Level Up: I Got a Motorcycle

Figured I’d revive the ol’ blog for the first time all year. Better be something good, yeah?

Well, it is.

Let’s talk.

We’ll go back to when I was but a wee lad. Dickerson street in the Model City. My dad had some kind of Suzuki motorcycle — a cruiser. I don’t remember a lot about it other than it was black and had a seat that was peeling apart. It stayed parked outside, uncovered, and he would often take me for rides on it. I was small enough to sit in front of him and lay my head down on the gas tank — it was THAT long ago.

He had a couple of cousins who each had Kawasaki Ninjas. I’d later learn these were crotch rockets and the muse of energy-drink-chugging, tribal-tatted bros who apparently enjoy being uncomfortable while operating a motor vehicle. While I’d later go on to hate these bikes, I thought they were the shit when I was a kid. Dad and I got to ride one of them in a parade in Hawkins County but I don’t remember why. I just remember it was early in the morning and our motorcycle was turquoise.

It wasn’t long after that my dad got rid of his bike and it was never spoken of again. I always thought they were cool but never had much interest in ever having one. When my dad and I had our falling out, my interest in motorcycles lessened even more — if he had one, I sure as hell didn’t want one. Ever.

As I got a little older, my opinion on the motorcycle didn’t change (yet) but my rule of “if dad did it, I’m not doing it” was broken because other things my dad did include:

  • Growing a beard
  • Wearing tanktops in public
  • Sometimes craving pinto-bean-and-mayo sandwiches

Bet you didn’t know that last part about me but it’s true.

Anyway, when I turned 30 it’s like some weird switch flipped in my mind and suddenly things changed. I yearned for a different lifestyle, a new look and, you guessed it, a motorcycle.

But being an adult is hard so saving up for a motorcycle wasn’t easy and I didn’t exactly have all the support in the world at home at the time.

Oh, boo-hoo.

Fast-forward to age 34. Life looks a lot different now, for better or worse. Things I wasn’t allowed to do for a long time — like owning a drumset or getting skull tattoos — are suddenly possible. So long as I had a plan and was responsible about it, anything was possible.

Fortunately for me, I like following through with plans and I’m a pretty responsible guy.

So on May 22, 2019, I registered for the New Rider Course at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson. The course wasn’t scheduled until a month later but that would give me plenty of time to buy the necessary gear, research motorcycles and go ahead and stress myself out real well beforehand.

I want to take this time to give a big shoutout to the folks at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson. I’ve been to several Harley shops around the southeast and most of the time I walk in, look around and walk out without anyone saying a word to me. Not so at Smoky Mountain. They proudly tout how they’re the #1 dealership in the world and they back it up 100% of the time. My main contact, Justin, was patient with me the first day I walked in and he talked to me about bikes, life and life on bikes while I tried out various sporters and Dynas. For 45 minutes he hung out with me, never once made me feel pressured to buy anything and never once made me feel like an idiot for being such a n00b.

When I told him I also wanted to look at gear for my class, he personally walked me over to the retail area, introduced me to one of the specialists who then stood by my side while I considered different jackets and tried on a variety of helmets. She hung out with me, assuring proper fit and reminding me of important things to consider when purchasing it. My custom-ordred helmet was delivered two days later and the dealership promptly alerted me that it was ready for pickup.

On June 24 I arrived at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson where I was introduced to eight other people who had registered for our class as well as our head instructor, Maggie. Our first night was spent going over some basics, getting to know each other, doing some paperwork, getting a tour of the dealership and beginning our reading assignments. Over the next two days we saddled up on some Harley Street 500s to learn the basics of clutching, gear-shifting, braking, turning and all the other stuff that seems damn-near impossible if you have zero experience on a motorcycle.

By the end of the third day most of us had passed the riding test and written test. I say most because while 10 people had signed up, only nine showed, only eight made it through the riding exercises, only seven passed the riding test. It was like a weird Willy Wonka situation only no one got sucked into a chocolate river (that I’m aware of).

The survivors posed in front of the big fireplace at the dealership, exhausted from riding eight hours in the blazing summer sun but full of pride that we were on our way to becoming licensed motorcycle riders.

