East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 7 – Jacksonville, Florida

I slept hard after yesterday’s weather beating and awoke to John’s son Michael clunking around in the kitchen. He slid a cup of coffee in front of me and continued cooking up a breakfast of donuts and assorted meats. Michael is such a hard worker. He has his own lawn care company and like his father, he always has at least a few projects in the works. He builds gadgets and tinkers constantly with electronics and engines. The saying,”The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” applies here in full force.

Post breakfast, John and I tackled the project of connecting his computer to a circuit board that he ordered to MIDI-ize his player piano. I enjoyed seeing both of our areas of expertise converge. I have used MIDI since 1983 so I was familiar with the interface, the files, and the computer side of things. John knew about the electronic side and how the circuit board needed to trigger his solenoids. We couldn’t get the triggers working but didn’t fiddle with the system for too long as we had a boat trip planned. With John, there is never an urgency about figuring something out. He knows he will eventually get to the solution, but sometimes breaks are needed to let the brain churn on the information already gathered.

John and I hitched up the boat and drove to Daily’s gas station to gas up and get some beer. We also picked up a Italian sub sandwich from Larry’s Giant Subs which is a chain but still a great sandwich. We arrived at the boat ramp and John carefully backed the boat down into the water. He admitted being self-conscious about doing this task since he doesn’t unload the boat much. I said, “Who gives a crap? We don’t know any of these people!” We got the boat launched and we were soon on our way.

We pulled away from the dock. John hit the throttle and the boat seemed to bog down. He hadn’t had her out in a while, and he thought there might be a problem with the motor as we drifted to a stop. He tilted up the engine and the problem was easily diagnosed. The prop had picked up a pair of pants! Good old-fashioned blue jeans were trying to prevent us from our time on the water. We both laughed for a while and I threatened to keep the pants and actually wear them.

With the Levi’s brake released, we made our way along the St. John’s river. I recalled when I used to sail in these waters with an old friend John Bush. We were the two new kids at San Jose Catholic and both got picked on and teased accordingly. He was pretty wealthy as his dad owned the Toyota dealership and he was somewhat socially awkward. As outcasts we became friends and would sail the St. John’s in his Sunfish sailboat and later a Hobie Cat. My youth is Jacksonville was a troubled one. I had a violent streak and got into a lot of fights. I was also becoming aware of the difference in class status as I would go to fellow classmates parties. The city itself never realized the potential our family dreamed of when we moved here in 1977. “The Bold New City of the South” was the motto to lure new professionals to the area, but visiting some 37 years later not much has changed. There are empty store fronts and once promising structures have fallen into disrepair.

Each landmark we floated by triggered a memory. Passing the Gator Bowl, I remembered seeing the Jacksonville Tea Men play and dreaming of being a soccer star. I also recalled the time the city was courting the Baltimore Colts and my mom brought us to the stadium for “Colt Fever.” We rolled by the Jacksonville Landing, a horseshoe shaped mall with a large public performance area where I played a great show with my band Ant Farm. We passed the Riverwalk, a now dilapidated boardwalk with many closed businesses where I was hassled by a cop for playing my guitar late one night. The cop said I wasn’t allowed to play. I told him there was no one around for miles and I wasn’t busking. He said he would arrest me if I didn’t pack up. I packed up alright and moved away to Tampa shortly after in October of 1990. I often wonder what my musical career path would be like if my family remained in Northern New Jersey. Would I have made it big by playing the clubs of NYC? There are no control groups in life, we simply make the best of what we have or make a change. When that cop harassed me I knew it was time for a change.

We covered a great deal of the river in John’s beautifully restored boat but the rains started to roll towards us. We took cover along a pillar of the Acosta Bridge and lashed the boat. We watched the torrential rain move along the river and I reflected on the melancholy tone of the city where I spent 13 formative years. I had some sad times here, but I also had some great ones. Hanging  out with my brother on this boat trip added to the great pile.

The rain quickly let up and we turned for home. We got the boat up on the trailer without much ado and returned to John’s house to get cleaned up for dinner. We gathered the family and went to a great seafood place called Trent’s and everything was plentiful, delicious, and cheap. I had a huge plate of lobster and crab legs and washed it down with loads of light beer. We talked about our journey with the pants clogging the engine and the rain, and everybody had a great laugh. The meal was a fitting end to a full day.

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 6 – Woodstock, GA to Jacksonville, FL

I am an early riser, even when on vacation. Maybe it’s a combination of being excited to ride and high anxiety. I was up at 8 a.m. My brother Tom’s wife Georgia cooked up a huge breakfast of french toast and sausage. And when I say sausage, I mean like 3 pounds of it. Everything was delicious. Georgia’s parents are Greek and she grew up working in their restaurant, so hospitality and cooking skills are in her blood. I am amazed by the influence parents can have on their children. I worked in my dad’s muffler shop as a boy, and no matter how much I denied wanting to be a mechanic, I have somehow returned to those roots by performing my own repairs and maintenance on my motorcycle. In many motorcyclist’s eyes, half of the beauty of owning a bike is maintaining it. There is a satisfaction to knowing that you did the work and it was done correctly. I know my drain plug is torqued to factory specifications because I had the torque wrench in my hands on the drain plug and I heard the wrench click when reaching the appropriate amount of foot pounds. That is the satisfaction and it is described wonderfully in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Reading this book inspired me to own a motorcycle again after a 20 year hiatus. The book also contains intriguing philosophical points of view. It is so much more than a book about motorcycles – a certain must-read for any mid-lifer heading out on a motorcycle tour.

