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News, Weather, and Sports Archive
August 2007 Entry
"Every Road Has Its Toll"
backstage while the opening movie played the other night, poised
to run on, sticks in hand, ear-monitors in, I found myself excited
by two thoughts. I was idly pondering how I might start my solo
that night (since I have been improvising the first part of it
this tour, I always try to open with a different figure straight
off), and I also felt an unaccustomed eagerness — a curiosity
to get out there to see the
to hear the audience,
note — not to bask in their cheers and appreciation — but
just to look at them. Their numbers, their faces, their reactions,
their dances, their T-shirts, the signs they hold up. Even while
I’m supposed to be up there entertaining people, they can
be so entertaining for me.
signs are scattered among the crowd, like two I saw in the audience
at Red Rocks: One quite far back on the stage-right side read, “If
I Loved a Woman Like I Love This Band, I’d Still Be Married!” Near
the front, on the stage-left side, was another, “I Support
My Husband's Rush Addiction!” Two
very different stories there, obviously.
night in Texas I saw a truly great sign from far back in the house, “VBS Field
was a sly reference to a joke in my previous story on this site
(glad to know some people get my lame jokes!). At intermission,
Michael and I laughed about that one, and its maker was unanimously
declared the night’s lucky winner of
a pair of drumsticks. That doesn’t happen every night, you
understand — let’s not make this some kind of competition — but
some nights, a sign or a T-shirt slogan makes me smile, or I see
a cute little kid, or sometimes recognize a familiar face from
many shows, and send them out a pair of sticks.
night on the first run I was won over by a professional-looking
sign along the barricade that read, “My
60th Show and Still No Drumsticks. I'm Just Saying…”
phrasing alone was irresistible, and Geddy said later that if I
hadn’t sent the guy out a pair of sticks, he was going to
ask his tech, Russ, to get some from Gump and send them out.
offer, “Will Trade
Macallan for 747s” seemed
promising, but I doubted anyone had managed to bring a bottle of
whisky into the venue. Following our plan, Michael took a pair
of sticks out, but asked for the Macallan first. When the guy said
been able to bring it in, but it was in his car, Michael pretended
to turn away — then gave him the sticks.
few of the signs with requests are inspired in some such fashion,
but a scrap of paper scrawled with “Stick?” does
not impress so much (though, to be fair, I do appreciate any amount
of trouble people go to), nor the one I saw the other night, “Spare
intermission, I told Michael about it, and asked if maybe we could
send the sign-holder Michael’s beloved 8-track of The
Grand Illusion. He
said no, because all those childhood favorites were on his iPod
seriously, folks . . . I can report that the Snakes and Arrows tour
continues to go pretty well. The audiences have been wonderfully
large and unbelievably appreciative (adjectives interchangeable),
and the shows themselves have been going smoothly for us and our
. . . just now counting up what we’ve done, and what we still
have to do, I must admit to feeling a little apprehension at the
realization that we are only now at the halfway point of the tour.
We’ve done thirty-two shows, and have exactly that many to
go. It seems a lot — in both directions.
to those first thirty-two shows, Michael and I have already ridden
13,211 motorcycles miles. At that rate, we’ll likely top
last tour’s total of 21,000 — especially by the time
Brutus comes into the picture, in Europe, with his mad route-planning.
(Though whether he and I will be able to ride to the last few shows,
Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki, in late October, will depend on
a selfish good fortune with climate change. We ought to increase
our carbon footprint right away. Maybe by riding faster . . . )
spent a lot of time and energy on the R30 tour
in 2004 taking notes, mental and written, trying to record each
day’s events, then researching and writing about it so copiously.
