Midnight playground

San Francisco traffic in the dead of night
Published December 6, 2008

There’s something coolly romantic about riding in the dead of night, and I don’t mean the idea of it. It’s when I’m on the empty streets, calmly counting down timed stoplights with the cold ocean air on my neck that I feel the banality of the ride give way to romance, the feeling that the moment is more than the sum of its parts.

Tonight, a gaggle of guys from work gathered at the Fireside Bar in San Francisco’s Sunset district to celebrate the birthday of one of our own. After over an hour of baking in my gear against the heat of drunk bodies and flicking flames (the “Fireside” is no joke), I say my goodbyes, eager to saddle the Ninja and ride off.

It’s been a while since I rode out of the Sunset at night. The city is very different at midnight, the chaotic clutter of traffic quietly tucked in for bed. Even moving between the tightly spaced stop signs on Judah, the ride is an intoxicating joy. Few cars to worry about, though always in the back of the mind the thought of some DUI with his lights off shooting through the next intersection. I treat the N-line train as an offensive tackle, slipping into the protective pocket behind it to guard against the make-believe drunks.

On a motorcycle, the road is my playground. It’s an addictive lack of limits

When I hit the Great Highway and run down the coast, the romance swells. I pull over to the side of the road for a quick camera phone picture and am reminded why I love being on two wheels. In a car, I feel as if I’m merely passing through a given area, restricted, chained to two tons of aluminum and steel. On a motorcycle, the road is my playground, albeit amidst a war zone. I’m free to stop and change direction with the ease of walking, in any space no matter how small or crowded. Even keeping to my lane affords a freedom of movement not possible in an auto, and weaving side to side–an impromptu practice of counter-steering–satisfies my appetite for more than straight lines.

It’s an addictive lack of limits. And on a cool December night, it’s even better than usual.