Since Tom is an avid fan of Formula 1 racing, we decided to pay a visit to the Andretti Indoor Karting and Games in Roswell, GA for a race. I thought the karts would be the typical underpowered hogs found at the local mini golf, but I was dead wrong. Approaching the attendant, I saw helmets in a rack and pondered, “helmets for go-karts?” The reason became apparent once we started to race. The karts are the Stratos iS Andretti Edition Superkart, custom made for Andretti and feature a Honda 8.5 horsepower 4 stroke engine. This is almost double the horsepower that was on my brother John’s kart he had as a kid. Tom and I tore off and pulled close to each other and with an announced “go!” we started racing. The karts handled unbelievably and I was shocked by the amount of g-force in the turns. When I hit the straight, I stomped the gas and I was stunned by the acceleration. Perhaps the kart seemed faster than it was because of the proximity to the ground, but my heart was pounding in my chest. We caught and passed each other a few times, clipping apexes while laughing and smiling the entire race. In the end, Tom beat my best lap by 5 tenths. A testament to the driving skill he has acquired by paying careful attention to both Grand Prix racing and simulator games.

Heading back home after the race, Tom and I both commented on how much fun we had. As boys we hung out all of the time, but as adults we live in two cities far apart. Here is this guy I used to see everyday of my life and now I see him once a year if I am lucky. While chasing my dreams I abandoned the nest of my nuclear family. I guess I could have stayed in Jacksonville and taken over my dad’s muffler shop, but the notion of pleasing one’s self forces one to sacrifice in other areas of life. I wanted to be a rock star so I followed the path that lead me that way. I was not concerned with anything else but my dream. I am certain I have made the right choice, but that doesn’t mean I am not bothered by the distance from my family. That is what this trip is all about – closing that distance.

As I pulled away from the garage, I am sure the Brick left behind a few drops of oil on Tom’s alabaster driveway. I hope that he doesn’t scrub them out but instead lets one or two remain as a monument of my visit. I zig-zagged out of the subdivision and looked back in my mirrors at Tom’s looming house. I thought back to our high school days when I would see him feverishly clacking away at his computer keyboard as I left to go to some kegger. Perhaps he didn’t have too much fun back then, but he is reaping the benefits now with a good paying career. Meanwhile I’m buried in debt with nothing to show for it but a few cool guitars and a 25-year-old motorcycle. Would I trade what I have for what he has? No way. I am sure he wouldn’t trade either. We both took the path that suited us best.

I drove for about an hour until the pang of hunger kicked in again. I was hypnotized by three big letters on a billboard that indubitably trigger a pulling over: B-B-Q. My low fuel warning light was also glowing red so this was a sure sign from the motorcycle gods to take the exit. The place is called O.B.’s BBQ and advertises a real barbecue pit right in back of the establishment. As I pulled in I got a call from my girlfriend Nicole. We chatted for a while and it was nice to know she was concerned about me. I told her about my nice stay at Tom’s and the go karts, and her laugh conveyed that I was nothing but a big kid. No argument from this mouth. She didn’t keep me long as she knew I was about to eat.

I wandered in and the decor was the typical wagon wheel affair that seems to embrace the barbecue culture. I asked the waitress what I should order and she said “ribs,” with a big smile. She brought me a half sweet/half unsweet iced tea that was the size of a 5 gallon joint compound bucket. I grew up in Jacksonville which is really like south Georgia so I am well-versed in the abundant beverage tradition. Most restaurants even ask you if you want a “to go” iced tea at no charge and hand you an enormous styrofoam cup filled to the brim with still more of the brown liquid as you leave. The south is a hot place. Folks get thirsty.

My ribs arrived along with baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and a slice of Texas toast. Everything was spot on delicious. New York City is a place where the highest quality of almost any cuisine can be obtained. I can find good barbecue, but it’s pricey and crowded. In the South there are tons plentiful cheap choices with no waiting time.

I filled my gas tank and took back to the highway. The skies were dark and the rain started to fall. I quickly found an overpass and parked the brick under the dry cover of highway. I took my iPhone out of the RAM mount and dropped it on the pavement. My worst fears were realized when I saw that the screen glass was shattered. I clicked it on and it still worked much to my relief. I use my phone as a GPS so without it I would have to resort to paper maps. Something a navigationally challenged person like myself hates to do. I put on my Dainese rain suit and got back on the rode. The downpour was nasty at times and visibility was poor but I soldiered on like a trooper. Cars whizzed by me and I am sure they were shouting, “What is this nut doing driving in the rain!?”

After a decent drenching, the rain subsided. I drove until my rainsuit dried out and took it off at a rest stop. The skies were clear and during a lapse of judgement I came to the notion that I had to break one hundred miles per hour. This is referred to by café racers as doing “the ton.” I screwed on the throttle and watched the speedometer rise past the 100 MPH mark. I didn’t stay there long for fear of either a ticket or the Grim Reaper. Maybe I am nothing but a big kid, but I’m out here living life and touring on a motorcycle and that brings me great joy.

I crossed the Florida border and onto I-10. I thought I was clear of the wet stuff, but still more rain came down as to punish me for the horrible act of breaking 100 miles per hour. I needed gas so I pulled into a touristy truck stop where I would fuel and don the wet weather gear once more. I went into the shop to use the restroom, and I saw amongst the toys for kids were pink muskets, obviously aimed at the young girl demographic. I was taken aback by this because of the recent awareness regarding guns in our culture today. As a kid I loved toy guns and I often played S.W.A.T. and Army with the neighborhood gang. I don’t remember there being mass school shootings back when I was growing up. I lamented how our society has changed. Kids are acting out their fantasies using real guns now instead of toys.

