At the risk of sounding like a trite wanker and composer of 'purple prose' (I have thought hard and can think of no better way to put it), one could say that life itself is an Extreme Sport. I mean, no matter how carefully we think we have things set up, these same shrewd plans can just as quickly fall apart and our ambitions dissolve before our eyes. Bravely then we must fling ourselves into Plan B, rolling the dice, as it were, in order to save the day and win the Big Lump of Cheese. Again, cliche's abound: 'There are no guarantees, etc., sayeth the prophet, To really live, it seems that we must always be prepared to reach into the darkness. To take the ultimate risk. Some people, it would appear, are more comfortable than the rest when dancing on this edge that divides light and dark. Some indeed seem born with a desire to taunt the dragons waiting in the dark.
Now that spring is fighting its way through the winter, teasing us on certain days with its bright blue marching army only to retreat again, and scurry back to hide amid the winds, the rains, I am starting to see the return of the bicycles and skateboards, and soon the roller blades will be flashing forth. All of these portable transport systems swivel along the untrustworthy streets of Moscow and plough through the metro stations, never warning you when they will come whooshing by. I am amazed that I have not lost an arm -- or part of my chin -- along the way, given as I am to sudden decisions. The wonder is that I haven't turned suddenly to ogle a pretty girl and run headlong into a bike or a kid on a board, putting me, at least temporarily, out of my misery. It's OK. If this is the cost we must pay to ring in the springtime, I am willing to take my chances.
The other thing that is coming back, however, always leaves me somewhat flabbergasted. These are the guys on the motorbikes. First, let me say that bikers used to strike me as people to avoid at all costs. This goes back to the Hell's Angels era in America. Mostly they seemed like guys with bad breath and bad attitudes, and the only question was who had more hair under their arms, biker men or biker women? They were always massive, and the karma they projected was that they would happily turn anything they came in contact with into roadkill. "Keep Out" signs were virtually written on their foreheads, and somewhere in their black beards you just knew that baby snakes were resting, probably sleeping off a hangover. This brawny Harley Davidson crew ruled the highways of America wherever they happened to be -- usually out in California, it seemed. Above all, they formed the ultimate clique: you were either a biker or you weren't. It wasn't as if you came home from the office, changed from your blue suit into the black attire of the 'gang' and took your Big Betsy two-wheeler out for a spin, stopping maybe for a nice cup of tea along the way. NOT !. Rather, being a biker was a way of life, a code of ethics, and bikers embraced the Rules of their Road to the exclusion of all else.
For example, once -- years later -- I was working in a nursing home and I took a real fancy to a tall, kind of red-necky blonde who briefly was stationed on the same wing as me. She was a hell of a worker and so was I -- and we enjoyed it. So I asked her out for a drink. She turned me down. Why, I asked? Because you are not a biker, she replied, not unkindly. She said, "I only go with bikers."
That's how it was -- and maybe still is -- with bikers, you see.
But a lot has changed with the biker "community' For one thing, Harley apparently is not the automatic choice anymore. As a brand, it was starting to seem outmoded, old-fashioned, maybe symbolizing an unsavory sweat-hog type of mentality. Or so I read in one of my Business English books. The other big change has been among the so-called 'weekend warriors' -- men and women who really do wear corporate attire all week and then jump on their bikes at the weekend. To me, this type of person is sort of like someone who visits a nudist colony when time allows or maybe enjoys going to a target range and firing round after round from an assault rifle. (I am not in a position to comment on the relationship, jovial or uneasy, which exists between 'real' Mountain Men bikers and this assortment of dentists and accountants.) When I lived in Daytona Beach there were two big biker festivals each year and the coastal city known for its stockcar speedway (Daytona 500) would be invaded by bikers, not just in the USA but the world over. For a week or so, the city would sound like a hornet's nest, day and night. The amazing thing is how little trouble there was. The bikers looked the part, made a hell of a racket, and filled the 'tittie' bars, but there was hardly any trouble. Full marks, guys, and gals. And signs and slogans were great: "I like riding my old man's Big Chopper!" One example.
But my purpose in today's blog is not to give you a history of Biker Nation or to evaluate its merit. What I am interested in is the role motorcycles in Moscow (and elsewhere I assume) play in our current obsession with extreme sports or, more precisely, the ADRENALINE RUSH. It seems that many people have caught this bug, and bikers seem to have an especially pernicious run of the infection. I see them on Moscow's great boulevards in Kievskaya, Leninsky Prospekt and elsewhere. I stare in awe as these blurs of man and machine go whistling past, leaving behind and in their wake even the most aggressive of the Capitol's motorists. It is like they have been shot out of a cannon. And as I gape with dropping jaw, I ask myself: "WHY?" One mistake and they are gone. Not only the mistake They might make, but someone else's mistake -- and they are grease. All of them (well almost all, I am sure) are very young and with such youth comes the misguided assurance of invincibility, even immortality. But of course they must know that certain death is always but the blink of an eye away, and therein lies the ADRENALINE RUSH. Where does it come from?
The most popular theory deals in archetypes and suggests that since we in the modern world no longer have to fight for our lives at a moment's notice as presumably, the cavemen did -- a situation which would have required the capacity for sudden violent action while offering the benefit of the 'joy of battle' so often lauded by medieval warriors -- a kind of ecstasy that occurs only when two armies collide ferociously on a field with giddy survival or agonizing death as the twin prizes -- and that our sedentary office and cyberspace existence no longer makes provision for such ultimate conflict. Therefore we have to do it ourselves -- either vicariously, through savage video games or first-hand via the extreme sport route. But we need that RUSH.
As an older man now, but one who always lived dangerously, I try to think back and recall times when I either did or could have done such things. Long ago, I used to hang out in the ghetto. (I was there for a reason, best left undiscussed.) The 'Hood was full of Black guys who hated Whites, guns and drugs, and the police cars and fire trucks were always wailing. It was a nice place to get killed. I would sit in the car and wait for my 'colleague' to do what he had to do, and I was really afraid, really wired. But it gave me a sort of RUSH, no doubt about it. A part of me seemed to need the darkness leading into the tunnel as much as some people need the light leading out of it. I was always attracted to the menacing seductiveness of the slum. I have never understood that shady, decadent, delicious side of my character. But I acknowledge it.
Yet as I collect the years, I now want only to live and enjoy more of them. I have grown cautious because I wish to protect my happiness. I don't want to die in a foolish or stupid way. I even worry about some nonsensical form of death, like having a stalagmite of ice fall on my head from a building top during winter. Or slipping on a bar of soap in the shower and impaling myself on my toothbrush. Stuff like that.
But the season of the ADRENALINE RUSH is almost upon us. Whether on the backs of motorbikes or on top of bridges where people go to make 'selfies', to other risky business, the sexy, crazy, unshackled youth of Moscow will soon soar joyously, raucously, and flirtatiously towards the edge of an abyss beyond all our understanding. I say Good Luck Guys. May the Force be with you.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===