–Things are slick on Texas Street. __Song Lyric
Along about dusk, the courtyard began to generate a lot of noisy activity. Those are two highly relative terms. An apartment building with a gregarious group of tenants and several motorcycles can produce noise almost on cue. Likewise, the “courtyard” in this case consisted of two hundred square feet of concrete flanked by the building on one side and the neighbor’s fence on the other. Still, this sounded even a little more boisterous than usual–as if one of our group had received an inheritance or won a mud wrestling title and the whole building had emptied out to celebrate.
It turned out the turnout centered on one of the motorcycles, a little Kawasaki KZ 200 that usually sat idly beside the fence. Kay owned the bike but did not know how to ride it. Her boyfriend, Greg, had gotten it running, and various fellows were taking turns playing on the little machine. Tom took it around the block, then Dan.
“Do you want to try it, Fred?”
Did I? “I’m not sure,” I replied, shortly returning to my bedroom to think it over. My total hands-on motorcycle experience amounted to less than two hours of practice on my brother in law’s 360 something-or-other on a dirt road in Montana with no witnesses, several years earlier. This effort would involve at least half a dozen witnesses who knew how to ride and hard city street asphalt if I missed. No boots–didn’t own any at the time–and no gloves or helmet. No motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license, and no insurance on the bike.
Which meant, naturally, I couldn’t refuse.
The Motorcycle Part watched as Ray–who happened to be the bike’s original owner–took his turn, followed by Greg riding double with Kay to give her a bit of guidance. Kay seemed less than enthused; she told us the bike was for sale as of now.
Then Greg showed me how the controls worked, started the bike’s engine, and gave me a few last minute tips. Thoroughly unsure of myself, I managed a couple of trips around the block with only one horrifying scare from a passing police car. Two days later, I found myself at the age of forty-one the proud owner of my first motorcycle.
My walking-to-work days were over.
“Zee” told me its name that night as soon as I entered into my usual contemplation. Seated on the floor in the bedroom, back to the wall, I utilized one of the spiritual exercises of Eck, intending to either see or hear the motorcycle’s true name. I opened my eyes with no real recall of the Sound or Light of the Sugmad but with a simple, direct knowingness: Its name was Zee.
Only much later did I hear Wah Z, also known as Sri Harold Klemp, the Mahanta, the Living Eck Master, mention in a talk that in the inner worlds he is called simply “Z.” Thus every time I called on Zee the motorcycle, I also called on Z the Mahanta. Naturally, neither Zee nor Z ever failed me. In fact, Zee embodied the ideal in a “first” motorcycle: Quick, reliable, and light enough to be held up by brute force during those early mistakes in starting, stopping, and turning–especially low speed turns. In addition, its 70 mpg fuel economy allowed a hundred miles on the speedometer within a two dollar gasoline budget. Having had to walk to work for two months, I now found myself in Kawasaki Heaven.
Of course, we first had to learn to ride together.
El Cajon Boulevard runs from east to west through San Diego, California, a great asphalt serpent bisecting the city, its tail resting a bit north of Balboa Park and its head pointing toward the town of El Cajon. El Cajon: The Box, or more precisely, The Coffin, named after the box canyon in which the ranch and later the town took up residence. It is said one can find anything on the Boulevard, and truly there is diversity. Pornography or family theaters, prostitutes or bargain furniture, sedate modern banks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, motorcycle dealers or, no doubt, drug dealers.
El Cajon carries magic in its memory. On this Boulevard in late 1984, two different Eck Masters appeared to me, one on a bus and one in a rental referral office, giving encouragement in a trying time. On this Boulevard, too, sits the bank teller machine that frees many of us from the tyranny of banker’s hours and extra ID to cash checks. I like the Boulevard and live within a few blocks of its hustling sprawl. Zee and I can select no other street for our first real test together.
Early on Saturday morning, the two of us wend our uncertain way into the not yet horrific traffic flow, seeking a dealership with a tire to fit Zee’s rear wheel. The rubber now meeting the road is balder than Telly Savalas and Marvelous Marvin Hagler rolled into one, and this machine must daily traverse steep and treacherous Texas Street Hill.
