Saturday, July 30, 2011

n + 1

What is the ideal number of motorcycles to own? I believe it can be stated as a mathematical equation: n + 1, where n = (current number of bikes I already own).

Seriously, though. The “Perfect Garage”. We've all thought about it. Sure, most of Us Who Ride would love to have any number of motorcycles, of various makes, styles and vintages. There's a little bit of Jay Leno style hoarder in each of us.

I've definitely given it a lot of thought over my two decades of riding. When I daydream about winning the lottery, I don't think about mansions, yachts and jetsetting to Europe. Yawn. I think about roads and what bikes I'll use to ride them. Bear in mind that this list is in a constant state of flux, both in quantity and content.

Currently, I'm thinking my perfect bike stable would contain one for performance, one for style, one for long range comfort, and maybe even a sidecar rig – what I like to call a “biker's station wagon”.

Right now, I have a naked sport bike: a 2003 Suzuki SV1000 named “Suzi”. I love this bike so much it's the only one I've named. I've tried to name other bikes, but it never stuck. I don't know if that's significant or not; I'm just rambling. Of the ten I've owned, she's the one who's traveled the second most miles with me. Barring some horrible misadventure, she'll pass up the other one (a 1985 Honda Shadow 700) fairly soon. She's got great performance, but is easily held in check, too. Reasonably comfortable; though I really need an aftermarket seat for trips.

The cruiser. Ahhh, the quintessential American motorcycle experience. Barhopping, cruising the boulevard, looking for a date or showing off the one you have. Stepped seat, big front wheel, teardrop gas tank. The style I like best has a low seat, high-ish neck, drag bars on risers, mid controls with highway pegs. I'm not brand loyal, but imagine the bike Mickey Rourke rode in Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man. Suzuki and Yamaha are both making some bikes with the right profile. See the Boulevard series and the Star Stryker and Star Raider. Of course, I wouldn't be averse to an old 70s or 80s 4 cylinder riceburner being modified to have that same profile.

I've never really been into touring bikes. Too much windshield and fairing between me and the wind. Too much bodywork. I prefer a bike to look like a bike. In recent years, however, I've warmed up to the idea of a bagger. Maybe I'm getting old? It's not a full dress tourer, more like “half-dressed”. Hard saddlebags, a small fairing, minimal bodywork and a cut-down windshield. It's the perfect compromise between a relaxed cruiser and a gaudy, overloaded dresser. You get a little wind protection to help your back survive 800 mile days, secure, locking, waterproof saddlebags to keep your stuff safe and dry, but no annoying bodywork covering up the focal points of its “motorcycleness”. I'm really liking the looks of the Kawasaki Vaquero, the Yamaha Star Stratoliner Deluxe, and the Harley Davidson Road Glide and Street Glide.

Of course, with a twelve year old son, an ol' lady and a baby girl, that sidecar combo is kind of appealing, too. Older BMWs just look right with a sidecar attached, don't they? Fun for the whole family, with lots of room to stash camping gear and stuff for a week on the road. You know, assuming I could convince the family to spend a week on the road with me...

I seriously doubt I'll ever have all these bikes – it's a daydream. But, it's fun to dream, ain't it? Sometimes maybe it's even more fun to dream about having it all than it would be to actually have it all. Besides, none of us will ever have the perfect garage, because as soon as that last bike gets put in its stall, the algebra kicks in again.

n + 1

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's Not Junk

There's a cut up piece of sheet metal that would look like trash to anybody in the world, but I keep it in my toolbox. To me and my father, it's not garbage at all. No, it represents a memory of a shared experience. How two non mechanics put a motorcycle back on the road with improvisation and stubbornness. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Back in 2003, I was riding an '81 or '82 Yamaha XJ650 Maxim. Great bike. Small, but comfortable and powerful enough to power me and camping gear down the road to a rally at 85 mph or so. It wouldn't go any faster than that, though. I know, because the speedometer stopped at 85.

