A Sunday Afternoon Motorcycle Ride through the Countryside

Posted on March 15, 2015

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Back in late February when we got a break from the bitter cold of this winter, my wife and I pulled the cover off our CamAm Spyder motorcycle and took off for a ride. We headed out of town on our “y-frame design and seven automotive technologies” roadster (so advertised), which translates into a kind of sexy three wheeler, the difference being that our two wheels are up front.

I probably would still prefer a standard looking motorcycle, a Harley of course, with the Harley sound, but after a wreck on my old Honda, my wife would have nothing to do with a two-wheeler anymore. “Too dangerous, harumphhh.”

We both remember long Sunday afternoon rides with our parents or friends in their automobiles as children, and as move into our seventies, and so behave more like children we’re told, we set off I suppose to recreate childhood experiences, upgraded a bit with a Spyder instead of an old Buick four holer or maybe a DeSoto. You milleniums, if you wandered into this column, will have to google those.

I took the first shift driving down Highway 11 to Eutah, and then my wife and I swapped and she brought us back into Tuscaloosa where we made a pit stop at Woodrows Bar BQ place. The whole trip was maybe sixty or seventy miles and by the time we returned the sun had set and we were both glad to be wearing leather and sturdy shoes. This outfit doesn’t do a lot for a lady, but it does give her the biker’s babe look, except my wife is slender and she needs about another fifty or a hundred pounds to really fit the model. But I like her well-shaped and preserved frame, and, remember, this isn’t a Harley, but a Can Am.

So what does one see from a bike going down the highway maybe 50, 60, 70 miles per hour? Not much if you are driving. Unlike a car where you can rubberneck a bit, look around at the passing scenery, maybe text or two to friends, all the while keeping your eyes on the road of course, when driving the bike you better pay attention. A second lost here or there looking at a wonderful old barn, or perhaps the millionth church you’ve passed, and you’re likely to be a statistic in tomorrow’s newspaper.

But when we swap driving and one can take in the passing scenery from the back seat. The beauty of our Spyder is its automatic transmission. Wife doesn’t need to be clutching, kicking down or pulling up, just press on the little + button and off we go. She has one brake, on the right foot, and that’s it.

Now, one has to be pretty nimble with your left hand, for you control the turn signals, the high beams, the horn and any other parts I haven’t yet discovered with your thumb and forefinger. You have to be careful. You may want to blink your lights, and hit the horn instead, or honk on the horn when you wanted to signal you are turning lanes. But you get used to it. We bikers are agile, even though many of us look grossly overweight. That’s just part of the American mystique. No one would mistake us for a slender African or Asian out for a ride on their slender Susuzki or Honda.

We passed so many small country churches—and these were just the ones visible from the highway—that it confirmed the Bible Belt’s reputation. Many of them were ratty and rundown and some abandoned, but there they were, silent witnesses to the faith. It was Sunday afternoon after all, and church was out.

Small towns seem to preserve much of our past, now lost in the hurly burly of city life. I don’t know what percentages of the population live in small towns, or even what constitutes a “small” town, as opposed to a medium-sized town, or when a large town becomes a small city, but presumably our demographers and geographers and other government “phers” have it all categorized and neatly labeled.

My wife grew up in a small town, Arcadia, Florida, and she remembers what sounds like to me a different world, for I grew up in cities, which even in my childhood and youth already had the character and flavor of a metropolis. I remember streetcars, trolley cars, the movie theaters, the airport, boulevards, and, of course, my neighborhood, probably as large as all of Arcadia, but also a safe place to play cowboys and Indians, ride our bikes, and pretend just about everything.

Louise remembers going trick or treating with all the other kids in Arcadia, no parents or police to keep watch over them as they ambled through their tree shaded neighborhoods, even on a dark and scary night with hobgoblins and witches about, safe and very comfortable with everyone.

On July 4th, the town held a big rodeo since it was in middle of Florida’s cattle growing country and Louise got to ride in the parade on her pony, all decked out in her cowgirl (we still had cowboys and cowgirls then; I don’t know what we call them today: cowpeople?) outfit. But I too remember the cowboy scene, even growing up as a little gringo in Lima, Peru, even further south than Arcadia, Florida. Hopalong Cassidy came to town once, and I shook his hand twice at the airport, but I didn’t get to ride in a 4th of July parade, since this was Peru not the old USA.

We did get to go to the American Embassy on the 4th of July and I vaguely remember how that it felt to be an American abroad–even with a Chilean mom–and how proud we were to be in place which was decked out with flags and other patriotic bric a brac, and, after all, a little piece of America away from America.

Louise looks back on her childhood with what I think must be a childlike nostalgia, or, put another way, remembering childhood with a fondness and affection which may just be because she was a child who saw the world differently from adults. It has to do with innocence, and innocence is a wonderful, mystical kind of state, only eroded later in life by experience.
I think we both sense a little bit of that feeling while riding through the small towns of Alabama, like Eutahs, Greensboros, New Berns, and others, especially down in the Black Belt where the pace of life seems about half as fast as in Tuscaloosa, or Birmingham.

You can hear the cicadas in the full trees in the summertime, ride for miles and only see one or two other cars, or maybe the ever present logging trucks moving the big wood to the paper mills dotting the region. The rush of urban life, nightmares like eight to ten lanes of traffic girdling Atlanta, bumper to bumper moving at 80 mph, all seems other worldly.
On the other hand, we passed at least two large buildings, parking lots filled, with a somewhat subdued–but no doubt that it was a new, not run down at all– modern sign advertising Bingo!

Bingo? I thought. Ah, of course, we wrestle with gambling. We don’t “permit” it, it is “illegal,” but you can bet at the casinos run by the Indians, play bingo right down here in Hale County, bet your luck at the slots, and even wager which Greyhound will win at the dog tracks. Or if you prefer, you can wait until Monday morning when the Big Board opens up on Wall Street and do your betting there.

It’s pretty much all the same I ruminated as we slowed down from 70 mph entering south Tuscaloosa and wound into the city on Highway 69. We hardly saw a soul on the way north near Akron and Cuba, following Highway 60 through broad, open fields, many of the low areas still under water from all the rains. The fields were still fallow, awaiting the plow the seeds to be sown in a month or so as spring breaks.

I like fall and winter, if for no other reason than it is a season of rest, and sometimes reflection. Rest for the land, reflection and thought on winter days and nights when it is too raw to do much of anything outdoors.

The sunset to the west as we drove into town was spectacular, brilliant reds across the horizon with black streaks of clouds and the coming night. Part of the reason we could see this spectacular sunset was so much of the city’s neighborhoods were razed and destroyed by the tornado of 2011 and the views were now unimpeded.

“Red night, sailor’s delight,” I thought as we neared home. Old sailor’s saying to predict tomorrow’s weather. It’s probably as good as the groundhog seeing, or not seeing, its shadow on Groundhog Day. My broken ankle from the motorcycle wreck a few years ago, now completely healed, was not acting up, confirming a good day tomorrow.

Published as an OpEd in my column The Port Rail in The Tuscaloosa News on Sunday March 15, 2015 as “Motorcycle Ride Great Way to See the Countryside.”

Posted in: Life in America