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It's Nelly's World

There You Go Again: Part III, Finally

alec vanderboom


Duality is all. Eleven years after falling into that numbed slumber, I awoke to both new perils and new joys. It seemed significant numbers of people were having serious difficulty these days distinguishing between their right and their left, because both sides of the road were much more often occupied at once by the same rather large car. It turned out I did need to buy some new gear, because there was this new stuff called “armor” they now put inside all the joints of clothing to make you walk funny. Well, better to walk funny than not walk at all, so pony up I did. The wonderful sight of so many, many more motorcycles on the road was tempered by the fact that a proportionate number were themselves hazards to other bikers, when they rode in trick-riding close formation without trick-riding skills, wearing plastic teacups perched atop their heads to protect the exact 15 percent of skull surface that is rarely to never landed on.


Far happier to me was the presence of vastly greater numbers of women riders. A couple weeks after taking possession of my new bike, I had an experience that could never have occurred a decade before: on a Friday afternoon jaunt up Route 28 in the Catskills, a woman rider overtook me in the passing lane at exactly the same moment we both waved to another woman heading toward us in the oncoming. The only three riders in sight.


The omnipresence of GPS units on virtually every other machine made me defensively question what the heck was so bad about yellowing map pockets anyway, as well as the fact that I don’t really like the idea that a satellite knows exactly where I am at all times—not unless it’s going to care about me too. I had resisted a cell phone far into the transformation of human beings into animals who sprouted wads of black plastic and wireless impulses from their left ears. Then, suddenly, the night that found me riding an unfamiliar machine up the Thruway in the dark alone, a decision was made to enter the new century, and lo, yet another monthly bill from Verizon.


But GPS—could I really embrace this? I have yet to really figure out how that cell phone works, after all. And I was always so proud of my well-honed ability to read maps and distill them into magic-markered hieroglyphics easily read at speed. You’re going to tell me this was obsolete.


Well, yes.


The thought briefly visited that I sounded like someone irritably protesting how crank telephones had been good enough for Aunt Olive; what did I need one of those new dial machines for? Then came the evening when a few motorcyclists were visiting, and I brought out my 1997 Rand McNally atlas pulling apart at the seams in order to show off my local-roads prowess: one of them started laughing and said, “Look! It’s analog GPS!” I figured I would soon succumb there too. And figure out how to pay for it later, like so much else.



Yet motorcycling remains a fundamentally mechanical experience in a digital and electronic world, one that is increasingly distant from three dimensions. In it we still put our feet on the pegs, engage our muscles; our eyes relay information to and from our brains, and then there we are, in a real cutting-through-the-air moment. The dirt under our nails is real, and hard to get out. We are members of a society with drive and purpose to life, a world larger than ourselves. We create situations with certain difficulties, then go about solving them—together. Something to do, and in that concrete something, we find a way to be. It allows us to be good, to express that goodness to others. The gift of giving that becomes a gift to ourselves. It’s all a great relief. And this is the secret we hold.



It is still morning for me. I have just arisen from sleep. I learn new things while memories of the first life gently float to the surface, bursting as they reach air. I remember thinking I had written everything I had wanted to say in the first book, but this time I know for certain I did not. I could not. Because this is an infinite experience, spiraling deeper and deeper, all the way into what it means to be human. But how could a simple machine take us there? I do not know. And if you have to understand, I couldn’t possibly explain. But I still just might try.