Monday, June 22, 2015

Dirty Pretty Things: Part Two

The car had been tailing me for about five miles.
But then... maybe not? Maybe they were just as lost as I was?
As I pulled into the parking lot, denial gave way to baffled confirmation and began to cascade into full blown defensive hostility as the nondescript black car pulled in behind me and effectively blocked any point of egress.
"What the fuck?!" were the first words out of my mouth, directed at the fat, neck-bearded young man wearing the sleeveless tshirt and jeans, who walked toward me silently, making aggressive eye contact. It was meant to intimidate. But I wasn't intimidated. I was just confounded. And pissed.
He flashed a badge.
"Sheriff's Department. Mind if I ask what you're doing in Bentonville?"
What I'm doing in....?
"Sir...I wanted to talk to you because you left center back there."
Left center....?
The next words out of my mouth were.... "You're fucking shitting me."
I looked at the two un-uniformed officers, one clean cut and fit... one disheveled and fat. Good cop and bad cop. And as they were profiling me, I profiled them. The kind of men for whom homosexuality is the crime of the century... but rape is a way of life.
When the fat cop asked me for the second time what I was doing in town... I took stock.
I had a choice to make.

Dirty Kanza was over. And it was time to head home.
But... I didn't want to head home. I wanted to turn west and drive. I wanted to plunge through prairie until it gave way to jagged rocks. I wanted to wake up in the Badlands with a warm wind rippling the grass like a swell, and watch the ancient eroded hills catch the first rays of the sun. I wanted to descend through Kaibab Limestone and Hermit Shale and touch my fingertips to the Great Unconformity again. I wanted to plunge into the convergence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. I wanted to wander the Vermillion cliffs. Place my cheek against the alternately tight and broad strata of the Wave. I wanted to sit in the minimal shade of a Pueblo ruin, my back resting against a crumbling stone wall in Chaco. I wanted to lay on the trail at Dead Horse Point and look up at the stars. Where I'd lain with a girl and done the same thing many years ago. Where we talked about what would happen when we got home...and she told me it would never work... breaking my heart while she squeezed my hand and stifled my protests with a kiss.

It's probably about a girl.
(The one above it is about me.)

LOVE WILL RUIN YOUR MIND: an interlude of unprecedented emo
When was the last time someone gave you a piece of themselves? And what did you do with it?
When was the last time you gave a piece of yourself to someone? And what did they do with it?
Did they hold it gently... and promise to protect it? Or did they tear it to pieces? Crush it?
Was it sudden? A painful rending. Or was it a slow oppression? Pressed with stones, one after the other... like a witch... until that piece expired.

And if you had the chance... would you give it to them again?
And if given the chance... would you accept that piece of them again? And treat it differently? Not fail in your promises.

One time, in what seems like another life, I loved a girl from.......
I loved her so much that I put my life on hold for her. When she stopped loving me...when she didn't say it, but her actions spoke what her words did hurt so much that when everything was finally over...after I had driven the final nails in the coffin... I was so used to that pain that I barely felt it.
One time, I was loved by a girl from.....
The impossibility of where we were in our lives made us crazy. When my own crazy caused me to distance myself the only way I knew how... driving a wedge of someone else between us...I woke up to life-changing chaos.
One time... I loved a girl from.......
I never told her. But I loved her. Very much. I tried to shrug and smile when she blew me off. Pretend like the sting of her indifference was just an itch. But it wasn't.
And one time, I loved a girl from.......
So much... that I would have undone myself a million times over for a chance at a life with her. So much...that when she had nothing to say to me...after everything we'd done and said... I broke into so many pieces that I often wonder if I will ever go back together right.

I regret nothing. But those cracks... those pieces...fuck.

I used to have this idea...that the cracks healed stronger. Like calcified bone.
But the heart is tissue. And tissue just scars. And my scars... my many scars...The ones on my legs... on my head... on my arms... my forearms... on my heart...
They itch. They throb. They crack. And sometimes... they bleed.

Wishing... and thinking... and feeling... will always make you bleed. But I'll always do it. Because I know no other way to be.

Some people... feel things more acutely than others. The screens through which we filter this world... this existence... they're thinner. Fundamentally different.
Call it what you will. ("Crybaby shit," right?) I don't mind. It's just... what it is.
Sometimes, yes, I wish my filters were like yours. I wish that I could smile casually and calmly about a beautiful sky... instead of fighting tears....digging my nails painfully into the palm of my hand to try and stay grounded...keep my shit together. Because, I mean... who does that? I wish that I didn't see ghosts... and was able to move through this life without wading through a million divergent reflections of you and me. All of them smiling and sobbing and screaming. Because who else sees them?
And sometimes I wish... that I just didn't fall in love. That I was able to keep that distance and hold on to that piece of me...instead of giving it away.
But most times... I'm thankful. And I'll never stop doing it.

