He rode up to a gas station along the road in the middle of no where, dead center in fact. As far as he could see there wasn’t anything at all. He knew that it was about 150 miles one way, and 200 the next. There were no side roads except for one that wandered off towards a casino run by one tribe or another, and a few dirt roads that he supposed wandered off towards ranches or mines. He last bought fuel at the station at the casino turnoff and the old man who was watching from the office wandered out to see him. Probably thought he was an outlaw with his unkempt hair and stubble. They chatted pleasantly about the usual things, the weather and the road ahead. Neither gave him any assurance that this long bypass had been a good choice. Finally, after storing the long dry nozzle back on the pump, he paid the man and prepared to leave. The old man spoke up, “You know, there was another motorcycle through here a few hours ago.”
The man perked up. He was always interested in knowing about others who might be journeying the way that he was going.
“Yes, he was going to try to make town by nightfall but wasn’t concerned if he didn’t get there until later tomorrow. You might look for him.”
The biker nodded, “Maybe I will see him.”
He climbed astride and kicked it, the smooth running motor leapt to life. With a final nod he headed out and turned onto the black top. The heat was over 100 and his speed and open jacket did little to cool him. The hundred miles to the next station was finally over and he coasted up to the pumps. Again the attendant wandered from the office, this one not saying much except to politely answer his questions then nod towards the restaurant that was set off the road in the shade of some poplar trees. They seemed to cool the wind, ever slightly, as it traveled through them. Their shiny leaves fluttered in the wind, he thought he could even hear them as they rubbed against each other. He cruised through the parking lot looking for just the right protected spot to park when he came across a place under a tree that seemed perfect. When he drove up he found another bike there, but it seemed to be parked deliberately so there was ample room for another bike to park. Carefully he parked beside and half behind the creamish-yellow bike, the color seemed to glow so he leaned over a moment to admire the paint then looked up at the worn leather, leading edges splattered with bugs. The wind screen was the only thing that had been cleaned, and this some time ago. He noticed then that the whole bike looked like it had been on the road a while. Looking back at his ride he saw that it looked clean by comparison. Shrugging his shoulders he wandered up to the restaurant, thinking of a cold one.
The inside of the small establishment was bursting to the seams, it seems there were less chairs than there were cars in the parking lot. He snagged a beer and was shooed away from the packed counter to find his own seat while he waited for service. He figured it would be a long wait and as long as he drank slowly to make it last he would only buy one, he would be on the road in an hour or so. Perhaps the wind would cool by then. Finally he spotted a screen porch and wandered out there, to find all of the tables full there as well. He saw also the owner of the other bike who nodded and gestured to the chair across from him. “It is often like this when the air is hot. There are people sitting together who just met, they would rather do that then drive another two hours in the heat and sun.”
“Thank you,” he said, reaching across the table.
“Jesse” came the response. The hand shake was firm, it gave a feeling of strength and confidence.
It was a surprisingly short time and the waitress came to take his order, the man across the table seemed to have already ordered his. The waitress looked across the table and he gave a nearly imperceptible nod. She turned and went off to the kitchen.
They spoke some, where they were riding to, where they had been before. Jesse spoke of sunrises from the tops of mountains, and sunsets from the edge of the sea with his bare toes being swept by the waves. The man shared of his travels, large cities, desolate reaches, traffic, failures. He tried to skirt who he had ridden most of it with, but he could tell that somehow Jesse already knew. He mentioned how sometimes his travels where so trying and horrible that he saw no peace in them any more and considered selling his bike (he didn’t say what his choices were afterwards) With that Jesse sat back in his chair and began to tell a story. The story caught his attention so much that the sounds from the surrounding people seemed to dim.
