Motorcycling vs. the Math Mobile

Car Camping Trip, Part I

After nearly two decades of touring the country almost exclusively by motorcycle, The Man I Married and I took our first road trip as parents in the family station wagon. I mourned the loss of a mode of travel that I’d originally taken to like a turtle to skydiving, but which I had come to embrace as an adventurous way to fully appreciate the landscape. Motorcycling immerses me in the environment, whereas a car seals me off. Car travel is like watching television; the windscreen isolates me from smells and temperatures, from bugs and wind and the sun’s rays. Blast the air-conditioning, crank up the radio, and my insulated bubble could be passing through wintry Maine or summertime Montana for all my senses can tell. Motorcycling also offers an entré to conversation with strangers on the road, whereas no one much cared to converse with the owners of the filthy, diesel VW Passat.

Our Covered Wagon

We kept the a/c and the radio off for the most part, with the windows cracked, trying to replicate at least some of motorcycling’s appeal. But for all that I missed the glorified moments of two-wheeling, motorcycling had its definite disadvantages. On our last road trip by motorcycle, I had not had enough room to pack even a paperback book. Despite this, at a junk shop in the middle of nowhere, the Man I Married purchased a twenty-pound metal disc thingy that he thought was a cool something-or-other from an old tractor, but which turned out to be part of a washing machine. He bungee-corded the foot-in-diameter rusted junk to the bike’s rear rack, and as we hauled it around for days, I wondered why this could be managed but Heart of Darkness could not (other than the one beating resentfully behind my ribcage). The thingie is now lying flat in our front yard, used to keep the bike’s kick stand from sinking into the mud.

So let’s just say that I came to embrace car travel mighty quick on our recent, 3000-mile, five-state journey with the Little Monster. I packed the electric tea kettle, single-serving creamers, two kinds of tea, and two mugs. Oh!a hot cup of tea every morning in a campground turned out to be mighty addictive. We were tenters, so I snuck over to an unused RV site and plugged the kettle in to the RV hookup, or else I’d plug it in to the bathroom’s electric outlet and stand around trying not to look like a pervert. On the one morning I didn’t make tea, because the bathroom was too far and the nearest RV post was right next to a motorcyclist’s tent, the Man I Married said, “Where’s my tea?” I was not the only one getting spoiled by life on four wheels.

Lovely Spot for a Cuppa

I packed a car-battery charger for my Kindle, my laptop, our cell phones, camera batteries, and the Little Monster’s Nintendo (which we didn’t tell him we’d brought, saving it in case of emergency such as a roadside breakdown, a scenario all-too familiar from our bike days that never transpired in the car—yet one more advantage to mundane travel vehicles). Neither did we bring LM’s portable DVD player. Boredom in back seats is good for kids as a kick start to the imagination, and if The Man I Married and I were going to not only drive, but suffer through watching the other one drive half the time (torture for both of us), the Little Monster had better witness the scenery instead of occupying himself with things that he could do back home on the couch. When he wasn’t looking out the window or reading, LM did math. Lots and lots of math. Our Math Mobile climbed over the Grand Tetons, the Bitterroots, the Beaverheads, and the Bighorns; it shimmered and wheezed through the Red Desert, the Snake River Plain with its fifty nuclear reactors, and the Palouse; it followed the Oregon Trail, trailed after Lewis and Clark, criss-crossed the Nez Perce’s failed escape route and the first cross-country road trip by automobile, all the while chanting this mantra:

Jane has 43 apples, and she needs to put them all in boxes. Each box holds six apples. How many boxes does Jane need? And if all of the boxes are full but one, how many apples go in the last box?

If the driver has x patience, and the car is traveling at y speed, how long before the mom takes off with this ranger in the nicely-fitting trousers?

The mantra should have been:

If the mom in the car has tried explaining the math to her son 43 times, and the dad in the car has tried explaining the math 43 times, how many times does the son say he does not get it, and who will lose their temper first? Part B: How many times is the driver tempted to end everyone’s misery by driving over a cliff at the next beautiful Scenic Pullout? Who needs Thelma and Louise when you’ve got Jane and her motherfartin Apples?

Besides math books and pencils (which LM prefers to use as drumsticks, so we had to buy more in Jackson Hole, where it’s a lot easier to find antlers than pencils), I packed juice, Fig Newtons, and a s’more maker thingie bought by MIM (where I come from, all you need is a stick). I packed plates, napkins, and utensils. Moist-wipes, sunscreen, extra shoes, and real towels. I packed lots and lots of water.