The experience is unnerving. Tense, unable to be sure exactly what to do from point to point, I move the bike slowly. Angry motorists honk or switch into the other lane and bomb on by. They wear scowls of irritation like badges of honor. There is a motorcyclist in the way, Martha! A motorcyclist!! At stops, the cycle wants to go the wrong direction or lie down, a balky dude horse knowing its rider doesn’t have enough stock savvy to prevent its lazy, perverse action. Time and again, a last minute wheel turn or foot thrown firmly against the pavement is all that prevents utter disaster. I can only hope there are few witnesses and that the patrolman who just went by has his mind on a Big Breakfast at McDonald’s rather than meeting his quota by writing up an unlicensed motorcyclist possessing no protective gear, amenities, or skills required to be safe on the street.
An hour later, back at the apartment, I am relieved and exhilarated. We have gone somewhere and survived. There is new rubber on the rear. (The bike’s rear, not mine.) Next will come Texas Street Hill; after that, the world.
As it turns out, the Hill is not a terrible problem; by Monday morning, I have developed enough skill to safely negotiate the be-ready-to-stop, downhill-all-the-way run and the hard left onto Camino Del Rio South. A week later, confidence at nearly cowboy level, I take Zee outside of San Diego for the first time, riding to the big swap meet at Spring Valley and glorying in the rural view from the top of the hill.
For fifty dollars worth of gas, Zee and I could, given time and inclination, cross the length or width of the United States. I am free.
The swap meet yields a battered old helmet for a dollar, a crash lid in need of paint and TLC, its bubble face shield so yellowed as to render a rider nearly blind but with great acoustics. A song lyric sung gently rolls back to the singer’s ear as though he were in a professional sound studio with earphones on. Inside the helmet, I am in my own world, safe from motorcycle-hating cars, jobs, bosses, and nonexistent personal relations. Once I should in exulatation, forgetting the face shield is down, and nearly break an eardrum.
A few dollars worth of paint and a new face shield later suffice to upgrade vision and image at the sacrifice of acoustics; new bubble shields prove impossible to find. The paint job is a real joy, hand worked with a blue background, snow capped mountains, and gold script announcing, TUZA. Tuza is an Eck word for Soul. Seven coats of clear plastic protect the artwork; at last I ride with pride. Another swap meet yields a pair of steel toed boots, but the leather gloves–working ranch style, the same buckskin type used to grip bull ropes in the arena some twenty years earlier–come from a local convenience store. A friend donates a fabric shopping bag labeled BIG SHOPPER, and a pair of bungee cords convert this to a pack strapped safely on the cycle, eliminating the red backpack that acts at a sail at highway speeds, trying to convert the motorcycle to a hang glider with wheels.
Throughout the shank of the summer, Zee runs me here and there and everywhere. We go together to Drowsy Maggie’s Folk Café to perform twenty minutes of music one night, encouraged by friend and flautist Lori Bell. One week, we even undertake the bone-rattling hundred mile jaunt up I-5 to the city of Orange, just south of Los Angeles, on business for the company. Zee’s valves rattle and clank on arrival, overheated bones threatening to blow up and leave me stranded for running up the highway at such high speeds for so long. It is then that I learn the little bike really isn’t happy above fifty miles per hour, though it always cools off and straightens out its motor parts if given the chance. Hot, it will not idle and must be kept running by holding the throttle open to two thousand rpm or more at stop signs.
Yet it will always restart quickly, and I learn to adjust.
August. Company picnic. We search the Mission Bay area, confounded by the directions given in the office the day before. Finally spotting a friendly looking fellow with a motorcycle helmet, I abandon all worry about my own employer and join the motorcycle safety group for their organizational picnic. This meeting cannot be chance–none of them are–and the following day is spent learning low speed maneuvers and safety techniques in an Intermediate Level class north of San Diego. My skill level jumps immeasurably, and those eight hours stay with me to save me from serious injury more than once.
