"I want to learn how to ride a motorcycle... Me and Jon were going to buy motorcycles when I still lived in Vegas and we were going to drive up into the mountains until we realized what a bad idea that was. I still would like to because I used to live near the PCH in California, so I always thought it would be fun to drive a motorcycle up and down the coast." --Ryan Ross
"We've cut back a lot on the weed. The majority of our weed consumption left in the split." --Zack Hall
"No, man, it's really different," Jon insists. "Like, there's the THC, right, that's what gets you high, and then there's this other stuff in there that chills you out, I forget what it's called, and the different ratios of the two chemicals determines the quality of the weed. I read about it in Wired."
Ryan tilts backward slowly, following the line where the ceiling meets the wall with his eyes, then tracking it down the corner until his head hits the floor. "So you're saying Mendocino weed has a special... chemical ratio. That makes it better than LA weed."
Jon nods. "Nobody else can grow that shit the way they do. They've got the right formula in their weed strains." He's still nodding, as if more emphasis will make Ryan believe him. "You won't understand until you've tried it."
"Okay." Ryan lifts up his legs and settles his feet on the cushion next to Jon. He wiggles forward until his butt is touching the front of the couch, then gets distracted for a few minutes by gravity. Eventually, a thought strikes him. "Wait, but couldn't they just send the weed here? How do we know for sure where the weed comes from? Maybe we just smoked Mendocino weed instead of L.A. weed. Maybe it was... Estonia weed."
"Naw, 's too cold there." Jon peers intently at Ryan's left foot. "Anyway, it's not just the weed, it's, like... the atmosphere. You gotta go there yourself, I can't explain it." He separates Ryan's third toe from the others and tugs on it gently.
"Maybe I will. We've got a few days free. Want to go to Mendocino tomorrow? What are you doing with my toe?"
Jon releases the digit in question. "I was checking it. Just in case. Yeah yeah, we should totally go. We can take your car, it's got comfier seats than mine."
Ryan struggles up onto his elbows. "I have a better idea. Let's ride motorcycles."
"You don't have a motorcycle," Jon points out reasonably. "And mine's been making weird noises. I don't want to be on it when it explodes."
Ryan brushes this concern aside. "Motorcycles make weird noises. It's their purpose. Secondary purpose. And I can buy one tomorrow morning before we leave."
"You don't have a license. Do you even know how to ride a motorcycle?"
"I'll learn." Ryan perks up lazily. "Hey, let's make a blanket fort and hotbox it!"
Ryan wakes up on the floor of Jon's apartment with Jon's head on his shin. His legs, and all of Jon, are stretched out inside a haphazard bulge of sheets and blankets, draped over chairs and held together with what appear to be staples. Ryan sticks his head through a gap between pillows and determines that Jon is still asleep, and probably still getting high, if the smell inside the blankets is any indication. He tugs the fort apart to give him some air. In the process, he accidentally dislodges an inexplicable fork from somewhere in the makeshift ceiling, and just barely manages to catch it before it hits Jon in the sternum. The sound of the fork hitting his palm makes Jon stir and mumble, "Muh?"
"Come on, help me pick out a motorcycle," Ryan says, prodding him with the fork.
"Motorcycle. I need to go get one. We're going to Mendocino today, right?"
Jon squints up at him. "Yeah, okay," he says, and burrows his face into an afghan. Ryan waits a few more minutes, but he's clearly not getting any help from that quarter.
Fine, then. He's a grownup. He can buy a motorcycle by himself.
He tries a Suzuki dealership first, because there are a lot of pretty motorcycles out front, but they take one look at him and practically put the place into lockdown. Ryan looks down and concedes that it might have been a good idea to change out of yesterday's outfit and perhaps shave. (Yesterday was an Ironic Day. Skinny cargo pants are, in Ryan's opinion, the best idea anyone has ever had.) He tries to show the salesman his gold AmEx, but he looks like he thinks Ryan stole it or spray-painted it or something. Ryan petulantly grabs a paper bag of popcorn from the complimentary machine on the way out, probably confirming their suspicions about his questionable motives.
He has more luck with the salespeople at a skeevy used lot, but they don't have very many motorcycles, and the ones they do have are the big clunky Harleys. Ryan doesn't know much about motorcycles, but he knows those aren't what he's looking for. He wants something sleeker, something like...
"Is that one for sale?" he asks, pointing to the bike. It's beautiful, black and dark red and streamlined. It looks like it can go fast. It's practically begging Ryan to wrap his legs around it and take off.
The salesperson looks over. "Oh, no, that's Rick's. He works here."
