When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which is about the trials and tribulations of a young boy on a day when nothing goes his way. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair. He finds no prize in his cereal box (his brothers do) and no dessert in his lunch box (his friends do), but he gets an extra helping of scorn from his teacher. He gets demoted to third best friend, his brother pushes him down in mud, his dentist finds a cavity, he makes a mess at his dad’s office and he’s forced to eat Brussels sprouts for dinner. After each frustration or humiliation, Alexander fantasizes about moving to Australia, to escape his troubles. In the end, his mom tells him, “some days are like that, even in Australia.”
I have a big brother and I had plenty of bad days. On such days, my mother would read the book to me before bed, to boost my spirits. Decades later, the tattered, stained book holds a place of honor on my shelf.
A recent Saturday reminded me of Alexander, and the moral of his story. It started off well enough. After unusually heavy rain throughout December, the weekend forecast was good and I had a ride planned with some friends. We call our loose, unstructured alliance theMulholland Social Club, and we were headed for the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu. Our route would include some of the best roads in Southern California, including our namesake Mulholland Highway.
Three of us rendezvoused in Ventura, headed south to pick up a fourth in Oxnard and then cruised down the Pacific Coast Highway. Just before the road began to hug the rocky coast near Point Mugu, we were forced to take a detour. Unbeknownst to us, the PCH had been closed down to a rock slide (see rains above).
Robbed of the most scenic section of the PCH, we made haste on flat, straight roads through agricultural fields to make our 10:00am meet-up with a fifth rider in Malibu. Before we knew it, a CHP cruiser passed us in the opposite direction. It immediately pulled over and turned around. Gulp. The officer’s trusty radar said we were doing 70 in a 55 zone. But only three of us got caught in his dog catcher’s net. The fourth—who’s in his 30s but has never had a speeding ticket of any kind his entire life—showed more restraint, which also gave him more time to roll off.
It was turning out to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Finally, an hour late, we met the fifth rider at a Malibu coffee spot that’s popular among owners of expensive European cars and motorcycles. Being Saturday, the parking lot was devoid of motorcycles. (Why do motorcyclists prefer Sunday rides?) Our friend was bored to tears listening to spandexed cyclists kvetch about having to share the road with motorists. Boohoo, Lance. After venting over coffee, we hit the road. Our spirits somewhat dampened by the run-in with Johnny Law, we rode conservatively. At least three of us did. We tried to shake it off, but we just weren’t having as much fun as we’d hoped. And then things got worse.
On a particularly tight, technical road with rough pavement and lots of blind, off-camber corners littered with gravel, Mr. Spotless Driving Record lost his front wheel in a particularly nasty curve. He wasn’t going very fast, but motorcycles rarely take a good bounce, even in a parking lot. The pretty red plastic on his Honda Super Hawk got scuffed and cracked on one side, and he suffered some road rash even though he was wearing full gear. The abrasions incurred by skin chafing against the inside of his gear would have been a lot worse if it were bare flesh against the cheese-grater pavement. Shaken but not stirred, he soldiered on.
For karmic insurance, our buddy Eric, who ended the day unscathed and without points on his license, bought the rest of us lunch at the end of the ride. Like anglers, most motorcyclists would probably agree that a bad day of riding beats a good day at the office. But I disagree. Some days I wish I had stayed home to do laundry or clean out the garage. Like the day I hit a deer with my VFR on the Angeles Crest Highway. Or the day I tore my ACL on a dual-sport ride. Only thing is, we can’t know in advance which days will be glorious and which ones will get flushed down the toilet. And not knowing isn’t a good enough reason to stay home.
Some days are like that, even in Australia.