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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

The Junction

By Eric A. Carlson

"In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle, That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde."

--Geoffrey Chaucer

ANY MOTORCYCLIST worth his or her salt is cognizant of the serpentine pilgrimage to the intersection of Highway 35 (Skyline Boulevard) and Highway 84. The intersection occurs in an azure forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is a nexus of mountain and motorcycle sometimes called the Junction, sometimes 4 Corners, and it is the site of fabled Alice's Restaurant--not the fabled Alice's of litterer and songwriter Arlo Guthrie--but an eatery with its own history of misadventure--50 years of it.

Kitty-corner across Highway 35 from Alice's is the Skywood Trading Post, offering groceries, liquor and a deli. A large parking lot in front extends in both directions beyond the boundaries of the store. On Sunday afternoons, a sea of Harley-Davidsons, Ducatis, Hondas and others is parked in long rows like jewels on asphalt. Leather-clad bikers mill about the beasts, comparing notes.

I arrived in low grumble on a matte-black, fuel-injected Honda 919, a "naked" bike sans fairing and windshield, and geared for gratuitous low- and midrange power. I parked in a spot marked "cars only," as countless others had, and disembarked to socialize and admire motorcycles. Motorcycles more beautiful than any painting, any statue, any tapestry. Because they are alive.

Parked next to my 919 was an exotic green, one-cylinder KTM Duke II, owned by Peter from San Jose. "You have to ride it like you hate it," he told me. The Duke II is described on a website as "a two-wheel urban assault unit for the New World Order." I am not exactly sure what that means. Perhaps just rough, tough and nimble--ready to take on the apocalypse.

As I strolled about, ogling bikes and what not, a man rode up on a 1912 Excelsior. The bike was discolored and anachronistic but fully functional, like myself. A purple-metal-flake Harley-Davidson equipped with a blue windshield reverberated in the sunlight--perfection. Another hog, candy-apple red, looked good enough to dive into. Powerful bikes consorted with meek ones, and everyone was grinning like an idiot. It's hard not to grin amid so many splendors on a sunny day.

It was time to put on the feed bag, and I walked across Skyline to Alice's Restaurant. Alice's has been dishing up grub for 50 years, and before that it was a general store of sorts, catering to the logging community.

Picnic tables are arranged beneath towering trees to accommodate the alfresco crowd--everyone. An orchestra of soughing branches and rumbling motorcycles provides the musical fare. I shared a table with Ben and Lissa from San Mateo, who told me they work in "The City," which I presume to be Frisco and not stumpy San Jose, or Oakland or Inyokern. Good people. Lissa is a resplendent blonde with a life story as striking as her Helen of Troy good looks and smile. Her first language was "signing." Born to deaf parents, Lissa started signing at the age of 10 months and didn't start speaking until the age of 3. She is now an independent contractor, in the business of signing. I asked her to show me the sign for love, and she did: arms crossed across the heart. I meant to ask her for the sign for hate, but forgot. I'll bet that's an interesting one, too.

One could spend all day at the Junction, but the lure of the road pulls the bikers back, and one by one, or in groups, they pour back onto Skyline Boulevard, for another go at it. On two wheels, the mountains are yours--one becomes proprietary regarding scenery. Of course one doesn't need a bike to visit Alice's Restaurant. Bicyclists ride up, and cars. It is a friendly neighborhood.

I howled home, past Woodside and the ephemeral Buck's Restaurant, up onto Highway 280 and through the golden hills surrounding Stanford, back to sanitized Sunnyvale and my rented room. Don't need a house really, got a mountain.

Final Note: The photo is of a 1912 Excelsior motorcycle. Some Excelsiors were souped up to travel in excess of 100 mph.

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From the July 4-10, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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