Suburban Soliloquy #43
When we are young, our memory is outstanding, but confined by our own interests. It is all about us and not necessarily what we need to survive, or what might be of interest to someone else. Youth is
self-absorbed. And some in time mature, releasing many of the old memories to make room for new ones. But this isn't true of everybody.

I recently sat in a bar next to a fellow in his late thirties or early forties. Gregarious and loud, he was quick to express his bitterness with the woman he divorced. He bragged to me about his son's athletic prowess, how a scout came to see his son play - was it football? It meant a scholarship for his son. While talking to me, he flirted with the bar's young female clientele, ten or more years younger than himself. Then he boasted of his own prowess in high school baseball, even to have folded in his wallet, a worn news clipping that gave tribute to his skill. He must have been carrying it about twenty years, and how many times over beers has he pulled it from his wallet and flourished it?

I have decided to write here a story I've told often. Nearly all of us have stories we retell with each new ear that presents itself. If we don't rehearse these stories, they begin to dissolve. If we don't use the ganglia that extend to those memories, they begin to dismantle. I don't know about you, but I am tired of hearing myself repeat this story. So here I will tell it one last time and free up some desperately needed space to file new memories.

On a fine summer day, a Saturday afternoon in 1971, I retrieved from the shop my freshly tuned Honda 450 Sportster motorcycle and took off up River Road. I was leaving home, the stifling mediocrity of suburbia, for the second time. I would go to Boulder, Colorado, because my sister lived there.

It was a familiar drive alongside the beautiful Delaware River. I've spent many an afternoon or night in my young adulthood tracing that route, first in my 1967 MGB Roadster, once on my ten-speed Raleigh International bicycle, and that year I sat astride my Honda. These many trips were born of unresolved dreams, of trying to think my way through some existential dilemma, or were simply fueled by sexual sublimation. Many a long, lonely trip I've made, those ninety-three miles to the Delaware Water Gap. Here the earth rippled, but the recalcitrant river was there first and had carved a sharp path through the slow growing wall of rock that rose perpendicular across its path. It is a beautiful sight. But the mountains of the East Coast are old and worn. They are rolling green mounds up which one can stroll. I had never seen my nation's great Rockies, except in westerns. So I pointed my cycle into the setting sun.

Racing through the night at ninety miles per hour (145 kph), every time I stopped for gas, I found the drive chain had stretched. I would adjust the slack before resuming my journey. The sun went all the way around and came up behind me. By that time I had reached Indiana and put up in a motel.

The next day I was eagerly on my way again, cruising along until I reached the mighty Mississippi River. From the far bank rose the Gateway Arch, the city of Saint Louis at its base. The arch is an elegant line that sweeps to a precarious 630 feet high (192 meters) and is the symbol of the gateway to the great American West. It is hard to believe that inside there is a tram to carry you to the top. It was during my approach to the Gateway of the West that my shift pedal came loose.

The peg from the transmission had worn smooth and the pedal's armature was slipping without shifting. I put the bike into fifth gear using a wrench and left it there. The rest of my journey would require a running start, hopping the machine like a cowboy hops his horse to get out of town before the posse can form. It was a long haul getting the machine up to speed and for the rest of my journey I stayed on highways.

It was the second night of my adventure west and I was following my headlight beam across Kansas. All I could see of Kansas was what the headlight displayed. Behind the edge of light I rode in the pitch-black night. There were no streetlights, no traffic along that incredibly straight road. Houses and barns might have been out there, but without lights I didn't know of their existence. The road moving towards my bike seemed placed there by the beam, as if the headlamp was a movie projector. It was windy, but I wasn't sure I was moving. Someone could have walked up to me and shut off my projector. Ghouls could have been chasing me for I saw nothing but black mirrors. I was afraid to look behind me to see if anything was sharing my seat.

I grew sleepy. Having allowed one motel to go by, an oasis of light in that dark universe, I promised myself the next one. The next one never came. The road went straight forever. I'm still there.

Okay, I'm not still there, thank goodness, and another motel eventually did come along. It was hard bargaining with the clerk before he gave me a room for half a day. He put me in a room on the second floor of his two storey motel.

My alarm watch woke me. I dressed and opened the door to my room. The earth had disappeared. Beyond the balcony was nothing but sky, as if the motel had slipped its moorings and drifted into the atmosphere. The unreality of the vista caused me to panic. I dashed to the edge of the balcony and there was Kansas, an uninterrupted flatness to the horizon. And there was my motorcycle beneath me in the parking lot and barricaded by a herd of cattle. Departure had to be postponed until whatever motivated the herd to move had taken effect.

Another running start, another slow acceleration, and I was once more pushing west. Now I could see Kansas and longed to have the night back for my imagination to fill.

Kansas slipped into Colorado and there were no mountains. My trip was growing eternal. The road didn't veer from its course. Where were the f@#king mountains!?

What did break up the monotony of this drive were the rain storms. That morning I must have past through a dozen of them. A group of clouds would appear on the western horizon before me. They would grow closer, their shadows giving chase along The Plains. We would pass each other going in opposite directions and as they flung themselves overhead, they would spill on me. The next minute they were behind me, leaving drops on my face mask to refract the bright sun into colours. And already I could see the next bank of clouds looming on the horizon.

The mountains never came that day. By the time I reached Denver there was nothing but rain and clouds to obliterate anything distant. It wasn't until I was entering Boulder that, lifting my face mask, I saw the first range of mountains. It was thoroughly unimpressive. I figured they were foothills and the mountains were yet many miles further west. I had journeyed 1,875 miles (3,017 km) since Saturday afternoon and arrived in time for dinner on Monday at my sister's house in Boulder, Colorado, at the very foot of that wimpy range.

This story could end here, where my motorcycle trip ended, not having found the hoped for mountains I had seen in films. Eventually I would be living at home again. A dozen more times I would try to escape that house - this house. It is this house where I am now living and writing in Levittown, Pennsylvania that then belonged to my parents. But the story does not end where I dismounted my motorcycle.

After dinner, after going to sleep on my sister's couch, the next morning I couldn't stand. My legs were paralyzed from the trip and for a week I could do little walking. The drive chain had been stretched to its limit and was no longer safe. My next two motorcycles would be bigger and have drive shafts. But after a week of recovery, I climbed that first row of mountains. When I reached the top, I was bedazzled by the most improbable vision.

As far as I could see to the west was an ocean of mountains, real mountains, peaks and pinnacles high above the timberline, and snowcaps in August. Uninterrupted mountains ever grander and they filled the world to the horizon. I felt like an aphid in the garden of the gods. And looking back the way I came, I saw the Great Plains utterly mountainless, flat to the horizon 140 miles (225 km) away. It was impossible. North and south ran a ridiculously precise line. It was as if the most powerful god had drawn the line and declared all mountains on this side, all plains on the other, and no crossing that line. It was unimaginable until I saw it. A photograph in the hand accomplishes none of the sense of it. This was no place like home and I was grateful.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the forty-third in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.