Six sharp on another morning in September and the trusted old workhorse of a Honda ST I’ve been tooling around on for this assignment is loaded up again with the essentials. Everything is in order as I roll out of a Ramada Limited, heading south.
I already have to piss by the time I hit Champaign-Urbana and switch interstates to I-57. This prostate business that comes with middle age is no party on a motorcycle. I stop at a Hardee’s for temporary relief and drink a cup of coffee.
Another seventy miles south, just past Effingham, I-57 is under construction. With no ability to switch lanes quickly, let alone pull over in case of a pants-pissing emergency, such conditions are rather scary. I make it through the twenty-mile stretch and have no more problems until Nashville.
Nashville makes Effingham seem like an empty parking lot.
I enter the city in the heart of rush hour. Much of it is under construction and everything that’s not should be. The roads are a disaster. Trying to keep pace with traffic at about 75 mph, I feel certain something bad is going to happen here. My bladder aches as I get bounced around from one lane to the next trying to avoid cars speeding on and off exit ramps. Semis fly past me within kicking distance. It is too late to do anything but hang on and hope to move forward toward Atlanta where I plan to spend the night.
Once safely through Nashville, the Smokey Mountains come as a welcome relief. I get past them just as the sun is going down and decide to call it a day about thirty minutes south of Chattanooga at a Super 8.
The next morning I am again up and on the road before the sun. Atlanta proves nothing like Nashville, which is a pleasant surprise. By the time I stop at a Burger King off exit 70 around nine. I am beginning to see the makings of a pleasant day on the road. That light quickly goes out when the bike won’t start following an egg and cheese biscuit, a second safety piss and more coffee. I had assumed something was destined to go wrong with the ST prior to the trip. A flat tire. Dead battery. Something like that. Something easy to fix. No ignition of any kind is another matter. It sounds bad, but I remain calm.
A woman at the register lends me the yellow pages and tells me I’m in a town called McDonough. I find a local listing for some guy who works on Gold Wings. I try him first. His name is Larry, and he tells me he only does Gold Wings. He says to call a Honda dealership in Jonesboro about twenty miles back up I-75 toward Atlanta. Larry gives me the name Red Archer. He says Red rides and will understand my dilemma. He says to make sure to ask for Red. I call the place and ask for Red. He tells me he can’t come get the bike. I’ll have to find a wrecker to tow it in. Red is kind of a prick on the phone and puts me through to Kit Robson in service. Kit says it sounds like a fuse, but I’ll need to bring it in. He names a couple wrecker services, but doesn’t have their numbers. He’s of no help either. I go back to the phone book.
Wes shows up two hours later.
Wes is Cooter material—first team Dukes of Hazard. Wes drives for John’s Wrecking and asks me if I mind if he eats lunch before heading to Jonesboro. The bastard is an hour late, but what choice do I have? He gets a burger and fries while I drink about my tenth cup of coffee since the bike wouldn’t start. Once we’re on the road, Wes starts telling me what he likes most about his job.
“Cops don’t mess with ya,” he explains after some officer waves at him in a squad car going the other way. Wes has chosen to take a country blacktop to Jonesboro instead of the interstate. Says he hates to backtrack and that it’s less money for me since I’m being billed forty bucks plus $1.25 a mile.
“Yeah,” I say. “You must do a lot of work for them? Wrecks and stuff?”
“Some,” he says. “Like it cause I’m always movin.”
Wes tells me his rig has 180,000 miles on it and then asks if I mind if he smokes.
He lights up and describes some of the other bikes he’s towed. There was the Ninja with the oil plate that fell off not far from the exit where he picked me up. A recent Harley was a bitch due to it being so heavy. I tell him I’m thinking about trading my bike in, depending on what the problem is. Wes says it’s not a bad idea, but counsels me against a crotch rocket. He says it’s crotch rockets that he sees involved in the most accidents. He then tells me about his uncle who used to own a Gold Wing. He says that the thing was so loaded he actually had a cooler built into the back where his wife could mix him whiskey cokes while they were going down the road.
Kit Robson calls Wes’s mounting job with my bike creative as he helps him unload it once we pull up to the Honda place in Jonesboro. Wes is moved by the compliment. We shake hands while he wishes me luck and again says to avoid crotch rockets. Kit Robson pushes my bike inside to examine it.
Four hours later I leave on a beast trips like this are made for.
