Pulling into a small town, population 643, I was in awe at how much this town reminded me of my own.
Less than 20 minutes from the metropolitan area which was home for the weekend, this was not at all where my mind had envisioned our motorcycle ride would be taking us.
Our first stop had been as expected, a row of town homes all struggling to show independence with the occasional potted plant or wreath on the front door. They had failed miserably in the attempt as I looked down at my friends’ phone with hopes that it would somehow provide something to differentiate what we were looking for. It simply stared blankly back at me while stating our destination had been reached. No problem, my navigation skills were impeccable.
My driver, a former classmate and good friend, patiently glanced back at me informing me to keep my eyes open for an orange Harley touring bike.
Unlike the homes that fought but blended together, my attention to detail for street signs and house numbers told me that we were 2 blocks from our final destination.
We pulled into the driveway and exchanged greetings with the new couple. She smiled and took a survey of my attire then quickly offered to provide me a bandana. No extra riding shoes were available, and I could tell our shoe sizes were, to her, more than obviously different, hers being on the larger size.
She disappeared then quickly returned bouncing out of the house with a purple bandana looking quite fresh and folded in a manner I would not have had the slightest clue how to produce.
“Let me help you put it on,” she smiled and pressed the material against my forehead. “Turn your head upside down, don’t want to catch any of your hair when I tie it. You’ll be glad you wore one, you have a lot of hair and it’s very windy today.” And just like that, I was part of this group. I smiled.
We mounted on the bikes once again and headed off on the busy interstate. The wind was indeed whipping me in all directions, but did not stop at my hair, it wanted my entire being as its victim. Apparently not everyone was going to so easily welcome me into the new group.
I smiled. The sun smiled back quickly telling me the wind couldn’t possibly dislike me for very long. I laughed out loud. There’s always one in every group.
It was indeed the perfect day for this ride, the temperature, feeling a bit hot while sitting still, transitioning to completely comfortable upon movement. What was it with that wind? Her hair, secured tightly in a pony tail, the bandana, firmly holding it’s position. The wind was demanding something from her, but what it was she couldn’t yet put her finger on.
As we now ventured through the small town, I was drinking in the sign of a bar whose neon sign now hung from one chain as the other flopped gently in the wind, not at all the same wind that had been pushing me around just minutes ago. I could make out the word “Lucky” on the sign but that was the extent of what it would allow any new passersby to know. It’s history was a indeed a well-kept secret.
The bike came to a stop.
I focused my attention ahead. A dalapateated old brick building that had been painted white, amongst many other colors over the years. Bricks had fallen off here and there making the structure quite lopsided in multiple locations. In one of the few windows hung a flag, faded and dirty, just as the pane of glass that held it back. Our next participant was standing beside his bike in front of this building.
We dismounted. New introductions were made. My driver apparently had known him from a previous large group ride, and now their formal introduction was complete. The attention now turned toward me, I extended my hand, my eyes briefly catching a small tattoo on his ring finger. How odd. The connection was much too short to determine its contents.
We mounted again. Hunger was settling in with the group, and there were more riders we would be meeting for lunch. I was thoroughly enjoying this new group of people and my immediate inclusion into it.
As our ride now took us on open roads filled with sunshine and farm fields, the wind again attempted to contact me. Fiercely at first. But I sat even taller in my seat. We passed under a bridge and a gush of cool air engulfed me. I absorbed it slowly. We plunged back into the sunlight and it’s warmth reappeared. Another bridge was on the horizon, we went under again. I became vaguely aware of the machine’s warm pipe and inched my foot slightly closer to take in its heat as my body again drank in the coolness. In this subtle dance, I was somehow becoming one with not only the machine, but nature as well. My backbone slipped into place one vertebrae at a time and I somehow felt much taller on the bike, like 10 feet tall. At some point during this transition, the wind and I had become partners. I quickly glanced to the others as they indeed continued to struggle with its power, but my mind refused to let me stay there. It was as if I was on the very bow of the titanic with no one aboard. And everything around me had melted. How the wind wrapped itself into me. I was certain most will never arrive at this place. We were in control of everything. This was truly what riding was all about. Why had I never noticed this so many years before? But those thoughts came into my mind days later. In this moment, time stood still. It did not exist. I did not exist. Everything had combined into nothing. It was absolute. Was it possible to stay here forever?
Still in the moment, phone in hand, I was back on navigation detail. Thanks to the accolades of my riding partner, my place in the group was now clearly established. I located the next stop with ease, how I loved taking advantage of all the efficiencies modern technology had to offer.
