Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It’s was the kind of place of motel where drug murders happen.
But despite being overly Plasticene and vintagely decayed, the Breezewood Motel in central-southern Pennsylvania had all that I needed: a relatively clean sheet, a lockable door, a TV that basically worked. The bare fluorescent light bulbs sticking out of the walls gave it a certain sense of speed-freak panache, but for 35 crumpled bucks cash you couldn‘t complain. Never mind the 1950’s FBI Formica window-work, the unsettling dark patches on the carpet, nor the lack of any curtain blocking the view of your bathroom activities’ to the pawn shop out back. It had one clean towel and two washcloths, a solid mattress without much of an almond/bedbug odor, and the Hindu manager assured me with Brahmanic gusto that my motorcycle would remain perfectly safe, as long as I kept squarely in front of the office door.

Ahh.. My first base camp!


I’d left New York in a blazing rush and a terrible tangle… moving all my worldly goods out of Crazy Dave’s mold-saturated lake bungalow within two frantic and breathless days The tortured dog howled incessantly at all the whirring activity despite Dave’s throwing pitchers of cold water on the poor beast and rigid commands for it to STOP THIS GOD-DAMN INSTANT UNLESS YOU WANT TO GO TO FUCKING JAIL. (yes, that’s a quote).

I took one last look around the bare room where I’d spent the past four years dodging the effervescent schizophrenia drooling in through the black-mold walls. Goodbye Goodbye…. I was sort of sad to leave the Lake but overjoyed to be angling away from all the mental gymnastics.
 An hour later I was up on the bike, rolling out of my mother’s driveway, my riding clothes bathed in a slick skin of sweat. But the bike was by then neatly packed and well-oiled, the motor sounding healthy thanks in part to a last-minute carb synch by Joel the day before. We’d luckily discovered a small oil leak at the alternator; amazingly, he had an extra o-ring to fit.

I quickly exited town, heading out onto the Palisades northbound and, well, it’s only natural to have some reservations at a point like that…

But I was resolute, and was elated to feel the smooth, fat torque that the motor was then making, after the interminably long rebuild process that had cost so much in time, money and effort. Roll On, Columbia!….and I pointed her bow West over old Rte 6.
 Pennsylvania is gigantic and beautiful…once you get clear of the eastern side of it, anyway. It’s a very big state, compared to what New Yorkers commonly think about. Out west it’s endless with dark green mysterious mountain valleys and high-crested river ridges. Passing through all this empty territory brought out the woolly Mountain Man in me and made me want to stop and screw all the Germanic Blondie females I could get my filthy paws on… but the first day out was long and taxing. Since I’m not riding a sport bike and not some big cushy touring rig, I have to accept there will be certain aches and pains. Pain in the right wrist, cramps in my thighs…worst of all, a totally locked-up neck on a day-to-day basis.

But it’s all part of the Fun, as they say, and though sometimes very wearisome, it’s still a blast.

One of my first “rest stops” was Scranton and I thought I was making great time until I looked carefully at my map of PA and saggingly realized how far I still had to go to reach the Ohio border by the first night. I’d gotten a late start that day and hadn’t gained my “road rhythm” yet. It was getting near dark and I was beat-tired by the time I reached Breezewood; achy and nervous.. Thinking too much and getting sort of delirious. Deep in the Alleghenny Mountains, the weather was now quite cool and damp, with low scuddy clouds hanging over the hilltops. I’d almost taken the wrong route, heading at first towards Rte 80 and taking the central run, until I checked a larger scale map and realized that I had to go much farther south if I wanted to head towards Columbus rather than Cleveland. 80 would have taken me waay north of the route I wanted, and I swung southwards near Altoona.

After planting my gear at the blood-spattered Breezewood Motel, the cheapest in town, (some tidy librarian lady over at the Quality Motel up the street wanted 99 bucks). I washed my face and went out looking for a bite and a beer., finding some chain joint called “Bob Evans” or some damn thing.. Ribs and a salad; not bad, but pure American Coporo. You get a computerized check. The white-bread waiter looked both ways when I asked him if there was any bar in town.

“Well,” he says like he might get in trouble, “you could go over into Russell. There’s LOTS of bars there! It’s just a short way down the state road”.

“Just a little way” turned out to be about twelve miles through the pitch black, chilly Pennsylvania mountain region. I finally found ‘Russell‘, and despite my man’s description it only looked to have two small Podunk bars and a pizza joint. R-U-R-A-L. Some local kids hanging out on a corner with a ratty GSXR recommended “the Rainbow Bar”, just up the hill. Yeah… so I roll up there, past a local cop who gives me the long eyeball, and here’s this Billy-Joe-Bob brick building with a Yuengling neon out front. Four cars parked. What the hell, how bad can it be..