I'd had a little trouble here and there with the taillight going out on me. I messed with it a little, but I'm no mechanic, and definitely no electrician. Our brother, Gypsy Trippple Nippple once told me about automotive electrical systems: they have one “lever” - “Leave 'er alone”. I tried to stick to that philosophy when I could, but I also didn't like the idea of being rear ended because of a nonworking taillight. So I fiddled, I checked fuses and wires, and found nothing. Couldn't trace a broken wire, a short, nothing.

I was going to the Aardvark rally, hosted by the San Antonio chapter of Gypsy MC, and had an independent motorcyclist pull up next to me at a red light to tell me my “red light” wasn't working. Thanks, dude. Figures. Well, he rode next to me to the rally so I wouldn't be invisible from behind, since the sun was already down. I parked the bike at the gate, registered and paid my way in. Got back on the bike. Turned the key. Got curious. Looked back. Whaddaya know? I had a taillight. Huh. Well, problem solved. For now.

Next afternoon, the problem was back. I'd noticed while I was on the poker run that if I put pressure on the key while it was in the ignition, it would affect the taillight. So, I broke out the tools, pulled off the lens, pulled the bulb, checked the wires. Again. Thinking about the key situation, I started messing around the ignition switch area. Various people stopped to help, and/or to give helpful advice. Oh, wait, I meant “helpful” advice. The quotation marks are necessary, because free unrequested advice is usually worth every single penny. Anyway, Gypsy Mr. P.M. stopped and offered some actual helpful advice, but being a Harley man, wasn't familiar with the Yammie. Wizard and Aquaman, of the Knight Riders MC, both long time friends and brothers, stopped and helped for a while. The only thing we figured out was that there was some play between the ignition switch and the dash housing around it. The switch moving around was what was causing the problem, as far as we could tell.

Well, the problem actually got a bit worse, and once in a while I'd lose both taillight and headlight function. Not a huge deal. Well, during the day, anyway. Problem is that I ride day and night. Having figured out that if the ignition is pushed all the way forward, things tend to work okay, I started looking for a way to keep my headlight on. I tore up a business card, folded it and wedged it into the gap. Perfect. I went days with no problem. Eventually, the paper would compress and stop working. I started picking up matchbooks wherever they were offered free just so I'd have some cardstock to “fix” my problem.

I'd been planning a bike trip from San Antonio to Atlanta to visit Mom and Dad. Now a sensible person might have postponed the trip or even gone in a car instead. A person with a better budget might have put the bike in the shop to get it fixed first. Had I paid for the repair, I couldn't have afforded the trip. I'd already canceled trips home on the bike in the past, so I didn't want to do that again. Besides, I figured I'd just check the taillight at gas stops and I knew how to metaphorically Band-Aid it to keep me going.

It all went great, until I got alllllmost to the Louisiana state line. The day had been sunny, hot-but-not-too-hot, light traffic. Great day for motorcycle travel. Then, BAM!! Suddenly, all traffic came to a screeching halt. The “not-too-hot” became “too hot” as it took nearly an hour to go one mile. Finally, I saw an exit. I needed gas soon anyway, and I saw there was also a Waffle House restaurant at this exit. I grew up eating at Waffle House, but at the time there were none in Texas west of Houston, so I thought I'd fuel up, get something to eat and maybe wait out some traffic. Sitting at the counter, talking to a couple of locals, I found out the traffic was due to a lot of road construction. I was in for at least ten miles of this crap. Ten hours for ten miles? Hell, I could walk faster. One of the guys suggested an alternative route that, as luck would have it, started on the state highway that the exit we were sitting at was for. He said it would take me way out of the way, but at least I'd be moving and would probably make better time anyway. He also said it would be a better ride than the interstate. He was right on all counts. Interstate highway riding can numb the mind with boredom, and this was a fairly scenic route. I looked at the route on a map days later and it probably added close to a hundred miles before putting me back onto I-10, but I bet it was still hours quicker than staying on 10 would have been.