I knew it was mine as soon as I saw it on the showroom floor. It was like a strange woman you see staring at you from across a crowded bar. A salesman named Nolan spoke about the special aftermarket panniers, skid plate, and bar risers from Touratech coupled with a $700 cash-back rebate from Yamaha on all new models like any of the specs or the money made a difference. I asked a few obligatory questions about warranty as a means of not appearing to eager. Small talk to close the deal, but price didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. This job should cover it and why else always carry around a bag full of cash. Fuck rainy days. It is for days like this.
The Yamaha Super Ténéré 1200.
Nashville can kiss my ass.
I arrive in Palm Harbor the next afternoon in a state of unconditional bliss. The ST was like a family sedan on the highway compared to this go anywhere machine. My first stop is a deserted public beach. I ride along the sand, putting the Super Ténéré through its paces, park a few yards from the water and enter the ocean in my underwear. Seagulls squawk overhead and fly low as I let go a gloriously long, warm piss in the water. I look back at the bike with my leathers folded over the seat. The white tank sparkles in the sun. Gently bobbing up and down in the swells, I can taste the salt on my tongue like tears and conclude that this, in fact, is a vehicle that somehow found me.
Following a couple hours at the beach, my next move is to locate her house. I grab another quick bite of fast food and then consult a city map mounted to the wall of a Texaco station at the corner of Tampa Drive and Alt. 19. A professional life avoiding the Internet, off the grid so to speak, including burner phones without location services, remains a trick of my trade and the only Sandy Way the map shows is about five miles south in the town of Dunedin. I jump back on the bike to find it. If the street exists at all no one I talk to here ever heard of it. The best anyone can tell me after more than an hour of looking in vain is that Dunedin is a separate entity from Palm Harbor. According to the information I’ve obtained, she lives on Sandy Way in Palm Harbor. When I run this past a security guard at some Best Western on the water, he explains I’m looking in the wrong town. The woman behind the desk checks another map that shows the same thing. No Sandy Way in Palm Harbor. There’s a Sandy Street, Sandy Circle, Sandy Lane, and just a plain old Sandy. But there’s no Sandy Way. The security guard tells me about another nearby gas station up Alt. 19 that runs a busy towing service. Those guys would know, he insists. Check with them. He then asks me if I have a phone number. I say yes, but that my arrival must be a surprise.
It’s now dark and too late to show up at her house even if I can find it. A night wasted, but I’m still set on finding this street before getting another room. I go to the gas station, but none of the drivers are here. The woman running the register never heard of Sandy Way and tries to sell me another map. I say I’ve already seen two maps with the same information. This sparks her curiosity, so she opens up the map herself and begins looking for it. Studying the index, her map actually does list a Sandy Way in Palm Harbor. L30 according to the key. We both find the area east of Lake Tarpon where it should be, but never actually locate the street after forty minutes of trying. It’s all just a big mind fuck at this point that is wearing thin. I give her cash for the map, find a Travelodge, and crash. I can’t even think about any goddamn Sandy Way until morning.
A wake-up call rings at six but I ignore it after a monster piss. I sleep in past nine. When I finally crawl out of bed, I jump in the shower, having passed out fully clothed in front of some baseball game on TV. The room has its own coffee maker. It takes two full pots before I can stomach the thought of returning to the map.
Well caffeinated, I load up the new bike at checkout time and move north up U.S. 19 toward the site where I hope to find Sandy Way. I take a right on Keystone Road and head east toward Tampa for about three miles before descending upon the suburban sprawl making up the area of L30 on my Pinellas County map. An added feature of the tank bag I bought for the Super Ténéré is that it has a clear plastic map holder that fastens on to the top of it with Velcro. All that is required, therefore, is a quick glance down in order to figure out where I’m going.
I take a right on Ranch Road off Keystone, which leads to a dead end. I ask two workmen in a phone truck if they ever heard of Sandy Way. Both shake their heads and say they don’t know the area well. I check the map and figure I’ve overshot it, and so circle back to Woodfield Blvd. It is only after turning in here that the sheer horror of where I am sets in.
I pull over and consult my map once more.
Glenwood Terrace, Brookside Court, Cherrybrooke Court, Crestridge Circle, Ashwood Court, Crestridge Drive, Heatherwood Court, Oakwood Place, Hollow Tree Place, Hickorywood Way, Cobblestone Lane, Laurelwood Court, Wedgewood Way, Jadewood Circle, Mintwood Terrace, Hedgegrow Lane, Centerwood Drive, Cherryhill Court, Greymoss Court.
No Sandy Way.
I remove my helmet, secure it to the side of the bike, and make a slow tour in second gear. I stop to ask every person I see about Sandy Way. No luck. Close to an hour passes and no one can help me. No one until I stumble upon some old fart watering his Mercedes. He turns out to be president of some neighborhood association with a fancy name. No Sandy Way in this development, he is certain. I show him the map. He compliments me on the bike and then points to another area a few miles south off Ridgemore Blvd. where he suggests I look. I put the helmet back on since it’s state law and head in the direction of his suggestion.
