Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Last Leg...Limp$ - ♪ ♫ I know I shouldn't done that ♩ ♬ #Fallin jZ


I find route 66 and follow that on to Oklahoma City and Amarillo. The romance of Route 66 continues to captivate people around the world. And the people I met at the gas pumps, lunch counters or stopped along the road were literally from every corner. Running between Chicago and Los Angeles, “over two thousand miles all the way” in the words of the popular R&B anthem, this legendary old road passes through the heart of the United States on a diagonal trip that takes in some of the country’s most archetypal roadside scenes. If you’re looking for great displays of neon signs, rusty middle-of-nowhere truck stops, or what many would call "kitschy" Americana...this is the way to it.

One thing I hadn't planned on was the Seaca Motorcycle museum along the way. The Seaca family had owned a gas pump in this location and later it became a machine shop house. The new owners wanted to keep the Seaca name since it was already a recognizable one on route 66. The gentleman working the counter is an old retired school teacher and he gives you a great tour of the collection inside. I took a few pics, hopefully not too much to bore you. :P












Its seemingly amazing that such early examples of motorcycle still remain as some of the most striking examples. That the first draft still stands as the most attractive in the minds of many serious bike lovers. 

I hop onto I-40 for a spell and open the rig up. I get her up to about 75mph surprisingly with little effort. Compared to my last bike this is cruising speed in 3rd gear. But for a 40 year old bike like this it feels more like 200mph. Strong winds soon move in and I slow down as the shifting winds seem to wreck havoc on my carbs. No sooner do I think it, and I look up and see the massive wind mills lining the upcoming landscape.


I enter a small corridor of Texas before getting into New Mexico. Here in this small town on route 66 I find these lovely old brick buildings many of them empty and dilapidated but decorated with these lovely murals and large abandoned farm equipment.






I stop for rest, stretch my legs and a snack. Some time around midnight I make it over the New Mexico state line. I continue further looking for a decent place to crash. Taking a few exits with no luck and returning to the main road again and again. Just as I start to falter, I stumble onto a the visitor welcome center. The elevations here are very high, cold strong winds and the ground is hard. I head over to the truckers area and park near a light post. I lay out my bag in the half grass half dirt area and doze off to sleep. I wonder briefly if a wandering critter might want to find warmth in my sleeping bag. A possum would be a bit shy but I could see a skunk just heading right in. I'm not sure which, but between that thought and the cold wind, I manage to hold the top of my bag rolled tight and closed under my head while I sleep for about 3 hours.

When I get up its just as dark and cold. I wonder if it will get warmer here once the sun rises. I thought heading south would have rid me of these temperatures. But these dessert climates are notorious for as oppressive cold nights as their days are warm. I'm reminded of the elevation by my carbs. Driving in the mountains, particularly as it pertains to oxygen levels and atmospheric pressure, presents special challenges to vintage vehicles. And so I find myself unable to maintain highway speeds with what little traffic is found on the roads. I repeatedly see the large rigs indicating to change lanes in my rear view mirrors and then going around me. Eventually its so bad I resolve to riding in breakdown lane up hills. Maybe its best anyway, the landscape here is stunning. It shouldn't be viewed wizzing by at 75mph anyway. The hues of salmon, terracotta and gold littered with cattle and livestock meet the large clear blue sky incredibly....I'm content with limping on.




Soon I need to stop again for fuel. While talking motorcycles with 2 older gentleman in the storefront we notice a slow leak on my front tire. They direct me to the air hose and I fill it up. I decide to have a bottle of water and keep an eye on how quickly the slow leak works its way back down. One of the guys mentions that these roads are heavily traveled by big rigs and the reinforcing wire in these tires gets thrown into the lanes and often causes slow leaks in people tires.

A half hour passes and the pressure seems to maintain. I ask the guys for a local spot to fix it and they tell me one exit up I can find a place. I wait a while longer for good measure and then cautiously head out.

I ride down I40 monitoring the leak repeatedly. About halfway to the next exit, at the 272 mile marker I noticed the tire getting low again. I check my mirrors and start downshifting and reducing my speed. I had packed a can of fix a flat and thought it good to get some of that in there as a stop gap until I get to the exit. Something that I noticed several days ago is the I40 road has an elevated roadway, it steps down several inches as you enter the breakdown lane and is met immediately with a pretty aggressive rumble strip, which I am sure works great for waking up dozing truckers and drivers. As you can imagine it's less welcoming to motorcyclist and even more daunting with a flat front tire. As I enter breakdown lane my front end spins and the bike and I are both thrust back into the right traffic lane.