It was also starting to get more interesting in other ways. I was hitting rain here and there. Nothing bad, but I did get wet. As did the cardstock holding my ignition in place. Good thing I'd stocked up before leaving San Antonio, eh? Picture me packing for my trip: Clothes, check. Tools, check. Helmet, check. Spare helmet, check. Book, check. Rain gear, check.

Two dozen matchbooks and assorted business cards, check.

Then things got interesting. Not only were the lights doing their little trick, now, once in a while when I'd hit a bump in the road, the ignition would cut out and the engine would die. I'd reach up and slap the key and it would come back on. Odd, eh?

After dark, the rain got bad. Then it got worse. Then it got “oh my god” bad. I wasn't making much progress, only going about 45 mph due to limited visibility. It was after sundown, and it was really, truly. Raining. That. Bad. I was stopped for gas and a cup of coffee to wake up and warm up. A Sheriff’s deputy happened to stop by and told me it was really getting bad on the interstate: wind was picking up, rain ruined visibility, and there were wrecks all over. He told me there was a motel at the next exit, about 10 or 15 miles east. I decided to take his advice.

The next morning, I turned on the Weather Channel to see what I should expect out of my ride for the day. Wow. Turns out the night before, several tornadoes had touched down in the area. Guess my decision to stop for the night was the right choice. I also had a mixed bag for the ride to Atlanta. 400 miles of rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun. Oh well, at least it wasn't all rain, right?

Well, I spent that Sunday of Labor Day weekend, 2003 riding to Georgia. Pull over to put on the rainsuit. Pull over an hour later to take off the rainsuit. Pull over and shove fresh cardstock into the ignition gap so I can keep riding. Yup, interesting day, it was.

I got to Mom & Dad's house. It had been years since I'd been there, but I grew up in that house, never moving. Every single time I walk in that back door, it takes me back to childhood and the sense that I'm Home. With the capital H. I can't see myself moving back to Georgia, but there's just something about the house you grew up in, isn't there?

So, once I'm settled in and rested and all, Dad and I talk about the ignition issue. The next day, we decide to tackle it head-on. Like I said in the beginning, neither of us is a mechanic, but he grew up in the Depression. Suffice to say he's practical minded and knows how to improvise. We took the ignition out of the bike entirely and found the problem. I guess it had been too faint to see before, but had gotten bad enough to be visible. There was a hairline crack running along the side of the switch housing, almost the entire length. Hmmm....there could be the location of an intermittent short, eh? I bet that just might even be worse in the rain.....

We called the only motorcycle salvage yard around. I'd already had experience in the past paying for new ignitions from dealers, and that just wasn't an option. Not to mention the bike was only a couple years from being an antique, so most dealers wouldn't even have the part, anyway. It turned out they didn't have an ignition to fit my bike. Not exactly, anyway. They did have Yamaha ignitions, which meant the wire connections would match up. The catch was that the only one they had was from a dirt bike, and was physically quite a bit smaller than mine. Well, it wasn't going to let rain water in, or vibrate and short out, so I took it.

Dad and I got to work. There was no way this pencil thin ignition switch was NOT going to rattle around the hole where it went in the dash. The dash was smooth, so I couldn't zip tie it, either. Dad took a look at the whole arrangement, told me to hang on a minute and walked away. He came back with a piece of sheet metal left over from some home improvement project or other. We held it over the dash of the bike, made some measurements, and went to the workbench, aka the picnic table on the deck in the back yard. We drew a pattern onto the metal, and drilled out mounting holes where we'd measured the mounting screws needed to go. When the tin snips turned out to be too dull, Dad was not to be defeated. He went and got a flat head screwdriver and a heavy hammer and chiseled out the piece we needed. He even chiseled out the hole for the ignition switch with that screwdriver/hammer combo. The edges and the edge of the hole were left a little jagged. Only so much smoothing out you can do with a hammer and improvised chisel.

