Volume 7, Issue 2: Fall 2011
The Voice Inside My Helmet: A Trilogy
As a rider, researcher and depth psychologist, I have spent many years wondering about the motivation for and meaning of the motorcycle ride. I met the Voice inside my helmet on this quest. The Voice has added a new dimension to my ride and elucidated the meaning and psychology of my journeying. My understanding of the Voice has evolved since my first awareness of this Other. In this paper I condense three encounters with the Voice, observing the deeper levels of consciousness that emerge while riding.
Joseph Campbell identified a pattern underlying human narration of the soul’s search for meaning in his classic The Hero’s Journey. This mythic journey describes the seduction, adventures and fulfillments of a hero-traveler. Drawing from his description of the constant story that we are engaged in, I understand my own hermetic-psychological road narrative as the Voice Inside My Helmet. The Voice speaks of the archetypal underpinnings of the hero’s journey while providing a balancing Other.
The balancing function of the Voice causes its narration to complement my own changes. The Voice oversees a continuum of time, from past to present, and back again, bringing those awarenesses to me. It monitors the magnitude of the journey and my progress on the path. In another moment, the Voice mitigates the insistence of my self-righteous impulses with a view of the whole that serves to confound by countering personal-psychological concerns with collective awareness.
Sometimes the Voice draws me into a dialogue of introspective truths and, at others, it reminds me to pay attention to the task at hand. The Voice keeps me on the road and reminds me of the larger saga: the mythic journey, a story unfolding in each moment. The Voice centers me in the archetypal progression, making me one with the motorcycle, road and my own story.
In Part I the reader meets the Voice as I did, and learns to appreciate its wisdom.
After the helmet law was passed in California and went into effect in 1992, I quickly collected a few head-shaped, bowling ball-like protective devices, which did nothing to make me feel safer or inspire me to wear them. They were cumbersome, unwieldy and compromised my peripheral vision. The situation was grim indeed, until I met an ingenious fabricator who produced fiberglass lids in his apartment bathtub. I was not his first customer. Without much ado, he created a new light, reasonably fashionable hat which looked like a helmet and, with the additional of a DOT facsimile sticker, avoided law enforcement scrutiny. This helmet became my cool, wearable helmet for many years. It now sits at home, as part of my motorcycle memorabilia collection.
My dermatologist convinced me that I must accept responsibility for my pale skin and, by default, my head, and so I bought a full-face contraption. The state of the art of helmets had progressed since my first foray into the world of legal helmets, a mere ten years. I selected a Shoei for no particular reason. A friend, who tests new motorcycles and writes about them for a living, wears a Shoei and looks acceptable in it, so it became my choice.
Although too hot in the summer and hard on the neck muscles in any wind, my Shoei has been a fine acquisition, creating a screen on which the passing landscape is viewed, at speed. With its cushy interior, the immediacy of the wind, grit, bugs and passing world are now muffled. What was once in my face is now something occurring, “out there.” This distancing has had a significant consequence: the world is screened on the visor of the helmet, much like a television monitor. The ride has become something I am both doing and observing. Riding has been split into the embodied experience and another that watches and describes. Hence, I have become aware of a road narrative, that of the constantly unfolding story of a traveler occurring inside my helmet.
The slight buffer from the vicissitudes of bugs, wind and the roar of the passing world has allowed the traveler’s narrative to appear earlier in the ride, sensitizing me to its archetypal underpinnings. This story is present and unfolding in every human psyche, but the unique gift of the motorcycle focuses the narrative and intensifies its unfolding. My helmet tells a traveler’s tale.
The Voice seems to have found its way to the surface of consciousness from the split between being and observing. The helmet has accentuated this split, as though the call to act and the observance of the need have been bifurcated by the plastic face shield, revealing a gap in time that opens to another level of awareness.
At first, awareness of the Voice was disquieting. Noticing myself dip into a continuous narrative, reflecting events on the road but feeling older and more enduring startled me. I had to wonder if I wasn’t losing it entirely. Perhaps one too many readings of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had had finally sent me over the edge into psychosis. It is an iffy place, but I was not willing to succumb to this diagnosis easily, so I began to listen.
