Since I was a boy I had two dreams. One was to be a rock star and the other was to be a motorcycle racer. I would spend equal amounts of time with my nose between the pages of Guitar Player and Cycle World magazines during breaks from bending pipe and welding exhaust systems at my father’s muffler shop where I worked starting at the age of 15. I got close to the first dream, but the second was never realized because all of my money and time was spent trying to complete the first. Instead of buying a race bike, I purchased a Mesa/Boogie guitar amp. Instead of trailering the would be race bike down to nearby Daytona International Speedway for racing lessons and club events, I used that time to practice with whatever band I thought was going to be the next Who. Missed opportunity is a cumbersome thought process. I often question my choices and wonder what would have happened if I took a different path. What if I bought the race bike and that was the thing I was born to do? But looking back on unrequited dreams is the equivalent of the spilt milk cliché, no amount of crying is going to get it back in the carton, so the best practice is to march on with life and take action regarding the things that are left to achieve. Do not make a bucket list. Go out and complete a goal you want accomplish today, because the tomorrows come faster then Casey Stoner on a hot lap.
There was no urgency to fly out of town today. My destination of Indianapolis was a mere 235 miles away, and doing the miles I had done in the last three weeks made that distance seem like a liquor store dash. Repeating my new mantra of “slow down,” over and over in my head, I decided to take the advice of the locals Kari and Phil from The Crack Fox bar and hit the City Museum. The museum didn’t open until 9am so I took my time getting out of bed and packing up. I talked a while with the proprietor brothers Sundeep and Darmesh while I checked out of the modest motel. They both smiled wide as I told them of my destination to the mecca of speed, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They wished me luck and I rolled out of parking garage on the Brick, the exhaust pipe emitting loud pops that echoed off the metal roof as I backed off the throttle. They waved like proud parents as I cued up to the traffic light. I have made so many temporary friends on this excursion that I will never see again, these serendipitous facilitators that are now an odd little family. I will never forget any of them when recalling this epic journey. The brothers continued waving which caused a smile beneath the anonymity of my helmet. I waved back, wacked my visor down, and tore away toward the museum.
I was there slightly before opening but looking at the outside of the facility was shocking. It is an enormous maze that is a cross between the board game Mousetrap, and the popular 70s gerbil cage known as the Habitrail, only in human scale. Airplanes, a bus, and a crane are all welded together with metal pathways forming intricate art. I did not even begin to think that people were allowed to climb on these objects. I parked the Brick in the lot and ventured into this Rube Goldberg play land. The museum personnel were not judgmental in the least when I requested one adult ticket. I was the only person without kids in tow in the line, but I wasn’t worried about looking silly. I’m a kid at heart and I keep that ideology alive by doing childlike things.
I first stopped at the bathroom that is an exquisite piece of art constructed of stainless steel bricks and mosaics of tile. I wandered around the bottom floor and came upon a series of pure white sculptures of fish, a whale, and pterodactyl, all with tunnels and caves for climbing through and around the creatures. This type of art amazes me. It encourages the viewer to participate and become part of the artwork – a genius concept.
I headed for the roof and was stunned to find out that guests were not only allowed, but also encouraged to climb the towering steel paths that exploded into the air. I clambered up a tube made of stainless steel rods and into the bus that was perched over the edge of the building. My stomach dropped a bit as I looked down many feet below, and this was just the beginning. I followed several more of the sky paths and made my way to a mesh minaret. I squeezed all the way to the very top for the incredible view. I wish I had somebody take a picture of me from the outside, as I am sure I looked like a caged gibbon on display for all of the city of St. Louis to see, the morning sun silhouetting my crouched outline against the orange sky. I sat on this perch for a few moments and reflected on my journey and my life. I have done a great deal of fantastic things. I’ve recorded music, I’ve written plays, and I’ve performed on stage and screen, and made many people laugh. I took this moment in my monkey cage to just sit and appreciate the wonder I have been lucky to experience. I’ll probably never be a rich man in the monetary sense of the word, but the things I’ve done surpass many people’s dreams. The greatest part of this realization is that I am still finding new goals to conquer. Today I am doing them.