Thus, this time I have been powerfully aware of how different this
tour is from that one — as they all are from each other,
I realize. No two tours are alike, just as no two shows are alike — and
certainly no two audiences. In each case, there are many similarities,
but so many variables and daily occurrences remain unique.
all the ink I spilled about “magic shows” in Roadshow,
it is strange to report that this tour has been different in that
way, too. I don’t think there have been any particularly “magic” shows,
in my estimation — though they’ve all been pretty satisfying
in their own ways. My best theory is that each of this tour’s
shows has been performed at a slightly higher level than ever before,
and thus they’ve all had their bit of magic.
explanation for that may be partly due to how well prepared we
were — how much rehearsing we did before the tour — and
to a pleasing variety of songs in the two sets, but it does seem
that we have all reached a certain plateau of consistency and competency
that is really shining on this tour. As I wrote about my own playing
in that context, “Call it maturity.”
friends have commented to me how well Geddy is singing, and it’s
true — I’ve listened to a few recorded shows on days
off, and his voice sounds unbelievably good. (It’s a simple
stark fact illuminating the importance of that voice that if he couldn’t
do it anymore, we couldn’t
do it anymore.) Plus, as I said to Geddy after listening to one
of the shows, “You’re not just performing — you’re
really singing out.”
performing at that level takes its toll on Geddy, for he has to
treat his voice with such care, even avoiding talking on
days off, and warming it up methodically before a show. Likewise,
performing at that level, and for so long (both
in the number of hours in the show, and the number of years we’ve
been doing it),
takes its toll on us all. The other night Alex was telling me that
even the knuckles on his fretting hand were sore after two shows
in a row.
drumming part of my touring life is certainly athletic, though
few athletes are expected to surpass their peak at 54 years of
age. I sure don’t take it for granted that I have felt able
to do that — I’m very gratified. But . . . it takes
into consideration that Michael’s and my motorcycle rides
between shows average about
275 miles a day, I actually spend far more time in the saddle than
I do on the drum throne. That takes its toll, too — in the
sore spots that Michael and I call “saddle tats;” in
the tired mind from making a million decisions about traffic and
road surfaces as you ride hour after hour; and in a body beaten
by wind, vibration, and the physical activity of motorcycling,
especially in the mountains, with so much braking, shifting, accelerating,
and moving your body on the bike for more effective cornering.
there was the heat — in the 100s for many days, especially
in the Southwest. Desert heat is one thing, but when the humidity
is also high, as in South Texas, and you’re wearing the armored
suit, helmet, gloves, and boots, you get to feel like you’re
covered in a coat of slime, riding past a small-town bank clock
have seen some fantastically scenic parts of the country, though.
This western swing carried us through the Rockies, the Cascades,
the Sierra Nevada, Northern and Southern California, the Great
Basin, a broad swath of northern Arizona, across Colorado (or “Cop-orado,” as
I have christened the state, for its over-zealous enforcement of
artificially low speed limits), and some of Texas’s prettiest
landscapes, the Hill Country and Gulf Coast.
and I spent a very enjoyable couple of days crossing the wonderfully
wide open spaces of Nevada. We sped down long, straight stretches
of empty road, both paved and dirt, across the Great Basin of sage,
juniper, stunted pines, and occasional twisty bits through the
mountains — classic basin and range country. In South Texas
we saw the ravages of the flooding from earlier this summer, with
scoured riverbeds and rebuilt bridges and runoff areas that had
been swept away.
am glad to report that rural Texas continues to boast the most
courteous drivers in the country, perhaps the world. When you come
up behind a pickup or sedan on a two-lane backroad, they not only
move over willingly, right onto the shoulder, but wave you by cheerfully.)
had a few more guest riders on the West Coast run, too, sometimes
filling in for Michael when other duties called him away. John
Wesley rode through Northern California with me, all the way down
to the Hollywood Bowl (sorry about the ticket, Wes — and
the hellish traffic around Lake Tahoe); Greg Russell (designer
of this Web site, maker of the film, Swingin’ Serpents, behind
this tour’s drum solo, and, in general, self-described “Master
of All Things Creative”) rode with Michael and me from Yuma,
Arizona, up to old Route 66 and a classic motel in Seligman, Arizona.
