Up until now, every trip on the Brick has been a pleasant one. Sure, I get lost from time to time but that’s like the old saying, “A bad day fishing…”
Every once in a while when I tell people my name, I will get the response, “There’s are bar on Long Beach Island named Joe Pop’s.” I thought it would be fun to take a spin down to the Jersey Shore and check the place out as an excuse to ride. I hopped on the Brick and headed over the George Washington Bridge and down the New Jersey Turnpike. The traffic was moving well but it was very crowded. This road was not nearly as fun as the roads I have been on to date. Flat. Crowded. Boring. I stuck out the 2 hour uneventful trip and made my way onto Route 72 which leads to the island. The heat was building and this would be the hottest day yet out on the bike.
I approached the thin island and found Joe Pop’s. It was located in a strip mall and the decor was far from classic as bars go. I looked for some shade but found none, and left the Brick in the scorching sun. I went inside and there were just a few patrons. I changed into a pair of shorts I brought along so I would be more comfortable. The bartender approached me and I handed him my ID. He said it wasn’t needed but I told him to read the name. I said “I’m Joe Popp!” He replied, “Huh, look at that” in what seemed like a semi-stoned stupor hanging on from the previous night. No fanfare. No cupcake with a sparkler. He didn’t even offer to sell me a Joe Pop’s t-shirt. I guess having the same name as the bar is not as special as I assumed.
I ordered a crab cake sandwich which the menu touted as the specialty. It was ok. A little mushy, but still pretty tasty. I asked for water but the bartender forgot it several times because he was distracted by two young ladies chatting him up. I thought about this journey as I sipped my Bud Light. What was I expecting? A tour by the owner? Free lunch? Not really, but it would have been nice to have been greeted a little more warmly. I traveled far to my namesake bar and I was dismissed handily even though the place was not crowded. The numb bartender started me thinking about my experiences in places I have visited. When greeted with a smiling and friendly approach, the food tastes better and the beer seems colder. It’s about the human connection. I believe this flair for interacting with people is fading. In this online get-it-now world, having a barkeep spending a moment to talk with a customer is very hit or miss. Good bar owners realize this and the successful ones have happy employees that they take care of them. The owners realize that happy customers translate into dollars and a successful business.
I finished my lunch and tanked some more water that was finally delivered and decided to take a walk on the beach. I walked around the corner and I was bombarded with a series of signs listing rules and regulation about beach badges and licenses. I just wanted to walk on the beach, or at least I thought I did. I ignored the warnings and stepped onto the sand. I could feel it scorching through the soles of my Adidas Sambas. The hot sun beat down on me like a baseball bat. It was so oppressive and unpleasant. I grew up in Florida and I often wondered what the attraction was to absorbing direct sunlight. Yes, I love being on the water, but lying flat on a beach as the sun damages your skin never seemed an attractive activity to me. Maybe it’s a vestigial desire left from our evolutionary path from Odobenus Rosmarus. I didn’t leave the Sunshine State to escape the sun – but to escape the heat.
My beach walk lasted all of 5 minutes and I returned to the Brick, started her up, and got on the road. I left my shorts on and waited until I gassed up to put on my leather jacket and long pants. I don’t feel safe riding with exposed arms and hands. I have had too many accidents to tempt fate. I slid the jacket on and immediately I felt the sun being absorbed into the black leather. I figured at speed it would not be too bad and it wasn’t. The ride home was uneventful, just the same flat stretch of road with not much to look at. As I neared NYC I saw some warning signs advising that the George Washington Bridge was experiencing delays and to take an alternative route. I figured I would jump off on the Lincoln tunnel and that would be that.
This could have been my greatest mistake in a long time. As I approached the tunnel, the traffic was at at dead stop. The clock had just rounded 3pm and the temperature was well over 95. I sat dead stopped on the road in my black jacket, my black helmet, perched on my black motorcycle. I could not have attracted more light even if I were a black hole. I looked at the clock on my dash – 1 car length every 5 minutes. As I crept around the turn of the exit ramp, I saw the horror of busses bumper to bumper not moving. The sweat ran out of my body until there was no liquid left to sweat. I can’t remember feeling any hotter in my life and I was a welder in Florida. Passing out seemed inevitable.
Witin 45 minutes I was in the tunnel. I thought I was home free but the traffic crept at 5 miles an hour. My dehydration coupled with the diesel fumes almost tore me asunder. I exited the tunnel and thought relief was within reach or at least a gasp of fresh air. I could not have been more wrong. There was a traffic snarl at 36th street and people were obstructing progress by blocking the box of the intersection. I cursed to myself, frustrated and angry. I decided to take riskier action and I ended up driving between cars to advance my position. This is called lane splitting and it is illegal in NYC, but I felt my survival depended on getting out of the heat. I turned up 8th avenue and actually almost ran over a cop’s foot in front of Port Authority. I was driving in the taxi lane but the officer did not stop me to write a ticket. I think he saw I was close to death and natural selection would soon take her cruel course.
I finally got moving at about 48th street. I ran a few lights and made a few more dangerous passes. Almost home. Then on the last turn before my parking garage a school bus was unloading kids from a soccer trip. “Get them on the sidewalk and stop blocking traffic,” my mind seethed. The bus driver hugged all of the kids as my vision went blurry. I thought I might have died and gone to hell as this was what I was feeling – every turn in the road another obstacle to getting cool. Finally the bus pulled away and I turned into my garage which felt air conditioned compared to the outside temperature. I pulled the Brick up onto the center stand and retrieved a bottle of water I had in my top case. I took a swig but spit it out because the water was hot – not warm – hot. I made my way up to my apartment and drank what seemed like a keg of water. This was my first truly bad experience on the bike, but I felt stronger because of it. I survived the torture of being cooked in the sun for longer than I will ever have to be again.
I am rethinking my cross-country trip in August. This New Jersey hell ride reminded my of my exodus from Florida and one of the main reasons I left – the brutal heat. I have no desire to be among that again, so instead of heading through Texas, I will stay farther north avoiding the south all together.
Needless to say, I’ve learned to never take the tunnel again on a hot day in NYC.
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I love the beach. All five minutes of it.
|Popp at Pop’s||The stage||Crab cake sandwich|
A hell ride to the Jersey Shore