I woke up at 3:30am for some reason even after being so tired. I had a lot of sinus pressure probably due to all of the elevation and temperature changes from yesterday’s ride. I clicked on the idiot box and watched a pawnshop reality show. The employees of the shop were talking about the number of motorcyclists killed each day. Their accounting was disturbingly high. Just before I left on this journey, the bass player from my nephew’s band was killed in a motorcycle accident. A stench of death hovers over these two-wheeled machines. I had a morbid idea for a sticker, “The Grim Reaper is my co-pilot.” Bikes are dangerous vehicles and the media has done a great job of spreading the news. Total strangers will approach me on the motorcycle and say, “I guess you don’t want to live.” My response is usually, “Actually, quite the opposite.” But residing right next to the bravado of my staunch defensive position, I admit that the fear of a fatal accident exists within me. All I can do is try to be as safe as possible and stay focused on what is happening around me. I thought of the times I have cheated death as I drifted back off to sleep. I have had 4 motorcycle accidents not even counting the tip-over on this trip. Will this trip be the ride that I earn my toe tag? The only thing I have going for me is that I believe I am going to complete the journey. I don’t think – I know, and this confidence is what protects me. I can see my bike pulling into my parking garage in NYC. It will happen. I will finish.
I woke up again around 8:30am and the negative thoughts were no longer on my mind. Today was for touring around the area with no big patches of asphalt to cover. The break was nice after the demanding Pacific Coast Highway. I had an oversized breakfast at Denny’s next to the hotel. I paid the cashier and asked, “When does the fog burn off?” “A couple times a year,” She answered. I laughed expecting the answer to be a time and not a couple rare days in the future. I left the waiter a fat tip because the restaurant was so dead. He was an older gentleman with a long sad face, and he did his job well. I thought about my job and how great it is to work where I do. I have learned on this trip that I am a lucky man. I have had hard times, but I always come out the other end. Some people never escape their troubles and remain mired in turmoil and hard jobs.
I ventured out on the Brick towards Cannery Row. This destination is one that has been intertwined in my life for a long time. I first saw the movie Cannery Row starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger back in February of 1982 while living in Jacksonville. My friend Steve and I drove my 4-door ’72 Plymouth Satellite Sebring to the cinema across town. We were both in our junior year and struggling with life and relationships. The movie was a melancholy tale and I remember dealing with the uncomfortable feeling of deep sadness for the first time. I had sadness in my life before this film of course, but I was never really in tune with myself enough to confront it. I guess this film triggered a sense of self-awareness. I later read the book and became a Steinbeck fan. Of Mice and Men, another great Steinbeck creation, contains harsh realistic lessons we learn in life. The book also ends on a sad note and it helped me to further deal with sadness. Events can be sad but they must be handled. We must press on. Visiting Cannery Row was a no brainer. I wanted to see where this guy wrote these stories that delivered me to a higher-level consciousness.
I pulled into town and parked the Brick at a four-hour meter. The row looked much nicer than I thought, and although some of the rustic elements are in tact, most of the town had been tourist-ified. Many structures are new, but made to look old. Much of the treatment was easy to see through, as true age is hard to recreate properly. I walked along the shops and by the bay. I was reminded again of the pull of the water. It’s all around us and we want to be near the substance as much as we can. So many writers I adore needed it. Twain, Hemmingway, and Steinbeck, all wrote extensively about the importance of the water. Standing here on the wharf, I had to admit there is a feeling that comes with the stuff. I guess that’s why people work as hard as fishmongers to make enough money to move near the ocean – to obtain the inexplicable therapeutic effect that water provides.
I saw signs for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and decided to check it out. I was glad I did because there were so many incredible exhibits of sea life that I have never seen. There are tanks upon tanks of jellyfish, sea horses, sharks, and otters, all on display for public viewing. I can offer to travelers one piece of advice. If you are ever in doubt of visiting an attraction – go. I have been surprised by the effect even the simplest display can have on me. I enjoyed the sights myself, but I also enjoyed seeing the patrons clamoring to the underwater windows. I smiled when I saw the wide-eyed faces of children as they stared at bioluminescent fish, and the senior citizens stunned by the texture of touching a stingray for the first time, wondering why they didn’t spend their retirement money sooner to experience such marvels. The aquarium was a great experience and not to be missed.
I was getting hungry and the obvious choice was seafood. Then I realized how ironic I was being by eating seafood after witnessing the beauty of living sea creatures. This is a typical human failing. After I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, I wanted to eat sausage even thought the book was about the unhealthiness of the meat industry. Go figure. I utilized my Yelp app and decided on a place right on the water called The Fish Hopper. I ordered a bowl of clam chowder, and the filet mignon and lobster combo. I sat looking over the water and could not have been happier. I made it cross-country and up the PCH, and now I’m eating steak and lobster and drinking a beer. I was more relaxed than I have been in the last 20 years. Sure I was spending crab traps full of money, but this experience was worth it. Today I was living for me – not an audience, a woman, or a job.
