Athens, like many European towns, is awash in motorcycles and scooters. They are seeming everywhere, at any time. If you are getting ready to cross the street, or even to take a casual stroll down a purely pedestrian walkway, keep your ears tuned for the trademark revving of an engine, and then a motorized cycle weaving through the walkers. They pay no attention to stop signs, or red lights, or pedestrian only zones.
I’m convinced the real reason Athenian motorcycle riders wear helmets is that they don’t want to be recognized when they are flouting traffic laws.
A big part of the plot of the classic film American Graffiti centered around the car culture of early ’60s America. The social life of a small town focused on teenagers cruising the main street, showing off their rides, listening to rock ‘n roll on the same radio station, stopping for a cheeseburger, engaging in youthful hijinks, and getting into the occasional drag race.
I can report to you that cruisin’ culture remains alive and well in Columbus, except instead of candy-colored cars and hot rods the cruising traffic consists of motorcycles, decked out pickup trucks, and the occasional three-wheeled vehicle. The cruisers like driving up and down High Street, revving their engines and seemingly trying to create as many backfires and engine rumbles as possible. And music remains a big part of the scene, too, except rather than Wolfman Jack and Buddy Holly and the Coasters, hip hop played at maximum volume rules the day. If you live along High Street you know the cruisers put on quite a show starting in the spring and continuing through the fall, when the weather is best suited for a drive through town. It’s entertaining to sit outside and watch the parade, so long as your eardrums can take the noise level.
Why does the cruisin’ culture still thrive in downtown Columbus? I think one of the main impulses that motivated the kids in American Graffiti–to proudly display their vehicles, in a place where they thought everyone would see them–still lurks out there. If you’ve got a fancy chopper or a high-end, chrome-plated, big-engined pickup, you could use them to run errands, pick up the groceries, or go for a quiet ride on a country road . . . or you could drive them through the center of the city, knowing there will be people on the streets and sidewalks to look your way when you rev your engine and crank up your sound system. The existence of traffic lights every block encourages the revving and backfires, and the tall buildings lining High Street ensure the vehicle noise echoes to maximum effect. In short, if you want to cruise in your ride, High Street is a pretty good place to do it.
This isn’t a great thing if you live in one of the buildings along High Street, of course–but it’s interesting that there is still a part of the American social landscape that likes going for a very public ride as in days of old. No drag races yet, though.
In central Ohio, when spring arrives and the temperature goes up, the motorcycles come out. Chopper owners take off the tarps, wheel their rigs out of their garages, and let the bikes wind out in the fine spring weather.
Seeing motorcycles is a good sign that it’s going to be a nice day, because most bikers know to check the weather and only ride on days that are certain to be dry. Once you ride a motorcycle in the rain, getting soaked to the bone and splattered by passing cars, you’ll do just about anything to avoid it.
And speaking of motorcyclists, let’s all be sure to keep an eye out for them, give them plenty of room, and let them share the road without incident.
I think that a big part of being happy is learning to overlook life’s little irritants and focus on the good things. Sometimes, though, that is easier said than done.
Last night, when I left work, the thunderous sounds of a motorcycle echoed through the multi-level concrete garage where I park. Some Hell’s Angels wannabee was revving his bike as he slowly rode from deck to deck, and when he left he gave those of us walking to our cars a final ragged blast of deafening engine noise and exhaust fumes. I guess we just needed to lose a few degrees of hearing acuteness to help the Easy Rider compensate for his apparent feelings of manly inadequacy.
On this morning’s walk I marveled at how many drivers switch on their bright lights just as they are passing by, leaving me to stumble into the approaching glare and step into an otherwise avoidable puddle. It’s as if the day would not be complete without seizing the opportunity to blind the bespectacled guy trying to steer his dogs down the path. And while I suppose the drivers might claim to be doing it for safety, it’s not as if we live on the edge of a cliff or on a twisting highway full of switchbacks. It’s a well-traveled road through flat countryside, for crying out loud!
I know that, to achieve a zen-like state of contentment, I need to ignore such annoyances and the irksome behavior of thoughtless fellow inhabitants of the planet, but I’m a long way away from attaining such serenity. Complaining about nuisances is the best I can manage right now — but it does make me feel better.
Kish and I decided to walk to the library this morning, and when we got to Market Street we saw that there was another festival of some kind going on. (Another weekend, another festival.) Today it is the Classic Car, Cycle & Truck show.
If you like chrome — and what red-blooded American doesn’t really? — this is a show to see. All of the parking spots around the library, and on Market Street itself, are filled with tricked-out, candy-colored cars and motorcycles of all kinds. You can listen to some loud rock music as you walk among the rows of lovingly restored, flame-sided, overpowered, hoods-up tributes to the glory years of Detroit and the American auto industry. In today’s bright sunshine the glint of chrome is blinding and a bit intoxicating.