Today was the last day of a trip I have dreamed about my entire life. I have been through rough weather, run-ins with the police, scrapes with death, and even a crash. Through all of this turmoil, the Brick has performed flawlessly. She has started at the first press of the starter button. She has used almost no oil. She has used no coolant. I am stunned that this 25-year-old motorcycle has performed so well. People said I was crazy to take such a bike out on a ridiculously long a trek – especially in the heat of August through the Mojave Desert, but we both survived. The Brick has proven herself a worthy companion. I swore I would never refer to the Brick as “she,” but we have a relationship now, one forged with the thousands of miles we plowed together. We are two against the world. Few friends would tolerate this amount of time spent together, so the old bike has earned the “she.” Why are ships, cars, guitars, amps, and motorcycles referred to in this manner? I guess because every man’s goal is to have a woman by his side that will stand with him through thick and thin. I have yet to find this mythical she. When times get thick, the mates I’ve had to this point have fled. I stand guilty as I have fled them as well when my needs aren’t met. We are all seeking the perfect fit, and to this stage of my life, the partner that many have found eludes me.
I crept out of bed at around 8am. I decided against breakfast, as I wanted to get the miles under me. Alyson had been the best host and saved me a lot of money. She also showed me the coolest spots in town. I fell in love with Pittsburgh and I vow to return someday. It was nice to catch up with an old friend and have some laughs at the end of such a long trip.
I took a shower and tried to get my ears working to no avail. They had been clogged since my return leg through Colorado. I knew they would open up eventually, so I decided to not worry about the muffled dullness. I clipped my bags onto the Brick and rolled out of Alyson’s garage. The feeling was surreal. Is this really the last day? I had been out for over three weeks and lived a year of memories. I spent many serene hours buzzing down the highways of America. I only tried to listen to music while driving one time during the trip, but the distraction interrupted my concentration so badly that I never drove with music again. A lot of people think this idea is unheard of, but being on the bike alone with my thoughts was exactly the medicine I needed.
I twisted the bike out of the driveway and felt a certain sadness. Time is such a fleeting thing. The minutes and seconds slip through our fingers like sand. As I age, the passage of time has seemed to accelerate. I never have enough hours during a day to do the things I want to do. I have talked to my friends and they have confirmed this phenomenon. Days are packed with problem solving and bill paying. I no longer have the luxury of irresponsibility. As a young man, I had no concerns. I needed no creature comforts. I remember being 16 in Florida and my car air conditioner stopped working. I could not have cared less. I simply rolled down the windows and enjoyed the hot breeze. My true concerns then were getting to the beach with my friends, or finding tickets to the next rock concert. How I long to get back to those days.
The drive towards home was relatively uneventful – just calm miles to think. I stopped in for lunch at a place called the Cottage Family Restaurant in Mill Run, PA and got an open-faced roast beef sandwich. It was tasty and delicious, almost like a home cooked meal. I downed a few cups of coffee to keep alert. As I ate, I recalled some on the experiences during the trip. I thought if I had the money would I just keep driving? I decided I couldn’t. I am a guy that needs a home base. I like to make things therefore I need a workbench and tools. I like to play my guitar and although driving around on a bike with a guitar is not impossible, it is not ideal. Weather concerns are an issue as well. No, being on the road non-stop would not suit me. I have acquired a new sense of respect for people that live on the road. Not a respect only for the musicians, but for the salesmen, truck drivers, and technicians who travel constantly. This is not something I want to do for a living.
I loped through the miles and as I approached New York City, I knew my journey would not be complete unless I touched the water. I could have easily just parked the bike by the Hudson River, snapped a picture, and called the trip done, but I needed a real beach – a bookend to the Santa Monica Pier. The answer became obvious – Coney Island. This would add a few hours to the trip, but my concept of an hour being a long time has been altered by several 14-hour driving days on my trek. I punched in Coney Island on my iPhone map and headed easterly.
Coney Island has special meaning to me. As a kid I remember hearing it mentioned often on the TV show Welcome Back Kotter. We never visited there during my childhood in New Jersey, but I knew even then, the place had a seedy attraction. When I moved to New York in 2000, my good friend Mary took me there for the first time. We went to the now famous Mermaid Parade and had hot dogs at the original Nathan’s. I now visit Coney Island at least a couple of times a year. I have watched the area go from nearly closing down to the current newfound renaissance. The place has even rebounded after the viciousness of Hurricane Sandy. There is now new construction and the iconic play land seems to show no signs of passing on anytime soon. I am glad that one of our country’s oldest amusement parks has survived the test of time.