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should be thankful for those people who rekindle our spirit."
                                                                                                      -Albert Schweitzer

I'm thankful. Even when that flame threatens to consume.

As I left Emporia, intending to go to Kansas City to visit an old friend, a moment of distraction coupled with a head a million miles away put me on the Kansas Turnpike heading West instead of East. Taking in the beauty of the Flint Hills, and finally getting the sun and sky and horizon that I'd been seeking, I thought long and hard. Maybe this is right. It was certainly what I wanted, but maybe it was also what I should do. I could dip into Oklahoma, visit Prairie Brewing. Try to find Biker Foxx. Stand in the Center of the Universe. Feel the gravity of nearby stars. And head on to Palo Duro. Wake up flanked by red rock walls. Keep going....

I live... in a place I never expected or wanted. Moving there for the love of a girl...which was fleeting. And staying there for the love of my life... which is forever. That being my son, Milo.

We share joint custody, and while I've resisted digging in anything more than shallow roots, my ex has anchored herself. And split as our time is, I have no intention of ever leaving that boy's side. So I'm here. It's not a bad place. It's a safe and comfortable suburban neighborhood, sprawling across three cities. Round and soft. Bereft of extremes. Sometimes the clouds form peaks at sunset, and I pretend it's a mountain range that I can get lost in.  For me...this place... it's la salle d'attante. The waiting room. And while I often lament both my time here, and raising Milo here... because I think there's a stunting oppression to a safe and comfortable suburbia....I never resent it.
But the fact is that all the decent places to eat and drink and spend money that you can fill a town with never resonate at the same level as river or rocks.
So we get out. And so I get out. Because I have to. And because I want to. And because I need to.
I only get this fucking chance once... and I just can't let it be.
Getting out to Kanza was about not letting that punk chance be. On a number of levels.

Despite that westward pull... I ultimately turned around and made my way east to Kansas City. I was going to visit my friend John, who I'd last seen what felt like a lifetime ago. I wasn't wrong. Not really, at least. I hadn't seen him since my wedding, over 12 years ago. Same lifetime... but another life.
We'd grown up together, wandering the woods behind our houses with sticks as swords. Wading through creeks and hunting two-headed snakes. Staying up too late talking about girls and trying to process this life.
It had been too long.
I'm pretty sure he was wearing that shirt for me. 

I arrived at John's house in time to watch an episode of cops go down across the street. Four cops facing down a schizophrenic man. Guns pulled for no reason that I could see. We left, mid-drama, to find some food and beer, and catch up. I liked Kansas City. It wasn't what I expected... which was everything I hoped for on this trip. Finding things that defied my expectations.
We stayed up too late and drank entirely too much. Talked long into the night about all the things. Girls, life, music, and Space Giants. See... I had been nigh obsessed with this show called Space Giants when I was little. It's about the usual stuff: Robot-humanoids that live under a volcano and turn into jets and fight monsters. My memory of it was so... golden. Like one of the primary characters.... Goldar. My memory of Goldar was that he was chiseled and striking, with long blonde hair and a piercing gaze.
I was kind of right... about the hair, at least. But I have a better idea of how fallible memory is after googling him.

I...have no words.
That said... Spectreman is still just as amazeballs as it was when I was a kid.

There are reasons I am the way I am.

The next morning we struggled a bit... and my issues began. My stomach issues, at least. I hoped it was rich food and a hangover. There was a nagging doubt, but I tried to be optimistic. After saying goodbye to John, Jen and Harper, I set out for breakfast and to visit Volker Bicycles. I'd never met Britton, but a little more than a year ago I'd started to see traffic on Revolting Cogs from "bkusiak." My turd of blog had been added to a stranger's blogroll. As I was now less than a mile away.. it seemed absurd not to go.

Sadly, I didn't get to connect with Britton, and my plans to descend upon the 8 Lumens boyz like a plague were looking less and less viable. Because.....
I had this nagging fear about my stomach. Eight hours later, I was pretty convinced. I had a fever and was fighting chills. And had needed to stop and destroy at least five gas station bathrooms in the course of a few hours.

I'm pretty sure I remember the moment I got the giardia. I had just finished the second section of unrideable mud. At the end was a right turn onto a hill covered in coarse, rocky gravel. Which just made the peanut butter go from chunky to "extra chunky." I spotted a massive puddle to the left of the road and tossed the bike in, submerging it almost completely. It worked. I took off up the hill with a bike five pounds lighter than before.
I reached down and grabbed a bottle. Without thinking, I squirted the contents into my mouth. Swallowed.
"Wait..." I thought. "Was this open? Fuck, that's probably not good."
I sprayed the rest of the contents on my front wheel to clear out more mud and hoped I was wrong.
I wasn't.