"Where is he?" Ryan demands.
The guy looks confused, but calls over a younger man, who smiles and says, "Hey, what can I do for--"
"How much did you pay for that?"
Rick looks at the bike. "The Ninja? Thirty-eight hundred. I got it used about six months ago. It's a good bike. Are you thinking of getting one?"
Ryan grins wider than he usually does in public. "Ninja?"
"Yeah, it's an '07 Kawasaki Ninja. That one's six-fifty CC, but they--"
"I will give you five thousand dollars to take it to my house right now and leave it there."
Rick's mouth drops open. "Uh," he says. "Stu? Can I take my break?"
He tries to procure a riding lesson too, but Rick wisely insists on cash payment, and by the time Ryan gets back from the bank, the salesman has to get a cab back to work. Ryan stands there stroking his glorious new vehicle for a while, then sticks the key in the ignition and turns it.
The headlights turn on. Nothing else happens.
He presses a red button that looks like it should do something. The bike remains silent. "Hmph," he mutters and calls Jon. There's no answer. He goes inside to get his laptop and tries Google, but all the pages that show up are full of phrases like "fuel valve" and "engine cut-off switch" and none of them have any useful pictures. He types, "Can anybody tell me how to drive a motorcycle in english not mechanic talk? ASAP its important" into his Twitter client and hits the update button.
His phone buzzes within two minutes, but it's just Z. "ryan what the shit are you doing," she wants to know. He types back "gettin weed, dont worry jon's got my back" and turns off the phone's ringer. He can't have any distractions while he learns to ride his motorcycle. That would be irresponsible of him.
Armed with a series of @-replies and his toughest fedora in lieu of a helmet, he heads back out to tackle the beast. Most of the replies he's gotten describe a mnemonic device called FINE-C. He stumbles his way through Fuel, Ignition, Neutral, and Engine before he realizes what C stands for.
He drives his car over to Jon's place and strides into the living room. Jon is still asleep on the floor. "Jon, wake up!" Ryan commands. "I accidentally bought a stick motorcycle!"
Jon rolls over and rubs his eyes. "A what?"
"It has a clutch and I'm supposed to fuck with it, but I don't know how. I can't drive stick."
"You actually bought a motorcycle?"
Ryan nods. "It's really pretty. Come help me make it work."
Jon reluctantly emerges from his stapled cocoon. He insists on making coffee before he even goes to look at the bike. Ryan leans against the wall, arms folded, waiting. "I think I'm gonna name her Michelangelo," he decides.
Jon quirks an eyebrow, futzing with the filter.
"Because she's a ninja," Ryan explains. "Like the Ninja Turtles. I'll call her Mike for short. Mike the Bike." He steals a pinch of coffee grounds and chews on them until Jon is ready to leave.
Ryan drives back to his place while Jon rides his own bike over. It's much less awesome than Ryan's. (Jon tries to explain something about Excelsior-Henderson and the history of cruisers, but Ryan's fierce loyalty to Mike the Bike will not be swayed.) It does sort of suit Jon, though. Looking at him acting all chill and badass on his bike makes Ryan want to watch The Wild One and Easy Rider back-to-back. But there is no time now for movies. He has a mission, and that mission is weed.
Mike cooperates with Jon much more nicely than she did with Ryan. He gives her the stink-eye.
"I took the instructional course," Jon reminds him. "They don't let you pass if you can't start a bike. And I know how to drive a standard transmission car, too. Are you really going to ride on the highway without a license?"
Ryan shrugs. "We'll stay in the slow lane until I get the hang of it. It'll be fine."
Jon's phone goes off. He takes it out and looks at the screen. "Z says if you get yourself killed, she has dibs on the Strat."
"Why does no one ever have any faith in me?" asks Ryan, annoyed. "Now show me this clutch shit so we can hit the road. It's almost eleven already."
Jon makes Ryan ride around the block a few million times before actually letting him go anywhere. "You're still stalling it every five minutes," he says when Ryan protests. "I'm not riding near you at highway speeds unless you can at least keep the engine alive."
Ryan glares. Jon has been puttering along next to him, grinning every time Ryan screws something up and occasionally offering to let him ride to NoCal on the back of his bike instead.
When Ryan masters the clutch and Jon can't mock him anymore, he gets bored and wanders back to his apartment to pack for the trip. Ryan takes the unsupervised opportunity to leave his residential area and try out some real streets, and feels vindicated when he manages not to cause any accidents, although he does get honked at when he takes too long to get started at a light.
