Five bucks total. Five limp frogskins was the sum of my cash holdings when I checked my wallet at a charity run a hundred miles from the house. Scant reserves, but no big deal in this the age of the ATM, and I was confident I could get a fresh round of financing at any bank or store en route. And I was ready to spend the lonely quintet on a beer at the run, but for some reason decided to forego the brew and grab a gratis can of cola instead, which is decidedly out of character for me. I don’t know why I balked, but balk I did, so I still had five simoleons in pocket when I left the run and stopped up the road a few miles to fuel up for a long ride.
The gas station had an ATM machine and I inserted my card, chose English as my preferred language, though I’m always tempted to punch in Español just to see if pesos pop out, and I agreed to the usurious $2.50 transaction fee and ordered up a hundred bucks.
My card spit back out. A message on the screen informed me that it was expired, and, sure ’nuff, it had an expiration date that passed two days previous, and I’d spaced out and left the replacement card en la casa. This gave me pause. I had two days and many hundreds of miles of riding ahead of me on this trip, and was at least a couple of hours from home and a functional ATM card, and the daylight was on the wane.
So what? I had credit cards, I consoled myself. Gas and lodging and food could be readily had. Even fast food joints accept the plastic these days, I figured, though it’s not flattering what it says about you when you slap down the card on a value meal.
It says: I’m a vagrant, and probably a junkie, and reduced to living off a shallow line of high-interest credit just to buy a lousy burger, medium fries and medium fountain drink. That’s what it says to the minimum-wage teenager behind the counter who can, generally, relate. And then there’d be that moment of suspense when they run my card and wait skeptically to see if it can absorb a $4.31 hit.
So, pride aside, this 1,000-mile caper was, in theory, doable on credit. Still, something felt ominous about it. On the road with no dough and no way to score any? Surely I’d need actual cash sooner or later, and while I couldn’t for the life of me figure when that might occur, I knew that the farther from home it did, the more screwed I’d be.
That doubt is not the breed of worm you need arguing down into your psyche over miles and lonely miles of motorcycle meditation, and so it was that when I determined to soldier on that evening with my five skins and the night falling fast and cold, I also determined to put that doubt out of my mind. I resolved to throw caution to the wind; quit worrying about the what-ifs and savor the what-is. An element of uncertainty just sweetens the adventure, after all, and stress just weakens the immune system. I had a moment of giddiness, a sudden sense of liberation, and a faith that whatever unanticipated pitfall came could be handled handily, never mind the inconvenience and ultimate expense a remedy might entail.
After those thoughts, I felt better about my low-dough plight and rode on with my five green compadres in perspective. I was cool. I was capable. I was road-splattered from rain and red-faced from wind and looking like a white port wino, and so would you under the circumstances, but I was, after all, a self-made thousandaire with workable plastic. After successfully negotiating the first night on the road, and the following day, lodged, fueled and fed, I was getting cocky about it. Who needs cash? Sure, it would be convenient for snacks and other quick incidentals, and I prefer to tip in cash so Uncle Sugar can’t pluck the waitress for a cut of her modest earnings, and I found myself sadly unable to give a few bucks to a “stranded” down-and-outer at a remote truck stop like I always do, even while knowing there’s a better than even chance I’m being played for a sucker. Anyone who has to stoop to that low a con has to be seriously hurting for bucks, and regardless of what they spend it on, I’m happy to kick ’em down a few if only because it’s good for the soul and easier than getting all constipatedly righteous about things.
And my luck continued from there. Two nights and two days and 930 miles of riding and subsisting solely on the plastic. I was sore tempted as the finish line came into the immediate realm of possibility to buy that beer I’d denied myself at the run two days previous, and I would have if the opportunity had conveniently arisen. It didn’t. Thank God. Seventy miles from the house I hit the Carquinez Straits Bridge, and it was the troll I knew was out there but had been unable to anticipate. It cost me my five bucks to cross.
Five bucks. Don’t leave home without ’em.
It’s all right here in the diaries.