clings to a tenuous existence on the tourist trade that haunts
that old road, but there are so many small towns across America
that are still dying — not so much because of being bypassed
by interstates these days, as the old Route 66 towns were, but
because of being bypassed by people. The
decline of these small towns, sadly, is measured in the death of
dreams — every time I see a shuttered restaurant, a boarded-up
gas station, or an abandoned Main Street store, I imagine it is
someone’s dream that failed. Someone who always dreamed of
having their own restaurant, their own gas station, their own little
shop. Thus it always feels good to stop at a small-town diner,
or stay at a Mom-and-Pop motel. Keep those dreams alive.
Seligman on our way to the next show in Phoenix, I had planned
a route through the pine forests southeast of Flagstaff, on some
red dirt back roads to Mormon Lake, then two-lane highways bracketed
in woods that swung down through Payson, Pine, and Strawberry.
had ridden and enjoyed those roads a few times before, but this
time I added one new detour — to Roosevelt Dam. Having long
been fascinated by the great waterworks of the West, I had visited
many of the biggest ones, like Hoover, Grand Coulee, and Bonneville,
so I thought I’d like to see the one that was built 100 years
ago to feed Phoenix’s growth, damming the Salt River for
power and irrigation.
temperature climbed all day, as we descended in elevation toward
Phoenix, and the Tonto National Forest gave way to the rugged Superstition
Mountains, folds of igneous rock lightly flecked in cactus desert.
The blue expanse of the the reservoir, Theodore Roosevelt Lake,
looked cool and inviting. The bridge over it — apparently the
longest two-lane, single-span, steel-arch bridge in North America — echoed
the attractive arc of the world’s largest masonry dam (originally
made of bricks, then later expanded with concrete).
in all of that world-class “largestness,” we rode on,
passing a sign informing us that the next twenty-eight miles of
the Apache Trail were unpaved. The narrow gravel road twisted along
the canyon of the winding Salt River, past cactus and desert shrubs
clinging to the carved banks of rock, shimmering in the heat.
Greg, and I had some thrills scrambling in the dirt, then the pavement
began for another twenty miles, still with very few other vehicles,
and still winding as it led downriver to Apache Junction. The pavement
was nicely banked, the tight curves taken in second gear and sometimes
first, and altogether it was about my favorite kind of riding,
technical, engaging, and exciting, at a slow enough speed that
I dared to lean way over,
and use all of those tires. The Apache Trail definitely ranks in
my handful of favorite roads so far this tour. (Among the other
candidates would be a couple of nameless tracks in West Virginia;
Highway 129 in North Carolina, on the way to Deals Gap; a series
of Washington state backroads from the Columbia River Valley to
the Cascades; and the Sherman Pass in California, crossing the
Sierras on the way to one of my favorite overnights, at Mono Lake.)
the Phoenix show, Greg rode with us on the bus to a truck stop
in Kingman, and next morning we set out for the MGM Grand in Vegas
(where it was fiercely hot, 107°, but still nothing like as
uncomfortable as that South Texas swelter). Once again, I had planned
an adventurous detour, on a dirt road ending at a remote shore
of Lake Mead.
Catterson, editor-in-chief of Motorcyclist magazine,
accompanied me across “Coporado.” After the Salt Lake
City show, we slept on the bus at a rest stop in Wyoming, then
rode down the east side of Flaming Gorge. I had ridden the west
side a couple of times, but Brian’s brother Paul had recommended
this route, and it proved to be a terrific series of linked, high-speed
sweepers among majestic scenery.
