by LJ Frank
Late Spring 2016. The minutes on my watch were approaching midnight. I was traveling across New Mexico and pulled off to get some gas at a 24-hour service station. As I stood at the pump next to my car a single Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a muffled exhaust sped west on route I-40 with only the service station lights noting the full shape of its existence and a nodding head in my direction and the darkness of a moonless night over the high desert. The muffled sound of the exhaust was haunting with a single light on the front fender serving as a beacon showing the way on the ribbon of high-tech asphalt with the biker’s mind serving as a map to a destination perhaps only known to her or him and possibly stored on an android or I-phone inside a leather jacket.
Technology is faster than a reflective philosophy. My driving partner and I questioned whether the biker was heading to a home or away from one, distancing her/himself from a former lover or anxious to meet a new one, heading to a job or leaving one behind, or perhaps the Harley was the biker’s “maker space,” or was the biker an escapee from a less than meaningful alliance or perhaps it was just a needed ride across the high plateaus for the sake of nothing else but the drive. Processes and destinations may serve the same purpose on the road map of the mind.
It would seem a Harley biker seeks more than competition in a “market economy” regardless of official and unofficial office politics. Once a person experiences the liberty and freedom that being mobile like a biker riding across the desert, it’s hard if not dangerous to take away that freedom. The singular drive across the country is a liberating act that transcends the physical. Movement is a form of literacy and essential to knowledge. The more literate one becomes the more one wishes to control one’s own destination even if it’s ultimately an illusion in the grander scheme of the universe. Gaining knowledge is a political, cultural, philosophical and intellectual act with human and non-human consequences.
There is a freedom and liberty in movement expressed in the lone rider across the desert. The drive is a form of an evolving vision as to the possibilities one might encounter over the next ridge and passed the artificial boundaries cultivated for people to think outside of, especially from those who reside in the lofty towers of their own psyche.
Adapting and adjusting to the terrain ahead and supporting others along the way to help realize their own personal destination humans require a journey mentality and the knowledge that their free to do so. Money affects the liberty of movement. And like the headlight on the front fender of the Harley, the literate mind can adapt and serve as a beacon on the ribbon of the high-tech journey of tomorrow. Knowledge is the basis for maintaining a balance in life’s struggles. And it arrives in many shapes and forms.
So I got in my two-seater car along with a long auburn haired partner sharing the drive as we headed east towards Oklahoma listening to Glen Campbell sing By the Time I get to Phoenix. It’s a lonely song in the middle of the night so we switched channels and listened to Miles Davis’ So What.
Like a person I listened to the other night, my auburn haired partner asked me who had influenced me the most besides the biker that we saw that moment.
I tried to think back and it’s been dozens of people, a friend who was a medic and died in a meaningless war, a Japanese student who I taught English as a 2nd language to in Tokyo and who taught me how to learn a language; a German woman who I chatted with late into the night in Munich about Germany’s social history, a priest I drank beer with sitting on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland waiting for the monster to emerge from the deep, a library director and Finnish descendent who knew how to toss the stones and possessed worldly knowledge, a Lutheran theologian from St. Louis who left the church on a meditative trek, a child with cerebral palsy that communicated through sounds and movement of hands, a wine connoisseur in San Francisco who explained how to grow the best vines, an Asian woman & CEO in Santa Barbara who understood our mutual cultural shock and we shared the Buddhist priest’s suggestion – if one seeks truth one should drop one’s opinions, or the blind man in Michigan who was helped crossing a street he didn’t want to cross in Detroit and developed a personal philosophy from that experience, or a multi-lingual colleague from Romania whose soul and intellect was without borders, or the striking woman whose ‘mindfulness’ and evolving ‘spiritualness’ I encountered while traveling or the bartender who listened with determined focus regardless of his own persuasion.
The list is long and the conversations fleeting and some were deeper than others, like the metaphors we find in a novel’s character, a word here and there and unplanned experience and you’re thankful you crossed paths – like the lone biker who nodded, a connection was made, while she or he rode the Harley with the accompanying haunting sound across the high desert at night and an awareness that imagination expands our knowledge of the existential and spiritual journey we take in life.