He makes it back before Jon does, and starts tossing accessories into bags. Jon shows up wearing a backpack that doesn't look like it has anything in it. "How are you planning on carrying all that?" Jon asks, eyeing Ryan's pile of clothes.
Ryan shrugs. "You have those saddlebag things."
"Oh, I'm supposed to haul your shit for you?" Jon teases.
"You've got room. What's in that backpack, three pairs of underwear and a bong?" Ryan smirks at Jon's guilty expression.
It's after one-thirty when they finally embark. They make a quick stop at a gas station to fuel up first. Ryan is wearing Jon's backpack, because it wouldn't fit in with all his stuff, and he'd rather wear a backpack for the duration of the trip than leave his ankle boots at home. He has to ask for help figuring out where to stick the gas nozzle in the bike, but otherwise the process goes smoothly. Jon's bike won't start at first when they're leaving, and he shoots Ryan a worried look, but he manages to get it going after a few tries.
Traffic on the way out of the city isn't too bad for LA, which is a good thing because Ryan is still getting the hang of hand signals and turning. The highway is pretty exhilarating at first, and Ryan is having a good time until his fedora blows off.
"Hey! My hat!" Ryan yells and tries to turn around to go get it back. This is probably a bad idea, since they're on the highway, but Ryan likes that hat.
Jon gesticulates wildly to stop him, pointing at the windshield of a car in the next lane, where the errant headwear is caught on the end of a windshield wiper. Jon pulls up even with the car and plucks it neatly off. The woman in the driver's seat is hysterically either laughing or screaming, Ryan can't quite see, but it doesn't matter because Jon has his hat tucked safely into his crotch. Ryan tries to grab it back, but Jon won't let him have it.
The wind is blowing his hair into his face, and his eyes are starting to dry out despite his sunglasses, so he's confused but grateful when Jon takes the next exit and parks at a Harley shop. "We already have two bikes, Jon," he says. "We don't need any more."
"You're getting a helmet," Jon tells him. "The cops would've stopped you for not wearing one, anyway."
"It'll mess up my hair."
Jon starts laughing and won't stop even when Ryan scowls menacingly at him. "I think," Jon says when he can get the words out between guffaws, "that matters can only improve from here on out, really."
Ryan peers at his reflection in the store window and discovers what's funny. It looks like a cross between an emo swoop and a back-combed '80s mullet. He wrests the fedora back with a strength brought about by pure horror and clamps it on his head. "Fine, jesus, I'll get a helmet," he mutters and escapes into the store.
He buys a plain black one with full jaw coverage. The half-helmets are more attractive, but his brief time on the road has helped him realize that no amount of chapstick will save his lips if they aren't protected from the wind. Ryan has priorities.
They get back on the highway, and Ryan settles down for a nice long stretch of riding. He's much more comfortable with the helmet on and the visor down, shutting out the worst of the noise and the wind. Jon stays next to him in the same lane most of the time, occasionally moving a bit ahead or behind. When he looks over, Jon is smiling slightly, his face relaxed and content.
It's a nice day, not too hot, a good road trip day. It takes them a significant portion of the afternoon to get out of L.A. It's not until they emerge from a tunnel onto the beachfront in Santa Monica that Ryan really starts feeling like he's going somewhere besides the grocery store. He presses his feet down against the pegs and curls close against his fuel tank, feeling the rumbling of the engine in his knees and his chest. It's probably his imagination, since their bikes and the cars around them are so loud, but he thinks he hears the ocean washing up on the beach just a few hundred feet away. He twists the throttle back and forth a little, using the power of the bike to keep time with the waves, as if his body and his motorcycle are combining to form a metronome for the tide.
Traffic thins out more and more the further they get from the city. They pass through Malibu and Ventura, then Santa Barbara, and then things quiet down and it's just them and the road with only a few cars around. The water comes in and out of sight along the way, occasionally startling Ryan with some beautiful views. He rides for a few hours like that, glancing at Jon every fifteen minutes or so, just checking in. Jon usually sees him looking and smiles back, letting him know that everything's still fine.
The sun is starting to set when Jon points to an exit. Ryan raises his eyebrows, perfectly happy to keep riding, but Jon stabs his finger insistently at the sign; "Elephant Seal Colony Viewing Vista," it reads, and Ryan needs no further convincing.
They leave the bikes at the end of the parking lot and wander over to the railing. Ryan twists his spine, wincing. "Fuck, my back is killing me," he complains.
"Yeah, sportbikes aren't really ideal for touring," Jon says. "The posture has you bent over, so you're gonna get pretty stiff. I would have told you that if I'd been there when you bought it."
