Cover image for Motorcycle enlightenment
Motorcycle enlightenment
Sides, Charles.
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Publication Information:
Charlottesville, VA : Hampton Roads, [2000]

Physical Description:
viii, 228 pages ; 21 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A light-hearted, lively novel about a man's coming-of-middle-age and his search for spiritual fulfillment along a New Jersey boardwalk.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Tribal intrigue and government meddling on the Chippewa Red Lake Indian Reservation along the western shores of northern Minnesota's labyrinthine Lake of the Woods propel this atmospheric but cluttered sequel to Johnson's well-received Don't Think Twice. Awakened in the middle of the night by the roar of a motor boat on the lake in front of his popular resort lodge, Paul Two Persons worries that the commotion will disturb the sleep of his wife, Gwen, and their two-year-old daughter. But more is disturbed than sleep when a dead body is found floating near the abandoned boat the next morning. Paul's cop pal Charlie Groten informs Paul that his name has come up in the resulting investigation; this appears to have something to do with Paul's resistance to the state political hierarchy's plan to cut a highway across a section of the reservation leased to the resort. In a cryptic message on the lodge answering machine, a top candidate for the Minnesota senate jokes about some mysterious real estate manipulation. Meanwhile, Paul's relationship with the Chippewa tribal council, which wants the money the highway would bring, is troubled. Another dead body shows up in a sinkhole; a boy who works for Paul is found murdered. A host of one-dimensional bit-part players clogs the narrative, which is further burdened by superfluous references to the previous Paul Two Persons novel. Paul is a strong character, a conscientious man who has made good and wants to help those less fortunate, while protecting his lodge and family from harm. Johnson's portrayal of modern tribal dynamics is nuanced and convincing. Stretches of murky prose and a convoluted plot stifle the narrative, however, defusing the final lakeside showdown. 8-city Minnesota and Kansas author tour. (July) MOTORCYCLE ENLIGHTENMENT Charles Sides. Hampton Roads, $12.95 paper (192p) ISBN 1-57174-172-0 ~ Jack Kerouac meets Richard Ford in this slender, thoughtful piece of visionary fiction. We follow Alan Pierce, an unemployed divorced Pennsylvanian, on a memorable journey beginning on the road but becoming an ethereal voyage of self-discovery. Though Alan plans to motorcycle to California, he winds up in New Jersey, where he settles down and tries to find himself. He rises at 5 a.m. to do yoga and meditate. He munches on pizza and doughnuts and, later, broccoli. And he falls in love with a real estate agent named Jean, who can tell "from [his] eyes" that Alan's life has fallen apart. She isn't put off by Alan's muddled confusion, early morning regime or balding pate, however. Jean (who conveniently holds a master's degree in counseling) is insightful and incisive, and readers may grow to love her as Alan does, as he learns to eat meditatively, enjoying his food without rushing, to stop gazing blankly at the Jersey shore and to feel each grain of warm sand when he goes out for a stroll. At times, this novelÄlike others packed with so many life lessonsÄtends toward the didactic, but it remains a captivating and spiritually challenging read. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     I always thought I'd write a book that began with the words "It was the worst of times" because I thought they perfectly reflected my life. I wrote them on the back of a business card and carried them with me for ten years. I knew that as long as they were safely tucked inside my wallet it would be fulfilled. The story goes like this:     I lived a paradox in which I thought I had everything that would make me happy but knew that nothing I had was actually making me happy. My life consisted of a wife, two children, two businesses, two houses, three cars, a motorcycle, three computers, three televisions, and two VCRs, but little happiness. No matter what I did, happiness escaped my grasp.     So, at the end of every business day, I headed home exhausted, depressed and lost. Often I was literally lost, but that's another chapter. Something was missing in my life but I didn't know what it was. Did I need another car? A Corvette or Jaguar would be nice. I often pictured myself speeding through life, outrunning even my own thoughts. But I digress already. The point is, or was, that when I lay down at night and closed my eyes, I asked aloud, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?"     There was no one I could talk to about these questions, and my wife Sheila had given up trying years ago. She and I would be sitting on the couch watching television and eating snacks when I'd sigh and say, "What's the purpose of all this?"     Sheila would turn off the television, look forlornly at me and say, "For the zillionth time, I don't know. I don't question life. I love my children. I love my job. I love most of my life." When she said "most of my life," I should have seen the writing on the wall and realized I was on the wrong side of "most," but I was too involved in reading about Egyptian hieroglyphics.     My inability to have a meaningful existence manifested itself in dissatisfaction with life in general, but, more specifically, in my vocation. (I think that sentence came from a self-help book.) What it means is that I had had a lot of jobs, but since I had been self-employed, I had fired myself.     