When I was a young rider…
Jesse spoke about his first ride, how proud he was of it. Just something made overseas, not very powerful or very fast. Eventually he found himself a better job then the odd summer jobs with which he bought the first and he found an old bike in the neighbor’s barn. It had all its parts, they just were not all on the bike. He spent evenings and weekends working on it, finally about six months later it was ridable. The rust and grime had been removed as he worked on it but now he needed to do something with the bald spots. So he got a pretty good spray painter and some black paint with just a little shine (he figured then he wouldn’t worry about finger prints) and he carefully painted it, learning as he went along. finally it was painted and running and time to go for a ride. He packed his bag and picked up his map and put his thumb on his town. He figured is thumb would be just the right amount of distance to make a weekend trip. Then he looked around all sides of this thumb and picked a destination, and that was where he went that weekend. Soon the rides got longer, and he was meeting more and more People. Some friendly, some not so friendly. As he went he found that even those who were not friendly respected him.
One day he faithful mount made it obvious that long rides were no longer possible and Jesse sadly went looking for a new ride. Almost as if God was helping him look there was an advertisement in the paper for a nice American made bike many years newer than his faithful companion. A friend dropped him off at the address and the owner rolled the bike from the garage. He stood transfixed. The ad had not said that the bike was colored, and he had rode a black bike for so long that he hadn’t even thought of any other color. The bike was the color of sunshine, not bright sunshine but the color just before the fog lifts in the morning and everything has a golden glow. He just stared, then he walked around and stared some more. No matter the angle the bike was the same color, it never was in the shade. It always was glowing. And something else, if he stood exactly in the right place… “Well,” he paused, “just stand in the right place and you will see what I mean.” A deal was struck, a handshake given, and the man had kinda contented look to see the bike ride off. Jesse wondered about that.
Rides were not the same on the new bike, but somehow he knew that in some ways it was better. It was almost like he had someone riding with him, but that isn’t possible, is it? Jesse shrugged. The people who had been afraid took the yellow bike as something wonderful, not scary. Those who tried to stand up to him before just nodded. For some reason they didn’t ignore him as they often did. The man wondered how changing from a black bike to a yellow one would make a difference. Their dinner finally arrived and he turned down what would have been his third brew.
They were just finishing when a noisy crowd came into the restaurant. They both looked up to see black leather jackets and the patches of an outlaw club. The only open table was next to theirs and the group came over. Finding that it just wasn’t big enough one outlaw looked over at the two, jackets on the back of their chairs and Jesse’s helmet on the floor. He strongly encouraged the two to leave so they could scoot the table over. A strange thing happened then. The man rose to leave, he didn’t want to be the target of a gang, but Jesse hadn’t moved. “I tell you what,” Jesse said, his eyes shining and his face peaceful and almost like it glowed, “I’ll let you share this table, or you can have it if you listen to a story. I’m not leaving.”
“I’m not listening to a story,” the one said. He was interrupted by the one who might have been their leader. “Is that your yellow bike out there?” Jesse nodded, his expression never changed. “You can talk.” They slid the table over and Jesse sat down again. After nodding good bye to him, Jesse turned and began to talk.
Shaking his head he went to the cash register to pay and found that the meal had been taken care of. Still wondering he went out to the yellow bike and stared at the amazing paint one more time. While he looked, he thought he saw a wave of paint on the tank that almost looked like someone was careless. As he looked some more, he saw some straight places in the paint before the mis-painted swoosh traveled downwards. Now he nearly had his nose against the paint and he saw nothing, so he stepped back again thinking he didn’t see it after all. Standing back a bit more he clearly saw it. The swoosh represented a hillside, the three vertical marks at the top all had smaller horizontal marks. Way down where the tank curved under was a bit of darker yellow that almost looked like a cave. Startled, he went around to the other side and stepped away this time. There was nothing in the paint on this side except the reflection of his own face (he hadn’t noticed it before) and then suddenly his reflection looked as if he was wearing a hat of some type, or maybe some vines wrapped around. Then his face had a beard made by an ever so subtle place where the paint changed direction. As he stared in wonder, a voice was heard in his head, it almost sounded like Jesse’s voice.
If you ride with me, you will never be lonely. You might not always be dry, you might not always have money. Give up your life and follow me and wear my patch on your heart, and I will guide your path forever.