Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This Land Is Your Land

A few years back I took a much needed sabbatical. Great word.....sabbatical. Could mean anything. This was a two month solo cross country trip. One of the best times I've ever had. Kind of a "Travels With Charlie" meets "Easy Rider" thing. Left NJ just before Halloween, stopped in my old college town of El Paso, Texas, visited some relatives in Phoenix, Arizona for a few weeks...... up and down the California coast...... back to AZ by way of Vegas........ met my future ex wife there for a trip to the Grand Canyon...she flew home and I drove back to Jersey...... with a stop in PA to visit the future ex in laws. Not nearly enough space in blogdom to relate all the adventures. But this trip had a kind of spirituality to it........as if my "guardian angel" came along for the ride. For instance, on the trip from Phoenix to San Diego ( Death Valley is aptly named) my brakes were wearing out. Finally made it to the coast and screeched into one of those seaside motels. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a sign proclaiming "Brake World." Actually it proclaimed "Dlrow ekarB", but some pads and fluid and I was on my way the next afternoon.
I wound up in San Francisco and toyed with the idea of continuing up to Alaska but the line had to be drawn somewhere. Just last year did a ride from Eureka to San Fran following a twenty six mile marathon with a friend through the redwoods. (Another story for another day.) Did the Haight Ashbury/Grateful Dead run, but a stop I had to make on the way back down the coast was the Ken Kesey/Merry Pranksters house in La Honda. I refer you to "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test." It was just a few miles off the beaten path and damned if rainbows weren't comin' out the windows. Did a tour of the Hearst Castle in San Simeon......that guy had way too much cash.......rode an earthquake in Morro Beach, talked life with a couple of hookers in Vegas (didn't partake), saw "The Flamingos" at a small bar in The Sands, and back to Arizona for a while. I think I'll have to save the Grand Canyon with the future ex wife for another day. That was a mystical trip. She just got remarried last weekend and I still consider her one of my best friends.
A cool sidebar to the trip home was a stop at Meteor Crater in AZ. D'ja ever hear of this place? Way off the beaten path. And a big hole to boot. You have to walk through the Meteor Crater gift shop to get to the main attraction. But well worth the trip. A little bit of the moon right here on earth. And....they tell me....it could happen again.
Sabbaticals? I recommend them. And roaming around this country isn't a bad way to kill a few days, a week, month. It's a big place and everyone, at some time, should see it. As Woody said,"This land was made for you and me.'

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's Like Ridin' A Bike

As mentioned in a blog gone by, I learned to ride a two wheeler at age three...or there abouts. Anybody I could grab to give me a push, I would. I have a distinct memory of my brother pushing me up Monroe Ave in Plainfield, and I guess I was getting cocky, 'cause when I turned to look back he was a block away waving at me. Of course, I immediately fell. But I was resilient and determined and ride I did....like the very wind !!!! I had lots of adventures on bikes. I hadn't thought of some of my bikes until this very moment. What a flashback. We used to play this hide and seek type game.... in teams..... and on bikes..... called Ring O Lerio. One team would get about twenty minutes take off time and then the chase was on. The way you knocked one of them out of the game was to smack their tire with your tire....in mid chase. A dicey proposition. Riding the hills in Greenbrook Park was exciting.....especially Suicide Hill. You had to actually cross a road in mid hill with no time to look for anything. If my mother only knew. A new guy moved into the neighborhood and on his first trip down the "hill" we forgot to tell him about the huge root on one of the bends. Maybe the hardest I ever saw anyone go down on a two wheeler. Got a lot of mileage out of that story.
A friend of mine had a paper route in my next town and I'd go along sometimes riding on the handlebars. He'd go screaming down this hill and make the turn just missing the far curb. We'd both be screaming the whole way. Manly screams, of course. Two on a bike took a little practice. The handlebars, the crossbar or the rear fender were your choices. Or one on the seat and one standing and pedalling. My least favorite way. Another friend of mine had a bike with no seat and no brakes. Ouch !!! These were the days when bikes had individualities about them. Before the "English Racer" or"ten speed." But man, I could still fly pretty good on mine. One day I was cruisin' down Rivercrest Dr and here he comes...this big old nasty German Shepherd ripping across the lawn after me. Well I wan't too concerned. I knew he was tied up.... but....what?......not today!!!!!! He was off the lawn, into the street and the chase was on. Adrenaline's a wonderful thing, isn't it? He was gaining till he was about four or five feet behind me, then it was an endurance contest. Neck and neck for about a block, then he started slipping away. Feets don't slip now. Made it.
I used to have an apartment in Somerville, NJ right over a drug store at the corner of Main and Bridge Sts. Not exceptionally interesting, except on Memorial Day. The Kugler Memorial Day bike race.....or whatever it was called ...would happen. One of the biggest races in the country, right through town, and I was on the main corner!!!!!! Man, I was popular that weekend. Now that's ridin'.......and crashin'. Nothin' like the sound of a hundred and fifty bikes going by you at thirty mph. 40?...50?....I don't know. But fast.
I have a mountain/all terrain bike now, mainly for cruising the trails of Hunterdon County for nothing more than fun and exercise. The flatter the terrain, the better. Every now and then, though, I'll get off the beaten path and be a kid again for awhile. I love that feeling when you finally jump off and your legs feel like rubber. You manage the cool dismount and then almost collapse. Ahhh, well. When you're a kid your bike is like...well....it's like a guy's horse was in the old west. Your best friend. Your mode of transport. Your ticket to adventure, romance, "here to there." You could tell a lot about a person by the kind of bike they rode. The generics of the bike of today, I fear, have taken that away. Climbing aboard one is so familiar to everyone it's got its own signature. "It's like ridin a bike!!!!" Well.... I don't know, man........nothin's quite like ridin' a bike.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