The Voice can be heard soon after donning the helmet. During the transition between the urban congestion of my home and the relative freedom of the freeway which initiates the journey, the Voice vies for my attention with the usual aggression required to fend off the challenge of traffic. I have become a decisive and judgmental rider, condemning those of lesser skill, unconscious movement and poor driving. “Concerns for survival, real or imagined begin each and every journey,” the Voice echoes, as though I need a reminder.
Despite the discipline of wheeling the bike out of the garage and putting it on the road, no two rides of mine begin in the same way or in the same frame of mind. Although the beginning of the journey retraces familiar territory, each departure is different. Sometimes the ordinary enters the tale. Stopping for gas at the usual station, located on a reclaimed street in the center of Hollywood, now hosting hipsters and those who live to be cool, first reminds me that I am quickly approaching unknown territory.
As I negotiate the traffic approaching the freeway, I notice the splitting of experience: me-them, friend-foe, good drivers-bad drivers. Perhaps the peripheral awareness of my front tire slicing down the city street is dissecting experience? I will wonder about this more, later down the open road, when predator and prey have found a detente.
By the time I hit the freeway, attitude has set in. My riding skills reassert themselves, allowing the fluidity of the body to take over to negotiate the traffic, weather and teleological concerns. As I confirm my abilities, my confidence returns, the archetypal compass, orienting me toward a deeper journey, guides the way. I slip into the story easily, as its reminder blends with the demands, rewards and the scenery of the road.
The freeway, with its web-like connections titillating the traveler to venture to places unknown and known, excites the senses and emboldens the Voice. “I am on the road,” it declares. The journey is underway. The inner journey is mirrored by the passing landscape. The wilderness has become a place to explore and test my skills. Curiosity sets in as the ego-mind moves into the background and the lure of adventure harkens.
The helmet facilitates this immersion and identification in yet another way. Once I have donned my black Shoei, long ago stripped of its brand identification, I become anonymous. My face and hair cease to identify me. My sunglasses shield others from the rigor of my passing glance while shielding me from their attempts to peer into my soul. I am an anonymous rider shrouded in black. I am no longer a specific self. I am a passing traveler.
The internal story and the responsive rider have been separated, only to come together in an altered configuration with a different understanding of an ancient narrative. The person who left home is now any traveler participating in the unfolding of her own odyssey. This trip is one of participation in the archetypal road story, during which the self meets the Self in a transformative moment.
Here, on the open road, the Voice hits its stride. “I remember myself bifurcating experience,” it recalls. The front tire is the leading edge of the division: right-left, forward-back, stop-go. As I fathom this, I become aware of another plane of motion, the gyroscopic trajectory of the vectors of my body leaning into a curve. I project my shoulder into the forward motion of the bike to change the axis of a larger arc allowing me to contend and ride in another level of embodied physics. The Voice catches up, describing this movement as, “the wheel of fate,” or perhaps, a Buddhist prayer wheel. I have become its hub. Now I am in the place. Life radiates out around me and I am in a moving stasis. The story is coming from me, even as I join it. There, polarities unite, predator and prey give up the hunt and time ceases its linear progression. Leaving and arriving have revealed in their in-between, a transformative worm hole. “It is this, this place which is both destination and source,” the Voice says, confoundingly. I wonder, is this a scientific given or a deep internal state; allowing awareness to transform experience? Perhaps I cannot know. The traveler is always confronted with unknown territory and circumstance.
The continuity of being the traveler while simultaneously shifting in reaction to the road, is poetry in motion: a koan-like experience. My mind’s inability to “make sense of“ this paradox facilitates the transformative change, which is the essence and the gift of motorcycle riding. Logic has lost its hold and something more profound is occurring. “Scary but interesting business,” comments the Voice.
Now that I have reached this place within myself and on the journey, the traveler’s tale becomes one of meeting the landscape and its inhabitants. The subtle but necessary rebalancing of the wheel that is myself in response to the challenges of the road allows me to understand my place in the changing dynamic around me. My mind’s limitation and inability to find logic in the transformation allows my heart and senses to dominate experience and interpretation. I extend my senses to facilitate this new way of being.