It took four attempts and an equal number of weeks at the DMV to get my motorcycle endorsement. By the time I got the endorsement, had my ID updated and had the new “Real ID” star put on my license, I had a collection of personal identification that included everything I’ve ever owned to identify myself save for my college photo IDs, though I’m surprised they didn’t require one of those.

Now a licensed rider, I needed to get a ride. Back to Smoky Mountain Harley!

With a little guidance from some friends and my HD bro Justin, I settled on this little beauty:

She’s a 2013 Harley Davidson XL 1200X Forty-Eight and she’s sexy. as. hell.

Possible names include Rhonda, Teeth Grinder and Adrian.

Shoutout to my Viking Queen Cara for the photos and for driving me to the dealership to pick it up … and for riding behind me to make sure I didn’t die on the way home :-)

Expect more posts this year that are mostly related to this little lady as well as a damn-near 100% Instagram takeover.

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[photo post] Thanksgiving Urbex, Part 1 + A Flower Man

At the time of this writing, the sun is just about to disappear over the western hills of Kingsport, TN. It’s about 4:30 and I’m hanging out at the dining room table at my parents’ house. It’s my first holiday home in almost a decade (if not a full decade). Dinner is later tonight and I’m excited. If it won’t be a new tradition, it’s at least a welcome change from my current day-to-day in Knoxville.

I had a few beers with my uncle at Sleepy Owl Brewery and Model City Tap House last night before having a hash brown night cap at a Waffle House around 10:30. When I woke up this morning, the sun had barely peeped over the horizon. It wasn’t even 7AM. I decided to throw my clothes on from last night, strap my camera over my shoulder and hit downtown for some Golden Hour shots of my home.

I roamed a few of the main drags but mostly stuck to the alleys between them. I’ve been through there several times before but there’s always something new for me to capture. So that’s what I did. Everything except the selfie was captured with my 24mm lens. The selfie was done with my iPhone.

If you want to see more photos high-res style, check them out on my Flickr feed. Otherwise check these out or follow me on Instagram. As always, thanks for having a look. Below is a story about the Flower Man.


In addition to it being Thanksgiving, it’s also my mom’s birthday. She’s working and we’re celebrating tonight. I can’t wait to see her.

On my way home from my photo session, I pulled in to the local Food City to buy her some flowers. I grabbed up two dozen roses and struggled to hold them together since my hands were still numb from the blistering cold I’d just spent two hours walking around in. When I got to the check out, the sweet cashier started speaking to me and a minute later her bag boy — a hunched over, short gentleman; older but not OLD; Pushing 60 I’m guessing — came over to help out.

The cashier and I talked about how cold it was outside. She then brought James into the conversation — “James, aren’t those beautiful?”

James studied them closely. Probably five or six very uncomfortable seconds passed before he said anything.

James: Well…I mean…I think a T-Bone steak would look a little better if it were me.

Cashier: (polite laughter)

Me: Honestly, James, I’d say the same if it were me, too. But they’re not for me or you — they’re for my mom. Today is her birthday.

James: It is!? Well how old is she?

Cashier: (condescending look toward James)

Me: How old? She’s 19.

James: 19!? I thought he said his MOM!

Cashier: He did! He said they’re for his mom and she’s 19 why is that so hard to understand?

Me: I can’t explain it, James. No one can. When your mom is forever young that just happens.

James: Well, honestly, my birthday sometimes falls on Thanksgiving — around every four years or so — it’s the 26th and I hate it.

Cashier; Me: (blank stare)

James: You get together with family and you’ve already got cakes and pies coming and it’s hard to tell who’s celebrating what. And I just don’t like it.

Me: Well, my mom is going to have a pleasant night tonight with her family whether it’s Thanksgiving or not. A lot of it is all in how you interpret things, I guess.

James: (silence)

Me: Happy early birthday, James. Y’all have a happy Thanksgiving!

[exit]

James was weird. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I bought your birthday flowers from a weirdo. Happy birthday either way!