"I tried to bring you," Ryan points out, but there are elephant seals flopping around below them, and he's really more interested in watching them than bickering.
Jon pulls the backpack off Ryan's shoulders. At first Ryan thinks he's being nice, trying to help his aching muscles, but no, he just wants to rummage around inside one of the pockets for weed.
Ryan leans against the railing, watching the seals. Jon settles on his elbows next to him, lighting up a blunt. Ryan holds out his hand, and Jon lets him take the first toke. A tourist mom herding four kids gives it a dubious look. Ryan offers it to her with a cheeky grin. She hurries the kids past them, glaring.
"This sunset is awesome," comments Jon, gazing out over the water.
Ryan snorts. "You haven't even had a hit yet." He hands over the blunt.
"I don't have to be high to appreciate a good sunset," Jon says defensively, but doesn't turn it down. He's right, the sunset is pretty impressive. Although nothing could really be anything other than impressive with that many elephant seals underneath it.
They pass the blunt back and forth until it's gone, then Ryan reluctantly turns around and eyes Mike the Bike, which is somewhat less of a vessel of perfection than he had been led to believe. "Back on the road, I guess," he says. His back still hurts, and he's hungry. "Let's find a gas station and a Mickey D's or something soon."
The police officer pulls them over near Monterey, around 9:45. Ryan doesn't know why the siren is whooping at them at first, and then he starts slowing down to pull over and realizes how fast he was going.
The officer has red hair and looks young, younger than they are. He also looks tired. "Okay, guys. Licenses."
Jon pulls out his. Ryan tries his most charming smile. "Aw, c'mon, really?" says the cop. He rubs his eyes and glances at his watch.
Fortunately for Ryan, Jon is Jon. "You're off at ten, right?" he asks in that let's-all-get-along voice no one can resist. "Are you familiar with this town? Know if there's a motel nearby? We were just about to start looking for somewhere to crash for the night."
"Yeah, there's one right up the road," the cop says reluctantly.
"There a bar nearby?"
The cop nods. "Across the street."
Jon gives him a sympathetic smile. "I think we're gonna head over there once you're done with us. If you stop by after you're off work, I'll buy you a beer. It's not against any cop rules, since you've already decided you don't want to deal with this shit ten minutes before your shift ends. Right?"
The cop blinks, then laughs. "All right, you win," he says. "You, be mindful of the speed limit, and you, don't ride without a license."
Ryan nods contritely. "I think I owe you a blowjob or something for that," he mutters to Jon when the cop is gone. Jon laughs.
The motel is, as promised, right up the road. They check in, toss Ryan's bags and Jon's backpack into the room, and head over to the bar. It's small, pleasantly full but not too crowded, with large picnic-style tables where everyone seems to mingle. Ryan buys them drinks while Jon stakes out a spot at one of the tables. Ryan is not at all surprised to note that he has chosen the table with a pipe floating around the perimeter.
"Not to break up your party, but there might be a cop coming by here soon," Ryan says, setting down two beers. Jon snags one gratefully.
They don't look too concerned. "Which cop?" asks a girl with bleached-blonde dreads.
"Didn't get his name," says Jon. "Red hair, looks about twelve years old."
Almost everyone at the table laughs. "That's Jake," says an older guy with a beard. "No need to break anything up for his sake."
Fifteen minutes later, Jake proves the bearded guy correct by wandering in, plopping down at their table, and taking a hit off the pipe. Ryan, who just got back from the bar with a fresh beer, slams it down in front of him and slings an arm around his shoulders. "Fuck L.A.," he says to Jon. "I'm staying here."
"That's what you said about Cape Town," says Jon dryly. "I guess at least here you can't fuck us all over by throwing your passport into a theater full of rabid teenage girls."
"Huh?" asks the bearded guy, but Ryan shakes his head at Jon to shut up. He doesn't want to spend the evening either signing autographs or (more likely with this crowd) defending himself from diatribes against crappy mainstream pop.
They hang out in the bar until it closes, chatting with Jake and the other locals. There are surprisingly few tourists around besides them, so Ryan is satisfied with the authenticity of his experience. He is also satisfied with the hair of the blonde chick, whose name he thinks starts with an A. He loses track of time staring at her dreadlocks--they're like sausages, but yellow, and made of hair--and misses the last call for drinks.
Jon leads the way back across the street to their motel room. Seeing Mike parked out front reminds Ryan of the pain in his back. "Shoulder rub, Jon," he pleads, flopping down on one of the beds and kicking off his shoes. The bedspread is patterned with interlocked brown and pink flowers, and he traces the edge of the one in front of his left eye. His finger travels around and around the petals, long enough that Jon's hand squeezing his shoulder takes him by surprise.
