Thursday, September 8, 2011


By Steven B. Fuson

I monitored its progress patiently at first; then, as deadlines loomed closer, I became aware that the fertile aroma that the desert offers to the rain had been displaced by the stench of the weathered concrete parking structure. In Albuquerque, one rarely has to wait more than ten minutes for a weather window and from my court complex vantage point I could see the sooty edge of the storm. Accordingly, I decided not to bother with rain gear. Today, however, the storm-monster had its claws dug viciously into the landscape vowing that it would not be rushed in its efforts to devour all motorcycle-positive conditions.

After forty-five minutes, the storm’s edge had not moved and I could no longer wait it out and still be on time. So, I clamped my parking ticket and a fiver between my lips and rolled my ’93 K1100RS into the maw of the creature. I knew instantly upon emerging from overhead shelter that I had underestimated the value of wet-weather gear, but I was past the severe tire damage grate and decided to push on.

“Howya doing today?” smirked the parking attendant as he squinted against the water splashing off my shaved head.

I grunted and rolled through, donating my change to the parking comedian relief fund.

Leaving the parking area, I cautiously paddled out into the stream called 6th Avenue. Reminiscent of an impressionist painting, the light and cityscape reflected off the flooded streets leaving the notion of Paris at dusk – or so I imagine it would have had I been able to see it clearly through the funhouse mirror of my water-distorted riding glasses.

Fortunately, I was able to take the left onto Lomas without having to stop or slow and there was no other traffic with which to contend. I would usually have slid all the way over to the right hand lane but it was swollen and had a current. Although I was barely moving and maximized my contact patch by keeping vertical, I was hard pressed to come to a stop at the 5th Street light, the bike sliding unstably under me. The extra five feet it took for me to make a controlled stop gave me pause and I tightened my grip on the handlebars. As the light turned, the Toyota behind me broke traction, fishtailing through a hellish shriek and narrowly avoiding my left saddle bag, as I pulled out from the light more cautiously than the driver had subconsciously anticipated.

As I approached the Central –Lomas merge, the rain washed the sun block from the top of my head over my brows and into my eyes in a symphony of acid-green wetness. Unable to stop for maintenance due to bumper-to-bumper traffic, I tightened my knees to the tank and began to rethink my pre-flight checklist. I was unprepared for the safety realities in every conceivable way. First, as is my custom, I had not worn a helmet which would have eliminated the chemical burns to my eyes and largely mitigated the potential fatal visibility problems I was currently at a loss to confront. Next, had I checked the weather before leaving, I would have had her make other arrangements for transportation so that I would have had plenty of time to wait out the storm, if necessary.

My eyes now providing more of their own water than the storm, I merged right to the blaring of the horn of some jerk who, having been put on notice of my intent by my turn indicator for an entire block, was apparently displeased that I was going to take up another six feet of space in front of him, thereby causing him to be an additional 1/1000th of a second later to arrive at his destination.

The water in the intersection was up to my pegs as I struggled to keep the bike as upright as possible while navigating by ear, wind direction and air pressure – my eyes having been rendered useless. Here I began to calculate the likelihood that I would survive the trip and I vowed that, if I were to survive, I would never again leave the garage without a brain bucket. Having determined that my chances were very low, I was granted a reprieve by traffic.
The lights at Mountain and Rio Grande had been knocked out by the storm and traffic was backed up to Old Town Pizza. This gave me a moment to dump into neutral and wipe as much of the offensive lotion as possible out of my eyes and off my head with the short sleeves of my saturated t-shirt.

As I replaced by glasses which were smeared with lotion but otherwise much better visibility-wise than they had been when I needed them most, I noticed several sets of teeth aimed at me from behind the tinted rear windows of a minivan. As traffic began again to move, I watched the youngster in the front seat – who apparently was named Troy and played soccer if negative image stencils applied at the car wash can be believed – indicating to the driver that he had sighted an actual mental patient.

At this point, feeling more confident in my survivability, I decided that I would take Rio Grande all the way up instead of risking another bout with blindness while negotiating traffic at freeway speeds. As I crossed under the I-25, the dry traction conducted through the machine and radiated over me a warm mustard confidence that all was again right with the two-wheeled universe. This confidence was confirmed as I emerged into much drier road conditions and diminishing sprinkles on the North side of the big slab. The sprinkles quickly gave way to sunlight and warmth as I made my way into Los Ranchos.

With my freshly recovered swagger, all of my tense safety-related vows vanished into reverie of a time when, riding North on the 313, I had encountered a swarm of light-yellow green butterflies that must have been a hundred-thousand strong. They rose in force from the sun-soaked pastures on the west side of the road and fluttered about the road like the silver-dollar sized snowflakes of a warm early season snowstorm. They contrasted and complemented the blues, purples, browns and grays of Sandia Mountain just before the sun does its watermelon magic. I remember the sky being an unusually dark and deep blue, almost the color of a Windows default desktop.

The swarm also seemed to suspend the rushing of the wind and replace it with a deep silence. A silence that seemed extracted from an ecstasy-enhanced Hindustani-influenced techno joint perfectly positioned and performed to elicit primordial abandon to the essence of music.
Just as the music of my mind turned experientially to the memory of the sweet breath of a lost love, a sudden movement to my left caused my stomach to lurch.

The black and chrome gangster-tinted Toyota swerved into my space and clipped my front tire. The hand grip was ripped with such force from my clutch hand that I thought my arm may have been torn from the socket at the shoulder. My right hand still firmly around the throttle, the bike was horizontal beneath me and I was poised, arms and legs akimbo, to do a flying face plant into the tarmac. There was to be no amnesty this time, my life was over and there was nothing I, or anybody else, could do about it. All sensation seemed to release - as though my sensory clutch had disengaged -and I was not afraid.

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