Where is the riff that will save us?

2010/07/20

The forties are an odd time in life. You just don’t know how hard to push yourself and it’s, sadly, just a matter of time until something goes ‘pop.’ The hills you didn’t even consider when snowboarding ten years earlier look just a bit steeper, the wind bites a little bit deeper, the aches of the next morning settle in sooner and they last a lot longer. You do it, none the less, but that pop is waiting for you, just around the bend, to say hello. Sooner or later. Maybe.

Forty-ish for me has been facing the fear of the ‘pop.’ The crunch, the whammo, the whatever it is that you’d have avoided with twenty-something, or even thirty-something, reflexes but you aren’t avoiding now. You do have a few advantages, though, with age. A ounce of experience is sometimes worth a kilo of confidence.

There is a difference between waxing nostalgic and the common sense that comes with experience. A dear friend and a brilliant attorney and I were talking the other day. I mentioned that I must be getting old because all this new ‘music’ just sucks. He commented that I wasn’t getting old, just observant. He said all that new stuff does, in fact, suck. Sometimes the words of a confidant are needed to convince one of their own position.

I bought another motorcycle on Ebay over the winter. It’s been a few years for me, but all the familiar skills rush back after a hundred or so miles and there is just the relief that comes with the intense concentration of riding in New Jersey’s traffic. To those that ride, well, there is no need to explain motorcycling. To those that do not it cannot be easily explained.

Twenty years ago while living overseas I rode a similar bike from Frankfurt to Barcelona. Two-up. I may be able to make that run now, but I think I’d need about twice the time to do it. A-8 was my favorite road back then. A vast banked slalom of grade-A German Autobahn that stretches through Bavaria into Munich and beyond. Racetrack-smooth sticky blacktop. No debris on the shoulder, not even sand, as you let the clutch out, pull away and twist the throttle. I can still remember the blue and white roadsigns that signified these magnificent stretches of tarmac. They said, and still say, “Go as fast as you like, but don’t make us waste our valuable time scooping up your vitals.” I wish America could adopt the German notion of personal accountability.

The sweeping hand of the tach climbs, up and up, past 8,000 RPM now and nearly fifty miles per hour. One click up into second and you are pushing seventy. A faint memory of the rules back home as you blow past sixty-five, the American danger zone, visions of some donut-eater with a radar gun flashing into your brain pan. Here, there are no such nuisances. Here, speed is just a question of skill. And guts. Lucky for me I had just enough of the former and absolute bucket fulls of the latter.

Third gear now, the almighty gear, and there is only the rush of wind as you power past one hundred and take the tach up to 9,ooo. Fourth, and then fifth, come on smooth as cutting into a $50 steak and there is a sense of sling-shot force and the rising exhaust note as the needle closes on 125, 130, 140. Light poles, farm houses, flocks of sheep all passing by at ridiculous intervals, seen and then unseen in the mirrors as you rocket past. It’s a whole different ballgame at 150 miles per hour, I can tell you that.

Hunter Thompson said “It will always be better to be shot from a cannon than squeezed from a tube.” I wish I had the chance to ride with Hunter Thompson.

Well, this is my forties and we’re back in New Jersey. A quick bounce off of 100 on Route 80 west bound towards Pennsylvania is about as far as I want to push it. Over this weekend, I rode up to Port Jervis. I have no idea why I went there, I just filled up the tank and pointed it and that was where she took me. Motorcycling is funny that way. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably wind up someplace else. Remember that book?

Anyway, I got back into town around five o’clock and it occurred to me that I needed a beer. Badly. There aren’t a lot of decent watering holes anymore. Every one with even a little character is now a TJ Max, or burnt to the ground, or worse yet, a ‘Sports Bar.’

How I loathe the ‘Sports Bar.’ Assholes sitting around with haircuts out of MTV’s Jersey Shore and the sleepy pace of the Yankee game wafting out of six ginormous Samsung flat screens perched over every inch of the walls. You couldn’t avoid them if you tried. How can you get laid or plan a revolution in this atmosphere?

Which brings me to the point. Those of you still here, thanks for bearing with me. The juke box. This one was set to some hip-hop satellite station cruising through an endless litany of loops and samples with a lusty dub-voice moaning the same blather every twenty-six seconds or so. I counted them, so I know the interval. Twenty-six seconds…mmmnnnnOOOOH…..mmmmmnnnnOOOH.

Three Heinekens is my limit when I ride. Usually. I couldn’t have made it through anymore of that music anyway so I paid my tab and I split.

In 1991, there was a riff that saved us all. Saved us from the loops and the samples and the Madonna’s and the GaGa’s. Saved us from the prepackaged plastic clam shell Grammy a-list bling motherfuckers. Brought us back into the garage, the goddamn garage we all remember, poorly playing power chords on an out of tune Fender while the fat kid from up the street banged away on his older brother’s four piece Pearl with a broken Paiste crash cymbal. No oooooh’s and no aaaaaaaah’s. Just sweat, warm beer and once in awhile a little dopesmoke.

Maybe, twenty years later, America will be lucky enough to get another good riff. Just one more.

I’m hoping for it, but it ain’t looking good, friends.