A song on the radio mentioned a motorcycle and it reminded me of something in a galaxy far away.
In 2004, I went on a slam poetry tour of the west coast. My friend Ezekiel went, too; he went to protect me (Ezekiel Brown is an imposing fellow with a heart of gold) and he filmed the whole thing, too, all the way from Portland down to L.A. That there is footage of this adventure makes me wistful, curious, and horrified all at the same time, which is an interesting emotional experience. I’ve been out of the slam scene for so long, I’m not sure if folks are still doing tours like these, but in the early aughts, it was a hot thing to do. They weren’t lucrative; you ended up spending money, not making it, because travel cost a lot and you’d only make a couple hundred bucks at the gigs, if that. But what fun, what fun.
Ezekiel and I were in San Francisco. I had done my set at a slam and it must’ve gone well because we were in a celebratory mood. We went to a bar on the Haight. I was a tender twenty-four. Can you believe it? I’m sure I was wearing ripped jeans and an army jacket, talking about originality, spirituality, and all the other alities twenty-somethings talk about with zero authority and fiery conviction.
Then he walked in.
You could put a book of Alan Ginsburg poems to my neck and I wouldn’t be able to tell you his name but I remember exactly what he was wearing: leather motorcycle gear, top to bottom. Not Harley Davidson motorcycle, but like, drag racing motorcycle stuff. Motocross, is it? I don’t know, but he was the sexiest thing I had ever seen in my entire life. Tousled sandy hair. Two-day beard scruff. He looked like freakin’ ad for Gucci cologne, all sleepy grin and swagger. Sex, okay? He looked like sex.
“Ezekiel!” I hissed. “Good jumping Jehoshaphat…! That man is beautiful.” (Pretty sure “jumpin’ Jehoshaphat” were not the words I used at that moment.) Ezekiel looked at me. I was not a strumpet; there was something different happened, something crazed in my eye. “I dare you to go talk to him,” Ezekiel said. “Double dog dare.” I watched the man sit at the bar and melted into a pool of butter. After the rest of my pilsner and Ezekiel’s goading, I did go talk to him.
I marched right up to that fellow and lord knows what I said, but I did something right, because before too long, we were having a pleasant conversation. I would steal glances back at Ezekiel with huge eyeballs and point to the guy and be like, “Can you?? Are you??? Holy Haight Ashbury!!!” Motocross Guy was nice. He wasn’t terribly smart, but at twenty-four, neither was I; really, we were perfectly matched.
The night passed into the hour where decisions are made. Motocross Guy asked me did I want to come to his place for a drink. Yep. Let’s do it. I checked in with Ezekiel, who was summarily impressed that I had just successfully picked up someone at a bar. (I’ll have you know this was the one and only time in my life I have done this, not only because I can say I’m battin’ 1000, but also because I doubt I top this experience, ever.)
We walked outside. “Here,” he said, handing me his motorcycle helmet. “Put this on.” It had not occurred to me that a man in full motorcycle gear was dressed that way because he had arrived on a motorcycle. But there his bike was, beautiful, parked right there in front. The machine was pure testosterone. Slick, fast, hot — kinda like him. He got on the bike and told me to get on and hold onto him. Before I could take a breath, we peeled out of the parking spot and sped into the San Francisco night.
Not all cities are beautiful, but San Francisco is a jewel. If you’ve ever been to there, you know it is a city of hills. Those hills mean village lights shine from shelves below and above you; the Bay is endless and the Golden Gate watches over all the good citizens. We flew. We climbed up and up, then fast down, zipping around corners and zagging the switchbacks. It was a good thing I was behind the fellow and wearing a helmet because my mouth was hanging open the whole time.
“More! More!!” I shouted. “Can we ride a little longer? Show me more!”
I had never been on a motorcycle in my life, not because I hadn’t had the opportunity. One of my and my family’s dearest friends, Jeremiah, had died in a motorcycle accident at twenty-four. I was twenty at the time, in college, when that had happened. Taking this ride wasn’t just fun and risky, it was a terrifying leap into the life I missed so terribly. It didn’t make sense. It was a stupid, dangerous idea — and one I couldn’t have resisted for anything and still cannot explain.
We got to his place. The evening ran its course. In the morning, I rubbed my eyes and I saw the ketchup packets and the stale Chinese takeout on his kitchen table. These sorts of interactions are not what they’re cracked up to be, you realize, due to the eternal fact that morning follows evening. He offered to take me down to where Ezekiel and I were staying, which was gentlemanly of him. I was so happy I could ride on the back of the bike again, I don’t think I drank the orange juice he gave me.
On the way back, he was showing off and got stopped by a cop for speeding. It was one of the most awkward moments in my life and it might still make his list, too: I hopped off the bike as the policeman came up. Getting a ticket takes time. It was getting late in the day. I didn’t even know this person’s last name; he didn’t know mine. We had no connection to each other, really. I said, “Um, well… Hm. I think… I think the train is over there?” Motocross Guy was like, “Oh… Yeah. Yeah, you don’t have to stick around for this… Um… Well, that was great. I’ll… I’ll see you around.”
He got his license out for the cop and I bought a train ticket and there you go.