Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Saga, part 3

My short weekend with Chris went the way it always goes when I stop by for a day or two.

We drank a bit. I had good beers, he sampled them and had good Scotch. We watched really terrible B movies. And we talked. A lot.

When I met Chris, he already had tattoos at 17, and had a mohawk over 13 inches long in a town where guys didn't have mohawks. I knew right away that this was a guy who was about as unsure about this "fitting in" thing as I was.

We've done a lot of things together, but it's the talking that I think has made him my best friend.
We talk about everything. When we talk about bullshit it's bullshit that means something to us. When we talk about important things, we truly talk about them, and it gets really great.

You see, Chris and I have a perfect balance of being completely opposite and having a lot in common. I think actually we have pretty much the same psyche and personality, but had completely different backgrounds and experiences.
And he's a heck of a lot smarter than he gives himself credit for.
We tend to stand on opposite sides of the fence on most issues, and that's a good thing.

What's good about it is that when we have conversations, we LISTEN to each other. He's my friend because frankly very few other people make me feel like that. We have deep respect for each other. When I open my mouth to say something, I can actually see in his expression that even though what I'm about to say may be something he currently disagrees strongly with, it's going to be something worth listening to. I can even see that he knows it COULD be something that will change his mind. (I hope he can see the same thing in me when he speaks.)

He's one of only two people in my life I've ever gotten to say, "you know, I really never did think about it like that before... you might be right." He's also one of the few people I've said it to. (The other person only ever said it once, it seems like Chris and I say it fairly often.)

So that was Virginia. The world wasn't changed that day, but it was plotted. And then we slept in.

As I said before, I was really winging it. My initial plan was to arrive in New York Sunday afternoon and set up a camp for the next couple of days and then arrive ready for anything at 8 am Monday. The unexpected duration of Friday's ride, however, got me thinking. From Petersburg, VA to Syracuse, NY was now probably going to take me at least an hour longer than expected, putting it at over 10 hours. I knew that I wouldn't leave early enough to be confident that I could arrive before the office of the place I planned to camp was closed.
So I borrowed $20 from my friend to help out with an unplanned expense, and called my Mom to get her to look online for the cheapest hotel near my destination.

And once again I found some good highway music, probably something like "Blood Sugar Sex Magic," and got back out onto my least favorite highway.
It was a decent ride that day. Same ol' traffic story, yadda yadda... hairy through Richmond; managed to skirt the DC area gridlock-free.

Other things you notice/pay more attention to on motorcycles:
Not far into Pennsylvania I started noticing more deer crossing signs. About halfway through Pennsylvania I started seeing dead deer. I saw a few live ones too, but not close to the highway.
I slowed my roll a little bit and tightened up my thinking cap.

Also at about that same point I was noticing a few more hills here and there.
And the countryside was beautiful!

Once I crossed the line into NY I started seeing even more deer crossing signs and unfortunate deer. It never occured to me at the beginning to start counting, because obviously I didn't realize I'd see so many, but I know I must have seen at the very least a dozen deer carcasses on the highway that day. It's a real wakeup call to a motorcyclist (percentage of animal/car collisions that result in death to occupants of the car: 2%; for motorcycles it's over 80%) .

I was to decide later that the sign posted on the highways entering NY should say:
"Welcome to New York"
"Deer Crossing!!!"
"No Left Turn"
"No U Turn"

I had also decided that I would give my bike a name at some point on this trip. I had expected it to come from some experience or something that I would have while in NY. But it sort of came to me on that Sunday during one of my breaks, while I was just sitting there gazing at it. With sort of a description/monologue:

People tend to give their bikes female names, which I think stems from the tradition of doing the same with boats. While I can see the correlation for cars, I see my bike more like a "mount" than like a "vessel." More like a buddy than a lover. It's more like a horse than a boat.
Horses don't have to be male or female necessarily, it's just whichever one you pick.
But I think my bike is different from even that. It transcends gender.
It is neither male nor female.
It is bike.
And its name is Sugar.

(It's the glorified wheelbarrow pictured in my profile, a brilliant and beautiful pearl white.)

Not long after entering NY the view ahead and rolling terrain under my rubber made me realize something that hadn't occured to me in all my haste to get ready and come up here, even when looking at the map (it was just a road map after all). I was heading into mountainous territory!
I'm glad I somehow allowed that to be a surprise to me, it was a very good one. Mountains and motorcycles go together like, well, Bonnie and Clyde. And so far I'd had very little chance to enjoy them since getting a bike.