There is also an enormous slide on the roof and I of course had to take a run. I slid down with the excitement of a kid hopped up on a lethal combo of Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew, and the day was just getting started. I walked among the tangle of metal structures and saw a few dads with their sons and thought what a great place this would be to bring a child, but for some reason I was not sad about not having my own family on this day. I realized after my moment in the minaret that I am lucky to have what I have, and who knows, maybe a child will come into my life again as my now estranged stepdaughter did. She passed through my life in what seems like the amount of time it takes for a waiter to vanish through the kitchen door. I was married for just over 4 years and even when things got rocky with my wife, my stepdaughter brought me so much joy. We would go on adventures to Coney Island, and take longs walks around the city. I gave her skateboarding and guitar lessons, and she made me laugh hysterically every day. Now that she is gone, I try to be positive about the time I did get to spend with her as opposed to getting depressed about her being gone. I admit this is a battle I often lose.
I marched down from the roof and the wonders continued. The next entire floor was desolate as if this was my private museum. A baby grand piano sat alone with ribbons of sunlight attempting to cut the instrument to shreds. I plunked myself down on chair and played a few chords. I videotaped another version of “Feelings” as I had done in other cities, but I had taken this joke too far already. I didn’t share the recording with anyone. I played on for a few more minutes and continued my tour. In the center of one room was an electric train that only children could ride, being that adults would be knocked out by the low hanging tunnels. A little person wearing an engineer’s getup was sitting in the locomotive at the controls. I laughed out loud as the smiling bearded man lapped an island that displayed an unfinished miniature replica of St. Louis. Some people say the engineer’s job could be perceived as exploitive. I had worked on a touring production on The Wizard of Oz musical as a stagehand in the past, and I remember asking one of the “munchkins” if she felt exploited in her role. She said, “Exploited? I have friends who grind out long hours at insurance companies and law firms, I get to come to the theater for a few hours each night and make children smile.” That was the same grin the mini-engineer was wearing. Bringing to mind the age-old show biz adage of “use what you got.”
I ventured on and ran into a series of skateboard ramps that occupied a large section of the floor. There was a man sweeping and I asked him, “Can I skate in here?” “No,” he replied, “They used to let kids skate to create a living piece of art, but there were so many injuries that now it’s just the world’s largest skate ramp sculpture.” His response brought me down a bit such a great idea snuffed by suing lawyers. I would have loved to skate the interesting layout. I used to eat and breathe skateboarding as a boy, and when I was older, I once again returned to the sport. I tried to make a skateboard documentary about my resurrected love for skating and pulling off a backside air. My attempt ended in racking up a series of injuries and never being able to pull the trick. I did start a small skate company along the way, but was never able to sell any product since I had no pro credentials. Lesson learned.
I continued my intrepid exploration and found a room full of vintage pinball machines and arcade games. Did somebody steal my dream house blueprints? I adore vintage video games and pinball machines. Much of my youth was spent in arcades stuffing quarters into these well-lit electronic friends, struggling to clear the first screen of Space Invaders or beating my high score on the Kiss pinball. I enjoyed seclusion as a child and often played alone. Arcade games were an extension of that. One was only judged by his score, not the clothes he wore or what kind of car his parents drove. I could beat most challengers and as I got older my love of game mutated into playing pool and foosball, the latter being my forte. I probably would be a genius guitarist if practiced my instrument instead of hanging in the arcades as I did. Discipline was a smelly suit that I never liked to wear.
One of the games on display I remembered playing often in my youth. It is called Sharpshooter and I recall having to get a chair or a milk crate to reach the gun in order to pepper the neon targets that glowed under the blacklight. Pressing the gunstock firmly into my shoulder, my life played back in my mind. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was playing this game at the Shore in Wildwood, NJ? So many years have just blazed by in a click of a mechanical score counter. As I get older I understand the importance of these clicks. Life moves damned fast, so I must spend each day doing something with meaning – something fulfilling. The sights, sounds, and memories of today were certainly meeting that requirement.