I packed a comforter to put under me (you’d think with all my padding that I could sleep on lava, but no, I might as well be as bony as a greyhound for my increasing dependence on a mattress), and, most wondrous of all, I packed pillows. Pillows! In two decades, two countries, and maybe three dozen states, I’d lacked a pillow. The lure of motorcycling pales when one lays one’s weary head down upon a lace-encased puff of hypo-allergenic foam every night instead of one’s wadded up, leather jacket with buckles that rattle like something out of a Charles Dickens nightmare.

Here’s what I packed for two months on a motorcycle: two pairs of jeans, three shirts, seven pairs of underwear and socks, a granola bar, and a “camping towel” about the size of a eyepatch (my undies are bigger). MIM and I shared a jigger of toothpaste, but I drew the line at sharing a toothbrush. In the car, however, I brought three full-sized toothpaste tubes! Imagine the luxury! Oh, the orgy of over-packing for this motorcycle mama!

Of course all of this packing was completely selfless and was solely for the sake of the child, for whom we reverted to this very American form of travel and for whom we are now thinking about acquiring a trailer.

Reflections, Deflections, and Misperceptions

My mother believes in bachi, the concept in Hawaii that what goes around comes around, similar to karma or payback. (Pronounce bachi the same as bocce ball, BAH-chee.) When I once worked with a negative coworker, mom gave me a small bachi mirror to place on my desk, angled to deflect the negativity back to that person. Even if this power didn’t literally work, it effectively worked as a metaphor. Seeing the little mirror reminded me to ricochet the destructive spirit back to its source and not internalize it. Mostly, though, it reminded me of my mother’s love and care for me every time I looked at it. So in looking at the mirror, I felt neither vengeful nor antagonistic (although the Man I Married listened to me grumble a lot). The mirror reflected a deeper truth, that the abundant positive people in my life war outweighed the negative.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who Has the Biggest Trash Can of All?

My coworker later became very kind and generous to me. The presence of the Little Monster in all of our lives washed all of her negativity away. I’m glad I made like the duck’s back, letting her hostility roll off of me rather than making waves, because it left the door open for both of us.

My mother has further evidence of bachi and mirrors. Honolulu now employs an automatic garbage collection system, in which the garbage truck empties giant, square trash cans into the truck with a robotic arm or forklift. Residents set their 96-gallon cans curbside on collection day, so that the trash collector need never leave the cab of his or her truck. However, my parents live off of a narrow, twisting mountain road on which there is no sidewalk or curb. In some spots, there’s not even a grass or weed strip to the side of the road. On trash collection day, this makes for a tight fit for cars squeezing past each other and between the behemoth cans. Mom arrived home one day to tell Dad that a trash can had jumped out in front of her car and knocked off the sideview mirror on the passenger side.

Dad cackled. Yes, my dad cackles. He points and cackles. How could she possibly have hit a nearly 100-gallon, stationary, brightly-colored object?

What Trash Can?

“Bachi,” mom warned him. In fact, she went one further. “Double bachi,” she hissed.

Soon after the mirror was repaired, sure enough, Dad came home to admit that he, too, had swiped a trash cash with the side mirror. Back the car went to the repair shop. Then, Dad did it again.

“Double bachi,” Mom said knowingly.

Yet, I’m not sure I agree about bachi, because bad things happen to good people, and bachi doesn’t account for that. Perhaps karma does, in which we’re suffering payback for rotten deeds we did in a past life. Call it karma, or bachi, or fate, what I ultimately hope is that good is reflected more than bad.

Awhile back, a pusillanimous person tried to send me yet another inaccurate invective via a false name over the internet (it’s no coincidence that pussy forms part of the awesome word pusillanimous). I did not accept Mrs. Fly’s message and quickly deflected it back, thinking of my bachi mirror. I also thought of our friend Mac’s wise thoughts on the matter: if we put ourselves out into the world via our art, we have to be willing to accept what comes back to us.

