Last night I rode home from work late, at nine thirty p.m., on glistening wet streets surrounded by a sudden burst of the year’s first thick snow flurries. They lasted only about five minutes—from while the motorcycle's engine warmed up as I stood beside it putting on my helmet and gloves, to about Lake Avenue…a distance of eighteen blocks. This crappy weather was an unexpected surprise because it had been sunny and gorgeous when I’d ridden in earlier. A crisp bright late fall day.
Every year I have only one experience exactly like this. It's singularly anticipated, and cannot be planned or expected. Dark wet streets and running water in the gutters. Air thick with irregularly clumping snowy whiteness. Thirty four degrees. Only a few cars. Emotionally and experiential it is exactly the same every year. I've probably enjoyed this identical ten-minute ride twenty times in twenty five years.
The puffy snow danced in the bike's headlight and streaked around my arms and shoulders -- each outsized cluster of flakes a tiny comet. They all followed a precisely smooth laminar flow like an endlessly darting school of phosphorescent tropical fish that stretched out before me forever. Otherworldly and surreal. I floated forward through this illuminated ocean of rarely visible air.
A few moments earlier I’d been looking absently at the gaseous stream of pulses coughing from the end of the bike’s idling exhaust, anticipating this fun, and whatever unknowns were just ahead in the darkness. Somehow the pavement looked even oilier than it does during summer rains. Like a glistening black sandpaper made of diamond-sparkles.
I was internally giddy pulling on my already-partly-wet gloves, anticipating something that was both routine and idiotic…and now I was mounted and lowering the choke lever, then flipping the low beam switch—a self-added control which produces a loud and distinctly old fashioned ‘click-snap’ noise which can be felt though my glove fingertip as it toggles over. Unequivocally reassuring in it’s miniature spring-and-metal way.
White flakes in the headlight’s sudden brightness danced even more merrily—as if they knew they were on a stage, suddenly in a spotlight. Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!
Closing the choke causes the bike to shudder, cough and die, so I thumb the starter a couple of times until the engine catches, then tenderly rev the throttle to clean out the misfire. It had been idling on full-choke for too long while I'd fiddled with my helmet and gloves. A few smaller twists, then a bigger one and the engine settles down to it's steady tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh idle. A complicated, comforting, reassuring old bass metronome. And now I was ready to go.
But another late-leaving co-worker is suddenly standing in the middle of the street, five feet away, pointing her cell phone camera at me and the surrounding snowflakes. In the background her car is idling in the empty lane, it’s driver’s door wide open. An amusingly thick spindrift of whiteness swirled up between us, again almost as if it somehow knew to increase the flaky performance for her camera. "I don't have enough light.” she shouted just above the bike and wind. “It’s a cheap phone camera. I'll email it to you if it comes out." "Ok. Great! Thanks! Have a nice night!..." She smiled and hurried back to the safety and comfort of the car. Nice lady.
I was anxious, and ready, so I released the clutch and rolled out across the car’s two yellow headlight beams, waving with my gloved left hand, sweeping upward just a few inches above the ribbed handlebar grip. Her open hand replied, waving back from just behind the car’s windshield. And then I was off like Zorro...or maybe someone else, just heading home from my job on a wet snowy night.