As soon as the skill level increases, carelessness sets in. During the following two months, I lay the bike over three times, all at extremely low speed. The first time, parking in the narrow confines next to the apartment building and carrying groceries at the same time, my tired mind spaces off and stupidly watches the front wheel turn as if by itself, bumping the twelve inch wall of brick bordering the little area filled with landscaping plants. Over we go, my right ankle pinned between bike and brick. Unable to bring my left leg over for lifting leverage without increasing the pressure on the right ankle, I am rescued by a neighbor, a young Marine who sees my plight and rushes from his dwelling to pick Zee’s moderate weight from my heavily embarrassed body.
The second time occurs at the intersection of Cherokee and Mountainview. A yard sale across the street distracts me, and I fail to notice an oncoming car until the last possible moment. Braking quickly to a stop, I carelessly turn the front wheel…and whip the bike down on its right side. This time, at least, I’ve paid enough attention to get the downside leg clear; there is no damage except to my ego and the worry bump on the concerned motorist who dashes over to inquire, “Are you all right?”
One more time. After a day’s work followed by a mind numbing ride to Carlsbad to see a talented chiropractor and spiritual healer, I park the bike and put down the kickstand. The bike leans over to the kickstand…and keeps on going. In my road-hypnotized state, the kick to kick the kickstand had missed. Left leg clear, the right one comes down atop the sizzling muffler and trashes a nice pair of tan polyester double knit slacks. A favorite pair, of course; such is the way of material attachments.
That seems enough. The Law of Threes has made its mark. From now on, we’ll keep the shiny side up, thank you very much. My healer lovingly reminds me that, as a bit of an airhead, I must concentrate and “have it all there” if I’m going to toodle around on two wheels. How right she be.
All during this period of happy motorcycling, I am keenly aware that once again, as Soul, I have set up these circumstances. For years, coming out of Montana and other states possessing equally inclement weather for eight or nine months of every year, I had told people,
“I’ve been careful not to learn to ride a motorcycle, because if I did I’m afraid I’d get addicted, and this is no place to try riding a motorcycle year around.”
Now, of course, living in an ideal motorcycle climate, I have arranged to be at the right place at the right time to have to buy and ride a motorcycle as the only logical choice. I am an actor handling a role and handling it well, the role of Soul Rebuilds Its Material Universe, Learning to Ride Motorcycle in Process. I am doing so well, there is talk of a nomination for a Cosmic Emmy. Vanity is kept in line mostly by reminders that the Cosmic Emmy sometimes has a longer name: Cosmic Emmy (for) Star Struck Portrayals Of Old Longings. CESSPOOL, if you’re into acronyms.
One week in September, the ultimate test arrives. Rain. Bikers have told horror stories about such a light machine in the rain. Memories of handling a variety of personal feet, four footed animals, and four wheeled machines on Montana ice and snow and summery rain-slick red gumbo roads; all these add color to the images. I am less than thrilled to see rain pouring down outside the office windows for most of one afternoon. Mother Nature is still inundating San Diego with the first real moisture of the fall season when Zee and I cautiously head for Texas Street Hill, using every bit of acquired skill and road surface awareness available. Wouldn’t you know, a song decides to come through at about the same time the downpour penetrates my jacket; I find myself skating a lightweight motorcycle on rain-greasy streets while simultaneously composing music inside my helmet.
Ducking between the raindrops on the streets of San Diego
Riding a 200 cc Kawasaki
An oil slick at the right turn from Camino Del Rio South to go uphill on Texas Street was unbelievably slippery. My booted foot wouldn’t even hold still on it. Normally, this turn dictated a power start when traffic permitted, a jet assisted takeoff to gain enough speed and rpms for the battle up the grade. Not today. Absolutely not today.
Things are slick on Texas Street; the downhill lane is blocking
Someone else applied the brakes too freely
Things felt better though steadily wetter at the top of Texas, and I felt considerable gratitude that the big sedan had fishtailed into the guardrail in the other lane.
First rain of the autumn time, and now in California
All the drivers seem to need reminding
Adams Avenue was busy, but the main problem now seemed to be holding a straight line while hydroplaning without getting too close to the car ahead, leaving enough room to stop in event of an emergency. Like a stoplight, or the end of the street, or an early spring.
