“Whose the guy in the hipster tortoise shell glasses?,” I thought as he passed by in blue, pencil-legged pants. “That’s right, you just keeping walking. There is nothing to see here.” I was happy to have him pass. I could wait for the right person to wander in. Heck, I’d been waiting for weeks already. I had a commanding view of the room and people-watching passed the time. I was, however, standing front-to-back with some seedy characters—one named “Slash, ” another a self-proclaimed public enemy—and I was ready to move on. My spine was killing me. I needed to flex, I needed to lie down and relax on a soft couch or chair. Even to lie flat on a hard piece of wood would have been a relief from the rigid stance of attention I’d been suffering.
“Oh, she’s cute,” but she’ll just pass by on her way to another romance. “Pick me! Pick me!” Those thoughts hadn’t crossed my mind in days. I hadn’t given up but I had accepted reality. My time would come and I had no control over when that would be.
Humid air accentuated the varied odors in the room. Ink. Paper. Coconut-scented sunscreen. And the heavy perfume carried on the sun-damaged skin of a woman who sustained blonde hair three decades beyond what was appropriate for her age. She didn’t pick me either. All the better, I get nervous around little dogs that chew on things and I’m sure she had one.
A man arrived with a tall, attractive woman wearing a vintage blouse. Their eyes widened as they entered the room. With an exchange of words unintelligible at my distance they split to explore individually. The man eventually drew near me. His eyes scanned the room as one would search for treasures at a flea market. Up. Down. Behind. He’d back-up three steps and then advance again. As he approached I saw him slow down, like a robin closing in on a worm. He seemed to sense something was near. His scan became more focused on my location. He reached out, tracing a finger through the air until it hovered over me.
I felt such relief as I was pulled from the line. I expanded slightly as air again flowed through me. He studied me, turned me around, studied me more, turned me back—the usual. Then came the “ah-ha” moment when he discovered something in me so wonderful he never dreamed such a thing existed. I was jostled through the room and shown to the woman he arrived with—his sister— and together we left.
Kerry and I met in Sarasota, Florida—Bradenton, really, though that’s not a point of pride—but neither of us were from there. He was vacationing from Wisconsin and I was born of despair in Canada, traveled some 55,000 miles throughout North America and nurtured in California before arriving in Bradenton. When Kerry’s vacation was over he took me to his house in Wisconsin. I spent my days lying around while he worked but the lifeless January evenings were spent together, Kerry eagerly hanging on my every word. He sat quietly, sometimes scribbling notes, while I spoke. I’d be asked to repeat things. We connected. I made him laugh, cry, reflect, and every now and then proclaim “Holy shit!” to an empty living room.
Then one night he reluctantly put me aside. It wasn’t unexpected; my time had come to an end, I had nothing more to say. We can’t go on forever no matter how much some may wish for that. I had served my purpose. He wrote to my father, Neil Peart (yes, Neil Peart the lyricist and drummer for the band RUSH) telling him how much I meant to him. Kerry said he’d never written a letter like that before but felt compelled to after spending a few weeks with me. It was clear I made a profound impact on him. He also shared a story of his own with my father.
I still hang around Kerry’s house, occasionally moving from room to room. Sometimes I travel with him—today we are out for coffee—but I also find myself enduring that upright, rigid position I was forced to maintain in the days before we met. But now I’m not packed in as tightly and the company is better. Some of my father’s other off-spring have joined me and I’m hanging with the likes of Elvis Presley, astronaut Gene Cernan, and the men of Easy Company. I’m often asked to retell some of my stories. Kerry seems to particularly connect to the story of my father getting his first motorcycle and thinking, “And nothing was ever the same again…”
My story is a story of survival, of coming back from the lowest of lows and finding life again. It’s also a story of travel and motorcycling. I’m called Ghost Rider and—for a book—I’ve made quite an impact. The power of carefully chosen words, sequenced properly on a page, is undeniable.
* * *
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road is the only book that has ever picked me. I attacked it with vigor and a yellow highlighter. I frequently return to the highlighted passages as a preacher returns to favorite Pslams. I wrote to Mr. Peart to thank him for writing Ghost Rider, a book about a period off his life that must have been heart-wrenching to relive. I included with my letter a story of my own about travel, healing, and the need for motion. Nearly five years after mailing my letter a small, hand-addressed envelope stared at me from the floor of my porch. The postmark was the Los Angeles area, the return address was an entertainment company in Canada. I opened it slowly, suspiciously, as if it may be laced with ricin. Scrawled on the back of the card featuring a photo of Neil Peart behind his drum kit are the words “Thank you!” It is signed by Neil Peart.
"...in order for a little baby seed (soul) to grow, it would have to pass through fire, flood, or....shit." From Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road by Neil Peart.