I decided to counter Mrs. Fly’s need for negativity (sadly based on a misperception) by sending something positive out into the world. Although it’s mighty tempting to wish double bachi upon Mrs. Fly, why expend my energy on lowering myself into that gutter (which requires even more energy to climb out of) when the Little Monster’s presence in my life has turned a high-wattage lightbulb on to the fact that my life is bounteous and inundated with kind and well-meaning people? It’s an isolating experience to have a child who is not safe around other kids without constant supervision, and yet I’ve never felt a sense of community as strongly as I have since he became Mama’s Little Monkey Monster.

Mirror Mirror, Where in Hell is that Photo?

So that day I decided to write something nice about somebody rather than respond to Mrs. Fly’s buzzing. But what could I write, and whom could I write it about? Hm. There at my feet was the 16-pound box of Christmas goodies that my mother had sent to help me with thank you gifts for teachers and counselors. I needed to look no further, and I wrote my December Mele Kalikimaka post about Tutu. To illustrate the blog post, I knew exactly which photo I needed: the one of Tutu decorating her Christmas tree in her short muumuu under the Hawaiian sunshine, with Pearl Harbor in the background. I easily found a thirty-year old snapshot of Tutu, taken on my first Kodak Instamatic, but I couldn’t find the recent digital photo. I started going through stacks of photos and boxes of memorabilia trying to find the print. (This activity falls under a technical writerly term called procrastination, when we spend hours doing things related to our writing, yet none of it is actually spent at the keyboard producing words.)

Frustrated, with boxes and papers strewn around my office, I nearly gave up, thinking about my wasted time. But that’s when the bachi magic happened. I’d been hemming and hawing over my commitment to my motorcycle mama memoir, which took a back seat with the Advent of the Little Monster now over two years ago. Getting the momentum going again was like pushing a boulder uphill. For one thing, I could not locate the map that traced our 26-state motorcycle journey, which was to be the centerpiece of the book. I of course blamed this on the Man I Married (what else are husbands for?). In tearing apart my room to find the photo of Tutu, I found not only the map, but the navigational journal I’d forgotten I’d kept and all of the postcards I’d mailed home during the trip, which I’d forgotten I had.

If I’d taken Mrs. Fly’s bait, nothing good would have come of it. But because I decided to write something nice (and it’s easy to write something nice about Tutu), I discovered important source material. Which might also be fate telling me to get off my okole and write that durned book. Or was it simply bachi? Only the mirror knows.

At any rate, full speed ahead on pushing that 96-gallon-can of reflection (otherwise known as a book and hopefully not trash) uphill.

Well, maybe not full speed, but incremental movement.

Zen and the Art of Not Falling Asleep While Reading about Motorcycles

I’m halfway through five different motorcycle memoirs right now: two by men, two by women, and one by a philosopher. I can’t seem to finish any of them. They’re scattered about my room, rather like the tools and parts you see strewn around a Harley. My writing-teacher friend Wendy says I’m going about market research for my own motorcycle memoir the wrong way. “You don’t actually read the whole thing!” she tsks to me. But I’m compelled to get to the end, like any book I read, though these motorcycle books don’t at all grab me and suck me in like a jeans hem caught in a bike chain.

Monocoque (external props, not internal support)

I expressed my dissatisfaction with Charley Boorman’s Race to Dakar by blowing a strawberry in bed one night and turning off the reading light, then explaining to the Man I Married, “I just read two pages about the modifications to a BMW X5, which isn’t even a motorcycle. Who would want to read that boring tripe?”

MIM’s voice floated up out of the darkness, “Someone like Alan might cream his jeans reading those two pages. It’s all about audience.”

Too true about knowing your reader. But cream his jeans? So the male brain contains a switch in which he thinks he’s in a garage with his buddies and a can of Bud just by the mere mention of re-outfitting something with an engine. I wonder what I could hypnotize him into blurting out with juicy enchantments like the slow enunciation of double clutch or carburetor flush? Once this “classic” car is parked for the night, it usually stays put in the garage, but I might trick his reptilian brain into hot-wiring the ignition and getting some sparks flying by murmuring, “Cowl and chassis conversion.”

I'd rather ride with her

The fact of the matter is that there are very few motorcycle memoirs by women. Search “motorcycle women” on the internet and find mostly women sporting a silicone rack and not much else. Search “motorcycle women” on Amazon and find books like Wicked Women: Black Widows, Child Killers, And Other Women In Crime. Well, at least that would be way more interesting than reading about the monocoque construction of an X5. I know quite enough about monococks, thanks much.