Long Way Home

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I travel the same roads almost every day but it’s always in the same direction. As the seasons, colors and temperatures change things can look a little different but it’s the landscape and landmarks that we relate to. Some are only a few miles from home while others take us back home.

It’s the long way home. Some days it’s just required to take a different route – one taking us away from the well-worn path we’ve created between point A and B. Remember, it’s the regularity that keeps the grass down. We don’t always have time for a detour, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need. Just a few extra minutes to see some different scenery – you know, stuff you haven’t seen for a few months or years – to clear your head. We don’t do it enough and when we do, we’re always glad we did.

 

I travel the same roads almost every day but it’s always in the same direction. As the seasons, colors and temperatures change things can look a little different but it’s the landscape and landmarks that we relate to. Some are only a few miles from home while others take us back home. An abandoned house, an old bridge or a valley that has always made you look – and smile, are always there for us whenever we need them. As a motorcyclist, it can be hard to find a day in January where the long way home can happen, but it always seems to. Sometimes you have to just do it even if there is an internal struggle to follow the same old habit of taking the usual way home.

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Why is this so important? It gives us a few minutes for ourselves. It can be just what we need to see our small little world that surrounds us and give us a different perspective on the day. It’s no different from taking a minute from our busy day to watch the sunset, or turning around on your way home to take a picture of something that catches your eye. It can be on a road we have traveled before, but for whatever reason we overlooked it every time. Maybe it’s the time of day that gives us a different light on the same old scenery. We win either way.

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I’m lucky to be surrounded by familiarity and memories. For those who know me also know of the area around me. You are familiar with my landscape and landmarks as you know them as well. Take the long way home – not every day, but someday. Pull over and take it all in and let the scenery take you home.

 

 

Smoke’em if You’ve Got’em

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It’s the simple things. When you’re young, it’s all about toys and candy and getting out to ride your bike. Not complicated, not serious – just simple. We didn’t understand nor did we care that we were living a very simple life, and our sole purpose was to grow up. And we did – all too fast. We wanted to be bigger like those other kids and we tried real hard to act older than our shoe size, but it wasn’t to be. Just look in the candy case at Moore’s Market when we were kids and it proves my point. Wax mustaches, candy cigars and cigarettes were popular and besides, how ridiculous did we look? If we couldn’t be older, we would look older. Hey, we were kids – what did we know? That lasted for several years, and when we finally found out we were actually growing up, it was too late. We already did.

We have a way of losing sight of those simple things. We make it harder than it needs to be and we worry more than we really should. It didn’t bother us as kids, so why should it bother us as bigger kids? Each and every one of us would do it the same way if we could, so why don’t we? I need to get lost in my imagination more often and let my motorcycle take me back down the road to my youth. Our lives need to be filled with more sun and dirt while we chase each other through the tall grass. Laughter should always be close by and the wind should decide our direction. There really isn’t any reason to be home before it gets dark and who wants to go in the house anyway?

Life is serious enough without even trying. Our responsibilities outweigh the inner-child in each of us and it takes some of the fun out of wearing those wax mustaches we wore as kids. We grew up too fast and I surely don’t run as fast or as far as I did when my age and shoe size were the same. We tried so hard to act older back then and now I’m trying to feel younger than I do now. My heart is screaming for recess but my body is telling me “let’s think about this first.” After all, I had a two-pack a day candy cigarette habit.

The Age of Friends

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Just exactly when do friends become “old friends?” Every day we get a little older, but that’s not the kind of age that defines these friends of ours. It’s the difference between having friends, and having friends that have always been there in some capacity through the years. The kind that can pick up where things were left off the last time you were together, and each and every time you catch up it brings a smile to everyone’s face. You can see by the expressions on the faces of these old friends that this is real and genuine and the laughter is from the heart. We all have friends that aren’t necessarily in our lives every day, but it’s always a smile and a hug that brings those good feelings of “old friends” to us whenever we are together.

Over the years, our world evolves into routines and patterns that are hard to break. It’s those old friends that take us back to the beginning and remind us of who we are and who we have always been. And just as some things never change, they show us the friendship that we built is still capable of supporting the weight of the world that is adulthood. Conversation is effortless and humor is found in the strangest places, and a few hours can make up for years without contact. But we don’t worry, because old friends understand that catching up is part of the deal. No grudges, no ill-feelings and plenty of trust. Old friends “just know.”