I ventured to the Fisherman’s Wharf but looking at my watch I realized the classic car races were starting soon at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I followed my GPS directions and arrived at what I thought was the entrance for the track, but a rusted gate blocked my path. The races were a warm up for the next week’s big classic car event and I wondered if today’s meeting was a private affair. I would not accept this fact and decided to find another way into the famed track. Sure enough, I located the main entrance that is used for smaller events. I drove in and I had a nervousness twisting in my stomach. I had seen this track in more motorcycle races than I could count, and now I was actually here. I am not a huge auto race fan but these were classic cars. I enjoy historic vehicles and the enthusiasts that dedicate the hundreds of hours needed to keep rolling. Most drivers think of cars as disposable. Those people were not at Laguna Seca today. I thought about my older bike. For financial reasons a classic was my only choice. I maintain my bike meticulously to keep it in good of running order because it’s all I have. But it is 25 years old and officially considered a classic vehicle by the DMV. The mileage was not even checked when I bought it. The DMV does not care about my old bike. It’s obsolete relic that should have died long ago far as they are concerned. My concern is greater. The bike is my freedom and as I am coming to find out, my sanity.
Laguna Seca is incredible. It weaves through the hills of a state park and is wonderfully kept up. I walked to the top of a hill that features the notorious series of curves called “The Corkscrew.” The Austin-Healys, Jags, and Porches, bombing down a hill that is much steeper in person than it is on my TV, amazed me. The cars were all different makes and models and not evenly matched, but the drivers didn’t care. They all gunned their unique machines and raced for themselves. The drivers did not seem tense and they all drove with a sense of fanatical whimsy, clipping the apexes of corners to shave precious seconds off of their personal lap records. Watching this stirred thoughts of my own journey. I’m not on a fast bike; I’m just going at my own pace. I applied that idea to the guys on the track. Each one can’t keep up with the next because of the varied machinery and horsepower. They, like the Brick and I, were racing themselves, and for the same reason I am sure – therapy.
I walked down the hill and purchased a pit pass for $10. I wandered around the paddock and looked at all of the classic automobiles. I was stunned that I could walk up and touch the most exotic cars in the world and the owners didn’t even blink an eye. Why? The difference is that these participants are not car collectors they are car drivers. They want to experience the power of the engines and they want others to share in that joy. I asked a lot of questions and the owners and mechanics were all more than happy to give extended enthusiastic answers to my questions. Being among them was magical because at a more populated event like the MotoGP race I would be attending in a few days, the access to the drivers and vehicles is very limited. The stakes are higher. People must be kept away.
I bought a Coors Light at a concession stand manned by a worker that wouldn’t accept a gratuity. “I’m volunteer here for the racing, I don’t need a tip!” We talked for a while and discussed cars and bikes. He used to race motorcycles when he was younger and we tossed around a few names and laughed. I don’t have anybody to talk racing with in NYC so it was nice to meet a person that wanted to blab about racing heroes of the past and present. I watched the rest of the races from the stands and smiled as my childhood dream cars whizzed past. Mustangs, Ferraris, Shelby Cobras, and Corvettes, all were speeding around the track as if dropped here by a time machine. It was a splendid day and I was so happy I came to the track and found my way to the races.
I decided to head back to the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey for dinner. I parked right on the wharf and stuffed the meter with my supply of quarters I carry for such occasions. I walked out to the end of the long pier. The sun was going down and the boats in the harbor glared against the rippled water that looked like blown glass. The wharf is an old structure and has years of history ground into the wood by the elements. Sea birds flew by and landed as if to welcome the tourists to their paradise. I walked back landward on the wharf and saw a series of shops. I found another great place to eat called Rappa’s. Like The Fish Hopper, it jutted out over the water. I bellied up to the bar. I figured I’d stay on the seafood tip and I ordered oysters and a shrimp po’boy. The food was delicious and I enjoyed talking to the patrons and the bartender. I felt good winding down from the excitement at the track. The sun sizzled into the water – a great end to a full day of adventure and experience. I threw a penny over the railing into the bay and wished to win the lottery so I could do this the rest of my life. Drive. Eat. See.
I headed back to Marina. The same miserable mist fogged my visor again. The cashier was right, the fog only lifts a few days a year and today was not one of those days. After all of these miles the Brick finally burned a sliver of oil, so I drove the brick to an auto parts store and got some Mobil 1 and Water Wetter. I stopped at the Otter’s Den again on the way home and had a final beer. I was trying to extend the day. I didn’t want this one to end. I didn’t want this trip to end. I left so many stones unturned along my travels. This country is an infinite place of experiences for the explorer and I wanted to see them all. I finally conked out and drove home. I kicked the Brick onto the center stand and walked towards the motel. I stopped and looked back at her with bug-pelted headlight and thick layer of dirt. I noticed that the cracked turn signal lens from the crash on day 4 looked like the Brick was winking at me. “Thanks,” my voice echoed though the mist of Marina. I turned, entered my room, and went to bed.
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