I drove on into the rain that was steady but not terrible. I was about 10 miles from my brother John’s house and I was looking forward to getting dry. I only brought one pair of shoes which were Adidas Samba Classics and they were soaked through at this point. Then it happened. The rained turned into a river from the sky. My visibility was damn near zero, but I pressed on following the taillights of the trucks in front of me. I figured this beat standing on the side of the road and being drenched further. “Okay, I swear I’ll never do 100 miles an hour again!” I shouted through my helmet, my brain soaked to the point of insanity. I finally pulled into my brother’s house with a sigh of relief.

John didn’t rush out to meet me me. He along with his son Michael, were working the kinks out of his boat motor, as he promised me ride on the river. As soaked as I was, there were the two of them racing the old engine billowing smoke in a garbage can as water splashed furiously onto Michael. I laughed so hard thinking they were as wet as me and twice as dirty.

John and I had a beer and chatted for a while and then walked with Michael to a nearby restaurant called Harpoon Louie’s that has great wings and cheap beer. There was a motorcycle game in the bar that John and Michael forced me to play. I was terrible at it ands crashed several times. Michael roared with laughter and joked about the impossibility of me traveling this far on two wheels.

With a belly full of Miller Lite and too many wings, we walked home. Upon our return, John’s wife Lauralyn had prepared a bed for me in the living room. She is a nurse by occupation and an unbelievably giving and energetic person. She is into pottery as evidenced by several kilns in the back yard, and she grows orchids in a greenhouse that John fabricated from the metal of bed frame rails and a discarded satellite dish. Her collection of plants in mind blowing. John took me out to his workshop that is stacked with projects in various states of completion. He restored a player piano many years ago and his latest idea is to modify it to be able to play MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) files from a computer. This involves making 88 tiny solenoids (one for each key) to control the airflow to each note. He wound each solenoid on a machine on his own design that counts the wire turns around the bobbins. I am forever in awe of John’s ingenuity and creative mind. Sometimes when I solve problems at work or for friends they say “Joe Popp, you are genius.” I smile and say, “Well, you’ve never met my brother John.”

After goofing around in the shop for a while, we went back inside and sat at the kitchen table. We talked past midnight. As kids John and I were not that close. I tried to follow him around because I looked up to him, but being 4 years apart he wanted to hang with his friends. Now that we are older and we have many of the same interests, we are closer than we have ever been. I don’t see him enough, but the time we do spend together is very dear to me, blabbing a technical things and gadgets. My dream is to retire to Florida and have a little shop with him that we can work on amps and old radios together. As I age I am realizing those days are not too far off.

I crawled into my makeshift bed and thought about the day. I came from far away and braved terrible weather and high winds to be with another piece of my family. The last ten miles were some of the worst I’ve ever had in the saddle. But to feel the sense of family that enveloped me as I drifted off to sleep, I wouldn’t think twice about riding the same wet trail again.

363 Miles - Woodstock, GA to Jacksonville, FL

363 Miles – Woodstock, GA to Jacksonville, FL

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 5 – Boone, NC to Tail of the Dragon to Woodstock, GA

I woke up early because I had a big day ahead of me. Today I would ride US 129, a road with 318 curves in 11 miles famously dubbed the Tail of the Dragon. I was anxious to roll. Ann prepared a lumberjack sized breakfast of bacon and eggs. My family all knows of my hearty appetite, so the provisions are always plentiful when I roll into town. “Joe’s coming? Get a case of beer, a package of brats and a pound of bacon.” This sounds like a joke, but I often tap deep into the surplus, especially while travelling. I live, I experience, I overindulge.

I know the price I am paying. 2 years ago I was down to 175 pounds from working out and taking care of myself. I was running the Warrior Dash and religiously hitting the gym. But since my broken engagement of 2011 something left me not caring. I started eating and drinking more leading to my current scale tipping of 210. I currently subscribe to the ideology of immediate gratification. What the hell? A truck might roll along and flatten me at any moment so I’d better be grinding on a chili dog rather than a rice cake if that is my fate. I realize I am being short sighted. Maybe this behavior is to escape, or at least bury the sadness that I haven’t been able to sustain a stable relationship. Since that breakup in 2011, my esteem has been in the trash. My present situation with Nicole is helping matters. She is certainly good for my esteem, but there are shards left behind from every broken relationship. I went from being divorced, to an old high school flame, to long distance failed engagement, all within the period of 3 years. Three relationships started and ended and here I am trying again with another old flame. Yet, I retain hope as a survival instinct. I must believe the thoughts of a brighter relationship future.

One of my auxiliary driving lights broke a wire somewhere along the way. Brian hooked me up with a soldering iron so I could make the repair. Brian does high end cabinet work, a commodity in high demand due to the amount of medium-density fiberboard that pollutes kitchens everywhere. He is a salt of the earth kind of guy and treats Ann well. He is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I am glad he and Ann married after her first marriage ended. They eventually found each other but it took time – 50 years in her case. Her long journey towards happiness encouraged me on mine. Patience is a practice I need to study more often. Again, thoughts of a brighter future

I had about 3 ½ hours to the Tail of the Dragon, one of the most famous motorcycle roads in the world. I had a knot in my stomach as the road is one of the most challenging I have yet to ride. I am not sure that knot was nerves or excitement because this drive will be a first, and as I age, firsts are hard to find.  The roads going in were all gorgeous pieces of tarmac. I wasn’t rushing but I was riding at a relatively sporty clip, enjoying the overhanging trees and twisting uncrowded roads. This is the zone where I think best. I never play music when I ride. I instead listen to the hypnotic hum of the road. I find this one of the most therapeutic and calming things that I do, driving through nature and thinking about life. this is the place where the noise in my brain finally halts for a few hours and I achive a clarity that people talk about finding when meditating or waiting for a set of waves to roll into shore.

