One night, a few years back, I had an interesting thing happen to me.
I was on a freeway – Hwy 99 in California’s Central Valley – heading home from Sacramento to Turlock. Turlock is where I lived then and though I don’t now recall what I was doing in Sacramento, I do recall this: It was a good hour and a half drive to get home from there.
I also recall that it was winter, because of the cold misty fog that was all over the road that night. But since I was in my truck – a big Dodge with an extended cab and heated seats – the cold and the fog didn’t mean much to me.
It’s funny, when you have a motorcycle; it makes you fully appreciate – in a way that’s hard to describe – a truck with heated seats on a cold winter’s night. I recall some nights riding my bike down that same freeway, in the cold, in the fog, wishing hard that I was already sitting home by the fire.
My bike is a BMW which, of course, makes other BMW’s particularly noticeable. So when I was heading south on 99 in my truck that night and started to come up on a motorcycle with very familiar looking features, I could tell pretty quick it was a Beemer like mine. But I could tell something else too: Though I could clearly see this guy’s tail light, it looked as though his head light wasn’t on.
And that’s not a good problem to have on a motorcycle at night.
Well I guess there’s probably no good problem to have on a motorcycle at night, but of all the possible problems, it’s among the worst. I know because it’s happened to me. And when it does happen, and it’s cold and dark outside, and you’re going freeway speeds but can’t really see what’s ahead of you, it can be pretty spooky.
At that point you have very few choices. The first, and probably best, choice is to pull over and shut the bike off. But if you’re a long way from home, and you don’t have whatever replacement part might be needed on you to fix your headlight then, well, you’re a long way from home with no way to get there.
Another choice is you just keep going and pull in behind a car and use his headlights to see what’s coming.
So I pulled my truck up next to the guy on the Beemer and matched his speed. I knew he couldn’t really look over at me as he needed to keep his head forward and his eyes on the precious little he could see. But I wanted to show him I was matching his speed before I pulled in front of him into his lane, which I then did.
So as I slightly sped up and pulled into the slow lane in front of the lightless motorcycle I settled in at about what speed I thought he could comfortably do, and settled in for the slow steady drive ahead.
I knew I couldn’t make any lane changes. I knew I couldn’t really speed up – and definitely couldn’t suddenly slow down. So for about next hour I drove down the freeway with one eye ahead of me and the other on the lightless motorcycle in my rearview mirror.
I guess that’s my way of saying that sometimes we’re leading in life, and sometimes we’re following. Some of you know that I started writing for the Herald back in June of 2011. What you might not know is this: At that time I was a refugee from the housing market crash. My industry had pretty much died on the vine, and I was scrambling to find what little stems of it were still alive.
I’d left Turlock to chase job opportunities – or what I thought were opportunities – which is how I’d ended up in Benicia. And in Benicia, on May 2nd of 2011, my last job in my withering industry shriveled up and died.
And it became time to write…