As the bike spills beneath me I am able to briefly hop on top of bike but soon after lose my footing. I see the red pickup truck that was far behind me now much closer, nose dipped as it screeches behind me and swerves into the breakdown lane. As I loose my footing I find myself thrown into somersaults rolling sideways end over end closer to the left lane occupied by a semi tractor trailer. As I flip over and over I clearly see the smoke from the semis tires locked and my ears are filled with the roar as it slam its brakes. Its like something in a movie, with the camera spinning with everything in slow motion. I can remember each time as I came into contact with the pavement, my hands on the ground pushing myself away from the semi - feeling the full brunt of my body weight amplified by the momentum of travel. It felt like 300 lbs instead of my body weight of 180. After about the second impact I found my arms folding under the weight and tumbling over. The bike and I both grind to a stop...I get up and check limbs while looking for oncoming traffic and it seems stopped even several vehicles back from the red pickup and semi. I pick up the bike as I see the trucker and others running towards me to help. They seemed shock that I had gotten up so quickly and hesitate to help me with the bike and instead barrage me with questions if I am OK or not. At the time I wasn't sure if it was just adrenaline or not but I didn't feel anything except a slightly sore elbow.

Alex's rain gear in shreds, I take it off to get a closer look and make sure I am not actually injured and just in shock. The woman from the red truck agrees to call for roadside assistance for me and soon a state cop and paramedics are on their way.

The paramedics clear me. There is literally not a scratch on me, not even on my sore elbow. They head off and the cop and I wait for the wreckers to come tow the bike to a local garage where I can assess what's next. While waiting we sit in the cab of the police car talking about what happened, filled out all the paperwork and eventually we are talking life as a cop in New Mexico and challenges in relationships. His fiance and daughter are both back in El Paso 4 hours away.

He's 32 years old, of Mexican decent from El Paso Texas and hates working this area. He talks about the challenges of working a community with Native Americans and engaging the FBI once they flee to the reservations. That everyone on the force is from somewhere outside the community and also doesn't want to work this beat except one female officer who may distrust, he didn't admit the distrust part but it seemed apparent. I wonder if she was Native American or not. I vaguely recalled that one of the paramedics had asked me if the cop was a female and then muttered something under her breath.

Soon enough the wreckers come and I find myself helping them load the bike onto the truck. I get a closer look and it seems the only damage to the bike in addition to the front flat is a broken shifter knob and ground thru engine stater cover.
I can't say the same for my phone and pen. :(
Here you can see the visible damage to the bike, it seems this and the saddle bags took the brunt of the impact at first glance.
Back at the Ortegas garage, Leonard one of the young mechanics and I note that the front forks seem to have taken some the impact as well, as the front axle seemed difficult to reinstall after taking the front wheel off.

The whole experience was a bit like something I was watching and not really experiencing. Like yelling at the movie screen and telling the actor what to do. I can remember the thoughts rushing thru my brain. Telling myself I knew better regarding these breakdown lanes, that I should have come to a complete stop when it was safe to instead and then walked the bike into the lane. That maybe using the can of fix a flat in my saddle bag should have been done when I filled up and instead of waiting till now. That of the many concessions that I made regarding supplies, a spare inner tube should not have been one of em. That maybe I should have settled for not having whitewalls and gone with tubeless tires. That had I gone my original route this would have never happened. Damn Feds closing Rushmore. That had I done this trip in May....a flood of thoughts in a fraction of a second. All the while processing also what I had to do to stay out of that lane where the trucker was screeching to a stop. Humbled.

George the owner with his wife Bella

Back at the Ortegas garage, they made me entirely at home. They helped me take care of some errands and make arrangements for my next steps. My capitalist friend wires cash to soften my next steps. At first the goal was to get the spare parts and getting back on the road. But it now being Friday in a small town where very few businesses are open in weekends soon deflated that thought, despite that we make a new gear shifter, drilling the broken one and adding a few nuts, a bolt and rubber hose. A local friend, Rick, of the garage nearby had several similar sized tubes but unfortunately, despite trying...no dice.