My calmness was abruptly interrupted by none other than a 12-foot-tall dragon constructed out of chrome plated, repurposed motorcycle, car, and truck parts. This is the nexus of the Tail of the Dragon. I pulled into the lot of the gift shop that coraled the metal monster and parked the Brick for a moment. I wasn’t mentally ready to take on this road just yet. I clicked some photos and watched as brave knights set out on steads branded with Ducati, Yamaha, and even Harley to slay this mythical beast. They staggered their start up the hill as to not run into each other. One of the great features of the Tail is that there are no cross streets in 11 miles, meaning that no one is going to pull out in front of you from a blind side street.

I decided the time had come. A huge smile crossed my face as the Brick burbled to life. I wasn’t properly attired for true sport riding. Normally I would have full leathers and boots, but due to my light packing, I was reduced to just my Arai Helmet, Dainese riding jacket and gloves, Levi’s, and Adidas Sambas. I had to quell my inner Valentino Rossi, which was the right move since my K75C is not really an all out sport bike. I also had the ballast of my saddlebags to prevent me from any really peg scraping leans.

I waited for a window and took off up the Tail with my iPhone mounted and recording the run. I was hesitant at first but after a few turns my confidence sharpened. I was surprised to find that many of the curves were actually banked which allowed me to retain a higher rate of speed than I expected. I certainly wasn’t breaking any records, but the feeling of riding this road reinforced my belief that I am and always will be a motorcyclist. Being out in the wind at speed has no match. I continued along the Tail as my heart raced and my concentration remained at a peak. I saw photographers on the side of the road as I drove by knowing that I would get a few off bike pics, a bonus for the solo traveler. After about 25 minutes I neared the end of the Dragon and stopped at a bridge where many other bikes had also stopped. This was a serious crew, many of them wearing full one-piece racing suits and exotic bikes covered in carbon fiber. I sat on a low, graffiti covered rock wall and talekd to a guy who had a beautiful Ducati 916. We chatted about bikes old and new as we gulped water. He was older than me, well into his 50’s but his love of sport riding never decreased. He has had a stable of bikes over the years and he loved them all. He shared that he also owned a K75 once and said it was the most reliable bike he ever had.

I remounted the brick and drove the last bit of the Tail, but it was not as eventful as there was construction and traffic started to clog. I turned back and rode the twisty pavement backwards towards the start. The feeling was just as good if not better as I was getting a handle on the banked turns. I made it back to the start and pulled into the Dragon’s Den Pub right across from the metal dragon statue. As I parked the Brick, I saw a Ducati 900ss getting ready for a run. I immediately got choked up. Right after my divorce I bought a 1994 900SS SP and restored it while I was on sabbatical from my NYC college job in 2009 – 2010. I loved that bike, not only for the reason that it was my dream bike, but because after my divorce it represented freedom. My wife would never let me get a bike when we were married, so the minute our marriage ended, I did just that. I restored the Duc to near perfect condition but at the end of my sabbatical I was out of money. I put the SS up for sale hoping it wouldn’t sell until the day I needed to return to NYC, but low and behold I got an offer I could not turn down the first week the ad ran. I found out later that the buyer parted out the bike leaving no memory of my work on my dream bike.

I choked back my sadness and entered the pub. I pub is a huge place decorated with rustic pine. I ordered a pork sandwich with slaw and a Bud Light and sat watching rider after rider tear off up the Tail. The food was tasty and I felt among like minds as the room filled with motorcycle conversations all overlapping each other. Many riders come to the Tail and stay at the hotel next door to the pub. They ride the road back and forth for days trying to best yesterday’s time, as to drive their lances in deeper towards the heart of the beast. I admire their competitiveness, but this dragon is not mine to slay. I’ve done amazing things in my life and I have nothing to prove. My simple one time back and forth satiated my ever declining blood lust for speed – a glimpse of a career fork not taken as a motorcycle racer.

After my lunch I took one last look at the metal dragon guarding the road entrance and smiled to myself. An old guy like me can still get some kicks on an ancient horse. As I exited the Tail my iPhone display read “No Service.” I wasn’t worried I knew I just had to head south and eventually service would return. There is really only one way out and I took the road without worry. My phone eventually found a satellite and just as it did, Nicole called. I quickly pulled off the road and answered, her voice breaking up due to the the spotty reception. The call was a serendipitous sign that somebody was out there thinking of me even if I was physically miles from anybody I knew. The call was cut off, but the idea of hope was restored as I fired up the Brick again and took back to the road.

The drive into Woodstock was relaxing. The challenging banked twists of the Tail made normal backroads driving effortless. The weather remained perfect all the way to my brother Tom’s house. I followed the GPS into his subdivision that serves as a suburb of Atlanta. As I pulled into his driveway I was stunned by the enormous beauty of the house. This is the home of my goofy kid brother who used to mock sports commentators by making up fictitious players during our one-on-one Wiffle Ball games? He has done well for himself.

Tom was the last of the 5 children in my family. We are close in age so he followed me from school to school, trailing a couple of grades behind. We have many of the same interests such as guitar, computers, and motorsports. He got into computers early in life and received a Coleco Adam as a starter computer, a pricey gift for our modest family income. I watched Tom grow with computers. He quickly moved from model to model as the processing power fell short of his abilities. He bought an Atari 520ST, an early Macintosh competitor, and I followed suit because it had MIDI connection built in for controlling synthesizers. We used this MIDI connection to network the computers and play MIDI Maze, an early first person shooter. His knowledge of computers quickly outpaced mine and he ended up getting his degree in computer science. Through computers he followed his career path upward into report generating which is a simple way of explaining his current position with a major communications company.