When I pulled into Bentonville, Arkansas I was starting to feel a little better. But not much. That lasted all of about one minute.

I'd pulled into this stupid fucking town because of my hesitation to drive west and my inability to drive east. Going due south instead. That and the recommendation of my friend Cori. Good shop and amazing riding, she'd said. A stellar art museum. Excellent food. As I'd never really spent any time in Arkansas, I was intrigued. I'd dated a girl from there long ago. Had a brief dalliance with her sister. Kissed them both the same night. But otherwise, I had no connection to Arkansas at all.
A big part of this entire trip was seeking out hidden gems. Amazing and beautiful people and things hidden in mundane places.
In Bentonville... I didn't unearth a gem. I found fucking coprolite. (cop-rolite. Get it? It works on a few different levels. Google it.)

At least it was beautiful.

When the other two cruisers pulled up and I had five cops salivating over me and my van, I made my choice. I changed my tact. There was going to be no facing down five, fat, hungry, prejudiced cops with reason or talk of rights. Especially when there had been no legitimate reason to pull me over. I suppose it's possible that I might have left center. But the thing is... I hadn't. And I knew it. What I HAD done was drive slowly through downtown, see my destination and realize I'd missed the parking lot. Turn onto a random neighborhood road to loop back. Have a out of state licence plate. And drive a vanagon. They probably thought they had made their quota for the year.
So... I turned up the charm. Because I can do that, you know. I do have my charms. But not only that... I have the privilege of being able to turn up the charm. Had I been anything other than a white male... everything would have gone very differently. To pretend or claim otherwise belies an ignorance and level of dipshittedness so deep that if you're reading this and disagree...on any level... please do me a favor and fuck off.
In the aftermath, people have told me multiple times that I did not need to submit to an illegal search. That I could have exercised my rights and not consented. But it wasn't like that. Because there was never a choice. While two cops kept me distracted with questions, another approached my vehicle with a dog.
I saw it happen.
I could have stepped in at that point. Protested the search. But that would have been a fight. And when was the last time someone won a fight against five cops?

Here's the thing.... I don't trust cops. Sorry. I don't. Especially not in a situation like this. It's not that I dislike them, because there are some absolutely solid individuals out there. And I try to avoid any kind of blanket prejudice at all costs, regardless of the institution. But... well... I dislike what they represent about our society... how they often conduct themselves. But more than that....I just do not fucking trust them. In the same way I don't trust a politician.... or any other flawed, failing human who thinks they have a good handle on what society needs, or what's right or wrong... and (this is the important part) who has the authority to make being wrong their right... and not yours.

Did you know that MDC and the Dicks played at the shop once.... my dreams?

So instead of fighting them. I just watched.
Because I had nothing to hide. There was nothing in my van. Unless they put it there. Which I considered a distinct possibility.

The next part is a little confusing. I watched the cop instruct the dog on where to look, tapping parts of my van, pointing and talking. The dog sat and looked at him.
"Sir." one of the officers approached me." Do you have anything in the van?"
"Absofuckinglutely not."
"Well... the dog sat. He smells something."
"Huh. It looked to me like he sat because you told him to," I said. And then..."I have nothing in that van, officer... but I do want to understand this situation. You're telling me that your dog sat down because he actually smelled something in my van... presumably drugs. Is that right?"
He explained that he's a "passive drug dog" and that they sit when they smell something. Then the other cops crawled inside my van and started tearing it apart. There was no, "do you mind if we search your vehicle?" They just did it.

Once again, I could have protested. But I was already on their bad side, for whatever bullshit reason... my hippy van, my faggot bikes, my "ain't from here" strangeness... And I knew that things would go further south very quickly if I fought with them about this. As it was, the only way it could go south was if they decided to fuck me, because there was nothing in that van.
Hence the charm. I got friendly. Chatty even. I told them about the 200 mile race I had just finished in Kansas (truth) and that I was a professional racer (lie). That I'd heard good things about the town and figured I'm come check it out. That I'd pulled into this parking lot so that I could grab some food and go check out Phat Tire Bike Shop. I gave them just enough "you're fucking shitting me" lip that they knew I wasn't scared... but kept it at a "aww man, you guys are bustin' my balls over here!" level. Instead of the "FUCK YOU!" that kept making my fists clench.
Because I could. Because I had that privilege, while others do not. And I honestly don't even know where to start with everything wrong with that.
It worked. And eventually and unceremoniously... they left me alone. They never found any drugs. And I'd apologized humbly for my nonexistent "leaving of center."
One cop said, "Well... have a nice visit. We really do have a nice place here."
"I really don't care at this point." I laughed bitterly. "I just want out of this town."
But instead of leaving, I walked to the bar next to Phat Tire and had a drink. Sat on the patio and watched redneck kids speed up and down the strip and not get harassed by the cops. Because they were the cops.