I began to close in on my destination and crossed the fabled Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It is a beautiful structure and such a nice way to approach Coney. I wedged the Brick into a tight parking spot right near Nathan’s and walked over to eat the last hot dog of my trip. I had literally eaten hot dogs across the country and the extra 15 pounds I had packed on in three weeks was evidence of my poor dietary habits. I lived as a bohemian hedonist during my journey, yet standing at the counter of Nathan’s I had no regrets. This was comfort food and I needed comfort.
I saw a few cops and asked them if I could pose for a picture. I told them about my journey and they smiled wide. They told me about their excursions, the Harleys that they owned, and the near brushes with death we all experience when on two wheels. I walked down to the beach in my long pants and jacket with my helmet stuffed under my arm. People in bathing suits looked at me like a sea alien trying to return to his ocean home. I touched the water and felt extremely emotional. I made it against most odds. I had an idea and I saw it through. Touching the water I realized I would probably never make such a journey again. I walked back up to the boardwalk and shuffled around for a bit. Folks were having fun and playing games. The din of children laughing and the clattering rides and games made me feel welcomed. People were celebrating life and it was a wonderful scene for a homecoming.
I threw my leg over the Brick for the last time of the trip. I patted the gas tank like Valentino Rossi does when he wins a race, which unfortunately hasn’t been in a while. I pressed the green button as I have done countless times and the 3-cylinder power plant rumbled to life. I plunked the bike off of the center stand and looked toward the ocean one last time and smiled. I thought about never taking this trip, but now that it was completed I am the better for doing it. I am wiser. I grew. I healed. I started to let things go.
I approached my apartment and stopped at the parking garage entrance. I dug out the plastic door opener, pushed the button, and rolled into the cavern where I park right beneath my building. I was weary, but at the same time somewhat energized. I parked the motorcycle and walked towards my apartment. I looked back at the Brick one more time before I got through the security door. She was dirty, had a cracked turn signal, a twisted mirror, and small scrape that now adorns her valve cover. But even with all of the road weariness, the sturdy bike sat as ready to go as the first day we left, prepared for the next adventure I would throw at her. What a bike. Who could ask for a better cross-country steed?
I entered my apartment that had been vacant and the first thing I noticed was a mint condition Gibson SG electric guitar sitting on a stand in the middle of my floor. I went over to the fridge and opened the door for a glass of water, and standing at attention were two ice-cold Miller High Life beers in their iconic clear glass bottles. There was no question what mastermind was behind this handy work. It was my band mate and best friend Tylor who also lives in my building. Saying he is a good friend falls far short of how to define the man. He has done every graphic and show poster for me since I have lived in New York. He stood by me through deaths, a divorce, a broken engagement and more breakups than I can count. He is the human version of the Brick – steadfast, strong, honest, and ready to spring into action whenever I need help or get a crazy idea. He has served as my drummer for the last 5 years and will follow me blindly into any musical project I want to do. People say, “I don’t know where I would be without this guy,” in a very light-hearted way. But for me, I can use those words authentically when describing Tylor.
Tylor looked after my place and picked up my mail when I was gone. The SG was a loaner from his cousin that he thought I would enjoy playing, and the beers were a much-needed welcome home card. I plunked myself down in my swivel chair and cracked one of the Millers. It was probably one of the best tasting beers I ever had in my life. I picked up the SG and strummed a few chords. It is an immaculate instrument. I hadn’t played at all on my trip, so the strings felt good under my fingers.
Once again the concept of time being fleeting crossed my mind. I was planning this trip in what seemed like second ago, and now here I am 6975 miles later, back in my desk chair. I learned a lot about myself on this trip. I’m not a cookie cutter kind of guy. I have quirks and odd perspectives that many people don’t have. This trip has taught me about people and what matters, most importantly, making use of your time. Don’t make a bucket list. Go do what you want to do now because the day on your list may pass you by faster than you will notice. Or worse, it may never come. I also learned the value of friendship. I stayed with old friends and people I didn’t know all too well. But I have affected these people in a positive way, and for that they enjoy my company and want me around. They accept me for my shortcomings and faults and I am lucky to have them in my life. Because of these realizations, I wasn’t upset that there were no wife and kids to welcome me back. No hand drawn posters of stick people. No arms wrapped around me. Where I am now is just fine.
I thought about selling the Brick right after my trip, but that would be like shooting a horse before it’s time. We have miles to cover and problems to think through over the roads of America. I highly recommend driving cross-country if you get the chance. Not everybody has the luxury to take 3 weeks off and leave all responsibilities behind. But if you do get the time, take the trip. The appreciation you will gain for your life will be exponentially increased. For all of the money I spent on therapy over the years, I am amazed to realize wisest mental expense to date has been the $2400 I spent on a 1988 BMW K75.
Click Images for larger versions:
|Starting mileage||Cottage Family||Roast beef|
|Verrazan-Narrows||Coney Island||The Cyclone|
|Just saying hello||The original||Last dogs|
Pittsburgh, PA to New York, NY – 410 miles