Old friends are a feeling. A feeling inside us that can’t be replaced with anything else – as there is nothing that can take the place of an old friend.  Try to describe an old friend in words and it might sound like love, trust, understanding and happiness. But words can’t say it all and there is no definite description to someone this close to us as each one holds a special place near and dear in our hearts. Old friends just happen and there is no stopping it. Not everyone is an old friend to us, but everyone becomes an old friend to someone. We don’t pick and choose these special people in our lives, they are placed there. Paths cross and personalities click and it happens in an instant. And then an old friend is made – for life.

Old Friends and Home

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I can still hear the laughter from my friends as we hung out on main street in White City. Standing in front of the pool hall watching the same cars pass by, as we talked about what we should be doing or where we should be going. Back and forth, cruising the four blocks of that red brick street, making endless U-turns and unconscious waves to the cars we passed in opposite directions. That was our independence. The football field lights still shining bright after a home game and everyone is uptown hanging out, happy for a win, or bummed from a loss. We all knew each other, and growing up together in a small town was what you did. Voices still echo from those sidewalks as cars pass by, heading nowhere, waiting for the clock on the City building to let me know I was going to be late getting her home.

Those years can be looked upon as “the good times” and even though they were good times, we had no idea that the best years of our lives were yet to come. You could see all four blocks of that street and you knew that a U-turn was going to bring you right back. Those that had the courage to not turn around at the locker plant knew how it felt to return on those special occasions to find the front yard beneath their feet was still there, reassuring them they were home. Walking past the boot scraper, up those concrete steps and into the kitchen, remembering the smells that somehow still linger as the door opens to rooms full of memories. Photos are taken, hugs are given and small talk is made, then it’s back to the world that pulled them away.

I still hear the laughter of those friends, but now it’s through the words they type in texts or emails – I swear I can hear their voice in the words I read. Their smiles are the same and their laughs haven’t changed at all. Even though kids don’t turn around on the main drag in town anymore, it doesn’t mean the world stopped turning around. Friends that left still come back for graduations, weddings, reunions and funerals, so we get a quick word, a handshake or hug and then it’s goodbye…for now, only to return another day.

There are a lot of miles on that old main street, and there are a lot of miles between old friends and home. I miss those days when we were close enough to say it in person, even if it was just a two finger wave from your hand on the steering wheel. Maybe someday I’ll know what it’s like to not turn around at the locker plant.

Wait Just a Second

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You might say it can happen just about anywhere. Sitting on a hillside watching the sun lay its head down after a long day, the quiet surrounding you tighter and tighter as it grows dark, or sitting on a rock at water’s edge as the waves come in to greet you. Peace. Center. This is what it’s all about it, as you struggle through the days feeling pulled in all directions – and for what? To have a few moments like this, where we find what we’re looking for within ourselves. It takes the beginning or the end of something to put it all into perspective. The constant motion of water, the sun coming up in the morning to start the day or the sunset to put an exclamation point at the end of another day in our lives. We seek these few precious seconds out of a day that has only so many to choose from. But we find them – they’re just mixed in with all the rest.

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Even the clear sky, lit from a full moon, can give us pause. We often feel the need to see something bigger than ourselves to jar our senses and rattle our being. I find a lot of these necessary fragments of time from behind the handlebars of my motorcycle. It’s a combination of direction, smells, sights and sounds that put me in my place. Life is so much bigger than the road I’m on. I’ve seen the power of a storm as I’m heading right into it – and the rainbow that follows. It’s only water, right? I often talk of the sun coming up in my mirror as I head West, or the sun setting as I roll down the highway, but mere words can’t do it justice. It’s an attitude of humility that surfaces and suddenly it’s me who becomes those precious few seconds in time. I’ve been on this planet for fifty-plus years, but to this planet my life is the equivalent to the blink of an eye.

I need these “larger than my life” moments to set me straight, but it isn’t always nature that causes it. The faces of my grandchildren can bring even the most difficult day to its knees and it makes me realize that those few precious seconds we have are just that – few and precious. So whether it’s from the seat of your motorcycle, hands and knees dirty from the garden or standing perfectly still as the evening comes; take it all in as it’s only a blink of an eye.

