Thursday, October 22, 2009

Last Trip

IT WAS THE BIG BROWN NOSE and demonic, toothy grin that I recall most vividly. The eyes were concealed behind leatherbound goggles, and the entire assemblage capped by a half shell helmet. He was easing up on my left on a BSA twin, a Lightning, I would guess.

We were already rolling along at a pretty good clip, somewhere west of Glorieta. The acid was starting to wear off, but I was still high. I glanced over at him, and nodding a greeting, goosed the throttle.

Coming from the east coast, the landscape still seemed bleak. The high desert is reluctant to share its sparse beauty with newcomers. Mary Ann was helping that process along with this ride.

She had gone out there a year or so earlier, solo, on a sweet little CB350-4. Rented a flat on Galisteo Street, just below the Paseo. Got a job at the Harley shop. I stopped off to visit, on my way to Alaska-so I told myself.

Quickly, things got too comfortable. Within a day or two of arriving—broke—I got a job at Boddy’s Honda, turning wrenches. Richard, the shop foreman, was skeptical of my ability—maybe because when he asked my name, I told him my old friends called me Gonzo. So, first morning on the job, Richard gave me a new CB750.

“The transmission is bad. Can you overhaul it?”

No big deal. In Honda school, you had to tear down a transmission and reassemble it, without the manual. But it’s really not hard, once you learn the system. All Honda trannies—large and small—share the same configuration, which is logical and intuitive.

“Sure,” I replied.

“OK. Let me know if you need a hand.”

All I had to work with was the set of hand tools I carried in my saddlebags, but by lunchtime I had yanked the engine, split the cases, and inspected the transmission. However, there was nothing wrong with it—the trannie was in perfect shape: shifters, dogs, gears, shafts—all sleek and gleaming. So I poked around, and found the problem: the shift linkage was fouled. A tweak with some channel locks and it was back in the groove--there had been no need to pull the engine. By late afternoon, I had the engine back in the frame, and was hooking back up the last of the cables when Rich walked by my bay.

“Need a hand getting the engine out?”

“Nope. It’s back in. I’m going for a test ride in a few minutes.”

“What about the transmission?”

“It’s fine. The clevis from the shift lever was bent. I straightened it. Sorry I didn’t find it until I had it all torn down.”

“No kidding—you had that engine apart and back together in one day—the flat rate manual gives it 24 hours! Who helped you lift the engine out?”

“Nobody.” I demonstrated how you sit astride the rear seat, lay forward with your chest on the gas tank, and ease the engine up onto one of the frame tubes. You dismount, balancing the engine with one hand, then squat beside the bike, and roll the engine onto your haunches. Then you hump it onto the bench.

“Well, if you want to go by Gonzo, you’re Gonzo, alright. If you want to call yourself Jesus, you’re Jesus.”

It’s no big deal, really. I worked with some serious flat raters in big shops back east, guys who were faster than me.


That weekend, Mary Ann wanted to show me one of her favorite spots. We loaded the bikes with a small tent, sleeping bags, and some food and water, and set out for the Pecos Wilderness.

In my pocket, I had a couple of squares of windowpane, powerful stuff. I had tried a dose, back in Takoma Park, just before I left. I went for a walk along the creek, and the acid came on with the rush of a jet engine. Nearing the road, the sound of the passing cars took form, growing as the car approached, and dissolving from sight as the sound receded. I walked up a hill, along a little street I never new existed. Some old bungalows backed up to the park. As I walked beside them, one of the bungalows, with a low slung, wide eaved hip roof, became a merry, portly woman, who hitched up her long skirts and danced a jig for me. I was eager to share this stuff with Mary Ann.

We must have camped above the tree line, because I remember taking off my boots and all my clothes, and running through a meadow, and down a hill. The sun at that elevation was dazzling, and as the acid came on, clouds, mountaintops and trees took on new forms, merged, and recombined. I felt scree and thistles cutting my feet, but did not perceive it as pain. It was like I was shaking off the demons of the past.

But Mary Ann held back. Maybe she was worried that I would leap off some crag and try to fly away, or some local might see us and freak out and shoot us, so I chilled out. Although she was always more adventurous than me, she was a lot more circumspect. Plus she knew I had no common sense.


I started pulling ahead of Brown Nose, and he gunned his machine in response. We were heading up a long incline, and my mildly tweaked R-60/2 was pulling him all the way. But after we crested the hill, the BSA overtook me. I had to watch it anyway, because the beemer got a little wobbly over 95.

And so it went, I’d pace him up the hills, and he’d gain it all back going down. Soon, I could no longer see Mary Ann’s 350 in my mirrors. Brown Nose was in the lead when he peeled off onto the two lane spur into Santa Fe, and I had to yield to a couple of cars. Trying to catch up, I roared up the shoulder, slinging gravel and passing traffic like crazy until a bridge abutment blocked my path. Never caught back up. It was over.

I killed the engine and waited for what seemed an hour for Mary Ann to catch up. When she did, she wasn’t so much angry as disgusted.

I suppose it was a good thing, though, because then and there I decided that I had experienced all I needed of the psychedelic state, at least for the time. In the thirtyfive years since that trip to Pecos, I’ve never dropped another hit. Even tapered off of mota, and finally quit that, too.

But I reserve the right to try it again some time. Like if I were diagnosed with terminal cancer, maybe.

Or if Brown Nose blasted out of the hills again, to give me another chance.


margaret said...

Alan, the kids now can't touch us. They have no idear what fun is. This was a beautiful essay. I hope you keep writing.

janet said...

Officer I'd like to report a nekkid hippie runnin' around in the Pecos. I dunno what he's on but its gotte be illegal!