“Reflections on Motorcycles and Books” is the subtitle to “Riding with Rilke“, a classic ride story written by Ted Bishop. Ted is an English professor at the University of Alberta and a serious “book guy”. His research into English Modernist writers requires him to visit university and private book collections to study the original manuscripts of writers like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw.
In the summer of 2004, combining business with pleasure, Professor Bishop rode his Ducati Monster from Edmonton to Austin, Texas, covering a wide swath of western North America en-route. He gives us a well-told story about his adventure. Ted also reflects on manuscript research and and famous writers’ interest in motorcycles.
Rosalie and I visited Milwaukee last week to see the Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum and the Harley Davidson Museum. We stayed for two nights at the motorcycle-themed Iron Horse Hotel. There, on casual display, like some kind of lobby furniture, is a beautiful motorcycle once judged the world’s top custom.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak just wanted to make cool computers for themselves. Then their friends wanted them. The two young Steves built naked circuit boards in Jobs’ garage that cost $20 and sold for $40. Things scaled nicely from there.
In 1903, Bill Harley and the Davidson boys were just young guys that wanted to make their own motorcycles. I’m typing this on an Apple MacBook a few blocks from the Harley Davidson Museum where the iconic brand’s huge 110th anniversary party is just reving up. Success happens.
‘The Big Store’ is reducing its inventory, selling its older rental movies. A Norton Commando?…I’ll spend $5.
The film was a pleasant surprise. Rosalie liked it too.
‘What would you do?’ the subtitle asks…with a wedding planned in a few weeks and a diagnosis of terminal cancer? Ben does what most of us would. He buys an old Norton and takes off.
Beautiful Canadian scenery, whacky tourist attractions and unusual encounters gain a special poignancy and charge with death sharing the stage. Ben and his old Commando beat odds steeper than Ben’s prognosis when they make it to Vancouver Island seven days later. The road, of course, is Ben’s life; a week, his lifespan.
Motorcycle riding has potential to be a spiritual exercise, a “memento mori” (Latin: “remember you will die”). Awareness of an element of risk fosters a more intense appreciation of life. Life in the moment–vivid life–is what many of us experience on a motorcycle. A skull tattoo would probably enhance this feeling (…, Rosie?).
Asked if he had taken any pictures on his trip, Ben answers, “Yeah, a lifetime’s worth.”