We took it over to the bike, connected all the leads to the ignition, and put the sheet metal in place. It wasn't pretty, but it was better than pretty: it worked. Damn near perfectly. It took me around Morrow (the Atlanta suburb I'm from), took me to my grandparents' house in northeast Alabama, and took me from their house all the way to Austin (just over 800 miles) in one day. Our improvised repair lasted longer than the rest of the bike, even. I wound up selling the bike a few years later, but I kept our sheet metal dash. I consider it an heirloom now. It's the time my non-motorcycle riding, non-mechanic Dad and I put a near-antique bike back on the road.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Serendipitous "Oops" and a Near Miss

There are a couple of incidents that happened early in my riding life that have affected my outlook on riding ever since, and cemented motorcycles as a permanent and important facet of who I am.

The first requires an explanation before the telling. My first bike was a 400cc automatic. Well, Honda called it “automatic”. Semiautomatic would be more accurate, because you did have to shift gears – it had first and second gear, just no clutch. Neutral on the bottom. Hold in the brake, lift your toe to engage first gear, roll on the throttle and go. Around 45 mph or so, shift into second. It was a great learner bike for somebody who really couldn't drive a standard. I was able to learn about balance and how to deal with leaning and with being exposed to the elements without worrying about being in the right gear or working a clutch. I technically knew how to drive a standard; I just really really sucked at it at the time, just due to lack of experience.

I bought that bike in January of 1989, and rode it nearly into the ground. In addition to a lack of skill in operating a clutch, I had absolutely NO concept of maintenance. I went months without changing the oil (the level's okay, what's the problem?) or adjusting the chain (but I couldn't figure out what that loud clatter under acceleration was...). But the result of that is a topic for another day. Fast forward to October of '89. I'd returned from the Persian Gulf and had some cash. What to do? Head to the bike shop, of course! Luckily, I had that cash, because I had to part with a chunk of it to undo the damage I'd allowed to happen to the poor Hondamatic. Once there, I started to look around, because... well, because you can't be around that many motorcycles and not look. Or at least, I can't. The Hondamatic, being from the 70s, was what was referred to as a “standard” style bike. Meaning no real “style” to it. It had what it needed to have, arranged in an efficient and reasonably comfortable way. Kind of boring, but it got the job done. (Side note: I thought it was boring then. I've come to develop a real appreciation for the minimalist “standard” aesthetic in more recent years.) What I was interested in was a cruiser. Pull-back handlebars, stepped seat, laid back riding position. Well, lo and behold, there were two used (read: within my financial reach) bikes on the showroom floor that fit what I was looking for. They were both Honda Shadows. They were 700cc, mid sized, which is also what I was looking for – I didn't want to get in over my head either with too much power or too much weight if (when) I dropped it. I checked them out. There were the same year model, one had more miles, but the previous owner had installed highway pegs, so that saved me some trouble and money. Plus, if I remember correctly, the lower mileage one had something odd about it, like mismatched footpegs or something, leading me to believe it had probably been in an accident. I shopped around a little (very little), but wound up coming back to buy my 1985 Honda VT700C Shadow. 


Now we're getting to the meat of the story. It was late November by the time I got the loan from the credit union, paid for the repairs to the 'Matic, and put ink on paper to buy the Shadow. Now, I'm a native of Atlanta, where we'd get one good icy day a year and that would shut down the roads. We just didn't know how to drive in snow and ice. When I say it was late November when I picked up my new-to-me bike, bear in mind this was in Maryland. I saw my first “White Thanksgiving” that year. Also, I lived in the barracks, walking distance from where I worked. So, the bike sat for most of the winter, only going out for short rides when the roads cleared.

Spring came and it was Time To Ride. I had a friend in the barracks who'd previously owned a bike, so I loaned him a helmet and the 400, and I mounted up on the Shadow. Fun stuff. Maryland back roads, cool air, but warm sun, all in all, a pretty day. Great riding weather. Apparently, it was great driving weather, too. We hit a line of literal “Sunday drivers out for a spin”. I was frustrated by the cars holding me back. This frustration may be what contributed to what happened. I'm sure it was mainly due to having almost doubled the size and power of bike I was used to, combined with unfamiliarity with clutch operation. Plus, I'd only been riding around a year, and had just spent most of the winter not riding.