The Voice reminds me that my mind is no longer at the center of the forces churning through me. My thoughts relax, unable to contend with the power of this awareness. Bifurcation has ceased. I am both one with and separate from the evolving scenery and the unfolding story. The bike has led me to this space like a magical steed. The Voice praises its animate character. I listen to the raspy chug of its fire-breathing heart. The story has become our story, that of a lone rider on its trusty steed.
This is when the song begins. In Wager’s epic tale The Ring Cycle, the hero Siegfried was given a magical, interruptive power after slaying a fearsome dragon. During the knockdown, drag-out battle, Siegfried was spattered with the blood of the beast, allowing him to understand bird song. This ride and my encounter with the road have allowed me, too, to find songs inside my helmet. Often the tune is culled from the recent week’s musical selections. I listen to the tune, searching the lyrics for messages about the journey. They are always there, thinly veiled. I hum the melody in the back of my throat, savoring the wisdom of the lyric.
Sometimes, I have been carrying this song for a month, sometimes just a week. The song stays with me waiting for the right moment to spring forth and announce its truth. I listen to and learn from what has been awaiting my attention. The lyric is rarely an instruction, but rather, an acknowledgement. “This is what is happening,” it confides. My soul had been holding the information until I was ready to listen and reflect. I cherish the song, allowing its resonance to move through my vocal chords and harmonize with the hum of the bike, becoming one with the undulating vibrations. In that moment, I am in harmony with myself and my story.
The Voice reminds me of my gratitude to the motorcycle-steed and its introduction to life on the road. I have met myself many times and in many ways while on the journey. I have come to understand the vagaries of fear and become adept at distinguishing physical fear from psychic fear. The profound and confusing paradox between independence and dependence has provided many chapters to my road story, while the mystery of strangers’ kindness and the brotherhood of the traveler has beguiled my heart and poet-self. The motorcycle is the ideal vehicle to facilitate this pilgrimage, with its consequent self-awareness.
The appearance and awareness of the archetypal story is not new. It has taken many guises and appeared to many travelers of consciousness. Joseph Campbell recognized the bones of the story in his delineation of the “hero’s journey.” Homer told the story in the Odyssey and more recently Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper tapped into the constantly unfolding archetypal journey in Easy Rider. What is common to all the renditions of the traveler’s tale is the call to depart and the return of a wiser greater self.
Those who are drawn to riding are called because they feel the pull of the road and are seduced by the life and story of the traveler. The solo motorcyclist is a contemporary manifestation of the archetypal traveler. In Ed Tick’s book on healing through dream, he observes,
We may identify with a mythic tradition to such a degree that we undertake a journey that replicates the mythic hero’s journey as recorded in ancient sources. . . . We go beyond association into a living identification. (39)
The rider's road unfolds, revealing unfamiliar vistas and demanding unknown or unpracticed talents of the traveler. The self is always expanded to cope with the vicissitudes and uncertainly of the road in uncharted territory. Here in unknown realms, on a familiar but foreign journey, the self meets the Self. The motorcycle is the steed of choice and in my helmet, the Voice provides the narrative, while limiting sight but enhancing vision.
In Part II the Voice takes on a personal tragedy; providing inscrutable insight and comfort. This journey is one of loss and recovery.
The Voice inside my helmet introduced itself to me several years ago. The now familiar Voice comments on the internal and external territory traversed, like a Hermetic reporter, both enlightening and grounding me. The dry-toned, slightly sardonic Voice speaks to me while I ride, as if its observations are self-evident. Its interjections can be startling, causing me to refocus my attention from introspective musings to a crisp road awareness with the frantic insistence of a safety monitor.
Other times the Voice explores barely conscious material or ponders long overdue thoughts lingering in the periphery of consciousness, waiting for a relatively uneventful stretch of road to begin its monologue. These deeper thoughts are periodically interrupted by observations about car drivers, other motorcyclists and the local scenery.
Although some of you may argue to the contrary, I am not psychotic. Rather, I understand this Voice to be an animated existential expression of “being on the bike” with the incumbent need to narrate the journey. On the oft-traveled commute between Los Angeles and Ventura, the Voice is a constant companion. The Voice emerges soon after donning my helmet. It is emboldened by my immersion into relative anonymity.