The scenery got nicer and nicer as I went, and eventually my cheeks began to cramp.

I arrived in Baldwinsville, NY and had trouble finding the hotel from the directions my Mom had given me on the phone. It turned out it wasn't the directions, it was the road. It was a small highway that goes all the way through town and then crosses the main highway again, and in the process it makes 3 turns. By the second turn my directions were definitely "off," but it turned out that I needed the SECOND exit for the same highway. And there I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.

I got to the hotel at about 9, this time unpacking the whole bike for just a night because I didn't want to leave "everything I have" out in a parking lot. I went and got some fast food to go (I'm not proud of it) and then read from "Catcher In The Rye" for about an hour before going to bed at about 11 - pretty early for me, but I wanted to be bright-eyed in the morning.

I had made up my mind to do a lot of reading this summer. I love to do it, but I've fallen out of the habit. I wound up reading 8 books while I was in NY... camping a whole lot made it kinda easy. I'll mention them all in a separate blog sometime.

I easily awoke early Monday morning without snoozing (extremely rare). I had a few cups of coffee and a free continental breakfast of starches, sugar and orange juice, and got everything packed and bungeed back onto the bike.

I then reversed my directions back to the highway where I picked up where I left off on those to the address of the company I'd be working for. This took me a few miles to another exit, a few turns outside of town and a couple more miles to a warehouse/office pretty much around the corner from the hotel.
That was the Monday morning on which I learned the real difference between navigating with meticulously written directions, and doing so with a map.

View First NY map in a larger map

I did the "good first impression" thing and showed up plenty early. I'd been told 8am, I got there at about 7:35. I rolled into the gravel lot just in time to see a big fella getting into a tractor-trailer and rolling out of it.
Then I waited.
And I waited a little more.

I've never worked anywhere where at least one person, usually the boss, didn't show up early. At about 7:50 I started thinking, "well, there's not going to be anyone here to notice that I showed up impressively early, so much for first impressions." At 8 I figured something must be amiss, as I knew this was a busy week for the company... it didn't make much sense that EVERYone would be late but the FNG (the "fuckin' new guy," as I would be called until a nickname I was given later stuck on). The only phone number I had was for the office, but I already knew that number forwarded to Mark's phone when no one was there, so I dialed it at precisely 8:00.

It turns out, as we did most of the time at that company, everyone was meeting AT the jobsite, Onondaga Community College. (Incidentally, another rider I know from the aforementioned internet forum works at said college, and I was looking forward to meeting him too.)

This was a perfectly normal misunderstanding, and Mark told me it was fine that I'd now obviously be late. (Heck, I'd never discussed the location of anything with him, I went by the address I was originally given by my friend, Mike. Kinda funny now that I think about it, that Mark never even asked if I knew where he was located... I just "showed up" as if by magic.)

It was too bad I hadn't known to follow the tractor-trailer, that's exactly where it was heading. So then I had my first experience with Mark's strange and unusual way of giving directions. He told me (I'm not quoting) to turn right onto the road, then after about 3 miles I turned left onto NY-173. He said to stay on that until I came to *a couple of other landmarks* and a park with soccer fields on my left; stop at the park and call him again.
I stopped at the park, shut off the bike, took off my helmet and gloves, and called him again to get the rest of the directions. It's a good thing he split it up, because I probably never could have remembered it all. I was to stay on 173 until I saw Onondaga Community College on my right. And turn into it. (Once I was in there it would be obvious enough where a stage was being erected.)

That was a nice little morning ride. NY-173, though pretty much just a normal country road, was much more enjoyable than what I'm used to in Eastern Georgia. The villages (we don't have "villages" in GA either) have more space and nice, sweeping curves between them. The scenery is lovely and dense with vegetation, and even most of the villages themselves could be called "scenery." Nature's Show always seems fresh and new when you travel a long distance, the trees and everything are different from what you're used to seeing all the time. Your whole world can change shape and color and it's easy to rediscover the awe of it all, if you'd forgotten it or begun to take it for granted.
I was wide awake, in mind and body, by the time I arrived at the gig that morning.

I found the parking lot where they all were and rolled into a parking spot. I took a minute to remove all my gear - helmet, gloves, jacket and assless chaps* (all the gear, all the time baby), then went over to where the work was happening with a big, friendly, "good morning gentlemen!" I walked over to the guy with the deepest voice (Mark has a deep voice) who had the demeanor of one who's in charge and said, "Hi, I'm Michael. Are you Mark?"

