Where The Hell Is Davey G. Johnson?

Motorcyclist contributor, auto writer Davey G. Johnson missing for a week.

Davey Johnson astride his Moto Guzzi
Missing writer and Motorcyclist contributor Davey Johnson astride his beloved Moto Guzzi Griso 8V.Motorcyclist

Automotive journalism is a funny and sometimes cutthroat business, but it makes up for its flaws it in a grand way: Stick with it long enough and you get to hire people who you admire, and you get to hire people who make you laugh. Davey G. Johnson is both, with a dollop of hysterical frustration and dysfunction, like cream on the top. He's a man so wonderfully bent that he can show up two hours late to his own photo shoot, asking what's for lunch, and not get strangled. I can tell you this because he pulled that stunt just a few weeks ago working on a Motorcyclist feature. But Davey gets away with it because he's special, and he's talented. As of today, he's been missing for a week.

It’s not often I’m set upon by genuine fear, but the thought of Davey Johnson unaccounted for puts a chill right through me.

So much of Davey’s disappearance is impossible to understand, but we know this: After summiting the Sonora Pass, in Northern California, Davey stopped off Highway 49 to swim in the Mokelumne River. He left his duffel, his helmet, and his gloves on the Honda he was riding, and the key in the ignition. Then he went down to the water, leaving his riding gear, his backpack, phone, and laptop near the water’s edge. His most recent text message was sent from the river on the morning of Wednesday, June 5. Not long thereafter, his phone stopped communicating with the cell tower.

Davey’s assignment was to ride the Honda CB1000R for a week in Los Angeles. The next thing we know, he’s in Las Vegas, aimed at the high Sierras, then negotiating treacherous mountain passes in the cold and dark, dressed in summer riding gear. It beats the hell out of me why. He had work due, pieces to edit, and captions to write. Hugely over-delivering on one story at the expense of another is almost a matter of course. That’s Davey. We’d never have hired Davey if we didn’t like surprises. He’s the most reliably surprising writer I know. It’s his curse and his greatest gift.

Our mutual friend, Abby Bassett, was the first to put the word out that Davey is missing on social media. Days later, those posts have turned to updates on a multi-agency search, and on dogs and helicopters. And amid all the frenzied worry and commenting, story-hungry local news and news-hungry friends, you get this little glimpse of Davey. Of how universally adored he is, and how wonderfully unusual. Everyone’s sharing funny Davey stories. There are a million.

On a break during a ride a few years ago Davey was blissed out, staring up into pine-scented space while the rest of us filled our gas tanks at a little mountain filling station and talked about bears. And, figuring Davey was listening, I snuck up behind him, violently grabbed his ribs and yelled, “Rawr!” Instead of turning around and socking me in the nose, or running for the hills, Davey collapsed in a fit of lunatic giggles, taking his bike with him. Nobody knew that greasy, gristly Davey is impossibly ticklish.

Which was just one slice in Davey’s layer cake of eccentricity. He’ll season boring car reviews with punk rock references, making a game of needling editors by ever-raising their saturation until you’re left wondering what in the hell you’ve just been fed, and if you’ve read a review of a Bentley or an homage to Hüsker Dü. And he’ll wax obsessive over machines with that same trolling, impish ecstasy, devoting long text messages to preaching the merits of obscure motorcycle accessories to the totally uncaring with a proselyte’s glee.

Davey is, in other words, a damned delight. One of those strange, saintly people whose flaws run deep, but whose decency and kindness go right to the core. So his disappearance is keeping me awake at night. I find myself rolling over unthinkable possibilities again and again. It pains me deeply, knowing how many others out there are doing exactly the same, and that they might feel as completely helpless as I do.

We all want to pull up stakes. To drive north and beat the bushes. Or to call the local sheriff over and over out of frustrated desperation. To do something for Davey. But the search for our friend is massive. The detective assigned to Davey's case is already overwhelmed by well-meaning calls. We can only trust that the effort is well-organized and professional. Davey's made the national news, and his disappearance is undeniably getting the resources it deserves. So much that watching it all take shape is numbing, the quantity of resources, the gathering of momentum. I feel sure that they'll find Davey. And every day that goes by I worry more that he'll be found in the fast-flowing water of the Mokelumne. It's an ugly worry but I'm bracing myself for that news. But then, there's nobody who surprises me like Davey Johnson. Until there's news from Northern California I'm hoping with everything I've got that he has many more surprises in store for us.