We had to stop for a red light. No problem. We were the first two vehicles at the light, so at least it would provide some distance between us and the long line of cars we'd been stuck behind. I remember having both feet on the ground, but having to keep my hand on the front brake because we were pointed uphill. On a fairly steep grade, too. The light turned green, I let the clutch out, and let go of the brake to apply throttle. And promptly stalled the bike. Sigh. Started it back up. Stalled it again. Stupid hill. Looked in the mirror and saw what seemed like hundreds of cars now being held up by me. Got a little embarrassed and a lot more frustrated. Pulled in the clutch lever. Stabbed the starter button. Revved the throttle. Revved harder. Dumped the clutch. Took off like a shot. “That's better” I thought as I pulled in the clutch lever to shift into first. And that's when the front wheel touched back down to earth. “Holy CRAP!!! A wheelie?!?!?!?” Funny how often we get the adrenaline rush after an incident, eh? That proved to be my first real adrenaline rush on a bike outside the safety class (where they intentionally pushed us to our limits). It was definitely not my last. Funny how often after that, I'd get the rpms up a bit high, before letting the clutch out a bit fast, bringing the front wheel up a bit off the ground...

The second event involved the same motorcycle, and took place a year or two later. I was married by this time, and living in an apartment off base. You know how they say that most accidents take place within a mile or so of home? Wellll....

I was going to turn left off our little side street onto a major road/minor highway. This was one of those roads that had three lanes going in each direction and a grass median running down the middle. I was at the light, waiting to turn left, and facing me from across the intersection was a woman waiting to turn right. If you ride, you already know that this is a recipe for disaster just waiting to be popped into the oven.

My light turned green, and let me add that I had the protected left turn arrow, which means Cager Lady still had a red light. Well, once my turn was made, I would have had the choice of three different lanes. Since I would be making a right in a couple of miles, I headed for the right lane. I was halfway through my turn, already set into the appropriate lean angle, when Mrs. Killabiker decided to exercise her option to turn right on a red light. I increased my lean angle and aimed for the middle lane. She kept coming. Right. At. Me. I increased my lean angle again, while pressing my thumb on the horn button, where it stayed for the rest of the incident. At this point, I was in a really sharp lean, actually into the left of the three lanes, and guess what? Yup. Madame Oblivious kept on coming all the way over. Now I was out of lanes, there was no shoulder, only the median, but all I thought was “don't get hit, don't get hit”, so I leaned more. I felt my left footpeg scrape into the asphalt. I could hear my engine roaring ever louder, and then realized that I'd leaned over so far all the weight of the bike was on the front wheel and the left footpeg. The rear tire was no longer in contact with the pavement at all! It's all a bit blurry now, due to the adrenaline at the time and the twenty or so years that have passed, but I know the main frame of the bike went sideways, but luckily, somehow my death grip on the bars kept the front end pointed straight down the road. I started pushing downward with my right foot, trying to get the bike back up, but I just kept sliding down the road. Just as I thought “This is it. I'm going down”, suddenly, I was airborne! Luck was with me right then, because I came back down to earth with the engine still revving, and the bike pointed in exactly the right direction. I'd finally managed to push the rear tire back down, but I'd never let off the throttle, so that tire was spinning fast and hard. It slung the rest of the bike up and around and shot me down the road. Half a minute later, the full realization of what had just happened hit me and I hollered “Whooo Hooo!!!!” or something to that effect, inside my helmet. Later, I discovered ways to get my bike airborne intentionally. But, again, that's another story.

The point here is that these two incidents, whether I was conscious of it at the time or not, taught me that riding motorcycles provides a (somewhat) controlled adrenaline rush. They're fun. Yes, they're dangerous, and they're not for everybody, but the danger can be mitigated and somewhat controlled by skill and experience. Luckily at the time, I had enough youth and reflexes to overcome any lack of skill and experience.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Where are you willing to pay more?