Skipping a few details, suffice it to say that one day after twenty years of marriage, Sheila calmly said, "I'd like you to leave. Go find your happiness. It's not here."     Two days later I was staying in a motel, two weeks later in my own apartment. When the assets and liabilities were decided, the divorce was final. In one of my fits of inspiration or insanity, (they often resemble each other and I get them confused), I decided to sell almost all of my possessions, except the motorcycle. By shedding my entanglements, I thought I'd be free to search for the elusive meaning of life, i.e., happiness. I knew the answer was out there waiting to be found.     I fantasized about riding my cycle to California and mile by mile becoming enlightened to the truths of the world. Yes, in my ecstatic moments, I saw myself as America's savior. I was making this journey not only for myself but also for every unhappy being in the world, for every individual who hated his job and for the downtrodden and humbled masses. "America, I hear you calling and I'm on my way."     In my depressed moments, I knew I was running away. I had no idea where I was running to, but that didn't matter. Running just felt very good.     Only two negatives stood in my way. The first was that I got terrible leg cramps after riding my motorcycle for as little as fifteen minutes. The second was that I have no sense of direction. For most of my life I lived in a town with a population of three thousand people and one traffic light. Still, I kept a map on the front seat of my car.     To give you a better idea of how bad my sense of direction is, many years ago when my children were young, they made me a papier-mâché arrow. (They had learned that their father was usually lost, especially when he pulled off the road into a gas station or restaurant.) So they suggested I place the arrow on the dashboard of the car pointing in the direction I'm headed. It worked.     When I'm at shopping malls I count spaces, lines of cars, and light poles, and often draw a map of the mall so I can retrace my steps and find the car. Hansel and Gretel are my idols. Chapter Two     As I finish last minute preparations I wonder if anyone needs to know that I'll be leaving in the morning. My Franklin Planner (an unused Christmas present) isn't much help. There's nothing scheduled for the entire year except a dental appointment in October. I'm not exactly a socialite. I make a list of chores to be completed: 1. Call dentist. 2. Get gas for cycle.     After that task is completed I lie down on the floor of my now bare apartment, listen to music and try to sleep. Thoughts go through my head continuously until there's one that eventually seems useful. I roll over, pick up the notepad lying beside me and add number 3. to the list: Call auto club for directions.     In spite of my anxiety, I sleep through the night and awake knowing that today is the day. Optimistically, I know that in several hours I'll be part way to California. Pessimistically, I know that in several hours I'll be very sore from riding my motorcycle part way to California.     I get up, shower and dress quickly. The note lying on the floor reminds me to call the dentist and cancel the appointment. I've never done that before. Dentists are so authoritarian. But it's very easy and finished within minutes. The manic side of my personality bursts forth as I yell to the apartment walls, "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I am free at last."     Feeling self-conscious, I realize that was a little much. Rationalizing, I decide that it's okay because I'm afraid of dentists and flinch whenever the hygienist gets within a foot of my chair. Besides, they refuse to give me general anesthesia when cleaning my teeth.     So, having confronted the dental profession, I feel courage rising within me. This propels me on to item 3. on the note. Call the auto club for directions, not to California, to the auto club. First things first. The conversation doesn't go as smoothly as the one with the dental office. The receptionist at the auto club doesn't understand that I only want directions to the auto club. "When I get there," I explain to her, "you can give me directions to California."     I carefully write down her instructions and take them out to the motorcycle. Where do I put the directions so I can check them as I ride? A flash of insight tells me to get masking tape at the apartment rental office so I can affix them to the--I can never think of the name of that dial, the one that shows RPMs. I never use it anyway. Actually, I don't know what it's for, so I follow my impulse and tape the directions on it.     The motorcycle is packed with my few remaining possessions. I get on and I'm off to find America. But first I must find the auto club. The AAA sign is right where the receptionist said it would be and I pull into the parking lot. Balancing the cycle carefully, I try to pull it up onto the stand, but it's too heavy. The kickstand is facing uphill so I can't use it. I back out of the space, turn around and back in. This time the kickstand is aiming downhill and seems to hold the weight of the cycle. I carefully get off, lock my helmet under the seat, and go inside.     After taking a number I fidget nervously and look at it every few seconds. Annoyed with myself I finally stick it in my pocket and sit down. About ten minutes later, when number 47 is called, I say "That's me" a little too loudly and walk to the counter.     "May I have the number please?"     "Sure. It's right ... ah.... "I reach into my pocket and can't find it. Now I panic and search every pocket. But, the more nervous I get, the more I know I'll never find it. "I can't find it."     "You lost the number?" the clerk asks incredulously.     "Number 47," he calls again. No one responds.     "Okay, go ahead. It must be you."     "Must be."     Instantly, I know not to tell him that I'm searching for America and enlightenment. With a moment's deliberation I say, "I'm heading for California. May I have directions?"     He turns to get maps.     Safe, I think. Even though I lost my number, I handled that part okay.     "Where in California?"     Panic! I hadn't thought about that. "Los Angeles," I decide quickly.     "Nice place. My brother lives there."     "I'll tell him you said hello if I see him."     He just looks at me.     Too much, I remind myself. Relax.     He lays out a map of the United States and highlights lines. "Take Route 30 to 83 to the PA Turnpike. Follow the Turnpike to Route 70. Take Route 70 the whole way to Utah. Then 15 and 10 to Los Angeles."     "That's it? I won't even have to tape that on the tachometer. Tachometer!" I say with great enthusiasm. "That's the name of the dial I couldn't think of earlier."     He waits patiently.     "Thanks," I say and leave.     As I walk away I hear him call number 48. Instinctively I reach into my pocket to check if that's my number and pull out number 47. Where had it been? I turn back towards the counter to show him I really did have the number, but second thoughts intervene. Somehow I don't think he cares. I put the number back in my pocket and walk outside. The cycle is still standing. Things are looking good.     With directions in hand, my ego swells and I swagger the final few steps to the cycle. I put on the helmet, throw my leg over the seat, kick the bag tied on the back and catch myself before falling. Ego safely in check, I step across the seat and begin my mental program. Insert key, turn on gas, turn on cycle and make sure the handlebar switch is in the "on" position. (I once spent a half-hour trying to start the cycle with the switch in the "off" position.)     Feeling some bravado, I decide to kickstart the cycle instead of using the electric starter. I flip the top of the crank outward, jump a little higher than necessary and kick away. Unfortunately I forget the cycle is on the slant and my right leg can't reach the ground. I almost fall over.     The electric starter works and I drive away. At the first stop sign I reach into my pocket, take out the checklist and mentally cross out what I've done. Call dentist: done. Stop at auto club: done. Get gas: next. I head for the gas station with trepidation. Sometimes the key for the gas cap doesn't work and I can't get the tank open. I start to worry.     As I pull into the station, I notice there are no other cars at the pumps so I'm relieved. I hate to look stupid in front of others. I turn off the engine and put the key in the gas cap. Presto. It opens. After carefully filling the tank without spilling a drop, I put the hose back. A car pulls in. Then another. Now the gas cap won't go on. I try again. I look to see if the two little metal prongs on the cap are lined up with the tank. They are. I put the cap on the tank and pound. One driver looks over and smiles. The other says, "Having trouble?"     I roll my eyes and answer, "Yeah. Can't get the cap on."     He walks over, looks at the cap for a moment, lines up the prongs, and pushes it right into place. "Maybe the prongs weren't lined up."     They were, I grumble to myself.     "Thanks," I say to him.     I pay for the gas, use the electric starter, and pull out into traffic. A thought flashes through my mind. I wonder how I get to Route 30. I could go back to the auto club and ask. I still have number 47. I'll ask when I get lunch. Everybody knows where Route 30 is.     Automatically I reach back to feel if my wallet is still there. It is. This is a habit I developed some time ago and continue reinforcing every time I check. I thought about buying a wallet with a chain that clipped, buckled or stapled to the belt loop on my pants. But I know I'd check to see if the wallet, chain and belt loop were still there.     I look at my watch and discover it's only 11:15 A.M. Somehow I thought the days, actually this first day of freedom, would go faster. But it's dragging on. I decide to have an early lunch before heading to California, figuring that still leaves time for six hours riding and twenty-four leg cramps. The next major decision is where to eat. Pizza sounds good but I can hear my mother saying, "You should have some vegetables. You'll get scurvy." But I'm free now, so I can get scurvy if I want.     At the local pizza shop the hostess greets me and asks, "Smoking or nonsmoking?"     "Nonsmoking, and as far from smoking as possible," I reply. She walks to a table, picks up a dirty ashtray and says, "This is nonsmoking."     I must attract these situations to myself. Over the years I've learned that nonsmoking tables are the empty ones. There are no other requirements. I order the "ten minute special or it's free" which arrives in fifteen minutes. No one seems concerned and I don't have the courage to ask for a free meal. The food's okay and I tip well even though the waitress never appeared again. At the cash register I ask for directions to Route 30. A young man nonchalantly rattles off some road names, which I desperately try to remember. I'm already thinking that I'll stop at the next corner and ask someone else.     