Tom and his wife Georgia met me in the driveway with big smiles. He opened the garage door and next to his car was a color sign he created that read, “Brick Parking Only” complete with the BMW roundel. I laughed with joy at his ingenuity and attention to detail. He put some thought process into my arrival just as my sister Ann did with the bratwurst. I felt welcome.

Touring the house I was further stunned. Their walk-in closet is the size of my NYC apartment and everything is decorated with taste and style. They worked hard to buy this house and then spent time to make it their home. Their three cats roam the luxurious digs with a wonderful laziness that filled me with envy.

We blabbed for a awhile and decided on a seafood restaurant called Goin’ Coastal in nearby Canton. Georgia noticed my many pictures of oysters on facebook and thought I would enjoy some. We were seated only to find that they were out of oysters, even though other diners were enjoying dozens. “We just ran out,” the waitress piped. I wasn’t worried about the meal though, I was just happy to be put with my brother and his wife. After dinner, we walked around the area. The town was quaint with restored buildings and an old theater. Before I left Tampa for NYC in 2000, I toyed with the idea of opening a performance space for bands and cutting edge theater. I often think about what might have happened if I went down that road. We all take our own path. Tom took a career and made money, I followed the arts and struggle to pay my rent. We probably imagine living in each others shoes at times, but given a mulligan we would both make the same choices.

We headed home and I went up to bed. I snickered at the mountainous stack of decorative pillows that Georgia had piled on the bed in the guest room, realizing they would not fit in my apartment. I talked to Nicole for a while on the phone and told her of my day. She was happy I was having such a great time and told me to be careful.  As I dozed off I thought about what an adventure packed day I had lived. I ate like a king. I said goodbye to Ann and Hello to Tom. I road the motorcycle road of a lifetime.

Everyone has their Lottery fantasy planned out. If I ever win, I am going to do what I am doing right now – drive around the country and visit family and friends as I find new firsts. The greatest feeling came to me as I thought about this notion. I am living my lottery fantasy. Tom loves the warm home he created with Georgia. They are living their dream. I believe my home is in the saddle of a 25 year old motorcycle, barreling through the woods down twisty roads towards family, friends, and parts unknown.

 

366 Miles - Boone, NC to Tail of The Dragon to Woodstock, GA

366 Miles – Boone, NC to Tail of The Dragon to Woodstock, GA

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 4 – Washington, DC to Boone, NC

I woke up early and grabbed a shave. I don’t shave everyday, but when I do I feel refreshed like I am getting new start on life. Nicole and her kids were on my mind for many miles yesterday. I wrote them a short note on the hotel stationary which made me laugh because I never stay in places fancy enough to have such amenities. I walked over to a posh eatery called Cafe Lombardy for breakfast. I ordered pancakes and coffee. My mind must have been elsewhere because I poured syrup into my coffee. Embarrassed, I told the waiter what I had done and he professionally rushed off and brought me another cup. I wonder if he sees this kind of scatterbrained behavior often in this city where so many people have jobs with such great responsibility. The meal was excellent and I felt fueled for the ride ahead of me.

I got back to the hotel room but felt a bit feverish. I rested on the bed for a few minutes and the feeling left me. Traveling by motorcycle can be pretty tough on the body. The constant wind, temperature changes, and ingestion of bugs can lead to many ailments. Halfway through my tour last summer, my ears felt like they popped, and it took until 2 weeks after the completion of the tour for them to return to normal.

I packed my things and carried my cases down to the parking garage and rumbled onto the road. A few dots of rain speckled my fairing, but I drove on and outran the bad weather. I don’t know that I will return to DC again since not much seems to change here. The musty museums house the same old artifacts that my eyes have seen before. I headed west on 66 and picked up 81 South, a beautiful piece of road cuts right through the Shenandoah Valley. One of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar when I began playing back in 1977 was “Country Roads” by John Denver, a song that describes this very corner of the world. I laughed while I spoke to myself inside the confines of my Arai helmet, “Oh, this is what he was talking about!” The scenery was breathtaking and the weather spot on. I began to sing full volume within the muffled confines of my headgear, “Almost heaven, West Virginia!”

The beast of hunger was rearing his ugly head, so I used Yelp to locate a place to eat. Serendipitously I came across a southern fried chicken joint appropriately dubbed the Southern Kitchen. It is a rustic old-time diner with ladles full of southern hospitality. I of course ordered the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. The entire meal was fabuolous. The chicken was juicy without being greasy, a feat that is tough to muster. After downing the meal, the waitress insisted that I get the lemon meringue pie. I wisely took her advice with a cup of coffee to boot. I was full, but I was sport eating at this point – taking in the local flavors by the plateful as sparks shot from my knife and fork. Discoveries like the Southern Kitchen are one of the main reasons I like adventuring. Culinary surprises are around every corner, and with a little on-the-road research the best establishments can be easily located.

I continued on 81 to 77 South and then to 421. I did eventually catch a little rain but it didn’t last long. The pain larger than the water itself is putting my rain gear on and then taking it off again. The last leg on 421 was one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever traveled. Much of it was covered with a canopy of trees and the rolling changes in elevation made the ride enjoyable.

I arrived in Boone, NC. I pulled into my sister Ann’s driveway and she and her husband Brian met me with huge smiles. Before doing anything else I decided I was going to do pictures of everybody in my family sitting on the Flying Brick. Ann, Brian, and Ann’s son Wyatt, all took the saddle and hammed it up for a few snapshots. Brian broke out some ice cold Yeunglings as Ann grilled up some brats. They both know what I like.