My black full face Shoei helmet turns me into a faceless rider. My identity becomes a black, leather-clad person. I become a generic motorcyclist-traveler, one who is no longer obligated to perform perfunctory social interactions. The demands of prying eyes and social niceties cease to exist. I am not required to respond to anything other than the road and the Voice. I am here to ride and survive; this is my priority.
The anonymity focuses my attention inward. I am aware of a sense that the life lived on the surface results from others’ knowing views and expectations. Now these describers of my existence cease to have relevance or clout. The inner world has expanded and the outer one has become the road. Within this rarefied environment, the Voice begins its narration and commentary.
The Voice seems to sashay from the depths of the preconsciousness to note that nearly every female driver of white mini-vans is eating while driving. “That’s Ventura County,” it comments, while I take note, nodding my head in acceptance. The Voice functions as a Hermetic messenger, bringing messages from the other side of awareness to mind and returning with the details of incarnate existence.
The coastal ride from Los Angeles to Ventura is a beautiful one, lauded in song and verse. I, however, take the inland route, passing through the backside of Malibu Canyon, Thousand Oaks, over the grade and into the strawberry fields of Camarillo and Oxnard. This journey has its landmarks without sporting the spectacular beauty of the Pacific Coast. This route is more congested, more efficient and requires better riding.
During the summer I have had to split lanes nearly the entire seventy miles of the route. The Voice keeps up with the demand, predicting bad drivers and swearing at all those who do not give way when I approach. The Voice usually tires of its aggression, when the need for precision becomes the focus of awareness. On the most congested days, the deeper layers of consciousness are rarely heard, with the exception of a grateful hallelujah, as the cool mist of Ventura enters the helmet’s air vents.
One recent year-long experience was particularly challenging for the Voice. My mother committed suicide in May of 2009. After that, the Voice was busy bridging the gap between the necessary awareness of a competent rider and a profound confusion. The Voice took my mother’s death as a challenge, a problem which could be solved with enough shuttle diplomacy between the poles of its claimed territory.
My conscious mind had come to a state of fortified acceptance, based on my mother’s endless reminders that she was in control of her life and she intended to finish herself off when she was done with this nasty business of living. Certainly her life had become a lot less glamorous and rewarding during the last few years. Physical limitations had started to rear their ugly heads, something my mother could not endure. I saw her death coming, so logically, I thought, I should accept the act.
The Voice, however, was not so easily convinced that severing a life, especially that of one’s own mother, was going to become a tolerable memory, without some careful processing. Thus, a year of the dialogue within my helmet was defined by mother’s death.
Any commute holds the possibility of digesting the day and making sense of what was, out of necessity, passed over too quickly during the motion of living. The commute between Ventura and Los Angeles is one I have always liked. It is made more desirable by the chance to digest that which I had excluded from thought during the rest of the week. I can recall vividly one particular ride following my mother’s death.
Normally, the Voice ricochets between observations of the sociological oddities that comprise the driving populous and meditations on what it is to ride, to be a motorcycle-traveler and where we are in the journey. On that day, the thoughts were replaced with the very personal questions about the Eros, which keeps us alive, and how anyone, a mother, my mother, could choose to curtail her life without apparent concern for those she left behind. I, on the other hand, am far too versed in the vicissitudes of suicide to not understand that at a certain point nothing else matters but wanting the whole mess, called life, to go away.
Oddly, I think to myself during the ride, as a psychologist, I have dedicated my life to helping people find good reasons to stay alive. The Voice mocks me: “I wonder why.”
“Yes, yes,” I mutter to myself. “We really don’t have to go much further than Mother to discover my motivation.”
“Whoa, pay attention,” the Voice comes back. “That one was surely texting.”
“I thought we had a law against that,” I reply.
“She could kill someone.”
“Humm,” I respond, hoping the Voice will not hear.
“Is splitting lanes at 60 mph suicidal, or are these drivers homicidal?” the Voice and I wonder together. The wind through the eastern end of Malibu Canyon and into Thousand Oaks can get pretty gusty. Today it is driving me into the right side of the lane, causing me to lean diagonally into the late Spring gusts.