I just think it’s funny that some of the same people who tell me that unions are costing me more money on products are the same people who tell me to pay more for something from a small business than I’d pay at a big box company because the small business is local. If it’s worth paying more for the exact same item to a local business, even though the item was made by a multinational company, transported by a national company, and probably advertised by a foreign company, then why is it so evil that workers have organized to get better compensation for their work?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Night/Monday Morning

It's Sunday night, and my first inclination is to bitch about the Impending Monday Morning, like everybody else on facebook. However, if I step back and look at it, it's not really all that bad.

I can't say I love my job. There was a time that I did, but it's kind of worn thin now. However, I don't hate it. I'm inside: air conditioned in the summer, heated in the winter, sheltered from hot sun, rain, cold sleet. I may not provide a vital, life-sustaining service like medical people or firefighters, but I think it's an important one. Literacy and literature are very important to me, and I do believe books enrich lives. Not just so called "important works", either. Even if all you read is trashy Harlequin romance books, you're still engaging part of your mind that TV will never touch.  And I help get those books from the truck to the shelf to your hand. Not so bad after all, eh? Plus, let's be honest - in this economy, a job is a job.

Also, while most are commuting mindlessly in a bus or a subway, or droning away in their carbon copy Lexus or soccer mom SUV, I'm the lucky sonuvabitch who's rolling past them on a motorcycle. That's right - I indulge in my hobby/lifestyle/obsession/passion on the way to and from work.  How cool is that? While you're making your way through traffic dreading your day, I'm enjoying myself in the moment. I'll think about work when I get to work, but I'll enjoy my ride while I get there. And again when the workday is over.

Then, I get home and get to see what developments my baby girl has made during the day. I get home just in time to spend a little time with my little one before she goes to sleep. Then, I get to hang out with my beautiful lady until it's time for us to go to bed.

When I look at it like that, there's nothing to dread about Mondays.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flashbacks and Memories

Today, we had pork chops and corn on the cob for dinner. For possibly the first time ever, I actually bought ears of fresh corn at the grocery store, and we shucked them and removed the silks at home. Brought back lots of memories of spending the better part of summer at my grandparents' house in northern Alabama. Me-maw and I would pick corn from the field behind the house, then shuck and silk it that afternoon while watching TV. Then we'd eat it for dinner.

As an adult, I've always gotten frozen or canned corn, so when I handled the fresh ears, it brought back an old, familiar feeling. I don't have a word for the feeling, I just know how I felt spending time with my grandmother as a preteen. Once we started shucking and I smelled the fresh corn, the flashbacks started in earnest. Hot summer afternoons, walking through the corn rows, pulling the ears, carrying them inside. The shucking, even flashes of stringing beans, and of cutting watermelon outside at the picnic table with all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins around. I could taste the corn before we even wrapped it in foil to prepare it for the grill. It didn't even matter that we never grilled it back then.

My grandparents are both gone now, and I miss them a lot. Granddad was the last to go, and now the old house is sold, so I can't even go back and visit where these memories were formed. But I know one thing - I can feel like I'm back there once in a while. Yup, I bet I eat a lot more fresh corn in the future.

The Man Behind the Horseshoes and the Handgrenades

I was born December 27, 1968 in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. I had an unusual childhood in that my parents were married before I was conceived (it was the sixties...), and they still are. Also, not only did I not move once growing up, but my father bought the house before he and my mom met, and they still live there.

Like most native Southerners, I grew up believing in a literal interpretation of the King James Bible and conservative politics. However, once I left home and joined the Navy, I began to encounter people with different backgrounds and different perspectives. Luckily I opened my mind instead of closing it more tightly. I started to think about things more critically. I slowly began a process of personal evolution which continues to this day. I've stagnated here and there through my life, but I always come back to critical self evaluation. I believe Socrates was right when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I try not to take anything on blind faith, but to examine it all with reason and a critical eye. I don't always succeed, but that's okay, too. It gives me more of myself to critique at a later date. 

