Father Delorto sleepily answered the knock on the door. The day was just getting started, and while the good Father was up and walking around, lingering angels of the night hampered his thoughts, and his coffee cup held the only promise of reentry to the working world of the fully awake.
The man standing in the doorway was of average height, certainly not overweight by anyone's standards. His graying ponytail, chin stubble, and lined face spoke of his age which was approximately that of Father Delorto, but fate had been somewhat less kind to the stranger, as indicated by eyes that seemed both wary and weary while expressing a twinkle. He had parked an old Moto Guzzi by the curb, leaving it piled rather carelessly with what looked to be camping gear, tools, and parts for a long passage. The overall impression was of a roving junk salesman, one who traveled door to door selling old motorcycle bits and pieces.
It seemed the man was more or less lost and, having heard of the Father and his church, Our Lady of Internal Combustion, had stopped for directions and perhaps a meal or two out of the visit. The Father offered coffee and the last of his Danish collection which he had been saving for some occasion other than the visit of a stranger, but perhaps this was the better usage he thought. And while they ate the last of the pastry and sipped their way through the second pot of coffee, the stranger talked and the Father listened. Something each man seemed singularly good at.
It seems the stranger had been "on the road" in the Jack Kerouac sense of the term for some time, having left his home in Virginia after the death of his wife. But his story began further back than that, with his first motorcycle which was the result of a trade between him and a kid who needed a station wagon to transport furniture across the country. His old Volvo 145 was long of tooth and equally as problematic as the much used BMW R60/5 the kid owned. The trade was made and each party was delighted to see the other drive away on their old troublesome vehicle assured, as they were, that they each got the better of the deal. This is, of course, the best kind of a trade.
It seems the acquisition of the old BMW began a learning process both about motorcycle machinery and about himself, much as in Pirsig's "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Although he had ridden motorcycles occasionally in the past, this was the first bike he had owned, and his first experience with spending any time with a motorcycle on the road and in traffic, and the experience was at first terrifying! It was a constant struggle to remember the control functions and to learn about the vulnerability of a motorcyclist among high speed traffic. He seemed so small, and the trucks so huge.
At that time in his life, he had just finished over a year of psychotherapy coming to grips with various demons lurking in the shadows of his unconscious, and he found the challenge of learning to master both the mechanics of the bike as well as his fears, to be therapeutic. Certainly not a complete substitute for good therapy at exorcising his demons, but a surprisingly effective confidence builder. And at that time in his life, when his confidence was at a low, the motorcycle proved to be very good medicine. And so he learned to ride. First around the block, then across town, and finally across the country.
His wife learned she enjoyed riding behind him, and together they covered a lot of the eastern United States, from the Blue Ridge mountains to the coast of Nova Scotia. As his experience grew, so did his confidence in himself in general and, while his overall lot in life did not improve as in the dramatic example of Cinderella after the intervention of her Fairy God Mother, he learned to avoid worrying about it, and life became rather nice.
Some years later, after cancer took his wife, he sold the house, invested the money in rapidly climbing computer related stock, packed a simple kit, and took to the road. He could, for a while, wire himself cash as needed until the dot com crash, and his stocks became more or less worthless. Now he worked his way about, stopping as needed to work a bit. His skills were in food service, specifically as a short order cook. He said he could always find work since so many people had to eat almost regardless of where he was at the time.
At this point, Father Delorto remembered that Cumquat Mae was looking for help in the kitchen of her Chinese restaurant after her second string cook had seen fit to get himself arrested for some anti-social behavior thus leaving her without a back-up in the kitchen. The traveler was delighted at the news and assured the Father he would look into the position immediately. He smiled at the crumbs that remained of the Danish, and promised the Father a good meal in return for his kindness. And at his earliest convenience.
The stranger added that he could not have lived this way before the motorcycle came more or less accidentally into his life; that is, traveling with no source of visible support, and working as needed wherever he found himself. His eyes, while betraying both the time and the mileage behind them, seemed to reflect the truth of his claim that the motorcycle experience had, indeed, delivered him from the fears of his earlier life and, like a benevolent genie from an iron bottle that smelled faintly of gasoline, set him free.
"Life is great", he said, "I think of that fact constantly. Whether riding in the early morning watching the mist rising off the dew soaked fields, or rolling along leisurely in the evening catching the smells of mown grass, dinner cooking somewhere, and watching the sun settling behind distant hills...it's always a rush. We are such fortunate creatures to be part of the amazing thin green layer of life on this tiny little planet circling indefinitely a smallish yellow sun itself only a dot in the outer edge of a huge galaxy making its way majestically through an endless black void. To be given this experience", he said, "is extraordinary, and I intend to soak up as much of the experience as possible before my time is up. Do you remember", he asked, "when you were a child and at some party or other having a great time, and then your parents showed up to take you home, and it was all over? Well," he added, "that is the way I see my life. Some day, maybe soon, I'm gonna have to leave this party. I know that. But I'm gonna enjoy it to the fullest while I have the time."
And Father Delorto smiled in complete agreement. Yes, the angels dressed in leather and in chrome would, indeed, someday come to carry him, too, home, but that knowledge didn't keep him from enjoying his stay here. With skill and knowledge he intended to avoid them as long as possible, for like Robert Frost noted: he had miles to go before it's time to sleep. And he wanted those miles to be early mornings or late evenings on his motorcycle...his drug of choice. So far it was not illegal.