I hadn’t eaten at this point and that needed to be remedied. There was a café within the museum that had egg sandwiches so I ordered one and a coffee. The people working at the counter were warm hearted and friendly. I had been walking around virtually alone and wondered if I had passed on into my personal heaven. I laughed realizing if this were true, I would have been able to skate the ramps and pull the backside air that I couldn’t do in my mortal life. I scarfed down the sandwich and coffee. They were both warm and delicious and my shoulders dropped as I took a long breath releasing all of my pent up tension.
Other rooms had large displays of marble sculptures and architecture. The collection rivals any museum I have visited and being from NYC, that is not an easy achievement. One room was an entire display of doorknobs. Whoever curates this collection really has a great sense of humor and style. The exhibits are well done and executed without irony, which would be an easy trap to fall into for a doorknob exhibit.
On this floor I was able to exit to the outdoors and climb onto the many wire paths connecting the airplanes that floated above the ground floor. Some of the trails were narrow tubes, and any person with claustrophobia or acrophobia would have a conniption. I crawled unafraid and was having the time of my life. Encountering the aircraft, I was surprised that the airplanes still contained the electronic navigational gear. None of the devices were working, but the planes seemed to have crashed into their artistic resting places. I climbed a bit more and covered about every inch of climbable path the museum had to offer. I didn’t have that long of a drive, but realized I needed to be in Indy before too long. I mounted the Brick and looked back at the City Museum smiling about the adventure I just had. I visited here based on a simple recommendation from a couple of bartenders along my journey. Always take the advice from a bartender seriously – they are in the people business.
My next destination was Indianapolis. I was going to spend three days there to complete another first in my life and that was to see a MotoGP race in person. I have been a fan of motorcycle racing for a long time but followed mostly in magazines. I would love reading the results and times of Freddy Spencer, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, and Kenny Roberts. The rise of the Internet has only increased my love for the sport. Now there are subscriptions available to watch the races in real time and my enjoyment of the sport has grown exponentially since 2005. I now watch every race religiously on the computer. When I planned this trip there were only two destinations that were musts. One was the Pacific Coast Highway, and the other was the MotoGP race at Indy. I knocked off the first must and the second was shrinking on the horizon with each tick of the odometer.
The few hundred miles flew by with all of the thoughts in my head keeping me entertained. I pulled into Econolodge but getting settled in took far too long. My room key didn’t work and then I had to switch rooms. I just wanted to get over to the track because another dream was on the agenda – a track lap of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I finally left for the track after returning to the room three times because I had left something behind. The nervous energy of trying leave was making me lose my focus. I took a few deeps breaths to clear my head before cranking the engine. I had come too far to have an accident at this stage. The Brick fired right up as she always does and we headed for the notorious track.
The traffic was dense with motorcycles. Not only sport bikes, but cruisers and touring bikes. I had never seen this many motorcycles in one place in my life. I followed my IPhone map and wound up at the administration offices for the circuit. I asked a guy on an Interceptor where the museum entrance was and he kindly directed me. My stomach began to tighten as I neared the Hall of Fame Museum where I had secured VIP parking. I was unable to make an immediate left into the parking lot, and there was a no U-turn sign as well as a high density of cops that made cheating a non-option. I drove past the track until I could turn around and finally got to the tunnel entrance. I showed a woman at the gate my credentials and looped my parking sticker around my handlebars. I drove slowly under the track and toward the museum and turned into the VIP lot. The array of tricked out motorcycles stunned me as I parked the brick in a spot near some other BMWs. Here I was, an ear of corn in my field of dreams.
