Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SOARING (with apologies to Robert Schumann)

A student reported to his college's health services office with multiple abrasions and contusions from capsizing his motorcycle, and a bee sting in his throat. The doctor cleaned and disinfected his injuries, washing out gravel as necessary and bandaging as appropriate, and did whatever is done for bee stings in the gullet. He also suggested that in the future the young man ride with his mouth closed.

"I was singing, Doc," his patient explained.

That's motorcycles for you. If you've ever dreamed about flying and wished you could, riding a bike is the nearest experience in real life (or parachuting, probably; I can't answer for that because I've never done it). Motorcycles are, in Marshall McLuhan's phrase, an involving medium. You roll along on a summer day, leaning with every bend in the road. Warm air flows through your clothing and caresses your skin. You feel a delicious chill when you pass a body of water, and the pleasant shock of an unexpected sprinkling of droplets from a lawn-watering system. A motorcyclist experiences a mystical sense of oneness with the world as it glides by.

Then in a second or two everything changes. Gravel or leaves or water on the road, a pothole, a piece of the underpinnings of a car not seen in time, or something unfamiliar in the respiratory tract -- not to mention the things other motorists do -- and the biker is sliding down the road leaving skin on the pavement and thinking about compound fractures.

As the saying goes, "You can always tell a happy bikey by the bugs on his teeth" -- but maybe not for long.