In my family of five kids (yes, I was raised Catholic), my sister Ann in second oldest. She was an outstanding student in high school and was the first one in our family to get a 4 year college degree. She also went on to get her masters degree in Chemistry which I imagine is no easy feat. Her memory is excellent and she also studied piano and french horn for many years. When I was young, she was always supportive of my music making and she helped me through cumbersome preteen years by styling my ridiculously straight hair. She made me feel cooler than I thought I could be, and that bolstered my confidence as I navigated murky social waters.

Brian conjured a fire in the pit they had in the backyard and we talked for hours into the night. We told old stories and discussed the hardships of growing up in such a large family. I had not seen Ann in a while so it was good to catch up. I took note of the fact that it was nice to talk to Ann and Brian without the rest of the family being around. Typically, when our enormous herd gathers on holidays or other life events, the sheer amount of people that is assembled makes communicating difficult. One must scream over the din of the other family members to be heard. We constantly interrupt one another just to get a word in edgewise. This more mellow hang was a nice respite from the calamity.

I continued to drain the 12 pack of brews as we toasted marshmallows. I often think about relocating to an area more rural than my current home of NYC. The thought of owning  a garage and a yard is nice at first glance, but then I catch myself. Where would I work? Who would I hang out with? Where would I see art and bands. I realized that the solution is to travel a few times a year to get my country fix and escape the rat race of Gotham.

With a good buzz in my head, I drifted off to sleep. The first family member stop was an excellent one, and I reminded myself that I need to do trips like this more often. Good roads, good food, and good family. A city boy sabbatical away from the traffic, noise, and the rats, both large and small.

 

414 Miles - DC to Boone

414 Miles – DC to Boone

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 3 – South Orange, NJ to Washington, DC

I woke up in South Orange to a light rain. Sleep is difficult in the suburbs without the constant din of sirens and hollering that has turned into a sleep therapy machine for me. Nicole and her kids were of course worried about me, but I assured them the rain would dry and the radar had sunshine up ahead. I clipped my bags onto the Brick and started to drive away. I felt a magnetic pull – one of a family that didn’t want me to leave. I watched their house shrink in my rear view mirror as my tire hissed along the wet pavement. I twisted toward the Jersey Turnpike, and slapped down some quick miles. Everybody goes 25 miles over the speed limit on the Turnpike so the travel went by like a blur. I only stopped for gas and planned to eat lunch in our Capitol city.

I arrived in DC and found the State Plaza Hotel where I would be staying, but they would not let me check in until the afternoon. I was permitted to park in a cozy indoor garage that put me at ease about the Brick. I have no idea why I worry about my bike so much. I bought it for $2400 and if anything ever happened to it, the financial loss would be minimal. We did 7000 miles together on a cross-country trip last summer and I guess what is more important than the monetary value of the bike,  is the level of comfort. The seat fits my butt. I know the controls without thinking about them. It starts every damn time I push the button. I am also a little more than a touch O.C.D. I like to keep my things nice so yes, she’s old, but she deserves a roof over her head.

I wandered the streets of DC. I saw the Washington Monument with a skeletal support system that was put in place after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake damaged the needle-like structure. I happened across a nice place called the Irish Whiskey Public House and had a burger and a beer. I chatted with some of the locals and told them of my trip to visit all of my immediate family on this tour. People like to hear stories in person. In this world of social media, the talent of spinning a good yarn is becoming a rare commodity. I’ve been an entertainer for most of my life and once I get rolling I can make just about anybody laugh.

Still not near check in time, I wandered past statues and protest signs on my way to The White House. The roof was being repaired which seemed to be a striking metaphor for the shape of our country. The disparity between the rich and the poor is at an all-time high. As people struggle to make ends meet, huge corporations pay lobbyists millions to sway legislature for tax breaks and monopoly leniency. I wanted to shout, “When you are done with the roof, fix the rest!” But I held this thought for myself as small children may be traumatized and steered away from public office.

I headed over to the hotel and even though my trip from Jersey was short, I wanted a nap before playing tourist. I slept a solid two hours in the king size bed. I hit the street and walked around, taking in the sights and sounds of DC. When I came here many years prior, it seemed to be bustling, but now as a denizen of NYC, every other city I visit (except maybe Cairo) is mellow by my new standard.

I walked into the Museum of American History. I had been within these walls before but this time my waning wonder and excitement seemed as threadbare as the worn carpets on the floor. I had been through so much life since visiting last in 1988. In my mind back then, hope laid clearly before me and I thought one day my guitar would hang among these exhibits, my legacy being equal to Lennon or Dylan. But as we age, realities take root. My music career never became a full time job, and the family life I tried to start wound up in painful divorce. Gazing upon the signature bent bell of Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet wasn’t inspiring. It was merely a knife in my side of how I never would achieve that greatness. Yes, at 48 it’s too late.

I pressed on and shook off some of the sadness by appreciating the immersive sound design of the museum. With every turn is a well mixed and well placed collage of sounds. I glanced over the displays of technological advancements that have come during the past 100 years. Even during my half of a century I thought of the developments: cable TV, ATM machines, cell phones, the compact disk, personal computers, the internet – all of these things invented during my lifetime. I came to an exhibit that had the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem. This flag is the actual Star Spangled Banner. I was in amazement until I saw a sign that said no pictures. The irony was crushing. The very thing that represents our freedom, the inspiration for our national anthem, the symbol thousand upon thousands gave their lives to protect it’s meaning, and I was not allowed to take a picture. In the spirit of the first patriots I snuck a few anyway with my iPhone as a lazy security guard checked her text messages. I felt victorious. Wagner’s “The Ride Of The Valkyries” played thunderously in my head as I saluted goodbye to the grand old flag.