He tilts his head back gratefully. A lit joint comes into view, dangerously close to the bedspread. "Don't burn down the flowers," Ryan says, worried, and scrambles to a sitting position. Jon is leaning against the headboard, pillows tossed aside, legs askew. Ryan sits in front of him, presenting his aching back hopefully. Jon rubs a shoulder blade with one hand, offering the joint with the other. Ryan takes a puff from it without bothering to take it into his own fingers.
His shoulders are loosening up a little, despite the half-assed nature of the massage. Ryan closes his eyes, enjoying it, and loses some more time. When he opens them again, he's leaning back against Jon's chest, and Jon is sucking down the last of the joint. "What the hell, I only got one hit off that," Ryan complains.
Jon sets the charred roach on the bedside table and tilts Ryan's chin back with one finger, cupping the back of his neck with his other hand. "Shotgun," he mouths almost silently, and fits his mouth against Ryan's.
Ryan breathes in slowly as Jon breathes out, their lips touching just enough to form a seal for the smoke. Ryan head feels off-balance, anchored in space at an odd angle by Jon's hands and mouth. Dizziness is starting to overtake him when his lungs are full, and he drops his head back against Jon's shoulder while he holds in the hit. Jon's hands slip under his arms and clasp loosely around his waist.
He feels cozy and surrounded by his fortress of Jon. Blearily, he sinks down further, trying to retreat into the warmth, but Jon is too solid. "You should be less opaque," Ryan murmurs reproachfully. Jon laughs, and the vibration of his body is the last thing that makes sense.
Ryan wakes up at five-thirty in the morning, freezing. He's in the same position as last night, but Jon is gone, presumably to the other bed. He wriggles his way under the covers and flails an arm around, grasping blindly until his fingers close around the corner of a pillow. He stuffs it under his head, punching himself squarely on the chin in the process, and goes back to sleep.
When he wakes up again, sunlight is streaming in the window and he can hear the shower going. He grabs a baggie and a chillum from Jon's bag and crawls back into bed to smoke until the water turns off.
Jon emerges from the bathroom, naked and toweling off his hair. "Shower's all yours," he says. He fishes a clean pair of underpants out of the backpack and puts on yesterday's ratty T-shirt and cargo shorts over them.
Ryan laughs. "Told you," he says when Jon gives him a questioning look. "Underwear and pot, that's all you bring anywhere."
"And a toothbrush," Jon protests. "And an extra pair of flip-flops in case these break. Can't ride a bike barefoot."
It's kind of ridiculous to ride a bike in flip-flops, too, but Ryan isn't about to lecture anyone on motorcycle safety.
He takes a shower and then they go out in search of breakfast. The motel isn't the sort of place to offer complimentary pens, much less continental breakfast. Fortunately, there's a diner close by.
They've only just slid into a booth when someone comes up to them. It's the blonde-dreaded girl from the bar last night. She's wearing torn jeans and a denim tank top, and looks a little hung over. "Hey, Jon," she says, and to Ryan, "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch your name?"
"That's Ryan," says Jon, grinning widely at being the recognized one for a change. Ryan rolls his eyes, but lets him have his moment. "Amanda, right? Want to sit down? We haven't ordered yet."
"Sure," she says, sliding in next to Jon. "So what are you guys doing in the area?"
Jon explains their quest for pot and Ryan's quest for motorcycle proficiency. Amanda listens and laughs. Ryan stares at the menu, and at her hair, and ends up ordering a triple side of sausages and nothing else.
"So hey," Amanda says when they're almost done eating, "if you're going up Highway 1, any chance I could get a lift to San Francisco?"
Jon looks at Ryan, who shrugs. "Yeah, why not?"
She rides on the back of Jon's bike. Jon doesn't offer her his helmet. Ryan thinks about offering his, but then remembers what the wind did to his hair. Being a gentleman is all well and good, but some costs are too great.
The weather is cooler today, but not unpleasantly so. Jon looks like he's having the time of his life, skimming along the coastline with a cute chick holding on to his waist. Ryan's feeling pretty good too. That might be why, when they stop in Half Moon Bay for gas a couple hours later and Amanda asks if she can ride with him for a while, he agrees. His bike doesn't really seem designed to carry a passenger like Jon's is, but Ryan's ass is tiny and Amanda's isn't much bigger, so they manage to fit.