All You Need Is Love

Where would movies, songs, books, art, etc be without the theme of love? Where would we as human beings be without love, or the promise of it? It'd be a sad, much less interesting life, wouldn't it? I had two girlfriends in kindergarten. They didn't know they were my girlfriends but that hardly mattered. I'll leave out their last names but Susan was the bombshell and Kathy was the cute, but really cool one. I learned an important lesson that year. Cool, sweet, nice, sincere, funny will win out over hotness in the long run. Goodbye Susan.
My first real girlfriend happened in the eighth grade. And wouldn't you know she lived in the same neighborhood from where I'd just moved? Dang!!!!! I met her on my first gig. I was thirteen and playing guitar with "The Esquires" at my friend's basement bash. How we were gonna get through the night on three songs was a mystery but it didn't matter. The guitar worked!!! I would commute from Piscataway to Plainfield by bike a couple of days a week.......about an hour and a half ride...and live for Sats. Guitar lesson in the morning, wandering around downtown Plainfield, then meeting Debbie for some serious movie time. The Strand Theater had a great balcony in 1966. I saw Goldfinger four or five times and still can't tell you why that woman (Ursula Andress?) had to get painted to death. Getting home was always an adventure. My mom would drop me off at the lesson and then I was on my own. My ties were slowly moving from Plainfield to Piscataway. And meeting Debbie was only locking me back in.
Turns out....get this....she was also a guitar player.....and could smoke me on my best day!!! But she had a secret. She was already in a cool band with gigs and, for the time, great equipment.
I never could figure out why she didn't tell me. Maybe it was the tail end of that women shouldn't be as talented as men thing. Weird. We'd do most of our communicating by phone during the week and I should have known something was up when I played "Day Tripper" for her and she played it back to me smoother, faster and....right. I realized later when we'd play together, she'd play down to my level.....to not embarass me?....I don't know. She never did come clean. I had to find out from her mother!!!! When I walked past her bedroom and saw this great amplifier she said it was her cousin's and looked really nervous explaining it...and.....I BELIEVED HER!!!!
Debbie and I eventually went our separate ways and I settled into new friends, bands, school and...... new girlfriends. There is nothing like the feeling of a new infatuation......learning all about someone...the way your heart does a flip when you see them coming. Anything beyond that is gravy. No wonder songs, poems , operas, paintings have been dedicated to this nutty emotion. Love. It's as good as it gets, man. Countries have been lost, wars have been fought, murders have been committed..... Mick Jagger, Mother Theresa and Leonardo DaVinci have been brought into this world.....because of it. My kindergarten pals taught me to look beyond the facade and into the person. Not easy, being a human male, and I've fallen into the trap more than once. But sooner or later the cream always rises to the surface.
I will always believe in the fabulous institution of love......from "All You Need Is Love" to " Love Stinks." I've never cried.....or laughed....so hard because of it. I've embraced it, cursed it, celebrated it, regretted it....and searched for it. Once again I have to quote the poets of my generation. "And in the end....the love you take...is equal to the love....you make." Well said, lads.