Black Rubber Hose

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Every year when we roll the clocks back an hour I always have two thoughts. One is by rolling the clock back one hour does that mean for 60 minutes I will experience Deja vu? And the other is how can we roll back the clock years, instead of minutes. I know what you’re thinking; why would you want to roll back time in such a large amount? For me it’s all about a simpler time of life. You know, where you cooked stuff on the stove, hung clothes out on the line and where your windows were open and the screen door had the “hook” you put through the “eye” to lock it. Remember when cars were less technical and you actually had to put out an effort to roll the window down? And shopping carts would be the one receiving damage if they rolled into your fender in the parking lot. Wait, that didn’t happen because someone from the store would carry your groceries out to your car for you, and shopping carts didn’t have to be corralled. Good times.

Back in those days you had one radio station and it was AM, while at night you could pick up stations from all over the place. It took a long time for someone to come up with the idea to play records in your car – and when they did they called them compact discs. The only vinyl you had in the car was your seats. Picture a hot day, windows rolled up, and your car in the grocery store’s parking lot –  you come out with the store manager carrying your groceries while you unlock one door at a time with the “other” key (not the ignition key) and then you unlock the trunk. The heat would roll out of the car while he loaded the groceries in the back, and then you slide in…literally. The sweat between you and the seat acted like a lubricant to help you in and out. Turn on the air conditioning? If you had it. Even if you had it, we were so unfamiliar with it, you might even leave it off because you believed it used to much gas, or something crazy like that. You knew when someone just got out of their car in the summertime by the sweat-soaked shirt in the shape of the car seat on their back. So sweat we did.

How about someone coming out and pumping your gas and checking your oil while you waited? Sitting in the car as a kid and watching the service station attendant washing your windshield was cool but I was more concerned how driving over a black rubber hose could possibly ring a bell inside the gas station. Oh, technology in those days…

But I don’t have a problem with that at all. We rode our bicycles, got a suntan and waved when someone drove by. As the dust billowed up behind their car and followed them into town, we breathed it in all the while that dirt stuck to us in places even we didn’t know dust could go. We wiped our forehead on our shirtsleeve when it needed it, and we didn’t care what was left behind – and neither did anyone else – because their sleeve looked the same. When did we become so self-conscious? Maybe air conditioning is to blame.

We have so many more things to worry about than we did back then. We do more now in the same amount of daylight as we had back then, so how do we get it all done? We ask ourselves “where does the time go?” when in reality we are just too busy to see time flying by. Yes, I’m sure there are things from the “good old days” that we don’t miss at all, but I challenge you to name a few. Well, vinyl seats might be one.

Anticipation

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I for one, ride a motorcycle to get away from it all. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Get on our motorcycle and ride, forgetting the emails, phone calls and whatever else is making all that noise in our ears and distracting us from our sanity. Too much really is too much. I can remember a time when I left my phone at home and lived to connect another day – that’s because the phone was mounted to the wall in the kitchen. If we missed a phone call they would call back – if it was really that important. Today we walk from room to room carrying our mobile device with us, (you know, just in case) when we used to stand or sit next to the phone in the kitchen while we talked to our neighbor. Most of our messages came in the mail box with a stamp on it, not instantly of course, but in 3-5 days. Now, in a world of instant communication, if our little black ball and chain we carry around with us isn’t vibrating or beeping every minute on the minute we immediately think no one cares anymore.

We have become so used to immediate information and constant connection, that we’ve forgotten about anticipation. As quick as instant stimulation comes along, we move on to the next without absorbing what just happened, almost to the point of losing it’s shock value. Good news or bad, as soon as we digest it, it’s gone and it’s on to the next tasty morsel of information. Whatever happened to waiting on a letter from a dear friend, or your next issue of Motorcyclist Magazine to come in the mail? Shouldn’t it be here already? Where is it? Don’t they care anymore? Of course they do. That’s called anticipation. I can’t remember the last time I had a phantom vibration from my mailbox out by the street.

Riding motorcycles gives us an opportunity to escape this high-tech jungle if only for a little while. I’ve seen it too many times though, as a rider pulls up to park his or her bike, the same routine will follow; pull up and stop, drop the kick stand, shut off the motor, pull the helmet off and then check their phone for any missed calls, texts or updated statuses. Really? I’m guilty and so are you. In my early years of motorcycling, we just left the house and if the phone rang off the wall we wouldn’t know it. There was actually a time when I didn’t have an answering machine! If the phone rings in the kitchen and nobody’s home, how would you know? You didn’t! Did time slow down and the world stop spinning because of it? Here is a simple test: How far will you ride back to your house if you forget your mobile device? 5 miles? 10 miles? The answer here is you won’t have to double back because not many would forget it in the first place. It’s that important to us and if by chance, and I mean a slight chance, you forget it you will ride 5 miles back home to retrieve in the kitchen where you left it. Hold on here, isn’t that where the phone was mounted to the wall when I was a kid?