Walking down a long hallway, this arrival held true to its outside appearance, indeed it was to be a hidden gem. My nostrils were fighting me, not wanting to leave the new intoxicating smells of potential lunch behind, but once again we emerged into sunlight. A beautiful wooden deck patio with green plants overhead providing the perfect amount of shade greeted us. The hearty laughter gave away our next landing spot. There were too many new people to count at this stop and introductions would be useless to my already overloaded mind. Again with the smiles and handshakes my resting place was between a “Brian” and my driver, and directly across from the mystery tattoo.
“Ask her about the salad of the day,” Brian let out a hearty roar, it was met with several more. Apparently the waitress had slipped up when pronouncing the salmon salad……and this particular group thoroughly enjoyed rolling “semen salad” off of their tongues, many times over. I joined in their laughter.
I went to the menu. “There’s a buffet inside if you want to check it out, it looks really good,” Brian was a helpful biker to be sure. His wife Linda nodded in agreement with him.
“Thanks, I’ll go check it out,” I wasn’t much for buffets but what the heck. I could use the walk, we’d been riding a while.
My newly formed group followed me inside.
“The soup looks homemade” I stated to no one but myself really.
“What kind is it?” the mystery tattoo offered a response
“These salad dressings look homemade as well,” he stated.
And in that short exchange, we decided that this was indeed to be our meals.
Back at the table small talk and laughter continued with the waitress hearing the words “semen salad” with every visit. She was quite a good sport and my tip would reflect her equally witty banter.
Focusing on my new comrades, I commented about my dislike for cooking which as usual, lead to a food discussion. The mystery tattoo was well versed in good food, unlike the remainder of my end of the table.
“I dislike chain restaurants,” I stated.
“I know some amazing places to eat that are quite hidden to most.” Mystery tattoo was quick with a reply.
Was he attempting to dance with me as the wind had just done? Had he witnessed our dance? It was his bike that lead our entourage. How could he have known? No one else had appeared to notice, had I perhaps been so engrossed with my dancing partner that I had missed this tiny detail?
“Have you tried the smoked chicken?” I stated
“Yes, the herb seasoning combined very smoothly with the smoked flavor, a nice pairing. Did you notice the greek vinegrette? Not a common salad dressing at a buffet.”
“Indeed I had, it was my choice as well, complimented the arugula.”
“What kind of potatoes were those?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet. They have a parmesean flavor to them, but I can’t quite put my finger on the additional flavors.”
“It’s a homemade garlic parmesean seasoning. The chefs secret recipe, and he doesn’t share.” The waitress had suddenly reappeared dropping off a water pitcher.
It was a very necessary interruption, similar to the wind, the discussion had indeed transitioned, becoming one between the mystery tattoo and me, the surroundings of the establishment threatening to completely disappear. Refusing to allow this to happen, I safely redirected to a common question the group would be sure to easily pick up and run with. This was meant to offer the opportunity needed as I suddenly felt the urge to leave the conversation.
I reviewed him again, a mid length dark brown beard, which somehow was a perfect match to his brown eyes. Was I mistaken or did his particular shades of brown have a vibrant red tint to them? A sleeveless Ron Jon shirt gave me quite the chuckle, I was fairly certain every man had owned one at some point in his life. It was such a fashion faux pas to her. Its extremely large size was making a failed attempt at hiding a belly that had been clearly defined by the speciality foods he so loved to partake in. This exterior was indeed something I would not have given a second thought to in terms of dating, not that I was actively pursuing the subject at the moment.
“Andy….you know I dislike your ringtone!! Turn it down!” The wife of our first pickup location was not happy with mystery tattoo. The ringtone sound resembled that of a horn from a clown car.
“I do it just to piss you off” he laughed back at her. There was indeed a red tint to his brown eyes, one of mischief to be sure.
“Did you get the tattoo on your ring finger to piss me off too?” She spat back
“I did that because I am NEVER getting married” He was smirking at her now. Quite taken by the fact he could get her fired up so easily
Her husband chuckled a little at the two of them, indicating this odd couple had sparred before
I glanced at the tattoo on his finger as he held it out in front of her
Indeed the word “never” was taking the place of a where a traditional wedding band would be housed
The mystery had indeed been solved….but as he glanced up in my direction, making sure our eyes engaged in meaningful contact, he was ever so slow at withdrawing this hand.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this mystery dance had only just begun….