“Better watch that strong updraft going down the grade,” the Voice reminds me. I will obey because I have learned that the Voice is nearly always right.
My helmet face shield has become a flickering TV screen; looking ahead I see familiar uneven pavement. “I know the Mafia built this road,” the Voice interjects. It is true: there is something amiss about this section of the 101, through Thousand Oaks. On the bike, it is a real kidney banger. The Voice has turned to bitching now. Perhaps looking at my own challenges to being alive is just a little bit too much or maybe it is windy enough and uneven enough to garner all my attention.
The eastern end of Malibu canyon quickly becomes the community of Westlake village, built in the rolling, golden hills of Northern Los Angeles County. It is a rich suburb, with its own man-made lake. People own large houses and drive expensive cars. Some have expensive motorcycles. I see one of the expensive choppers off to my right, on the side of the road. The owner is using his cell phone, to call for help, I presume. The Voice observes that “being pretty does not make you functional.”
Damn, I am reminded of my mother again.
When her beauty faded, she lost the will to live. “She was never very functional,” the Voice reports in an empirical way. This is something which I have always known but never admitted: she was smart, talented, beautiful but an emotional wreck. I am nearing the top of the grade, readying to drop into Ventura County. There is something immensely satisfying about moving faster than any car or truck on the road going up hill. Haunted by my mother’s vulnerability, I speed up.
Cresting the hill, I see the strawberry and broccoli fields fanned out over the flat expanse of Camarillo and Oxnard. In the distance I see the assaultive march of development. An enormous outlet mall juts into the green landscape. I have been to this miracle of capitalism. “What a depressing place,” the Voice reminds me. I liked the fields the way they were. It was such a picturesque and welcome relief from the crowds of Los Angeles. The descent off the crest can be tricky; wind is a factor as are several curves, which I cannot see around. I take the hill slowly.
“My mother hated change,” I muse. She retreated to a well-defended fantasy of a youth she never had. Over the course of her life she had managed to recreate and lovingly save many of the artifacts which should have populated her imagined youth. Now they are mine. The fragility and age of many of these objects makes them unusable.
“Well, nonfunctional,” the Voice volunteers.
“Yes,” I acknowledge. “I suppose so.”
The traffic begins to slow and act erratically as the off ramp to the outlet mall is announced by the freeway signage. The Voice is swearing as I yell into my helmet at a particularly bad driver. “The lure to consume seems to short circuit normal thought processes,” the Voice observes. Fording the on-ramp from the outlet mall, I continue on my way. The Voice has fallen silent. The Harley-Davidson dealership where I bought the bike I am riding is to my right, so I wave as I go by.
As I near my destination I begin to think about fish tacos. The gnawing feeling of seeking an answer to the challenge of my mother’s death seems a little more tolerable, just now. Physical hunger has subverted the quest. The Voice has shown me something I did not want to see. I found her in me.
It is no longer possible to change her actions or make her different, so the piece of me that is her will need to find acceptance in my being. I have to face the formidable truth that my mother is a part of me.
“Yeah, so?” the Voice volunteers, attempting to minimize my distress.
The Voice has a way of providing this balancing function. No matter what the situation or the realm of concern, from the most esoteric to the most practical, the Voice has taken on the function of the balancing Other. When I am raging, the Voice confirms my irritation and reminds me to pay attention. Today, the insistence of my questing mind is met with unavoidable truth, and my battered heart has an ally.
Perhaps it is the nature of the motorcycle itself with its gyroscopic forward motion, which creates the balancing function in my me and in my helmet. Or perhaps it is the geography of human consciousness and unconsciousness that causes the Voice to traverse the space in between the poles of my incarnate experience: I have come to think of the Voice as a friend with an occasional flash of brilliance. As the ride winds to an end, it is good to know that I am not really alone. The Voice is always there.
In Part III, the Voice flits between personal, collective and transcendent insights while I am street racing. The consequence: a disassociative episode, which is handily negotiated by the Voice.
Pacific Coast Highway is a parking lot. The hot summer weekends bring the Inland Empire to the coast to inch along the beach for a cooling drive. Some may have a destination, but for the car-bound majority the “crawl” along the beach is enough. For the motorcyclist, these weekends provide an opportunity to split lanes and practice other risky behaviors in a halting attempt to get somewhere.