Things go well for about ten minutes. The bike's balance is different and it handles oddly on the curves, but Ryan is getting the hang of it. Then there's a hairpin turn around a rock and Ryan has to slow down, which must change the shift of gravity on the turn from what Amanda's gotten used to, because she starts slipping off the bike. She grabs Ryan's hip, trying to stay on. This might have worked with Jon, because Jon has some muscle on his body, but Ryan is a twig and just slips right off with her.
"Fucking shitfuck WHOA," Ryan blurts, and remembers to hit the kill switch like Jon showed him back in L.A., and then the bike is on its side and he's on the ground and his elbow hurts a lot.
"Ryan! Jesus, Ryan, are you okay?" Jon is there, helping him get his leg out from under the motorcycle. Thankfully, the foot peg is supporting most of the bike's weight, keeping him from getting crushed. Ryan winces to his feet, then turns to check on Amanda.
She's brushing dirt off her hands. "I'm all right," she says. "You?"
Ryan moves his elbow carefully. "Bleeding a little. Just scraped, though, I think. It's not broken. Maybe you'd better ride with Jon." A car approaches from behind them, slows, and passes them in the oncoming lane. Jon checks Ryan over for other injuries, then he and Amanda join forces to upright the poor toppled Michelangelo and they set off again.
It's not much further to San Francisco, and soon the highway turns into 19th Avenue. Ryan is dodging cars and thinking longingly of muffins when he notices two things at the same time: Jon is no longer visible in his rearview mirror, and his phone is buzzing in his pocket.
He pulls onto a side street and digs out the phone. There's a missed call from Jon. He calls him back, jamming the phone under his visor to get to his ear, and Jon says, "Turn around, dickhole. My bike died."
Today, Ryan decides, is not as much fun as yesterday. He struggles through traffic back to where Jon is standing next to his bike by the side of the road, looking resigned. Ryan parks next to him. "Won't start?"
Jon shakes his head. Amanda shuffles her feet and says, "Well, uh, thanks for the ride. I guess this is good for me."
"No problem," says Ryan. "Sorry about the spill." Jon waves distractedly and goes back to pushing buttons and flipping switches. Nothing is responding. Ryan pulls his phone back out and tweets "turns out yellow sausages are ultra bad luck" before pulling up a browser and searching for a nearby mechanic.
The mechanic takes down Jon's cell phone number and says he'll call when he gets to it, "probably in three or four hours." There are worse places to be stuck, Ryan figures, and they still have one working motorcycle, so they decide to explore the city.
Jon insists on taking the handlebars. Ryan clambers on behind him and doesn't bitch about trust issues because, well, Jon has good reason not to trust him with a passenger. Although it really was her fault they fell.
They stop in the Haight-Ashbury district so Jon can poke around all the hippie shops and Ryan can sift through the vintage clothing stores. Ryan buys a new pair of sunglasses with better facial coverage than his current pair, which aren't quite big enough to protect his cheeks from sunburn. Jon emerges from a smoke shop brandishing a blown glass bong and adds it to the backpack, which Ryan is still carrying.
They get back on the bike and Jon takes Market Street downtown. Ryan lets his gaze wander, taking in the architecture and the parks and the fountains... all the fountains...
"Jon," he says, poking Jon's shoulder, "Jon, I really gotta pee."
Jon parks the bike on the sidewalk, which is wide enough that it's not in anyone's way. Ryan scurries through the nearest door into a convenience store, where he is informed that there are no public bathrooms. He tries two more places, and both shopkeepers shake their heads. The last one tells him that there's a public restroom across the street.
It's green and approximately the size of a phone booth, and the door won't open. "Somebody's been in there ten minutes," says a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk.
"I'm gonna go get a burger," Jon says, gesturing to a nearby Carl's Jr. "Meet me in there?" Ryan nods.
"Ever been to a Dead concert?" the homeless guy asks. Ryan blinks at him and shakes his head. "Yeah, you look young for it. You ever heard of the Grateful Dead?"
Ryan snorts. "Yeah, I've heard of the Grateful Dead," he says. He really, really has to pee.
"I been to a bunch of Dead concerts," says the guy wisely. He stands up and cocks his hip casually. "Lots of concerts, long time ago. Let me tell you 'bout the Dead concerts..."
Ryan half-listens to the guy ramble on for another five minutes until the door finally opens. Two guys in their mid-twenties emerge amid a waft of pot smoke. One of them glances between Ryan and the homeless guy and hands Ryan a condom as he walks off.
Jon finds this so sidesplittingly hilarious when he hears about it over burgers that Ryan presents him with the condom as a souvenir.
