“Does your dog understand sarcasm?”
In the middle of the night, after the first day of a long motorcycle trip, dealing with a half-digested mediocre greasy spoon meal which was turning his stomach into cement, being a student of both history and psychobabble, Marvin began to mull over and probe the great questions of the ages concerning dogs and sarcasm.
Not being used to the road he was less than comfortable and a bit sore after the day’s miles. Tired, in bed, staring at the cheap motel’s beige ceiling change color as the outside neon light shone through the drapes that didn’t quite come together in the middle was the ill-at-ease payment he made for the first awkward day on the road when everything was out of sync.
The “sort-of” fitful sleep he got from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. was just enough to ruin the possibilities for the rest of the night. Now awake, exhausted, strange philosophical notions flood his brain, questions about life that would never have occurred to him in the daylight dominate the black room with the colorful ceiling. They mixed with obvious motorcycle maintenance questions about tire pressure and oil consumption, what the temperature would be tomorrow, when should he get up to beat the heat? He remembered checking the motorcycle over thoroughly but had he missed something? Had he missed something important in his life? Would he achieve his life goals, what were his goals, had he chosen the right goals, was he doing something wrong… had he… was he… will he… continue to do everything wrong? Is his life wrong? Was he supposed to check the tire pressure when it was hot or cold?
Logic and emotion argued and even though many of the answers were apparent mixing the obvious questions with the more oblique was enough to keep anyone awake. On the second or third day his body and mind would have time to reset their clocks and a normal night’s sleep had a better chance, but not tonight.
Because society had always set up life so that he questioned himself and his worth on every subject, doubts and uncertainties drove him from the boring bed to pour a Jim Beam with a little melted cold water from the ice bucket. From his pack he broke a protein bar in half. Pulling the curtains fully open, standing in front of the window, watching the neon sign turn from vacancy to no vacancy he sipped at the drink and nibbled at the protein bar.
If this was 150 or 200 years ago, if he were a mountain man or a cowboy on the first day of an extended adventure, he would be concerned with the prospects of good hunting, asking, “Will my tent hold up to the snow, will it rain, can I find water, how are the horse and pack mule doing, will they need grain, are their shoes holding up?”
Channeling those thoughts he wondered if it would rain. “What if it does? I have good rain gear,” he remembered. “Is there gas in the tank? Yes, just filled it.” He was talking to himself. “The tire tread is fine. Well then what is the problem? I have no problems.”
In 1670 the Hudson Bay Fur Company invented something called the “Hudson Bay Start.” Their first day out on a trip was a short one so that they could go back to civilization and get what they forgot or get what was unforeseen when they set up their first camp. This was Marvin’s “Hudson Bay Start” and finally realizing it he relaxed a little.
At 3:00 a.m. after the drink and the snack, things looked a little better. Marvin was able to make some rational sense of philosophy and bike maintenance and looked forward to the sunrise, when he could escape this motel prison and get back on the road. Questions about sarcastic dogs and life’s goals, reservations concerning whether he was living the right life, uncertainties about had he ever lived the right life had no place on the road. They don’t mix well with the black snake tarmac, white lines, potholes or traffic.
As the sun slowly appeared philosophy was put aside. Night is the time for recrimination. Right—wrong—who gives a damn in the morning? In the morning it is time to shower, shave, comb hair, pack and clean the bike. Five miles down the road last night was forgotten and all was right with the world.
The second night, in the second cheap motel whose curtains didn’t quite come together in the middle allowing flashing neon to color the ceiling another Jim Beam was sampled with the second half of the protein bar. Normal nightly questions beg for conclusions but in unfamiliar, sleazy motels they seem to come at a person more strangely and everything is mixed up a bit more peculiarly. Marvin knew that and tonight he was ready. Before sleep, again he wondered about life and whether he was doing it right; again there were questions about his goals and would he achieve them or fail. But unlike the first night he knew life’s examinations and was prepared with some answers that made sense.
At the end of the third day, in a motel that could have easily come from the same DNA as the first two, he turned on the TV. Flipping from the Weather Channel to the news he found both uninteresting. This motel had Wi-Fi and he could access the Internet. He could check email, Twitter, Facebook. He didn’t. Tonight, he knew what he needed to know about the world and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought. Thinking like that was empowering.
One of the big mistakes of his life was listening to what others thought and seeing himself through those opinions. In a motel room three days from home all of that seemed silly.
In the morning he remembered that he didn’t care about the judgements and appraisals of others. He remembered why he was on the road by himself and was reminded that he enjoyed his own company. The choices he’d made were the right ones. Self-admonition was gone.
Now there was more than just a road bisected by a white line. There were birds in the trees, cows grazing in pastures, clouds that looked like elephants and bunny rabbits, a motorcycle that growled like a great wild beast. The world was alive with possibilities. People smiled at him. He smiled back.