The art of escapism

By Neil GrahamPosted on

My favourite place in the world — of what I’ve seen of it so far — is Barry and Gail Brown’s home in eastern Ontario. It was once a mill and is perched on a pond so that when you’re in the kitchen it feels like you’re floating. A narrow spiral staircase winds to a second floor and an even narrower staircase goes to a third floor workshop. It sounds good, but to experience it is something far greater.

Barry also has beautiful old motorcycles, and on a perfect summer day we take off on a ride. Barry takes the Honda VFR test bike and I take his 1930s Indian four-cylinder. By the time we return to the mill the afternoon is waning. An hour later, I straddle the Honda and head home, feeling like I always do after a day with Barry — overwhelmed, inspired, ferociously hungry and deliriously happy.

After a blitz down number 10 to Kingston, I down a sandwich and espresso at a roadside Starbucks. I look at my watch. It’s 7 p.m. My Thursday night hockey game, which I assumed I’d miss, is at 10 p.m. I look out the window at the sublime VFR, jump to my feet, and decide to attempt to make the game. Kingston to Toronto is, normally, a three-hour ride, but I need to shave an hour off to leave time to go home, get my gear, throw it in the car and then get to the rink. I enter the highway, tuck in behind a heavy-footed woman in a BMW sedan, and go.

The sky is black with moisture and the ceiling so low it’s like riding under a waterlogged mattress. But it stays dry. And the traffic — as I’ve never seen it before — parts for the woman in the BMW and for me, too. I pull into my garage, buzzing. It’s 9:15 p.m. I’m at the rink in good time and am the second player to step on the ice. Late in the game I outhustle an opponent, steal the puck behind the net, and tuck it in behind a surprised goaltender. It has been one of the best days of my life.

The next morning the ceiling collapses in my laundry room. The toilet above had been leaking and water accumulated above the drywall. On the way to Home Depot my VW bus quits in the middle of five lanes of traffic. (I couldn’t take my car because it was at the shop for $700 in just-out-of-warranty repairs.) Three attempts and 10 hours later the toilet is fixed. I settle onto the garage floor to sort my tools but lie down instead. I fall asleep on the cool concrete with the garage door open. I’m jolted awake by the sound of an engine, and open my eyes to the sight of a car backing into my garage on top of me. I yell, startle the driver, and she pulls quickly back into the laneway. It’s a dead end, and she’s trying to turn around, and the sight of a man rising out of the concrete flusters her. She gives too much throttle, chirps her tires, and slams into a hydro pole. She screams, “Yes, I just crashed my car” at me in English, then makes a call and yells at someone on the end of the line in Spanish. I close the garage door and go inside. My bubble of joy has burst. My great day — that was only yesterday — is long gone.

I awake at dawn, feel the freshness of the air through the screen, and make a decision: to hell with fixing the ceiling — I’m going for a ride. In 30 minutes I’ve done coffee, toast, oil level and tire pressure. I push my 916 to the parking lot of the bank at the end of my street (love your neighbours and they’ll love you back) and the bike thunders to life. The roads are clear and by mid-morning I’ve settled into a café in the Muskoka town of Port Carling. I greet another rider on a 916 as I head north out of town and, clear of the village, let the bike bellow up to its redline. I back off as I pass a group on bicycles and then get back into the throttle once they’ve disappeared from my mirror. I pass a Corvette and the driver gives chase, but a few corners later he backs off. I stop in a town for lunch, walk past a dozen boisterous Harley riders sitting on a restaurant’s patio, and sink into the dark, cool, and empty dining room.

After lunch, while the bike idles curbside, a man in a Subaru stops on the main street. He is staring. But he doesn’t see me, he just sees a man, alone, on a motorcycle. In his back seat are two kids and a woman sits beside him. Traffic has moved, but he hasn’t. He stares and his face betrays no emotion. Finally, he catches my eye and I motion my head to the left. You’d better get moving.

By the time I return home I’ve totalled 781 kilometres. I pull into my garage, buzzing. I lube the still warm chain and change the motor oil. I wipe the dead bugs from the windscreen, roll the bike into the corner of the garage, and refit the cover. I check the laundry room to ensure that the toilet repair has held (it has) and then enter my house. I’m short of patience and lack resilience but as long as there’s a motorcycle in my garage, I’ll be able to make it through most everything. Today is done. And me with it.


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