It's late afternoon by the time the mechanic calls. They're on Pier 39, in a store that carries nothing but socks. "They fixed it," Jon says, ending the call. He looks relieved. "Something about the spark plug."
"Do we have to leave right now?" There's an entire wall display of horizontally striped socks in about five hundred color combinations. Ryan's not ready to say goodbye.
Jon shrugs. "The weed awaits us," he says.
"You have a bottomless backpack of weed right here," Ryan grumbles, but follows him outside.
The Golden Gate Bridge, once they've retrieved Jon's bike and figured out how to get back on their route, is pretty impressive. Ryan's seen it before, of course, but it seems bigger from a bike than from the window of a tour bus. It feels like it takes a long time to cross.
On the other side, Highway 1 shares a road and a traffic jam with Highway 101 for a while. They must be hitting the early end of the Friday rush hour. Ryan darts between the slowly crawling cars, not giving Jon a chance to object. North of Marin City, Highway 1 breaks off again, and they escape the crush of cars into the woods.
It's getting dark. Ryan takes a few deep breaths and settles in for the last leg of the trip.
Just after they cross the Gualala River ("Gualala," Ryan murmurs to himself inside his helmet, "Gualalalalalaaaaa"), another bike blows past Ryan like he's riding a tricycle.
Ryan's seen a lot of other motorcycles on this trip--it is the PCH, after all--and plenty of them have left him in the dust, but this one irks him. It's a cruiser, for one thing. Jon showed him how to check the position of the foot pegs to tell. (He showed him a few other differences, too, but the foot pegs are the only one Ryan bothered to remember.) He's on a sportbike, and sportbikes are supposed to be faster than cruisers. Also, the bike is carrying two people, which should slow it down. It should not be going this much faster than he is.
Ryan twists the throttle and takes off after the offending motorcycle. It doesn't take long to catch up. "C'mon, Mike, don't let me down," he says, patting the gas tank and then quickly flailing for the clutch.
Mike pulls through, like he knew she would, and he passes the other bike. He's pretty sure he lost Jon back there somewhere, but whatever, it's not like he's going to get lost on the highway. He's ahead for about twenty seconds before the other bike peels around him with the kind of roar that usually makes Jon wrinkle his nose and make a snide comment about mufflers.
Ryan doesn't see any cops, which is a good thing because he's speeding up to over a hundred miles an hour. The other bike gradually falls behind, unable to best the might of the Mike. Ryan holds his speed, savoring the feel of the night air whipping by.
He decides to stop in the next town and wait for Jon. It's only another few minutes until he reaches one of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it coastal towns that pepper the highway, and he pulls over to the side of the road. The cruiser he was racing shows up first, and stops just up the street in front of what looks like a theater. The riders take off their helmets.
Jon pulls up beside him a minute later. "You're gonna get yourself killed just like Z said, you know," he says amiably. "By the way, we're in Mendocino."
"Really?" Ryan says. He looks around. "This is it?"
"Well, Mendocino County. The city is another hour or so up the road. But yeah, we're in weed country. I bet we could find some here if you want to stop."
Stopping sounds really, really good. "Yeah, let's."
The woman who was driving the other motorcycle approaches them. She's heavyset, with long dark hair tied in a ponytail at the nape of her neck. "Hey there," she says to Ryan. "That's a nice bike. What kinda torque do you get?"
"Uh," says Ryan.
She looks past him and sees Jon's bike. "Holy shit, is that a Super X?" she demands excitedly, and she and Jon are suddenly best friends, chatting away about v-twins and front suspension.
Ryan doesn't even try to follow their conversation. "Hey," he says to the other woman, who is smaller and blonde. "My name's Ryan. What's up?"
"Ryan Ross?" she asks. He nods warily. She smiles. "Don't worry, I'm not going to maul you. My college roommate junior year was a big fan. I got to look at your face on a lot of posters that year."
Ryan winces. "I feel for you."
She laughs, holding out a hand for him to shake. "I'm Tony. What are you doing in Point Arena?"
"Oh, is that what this place is called?" Ryan squints at his surroundings. "I'm here for the weed. Are you a local?"
"Nope. We're here for a concert. There should be plenty of illicit drugs in there if you want to join us. I think it's free." She checks her cell phone. "Actually, hey, Michelle? It's starting soon, we should head in."
Reluctantly, her companion tears herself away from Jon's motorcycle. Ryan and Jon follow them into the little theater. It's not free, but the tickets are only five dollars, so they buy them. There is indeed a thick haze of smoke inside, some tobacco but mostly pot.
