“Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely. I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so blue.” ~ Willie Nelson
Stopping in Crescent City has been part of the deal from the very beginning of planning The Ride. This is where Robert Pirsig stopped when he entered California while he was on his Zen ride. He had just crossed a major portion of the country, and he stopped here to get a look at the ocean before continuing to San Francisco — where the Zen journey ended. So this specific place is not just a dot on the map. It has significance for me. I need to stand where Pirsig stood and see what he saw.
I pull into Crescent City after more than eight hours of riding. I’d called a campground from Eureka, Calif. about two hours before and been assured that I could camp there for the night. But by now I’m exhausted, and a chilly wind is blowing off the ocean. The thought of setting up the tent in the wind gets me to pull into the first motel I see that doesn’t have an overflowing parking lot.
The lady behind the counter at the Curly Redwood Lodge tells me all about how the lodge was built back in the 1950s from the wood of a single massive redwood tree. I’m listening to her story and thinking I’ve surely got a room as she breaks out some old pictures of a man standing next to a massive tree that is being cut up into boards. Then she drops the bomb and tells me there are no rooms available at the Curly. We’re kinda on friendly terms at this point, so she leans conspiratorially across the counter and says, “Let me make a few calls.”
She works the phones for a good twenty minutes; calling pretty much every decent hotel in town, but every person she talks to has the same answer, “No vacancy.”
I leave her office depressed about tent camping. Climbing on the motorcycle, I start Connie up and turn back onto Hway -101, heading to the campground. During this short ride, I come to the conclusion that the lady at the Curly was working her way down from the top of the list, and that’s when I decide to start working from the bottom. The first crapbox motel is less than a mile up the road. The Town House sits on the west side of Hway – 101. The building looks like it crawled there to die on the edge of town.
“I bet these guys have a room,” I say inside my helmet as I roll Connie into the uneven parking lot.
The man behind the counter looks like an unmade bed, but he is friendly. He tells me I’m getting his last and biggest room as he turns on the No Vacancy sign for the night. I believe I’ve just gotten the very last available room in the city.
“There is one little quirk,” he says, “You’ll have two TVs. One is for sound and one is for picture.”
“It’s better than camping in this wind,” is my reply.
The room is a little bit of a horror show. It is damp and smells of mildew. The floor doesn’t just creak. It groans with every step I take. There is an actual soft spot in the middle of the room that I decide to avoid at all cost. The bathroom has one gray towel, and 1/3 of a roll of toilet paper. The tub is dirty, and the shower head is a modern art project of rust and colors I wish I hadn’t seen.
The sun is about to set, and I want to get down to Pirsig’s ocean overlook before it gets dark, so Connie and I gently ease into evening traffic. I’m looking for a way to get to the water. I find the spot a few minutes later — just as the sun touches the ocean. It’s the prettiest sunset of The Ride. I stand there making pictures and wondering what Pirsig was going through when he got here, and I feel a connection with him in a way I never have.
The sun finally dips below the horizon, and that feeling of connection is gone. I’m alone again. The thought of going back to my shitbox motel room depresses me, so I decide to look for a nice bar. Hell, a bad bar would be better than my room. I check the AroundMe app on my iPhone, and come up with nothing other than a bowling alley that serves beer.
I decide to look for the central part of town, thinking to myself there has to be something there. I ride a grid pattern, looking for anything but coming up empty. Turning down one last street before giving up, I spot Tomasinis Enoteca. It’s a wine bar. It’s open, and the place is packed!
I put Connie’s kickstand down across the road from the bar and begin walking in the post-sunset light. Halfway across the street, I trip and almost fall. I’m really tired.
I pull the door open and a middle age man greets me at the threshold. He has incredible black curly hair and a cool set of eyeglasses on. He looks me up and down and says with a big grin, “Hey man, You look really cool.”
Looking around the room, I see everyone knows each other, and there is a big banner over the bar that reads, “Happy 50th Birthday, Tim”.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was a private party,” I say, beginning to turn away.
The man reaches out and grabs my arm to prevent me from leaving. He leans in close and says with a low voice, “It is a private party. In fact, it’s MY 50th birthday party, and you just got invited.”
“Hi, my name is Robert. I’m from Seattle,” I say as I stick out my hand.
“Hi, I’m Tim. I’m from here,” he says as he throws his arm around my neck and drags me inside.
Tim’s yelling now, “HEY EVERYONE! THIS IS ROBERT. HE ROAD THAT MOTORCYCLE (pointing over his shoulder at Connie) ALL THE WAY FROM SEATTLE TO COME TO MY PARTY!