For my next stop, I went directly into the Museum of Natural History. I tried to let go of my jaded feeling and recapture the wonder I felt when coming here in the past. I walked among the display of skeletons and taxidermy somewhat numb. The two history museums are just that – history. Every self-help book insists that letting go of the past is the key to happiness and here I am mired in the tar of nothing but the past. I caught myself and decided I was overthinking everything. I’m on vacation for chrissakes! What’s with the hyper self-introspection?

I exited the museum with a smirk on my face realizing what a charmed life I do get to lead. I marched past the Reflecting Pool towards the Lincoln Memorial. This body of water is such a beautiful expanse of peace. So simple in it’s design, yet so genius in it’s effect. I was instantly calmed and sat for a while and watched kids play, lovers kiss, and vets remember. The sun was setting and the entire area glowed with an amber hue. I approached the Lincoln Memorial and saw the man himself sitting stoically. Once again the beauty of a monument interrupted by construction. Scaffolding was erected up Abe’s left leg so the appendage could be refurbished. The repair-in-progress did little to dampen my emotion. The statue is bigger than can be described. He did so much for the forward movement of our country. I hung out for a long time and even read the entire Gettysburg Address tattooed on the wall of the memorial. I remember studying the document in school, but I don’t think it ever had more meaning than on this warm August night.

“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Among the crumbling monuments, I was given a new sense of hope. Thanks for that Abe.

Yes, I know I’m moody.

I scoured Yelp for a place that had chicken wings. I located a joint named The Big Hunt and made my way towards the bar. On my way over, I passed the Institute of Peace which was closed for the day. If there is anyplace that should be open 24/7 – it’s this one.

I found the bar and ordered the wings that were great, and drank several beers reflecting on the day. There was a trivia match going on and that added to the fun. I shouted out answers after the millennials in attendance couldn’t answer a single Who question even if they were slapped by the album jacket of Quadrophenia. The place closed early, which was a bummer because I liked the vibe. I took to foot and tried to find another watering hole. I walked into a neon encrusted aquarium joint, had another beer, and decided to pack it in. My ride would be doubled tomorrow, so a good night sleep was on the books.

I relaxed on the big bed and thought about the day. I experienced a range of emotions during the last 24 hours – the beauty of traveling alone. I spiraled into sleep. I was not disturbed at all by the supposed ghosts of the State Plaza Hotel.

South Orange to DC - 222 miles

South Orange to DC – 222 miles

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 2 – South Orange, NJ

Today I was not riding. I spent the day with my girlfriend Nicole and her two kids. I woke up early and started clacking away on my computer in bed. Nicole brought me a huge cup of coffee as I worked. She is such a caring and giving person and although she has been going through some tough times, she still finds a way to give to others. She is truly a generous person like few I have met. She also cooked me a big breakfast of eggs and chicken sausage that really hit the spot. Such amazing gestures for a traveler.

We took a trip with her two kids to the Turtle Back Zoo. When she first told me she lived nearby, my brain spun. My mother used to take us there as kids. One of the unique elements of the Zoo back in the early 70s was that you could actually ride the large Galapagos tortoises that were roaming freely. I remember seeing one chew on a woman’s shirt in a jealous rage as she stroked the chin of another tortoise. These deep memories came flooding back to me as we entered the zoo. Looking around I don’t seem to recall much of anything else except the train. I believe it was coal powered back in the day but now appears to be propane fueled.

We had a nice time at the zoo and after arriving home I worked on a song for Nicole’s class as she made macaroni salad. She teaches Pre-K at a private school and every week she writes a song for the spelling words the kids need to learn. We write the song together or sometimes I write the whole thing. She played me a video of the kids singing one of the songs I wrote. They screamed and laughed as they sang. Although hearing them is surreal, having a positive affect on children is amazing.

We went to dinner at Nicole’s friends house who also have two kids. She is lucky to have many nice people living near her. Over dinner we discussed various topics as the kids launched styrofoam rockets into the neighbor’s yard. I remember these times living in New Jersey. I actually lived only 9 miles from Nicole’s house from when I was born until I was 12-years-old. I recall backyard barbecues and the neighbors coming by and sharing our pool. The focus was on family and just being together.

I feel somewhat disconnected by the suburbs now. I have no kids of my own, and my one attempt to marry into a family failed. Since I have been single, I have become a creature of the city. Do I live in NYC for convenience or have I become a hunchbacked rat in an overpriced shoebox so I can emit the aroma of coolness? I always try to get in touch with the purpose of doing things. My best friend Tylor advises me to find meaning in everything. I am on the quest and it is a noble one.

Being with Nicole gives me a strong sense of family. Her kids love me and affection they all show towards me is limitless. But I am gun shy. I don’t want to mess this up. For one reason or another I always fall short in relationships. As a friend once told me, “I don’t play the lottery because then I never have to lose.” I was sort of following this advice but it is such a hopeless outlook. Nicole gives me hope. I have a feeling of growth on this tour which is nice since my last trip was all about licking wounds.

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 1 NYC to South Orange, NJ

One year has passed since my last big tour. Up until a few days ago, I still had not finished writing about the trip. I realized on my journey that the writing was consuming too much of the experience, so I put the documenting off until later. I could lie and said I had a busy year, but the truth is I lost some interest in writing. I went back to school to chase my creative writing degree, but my first anthropology class was not very good. I liked the material, but the idea of studying for tests and doing homework was not enjoyable. Doing group projects with 19-year-old kids was frustrating as well, so I bailed. I juggle so many interests that I can’t seem to keep more than one ball in the air at a time. I write music, I build amps, I build effects pedals, I skateboard, I ride my motorcycle, and I write.