Greg's reply was (and I am quoting this time), "that's not me, the guy you wanna impress is over there." Not particularly cordial, but not really unfriendly, and he hardly glanced up from his work as he said it.
I'm sure at least a few of these guys already knew a little bit about me and that I was coming, but I realized a few minutes later that they had also put out an open labor call in the local paper for that morning. At that point I could have just been any ol' flunky strolling up looking for a few days of work.

This turned out to be a really great group of guys to work with, and they did get friendly pretty quick upon realizing I was "that guy." As usually goes with these situations everything gets even friendlier once they realize that you're really there to work, and that you know your shit, as I would soon set about demonstrating.

I did have a very slight disadvantage with this particular crew, though. I had told Mark that "I want to work," and that I was very capable of being involved in the whole process, but it was also known that my primary focus is as a "tech." A Sound Guy. And this was the build crew (and light tech, because his stuff has to go up WITH the stage, sound comes later because it goes ON the stage). The general feeling amongst the "work" crew about the techs is that they don't tend to be really useful to them. Sound guys in particular don't seem to feel like they have to always be involved in the "heavy lifting."**

And really, we don't. For lots of reasons... the most basic of which is that one of the reasons you learn a highly technical and creative skill like Sound Engineering is so that you can work with your mind instead of your muscles (which works out great for a guy like me who's mind is stronger than my muscles). Another is the fact that the techs are likely to be there a LOT longer than anyone else, and the LAST thing they'll do is the one that will require them to be at their absolute best that day. It really goes against how a "workday" works, having to do your best work when you're most tired. Imagine working for 16 hours straight, and THEN the main act takes the stage. That's what you've gotta be able to handle if you want to be even a decent sound or light tech. (There will be more on this later.)

BUT... most soundguys WILL help with the heavy stuff when it's necessary for them to, and they're also usually the guy who knows exactly how everything goes in the truck.

So, that's about what these guys were expecting from me, a fact that I was already intuitively aware of. This actually could have given me an unfair ADvantage in that lowered expectations might have made it a little easier to impress them. I assure you, however, that I need no such advantage. I actually enjoy doing the "other than sound" work involved in putting together a show, including building the stage. Hey, some of it is hard work, but I also get to climb around on stuff!

* Heh heh... "assless chaps."
I had my first bike about a month before it suddenly occurred to me that I should be wearing more protective gear than just a helmet. I then set about getting my body covered, quickly. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into what was "best," I just hastily got some things to cover my precious skin. I had the chaps about a week before I thought of the idea that, really, it was probably my butt that was most likely to really get hurt (though I then got into a wreck a few months later and hurt my knee and ankle, and bruised my hip, all of which were covered by the chaps), and at some point I should get some full leather pants instead of just the chaps. I still haven't gotten around to doing that.

** I've found that often those that do the "thinking" work and those that do the "heavy" work don't have a lot of respect for each other, even if they're on the same team. Since I've had the opportunity to work on both sides I've learned that it's mostly because of simple ignorance: they don't see "everything" the other side does - it's because they each don't realize the value of the other, not because one is more valuable than the other.

1 comment:

  1. Update, regarding assless chaps:

    I kinda thought that was a pretty reasonable assumption.

    Now I have: wrecked once (already mentioned that), and fallen twice (low speed mistakes, basically "dropped" the bike by having the front tire slide out from under me).

    ALL THREE times I have fallen to the left, and the only thing that was hurt was something on my left leg from the hip down.
    The aforementioned injury to knee and ankle (which finally having some decent, actually great, medical care is now taking care of for me), and two severely skinned knees (same knee).

    First of all... ROAD RASH SUCKS. Ever had someone hold a lit match against your kneecap for 2-3 weeks? Yeah, it sucks. Bad.

    Second... I got the road rash on my knee because I lost my chaps at a gig, and haven't replaced them yet.

    Third... I had armored gear on the rest of me, and literally didn't feel the impact with the pavement. (Well, my KNEE certainly felt it.)

    Last... I still think assless chaps are a half-assed idea. If I ever wind up TUMBLING down the highway, there is no part of my body that I don't want covered with as much protective material as possible. Which parts of my skin, after all, do I WANT to have road rash on? Do I need to answer that?

    After last... I am currently seeking recommendations for armored riding pants, that are comfortable enough for all day riding without trying to think of times when "it will be okay to not wear them for a little while." Anybody got some said recommendations?