My brother John took off early for his meeting and I got up early myself to take care of business. The magnetic strip on my credit card was damaged and this malfunction was slowing me down when stopping for gas. I also noticed at one of my pit stops that my rear tire had developed a dry rotted crack all the way down the center of the tread. This freaked me out especially since I have been hit by 2 slung tire treads already. I was also nervous driving into Vegas because the road was so hot. I felt lucky to have made it on the crusty tire.
I located a Citibank and a motorcycle tire shop on my iPhone and journeyed to the outskirts of Las Vegas. I was too early for the bank, so I went to a nearby McDonald’s. I have a crack-like addiction to their sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits. I have accepted this addiction and my only recourse is to try and lengthen the time between abuses. Back in NYC I do pretty well managing this problem. When crossing 125th street on the way to work, I look to the right at the Apollo Theater and think about all of the great performers that have blessed their stage. This imagining keeps my mind off the McDonald’s with the express window that is directly to my left. I have tried to be good in the past per my Doctor’s advice, but as I have mentioned before, this is a trip of indulgence. This will probably be the only time I would risk a journey of this magnitude on my 25-year-old bike. Stops needed to be pulled. I was seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. I was taking the path of most deliciousness.
I ordered my drug of choice and sat calmly feeling good I was taking care of things. A man asked for some extra barbecue sauce and the employee told the customer, “I’m on break.” This infuriated the man and he said, “What if I had a bad day and just jumped over this counter and went off on you?” The restaurant went silent and another employee quickly got him the condiment. The man left in a huff but sat in his car and hurled trash at the building for a few minutes before tearing off. It was a tense scene and I had already scoped my exit path in case he decided to return with stronger measures like a gun or a bat. The endless news stories of violence and shootings that seem to be on the rise have turned me into a semi-paranoid person. The disparity between the rich and the poor is wider than ever and people are frustrated. This man paid for service and an employee took the same amount of time to say, “I’m on break,” that it would have to reach down and hand him the desired sauce. The customer is fighting for his right to be served. The employee was fighting for her right to a break. These small tokens of ownership are all that the non-wealthy have to cling too. Since we can never amass wealth, we are damn well going to get our break or our barbeque sauce.
I finished my breakfast and headed over to the bank. The eruption I just witnessed made me want to nicer to the world. I stepped up to the window and saw the name “Cynthia” on the teller’s nametag. “Hello Cynthia,” I said to her in my kindest voice. She smiled broadly as if no one ever said hello to her before. I started up a conversation and she was more than happy to help me with my demagnetized credit card. I remember some of the jobs I have worked and how unappreciative people can be, that is why I always make great efforts to thank waiters, repairmen, and bank tellers and anybody else who’s job involves a lot of grief.
With shiny credit card in hand I ventured over to the Motorcycle Tire Center. This trip has been a massive drain on my wallet. I was not able to sublet my apartment in NYC to ease the financial blow of this excursion as hoped, so contemplating the tire expense hurt my brain. The last set of tires I bought was for my Ducati and over $500. But work needed to be done, and the expenditure was worth relieving the stress that I endured since first seeing the large crack in the rubber. I walked into the shop and was pleasantly surprised. It was not a stuffy, parts jammed warehouse, but a cozy old style shop that had a homey feel. There was a pool table, a soda machine, a stack of magazines and a well broken in couch. The brick has an odd sized rear wheel. It is an 18” that is far from popular anymore. I hoped the shop had the new skins I needed.
I approached the counter and met the young man at the counter named Lucas. I told him my plight and he stepped outside to look at the Brick.
“Where did you come from?”
“You are lucky you made it!”
“Any chance I can keep the front?”
“It’s dry, it needs to be changed too.”
Dollar signs rolled in my mind. The bike’s odd sized rear and the front I didn’t expect to replace were going to cost me. Lucas and I walked back inside. I told him I was on a tight budget. He walked over to the tire rack and pointed out some Dunlop D404s. “These are a good value and they are the only matching set I have. $318 out the door for labor, tax, and everything.” I breathed a sigh of relief. This was $250 cheaper than I thought it could be. The mechanics started the work and I went and picked up some Zyrtec to try and ease the allergy symptoms I was having. I went back to the shop, shot some pool, and looked around.
For sale on the shop floor was an old Honda 70 in pristine condition. I thought back to my youth and remembered this was the first real motorcycle I had ever had. My brother John acquired the non-running bike for $20 and repaired it. I used to ride the hell out of it. I would actually drive it down the street when I was 12-years-old to a woods behind Kings Trail grammar school. I remember getting the speedometer up to 60 mph down the 30 mile an hour limit street named Old Kings Road. I don’t think anybody ever knew I did this. I would jump the bike over dirt ramps and the seat would constantly hit me in the groin because it had a bad latch. The shift lever was stripped and John eventually welded it to the gear shaft. These faults bothered me little. I had a real motorcycle and I got pretty good on it. I could break the back tire loose when coming around a sandy curve in true flat track style. I remembered having dreams of being a stunt man and would love to ride in the rain, sometimes purposely sliding into crashes. Evil Knievel was part of every young boys fantasy life in the mid to late 70’s and I emulated him on this rickety old bike.
The mechanic finished up the Brick and I handed my virgin credit card to Lucas as he rung up the damages. I asked him if he rode and he said, “I’m saving up to get that,” and he pointed to a tricked out used Yamaha R6 on the floor. The machine was built for one thing – fast riding. I wished him good luck and walked to the back of the shop where my bike was. I tipped the mechanic $5 and he thanked me profusely. I felt I got a deal on the tires and I wanted to share that wealth. I looked at the tires and sighed. They actually looked beautiful – new thick rubber that in two days would be touching the Pacific Coast Highway, the road of motorcyclist’s dreams.
