On Noise Machines…

cedarvalleyct
6 min readDec 1, 2020

The tenor and tone of her request zeroed any distance to misunderstanding: to defy was to imperil. Despite this clarity of consequence, he would proceed contrary to edict. No, my Father would not take me to see Care Bears II: A New Generation. Instead, a viewing of Top Gun would mark my first movie-going experience. The year was 1986, I was two and a half years old, and sharing the cool, dark theater with my father, mellifluous duet of a timeless soundtrack and sometimes inverted roar of the F-14A’s Pratt & Whitney engines echoing throughout, was my first memory.

The jig was up the moment Dad and I returned home. My verbal approximations of machine gun fire and Sidewinder missile launches didn’t jibe with the innocuous cooings of Bears Cheer, Tenderheart, Funshine, et al.

Papa Jones, doghouse. Doghouse, Papa Jones.

For him, a marital grounding was fair payment for pure intentions. “Chess, not checkers,” he would say.

Orbits later, die cast, I would awaken to rhythmic explosions. I bounced from bed to feet to window, always eager to spy my peculiar neighbor and his two-wheeled “noise machine.” A brain bucket capped his sun-kissed face, always punctuated by a white, Yosemite Sam-inspired mustache, blizzard of a beard, and waterfall of knotted, stringy locks. Ancient boots, much-loved jeans, and faded black leather jacket completed the uniform. His noise machine’s occasionally off-beat potato-potato-potato refrain remains the only alarm clock I’ve ever loved.

He kept routine. After allowing the machine breathe to freely just long enough to enrage the block’s squares, he’d swing over his right leg, twice blip the throttle, and glide from driveway to street. He would progress past my house and down the block, all the while teasing a slow crescendo of explosions that could only be borrowed from Creation itself. The window’s vibration would tickle my forehead, nose, and hands — a single-paned conduit to sensation.

One day, amidst a game of catch with my father, my neighbor pomp and circumstanced up to our driveway. When he asked thigh-high me if I wanted to go for a ride, I forgot about GI Joe action figures and my obsession with Optimus Prime. The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus died painless deaths alongside my first layer of innocence. My thoughts returned to Messers. Pratt and Whitney. With a knowing wink, my Father gave the blessing. Any wisdom from my Mother, undoubtedly offering a thumbs down in absentia, would be dismissed.

Neighbor, noise machine, and I bombed up and down the block and back into my driveway and I was dazed.

Upon dismount, my Father looking on with seasoned bemusement, I burned my leg on the exhaust. Despite no practical experience intermingling with such levels of physical pain, I dared not emote. The fact that my first love could produce such a thing, or that knee-high me could already compartmentalize it, remains one for the shrinks. At the time, my only thought was that there must be a second, a third, an nth time atop this…thing.

Fifteen summers later, a three-day Motorcycle Safety Foundation course in the perception-skewing heat of Winder, GA and atop a shrugging Honda Nighthawk 250 legitimized my childhood dalliance.

On the day of my college graduation, I placed a deposit on a 2006 Triumph Daytona 675.

My 1994 Honda Accord DX, complete with five-speed stick shift, crank windows, and manual locks, hurried me across the country. Southern California and the famously spaghettified roads strewn about the Santa Monica Mountains were the destination.

Mulholland.

Stunt.

Latigo.

Decker.

Tuna.

Las Flores.

About those mountains, the learning curves mirrored the drop-offs. I was handed many a lesson from the locally-infamous opposed-twin pig of a BMW R1150GS rocket ship perpetually passing me, the newb, and my obediently statuesque triple. The GS and other veterans of the mountains provided counsel, both on- and off-bike. The innumerable conversations with two-wheeled strangers meandered from chasing the perfect line to executing the rev-matched downshift to describing the feeling of melting into your motorcycle as you perfectly clip your 19th consecutive apex.

Between the Mulholland Riders, there was only the Sisyphus-derived quest for Moto-Nirvana.

Later, with the eternal sunshine of The Southland in my rearview, my mother fell ill. A Ducati 848 and the Blue Ridge Mountains were my release. When Johns Hopkins’ ICU became her home, my BMW F800GS brought me on the daily from DC to Baltimore and through the frigidness and uncertainty of the winter months and my Mother’s December. After she passed, I rode an R1200GS from DC to Atlanta and back to Los Angeles. The sub-freezing temperatures and unrelenting precipitation proved far less dangerous than my tear-filled eyes and intractable determination to push onwards.

A KTM 690 Enduro R, a Ducati Hypermotard SP, and a re-introduction to the joy of navigating SoCal’s ever-shifting topography was proof of whatever remaining life. Another GS brought me back across the country, where, in Harpster, Idaho, another white-bearded man, a stranger but a self-professed Harley rider, offered aid when a rogue nail connected with my back tire.

Would I follow him to his house? It’s just over the hill, he said. Of course I would. A burst of an air compressor and an hour of conversation later, me and the GS were on our way, organs and contents of wallet intact.

Amongst motorcyclists, there are no strangers.

When my childhood ace overdosed and my Dad fell ill, the GS and the Appalachian Mountains were my next escape. After he passed, a road trip on a Triumph Bonneville T120 Black salved my gaping wounds. Atlanta to Vermont and twenty-five hundred miles via Triumph Scrambler 1200 Xc tied the knot on a miscarriage and conscious uncoupling. Through it all, a frame, some handlebars, two wheels, a seat, and an engine…my noise machines.

This is no shot at silent bikes. They are the inescapable next. But while some techies and early adopters view anything internally combustable as an anachronism, the point is missed.

The cylinders. A beating heart.

The oil. Blood.

Gasoline. Food.

The resulting emissions are the final proof of a flawed but beautiful personification. A noise machine lives in concert with its rider. They alternate as our friends, family, enemies, loves, obsessions, doctors, and patients…sometimes they cough, bleed, and call out for attention. They may be an anachronism, but like the inevitability of passing time, we all fight to keep pace, to hold on that much longer for one more eardrum-kissing ride.

More than ever, we need zen and the art. We need that which reminds us of our commonalities. We need that which reminds us of our fragility and that which reminds us of our humanity.

As we sit astride being and nothingness, we need that which reminds us why.

Today, my thoughts turn to my neighbor and his perfect alarm clock. I am reconnected to my late parents. I relive those moments astride my Scrambler 1200 Xe as I conduct the orchestra that is my current, and most beloved, noise machine. My positioned is refined:

Anachronistic to some is cherished to others, but we progress together.

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