The room erupts with cheers and clapping. People stand and stretch their necks to get a look at Connie while a pretty woman points me toward the food table. I find a place to put my helmet, but I keep my motorcycle jacket on because I don’t want to go to the trouble of digging all the stuff out of my pockets. Keeping the jacket on works in my favor, because a road-dirty biker who smells like campfires and ocean air is interesting, maybe a little dangerous. He is a cowboy. He is a land-bound pirate. Men want to be like him, and women want to be with him. An unshaven middle age man in a smelly sweater isn’t interesting or dangerous. He’s a homeless guy.
The room is bright with birthday decorations and there are people of all ages, from all levels of the local society — and they all want to meet me. Men talk about motorcycles and fast cars they’ve owned. Women ask about my trip and why I’m on the road. One young woman, she can’t be a day over 25, flirts with me as she twirls her hair and dangles a sandal from her big toe while sitting on a stool next to me at the bar. I will fall into her dark brown eyes and be lost forever if I’m not careful. God, it feels good to have the attention of a young woman.
The party starts to slow down at 9 p.m. Tim’s guests are starting to leave, and I feel a sense of obligation to him, so I stay and help clean up after the party. Tim introduces me to his wife, Jill while we’re cleaning. She’s a few years younger than him, and she’s got that California blonde thing goin’ on. Tim is a lucky man.
There is an enormous birthday cake in the back of the room that Jill is struggling to pick up. I plead with her to leave it, and I’m jogging across the room to help. I pick the massive cake up and ask where she wants me to take it. Jill points to the back of the room where an employee is holding a door open. I carry the mostly untouched beautiful cake outside, and the employee gestures to the dumpster.
“Really?! It doesn’t feel right to toss this in the trash,” I plead to nobody in particular.
“It’s the fate of all party cakes that come through here,” she says in a tired, emotionless voice.
I hold the cake over the black hole of the dumpster’s mouth and let go. It makes a soft thump when it hits bottom down in the darkness.
That feeling of impending loneliness is on me again as I walk back into the wine bar. I don’t want this to end. A minute later, I’m picking up my helmet when Tim comes up and asks if I want to go to the after-party. Of coarse I want to go, but I don’t want to appear desperate.
“I don’t know. It’s getting late,” I say.
“Come on! There is a band. They are great,” Tim says, “The band’s name is Three for the Road.”
I smile and tell him I’m in. Tim provides directions to the bar, and I’m back on the road in moments. I find the bar, and the band IS great. They play a mix if old rock, blues and country, and it’s fun to watch Tim and Jill dance with their friends while leaning against the bar, sipping my beer.
The band finishes up, and I step outside to where the smokers go. Everyone is looking up at the sky where a HUGE full moon has just risen above the mountains to the east. I’m offered a smoke by a couple that’s talking about their jobs. I decline the cigarette, telling them I’m trying to quit. In reality my throat still hurts from the single cigarette I smoked as a joke seven days ago.
I speak with this couple about the local economy. They say it’s a struggle to get by. When I ask them what they do for work; the guy replies that he is a car salesman, and the woman tells me she is an entertainer. I don’t even want to guess what job an “entertainer” does in this town.
Our conversation strays to music. He likes ’90s rock and she likes everything. Eventually, she asks me what I like. I look at the moon and ask if she knows who Patsy Cline was. Then I tell the couple about my trip and how Patsy’s version of “Crazy” has been echoing through my mind for days. She smiles at the telling of it all.
I go back inside to say goodnight to Tim and Jill. They’re at a table next to the dance floor. When I extend my hand to say goodnight Tim grabs me and says I have to stay for the DJ. After downing a gulp of beer, Tim asks me what music I like. My response, “Do you remember Patsy Cline?” Then, I tell Tim and Jill about the music at my high school reunion exactly one week ago. I tell them how I convinced the DJ at the reunion to play Patsy for me and how I was able to dance to “Crazy” with a pretty woman that I was unable to dance with back when she was a pretty girl and I was a shy boy.
Tim and Jill listen silently to my story, and at the end Tim gives me that big grin of his and Jill looks away to wipe something from her eye. And at that moment, the opening notes of my song start playing over the dance floor speakers. I spin around to find the “entertainer” in the DJ booth. She is looking right at me and smiling.
Tim asks Jill to dance with me, but I can see she is uncomfortable, so I nudge them onto the dance floor. They join hands, kiss and start swaying as a long-dead country music star sings the sweetest, saddest song I know. I watch them dance. Tim’s looking down into Jill’s upturned face. She is looking up into his, and I think this is what it looks like when you do it right.
Patsy’s voice trails off at the end of the song, and now I really do have to go. I have to ride all the way across Oregon tomorrow. So, I go to shake Tim’s hand and he gives me a hug. During the embrace he asks if I’m okay.
“We’ll see,” and I step outside. I find Connie in the parking lot right where I left her. The silver paint on her body glows in the moonlight, and a breeze is blowing a light fog in from the ocean.
The fog will be heavy and scary to ride through tomorrow, but that is another story.