I brought the bike back to the Flamingo parking lot and decided to get lunch at Pink’s. The original Pink’s is in Hollywood and is famous for celebrity visits and late night hangs by the punk rock set, so I thought I would try this extension of the franchise. Sadly the hot dog failed miserably to live up to the hype of the westerly store. Concerning hot dog stands, I am certain that the original location is really the only place that need be visited and I vowed to never make such and amateur eating mistake again. Lesson learned.
I wanted to see more of the town so I bought a one-day monorail pass. I am a fan of mass transit and always enjoy seeing what towns have to offer for ways of getting around. I followed the signs for the monorail but the walk seemed ridiculously long to the actual strip. I am sure the train was an after thought so this was probably the only place the system would fit. I took the route to its first stop and made the long walk to the beginning of the strip. There was a large gift shop named Bonanza. I figured I’d pick up another t-shirt to add to my new clothing arsenal. Inside the shop I didn’t see anything I really liked. All of the shirts were what the fashion industry refers to as “distressed” or as I call it “pretend used.” So far everything in this town seemed fake and insincere. The buildings, the misleading dreams of fortune, the food, and now even the clothing.
The desolate streets at this end of the strip wore a sad quietness that reminded me of my personal situation – a never-made-it-rock-star. In the mid 90’s the local papers in Tampa proclaimed my band the next to be signed from Florida. I could walk into any place in the city and people knew who I was. I actually thought I was going to be famous and able to support myself with my original music. But the crowds eventually waned, I left the band, and moved to NYC to write the next great rock musical. That never happened either. Much like these streets that once contained great hope, I too am left with quietness – a much different life than I hoped for. I have discovered a lot of parallels on this journey and I have realized that I am not the only one who has attempted something and failed. I feel lucky to have tried though and recalling the memories of my heyday always puts a smile on my face. Who knows what would have happened anyway if I did get the record deal. Perhaps I would be dead of a drug overdose. I am learning to appreciate the great gifts that I have which are many, and not focus on what could have been.
I trudged back to the monorail. The heat was unbearable and the same dry hot air I experienced when first coming into town on the Brick filled my lungs again. The high temperature was 111 degrees, and I found it hard to believe that anybody could sustain a life here. I thought the heat in Tampa was oppressive, but this is a new perspective. I made a few more stops and snapped a few pictures but the sweltering fact that Vegas wasn’t my kind of place, was melting into my brain. I headed back to the hotel and sat out by the pool. I ordered a Corona and sipped it as I watched people splashing in the water. I found a lounge chair in the shade, kicked back, and made a go at trying to relax. I was wearing jeans but I didn’t feel like going back up to the room to change into a swimsuit. I looked very out of place amongst the swimmers but I didn’t care, I was finally out of the heat and I had a beer in my hand.
My stomach growled and I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I headed back to the Stage Door. The place bummed me out but the food was cheap. I am sure I went back to convince myself that I do have a rich life. My career goals and relationships have fallen short of my expectations, but at least I wasn’t a gambling addict and chain-smoking my life away in a dark den. Yet the moment I settled on the thought that I was not one of them, I found myself saddled on a barstool, ordering the $2.50 special, and stuffing a twenty into the no-armed bandit only to furiously stab the illuminated screen with hopes of hitting it big. The path of self-righteousness is a slippery one and if the Stage Door Casino were below my apartment in NYC, I too could fall prey to the venom these machines spit. I am glad these disciples of Satan are not welcome in my city.
John was done with his meetings and invited me down to meet some of his coworkers. A few of the guys put a band together and were performing in the meeting room. John bragged on me being a musician and wanted me to jam with the band. They sounded great and they were doing classic rock hits, pulling them off well. I don’t really know many cover tunes, so I declined jamming and just enjoyed meeting John’s friends. I noticed that they all smiled when they approached him and many of them had heard about my trip. I was finally having some fun and that was because I was meeting people and enjoying true human interaction. The places I have visited so far have been amazing, but the real joy I am learning is human contact. Hearing somebody’s story and having them listen to yours is what is important. In this twitterfied facebooked landscape computers have created, talking to a person face-to-face still proves to be the most enjoyable form of communication.
John saw the ridiculously bad performances of “Feelings” I recorded in other cities as a joke that I was “on tour” and made a point to locate a Piano in the hotel so he could capture one of these awful renditions. I sat at the baby grand and crooned out the schmaltzy song. Some of his female coworkers egged me on and sat on the bench nuzzling up to me. Everybody had plenty to drink and we were all having a hilarious time. I couldn’t remember the last time John and I laughed so hard together. So much had happened in my life in the past 6 months. A broken engagement and plans that seemed cemented were smashed. I tried to start over and met a really amazing girl in New York, but I couldn’t sustain the relationship. I was too damaged. I needed a reset and this trip was proving to be a good start to that reset by experiencing great friends, family, belly laughs, and long hypnotic roads that are rich ground for reflection.
The night was long but John and I still made a point of hitting the streets again. We were trying to hang onto these precious moments together even though we were both tired. The brilliance of the lights was blinding but shot skyward leaving the people walking as nondescript shadows, all scurrying to get somewhere else. John said he was hungry and told me he wanted to go to the place where I had the $2.50 special. I laughed out loud because I couldn’t believe I was going to visit this venue for the 3rd time. We walked through the epileptic fit inducing lights to the Stage Door. The smoke curled around our backs like spiraling contrails behind the turbulence of a jet as we entered and found two seats. We ordered two specials and continued to joke and talk about the night. My opinion of the joint shifted. I no longer saw the sad lonely faces, just the grin of my brother. The gambling computer became a coaster, and the smoke an aromatic woody scent. I guess I kind of like the place after all.
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