I had a date to meet my fiancé at the county line. There, what was once a beach shack has become a decent fish purveyor, frequented by bikers and surfers alike. I should have predicted the gridlock, but optimistically did not. Threading through the endless traffic, my attention is divided. The Voice inside my helmet is narrating a somewhat helpful tale about the closely packed cars, comparing them to the challenge of Scylla and Charybdis. I am also, in an attempt to be polite, moving out of the way of the faster moving sport bikes who use the early afternoon walls of cars to hone their skills and show off to the trapped beachgoers.
My rearward gaze requires contending with a droopy left hand rear-view mirror. The frustration of frequently repositioning the sagging reflector, in an attempt to see the alley of steel behind me and anticipate the more rapidly moving biker traffic, adds to my growing desire to escape.
Not so long ago I took the bike to a highly recommended mechanic. The well-muscled, outlaw-wrencher listened to my complaint about the sagging mirror muttering something about “those stupid, new Harley mirrors.” He suggested I superglue the offending accessory into place. Apparently he had seen the problem before, as he had a tube of the glue sitting, ready, on his tool box. Thinking his advice sage, I did as directed. The solution worked pretty well, except for the mess on the back of the mirror and the usual loss of skin occurring whenever I use the space-age adhesive. The resulting rigid seal finally broke after I knocked the mirror in a tight parking spot. It was clearly time for me to reglue the critical piece of glass.
I heard the Voice inside my helmet early in the ride. As the traffic began to congest nearing the beach, the usual bitching and complaining began. I reminded the Voice we had left a little late, but the Voice was not buying the practical excuse. The Voice was impatient to hit the open road, which was not what we were doing. As I repositioned the sagging mirror again, the Voice wondered about my insistent need to see what was behind me. I pondered the comment, admitting to myself that I had become more interested in the images in the rear view mirrors since my mother’s death. This unsettling thought did not require a response. And besides, I didn’t want to admit to the Voice that the past and the recently passed had become a subject of intense interest for me.
The radiating heat from the steel of the cars made the slow going deadly. I charged to the front of every line of cars, eagerly waiting for the light to change to get a little wind before entering another parking lot of slowly moving cars.
“Dog!” the Voice brayed as we passed an open-windowed vehicle with a large dog watching me interestedly. Fortunately, this canine did not attempt to leap up and bite as I have had some do. Other bikes were weaving through the traffic with me, working their way to the open road and the arteries taking them up to Mulholland Highway, which winds along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains.
I take pride in my lane splitting skills; this along with the usual biker competitive, playfulness causes me to get drawn into situations that I probably should not. This day, a kid on a new Sportster, who had no lane splitting skills but pulled off the line well, was challenging my saner self. The Voice had a lot to say about the kid and his riding skills and his pretty obvious attempt to look like an outlaw. The Voice was feeding my desire to prove something and distract myself from the preoccupation with my mirrors that had become my new obsession.
We had dragged on for miles along Zuma beach. The traffic was finally starting to thin and Neptune’s Net, my destination, was only a few miles to the North. We pulled to the line, exchanged head bows and took off. The relative lack of cars and a cool breeze was thrilling after dawdling along in the reflected heat of the cars’ bodies. My head felt like it had begun to swell and even the Voice was sounding cooked. The Voice was whispering, “He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.” I passed the kid who seemed to be slowing, doing a mere 75 mph.
Compulsively, I checked my mirror to see why the kid had dropped back. The red and blue flashing lights looming large in the four-by-six square of glass, spoke for themselves.
“Well look at that,” said the Voice as my heart sunk.
“Stop your irony,” I retorted. The kid and I were busted.
A profound download of recent memory regarding other people’s traffic tickets flashed across the screen of my mind. I melted off the bike as the large, nice officer-sir took the kid on first. I sat on the curb and began to disassociate as I realized I had forgotten to load my insurance card into my summer jean jacket.