This Towns largest employers are the restaurants and motels. George and Bella are known everywhere. I assumed it was cause of their garage which seems to have the inside tract on hauling wrecks off the highway and doing local repairs. Hell, both the trooper and the paramedics recommended the garage. The cop had a card. Instead I found out it was because George used to race cars back in his hay. In fact the place I got my over sized inner tube from, Bozo's, that owner and George were the big local racing rivals, now they are friends and fellow business owners and pillars in the community.

Bella would make arrangements to drive me halfway to Albuquerque Saturday morning and her daughter in-law, Ellen, would meet us and take me the rest of the way to get me to the airport in time for my flight. During that 100 mile ride to Albuquerque we talk about the events of the accident, why I took this trip, their lives in New Mexico and much more. Good folks who I will never forget. :)

Bella recommended a place nearby where I could stay the night for short money. I call and grab a room at the La Loma Motel. The kid working the counter gave me the seniors citizen discount at my word. :P


Next door was Josephs Bar and Grill where I would have dinner that evening. Later I would follow some bikers to Angry Wife Brewery and debate about morality vs legality. Saturday morning before leaving I head over for a coffee and biscuits. Behind me two truckers are talking relationships and women with kids. One of them had dated a woman, who he loved dearly, with a son with mental issues, yet after two years called it quits. The son a teenager was living with the father mostly but refusing to take his medication and was often violent and uncontrollable. He told her if the son came back home he would leave her. Soon enough the son came back, as his father soon became overwhelmed. The trucker explained how the conversation went. That it was calm. He listened to her go on and explain everything. He held her. He kissed her. He told her he couldn't stay and he left. He spoke plainly like so many people in this part of country do. But at the same time I heard much more than he wasn't saying. Maybe an honesty and self assessment that others do not possess. Or maybe he was just an asshole.

Now dating a woman with grand kids, Sharon, who's son in law is a professor from the east coast and acts like a know it all, and no one in the family likes him. Always knows a better way and a terrible listener. I recall when I first moved to Florida at 23 and learned how rude I was compared to Southerners who didn't view interrupting each other during a conversation as an intellectual exercise in playful banter. On one of my routine flights home to Boston there was a US Air article about an activist from California who helped with the Valdez cleanup. He was so shocked by what he saw, he was soon consumed by speaking about it at evrry chance he got. He slowly drove his family, friends and anyone he came into contact with crazy. Soon he was an outcast. One day he become depressed by this fact and resolved not to say anything about the gross abuse we have done to the environment. What he realized during that day was that his silence had a more powerful result on them then all his words combined before. He soon decided to take vows of silence for weeks at a time and then months and eventually he took years. During those years he traveled, spoke publicly thru translators and obtained various degrees while become a renown spokesperson for environmental issues. Eventually he decided to speak again and when asked what he learned from his vow of silence, he admitted he realized he was never really listening to others before. He was always thinking of his response when others were talking. He was assuming what they meant and deciding how to chance the trajectory of the conversation - and that very different than listening. Very different.


Soon enough 8:30 comes and its time to meet my ride. Santa Rosa has been kind to me, despite the fact that my bike crashed here and sits there now. I'll have to make arrangements to get her the rest of the way home.

The two truckers start talking about their bill. One is gonna treat. He comments about how he keeps his cash in his wallet. Big bills in the back/bottom. Smaller bills in front. They laugh, the other agrees, "must be a guy thing". That's the simple way of these parts that attracts me. In the cities it's the reverse. A guy will have a crispy hundred dollar bill covering a stack of singles, flashing it at any chance. I smirk. Leave my tip and leave. Along my way home some would say I was lucky, that god was watching out for me if you believe in that sort of thing or maybe he just has a more exciting way for me to go. I listened and agreed with them all.


"I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture fills
Like that above."

"...for it is with madness that he rides..."~ 2 Kings 9:20

I'm Not In Kansas Anymore...