I’m not beyond technology. I find the convenience of a mobile phone a great tool to have for any motorcyclist, and it gives a great sense of security while I’m out riding – but I also realize when I’m riding it can become a distraction from the whole reason I’m out here anyway. On my last trip to Sturgis, my phone went dead on day three and I was okay with that. Sure, I charged it up when I got the chance, but it didn’t seem that important by then. In fact, it was kind of nice not having to worry about missing anything of importance. Who am I kidding – I couldn’t take any pictures, send any humorous text messages or find out when everyone was meeting at the Knuckle Saloon. Time had slowed to a crawl and the world as I knew it was standing still, but I made it.

Given the world we live in now, it’s important to go with the flow, and it’s all about the balance of getting lost – but not too lost – on our motorcycles.

Motorcycle Crossing

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I love riding this time of year. Early fall, cool in the mornings, and perfect when you ride home. This morning’s ride to work was just that. I had my leather jacket on, knowing that at 49 degrees on the ride in, it would not be needed this afternoon on the way home. About six miles from home the road drops into a valley where the small community of Skiddy resides, and of course where the temperature drops what seems to be about 10 degrees. It’s also a known hangout for deer. You cross two bridges over the same creek with trees lining the banks, so I guess from a deer’s perspective it makes a great place to jump from the ditches and scare us folks on motorcycles.

Every day you swing a leg over the seat of a motorcycle, you take a chance. There isn’t a day goes by that a car doesn’t pull out in front of me without the driver looking my way – it’s going to happen, so I fully expect it. Deer on the other hand, have an element of surprise that humans posses but rarely use. Deer usually come to work semi-camouflaged to their surroundings, aren’t going to have a cell phone up to their head and they do their best work anywhere but in an intersection. Humans are usually confined to pavement and as long as your head is on a swivel, they are predictable.

This morning as the sun was coming up but yet to crest the horizon, I dropped into the valley crossing the first bridge. After the bridge there is a gradual curve to the left that can be taken without slowing down and this morning wasn’t going to be any different. Once I was committed into the curve, out of the corner of my good eye I realized a doe was ignoring the Motorcycle Crossing sign. She was stepping up onto the road from the ditch to my left wearing a stunning brown fur coat (like I said, the temperature feels about 10 degrees cooler when you drop down through Skiddy, so a coat was expected). Traveling at about 50 miles per hour and well into to the curve, I had only a split-second to react to the situation as it presented itself. My history with deer indicates an unpredictable jump out of the ditch onto the road or they are already standing there, statuesque, on the road staring directly into my headlight. This doe was just casually stepping onto the road as if waiting on a school bus, and as I rounded the curve our eyes met – hers big and brown, mine wide open. Her head moved, following me and watching to see what I was going to do next, mine doing the same thing, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Had I reached out with my left hand I felt like I could have touched her, but I’m sure she was a littler further away than that. Too close for me either way.

I accept the risk of riding motorcycles, and in a split-second this situation could have gone from a close call to call an ambulance. Remaining composed, I didn’t slow down or panic, but rather accepted whatever decision this deer was going to make. It’s amazing how fast you can think when faced with a situation involving many different factors, hoping for the best, and the only control you have is your own actions. I don’t know what the doe was thinking, but I’m sure she was just as surprised as I was.

Just like that it was over with. It all ended well and I made it to work without a scratch. As a daily occurrence, a car pulled off the exit ramp of I-70, didn’t stop at the stop sign or look my way – barely a close call but I knew it was going to happen so there were no surprises. At least the deer saw me.

Dropping Anchor in San Diego Bay

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If there is one thing I truly enjoy, it would be meeting new people. Recently while flying to San Diego California for a motorcycle dealer show (my first trip to California), I sat next to a gentleman who, quite obviously was traveling for business as well, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. In my line of work, business casual is just that – minus the business. Blue jeans, tennis shoes and a work shirt are sufficient and from the untrained eye it would appear I was just an average guy on a plane. Who am I kidding, I’m just average no matter how you dress me. As the flight took off from DFW we sat mostly silent in our seats. During the first few minutes of the flight we could over-hear two random passengers talking about airplanes, their history, books they’ve read and some museums they both have been to. What luck, I thought, that two guys from different corners of this country could find each other and have so much in common and be seated that close for the next couple of hours. I made the comment “sounds like they were made for each other” and my friend next to me said “yes, and it is very interesting to listen to.” I agreed, and now the ice was broken and our own conversation took off.

