Independent On Independence Day

Serendipity. It seems to be the ore from which our lives are cast. Seeing an object can trigger a chain of thoughts and ideas that can either lead to wealth and riches, or to a life of poverty. Fate is reshaped so frequently by the interactions of people, places, and stories we encounter that the ending to the novel of our short lives is infinitely changing. For instance, I could see a man in a purple shirt. I then get an idea for grape flavored toothpicks. I market and sell said toothpicks and become a millionaire. If the man never walked by I would not have arrived at the idea. This concept can also work to one’s detriment. I could have seen the man in the purple shirt and invested heavily in the grape toothpick scheme, only to have no one buy them and end up penniless. If I didn’t see the man in the purple shirt, I would not have lost all of my money. Serendipitous life, ever changing, influenced by our environs. Yes, I have floated far into the existential, but I have been reading Hunter S. Thompson lately and his scrambled ramblings are inspiring me. Hunter was also an adventurer and a motorcyclist, and his review of the Ducati 900SS SP titled, “Song of the Sausage Creature” prompted me to buy a 1994 example in 2009, restore it, and ride it while on sabbatical from my job. I loved that damn bike.

So where am I going with this idea? A few weeks ago, I met a man at the Peekskill Brewery named Pete. We got to talking and he told me he was also a biker. He gave me a few places that he said were cool hangs after a ride. One of the places he listed was Newburgh, NY. Now if I never met Pete I probably would not have visited this small town on the Hudson. Serendipity. A conversation with a stranger led me on my journey today.

I could think of no better way to celebrate Independence Day than to take a ride by myself through the forests of the good ole US of A. One great grandson of immigrants (3/4 German, 1/4 Italian) on one motorcycle (4/4 German) with not a single person in the know of my destination. Independent. My stomach decided to celebrate with America’s quintessential food, which as many of you now know is also my personal favorite – the hot dog. I selected a place called Pete’s in Newburgh that was supposed to have an authentic Texas wiener. The guy who told me to go to Newburgh was named Pete, and the best hot dog place in town shared his name. Serendipity…bats!..bats!..serendipity…

I left late, around 9am to allow a rain system push off to the east. The weather lady warned me of the heat. I decided against full leathers and went with Levi’s and Merrell boots as I did on my last ride. I took my favorite route over the George Washington Bridge to the Palisades Parkway. Surprisingly my ride up the west side of the Hudson was not hot at all. Much of the parkway is lined with trees and their leaves provided an umbrella from the sun as it blasted it’s way upward and west. I followed the Parkway to it’s terminus and looped onto the 9 which took me towards Newburgh. What was there? I had no idea. I simply trusted a grizzled old Harley dude and followed the road. Serendipity man…far out… serendipity. Okay, so I have been reading Kerouac too.

I pulled into Newburgh and headed for the waterfront. I traversed a road that took me through the poorest section of town. People were hanging outside in front of buildings in the sweltering heat, only because being outside was a better option than the furnaces of their non-airconditioned apartments. Their clothes were dirty, and mothers, babies themselves, held sweating babies. There were no smiles of celebration on their faces, just long sad looks from glassy eyes seeking better lives than what they were dealt. They waved no flags. Pete told me that the town did have a high poverty and crime rate, and upon further investigation I discovered this to be true. A person was four times as likely to become a victim in Newburgh than in New York City – the town television paints as the scariest place on earth.

I got through the tough side of town and down to the waterfront. The beautiful manicured area looked as wholesome as the set to Leave It To Beaver. Tents were set up for a bazaar and lemonade was being sold, all less than 2 miles from those faces of despair I just witnessed. Such a dichotomy on a day front loaded with such celebration. It’s the very stuff Guthrie, Dylan, Young, and Springsteen point to in their music, their wake up calls often misconstrued as different messages. Have you ever read all of the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land”? The meaning of the song will be changed for you.

I parked the brick under the arms of an aging elm and walked around the knoll of merchants selling refreshments and crafts. It was a quiet affair with few in attendance but clock had not even hit noon yet. My stomach rumbled, beckoning for the hot dogs it was promised. I figured I would go eat at Pete’s and then return to the waterfront for a beer. I blurped the Brick through the back roads until I arrived at the minuscule hot dog stand. I could tell the food was going to be good because the logo on the sign appeared dated and repainted, meaning the joint had been around for a while. Bad hot dog stands are shuttered quickly in the northeast. Our palettes are just too damn refined.

Pulling into the driveway, a horror washed over me as I noticed a “closed” sign crooked and swaying in the window mocking me. Of course the place is closed. “It’s America’s quintessential food and the Americans that work their asses off all year long making America’s quintessential food to pay their American bills with American money want an American day off!” my mind barked at me. My newfound mindset of not getting angry kicked into to full gear. There were other places to eat.

I turned back to the waterfront and there were several choices, but one named Gully’s caught my eye. It was basically a harbored boat that served as a restaurant and bar. I walked up the gangplank and towards the pointy side of the bar which mimicked a ship. It was not crowded at all, and the a cool breeze coming off of the Hudson kept the heat in check. A friendly waitress approached and drew me a light beer, along with a cup of water and a menu. I have been trying to economize, but this is America’s birthday and I was going all out. I ordered a dozen steamed clams, a treat my father taught me to love, and a half a pound of peel and eat shrimp. I dug in on the feast. As I wiped my hands with a wet nap, I thought about the people I passed by in the tough section of town. Here I am, not a rich man myself, yet still enjoying the luxury of wiping shrimp legs and carapaces off my hands with a cool pretreated towelette. For a moment I felt more gluttonous than I ever have before. Then I thought about serendipity again. One missed stop sign and I may not even be sitting here, realizing the delicate thread my life hangs from every day. The choices we make and don’t make along life’s story, twisted by the influences entering our eyes and brains, changing the novel daily.

With a full belly of American seafood I jumped on the Brick, the seat compressing a little more than usual due to the added weight of the ocean dwellers I ingeste. I fired her 3 cylinder engine and headed for home. The ride was peaceful with no traffic snags or getting lost. I reflected on the day. Our country has problems that will never be solved, but today I recognized how lucky I am to have the independence to get on the Brick and travel anywhere I choose. In essence I am a patriot. A lesson taught to me by my immigrant German Professor – a 1988 BMW K75.

Click images for larger versions:

Looking down on West Point

Christopher Columbus Gully’s boat restaurant Seafood party


The road to Independence or Newburgh, NY

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7 Responses to Independent On Independence Day

  1. tylordurand says:

    Great post. Reminds me of a certain New York poet…
    “Great is today, and beautiful,
    It is good to live in this age….there never was any better.”
    —Whitman

  2. Joe Popp says:

    Thanks Tylor! Best compliment ever…

  3. Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist says:

    Really enjoyed reading your words. I try to reflect often on how lucky I am to be here.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Awesome post, Joe. I’m seeing an entirely new side to you. Writing is one more skill to add to the already long list.

    Speaking of “This Land is Your Land” lyrics, you may want to check out this NPR interview with Neil Young that I just listened to, ironically, on the 4th: http://www.npr.org/2012/06/06/154420889/neil-young-the-fresh-air-interview

    • Joe Popp says:

      Thanks Rebecca! I am taking creative writing classes in the fall at CCNY. I enjoy writing but I realize I need work on the technical aspects.

      Regarding lyrics, I was hanging out with my drummer Tylor on the 4th and I broke out his acoustic and sang a bunch of tunes. I found a lot of new meaning in the deeper verses of the songs. Very Eye opening. Thanks for the link I will listen now!

  5. Pingback: Ride Report – Head Clearing | Popp Over America

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