After returning from the trip, The Hornrims‘ bass player, Brian, was too busy to practice with the added responsibility of his second baby. I started up a new band with my two best friends, Tylor (drummer from the Hornrims) and Shaugn, called Plasma in the Ukraine. I played bass and even goofed around on a Theremin in the group. We played a few shows and came up with some cool material, but I left the project a few days ago to return to playing guitar. Bass is ok, but it’s not in my blood like the guitar.

I decided that this year was going to be the year of pleasing myself. How could I love somebody else if I couldn’t be at peace with who I am and what I am doing? I wanted to do more solo acoustic shows. My Taylor guitar that was cracked in four places didn’t inspire me to play, so I made plotted to find a way to get my dream axe – the Gibson J-200 maple jumbo. I had lusted after this guitar since I saw Pete Townshend play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in a video of The Secret Policemen’s Ball. I attended an event at the Gibson showroom and one of the features of the space is a guitar room loaded with incredible Gibson electrics and acoustics that you are encouraged to play. I picked up the J-200 that was resting in a stand and after playing it for what seemed like hour, I knew I had to find a way to own one. I ended up selling my reissue skateboard collection, my old bass, and the cracked Taylor. This gave me the funds to buy the guitar for cash. It is everything I expected.

The J-200 kickstarted my solo acoustic career, and after many years of only playing with bands, I started booking quite a few shows. A local promoter and I, Chris Andrews struck up a conversation at one of my favorite bars, The Ding Dong Lounge and now he books me as often as I want to play. I am happy to be out doing solo gigs again and the guitar is simply amazing.

I also realized I hate unfinished business, so this is going to be the year of finishing projects. I scored the dream guitar and I needed to start mixing some of the records I had piled up with The Hornrims. I almost have the prog inspired album Song of Dystopia in the can after nearly 3 years. I also need to mix the band version of Pericles, a show I recorded back in 2009 with the ‘rims but only mixed the cast version. I will finish that too this year.

On the relationship front, when I initially returned I tried to date, but I really needed to be totally free. I wanted to live an efficient lifestyle and responsibility seemed too much for me to handle after all of the relationship woes over the past 5 years. I did this for a while but low and behold, a girl from my past came back into my life. Her name is Nicole and we worked at Busch Gardens together. She was a singer in the show Latin Heat and I was in the marching steel drum band, Sounds of Steel. She has two kids and is going through a divorce. We started dating again after 20 years after she found my song writer page on the web.

I made the same mistake I always seem to make. I dove in headfirst and gave too much of myself. She needed help and I wanted to give all I could. But shortly into the newfound relationship my anxiety shot through the roof. I thought I needed to leave her, but after a great talk she told me we could take things slower. She actually said, “What do you need?” I was amazed at her unselfish concern for me. She didn’t need me to move in or to be the father of her kids. She also understands that I require my free time and doesn’t need to see me every weekend. I want to stay in NYC and she lives in South Orange, NJ. I love New York and I need to retain an efficient lifestyle – at least for now. I also need to keep my anxiety at bay by having few pressures. She understands these needs and our relationship is great. I love her and her kids and I am sure our relationship will grow strong and steady.

So life is good for me but what about the Brick? After my long trip I did a few more rides and right after I got back I even had a date with a girl that had a little Honda Rebel. She was a novice and we drove up to Storm King Art Center on a very cold day. She drove so slow it wasn’t very enjoyable. I realize I like to ride alone because I am in control. I can go my speed, stop when I want, and change directions on a whim. So from now on, I either ride alone, or with my newly aquired passenger Nicole.

Winter came and the Brick sat in my parking garage. The circuit my Battery Tender was plugged into shorted out and my battery died. I just left the bike through the winter unstarted and abandoned in the garage. I felt bad, but as in the Shel Silverstein’s manual for life, The Giving Tree, I knew I would return to the Brick. Spring came and with a fresh battery we were back to our upstate runs.

Nicole was the first one to brave a ride with me on the Brick since I got the bike. I had a brand new Arai passenger helmet that she has commandeered and we have been taking rides all summer. I like having her on the back. We have no communication devices so we just ride and think. She says she enjoys the peacefulness.

So what’s next? I just left my place in NYC and I am at Nicole’s house in NJ. I am doing a 3000-mile East Coast tour during the next 2 weeks. The purpose of this trip is to visit every member of my family. I am going to see my sister Ann in Boone, NC, my brother Tom in Atlanta, my brother John in Jacksonville, FL, And my sister Catherine and my Mom and Dad in St. Augustine, FL.

The purpose of my cross-country trek last year was to find myself. I don’t think I actually did that on the trip, but during this following year I have come closer to happiness. The tour was the start. This year’s journey is about family. The greatest start is spending time with my girlfriend and her two awesome kids, Duncan and Shaw.

I am finishing my projects. I have new goals and dreams. Most importantly, I am opening my heart to others but only after making sure I am taking care of my needs first. One of those needs is this road trip. I’ll be hitting some excellent roads up and down the East Coast, most notably The Tail of the Dragon. Hang on for the ride.

My path for the 2013 East Coast Tour - 3000 miles

My path for the 2013 East Coast Tour – 3000 miles

NYC to South Orange, NJ - 28.1 miles

NYC to South Orange, NJ – 28.1 miles

Posted in East Coast 2013 | 2 Comments