POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 21, 2010
Aiea High School math teacher Shaneka Norman has a head for numbers, an eye for the color pink and a very large soft spot for 1,000-cc engines.
You can find the 35-year-old Wahiawa resident most weekends riding around the island alongside her husband, Tamarcus, and their group of sport bike-loving friends. With her long braided hair peeking from under her pink, custom-painted helmet, she isn't hard to spot on her chromed-out, Disney-inspired Suzuki -- pink, of course.
The bike -- with its gold-leaf accents, pink-on-blue pearl highlights and artfully rendered illustrations of Norman, daughter Tamera and mother Sandra as the Three Princesses -- is a fitting ride for a quick-to-laugh woman who finds peace and transcendence in clear sky, open road and the scrape of a 200-mm-wide tire along a tight turn.
"When you're out there on the road, you leave your work, your family and whatever problems you have at home," she says. "It's all about the bike. It's about just relaxing and enjoying yourself."
Norman's love of the road is something of a family inheritance. She was raised by doting grandparents in Flint, Mich., spending weekends with her father, summers with her mother (who lives in California) and family vacations rumbling across the country in the back seat of the family car.
Her early travels fostered an itinerant nature that has since found her living in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Kansas, even Panama, where she first met her husband, a warrant officer in the Army.
Norman still loves to travel by car -- vacations with her husband and children typically involve driving from Georgia to Tennessee to Michigan, sometimes California -- but she's had to adapt since moving to Hawaii three years ago.
"I'm used to hitting the open road," she says. "But being on an island, you can't really travel like that. It's not the same."
A few years ago, Tamarcus decided he wanted to get a motorcycle. That was fine with Norman -- as long as she could get one, too. Thin as a "suicide" stick shift but toughened by her former life as an Army sergeant, she's not one to sit pretty on the back seat of her husband's ride.
She started with a respectable Suzuki 600 but upgraded to the 1000 cc model a few months ago. The custom installations were done by Tamarcus and Hawaii Rides, and Norman tapped air-brush artist extraordinaire Mike Quering for the custom paint job.
Norman's schedule isn't exactly biker friendly. She teaches pre-algebra, algebra and geometry at Aiea, works a second job at H&R Block, and does her part caring for stepson Terelle, 15; son Toris, 14; son Malik, 10; and daughter Tamera, 9. (Tamarcus also has another son, Marquevious, 15).
But when Norman does ride, mostly on weekends, she rides hard. She's logged more than 1,500 miles in the last two months.
And while that may seem like a lot of aimless circling for some, for Norman it makes perfect sense. She says spending a day on a motorcycle, experiencing the outdoors without benefit or detriment of a windshield, brings back those old feelings of freedom and possibility.
After all, it's never about the destination.
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org