Arrival in to Kansas City is pretty late at night, well, maybe it wasn't all that late but as tired as I was it seemed so. I get to my cousins address and come to the realization that its one of those "complex" places. I call her and ask her to meet me at the gate. Mentally I'm wasted by the time I arrive here and can't bear the thought of trying to find her place amidst this unchanging pattern of condos, apartments, townhouses and duplexes. She agrees while chatting on the phone and soon I can hear her voice across the darkness until I can see her clearly. I'm so happy to see her. Hugs and kisses.

When I was growing up, our house was a rally point. So many of my older cousins after arriving to America or Boston would often stay with us for an extended period of time. My mom and dad helped them get settled, learn English, learn to drive and begin on their path of Independence. Kamissa's mom was one of those older cousins, technically Kamissa who I am meeting here is my second cousin...but among Haitians that's all just too much to say and be bothered with. Most of my first cousins have kids old enough for me to buy drinks at the bar. And when she asks me what are we gonna do...that's exactly my response. I need a BEER. :)

I dump my bags, wash my hands and I am ready. Her boyfriend joins us and we head for a local dive bar. They tell me about the local night life and recent events and we chit chat about plans for the next day. She asks more details about my trip and a bar mate to my right over hears and chimes in. Apparently he runs a shipping company so I half jokingly comment he should ship my bike for me for free - since he likes to ear drop and interrupt other peoples conversations, but alas, no dice. He jokes it off as well and we talk bikes, work and life for a spell. But I do like the way people are more tangible in this part of the country. There are places where it seems people are seemingly friendlier at first glance but its a shallow layer of kindness that at times can be met with a plastic. In other places people come off calloused and indifferent and only after breaking past the rough exterior do you find a sensitive core. I remember reading about the agricultural history of the different regions in the United States. How long the growing seasons were, how it affected the manner in which people worked together or individually as it relates to their ability to grow the food they needed for the year and its interesting how that affects what becomes the culture of the people or their ways and temperaments which of course are passed down long after the agricultural confines have passed.

I wake up in Kansas City still pretty tired. My sleeping pattern up to this point has been one of sleeping about 4 hours on the road at night from midnight or so till 4am or so. And then catching a 2-4 hour nap mid day sometime later. These few opportunities to sleep in a real bed like a real boy afford me the luxury of 8-10 hours and I gladly accept! We slept in late the next morning and even after getting up I still felt pretty low on energy. I did some writing in bed while we watched ratchet TV. :P

By the time we finally leave the house my body is feeling much better. My hands are still a littl eswollen from riding in the cold night air but my back feels great. Later we would have a late lunch around 2pm or so at Mesob Pikliz a husband and wife owned Haitian and Ethiopian fusion resto in Kansas City. My cousins boyfriend had been dieing to go back here. The last time he had a spoon full of the mushroom rice off of her plate and was determined to get his own plate to himself. This was an amazing surprise. I literally hadn't had food like this in years. I will be back. The husband wasn't there but his wife, who is Ethiopian and a doll was, and she tended to us with great care. Here are a few pics.

 The interior reminded me of a place in the french Caribbean, the decor and colors
 I had the mushroom rice, what we call "jon jon" and some stewed spicy goat :@)
 My cousin had the fried pork or "griot" and I stole her plantains and "pikliz" :)

I cleaned my plate WELL. I knew pretty soon I would be on the road with my cans of sardines in my saddle bags. Eating granola bars and raw fruits and veggies. Regarding the name of the restaurant, Mesob Pikliz: Mesob is the traditional Ethiopian table made out of woven straw. It has an hour glass shape and is circular as people sit around it to eat communally the traditional Ethiopian way. Pikliz is very spicy vinegar based coleslaw which consists of cabbage, carrot, vinegar, scotch bonnet pepper, and spices. Its a staple on any Haitian table and it often says as much about the cook as the meal will. To me its a statement of joining us at our table and get to know us thru our food and the fact that the place is a result of this couples marriage is equally inviting.

