Aretha was a healthy black woman with a thick flat creole accent, who had come to Conway to escape the aftermath of the Katrina disaster in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. She and her friendly but lethal cocaine dealer and their “adopted” child had witnessed the flooding, the terror, and the bodies in the streets. I developed a good relationship with all three of them, and I can’t comprehend the degree to which those images must haunt that child. But that’s not the point here.
Aretha came to court one day, well after she had acclimated to the Arkansas culture as much as she would, and happily exclaimed to all of us officers of the court that she had finally obtained her “roll permit.” We knew she had been looking for a job and thought maybe she had found a bakery position. When she saw the dumb looks on our faces she was amazed at the depth of our white bread ignorance and politely explained that that’s what real people call that little card which the self-righteous privileged call a “driver’s license.” But that’s not the point either.
Most motorcycles don’t get to roll everyday. So many necessaries get in the way: jobs, appointments, dinner engagements, conversations, hygiene – you get the point. But today. Today I have another roll permit. I just have to endure an hour and a half seminar first.
It’s the spasmodic play of beams of light, glowing foliage, and animated shadows. It’s the purr of the engine and the growl of the downshift at speed. The feel of the suspension crouching to attack the horizon, like the big cat in the shadows that you just missed.
I rode up Highway 7 and stopped for lunch at Bubbalu’s Bodacious Burgers in downtown Hot Springs. As I enjoyed the bodacity of the beef, I pondered the historic aspects of Hot Springs. I was sitting across the street from bath-house row, many of which houses were constructed in 1890 something. This is a piece of Arkansas history, as Hot Springs was a resort destination before resort destinations were a thing. But isn’t history relative? Buildings from the late 1800s hardly get a notice in Boston, where history manifests in structures from the 1700s. As impressive as the architecture of the American Revolution period are in Boston or Philadelphia, a smug British subject of the Queen would chuckle at calling that history, as it is just struggling through adolescence in comparison to the Tower of London or Bath (London VI).
In a couple of weeks, I will be traveling to the Holy Land, God willing. I’ve never been there before, and plan to document the trip thoroughly in this venue, in an effort to take readers who haven’t or can’t go, along with me in a sense. This will be the oldest, most historical place I’ve been, and arguably that I can go. I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s account of his visit there before the current Hot Springs bath houses were built. Before that I read Marco Polo’s account of visiting the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, before the colonies were settled and only a couple hundred years after the Tower of London was built. He was visiting something that was an ancient site to him. All this causes me to chuckle when I see the “Historic Downtown Conway” sign in my town.
Anyway, I finished my burger and rolled on northward in search of another dirt road. I ended up on the same one I came south on, but on this trip realized all the signs are set up for this direction of travel. So only one wrong turn this time. And even then I was following a sign. My better judgement said don’t take the smaller dirt road – stay on the better one – but the sign said to go left to reach the highway. So I went left. I quickly found a small mud hole, that I plowed right through, and then the road became more primitive and I found a mud hole the width of the road. I reasoned that all this road was rock and gravel, and rolled right through, cautiously, in first gear. As I continued on the road it became more rutted and less navigable and I made the executive decision to turn around and take the more traveled route. I proceeded into the water with confidence this time, as I’d been here before. It didn’t work out so well. My back tire found the one square inch of slippery goo and slid to the left with me going right.
This bike is apparently indestructable. I stood it back up (back to the bike; use legs not back to lift) and pushed it forward. Pretty soon as I was pushing out of the water, a foot slipped and down Lib and I went again. This time I went to the other side and put the kickstand down, so that if Lib started tipping she could go that way and maybe stay up. I went around, used the proper method again to pick her up, and placed her on the stand. At this point I could mount, engage first gear and walk her out, with enough traction to grip. Picture Madea here saying “Thank you Lort.”
I took a break, gathered my wits, checked for injuries and rode on to the correct trail, which was about a quarter mile from pavement. I remembered my old friend Robert Frost again, “I took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference.”
My right ankle was a little sore on the remainder of the ride, and Lib has a brake light warning on, but otherwise we’re good and I’ve learned a valuable lesson: just because you get through the mud hole once doesn’t mean it will go as well the second time. It seems like there’s probably some deep application to marriage or life here, but I’m not sure of what it is yet.
I enjoyed the ride, even with the mud. The leaves swirling in the tiny little cyclones in the deep woods; the smell of dirt and pine, the feeling of solitude. A little mishap once in a while is no reason to avoid the possibility of it. Caution is key, of course, and that’s why I was going as slow as I did in the hole. If I let the fear of possibilities tie me down, I’m not sure what I would ever accomplish, and I certainly wouldn’t travel, especially to the middle east.