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 + Open : Riding the PCH

Riding the PCH

"Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old."
      - Franz Kafka

The year was 1970. A simpler time many would say, but I think that when any of us look back at the years of our youth, things seem easier and less complicated than they seemed at the time. But is any time simple and easy in the mind of a teen age boy or girl?

I was 16 years old, a Junior in High School, only a few years out of a short stretch in Juvenile Hall and a longer stretch in foster care, and living in a small town in the Redwood forests at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. I worked at a restaurant in town called "The Boots and Saddles Lodge" bussing tables and washing dishes. Looking back, I have no idea why it was called a Lodge because there were no facilities to put people up overnight. In short it was just a restaurant, a good one though and well known for their sea food (abalone steaks) and large portions.

There were five of us young guys that worked there, and we all rode motorcycles. Joe was the oldest of us all at the age of 18. He was out of high school and on his way to some place he had not figured out yet. Turns out that Joe would land in Vietnam, but that's another story. Joe rode the only Harley in our little group, an Ironhead Sportster that he had completely rebuilt from a wreck he purchased from a salvage yard.

At 15 years old, Rick was the youngest of our little group, he rode a Honda 450. There was also Tom who rode a Triumph 500 chopper with extended forks. We called Tom "Casper" because no matter how long he was in the sun his skin always remained a ghostly white. Armand, who was my age, was known as "Radio". Radio got his name because he had a transistor radio blasting in his ear everywhere he went. Radio's ride was a Triumph 500 Bonneville. I rounded out our little group. At the time I was riding a 650 BSA Lightening.

There was nothing special about any of our bikes. They leaked oil, frequently broke down, and were held together with our best intentions and bailing wire. My BSA was painted a rattle-can flat black. These days people would say that we rode "rat bikes", a style that has come into fashion over the last few years along with distressed leather jackets and worn and torn jeans. But we weren't trend setters, we were just poor.

We were just like any group of small town kids, caught up in our own worlds with no idea of where we were going or what the future might hold. We dated as much as we could, drank more than we should, and rode our bikes like it was the end of the world.

On Friday or Saturday one of us would usually try and relieve a bottle of Vodka from the bar via our five finger discount. Other times one of us would hook up with "Injun-Joe" and come away with a couple jars of clear moonshine.

Injun-Joe claimed to be among the last of the native Ohlone Indians in the area, and lived in a genuine teepee north of town. I doubt that any of what Injun-Joe told us was true, but one thing that is certain, he made great moonshine.

Our town was about 15 miles from the coast, and so during the summer we would all take off as a group after work on Friday and Saturday nights and ride the PCH (aka the Pacific Coast Highway). Sometimes we would head north to the town of Half Moon Bay and eat at the Sno-White diner that was at the edge of town. Soul food for us was a good burger with fries.

More often though we would ride south to the Pescadero Dune beach and camp out for the night.

In that area the PCH is a two lane road that hugs the coastline. You're a stones throw from the beach all along the way. You ride easy through wide curves, and down from the 100 foot bluffs to creek beds that run out to the sea, and then back up steep inclines to the bluffs again.

Fog hugs the coast along that stretch of highway. In fact, when Sir Francis Drake first sailed by this part of the coast he entirely missed the San Francisco Bay simply because of the fog. As you ride, even on clear nights, the air is wet and cool against your skin. You can smell the ocean, and feel its presence. On moon lit nights the waves seem to glow as they crash and whisper against the sand.

I remember we used to throttle back and let our engines slow us as we descended from the bluffs. Once we were at the bottom of the ravine we would crank our bikes as hard as we could and charge up the hill like bats on fire. Once you crested the top you felt weightless for a moment or two. Our goal was always to get both wheels off the ground at the top. We all claimed we did this from time to time, but looking back I doubt if any of us ever did.

Once we got to the Pescadero Dune beach we would pull off in a group and back our bikes into the corner of the small dirt lot. We would try and get our bikes as far out of sight as possible. Cops would patrol the PCH from time to time trying to break up parties and pretty much ruin the fun of everyone, so we tried to keep out of sight.

We would then scour the beach for dry drift wood, which was usually plentiful along that stretch of coastline. We would make a big pile of driftwood and then build a fire behind the dunes, again trying to keep out of sight. Around that fire we would sit hunkered down with our jackets pulled tight around us and shoot the shit. Our talk mostly centered around girls and our bikes, which is pretty typical of kids our age.

Sometimes we would all drink ourselves stupid and make up games involving jumping off the dunes. Other times we would end up singing off tune rock and roll songs we heard on Radio's radio. Eventually we would all fall into a sort of deep contemplative silence. We would listen to the waves and the hissing of the sand as the wind pushed the sound around and over the dunes. Eventually we would fall asleep, only to awake stiff and cold to the hard white dawn.

These days the beaches have been all taken over by the park service. The dirt lots are all gated now and close at 6pm. I've been told that the police patrol more often and are more proactive about breaking up beach parties.

I don't really understand this. In a small community many miles from the closest city, young people need something to do. Beach parties are mostly harmless; the fires on the beach are safe and litter never was a problem. This just seems like an opportunity for cherished teenaged memories to be trampled by regulation brought on by so called "safety concerns."