After eating we head out to the downtown area. My cousin wanted to show me Westport and the Country Club Plaza area. Its an area known for its high end shops and the areas architecture is planned to resemble the city of Madrid in Spain with all its fountains. There are also plenty of music festivals that come thru this region and I would love to come back for the folk and bluegrass events in the summer next year.
I was particularly fond of this lil fountain...I think It kind of captured my spirit on this trip. :)

While walking thru town I noticed a bicycle in the window of one of the shops across the street. It was pretty iconic and reminded me of an article I read a while back regarding Detroit. We crossed over and sure enough it was Shinola. Shinola was in the past a polish brand but the newly revitalized company is essentially a watch company in Detroit. In addition to watches they make bikes, leather goods, etc.  Very well done and not cheap. If I recall correctly the owner or one of the owners was a previous founder at Fossil and the sales clerk confirms some type of connection there but I was too distracted to get the story straight to say the least. This area had plenty of eye candy. :) I encouraged them to make some motorcycle accessories as well and moved on. It was getting late and I still had a lot of miles to cover.

I left by 8pm from my cousins place. Hugs and kisses and onto the business of making up lost time. The sun had set no sooner after I headed out. The sky was dark and littered with stars. I took to a small state road and altered my plan a bit to work my way towards the old route 66. Since the Fed was stopping my visit to Mount Rushmore, I wanted to see as much of the actual country as possible.

These small towns late at night are like traveling back in time. Enchanted and sad at the same time. Some struggle with all local businesses visibly resisting the large corps from owning everything while others are nothing more than major chains and franchises. Here I found one of those towns trapped in time. Maybe I should rephrase that. Not "trapped"... maybe freed. Free of large corporation owning the total exchange of funds in the town. $-)

Also, I realized recently that I haven't thoroughly bored you guys with my bike maintenance rituals. Just as in Boston, Albany, Chicago and now here my usual ritual continues: checking and/or changing the oil, tightening the new chain, tightened bolts and now after my rain episodes I flipped the fender. I would do this at my cousins place before heading out again on to this last leg of the trip. At this point I'm over the halfway mark but not quite 2/3rds of the way yet.

Nearing midnight I felt the fatigue creeping in and started looking for a likely place to crash. I spotted a church right on the main road. I circled it once to make sure I wouldn't be startling any live-in pastors. Again I found a carport to shelter my bike and laid out my sleeping bag under the canopy of a large tree. Directly adjacent was a large field that appeared to have been recently harvested of its corn. I briefly recalled some friends warning me of snakes, eh. Here I crashed at midnight. Four hours later I woke up to a local cop and flashlight at 4am. I think he was more interested in the bike than me. I rubbed my eyes and asked him, "am I alright here?" and he responded, "yes, just making sure everything is OK. You're far away from home. And its pretty cold out here. Isn't it a little late in the year for a trip like this?" I responded in agreement and told him my story. My trip and why so late in the year. We talked bikes and he shared a story of his own. He asked for ID and admitted he already ran my plates and everything checked out. I rolled up my bag and handed him my ID while telling him his timing was perfect I was hoping to get on the road right about now. We walked over to the bike and showed him around it. Started her up and let him rev the throttle a bit. He seemed tickled and said he might have to convince the wife to let him get another bike again. :)

Along the road to Tulsa I stopped for gas and shortly after the the sun joined me in all its glory with the big rigs and morning commuters following suit. I casually followed and encouraged them to pass me by when they hovered behind me assuming I was just getting up to speed...but I had no desire to do more than 55. I was in no hurry and I didn't envy theirs.



I arrived in Tulsa by 8am, the last time I was in Tulsa I was designing packaging for an industrial outfit and a large portion of our business was power generation. We are talking large product in excess of hundred of thousands of pounds. In some cases our specifications needed structural engineer stamps before production. In Tulsa one of our crates on a rail car was clipped by an over eager engine coming in the opposite direction when it should have yielded on a curve. I had spent a week with a crew ensuring the crate and customers product, a large rotor, was not compromised in any way and could continue on to installation at a power plant. I recall being impressed with Tulsa's downtown. Local ordinance prohibited any large fast food corps from taking over. No McDonald's, Burger Kinds or Domino's in town, instead all local businesses and mom and pops. I was joined my last night in Tulsa by a young engineer on the project who represented the power company and a seasoned consultant that represented the rail road. We walked the strip and ate and drank and soon we had the company of many locals as well.
This time I breezed thru Tulsa, I circled the downtown once for good measure but I moved on to territory I wasn't at all familiar with, yet...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Chicago to Kansas City - the Meh Lands :P

