age doesn’t excuse their behavior. Was it their body language that seemed to express honest apology? I’m sure the lesson was well received and they will never do this to another person on a motorcycle. But why am I not really all that enthused about it? Here I am complaining about all these driving-skill inhibited ass clowns and I finally score one for the home team, and it’s a hollow victory. Would I do it again? Affirmative! I’m not going to let stuff like that slide. I can’t help myself. I think it is imperative that other motorists understand that motorcycles need their space. That we are very vulnerable, considering we aren’t separated from potential disaster by the relative safety a car has to offer its occupants. That our only defenses against calamity are separation by distance, situational awareness of our surroundings and our riding skills.
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