I walked towards the track and through “Ducati Island” a special section for Ducati owners to park and enjoy extra hospitality. I never missed my beloved 900SS SP more than I did at this moment. I saw one mixed among the other bikes. Mine was restored much better and I am sure would have drawn many a look. But returning to reality, I realized that I would have needed new timing belts and a valve adjustment if I were aboard my Duc on this road trip, and that could have ran into the thousands of dollars. That thought still didn’t take away the sting of having to sell the bike in 2010 when I returned to New York from Florida after on a year sabbatical from the college were I work. I had planned to keep the bike, but I spent so much money living the high life that selling her was the only way I could afford an apartment in the Apple. It was the bike I had always wanted and I vow I will own one again someday.
I passed a display of vintage bikes and saw a pair of beautiful two-strokes, a Yamaha RZ500 and a Suzuki RG500. I always have been fond of the two-stroke engine. It just sounds like a real race bike, or at least what they used to sound like. I owned a two-stroke 1985 Yamaha RZ350 in 2001 that I wrecked fairly quickly. I miss that bike too almost as much as my Ducati. I continued towards the track. I saw one of my favorite racers Colin Edwards signing autographs. He is has been in the sport for ages and is considered an iron horse by fellow racers. He is always quick with a joke and races his heart out even when on lacking machinery. He is on a CRT bike this year, and I fear it may be his last season with MotoGP. Wherever he lands, I hope it’s on a motorcycle seat in another series.
I looked around for a while and looked at the track. I saw street bikes circulating. I thought this was odd until I realized I had not set my watch forward and it was an hour behind. The track lap of Indy had started! In a panic I ran the long distance to my bike, fired it up and peeled towards the other side of the circuit to the track lap entrance. I was relieved that there was a line of bikes and I had not missed it. I talked to a few fellow bikers and introduced myself to a nice guy named Dominic on a hot-rodded Ducati Monster. He had done the track lap the year before and relieved my worry that I would not get on the track. The line was stuck and all the riders in the cue turned off their engines. A few guys approached me after seeing my New York Plates. “How long did it take you to get here?” one of them asked. “Eighteen days by way of California and back,” I responded. The group laughed and we shot the breeze about bikes for a while. The line began to move. Bikes fired up and helmets were tugged onto heads. We were getting near the track.
I handed the attendant my ticket and I realized I had not filled out the waiver on the reverse side. I had to pull over and fill it out. I scribbled my name in haphazardly and got back in the line. The rules were that a 30 mile per hour speed limit must be maintained. My bike inched closer to the track entrance. The pace bike took off at a good clip and my group pulled onto the tarmac. I accelerated up to 30 but realized that everybody around me was going much faster. I followed suit and grabbed a handful of throttle. I could not believe this was happening. The ability to exceed the limit did not sink in for a while and I finally got some good speed going, topping over 100mph on a section of the track. The run was a dream come true. I was on the Brickyard and I was going really fast. I was shocked to see others going faster than me in shorts and riding two up. If I had known I was going to ride this way I would have worn full leathers as opposed to the jeans and hiking boots I was sporting. The lap was complete and I pulled off the track. I was trembling with excitement because at 47 years of age I just did one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. My tires ripped over the three-foot strip of brick that remained as part of the track since 1909.
I exited the track and drove in the direction of my motel. I pulled into a convenience store and used the Yelp! app to find a place to eat. As if the motorcycle gods conspired, a place called the Checkered Flag popped up. It is a dive bar with barbeque so heading there was a no brainer. I sat down and ordered a Miller Light and a rack of ribs. I don’t think food ever tasted any better. I felt victorious as I lived today, as there was no tomorrow, and the adrenaline was still coursing through my veins.
My heighted state finally slacked and I finished my meal and another beer. I could barely digest the events of the day. I had been in St. Louis and climbed the art of one of the country’s greatest museums, I saw some of the coolest bikes ever built, I was face to face with my hero Colin Edwards, and I raced a track lap at the Brickyard 500. Few people get to experience what I have in the last 12 hours. I did not dine on life today I devoured it viciously and sucked the marrow from its bones.
Track Lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway!
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St. Louis to Indianapolis – 235 miles