Rest in Chicago was greatly needed. I didn't intend to stay 2 nights but in hindsight I realize there was no way I couldn't have. That warm bed, meal and rest was the only way I could have continued at the same pace. And the time I lost in Boston can't be made up. For the most part up to this point I have been riding the rig at only about 55 mph. This pic is taken right in the South side of Chicago near the Medical Center. I stop in Springfield for fuel and food, and it was one of those last minute decision that almost cost me missing the exit. I hesitated because there was no sign for services. Once I was out I saw a sign for a History Museum and decided that would be a good distraction to stretch my back and I could grab a bite and rest up after. I followed the signs to a dead end, if there was ever a museum it was now gone. The "town" is a series of strip malls, a lil run down and littered with fast food joints. I did spot a Chinese food resto and a Mexican grocery store. I was pretty decided I didn't want to experiment with any cooked food. Riding cross country is not the time for indigestion or the like. I head into the Mexican grocery store to grab some plantain chips and coconut water, turn out they also have a taco shop in there and it smell GOOD. I settle on one. Only to find myself up at the counter again. Score! After the tacos, I sit outside on the bench with 2 hitchhikers within speaking distance. I'm sitting on the bench with the older man. Its about noon, the parking lot in front is sparsely full. The gentleman on the bench beside looks about 65 or so. Baseball hat, t-shirt and jeans and a backpack with a spare set of clothes. He says he packs light and goes on about the importance of caring for your feet. He starts asking me questions, where I'm from, if I'm travelling alone, what I am carrying for supplies, what my route is - precisely the questions to make you feel uneasy. lol I learned 2 years ago when I hitchhiked cross country the best lesson you can learn early is trusting people. I would find myself in cars with people I didn't know. We would stop for gas, rest, food or the bathroom and you would have to decide whether you are gonna take all your belongings each time or TRUST these people. I personally found that people are way more trustworthy, kind, and generous than maybe the media or most people believe in general. This gentleman, used to be a truck driver and mover for most of his life. He's been all over the country except Alaska. He attended University in Hawaii. These are the people that always strike me the most when I travel like this. I want to know their stories, how does a hardworking American end up homeless. I look at his face as he talks, searching for signs of alcoholism or drug abuse. It’s usually pretty easy to see. But it’s the people like him that bother me the most because I don't see those signs. And I have had my fair share of association with "those" people. He's well spoken with a Midwest accent. He's polite and carefree. These are the people of America, who MAKE America, not who push the papers or signs the contracts. Not the people who are "to big to fail" but the people who obviously do. Just like these Midwest states, with towns just like this one where one factory went offshore and hundreds of families suffer. Or Detroit...yeah, Detroit. All you see on these roads are truckers, delivering all those precious products and produce we consume. These are the men and women who do these jobs. The younger hitchhiker sitting farther down the sidewalk chimes in regarding my route and starts rambling about roads - where they start from and end, suggesting better routes, etc. He makes a few statements I know to be false but I let it pass. He's starts bragging about all the supplies he carries. His GPS phone, 2 weeks of socks, 1 week of underwear, etc...on and on and on. Not to mention he also has a dog AND cat. I always have a higher level of respect for anyone who can keep a cat on a leash. An argument ensues between the two hitchhikers about the roads. I know the older gentleman to be correct. The younger guy threatens to check his GPS and is humbled when it proves the older gentleman correct. But he no sooner finds something else to vehemently disagree with the older guy about. We are joined by a younger woman at the bench, which apparently is also a bus stop, I use the opportunity to head out and offer her my seat. I head farther south and I stop at a rest area for dinner several hours later. Honestly I did most of this part of the country an injustice. Other than what I can see from the roadside...I missed most of what ever laid beyond it. Other than stopping for gas, stretching and restroom - I wiz passed Litchfield, St Louis, Columbia and Jefferson City. I don't get into Kansas City until about 11:45 at night...I have one thing on my mind. Beer. My cousin is in her 20's, college grad and works for TSA here in Kansas City. She previously worked for them in Boston and North Dakota. When I hitchhiked 2 years ago, I was trying to see Mount Rushmore then and then go see her in North Dakota. Kamissa, my cousin, claims there is a Haitian resto here in Kansas City... we SHALL SEE! (if you think my use of the word "resto" is just so I don't have to spell "restaurant"...you may be right) Here are a few pics from along the way... later.