Family. It's where we come from. It's who came before us, and who will follow us. It can weigh us down, set us free, provide an anchor, or set us adrift. I was originally going to leave my family out of my blog, but as personal as this blog has turned out to be, I've already mentioned them a few times, so I'm adding this paragraph into my bio. My parents are still happily married after forty four years, and as I said before, still happily living in the same house near Atlanta. I have an older half sister on my dad's side. She lives not too far from them. My brother and his wife and two kids live in Iowa. My poor parents have to travel about a thousand miles to see their grandchildren. Sadly, all my grandparents have passed from this life. I have two aunts and two uncles on my mom's side, along with their various spouses and children and grandchildren. I have one aunt on Dad's side, plus her husband and their children and grandkids. I've been married twice, and I have an outstanding son from my second wife. As of this writing, he's twelve years old (born in 1999). I live with a beautiful lady who has given me my second child, an equally beautiful daughter (born 2011). To protect their anonymity, I won't use their names in my blog writing. Because we're not married, and therefore, she's not my wife, but also because she's much more than a girlfriend, I will refer to milady as the Other Half. My son will henceforth be known as the Boy Child, and then there is Baby Girl.
I have what some people call a gift, and it can be. It can also be a curse. This is the ability to nearly always see both sides of an issue. It can be a gift, because it allows one to avoid heated, mean spirited arguments, and can allow for compromise. The good, meet-you-in-the-middle kind of compromise, not the sacrifice-your-standards kind. It can also be a curse, because it makes it hard to make any kind of long term hard stand on an issue. You have to be careful to avoid swaying too much back and forth, much like 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry. But I digress. The point of this is to say that I wound up firmly rooted in the Middle Of The Road. I will, and do, stray to the Left on some issues, and to the Right on others. But those meanderings tend to cancel each other and leave the balance in the Center.

I'm the same way spiritually. I don't see how it could all “just happen”. I believe there must have been some sort of Prime Mover – the Uncaused Cause. I just don't know which, if any, of the multitude of divine beings to whom men have given credit is actually responsible. I don't even claim to know if God is even aware of something as insignificant as we must be, much less care about what we do day to day. Therefore, if and when I'm pressed to proclaim my religious label, I usually will refer to myself as a Deist.

It should come as no shock to you by now that when I listen to music, I like pretty much all of it. '80s Hair Metal, Speed Metal, Southern Rock, Country, Country Rock, Rockabilly, Blues, Classic Rock, Classic Country, Pop, New Wave, Punk, some Rap, even older “Pop Standards”. I could put my iPod on Shuffle, and hear Pantera followed by Hank Williams, Jr followed by Frank Sinatra followed by The Eagles followed by Neil Diamond followed by The Ramones followed by Lightning Hopkins followed by Kid Rock.

I love body art. I'm heavily tattooed. I used to have a lot of piercings, too, but martial arts and body piercing don't always work well together. I'll leave that one to your imagination. The piercings, for the most part, went away. Later, because I'm inherently lazy in physical endeavors and started at a late age, so did the martial arts training. I hate to say it that way, but it is what it is. Ah, self examination, eh?

I love reading. It was my first love, and it's been the only constant in my life outside of family. I'm always reading. There's always at least one book I'm in; sometimes more. What do I read? I know this will surprise you, but it's a little bit of everything. Science fiction, fantasy (yes, there most definitely is a difference), westerns, mainstream fiction, classics, mystery. Actually, it's hard for me to read nonfiction, to be honest. I'll get really interested in a book, and then get just a few chapters in and lose interest. I think for a lot of nonfiction, I'm better off watching the History or Discovery Channel. What I can read from the nonfiction world is Biography, True Crime, and damn near anything motorcycle related. I finally figured out that it needs a narrative; a story to hold my interest. Or to be about bikes. I've actually made a career of books for the last fourteen years. I've worked for the world's largest book retailer that long. I don't want to say the name on this public forum, but let's just say it's the big bookstore company that's not going bankrupt...

