We are living in trying times. But much good can come of it.
The world has morphed into a strange place. A few weeks ago, I could take an after-work ride on my Honda SuperHawk, park at my local cafe, tip the barista, drink coffee on the sidewalk, do some caffeine fueled writing, shake hands with the regulars and even hug a few close friends. Now I can do none of those things.
Starting at 5:30 p.m. today (as I write this), Washington State’s governor is shutting down everything not essential to the daily necessities of life. Vain pursuits of liberty and happiness have been squashed with his executive order of “Stay inside, stay healthy.”
Not me. I can’t stay inside. I must ride. For those of us with, as my daughter has labeled it, a “vagabond spirit” the order to self-quarantine is akin to a long, slow death. Like a shark, if I’m not moving, I start dying. This is why motorcycling suits me.
So filled with equal parts spite and boredom, I donned my gear, threw a leg over my faithful Honda SuperHawk and rode off. In times of stress like these, I find clarity on the bike. Streams of chilly spring air washed worries off my back while pulses from the twin pistons beneath me soothed my troubled soul. Time to let go, relax. Worries became less tyrannical. I breathed slower, thought clearer, became more observant.
I realized that the motorcycle is the perfect solution to our pandemic. Dressed to ride, a biker is already wearing a hazmat suit: feet covered in sturdy boots, hands gloved, nose, eyes and mouth sealed behind a face shield and body covered in a suit of armor. If everyone dressed like a biker it would stop the pandemic. Of course, trying to drink coffee though a full face helmet could be problematic.
The alpine setting of Lake Chelan gives plenty of room for social distancing.
After completing a loop north with some friends from the Mild Hogs touring group to Lake Chelan, I cruised back home to a witness a revelation.
People. Outside. Everywhere. Neighborhoods swimming with adults, teens and kids.
With no school or organized sports, no clubs or multitudes of activities driving a frantic schedule, life had slowed down to a glacial pace. With nowhere to go and all day to do it, families were outside playing. Doors to houses were open, children spilling out into the streets and playing outside freed from the burdens of their overly scheduled lives. Young people were re-discovering how to do spring.
I passed two street basketball hoops, each of which had its own swarm of kids buzzing beneath it like bees around a hive as nearby parents looked up and monitored them from their yard work. Then, on both sides of the sidewalk, multiple groups of people walking multiple scudding herds of dogs. A kid on the sidewalk attempted to jump curbs on his scooter. In case he missed one and fell into the SuperHawk’s path, I wanted to be ready. So I slowed to a crawl, flipped up my face shield and just looked around. This new lifestyle of slowing down was more contagious than the virus.
As the SuperHawk lazily thumped along I glanced down a cul-de-sac where I saw three couples sitting in lawn chairs in a driveway, keeping appropriate distance between one another as their kids rode bikes around in circles on the street. One young girl attempted to reassemble a thoroughly dismantled Barbie mansion, yet didn’t seem hurried in the least. After all, she had plenty of time to work. It was’t a school night.
I smiled as I processed all of this and pulled into my driveway where my wife informed me that her sister just finished a game of Monopoly with her 18 year old twin sons. The game took two full days.
Social distancing comes naturally to motorcyclists.
I parked the SuperHawk, grabbed my dog’s leash and joined the club. I am positive I have the most exercised chocolate lab puppy in world history. When I grabbed the leash, I swear I heard him groan. In the vacant field I let the dog run free, and then I saw it, the holy grail of springtime, the true fruit of a childhood imagination set free: a homemade fort.
Some kids had built a fort in the middle of the field. Made of old pieces of concrete stacked poorly like a game of drunken Jenga interlaced with scraps of wood with nails sticking out I am sure it did not pass building code. In fact, some kid at some point will definitely need a band-aid. Likely a tetanus shot. Good for them.
I am grieved by the loss families have experienced in this global pandemic, loss of freedom, jobs or even loved ones. There is illness and death in all of this while the rest of us follow daily updates, vacillating between hope and doubt. But there is good in all of this.
Our hope lies in the resiliency of our people. How we use this time to bond with our families, help our neighbors and build relationships is the litmus test for our character.
Yesterday, I volunteered to deliver food from our local food bank to needy people in a cramped housing development. A few in need said a sincere thanks and humbly accepted the food for themselves. The majority accepted the food not for themselves but to feed others, mostly their grandkids or other children they were babysitting. However, I was struck by the multiple residents who even in their time of need said, “Thank you but we’re doing okay right now. Please give the food to another household more needy than ours.”
If any good is to come from this pandemic, it is to make us realize that we are our country’s greatest resource. Our generosity, how we meet the needs of our community and how we use this time to bond with our families will have more lasting and far reaching effects than any virus.
When this is all over, when life is back to normal, when my local cafe is back open and I can go guzzle coffee on the sidewalk as I write, you bet I am riding my SuperHawk there, just a bit more slowly. And I will tip the barista generously.
A sign of the times. But we will prevail.