Rider Writer


Written for the Daily Rider by
Maynard Hershon

Your neighbors are moving further from their jobs. They commute further, one neighbor per vehicle, in larger and larger vehicles: trucks or SUVs. They used to drive VWs, Civics; Now they buy vehicles as if each time they drive they're moving their homes, not merely their bodies.

The freeways are parking lots mornings and evenings. Your neighbors instead choose scenic secondary roads you've ridden on your motorcycle for years. They drive as fast as they would on the freeway - if the freeway were empty. The freeway hasn't been empty since 1971.

About 5mph-over feels right to you on those roads. Your neighbors want to go faster. The wide, sneering grills of their Rams and Expeditions fill your mirrors. When there's a shoulder, you pull over and wave them around. They're never grateful.

You ride anyway.

Your neighbors' high, wide vehicles might as well be semis on the road. Their back windows are tinted dark. You can't see through them or over them. It's scary behind them. The drivers eat McMuffins and chat on cell-phones, not scared at all.

They pause in school zones, mom and dad dropping off Justin and Heather. You creep down School Street in second gear, down a corridor of fear vibrating with the rattle of huge diesel engines.

When mom and dad see you, they look straight through you. Some of their friends are recent Harley riders, but HERE, it's about the kids. You're a biker near a school. Probable pedophile. Possible drug dealer. Certainly unwelcome.

You navigate through sudden SUV U-turns and unpredictable F150 moves. You are beyond fearful. You're a submarine captain listening for the depth charge that cracks the hull, lets black freezing water rush in.

You ride anyway.

On your ride, young guys in baseball hats, one cheek bulging smokelessly, can't stand being behind you. They roar by in their rusty old Ford four-by-fours. You hear the big, whining mud 'n' snow tires, see the NFL team sticker in the back window.

If the guy's lucky enough to have a girl sitting beside him in that old Ford, he swerves back into the lane scary-close in front of you after passing. You hear the radio blaring as the truck skims by. It's the Dixie Chicks. You hate the Dixie Chicks.

You ride anyway.

When you get to work, you park your bike under cover and peel off your rainsuit. You lay your gloves flat on your saddlebags and stuff your boots with the classifieds as if you believed they'd dry by quitting time. They never have.

People at work do not mention your commuting by bike. They know that if they even start to discuss it with you, they'll blurt out how crazy they think you are. You ride in the RAIN and the DARK, they'd say; Why do you do that?

You can see all that in their eyes. Oh. Again today your rainsuit has leaked a dark stain onto the crotch of your jeans. Your coworkers stare, embarrassed for you. No one speaks.

You ride anyway.

The wide radial tires your motorcycle requires cost ten thousand dollars plus mount-and-balance and last four days. You're either on slick new rubber, warned by your shop to take it easy, or you're thinking about what tires to buy next.

You spend more on tires than rent, more than clothing, more than you do on going out or eating out, more than you ever could've imagined. Thank God your long-suffering sweetie, who got a supermarket bouquet on Valentine's, hasn't seen your check register.

You ride anyway.

You're obsessive about rainy-weather chain lubrication. You know you are. No one else on the planet cares about it, and you're obsessed. You'd like to think you have your little problem under control, but you don't. It hasn't impacted your work life or relationship, but it could...You sense an intervention lies ahead. Tough-love for the chain-lube freak.

You ride anyway.

You've spent four grand on high-tech lights. You're considering changing your bulbs again, based on a glowing magazine test. You know that some people, on learning of your somewhat excessive light-buying behavior, would conclude that you're a genuinely sick person. They would be correct.

You ride anyway.

You get a cold a year. It's not a terrible cold, no worse than enduring a prison camp in Viet Nam or manning an oar in a Roman slave galley. Your cold typically lasts eight or nine days, during which time you forget why you ever thought life was worth living.

You ride anyway.

You take your ex-girlfriend to the airport in her car. She's flying to Italy. She'll be gone a month. She promises to buy you an Italian motorcycle magazine in Florence. She leaves you her wine-colored Mazda Miata, the Special Edition with tan leather and a tan top. CD player. Gorgeous. Enjoy it, she says.

She fills the tank for you, to thank you for dropping her off at UAL Departures and picking her up next month. Sweet woman. Nice car. Rains all week.

You ride anyway.

You sit at a light next to a dark-eyed woman in a print dress in an old Ford station wagon. The instant the light changes, she gasses it, turns right, cuts you off brutally. You yell something not quite coherent at her. She shakes her fist at you: It's YOUR fault! You're SCUM!

You see her three days later, same light. She honks. You look into the old Ford wagon. She's made a little biker doll. It's wearing a tiny white Nolan helmet and, ohmigawd, a jacket just like yours! She pushes a hat-pin through the doll and smiles at you. The light goes green.

You ride anyway.