17 December, 2005 Temperature: 3 degrees F
“Can the Baron come out and play?” As the garage door slowly opened this morning, I thought about this scene from my childhood in the 1960s: I would ride my bicycle over to a friends’ house, knock on the door, and when his mother answered, I would ask the question. I don’t even think kids do that anymore. They probably arrange their rendezvous by text message on their cell phones, and then get driven to the playground by harried parents, for an adult-supervised recreational session call a “play date”. My, how the world has changed….
It’s Saturday, and the sun is shining. Sure, it’s kind of cold out there, but I dress for that. On many Saturdays during the normal riding season, I ride my KLR the 25 miles across the border to a coffee shop called “The Daily Grind” in Hudson, Wisconsin. There I meet my friend, Jud Jones, and an eclectic group of riders collectively called The Indianhead BMW Club. Yesterday I decided to continue that tradition on the Baron. All I had to do was figure out a way to get there on side streets.
Mapquest to the rescue again. (I should hit them up for a cash sponsorship; they sure get mentioned a lot in these pages.) I found that I could take the Robert Street bridge across the Mississippi River, turn right on 7th Street, and follow that to Minnehaha Avenue. That road runs east all the way to Stagecoach Trail. I could take Stagecoach trail south to Hudson Road, and ride that to St. Croix Trail, and enter Interstate 94 right at the Minnesota side of the bridge over the St. Croix River, and over the border into Wisconsin. Hudson lies on the other side of the bridge. This was a simple, scenic, and scooter-friendly route to go and visit my friends on a beautiful morning. The Baron and I took off just after 8:30 a.m.
The roads were in great shape, just after our week-long snowstorms. All the roads I selected are major thoroughfares, so they got a liberal dose of road salt to keep the ice at bay. There were frozen spots here and there, but they were clearly visible in the early morning sunshine. We rode at 50 miles-an-hour past snow-covered frozen lakes and fields in the rural countryside around Lake Elmo. It was a beautiful day to be on a scooter. Traffic was sparse, and the folks we encountered on the road were courteous and curious. We got a number of honks and thumbs-up from mostly younger drivers. You see, the youngsters get it. They can see that I am simply playing outside, having fun with two wheels and a motor.
People my age and older are a different kettle of fish. Middle-aged, debt-ridden and fearfully employed, they stare straight ahead out the windshields of their mini-vans (giving the SUV folks a break here…). They have serious business to attend to, and no time to acknowledge some irresponsible hooligan on a motorbike. It is the consumer season, after all, and they must make it to the mall before the sale is over, and all the good stuff is gone. Gawd help me if I get in their way. They are fully insured, and it is no doubt my fault for simply being out here on two wheels in such weather. No jury in the world would convict them if they punted us into the ditch. The Baron and I ride in the right side of the lane, and wave them by whenever possible. They do not wave back.
Arriving at the Daily Grind, I am greeted warmly by my friends. I order a hot cocoa and a couple of plain donuts, and sit down to watch Jud puzzle over the NYT crossword. This is an inviolable ritual for him, and we must wait patiently until it is complete before we can talk about anything else. My friends Steve, Andrew, and Craig are there, riders all, and we discuss winter scooter commuting for awhile. As far as I know, they don’t think I am crazy. At least they don’t say it out loud. But I can tell they are thinking, “Better you than me.”
Someone else at the table asked, “Don’t you get cold out there?”
“Sure I do, but that is to be expected. Remember when you were a little kid? Your mom would bundle you up and send you outside to play in the snow with your friends. You would go sledding, build snow men and snow forts, have snowball fights. You would do this for hours! Your snow pants might get wet. The snow that had gotten down into your boots would melt, and your feet would get cold. Sometimes you would get so chilled that you would start shivering. But you wouldn’t go in unless you were forced to. You were having too much fun. Remember?”
A faraway look came into his eyes, and yes, he remembered. Memory turned to understanding, and then we started talking about the specifics of winter riding technique. I had made a connection, if not a conversion, and that felt good.
So it goes, one day at a time, one person at a time. People are starting to see that this is not crazy, that it’s not anti-social, that it’s just one guy who decided not to stop having fun just because winter showed up. Yes, I’m saving lots of fossil fuels and polluting a lot less than my box-driving contemporaries. I’m not endangering my fellow motorists with my size, weight, and inertia. That stuff is important, really, but it’s not my primary motivation. You see, I’m just a kid at heart. I have not lost my capacity for joy just because I have to work in industry and support a family. I like to think that my playful nature makes me a better father, husband, and coworker. Some people really light up around me, and we have wonderful conversations. When I was driving my truck to work, and doing the same old routine, this never happened. It’s something to think about.