You meet the damndest people on the open road out on your bike. I would venture a guess that you’ve never met a witch. Well, the same cannot be said of me and 3 of my pals two summers ago. We had ventured to a bike show in New York City, and not had the foresight to plan accommodations for the night, found ourselves in the midst of the city that never sleeps, and without reservations. Brothers Moondog, Kevro, Tatonka and I all cruised our Harleys around the big city blaring hot exhaust notes off the canyons of tall buildings in a cool ‘city’ ride. We rode “up and down” avenues and “across” streets as good urban planning dictates. Bright lights flashed as we rolled down 5th Avenue on hot tarmac, gazing like tourists upward into the vast darkness beyond the skyscrapers. We turned right and headed west across town on 42nd street where things get a little less lit and a little more grit! Once inside the neighborhood known as “Hell’s Kitchen” between 34th and 59th street on the west side of Manhattan, I began the process of hustling up a place to rest our heads. A one-time bastion of working class Irish packed with cheap tenements and gritty pubs, it has since gentrified and now brims with yuppies and rising rent. Although, a few cheap places remain, so long as you stay open minded. We didn’t want to cross out to the suburbs where my extended family has migrated for tiny lawns and slices of an American dream (small slices). We decided to put our heads down on the island of Manhattan. The city in which my grandparents from Ireland heard streets were literally paved with gold. You would think the city that never sleeps would cost less than 5 or 6 hundred a night to do simply that. The few cheap hotels were either full or had no bike parking near, so I got on a bidding site to secure a room for 4 guys on a 200 buck budget. Possible? Read on! Somewhere on the upper west side I tapped our bid curbside into my I-phone with a tired finger, and like magic, we won a night’s sleep, on budget, 2 blocks away, right across from a parking garage.
So we chained the bikes together in front of the dim parking garage attended by a skinny African guy, who insists on cash only. I think it was a C note to park all 4 so long as we squeezed into 1 spot, which we did. We walked across to the address which was a 5 story walk up tenement that was surely filled with rats and bed bugs. Welcoming us was shattered glass from the entrance door where oddly, the glass had recently been smashed and scattered outward onto the sidewalk. As if someone in the haste to escape didn’t bother to open it before exiting. We oddly opened the glassless door frame and passed through buzzing the intercom in the tiny littered lobby. Still in sight of our parked Harleys chained together across the street looking vulnerable, we hesitated before proceeding. We chuckled at the predicament we found ourselves in, but as sleep taunted us our safety filter relaxed. The intercom crackled but no voice was heard and the 2nd door clicked signaling the momentary unlocking by the host 4 stories up the creaky and paint chipped staircase. No elevator so surely no doorman! All we are informed by the bidding site is that we have “accommodations” for 200 bones, and we should ask for “Rain” upon arrival. Collectively banking on the safety in numbers game we clunk up the stairs in heavy biker boots and arrived at what appears to be a crappy apartment door in a crappy apartment building. We knocked: “its open” is clearly heard by all, despite 15 separate locking mechanisms apparent on the exterior. I swung the door open and looked into pitch darkness. A husky female voice invited us in, and we ambled into a tiny living room huddled together like middle school boys walking the town cemetery at night. We all squinted to focus on the figure seated on what we believe was a couch shrouded in a black linen cloth veiling the occupant. Shimmering candles both distorted her image and raised our concern. To this day we never laid eyes on the hostess, who advised us these terms in monotone authority: “leave the $200 cash on the table in the hall, walk to the end of the hallway and your room is the door on the right, left is the bathroom, 4 people fit on the 2 beds, don’t shut off the black light in the fish tank, don’t close the door all the way after entering. I’ll be gone in the morning”. The only words she ever spoke to us. We – none to her. We shuffled past her darkened fortress of weirdness, each shoving not to be last. We entered our room, and it was so small that the door could not be opened without lifting the 2 contiguous beds partly aloft. We immediately saw the giant lizard in the fish tank but were so tired, the sight of the beds clouded our sense of danger and we pulled off leather jackets and boots, and ignored our reptilian roommate. None were foolish enough to undress beyond jeans lest a hasty retreat became necessary. The bizarre predicament caused childlike giggles which erupted into laughter before we stretched and jockeyed for position. Head, foot, head, foot, like stacked cordwood. I cannot admit to ‘spooning’ either man beside me, although occasional gastric expulsions were more felt than heard, so was the predicament of our position. The 1 window was so fully painted shut not even the burliest of biker amongst us could open it. It is not long before sleep began to descend upon us. Then, without warning, something that to this day we hoped was a cat, runs the course of our four man width, trotting sure footed across backs and bellies, generating shrill child like screams from tough road weary bikers. A cacophony of “What the fuck was that” was surely heard 2 floors in either direction. Somehow, we miraculously fell off to sleep amongst the chaos after a few uneasy minutes, never learning our brief visitor’s origin. I awoke in darkness in need of a bathroom and rolled across my fellows as they cursed my bladder and slapped at me upon exiting the tiny room. The bathroom had a pull chain light with a 20 watt bulb and no latch on the door. The entire room was painted black, even the commode. I immediately noticed there was no mirror in the room. In fact, there were no mirrors in the dank apartment at all. The only lighting outside the bathroom (and the lizard cage) were candles. Upon rustling back into sleeping position between annoyed friends, I mused I thought the host a witch. The complaints stopped. It made perfect sense. The shroud over her, no mirrors, the odd candles, her nonchalance with 4 strange bikers in her home, the “thing” that ran across us, the lizard, it all added up with our best imagination. Our host was in fact a witch. Well, whatever she may have been she was gone by morning as was our $200.00. We all examined each other in dawn light that invaded the dirty window pane. No puncture wounds or sutures over missing kidneys. Head lice or bed bug bites were small consolations of frugal NYC accommodations, but we didn’t stick around to bother with such trivial matters. We ambled down the creaky steps and out the same broken front door this time crouching under the center bar without opening the door itself to exit. Of course the parking attendant tried to work us for another C note which was a scam that failed miserably. “Dude, we just slept with a witch, not a chance you’re getting another dime out of us”. He threatened the cops, we threatened his well being and each parted ways without satisfaction. At least the bikes were there in the morning. Would I do it again? I’d rather sleep in a dumpster thanks. But we’ve got the story to tell! Was she really a witch? I sure hope so. –Irish