Outside I look for my car and remember that I sold it. I only have the motorcycle. But thoughts of California bring a smile to my face. I tape the directions from the auto club on the left side of the tachometer so I can still see the red line on the right. Even though I don't know exactly what happens if the needle touches the red, I know it shouldn't, which means I need to watch it. Besides, it gives me one more thing to do besides checking for my wallet.     I check for my wallet. Next I must find someone who knows where Route 30 is. I glance up and see a "To 30" sign at the corner and consider it a good omen. This is it. I'm off.     My left leg cramps so I know I've ridden fifteen minutes. Flashes of having been on this road before make me wonder if I'm going the right way. I should know Route 30, I keep telling myself. Then it hits me. Of course, Route 30 is the "big road." I designate roads according to "big, little, ends up at the bridge, goes to the gas station, takes me to work." If I'm not on one of these roads, I drive aimlessly. This used to drive Sheila crazy. At intersections she would watch to see if I put on the turn signal. When I didn't she would ask, "Do you know where you're going?"     "No," I would answer.     "Then how do you plan to get there?"     "I don't know that either," I would respond.     "Alan," she would say with exasperation. "If you don't know where you're going, how can you get there?"     That was always a tough question. I never had an answer.     Nevertheless, here I am on Route 30 heading ... east, according to a sign I just passed. California is definitely west. Even I know something's wrong. I take the first exit and pull into a convenience store. With my helmet still on I go into the store and ask the clerk for directions to the PA Turnpike. She looks at me strangely so I take off the helmet and try again.     "May I have directions to the PA Turnpike?"     "Route 30 to 83," she says.     "East or west on Route 30?"     "West."     "Darn."    "Pardon?"     "Nothing."     I hesitate a moment, then ask, "How far am I from the Turnpike?"     "About an hour," she answers.     Four cramps, I think.     An idea flashes through my mind. I'm on 30 East and I know that's the way to New Jersey. Maybe I should go to Ocean City first and get used to riding the cycle. Then I could go to California. I know my way around the shore. Sheila used to say, "How could you get lost on the boardwalk? It only runs north and south." All I know is the water's on one side and the town's on the other. I hardly ever get them mixed up.     I ask the clerk if she knows the directions to Ocean City, New Jersey.     "30 East to 41 South to 40 East and then follow the signs."     I grab a napkin from the hot dog and coke display, borrow the pen on the counter and write down the directions before I forget them. I thank her and leave.     Back at the cycle I peel off the old directions and replace them with "30E 41S 40E." The directions don't look that difficult. I know if I wasn't thinking a thousand other thoughts, I could remember them without any trouble. Why do I think so much? I decide to think more about that later.     Now to get back on 30 East. Panic. Which way was I going? I nervously glance up and see a sign about twenty feet to my right. "Route 30 East." I pull out.     "New Jersey" and "Yikes" I say aloud. I have to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge. I start to worry about that at the same time I check to see if my wallet is there.     It's early afternoon and I relax into the riding. In fact, I enjoy myself. I've driven to the shore at least fifty times, never by myself, and never on a motorcycle. The shore all by myself for the first time: this could be fun.     Cramps come and go as the time slips by. The scenery looks vaguely familiar, but I confess I have no idea where I am or how far I have to go.     Suddenly I come around a turn and spot the twin towers of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. My heart beats faster. I start up the bridge. I look straight ahead and realize I have no idea where I'm going in life. I look to my right and see nothing but sky and water. A strong wind could suddenly blow the cycle and me over the side. Meaningless life before me and possible death beside me. What a choice. I keep riding.     Another thought flashes. Maybe this odyssey isn't so much a trip of freedom as it is a chance to free me from myself. I don't know exactly what that means, but it deserves some later thought. I add it to the list.     I arrive at the top of the span and head for the far right lane which feels safer, although there isn't anything solid between the water and me. I don't think I really want to die. I keep my eyes straight ahead and breathe easier when I'm almost across. Forty feet, ten feet, safe. Thank goodness. I wonder if I have to cross any bridges on the way to California. Maybe I'll just stay in New Jersey the rest of my life.     As I get closer to Ocean City I begin to relax a little. At times I can almost remember some of the route. At one point it occurs to me that I haven't had a cramp for awhile. A few times I think I'm not thinking. I'm simply enjoying the scenery and the ride. This is definitely out of character, but it feels good.     Suddenly I know I have to take a right turn ahead. I'm amazed I know that. Sure enough, there's a sign for Ocean City. After the turn I know I'm getting close because the scenery starts to look more like the shore. Here's where I begin to get excited. I enjoy riding a bicycle on the boardwalk, eating doughnuts with sugar sprinkles, walking on the beach, eating pizza and watching people. The anticipation is growing. A few more miles to go. Copyright © 2000 Charles Sides. All rights reserved.