It’s 4:00 a.m. and I’m sitting at the kitchen counter, right in the middle of a houseful of young people who are partying like there’s no tomorrow. Friends (not mine), neighbors (the 24-hour party house a few doors down) and slight acquaintances (does anyone know that guy who grabbed that six-pack out of the fridge?) have been coming and going, and quite noisily, since the previous evening. I’m laughing to myself, struck by the irony of the scene. It’s the theatre of the absurd. And a helluva way for me to celebrate 30 years of staying clean and sober.
But 30 years ago I wasn’t laughing. Not one bit. The years of constant substance abuse had taken their toll. My sordid past had finally caught up with me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I was sick, skinny, depressed, broke (and broken), and out of options. I just couldn’t keep going in the direction I’d been headed. After a long battle with my personal demons of drugs and alcohol, I finally surrendered and allowed myself to get some help. It took Narcotics Anonymous meetings, therapy, and rehab, along with a lot of other support, but I finally managed to see my way to abstinence. I haven’t imbibed since March 16, 1987. Unless you count chocolate and Coca-Cola, but that’s another story.
So how did I find myself in the present situation, sharing a house with people that were young enough to be my children and, a few, conceivably my grandchildren? For nearly a decade of Daytona Bike Weeks, the THUNDER PRESS crew has stayed in a house not far from Main Street. It was right in the middle of the action, and worked out well for rally coverage. However, the way things worked out this year, we THUNDER PRESS folks each stayed somewhere different. Because of this, our gracious landlord allowed me alone to stay with some of his younger family members and their friends who’d rented the place for the second half of Bike Week.
I knew that the house dynamics would change considerably, like the easy camaraderie and singular purpose of my co-workers who’d stayed there before. There would be no collaboration at the end of the day, critiquing each other’s photos and regaling each other with tall tales over a home-cooked meal. That said, I was grateful that the landlord had allowed me to stay there, so I’d just have to see how things turned out.
On Wednesday, my new housemates arrived, bringing in a truckload of coolers, food and other supplies. They were a friendly, animated crew, absolutely thrilled to get time off from their jobs and spend a few days of fun in the sun. They had some pretty cool bikes with them, too. As the evening progressed, this high-voltage bunch—and their friends—proceeded to amp up the energy, which continued into the wee hours. I had to get up early the next morning and there was no way I could sleep with the music blasting and the ever-louder laughter punctuating every beat.
Thursday, I dragged my butt out of bed for an early-morning photo shoot followed by a ride to Willie’s Tropical Tattoo for the Chopper Time custom bike show. Once there, my mood improved considerably, as I began to check out the bikes and catch up with old friends. It felt like home. Later in the afternoon, I ran into some of the Harley-Davidson crew, so I rode with them to the debut of the American Flat Track series at the Speedway. What a spectacular evening, watching the Harley-Davidson XG750R slug it out against Indian’s FTR750, and all this from President’s Row of the Daytona 500 Club! It was indeed a fitting way to celebrate my anniversary day.
Not long after I got back to the house later that evening I got a text from a friend who wanted to hang out. We agreed to meet at one of the nearby bars, so I put my boots back on and headed out the door. That night’s house party was, of course, in full swing and my housemates seemed amazed that someone this old was going out again—near midnight, for goodness’ sake! My friend and I saw every band that was playing on Main Street, finally closing the Bank & Blues. We walked back to the house where the party was still going strong.
I probably didn’t get to bed until 5:00 a.m., and sleep didn’t come until it was almost light. By then, I’d already come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to get much sleep until Sunday night when I was in my own bed. Besides, it was St. Patrick’s Day—yet another reason to party.
I decided an attitude adjustment was in order, and I began to enjoy watching the antics of the crew, who were clearly having the time of their lives. I saw a lot of myself in some of them, before my addiction completely took over my life. I got to know everybody in the house better, as well as some of their friends. They really were a fun bunch, and, in their own way, quite respectful. None of them would park their bikes behind the house for fear of blocking me in, and offers to share snacks (yes, please) or beer (no, thank you) were frequently forthcoming. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was kind of sorry to leave that high-spirited bunch.
The most important thing is that I’ve made it another year without picking up a drink or a drug, and for that I’m thankful. Had I not stopped the insanity three decades back, I’m sure I would’ve been dead long ago. My high is now from road adventures, camping in the wilderness, meeting new people, and everything else that goes with the motorcycling lifestyle. And there are no hangovers, blackouts, or regrets. Things are so much simpler this way.