The Voice confirmed I was going down, and my mind began to focus on something other than the uncomfortable potential of the next few minutes. My gaze wandered to the white and weirdly clean cop bike. It was a new BMW, which just now fascinated me. That morning I had received a very funny e-mail from erudite friends who were attending a BMW rally in Oregon. Both the male and female were required to wear ties to get into the event. For lunch, I had been told, they were served slightly dry crepes. They had also extolled the virtues of the new BMW 1000 RR. The Voice had taken to lyrically recalling these details to distract me from the large, pock-marked-faced cop who was turning in my direction.
I found myself strangely giddy. Mentally, I was capitulating: I was guilty as charged, I had no insurance card on me and had no reasonable defense. The kid had been processed. Looking miserable, he was taking off while the cop had me all to himself.
“Where you going so fast?” he charged.
The Voice wanted to know why it mattered. I shushed the Voice, responding “Ummm, to meet my fiancé at Neptune’s.”
“I’m late,” I added.
“Let me see your license, registration and insurance card.” My heart sank again. The registration and insurance card were both in my leather jacket, which I was not wearing.
Although I had removed the helmet, the Voice was screaming at me from its hanging position on the handle bars, “You forgot your registration too?” it assaulted.
“Adversity from two fronts is unnecessary,” I murmured.
I was officially fucked; I knew that. In an attempt to counter the self reproach—it had been a unduly warm, summer, Saturday afternoon just a few minutes earlier—I began to babble about my latest news from the BMW rally.
The fearsome officer was entering my incomplete information on his computer and watching me in an creepy, interested way. I had divulged my tragic story of changing jackets because of the heat and leaving my registration and insurance card in the leathers. This was interspersed with my recall of the dry crepes and the superior ride on the BMW 1000 RR.
“The speed limit on this stretch of road is 55 mph,” he stated blandly. I groaned, I heard the Voice harmonize but I did not think the cop noticed. “You were at least 20 mph over the limit.” Now, I just wanted him to get it over with and mete out my punishment. He was writing the ticket. Moving closer he said, “Every weekend I let two people off with a warning. You are one of them. I am writing you up for not having your insurance card.” He then began to explain what I needed to do to remedy the ticket.
The Voice was whistling while I tried to manage the jumble of chemicals and emotions which were pounding through my body. “Why are you getting married, anyway?” he grinned at me.
From the isolated helmet, the Voice intoned “Yuck.”
Befuddledly, I countered something about companionship. “Well, you look real good on that motorcycle,” he said placing the ticket in my palm.
“Thank you,” I compulsively beamed.
He returned to his machine and I tried to remember all the steps needed to put my helmet on and start my engine before pulling off. The Voice immediately chimed in, “Wow, you were lucky.” I felt like I had just been pardoned for a capital crime. “Stockholm syndrome,” the Voice diagnosed. As I pulled off the margin and made my way towards the seafood venue, I gazed in the rear view mirror and wondered what would appear next.
I check the rear view mirrors more frequently since this incident. I have successfully reglued the left hand mirror into position. The Voice has noticed my furtive and somewhat obsessive peering into the shiny objects, suggesting that with the intensity of my gaze, I had been trying to see where I was going rather than where I had been. The Voice had hit upon another uncomfortable truth.
Since the death of my mother I have been looking backward with both longing and curiosity. I search for her and a bridge to the future. The Voice chimes in, “You watch for Death.” Unable to respond to this charge, I hurdle, with the Voice, into a constant now that a second ago was the future. The present is always passing into the past. I still check the rear view mirror to see where I have been and what the Voice and I can deduce about where I am going. The encounter with the cop reminded me that you never know when something that has recently been passed but, unobserved, will come back to rock the present.
I had a beer when I got to Neptune’s; my nerves were jangling. Seeing the kid who had pulled in, I felt guilty, knowing he had gotten a real ticket. He seemed unconcerned, as though it was just another tale of life on the road. “I guess,” I thought.
The Voice did not comment.
Campbell, Joseph: The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003.
Easy Rider. Prod. Peter Fonda, Dir. Dennis Hopper. Columbia
Pictures, 1969. Film.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1999.
Persig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.
Porter, Andrew, Trans. Siegfried. Composed by Richard Wagner. New York: Riverrun Press, 1984. Print.
Tick, Edward. The Practice of Dream Healing. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2001.
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