When the performer takes the stage, Ryan does a double-take. He's dressed like a cowboy from hat to boots. He takes a closer look at the audience, and finds a surprising number of similarly attired people. "Jon!" he hisses, prodding Jon in the kidney with his finger. "You didn't tell me there were cowboys in Mendocino! I thought this was hippie town. Damn it, I should have brought my neckerchiefs."
"They're sort of hippie cowboys, not real cowboys," says Tony.
The music, when it starts, is honest-to-god country. This is not what Ryan was expecting from the land of marijuana. It's fairly terrible, too, even for country. "You came how far to hear this?" he mutters to Tony.
"Ssh," she says. "He's a friend of Michelle's."
Ryan looks around for a joint to bum, but people seem to be keeping to small groups with their friends. He could dig through Jon's bag for one, of course, but that would defeat the point of coming here. Jon appears to be actually enjoying the music, astonishingly, so he decides to suck it up and wait instead of bothering him.
When the concert is over and the theater is buzzing with drunk people, Ryan catches sight of Tony doing something complicated with a couple of glow sticks, like a twisted figure eight. She maintains the pattern for a while, then hands the glow sticks to a skinny guy, who tries to imitate her with limited success. She grabs his wrist and turns it, explaining something to him.
She comes back over to them soon, the guy trailing her. "There's a bonfire on the beach happening right now," she says to Michelle, and somehow Ryan ends up with the skinny guy on the back of his bike, waving the glow sticks at passing cars as they make their way to the ocean.
The bonfire is surrounded by people, and it is here that they finally get their hands on the legendary weed of Mendocino. Ryan is offered a beer as well, but he turns it down. He wants an unsullied, pure herbal experience.
"Anybody got a bong?" a girl is hollering, waving around a ziploc bag, as they walk up to the fire. Jon immediately roots through the backpack Ryan's still wearing, coming up with the bong he bought in San Francisco and a pipe for good measure. She grabs them and starts filling them both.
Ryan bumps his shoulder against Jon's affectionately. "How many different ways to smoke pot can you pull out of that magic bag?" he says. "I've seen a joint, a blunt, a bong, a chillum, and a pipe so far on this trip. Do you have a fucking vaporizer in there?"
"Aw man, that would be awesome," Jon sighs. "I gotta get one of those."
They settle down by the fire. Ryan is still clutching his helmet. He finds a bottle of Wite-Out in Jon's bag, because Jon is the sort of person who packs Wite-Out instead of a comb, and he starts painting flowers on his helmet with it.
"Whoa, there is definitely somebody swinging balls of fire around in circles over there," says Jon. There is. Between the bonfire and the water, someone is spinning fire in complicated patterns, like Tony and the glow sticks. Ryan intercepts one of the many joints circling the fire and wanders over to watch, abandoning the helmet.
Jon comes over and sits down on the sand next to him. Ryan leans his head on Jon's shoulder, and they pass the joint back and forth in comfortable silence. The whirling meteors die out after a while, and it's dark again until someone brings over a staff with lit ends and plays with it, throwing and catching and spinning it. Someone else lights up what looks like a hula hoop with torches stuck onto it. Ryan watches the fire flare and ebb all around him, the shadows of people dancing with the flame.
It's cold, colder than California is ever supposed to be, and Ryan presses up against Jon's side, trying to warm up. Jon flicks the butt of the joint into the sand and holds him close, pressing a kiss to the top of Ryan's head. Ryan turns his face up to look at him blearily, and he kisses Ryan's lips. Ryan kisses back, slowly and contentedly, enjoying the sensations and the wind and the fire and the sound of the waves.
Back in LA, three days later, Jon carefully packs a bowl of stockpiled Mendocino weed. Ryan still isn't at all convinced by his argument about the chemical ratios or whatever the hell he was blathering about. The high doesn't feel all that different from usual, now that he's back in familiar surroundings. Jon is baked enough to insist that the magic leaks out of the weed once it leaves its homeland, which doesn't really mesh with his original claim that he has science on his side, but Ryan chooses not to push it. He did have a pretty good time, after all.
"So, what was your favorite part of the trip?" asks Jon.
Ryan thinks about Mike the Bike, about the beautiful ocean views all along the coast, about smoking up with a cop. He thinks of sausages, of Wite-Out, of an entire wall of nothing but horizontally striped socks. He thinks about sharp pain in his elbow and sharp pride in himself for remembering to hit the kill switch before he hit the ground. He thinks about sharing a blunt and laughing at Jon for admiring the sunset.
"The elephant seals," he says thoughtfully, "were pretty fucking awesome."