Boy, do I love fast things. I have a big love affair with those monstrous, powerful American cars of the late '60's and early '70's -- the Barracuda, the GTO, the Camaro and Corvette, the Nova and Malibu; the Mustang Mach I and Shelby. Similarly, I adore a good rollercoaster and also pounding at a full gallop on whatever horse I can get my hands on. I really want to learn to fly a helicopter, maybe airplanes too, though they seem little scarier. I understand helicopters are actually quite a bit more dangerous, but what the hell; it's all in my perception, right? I'm the one who's gonna be flying the thing. If I think airplanes are more dangerous, do you really want me up there flying one?
Now, you'd think I'd be a big fan of motorcycles. They embody all the delightful qualities of speed and escapism and brute sexiness of Shelbys, helicopters and horses all put together. And it's true, I hear a Ducati racing up the street from 3 blocks away and freeze, poised with ear and eye aimed in the direction of the gravelly rumble, awaiting the thrill which arrives and passes with the machine. Big, stupid machine. Mindless beast. Yes indeedy.
But I don't have a motorcycle and never wanted one. I really don't think I have the attention span for one. But here's the thing. I don't have a rollercoaster either, and I still get to ride them.
A number of my friends and acquaintances have motorcycles, and I am their willing backseat Bitch. I've been racing down the hill over by Sutro Baths on my friend Robert's Ducati. I've flown down the rolling, curving country roads back off the 280, hanging on to the tiny, leather-clad body of my friend Angela, who leant into the bike, the wind, the imminent stretch of road so deeply that I almost couldn't reach her from the back seat. But most of the time I'm just toolin' from here to there with my friend Gina, on her Honda Ascot. It's a nice bike, especially for a nice girl like Gina: not too big, not too small, plenty powerful but not seething with testosterone. And it's a pretty color to boot. She rides it everywhere, and she takes me with her.
We seldom go very fast, but there have been a few occasions where I've still gotten that euphoric feeling of freedom that a motorcycle affords... we were riding home from the zoo Saturday, and took a wrong turn heading up to the cliff over the beach at Fort Funston; we ended up heading up highway 1 by accident. We curved down an onramp, and suddenly the hills and dreary suburbs parted to an incredible display of the pearlescent blue, white foam-specked ocean... spread out before us and slightly below us. The sun was over the horizon, getting close to setting. It was breathtaking, so unexpected like that; and then you realize you can feel the wind all around you, and there's nothing between you and the world rushing past you. Suddenly life feels bigger and faster and closer than ever. I had to smile and hug Gina, laughing at the beautiful ocean as we slowed to turn around... and then it was back behind us, disappearing behind the hill again.
I also remember the first time Gina and I took the bike on the freeway together. The freeway is so wide, and the cars are so near you, suddenly 75 seems so impossibly fast. Any sudden move feels liable to drag me to the ground, rolling and flipping down the freeway as fast as a taxicab, the cars all stampeding me into a sad little stain on the asphalt. But at night, when there aren't other cars around and it's quiet except for your own engine, it's so different and peaceful. We were riding back from our friend Greg's house in Berkeley, coming over the Bay Bridge late at night. San Francisco's sparkling city skyine over the edge of the shiny water is always an exceptionally beautiful sight; and the bridge is draped in fairy lights, down each curved cable and back up to the next tower, between the City and Treasure Island. Sparkly lights abound.
Motoring down the center lane of the empty bridge, I'm gripping Gina and contemplating my wind-chilled ankles, zoning out like you do when you're not driving. Exiting the tunnel onto the San Francisco side of the bridge, with its hulking towers, suddenly it feels soaring and awesome, out in the open with nothing between me and the bridge. Motor growling, we approach and pass under tower after tower on our way into the city... and with each one, I stretch my neck up to look all the way up the tower. I lean back, still watching, as its massive concrete passes over us jutting into the sky, taller than a cathedral, more airy and delicate than a skyscraper, just seeming to hang there over me as we fly under. Amazing. Though I always open the sunroof in my car when I drive over either of the bridges, it's still not the same having all that material buffering the evanescent space between me and the bridge.
I guess I have motorcyle passengering in my early-developed psyche... see, my dad used to take me for rides on his motorcycle when I was about five. Down in the golden grassy summertime hills of Agoura, he would say, "wrap your arms aound my waist and clasp your hands together. Now keep them clasped!" And off we'd go. I can't believe my Mom let us do it.
Rolling, sheep-strewn hills (nowadays strewn with tract homes) ahead, nothing all around, Dad securely settled in my arms where he should be. I hardly even remember my Mom from those days; my world was my Dad, the bike, the hot summer wind making my eyes water.
And now, my memories of San Francisco will be studded with scenes of soaring city vistas, the ocean, the steam rising from gritty manhole covered streets... all seen from the back seat of Gina's motorcycle with her warm back against me, laughing together at stoplights.