that day, in the rangeland of western Colorado, Brian and I were
caught in a violent thunderstorm. Lightning slashed down ahead
to our right and left, and heavy rain was driven by crosswinds
that swept spray across the road like . . . spindrift. Marble-sized
hail began pelting us, painful even through our armored suits,
and about then I considered it the worst storm I had ever ridden
through. But in that remote, treeless area, there was nowhere to
take shelter, and nowhere to go back to. I was leading at the time,
and felt responsible for us both, but I could think of nothing
better to do than slow down and keep moving. Like the Winston Churchill
quote, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
was relieved to learn later that Brian had the same instinct, under
the circumstances. Slow down, keep riding, and hope our “angels” were
on duty. Still, we both knew that lightning had the lethal potential
to “charge” a heavy toll to a motorcyclist. Later we
talked about the rider who had been killed by lightning on a Cycle
World tour while
Brian worked there, and I was pleased to hear what Brian told me
the guy’s widow had said: “If he was struck by lightning
when he was riding his motorcycle — it was his time.”
easier to take than the cliché, “Well, at least he
died doing what he loved.”
about it: that’s the last time
anyone wants to die — when they’re doing something
an overnight in the ski-boom town of Steamboat Springs (construction
everywhere, but great restaurants), Brian and I joined the incredibly
scenic (but painfully slow) parade through Rocky Mountain National
Park. (This tour I have been pleased to add two new national park
passport stamps to my collection, that one and Great Basin National
Park in Nevada — hard to get to, but well worth a longer
visit sometime.) Then we headed south on gently winding mountain
roads that would have been posted at 55 mph in other states, but
were “mysteriously” pegged at 40 around there. Perhaps
it had nothing to do with “entrapment,” or revenue
generating, but I also couldn’t help noticing that my radar
detector was blipping in my ear every few minutes, as patrol cars
rode the range, or hid in the trees.
and I made it to Red Rocks unmolested by predatory patrol cars,
but by the time Michael met us on his bike at the gate and led
us into that fabulous venue, my nerves were even more on edge.
Michael had traveled to Denver early to arrange for extra security
for me there, because a schizophrenic “fan” was making
insane accusations, and threatening me with violent consequences.
another day at the office . . .
issue’s “Sports” report would also have to include
deer hunting. Not intentional, alas, but an unfortunate encounter
on a Texas road ended badly for a deer — and could so easily
have ended badly for me. After sleeping on the bus in a truck stop
in Junction, Texas, Michael and I set out early one Sunday morning
through an area of the southern Hill Country I’d never explored.
It began wonderfully, on a narrow, curving roller-coaster of a
road walled by low, thick forests of Texas live-oak trees and high
limestone banks. In their shade, while the sun was still low, the
hazy morning felt relatively cool (though it was indeed relative — the
temperatures were already climbing from the upper 80s toward the
100s. But it was shady, and that is rare enough in the Desert Southwest).
the Hill Country has the highest concentration of whitetail deer
in the United States, and they were certainly plentiful that morning,
grazing among the dense trees, bounding across the road, or just
standing in the middle of it. So we kept our speed down. Only last
year, motorcycle journalist Lawrence Grodsky, who wrote a column
for Rider magazine
called “Stayin’ Safe,” from which I learned a
lot in my early years of riding, was killed by hitting a deer just
west of where we were, near Fort Stockton.
girlfriend was quoted in an obituary in his hometown newspaper,
the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Larry
was the most talented, experienced and competent motorcyclist in
the country, but this is the one thing he knew he couldn’t
do anything about,” said his girlfriend, Maryann Puglisi,
with whom he lived in Squirrel Hill and Washington, D.C., and who
helped run his business. “Just a few weeks ago he said to
me, ‘That’s how I’m going to go, it’s going
to be a deer.’ He could deal with all the idiot drivers,
but at night when a deer jumps in your path, that’s it and
he knew that.”
that was in my mind, too, and thankfully I was only going about
40 mph when a blur of brown dashed right in front of me, so sudden
that my first sight of the deer was when my front wheel hit it
squarely. The handlebar wobbled between my hands and the adrenaline
began to surge, as time seemed to hang suspended. The small deer
was shunted aside, and I rode on for a few seconds, still taking
in what had just happened — and already marveling that I
was still upright.
looked in my mirrors and saw Michael turn around. Riding behind
me, he had seen me hit the deer, felt the start of fear you always
get for your riding partner, then saw that I was still riding.