A Conversation with Toby

I’ve been pumped all day. I had a great class this morning, hung out at the gym for a while and then headed back to the Cottage in South Knox. I was going to rest up a little bit, shower, get dressed and then head into town to see one of my favorite bands, Mutoid Man. I’ve been pumped about it all day.

All day.

I pulled on one of my new t-shirts and started scrolling through Instagram and saw Mutoid Man posted a concert photo talking about how tonight they were playing in Durham, NC.

I nearly posted “Don’t you mean Knoxville?” but decided to dig my ticket out first. There in black and white: Mutoid Man opening for BORIS at the Concourse in Knoxville on Sunday, November 5.

That’s tomorrow.

So Heavy Metal Concert Night quickly turned into Heavy Metal Laundry Night at the Cottage. I thought I’d make the most of things and I drove over to Milano Pizza and Mediterranean. The restaurant is on the edge of a shopping center that also includes a laundromat, a nail salon, a smoke shop and a Chinese takeout joint. Their corner of the building was dark and there was a small group of weirdos hanging out near the bus stop. This place was shady and potentially threatening.

I was way into it.

Inside, the place was hot. A fan on the counter. I’m pretty confident they had zero orders they were working on despite it being a Saturday night with a UT football game about to start. The gentleman working there took my order. I wanted a large double-mushroom pizza. He repeated “large” and “double-mushroom” before sneaking to the side door to the kitchen to call out my order.

“Double mushroom!” he called out. “Doub..Doub…DOUBLE MUSHROOM!”

He closed the door and came over to take my payment. $9 for a large pizza, so I was pretty happy so far. He froze before taking my card and went back to the door. He cracked it open, looked at me and said “Double mushrooms? You want…Mushrooms under the cheese? Or on top of the cheese?”

Honestly, nobody has ever asked me that. I assumed highly trained pizza chefs were qualified to make that call on their own and I’ve never been disappointed. I don’t know that I’ve ever even noticed. I said “On top…” partially because I wanted to see the mushrooms but mostly because “I don’t give a shit…” would’ve been inappropriate. And this guy was too nice to be mean to.

“15 minutes,” he said.

“Cool.”

So I went to the smoke shop because I don’t know why. I successfully burned through about 90 seconds in there. I had 810 more seconds before my pizza would be ready so I just went back to my car.

With 30 seconds to spare, I started to climb out of my car but immediately regretted that decision when I saw a man walking down the sidewalk. He’d just been talking to another guy at the corner and you could just tell by the way he was looking around that he was dying to find someone else to speak to. He looked right at me when I opened my door. I’d been busted.

He mumbled something at me so I pretended to not hear him. But then he exclaimed “It’s a small world, man!”

You’re right. It totally is, I admitted. He stopped.

Let me just tell you, man. I just met — JUST met — a family member from Blount county. And the hell of it is…He’s black! Black! Blew my fucking mind! Now listen, man…You have a good night, alright?

I reached for the door. You, too, man.

He stopped again and reached his fist out hoping for a bump. Said fist was also holding a bag of chips. Hey, man. My name is Toby.

Toby, my name is Firefly. It was great meeting you and I completed the fist bump.

Yeah, man, great to meet you. Now hey, I used to run with Collective Soul if you can believe that!

Collective Soul, yeah? Wow! I was wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt.

Yeah, man! We’ll see ya! and he turned and left.

A little boy was seated behind the counter in the restaurant. No sign of the man who took my order. Two women were in the back, one was boxing up my pizza. When the boy saw me, he jumped up and sprinted to the back screaming Someone is here! Someone is here, you fools!

An older woman wearing a hijab walked around the corner with my pizza. She smiled as she handed it to me and I thanked her. She then looked worried. “Double mushrooms?” she whispered almost like she was afraid she’d gotten it wrong.

I smiled again and said “Yep, double mushrooms!”

She smiled and gave me a thumbs up as I backed out of the restaurant. Toby was in the parking lot near the laundromat and I saw him violently throw his bag of chips up against the wall and storm off.

I have a feeling his mind had been blown for the second time in one night.

I love you, South Knoxville.