The morning crowd outside the Los Gatos Roasting Company gasped. The team of bicyclists in their red and white spandex suits set down their coffees and pulled out their iphones. While they recorded the scene, two joggers wearing headphones stopped and tried to help me up. “He seems OK,” someone was saying to the 911 operator on their phone,
but he’s acting very strange.
I wasn’t acting strange at all. In a sudden burst of gratitude, I had fallen down on the sidewalk and started rolling back and forth, moaning “Oh My God. Oh My God.” What’s strange is that other people don’t do that, the weather in Los Gatos is that beautiful. Only a week before we’d been hit by 18 inches of snow at my place in Colorado. I couldn’t take my eyes off the bright blue sky and the leafy trees, but the joggers hauled me up onto my feet.
“Where’s a good place to run around here,” I asked them as they slapped the dust off my back.
“Across the bridge and down the path,” the thinner one said.
Before the police, ambulance, and fire trucks that were no doubt on their way could check my vitals and haul me off to the psyche ward, I thanked the joggers and took off across the bridge.
The Chasquis were the Pony Express of the Inca Empire. When I was young and living in Peru, some American runners theorized that training at altitude would give them an advantage because it would increase their lung capacity. So they flew to Cuzco. The Peruvians asked
“Peruvians, have we ever won a marathon?”
But nobody listened.
At home I run the mountain trails behind my house. They go either up or down, and don’t do much in between. Since our place is at 6800 feet, I’ve developed what a kind-hearted person might refer to as a measured pace.
Soon after leaving the coffee shop in Los Gatos I found myself jogging between a cemented-in river, the aqueduct, and Highway 17, a wide dirt trail with a slight incline heading up the Santa Cruz Mountains. Runners wearing earbuds playing music collections from their iTunes libraries designed to help them surpass their potential went by me so fast their windblast made me feel like I was riding the Harley again through Route 160 in Northern Arizona.
A little old lady using a walker with knobbies caught up with me.
She said, and we both laughed. She reminded me of my Mom. So we got to talking. My Mom considered conversation an art form, and loved indulging in long, meandering talks. She told me she learned that from her father, Ricardo. It’s how people passed the time in Lima, and no one ever asked “What’s your point?”
My daughter Grace calls me if a week goes by without a conversation. She likes to talk, too. And like her grandmother, she’s irresistibly engaging.
I suppose that for most of America and certainly Silicon Valley, the art of conversation is sitting in a broom closet, bubble wrapped into the box with the acoustic coupler modem. I sometimes wonder if my blogging is an attempt to keep the door from slamming shut.
Rich Schwerin and Bjoern Rost told me some of my blogs reminded them of Hunter S. Thompson’s writing. They probably want to borrow my Harley. Forget about it, guys. Hunter S. Thomson was a ground-breaking writer. And far more committed to experiencing the limits of madness than I ever want to be. I don’t know much about Hunter S. Thompson, but I wonder if he wasn’t searching for an identity.
Jack, Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club certainly was. Tyler Durden gave Jack an identity that working in a soul-sucking job within a materialistic society had stolen from him. That identify was born of a clear purpose: destruction. Which Tyler, a born marketeer, preferred to call mayhem. Tyler Durden also gave Jack a presence: fearlessness. American men, we like to come across as fearless. Much of the dumbassery in the otherwise friendly Harley culture springs from that desire. We live under the delusion that having nothing to lose is terrifying to would-be assailants. So we act like we have nothing to lose.
It’s a silly notion. Reading the accounts of men who survived the Normandy landings, they were all terrified. And none of them had to pretend they weren’t. Is the fact that a squad car, ambulance, and fire truck can appear within minutes to protect us from the slightest risk making American men unsure of our courage?
Truth is, a man who has nothing to lose may be intimidating, but the most dangerous thing in the world is a mother defending her children. A father protecting his family. A Marine willing to give his life for a fellow marine. It’s always something outside of ourselves, isn’t it? But our culture tells us to have it our way. To pursue our passions. To listen to the music that makes us perform better than ourselves. Could having nothing to live for but our own gratification, self-expression, or self-realization be another cause of our posing?
When we first bought our Harleys, my friends and I were determined not to be posers. We’d seen them at Sturgis. Couples who trailered their Harleys on the back of air-conditioned pick-ups, then stopped one town away to unload the bike and change into their biker outfits, the rider having already grown a 5 day stubble, his passenger having already applied her temporary tattoos.
We refused to be posers. So we bought the service manuals and worked on our own bikes. Joined the forums. Called each other with questions. Some of us tore the engine down and rebuilt it better. We lived inside the aftermarket catalogs. And we rode.
We rode across the country and back. Some of us rode to Alaska. We rode through some hellish storms. We made sure our trips included rain and a healthy dose of misery. We were ecstatic if we got snowed on, or the temps climbed over 100 degrees. We rode early in the Spring, and late into Fall, and rode in Winter when the roads were clear. We bought expensive chrome to customize our bikes and embrace our freedom, just like the Motor Company told us to. We thought we were these guys. And maybe we were. During our 1-week vacations and on weekends.
But I’m not one of those guys, not really. I can’t ride where the road leads me because I have to be back at work in the morning. I have a desk job. Bills. I spent 20 years raising a family, mowing my lawn, and being polite to the neighbors. I wear a real helmet, ear plugs, and protective motorcycle gear. And I suffer from a distinct lack of brand loyalty.
I can’t even pretend that I don’t have anything to lose.
Which leaves me wondering what gave birth to my particular Tyler Durden. Just like Jack, Nemo, Lester Burnham, and a lot of men earning a living in Corporate America, I am disoriented. But I’m not searching for an identity. I’m reluctant to accept the one I’ve got.