He passed the deer where it lay twisted on the road, flailing its
legs, its back obviously broken. He knew what he had to do.
pulled up behind where he’d parked his bike, right on the
road (we hadn’t seen a car for many miles). I’ll never
forget the sight of Michael standing in the middle of the road
in his riding suit, helmet flipped up, taking out his his 40 caliber
Glock 23, holding it in both hands, and taking careful aim. I heard
the sharp report even through my earplugs, and saw the poor mangled
deer give one final jerk. Michael took hold of its legs and dragged
it into the bushes beside the road.
was quiet for an awful moment. Michael walked back to his bike
and said, “That’s what I was always taught to do — stop
its suffering.” I nodded agreement.
Michael said, “I was looking for some confirmation that I
did the right thing.”
question,” I nodded, “You did the right thing.”
it was still bad. I had the raw, dreadful sensation of having maimed
a pretty little creature, caused it to suffer, and the sharp, equally
dreadful awareness of having narrowly escaped death myself. Michael
had the weight of having taken a life, however compassionately.
the day went on, carrying us into the hot, flat rangeland of South
Texas, we found ways to talk about it, at roadside breaks and over
our evening whiskies. But like typical humans (or my kind
of typical humans), we defused those heavy feelings with humor — humor
so black and horrible we had to laugh. Because that’s what
you have to do.
at the roadside, where we had taken refuge in the shade of a tall
cottonwood outside a rancher’s gate, Michael made a big-eyed,
pouty face, spread his hands above his helmet for antlers, and
squeaked, “Why? Why did
you have to kill me?”
feigned outrage, “Hey man — you’re the
one who killed Bambi, with your big gay gun. I’m pretty
sure that deer was going to be all right.” I brought my palms
together, “I was praying for
squeaked, in his falsetto Bambi voice, spreading his arms wide, “Look
around me. Here are the ghosts of all the
little baby deer I was going to have — before you killed me.”
had been a young doe, all right, but certainly not pregant in that
gave my helmet a dramatic toss, “You monster!
You horrible monster Bambi killer! I shall never speak to you again!”
Michael got in the kicker the next day, on our way from an overnight
at the Padre Island Holiday Inn to the show in Houston. We stopped
at a shady roadside junction for a Red Apple break (a Roadshow reader
in our audience recently gave Michael an official Red Apple cigarette
case, which must have been a promo item from a Quentin Tarantino
film — he was thrilled). When we were done smoking and had
broken off the filters and put them in our pockets (“Don’t
Mess With Texas” is the Lone Star State’s antilittering
slogan, but we don’t leave our “scooter trash” anywhere),
we got ready to ride on, sorting out earplugs, helmets, and gloves.
my tankbag I pulled out a Ziploc bag containing the “bug
rag,” a damp washcloth for cleaning the helmet faceshields
(Brutus invented that idea, and soon learned that you have to wash
and dry that cloth at the end of every day — I take it in
the shower with me — or it gets all stinky). I wiped the
insect splatter off my faceshield, dried it with the yellow microfiber
cloth (I used to have a purple bandana for that, but it blew out
of an open tankbag somewhere in Florida). I passed them over to
Michael, and he cleaned off his own shield, then as he went to
pass back the cloths, he dropped the microfiber one on the dusty
said, Homer Simpson style.
a beat later, he added, “I bet that’s what you said
when you hit that deer! Doh!”
don’t mind confessing that by the time I got that awful pun,
we were miles down the road, riding in fast formation toward the
next little town, where we hoped to find a diner for breakfast.
I would have to smack him for it then.
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