Now is the autumn of my discontent. Or not, actually – I couldn’t think of another way to start my own introduction. So I ripped off from both the Bard and Steinbeck. Heck, it worked for them then, it’ll work for me now.
Bulgarian seasons can be so fickle, and after spending so many of them here, I’m comfortable with them all. This one is not disappointing. Mid-November in a country that turns into black and white after the first of December, and yet I’m thinking about hopping on the Harley Davidson to go for a ride in the morning. 65 degrees (farenheit) and sunny. What’s not to like?
Cars. They are the bane of my two-wheel existence here. Not all of the cars, but enough to catch my attention and make me sweat, white-knuckled when I see a fast approaching bogey at 6 o’clock in the mirror. There’s a sport played here. It’s called, pass the motorcycle in his lane as fast and close as you can. I don’t do anything to get this special “attention” other than show up with a thundering American bike on Bulgaria’s be-potholed lanes. That’s apparently enough for some folks to perform the passive aggressive equivalent of a strafing run with the family car, van, or jeep. They don’t do it when I’m in a pack of bikes though. Wonder why?
Anyway, once I make the adjustment (to my expectations of civility and smooth pavement) I begin to enjoy the road. Yes, some of the bumps and potholes make me leave my seat from time to time. But often the rolling hills try to seduce me into that fatal motorcyclist’s trance, that dreamy happy feeling that must be resisted at all costs because there’s no room for error with 750 pounds of iron hurtling down a country road on two wheels. The Harley slows down the way a 747 does on a really long runway. And besides, in the next curve I might find a date with an Audi grill as one of the nouveau-mafia-riche coming toward me at 120 miles an hour decides to “share” my lane with me. Mi casa, su casa, I guess?
Stoplights are fun. I pretend not to notice the stares and cellphone cameras capturing the wierdo on the big American bike. I wonder do they know it’s a Harley. Would they care? Some cars just stop next to me, though the lane in front of them is open all the way to the red light. And stare. Not a word. Not a smile. Just stare.
Stop at a cafe and park the bike, but not anywhere I can’t watch it like an eagle. A big bike attracts attention there, much the way a B-52 might if it were to roll to a stop at a farmers market and the pilot hopped out. Out come the cellphone cameras again. I pose, pretending not to look like I know I’m posing. I powerdown and lock the ignition. Sitting at the nearest table, I sip coffee, really great coffee on a sidewalk (roughly speaking … literally). People aren’t afraid to introduce themselves by asking how much the bike costs. No “hello,” no “nice bike.” Just, “How much does it cost?” “Too much,” I answer. “Way too much.” I pretend not to know or remember. It’s a pointless question anyway. Well, to me it seems. I have a lot to learn about life here, as many years as I have been. But one thing I’m certain of, is “How much” will almost always be the first, and maybe only question from a gawker.
When I return home, I like rolling down my street, a small boulevard with cars parked on the sidewalks for hundreds of meters. As I glide down that road from a day’s ride in the countryside, the car alarms whistle, chirp, or bleat out their “back-off” warnings while I pass – a kind of VFW salute to the Road King coming in for landing. I feel noticed again, this time by cars, not people. I feel honored. I feel ready to retire to the garage and polish a little chrome. And think about the next time I get to go out and ride.