Honda wave, my hat’s off to you. You may not be a Vincent 52, but I could shift your humble little gears all day and thrill from the trill of your engine revving up, your slight jerks as I downshift and the way my hand cramps sometimes from being so engaged on all your levers, knobs and pushies. Always a too bad when the ride is over, home again.
My motorbike is the best part of my day, every day.
My motorbike is my best friend, here in this Hanoi. (and my computer too, though we’ve been a bit strained lately). (I miss my cat).
Everyday, a fresh challenge presents itself to me—I pace and consider and talk myself up and finally take a deep breath, put on my helmet and step out into the humidity to join with my bike and ride out into the insanity of Vietnamese traffic. The heat doesn’t matter in the wind and the concentration.
At the end of each day, I come home feeling accomplished, and as though I did something brave, something terrifying and exhilarating both. I did it. I faced a fear and I fucking lived.
It’s excellent therapy when you can’t afford a therapist. Do something challenging each day that pumps you up. Do something you’re afraid of doing, but do it anyway, so long as you want to do it. Like…tell a truth.
I wanted to ride a bike more than anything, but the intimidation of entering into the wild, narrow, potholed, speeding, red-lights-mean-nothing, neither-do-lanes, NO-RULES-AT-ALL streets of Hanoi scared me thoroughly enough to postpone the event. Maybe if Grab wasn’t sucking so much and if the thrill of being a passenger on a bike hadn’t worn thin, and the desire hadn’t become so strong I could taste it—
Well it sure as hell beats walking on these side-walk-less bustling streets.
I begin to move more easily.
The Vietnamese ride like fish in a school, moving together. When I take a turn, I needn’t fear turning into the oncoming traffic—oncoming from three directions mind you—because all I have to do is lean in—
Lean in to the other fish, the other motorists—if I’m not joining a school of motorcycle fish already preparing to make the move, they will soon be joining me—on all sides—and when there are enough of us, without words, someone makes the first acceleration into the traffic and the rest follow, pushing our way through as one entity before we once again disentangle into individual paths. It is very reassuring and comforting to feel a part of the group—trusting the cars will have to break if there are many of us.
Traffic spins and jumps, dips and lifts like dancers in Vietnam—the insanity, it turns out, is incredibly graceful—
Feeling the pulse and stepping in rhythm, the crowded streets are a great choreographed complexity of instinct and intuition. One can not but be in awe of universal math, of the divine perfection of timing and the ability of humans to tap into the grand flow so effortlessly, beings of a great design dancing together to music we don’t even know we’re hearing.
Well…it’s not completely effortless, not for me—if you don’t know the steps, you are more likely to step on a toe and hesitation is more dangerous than anything. Gauging speeds and knowing there will be just enough room to get past the oncoming traffic—who are taking up 2/3s of my lane in addition to their own—and not be pushed into the car on my right—it’s therapy I tell you. It’s trust.
You must be both completely focused, completely present and your blathering mind shuts up, and you just feel the movement: the tide is going out or the tide is coming in, and I will not try to be other than a fish riding on my wave.
Since getting caught in the rainstorm, while out driving, with great torrents pouring down, fogging my glasses, wind shaking my bike, visibility a near nothing, and managed to find my way home through the maze of skinny streets and turns I’d only navigated once before on foot, coming the other direction weeks before—and on my first try—
I become more confident. The nuances of the Vietnamese driver’s dance begin to live within me. I can avoid a pot hole and the oncoming bus at the same time without hindering the driver behind me with jerky breaking or swerves. I can make a left turn by playing criss cross applesauce, streaming into oncoming traffic without panicking that we’ll crash, knowing we’ll cross as hashtag lines that move past eachother in perpendicular directions without collision.
I am flowing through the streets, the u turns that still make my heart pound a little, the manoevres that make me feel so capable, god it’s good to drive. To drive, dammit. It’s a part of me. What can I say? I grew up on American Highways and they are the best part of modernity if you ask me.
Parking, on the other hand is a terrible thing. Like my first years driving a car, it was always the parking lots that proved to be the most anxiety ridden, risk potential part of the entire endeavor, and while an excellent driver, my cars have often been covered in dings from mishaps in parking lots.
Come to think of it… Movement has always come easy. Stopping is my weakness.
Whatever the psychological breakdown of that is, here, at least, I can say, it’s the curbs.
It’s all curbs. I’m terrified of curbs. Driving up curbs or—worse—tiny inclined ramps that lead onto the side walk. Fuck, I miss parking lots. So another pause, consideration and deep breath is needed, while I hold up traffic, sweat dripping—the heat suddenly unbearable again—before revving my engine up onto the steep little upcline, using my feet as guides, to the sidewalk where the bikes are parked (because who walks?). The fear is using too much gas and ramming into a wall or even off the other side altogether where a lake looms below.
Parking is a drag, but the ride makes it worth it.
Leaving here, it will be hard to remove my red bandana necklace (red for good luck—a habit adopted after my moto accident in Bali) from the sweet Honda Wave key and turn them over. I understand the love of a motorbike from a new perspective. It is like my destiny has finally met me. I fantasize endlessly about rides to come, knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am the unknown legend Neil Young was referring to and I’ve been riding through the desert, long blonde hair flying in the wind, since the beginning of time.