It only gets worse.
Mermoor Drive, Mermoor Court, Hillmoor Drive, Dunemoor Court, Valemoor Drive, Edington Way, Windemoor Drive, Jademoor Drive, Bermoor Drive, Glenridge Drive, Forest Lake Blvd., Mary Lane, Violet Place, Tanglewood Terrace, Toniwood Lane, Jennifer Terrace, Saddlewood Lane, Stallion Lake Drive, Stag Thicket Lane, Weston Terrace, Palmer Court, Woodhall Terrace, Whitshire Avenue, Bratti Court, Tarpon Woods Place, Bridlewood Blvd., Windemere Drive, Rosemere Drive, Windber Blvd., Bradford Circle, Oakridge Drive, Wellington Drive, Greyson Street, Darston Street, Muirfield Court, Nottingham Circle, Salem Square, Wellington Parkway, Worthington Circle, Worthington Loop.
Until, and yes, seemingly out of nowhere, there appears a Sandy Way.
The cul-de-sac is the length of the driveway to the house I grew up in. Her address is one of a pair of homes bordering the circle at the end. It is two in the afternoon and the garage door is down. I try the bell and am not surprised to find no one around. Having already wasted about a day’s time looking for the address, the prospect of waiting until after she returns from work is nothing. At least I now know where to find her.
A strip mall sits close by at the intersection of Ridgemore Blvd. and East Lake Road. I find an ice cream shop with some much needed air conditioning in which to tank up on coffee and kill some time. I left my bags on the bike, so I pick a table close to the windows where I can keep an eye on it. The battery goes dead on my phone after making some calls. I then sit doing nothing but staring at the bike while catching a fresh buzz in between trips to the bathroom for two hours before going back to see if she’s home.
She’s not there. I drive a quarter mile past Sandy Way and find a little swing set park with two benches. I leave the bike on the sidewalk and remove all my leathers like I’d done at the beach the day before. I grab a seat on one of the benches in the same boxer briefs and spend another hour reading. The bugs eventually start to get me and some kids show up. I put the leathers back on and try her house again. Still no one there. I return to the strip mall, but go into a Subway instead of the ice cream shop. I piss, order a sandwich and kill more time. I keep reading the same book. At six I check the house again.
This time the garage door is open and one car is inside.
This time I can already tell she is here.
I remove my favorite M9 equipped with a custom silencer from one of the side panniers, putting my hand holding the gun behind my back before walking up to ring the bell. She’s dressed in a light blouse and tan shorts when she opens the door. Her hair is cut in a medium bob and is Florida blond. She studies my face carefully while standing in the doorway to her brick house. I remain on the front step. We stay in this position. She never steps fully out and never invites me in.
“Hello Sandy,” I say.
The name alone paralyzes her with fear. A moment like this, she would have been assured by the Feds years ago before turning State’s evidence, could not happen. She stares right through me, stares me up and down, searching for any hint of who I am until I see it register and the life drain out of her eyes. A total stranger for hire. The only possible explanation.
“I was led to believe all that,” she says, resigned to her fate. “That all things Sandy, that all that had disappeared.”
I finger the trigger in a way signaling, if only to myself, it is about to.
“By,” I say, almost laughing over the absurdity of her situation while bringing my weapon forward. “By relocating you to Sandy Way?”
Sandy falls to the ground as I finish the job.
I exit Palm Harbor easier than I came in.
I hit the tire about ten.
Unlike the gray fox I just missed on the way down, the flat truck tire is not a moving target. I nail it at close to 90 mph on an interstate bridge leaving Tallahassee. Had I still been riding the ST, I would be dead by the side of the road. The Super Ténéré, with its dual sport suspension and 7.5 inches of front and rear travel takes it head on and carries me safely to the next hotel. A Comfort Inn shower is followed by another baseball game when I flip on the TV. Joe Buck calls the game while I lie naked on my side. There’s a delivery menu in the top drawer of the nightstand for a nearby restaurant sharing the same exit. I order a Shrimp Po Boy and don’t move again until the sun comes up over the parking lot.
Packing for another full day on the road, looking over the map for potential piss stops along the way and wondering what the next assignment will be and where it will take me, I think of the gray fox and I think of the tire. Rubbing my hands across the Super Ténéré seat, making sure everything strapped to the back is secure, I marvel at the new ride that likely saved my life. It all depends on how you look at it, but I totally understand the difference.