My second love, and the other thing that's been a constant for half of my life is motorcycles. My first motorcycle ride was with my uncle, me straddling the gas tank of his Honda Dream. I wanted a motorcycle the whole time I was growing up, and once I'd finished my Navy training, in February 1989, that uncle sold me my first bike. A 1978 Hawk CB400A Hondamatic. Two gears, no clutch. Honda called the color “Tahitian Red”, but everybody else called it orange. I upgraded to a 1985 Shadow 700 later that year. I've been riding ever since – twenty two years and counting. In that time, I've had ten bikes. Well, ten that actually made it onto the road, anyway – there were some projects that just never got completed. Some only lasted a short time, others tens of thousands of miles. A more-than-twenty-year-old 650cc Yamaha took me from San Antonio to Atlanta to north Alabama to Austin and back to San Antonio. An 883 Sportster, not known for being a distance bike, took me on a 1,000 mile loop in 19 1/2 hours once.

I've also been a member of a Motorcycle Club for almost twenty years (with a two and half year “break in service”), so I've been around my share of motorcycles, gear, attitudes, and riding.

I have opinions. I have experiences. I intend to write about them here.

I've already done one product review, and I intend to do more. If I encounter something that's truly awe-inspiring, or truly depressingly poor quality, you'll probably read about it here.

I'll probably write about politics. How crazy I think both extremes can be. Sure, Rush Limbaugh is a nutjob. Michael Moore may be even worse. I probably will write about religious topics, as well. Religion and politics. The two things that go together like matches and gasoline. The two topics you're not supposed to discuss on a first date or at a bar. Hell, yeah! This is gonna be fun!

I may write about tattoos. I don't know what I would have to say, unless I decide to blog about a shop or convention. But you never know; I may do a tattoo autobiography one day.

Maybe I'll write about music, but probably not. I like music, but I really don't know enough about it to write on it. Again – you never know; I may encounter some truly inspirational band.

I most definitely am going to write about motorcycles. I love riding them. I love thinking about them. I love looking at them. I don't care how old or new they are, I don't care what brand they are. Brand loyalty is just waaaaaay too restricting as far as I'm concerned.

I'll be doing product reviews on various pieces of motorcycle and riding gear as I can. Mostly, this will consist of me reflecting on the time I've owned a jacket, helmet, etc. since I can't afford to run out and buy everything I'd like to use. Although I'd love to be one, I'm not a magazine writer, so it's not like manufacturers and accessory companies are sending me free stuff to test. However, if you work for one of said companies, feel free to contact me. I promise a fair and complete report, unjaded by years of having free goodies thrown at me by an editor.

Here's a list of the bikes I've owned that were rideable:

1978 Hondamatic 400
1985 Honda Shadow 700
1972 Yamaha TX650
1985 Kawasaki LTD 454
1981 Suzuki GS550L
1982 Kawasaki KZ1000
1981 Yamaha Maxim 650
1978 Kawasaki KZ1000
1998 HD Sportster 883
2003 Suzuki SV1000

Thanks for reading this. I hope you'll check back in often. Feedback is welcome.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Freedom of Religion is also Freedom From Religion

I never know whether to laugh or get mad when Christians complain that the government is out to get them or that “there’s a war against Christianity”. Christians are the mainstream, and if anyone is waging a war, it’s them. The problem is the insistence that we’re a Christian nation. We’re not. We are a Free Religion nation. 

I want everyone to be free to practice whatever faith (or lack thereof) they believe in. I don’t have a problem with Christians being public about the practice of their religion. I don't care if a business puts up Christmas or Easter decorations. But don't bitch about other businesses celebrating Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, or even Moslem holidays. Your belief in "freedom of fill-in-the-blank" is measured by how much you extend it to those with whom you disagree, like the old quote "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." 

I just don’t believe in using publicly funded platforms to promote Christianity. School public address systems used for publicly led prayer (led by a principal on taxpayer time/salary), or a National Day of Prayer advertised with taxpayer funds (even if it IS non-sectarian) for example.