Bad enough.

Inside it was small and dim. Chewed-up padding in the edge of the bar and the stool wobbled badly as I sat down. The entire bar stopped as I entered. In the next room locals were shooting pool and listening to some sort of thrash music. Many signs behind the bar reminded patrons about the looming penalties for any sort of intoxication anywhere in Pennsylvania… here, on the road, in a public place, at yer mama’s house.

Sitting one seat away were two heavily tattooed gents in their early Thirties sporting baseball caps, heavy metal t-shirts, and Fu Manchu mustaches. I smiled in a cheerful, manly way at them as I sat down but all I got back was a perfunctory nod. We don’t know you.

“Going to the biker rally?” the diminutive bartendress asked, appearing suddenly.

“ahh, no… just here for a drink” I joked evenly, trying to quash any signs of a New Yawk Tourist Accent.
“How about a bottle of Bud and a shot of Jim Beam there?”
It was a long day, and I was thirsty… but well mindful that I had to run all the way back into Breezewood afterwards.
Bud and a shot: $4.50. Ya can’t beat that… and in the few days I’ve been off the eastern seaboard, all is CHEAP out here in Middle America. Probably because they don’t have any money anymore. I’d say on average so far, cost of living seems about 15% cheaper from what I can see. Oh how we get ripped-off to live in Urban-Land.

SO. After two beers it was clear that:
1) not much of interest was happening at the Rainbow Bar, and,
2) the two moustache metal-head brothers weren’t looking any friendlier.

I figured it was time to saddle-up. Dropped a small tip when the bartender wasn’t looking and headed quickly back over to Breezewood for the night.

In the morning I got a Grand Slam breakfast at the nearby Denny’s… I have recently discovered that Middle America has been acquired by the Corporations… everything is now Roy Rogers, Outback, Howard Johnson’s, Hooter‘s, Lowe‘s, Chili‘s, Walmart… and everyone seems to love it. The places are all packed. Good luck trying to find anything resembling a mom & pop luncheonette or a real country store within ten miles of any interstate.

Just getting out of PA was a chore…seemed endless. The weather was dry and very hot, once I rolled past the famous Alleghenny tunnels and onto the flats… straight ahead of me: nothing but rolling flatness until I reach the Rockies.

The bike was buzzing along pretty well. Traffic was moving increasingly faster, and I was averaging about 80. You might understand that I was listening ravenously to every single noise and vibration I could hear (or imagine), as NOW was the Acid Test for my rebuild operation. There’s been a slight buzz around 3000 rpm, but otherwise all has been steady, and I keep training myself to relax. I was expending too much energy on every direction.

Sometime in the mid afternoon I passed through twenty miles of West Virginia and down into Ohio. The sun was baking; I had a sleeveless t-shirt on with sunscreen. Suddenly I began to feel increasingly … dizzy… tingling in the arms and face, like maybe I was going to pass out. The Mp3 music was loud in my ears above the huge roar of wind buffeting the bottom of my Arai helmet. There had been a fast 15 degree increase in temperature after coming off the Allegheny mountains, and the tension involved in maintaining a steady 85 mph in aggressive traffic around the curving highways was getting on top of me. As I became increasingly distressed, I had to veer off suddenly onto a very handy exit ramp into some nameless ‘burg. For a few moments I was actually a little frightened; wondering what was happening and if I was having a stroke or something. I pulled into a convenient store in Patalooka or somewhere… and sort of tumbled into their air conditioned shop. My hand was trembling as I paid for an apple juice; I was praying that the problem was attributed to either de-hydration or low blood sugar, and I hoped that I wouldn’t pass out directly at the counter. I slumped down heavily at an indoor Dairy Queen table; even with the AC sweat was running off my arms, I was breathing shallowly, brain in tunnel-vision mode.

I sat there quietly, and after about 20 minutes I started to feel ..a little more human, and felt the need to keep going. I drank a bottle of water and before mounting up I switched over to ear-plugs instead of Mp3 phones, took a few deep breathds and then headed back out onto Rte 70 West. This time I slowed down it to a steady 75, (letting many people pass me), and I began to relax. RE-LAX, Webb. This ain’t a RACE. Pace yourself and put it into low-energy mode.

Soon afterwards I stopped in another small town to get a big water, a pre-fab chicken sandwich and a hunk of iced banana cake. The sugar/water mixture seemed to revive me, and after hitting a little patch of rain east of Columbus, I arrived in Pickerington around dusk and dug up a Motel 6 for $42. My plan was to hit the famous American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Motorcycle Museum tomorrow.

It’s when I got settled in that I realized that I’d left my bike’s registration and insurance card home.


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