A System of Concepts Worked Out In Steel

“That’s all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone’s mind […] I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this—that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes—pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts—all of them fixed and inviolable., and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forger work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not. Shapes, like this tappet, are what you arrive at, what you give to the steel. Steel has no more shape than this old pile of dirt on the engine here. These shapes are all of someone’s mind. That’s important to see. The steel? Hell, even the steel is out of someone’s mind. There’s no steel in nature. Anyone from the Bronze Age could have told you that. All nature has is a potential for steel. There’s nothing else there.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Downtown Decatur, Texas

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Take These Sunken Eyes

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
—-The Beatles, Blackbird

Bird, Scavenging along an Interstate Highway in Texas

A lot of people wax enthusiastic about Buc-ee’s. These are giant, giant convenience stores, now mostly set along Interstate Highways in Texas as immense gas stations.

Most people rave about their clean bathrooms. In 2012 the New Braunfels Buc-ee’s won the Cintas Best Restroom Contest. When I was in college, a long, long, time ago, I ran a gas station in the middle of nowhere (sadly, it’s long closed now) during the summers and vacations. I would open up the small bathrooms ’round back at closing and hose them down good. That seems enough for me.

A typical Buc-ee’s has 60 gas pumps, 80 soda fountains, and 31 cash registers. You order your food from tablet-equipped kiosks and your selection is cooked (probably microwaved) to order. When I worked at that gas station in the 70’s I had two pop machines and a couple of shelving units full of candy, but … well, I mostly sold a lot (and I mean a lot) of cold beer.

There was one guy that would stop by every day, purchase a longneck bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the machine and a small bag of beer nuts. He would pour the sugar-coated nuts into the bottle of Dr. Pepper – some would always foam out. After selling him these for a few years I decided to try the concoction myself.

It wasn’t as good as I had hoped.

So, finally, after hearing so much about Buc-ee’s and seeing the beaver shirts – even eating a bag of beaver nuggets that someone gave me, I decided to stop at a Buc-ee’s and see what the hoopla was about. I don’t remember where I was coming from but I pulled off the interstate and parked along the grassy border (full of people letting their dogs shit) and walked in.

I was not impressed. It was huge… but simply more of the same. The restrooms were clean, I’ll give them that. I bought a fountain drink, and the ice was cold – so no complaints there. But it seemed to be so big and so tacky that it went beyond amusing to obnoxious. Actually, it was worse than that – it was boring.

When I walked out to my car the villainous bird in the photo was giving me the evil eye. He was hopping around looking for dropped Beaver Nuggets or any other misplaced sugary snack.

He gave me the creeps.

But Tonight We’ll Be Free

Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken
—-Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road

McKinney, Texas

Take Me Down Little Susie

Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
—-Rolling Stones, Dead Flowers

McKinney, Texas

Eating Barbequed Iguana

I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
Radio radio…
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio

The Tennessee Williams quote on the wall at the Gallier House, Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.

At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.

I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.

Then finally, in July of last year, I was able to swing attending the full week-long Writing Marathon Retreat – branching out from the Gallier House to write across the French Quarter and beyond.

One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.

At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.

Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.

You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.

If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”

People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.

Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.

Organized Lightning

“Electricity is really just organized lightning”
― George Carlin

Beltline Road and the Glenville Bicycle Trail, Richardson, Texas

Along my drive to work there is, as there always is, a line of giant electrical distribution towers. Over the past few months, I have watched them replace the towers with even larger and higher towers. Twice a day I was treated with a show of technology while this operation proceeded step by step.

They did this without disturbing the wires. First they poured huge round foundations near the old towers. Jutting out of the concrete were rings of heavy bolts. The new towers went in – placed in multiple sections lifted by a crane. Modern crane operators cans sling these massive cylinders of galvanized steel around like they were chopsticks.

Once the new towers were in place, the wires from the old ones were moved over. I didn’t see this – it happened while I was at work. I assume the transfer was done hot – with untold thousands of volts coursing through the conductors. Think about that – a miracle taking place above your head while you only gripe about the traffic delay caused by a closed lane keeping you away from the danger.

Only then were the old towers sliced with a torch and removed.

The stubs are still there – I’ll keep an eye out for how they disappear.

Racing a Rat

“Likewise—now don’t laugh—cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they are sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn’t park your car or pull over for a stop on the sidewalk, would you? Well then, don’t park in the bike lanes either—that forces cyclists into traffic where poor little meat puppets don’t stand a chance.”
― David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

My 1986 Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park. From an early part of the October Full Moon Ride.

The other night I had trouble getting to sleep.

I have learned to keep a bike (one of them, at least) down from the storage rack in the garage, tires pumped up, batteries for the running lights charged, and a helmet hanging from a handlebar. Better yet, keep it pointed towards the garage door.

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

That way, if the mood strikes, I can open the garage door, hop on the bike, and go for a short, quick ride. There is something about riding at night, going nowhere, at any speed, and for an unknown (and uncared about) distance. It is so stress free… it’s like flying.

The moon rising over cyclists and the Dallas skyline. From the October Full Moon Ride. Click to enlarge.

So I found myself on the trail that runs behind my house on up to Huffhines Park, with its lakes shining in the full moonlight. I veered to the right, went around the softball diamonds, and back to the lakes. As I entered the parking lot, I saw movement.

Riding a bike at night, you see a lot of critters. This is the Duck Creek neighborhood, and there are, of course, a lot of ducks. Second most common are the rabbits. Also coyotes, possums, armadillos, stray pets, and even an occasional beaver on a bridge over the creek.

This time, though, it was a rat. One of the sleek, grey, tree rats, caught on the ground. He and I had a little race across the parking lot – I caught him near the north end and we ran side by side, me riding off his left shoulder, his little legs a blur in the dimness. At the end of the lot he veered to the right into a drainage opening and I turned to the left to get back on the trail.

I rode home, gone only a few minutes and far fewer miles, but I felt better and was able to collapse into sleep.