Mix a bit of water with a summer’s worth of oil
And watch the rate of accidents go climbing
Home, finally home. Get out of the wet clothes and into some dry jeans. Grab the guitar and get this down, get this song finished before it gets away, a power tune fueled with the joy of accomplishment and the knowingness that even Texas Street Hill could be negotiated in watery times.
The only thing that’s keeping me from falling on the pavement
Is forty years of testing out my limits
From saddle broncs to semi trucks to two hard months of walking
I’d just as soon this little bike stayed with it
Memory of that turn from Texas onto Madison surged strongly; the words came easily.
We move about as easy as a marble on linoleum
Giving lots of room to all the traffic
Can’t afford a small cremation, let alone a great mausoleum
Balance is the word to be specific
Ha! How many song lyrics does one hear with words like cremation, linoleum, and mausoleum in them? I remembered the lifesaving training given that day in eight hours of hands-on practice and instruction and wrapped up the song.
Easy on the brakes and clutch and watch those curves a-coming
This is one day we won’t lean into them
They tell me this bike’s way too small for San Diego’s winter
But it’s paid off and that keeps up my courage
Just then a commotion broke out. The couple next door, close neighbors and good friends, were getting their voice levels up to Serious Discussion volume, hammering out one difference or another. I liked those two a lot and immediately worked their decibel level into the closing lyrics.
Hey, we made it home, and that is good but for one thing disturbing
Before I gloat and nuzzle up my ego
It’s still a-coming down out there and neighbors are a-yelling
And I forgot to gas my little go-go
Less than a month later, a car purchase sidelined Zee once again, parked semi-permanently in the same spot it had occupied while Kay figured out what to do with it. Later, it moved into a garage until sometime in the winter, at which point it seemed right to sell the little machine. Though it remained in better condition than the worn Pinto serving as its replacement, the new lady in my life was not a big motorcycle fan and its insurance had lapsed. True, the new tire remained new, having had a mere two thousand miles put on it hard little casing. It still started every time and ran a hundred miles for two dollars or less in fuel. I loved it, but it had another mission. I ran an ad and shined the durable machine until its chrome gleamed and called to passersby:
Look at me! I am really somethin’!
The ad brought more potential buyers than we knew how to handle, caller after caller fielded on the answering machine…but most of them called too late. A working mother and her teenaged son arrived the first evening, the boy loving the bike on sight as I had. Not only that, he already knew how to ride a little and had his license–light years ahead of where the forty-two-year-old selling the cycle had been a few short months earlier. He tried it out, then looked at his mother pleadingly.
“You’ll have to ask him,” she advised.
Nervous, he cleared his throat, finally got it out. “Would you take $300?”
I understood. Boy, how I understood. I had listed the bike at $395 or best offer, though I had paid slightly more than that for it. When I’m on the buying side, it isn’t easy for me to bargain with sellers, especially for something highly desired at the moment. As a seller, however, the $300 didn’t bother me that much; I merely hesitated long enough to confirm with my inner radar that it was okay, that these people really were the right buyers for Zee.
The youngster’s mother explained. “It’s not that we don’t think it’s worth what you’re asking. We just don’t have that much; $300 is all we’ve got. In fact, his grandmother had to write us a check to come up to that, and I’ve put in some money I was going to use elsewhere.”
I believed her. “That’s fine. We’ve got a sale at $300.”
“We do?” The teenager’s expression was priceless.
Paperwork done, I watched as Zee left the alley for the last time, heading to a new home and a new mission in life somewhere to the northeast. It is written in the Eck works that Soul often starts its physical world training by entering a body in the mineral state until it is ready to move up to another level and eventually to the human state of consciousness, then on into the heart of Sugmad, always another step to take, always unfolding. On the other hand, machines and animals are still in the world consciousness for the most part, having yet to lift into the God Worlds of Eck and realize their own true natures in full. For some, this is a slow, tedious process requiring millions of years and countless lifetimes.
For a steady and faithful companion like Zee, I suspect the process is quickened.
For our readers who may not recognize terms like Eck, Mahanta, the Living Eck Master, or Sugmad, the definitions can be found in A Glossary of Eck Terms at Eckankar.org.