Tag Archives: Nova Scotia motorcycle travel

Edward Hopper Moments

Mahwah McDonald's, 2014
Mahwah McDonald’s, 2014

“You know how beautiful things are when you’re traveling.”

– Edward Hopper

Just to clarify, we're talking about Edward Hopper...
Just to be clear, we’re talking about Edward Hopper…


Most days on the motorcycles we took it easy, sleeping in and leaving the motel or hotel around 11 a.m. or noon, and riding at a leisurely pace. We were on vacation, after all.

We often ended up traveling after nightfall and I would always ride the Yamaha behind Linda, watching the glow of her Vespa’s brake lights ahead.

Night simplifies a motorcycle road and riding after dark transforms common scenes into something more than they are. Sight-seeing aside, long distances on bikes are quickly reduced to basics: riding, eating and fueling up. Ordinary restaurants and gas stations eventually become your best friends, especially at night.

...not Dennis Hopper.
…not Dennis Hopper.

It was night in Mahwah, New Jersey, when I started thinking about American painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967). I hadn’t thought of him till then, and after that I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

We were at a strange little Gulf station right out of Lost Highway and we badly needed to refuel. Jersey is a don’t-pump-it-yourself state, but the indifferent attendant said, “yeah, sure,” when I said I’d fill the tanks myself. We were tired and hungry, and there was a McDonald’s next to the David Lynch station, so we went in.

It was late and quiet. The place was nearly deserted but a small family sat together a few tables away, talking and laughing and enjoying themselves, untouched by the darkness without. I wondered what it would be like to be among them, but we had to saddle up and move.

Gas, 1940
Gas, 1940

Outside, I saw them again through the sheet glass like a Big Mac version of Nighthawks, Hopper’s famous 1942 oil painting of isolated customers at a late-night New York City diner. I love the color and composition and detail that Hopper put in; it’s one of my favorite paintings.

And it seemed Hopper joined our ride after Mahwah, especially during night stops at gas stations or arrivals at motels after dark. Everything at night started reminding me of Hopper scenes, like Gas, his 1940 oil painting of a solitary Mobil station on a country road.

It's Hopper-esque...
It’s sorta Hopper-esque…

Art historians tell us Hopper’s paintings were social commentary. Gas, they say, shows the automobile encroaching on American life, and the overbearing fluorescent lighting of Nighthawks creates a space that both attracts and alienates the viewer.

All that’s probably true. Nevertheless, I was grateful for Hopper’s presence during the ride; he helped me see it with new eyes.

But I wonder if Hopper’s outlook would’ve been different, if he’d climbed aboard a Harley instead of a 1925 Dodge to travel and sketch across New England. I bet he would’ve appreciated a full tank at the Mobil station, hot coffee with nighthawks at the diner, and the simplicity of a motorcycle road.

Nighthawks, 1942
Nighthawks, 1942

Talking About the Vespa


At every gas station from here to the shores of Cape Breton Island, someone wanted to talk about the Vespa.

On our rides, we’ve learned that motorcycles almost always attract attention. The bold people charge right up and start asking questions while the hesitant folks eye the machines from a distance and sidle over and study the license plates. They glance at the Yamaha, but they really want to know about the Vespa.


A simple “morning” or “howdy” breaks through their shyness and they start with questions like, “Where you-all from? and “You ride that thing all the way here?”

“Oh, yes,” Linda says, and they want to know what’s it like to ride the scooter, how fast does it go, how comfortable is it, how many miles to the gallon? Can you take it on the freeway? Doesn’t it shake?

Linda talks with them – hey, it’s her bike! – and answers their questions as I silently marvel at it all. We plug into everyone electronically and avoid face-to-face contact with strangers. Few people start conversations at gas pumps, but bring in a motorcycle or scooter and they get a little bolder.

We find genuine inquisitiveness drives most of the encounters, but there’s submerged desire in the eyes of a few who talk to us. Perhaps it’s the gas pump anonymity that lets it surface, that lets them tell us, “I always wanted to try that.”


We heard that sentiment a few times. As we load the bikes at the Willow Bend Motel in Truro, N.S., a woman from two rooms down tells Linda she’d like to ride a scooter but now she’s married and a mother, so…

Without proselytizing, Linda tells her about motorcycle safety classes and the challenges and fun of riding. You can tell our fellow lodger is thinking about it as she’s leaving.

Those are the hesitant ones. The ones who start talking without preamble are usually riders themselves and they want to know immediately where we’re from and how far we’re going, like the young guy at the truck stop in Southington, Conn., who walked over and told us the history of his Harley. It’s common to compare bikes and offer stories of past rides.


A guy dressed in black and wearing an earring, driving a pickup truck, tells me at a Petro-Canada station in Moncton that he’s got a BMW K1600 (a really nice touring motorcycle) and his wife has a 150cc Piaggio scooter. Instead of them riding two-up on his BMW, she’s been taking her Piaggio on the road with him.

But their rides have been too short, he says.

“I been trying to get her to ride more. Can I take a picture? I gotta show this to her.” He uses his cellphone to photograph the Vespa.

The Vespa has a 2.4-gallon gas tank, which required us to stop every 90 to 100 miles to fill up. That’s a lot of refueling. And a lot of conversation.

And sometimes, they just talk amongst themselves.
And sometimes, they just talk amongst themselves.