 And as we talked, I realized that we too, are from different corners of this country and in some random strategy that only the airlines can come up with, placed us right next to each other. He is from Atlanta and just recently moved there with his work. I am from a small town in Kansas with the apparent boat anchor tied to my ankle.

We talked about the usual – where are you headed, what do you do and where are you from – mixed with some smaller details of family, life and business. And as we talked, I realized that we too, are from different corners of this country and in some random strategy that only the airlines can come up with, placed us right next to each other. He is from Atlanta and just recently moved there with his work. I am from a small town in Kansas with the apparent boat anchor tied to my ankle. He oversees a national sales force with about 140 employees selling medical devices and I sell motorcycles to those who I hope will never need such medical devices. A common thread being my daughter Kelly has had the Harrington rods placed in her back from Scoliosis. He asked how, after all these years, she was doing with them, and I thought back to the days of when she was going through that. He talked of the challenges he has with his line of work, and I could fully relate.

As most conversations do, it turned to politics and family, social media and the likes, and how this world is changing right before our eyes. He spoke of his ten-year old son, Jackson, who has a great relationship with his grandmother, wants to have a little more responsibility at home, and how his two children and wife are why he does what he does. Losing time with family at home to travel to a meeting in San Diego is a sacrifice, but right now it’s what he needs to do. Work hard, and enjoy the moments you have when you get home. Originally from Texas, he said that having family nearby was great, and they still get there once a month or so to visit. I, on the other hand, have my folks right down the street and most of my family is close enough that it really isn’t that big of a deal.

A lot in common? Sure. Different? Not in a bad way. For a couple of hours I had a great conversation with someone who I could relate to. So often we sit and not say a word, when the individual sitting right next to us is so much like us, or better yet, so different from us that it will be interesting either way. The plane landed and we shook hands. I wished him well and safe travels as I would any of my closest friends, and he was gone. I would like to think in this great big world, that I left an impression on him. We often move about our day and don’t realize the impact we might have on someone, and he had an impact on me. I learned something about the business he is in and I would like to think he got off the plane and thought the same about me. I wonder if he noticed the mark around my ankle where the boat anchor used to be.

Big News in a Small Town

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It doesn’t take much to be considered big news in Small Town America. A house being built, new bleachers at the football field or a sidewalk that has been replaced with fresh concrete can top the list, and often do. Growing up in White City puts you on the side of being pro-active because for many years, if you didn’t have what you needed from the grocery store before 6pm, you just did without. If your car needed gas, you had to get it before the gas station closed, or wait until the morning when it opened. No, we didn’t roll the streets up at dark, unless it was dark at 6 o’clock.

But times do change and before you know it, the modern world creeps into these small, sleepy towns. I can remember the excitement when the Central National Bank expanded to include a drive-up window. I know, the hustle and bustle of the downtown area of White City can be daunting, but the convenience of the drive -up was welcomed. A few years later, the bank added an ATM machine in the lobby to make convenience more convenient but you had to get out of your car to use it. I don’t think the community could have handled the excitement of the drive-up ATM.

Our newspaper, The Prairie Post  (of The White City Register), used to print the actual paper the old-fashioned way. Big machines with lots of moving parts and loud noises with presses that weren’t good for anything but printing the good and bad news of the week,  and they worked hard to put out the Thursday paper. Real ink and no spell-check made for a wonderful paper that when you read it on Thursday, most of the news had already circulated around town. But it is great to read the paper and see your name in it on occasion. With computers finally making it into what is now the Prairie Post, the paper became a more streamlined operation. Still once a week, but now it’s only the quiet sound the keyboard makes as the news is entered in. And the phone ringing of course as news is breaking.

When the gas station updated their pumps to take your credit card day or night, I went up the very first day (after 6pm) just to try it out. Now that’s pretty convenient. But I think most of the locals still like to go in during business hours to hear the latest news and have a cup of coffee. After all, the paper won’t be out for a few more days. Most of the White City community works out-of-town and as you would expect, we have seen the ATM and pay-at-the-pump before, but when it changes the landscape of White City, it’s like we’re seeing it for the first time.

Change is good and there isn’t anything wrong with a little convenience. But I still find myself in a small state of panic as my internal clock strikes 5:45 pm. Milk, bread, gas and cash? Check.