It is 40 degrees when I wake up in a Pennsylvania motel. Less than ideal temperatures for a motorcycle. According to the weather forecast, if I hang around until check out, the temperature will rise another 10 degrees. Still a chilly ride, but doable.
I am in no hurry and the room is nice. I grab some coffee and a doughnut from the gas station across the way, and via email, go back and forth with my web designer. He is setting it up so anyone who visits daviddrayer.com can read the first chapter of my just-released, 3rd novel–A Noble Story–for free. So if you haven’t checked it out, please do! As I think I mentioned in another post, this novel was partly inspired by these motorcycle trips.
While I wait for it to warm up outside, I revisit some of the places this long ride home has taken me.
THE GRAVE OF F. SCOTT AND ZELDA FITZGERLD IN ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND
Sorry for the lousy picture, but you get the idea. The cemetery is small. At first, it appears that the writer’s grave has been trashed, but upon closer inspection, I realize the clutter is made up of objects left to pay homage: coins, a pen, a poem, cut flowers, a note. Someone apparently sat here and drank a beer with Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald. (Though gin would have been more appropriate; Gin Rickey was their drink of choice.)
I kneel next to the final resting place of the once fun-loving, carefree couple, living symbols of the Roaring Twenties, and feel a little sad. Their lives did not end well. Scott, his body ravaged by alcoholism, died at only 44; Zelda spent the last years of her life in a mental hospital and tragically died in a fire there.
I run my hand along the cold stone where the famous last line of The Great Gatsby is engraved: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
THE GRAVE OF EDGAR ALLAN POE IN BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
Keeping with the theme of the day, I stop off in Baltimore at the cemetery where Edgar Allan Poe is buried. I’m standing in front of a parking kiosk trying to get it to take my money. I can feel someone standing behind me, waiting, so I start pushing the button repeatedly as if that’s going to make a difference.
“This machine is finicky,” the person behind me says. “I park here every day.” I turn to see an attractive woman in scrubs and tennis shoes, her hair in a loose bun on top of her head. “May I?”
“Please,” I say, stepping aside.
She cancels the transaction. The machine spits out my money, she puts it back in, hits some buttons, and a few seconds later, hands me my receipt. “What would you do without me?”
“Probably get a ticket,” I say.
Looking at my motorcycle, she asks where I am going to put the receipt. I tell her I’ll stick it under the lock cover on the gas cap.
“Couldn’t someone steal it and put it on the dash of their car?”
“Easily,” I say, “but, you know, no one ever has.”
She takes her own receipt from the kiosk and says, “So is there anything else I can do for you today?”
I am about to say, “You can have a drink with me later,” when I spot the wedding ring. Damn. “No, I think I’m good,” I say, nodding toward the cemetery. “Just stopping off to visit Edgar.”
“Tell him I said hello,” she says, giving me one last smile before heading off in the direction of the hospital where she works.
Standing in front of Poe’s memorial, I wonder if he knows he finally got the recognition he deserved. He sure never got it in his lifetime. Originally, he was buried in the back of this cemetery. For years, he didn’t even have a headstone. There was just a marker that read: 80.
His death is still a mystery. He was found on the streets, incoherent and looking disheveled, wearing ill-fitting clothes. He was taken to a hospital where he went into a coma and never regaining consciousness, died several days later.
For years, alcohol and drugs were blamed, but it appears that suggestion was largely made-up and fueled by a spiteful critic who was jealous of Poe’s talent and purposely tried to keep him from finding his place in history.
There are a wide range of other compelling theories. Some believe he was murdered. Others claim it was a disease or an illness that killed him. Everything from tuberculosis to syphilis, epilepsy to diabetes to rabies have been entertained and argued. One theory even suggests he was a victim of a voting scam called “cooping” where people were randomly kidnapped, drugged, sometimes beaten, and forced to vote in different districts for a crooked politician.
There is much written on this if you want to check it out…and believe me, Poe’s death is as shadowy and creepy as the short stories he so masterfully crafted.
GEORGE WASHINGTON BATHED HERE – BERKLEY SPRINGS, WEST VIRGINIA
While I’m fairly certain this was never George Washington’s bathtub, the father of our country did indeed visit what is now Berkley Springs, West Virginia. Before he was the first President of the United States, he was a surveyor and wrote in his journal about visiting and revisiting the hot springs for a healthy, relaxing soak.
A MOONING SCARECROW SOMEWHERE IN VIRGINIA
Yeah, not much to say about that.
COFFEE POT SHAPED BUILDING IN BEDFORD, PENNSYLVANIA
Originally built in 1927, this was once a restaurant which used to serve lunch, coffee (of course), and ice cream.
Well, that’s it for now. Back on the road!