I spent too long sitting and pondering. Looking at the blue sky, listening to the pretty girls sitting next to me. Thinking about what had just happened. And figuring out what I was doing next.
My stomach wasn't right... but I wasn't a crippled mess. Just... messy. All the symptoms of giardia still churning away and occasionally making me sprint for a bathroom or the side of the road.
With a lump in my throat, I turned east and started driving...occasionally stopping and staring out at the hills.
I decided to make my way to Eureka Springs and find somewhere to camp for the night. I ended up at Lake Leatherwood. I parked by the lake, watched racoons wander around, and drank beer.
The next morning I packed close to a roll of toilet paper into my jersey pockets (just in case) and started riding. It took a while to find the right trails, but once I did... I rode for close to four hours. Looping back and forth, all directions. Until I was pleasantly destroyed. Arkansas.. you may suck. But your trails don't.

Just a turtle eating a baby bird. It's a metaphor for Arkansas.

I cleaned up and rolled to Berryville for some lunch, wandering into a small taco place. "Hola Gringo!" the fiery woman behind the counter greeted me. "Que pasa?"
She brought me a plate of puposa, which was exactly what I needed... even if my stomach didn't know it. By this point, I was fine. By all outward appearances. I was a little weak. But I could keep it together for at least an hour without having to run to the bathroom. It's just that when I did... it was bad. Like.... bad. But I didn't want that to stop me. This was my fucking trip... my punk chance. There was no way I was compromising it for some fucking flagellate in my gut.

If you are passing through Berryville, go here. Just do it.

That night I pulled into Land Between the Lakes sometime after the sun had gone down. I found a spot, drank beer in the van, read The Great Gatsby. And passed out to the sound of cicadas.
The next morning, made my coffee... basked in early sun... pulled on my clothes and went in search of singletrack. I found it... and it was good.
I rode the Canal Loop both directions. It was fun and fast. Then I headed south a ways on the North South Trail, which provided more topography and views, and was a little more what I was looking for. I had a hard time stopping, but eventually turned around and made my way back to the van. Swimming in the lake to clean off.

At the trailhead, I met this fellow, who was on day two of his own cross-country odyssey. I gave him all the intel I could. ("Stay out of Arkansas") Made a few recommendations regarding his set-up and wished him the best.
I had stopped at Land Between the Lakes on my own tour over a decade ago and was totes jelz of everything he had to look forward to heading west. 
My last stop before pressing home was Halcyon Bike Shop in Nasheville. I'd met Andrew and Nick and Stephanie multiple times at various events, but never had the pleasure of seeing their shop.
It was...amazing. There are certain shops out there that embody the indy, DIY ethic of what I feel is everything right about the independent bike shop. Halcyon should, by considered fucking aristocracy.

Take notes.

I reluctantly bid Halcyon adieu and drove home, arriving sometime after midnight. As much as I didn't want to stop. It was time. Whoever else I was missing...I missed my boy. And I wanted to be by his side.

HOLD ON TO YOUR HEART: an epilogue
As much as I wallow in sentiment, I'm vexed by platitudes. And as much as I engage in it, I'm vexed by mundane oversimplifications of what we do and maudlin ramblings on why we do it. Because rarely does someone really say what I'm feeling. Myself included. And waxing philosophical about the whys of pushing ourselves are seldom as poetic as we think, and always as galling we don't. We're not as smart as we think we are. Bottom line. The abstractions we use to understand the world and ourselves are insufficient at best, and the way in which most of us engage those abstractions are always deeply flawed. Thus our nonsensical gods and rituals. Existential truths buried in mountains of literal rubble. Hard, concrete little epiphanies that contradict and corroborate. Oppose and affirm.
A giant pile of gravel. And gravel... is fucking stupid.
But what it means to ride it... is not.
When the pavement ends and you cross that threshold... you're accepting the risk and reward of seeing where that road goes. It might end badly. It might take you somewhere amazing. Both, probably. The same goes for the trail that snakes up out of view.
And me... I've always had an obsession with finding out where those roads and trails go. It's why people are wary of riding with me. Because we might come back hours later than intended... with double the miles we'd set out for.
The thing about turning down that gravel road or onto a trail you hadn't intended to explore is... You just have to do it a little more... and talk about it a little less.
Most of the gravel roads in my neck of the woods are disappearing. An initiative to pave them being passed down by the powers that be. So my days aren't spent riding them. A 100 mile ride will yield 10 miles of gravel roads, unless you're making a concerted effort to be ridiculous about it.

I went to Kanza because I wanted to find some things. Gravel wasn't one of them. Because it's just fucking gravel. But the places I went on those 200 miles...and the places I went getting there...and the places I went on the way back. Physically, mentally, emotionally. That's why I was there.

I'll apologize for the mess of my life for the rest of my life (forever)... but I'll never stop going to those places.
Neither should you.

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