I have no idea what young people from my small town do these days to blow off steam and hang out with their friends. Where do they go?

I speculate that they all are online, living in virtual worlds, riding virtual motorcycles over virtual highways by way of their game controllers through the twitching of their thumbs. I find this profoundly sad.

"By the twiching of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."


 + Open : Joe’s Bike

Joe’s Bike

"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal."
      - Albert Pike

I met Joe when I was four and he was six years old. He lived about a mile from my home, and I would pass by his place several times a week when my mother and I walked up that way to visit one of her friends.

One day as we passed by his house, Joe asked me to come see a fort his father was building for him on an old Redwood Tree stump. We soon got to know each other, and once the fort was complete we would play war and run around pretending to shoot each other. Ah the joy of a politically incorrect childhood.

Joe was actually the one that taught me how to tie my shoes. He was a good kid who grew into a good man with a kind and gentle heart.

Joe was drafted in 1972, and was bound to be sent to Vietnam. Among all his other concerns, Joe was worried about how his beloved Ironhead Sporty would fare while he was away. His parents disproved of him riding motorcycles, his brother was too young to be able to ride, and his sister wasn't interested at all. As a last resort Joe came to me and asked if I would care for and ride his bike while he was gone.

Joe named his bike "Sally." I don't really know why he chose that name, she was just Sally, and that was the end of the story on that. I never knew anyone that named their bike before, and so I thought it was kind of a strange quirk.

I actually purchased Sally from Joe for five dollars. This was done so I could handle the registration and all the rest of it while he was gone. I promised that I would sell it back to him for the same amount once he returned from service.

If you have ever owned an Ironhead Sporty, or any Harley from that era you are well aware that they have personality. Joe's bike was down right cantankerous when it came to starting. Once she was warmed up and running she was a beauty, but when it came to kick starting her on cold damp mornings, she was a bitch.

I got to know how to keep Sally happy after riding her for awhile. I kept her points adjusted just thus and so, and knew how much choke to give her as well as all the other little tricks to get her started. On most mornings I could get her running within a few minutes. On other mornings she would just not be in the mood to get going. On those days I would be out there, sometimes in the rain, kicking and cursing until she finally came to life. Sally always started eventually, so she probably just wanted to sleep in.

After Joe had been gone a bit over a year, one morning Sally refused to start. No matter how much I kicked, cursed, and pleaded she would just not come to life. I was getting spark, but still not even a sign of ignition. I checked if she was getting gas, and that was fine. I had just filled her up the night before and had put close to 50 miles on before shutting her down for the night, so the fuel itself could not have been the problem.

I was working at the Boots & Saddles restaurant at the time and needed to get to work. Fortunately I lived on the side of a hill, and so I pushed her out to the road, then let her coast down the hill, then popped the clutch and she grudgingly started. And so off to work I went.

A group of people were clustered around the back entrance of the restaurant when I arrived. Joe's sister Mandy was at the center of the group; she was crying and being held and comforted by the restaurant owner. Several other people were crying as well.

When I walked into the group Mandy came to me and hugged me desperately as she wept. She said that they had gotten word just that morning that Joe was dead.

It was one of those senseless deaths, but really, aren't all deaths like this senseless? Joe had been in a bar in Saigon drinking a beer with his buddies when some young kid had tossed a grenade into the place. Two Americans had died and several others were wounded.

Mandy walked over to Joe's bike, and she gently touched the tank. She recalled how Joe had worked on that bike. How it was just a box of jumbled parts when bought it, and he lovingly restored each item then put them all back together. She said he had put a lot of himself into that bike, breathing new life into it.

"Mandy," I said, "Sally is a part of your family. I was just taking care of her while Joe was gone, and she belongs with you now." I then said that I would give her a ride home, and swung a leg over and got ready to start her up for the last time. I switched on the ignition and got set to kick her over, and I swear that this is true, Sally started right up without me even stamping down on the lever.

That's impossible, of course I know that, but I swear that is exactly what happened.

At that moment I thought that somehow Sally picked up some of Joe's personality or soul. Somehow that machine, that collection of cold mechanical parts had some level of consciousness bestowed upon it by the talent and love of the man that put it back together. Is such a thing possible? I don't know, but at that moment I absolutely believed it.

Stories such as this one are why many riders frequently name their bikes. From that day forward every single bike I have owned has had a name. It may be a silly thing to do, but you never know.

There is a bit more to this story, and if you have hung with me this far I ask that you bear with me for a few more lines.

I attended Joe's funeral and sat with his family. I'm unsure how it happened but I ended up sitting next to his mother. Joe's father had passed on while Joe was still in High School, and so only Mandy, Mark, and his mother were there for his funeral.

Joe's mother clung to me for the entire service. A moaning wail of grief would rise in her throat, and I would lean in and speak softly to her until whatever torment she was experiencing had passed. I could feel her shake in all her grief as she clutched my hands. I didn't listen much to what was said because I had to keep talking, in low, soft, and calm tones. If I didn't do that I knew she was going to lose it.

Later, at the graveside service I had to gently restrain her when she tried to leap into the grave as they lowered his casket. This was one of the hardest and most draining things I've ever had to do.

Through the following Summer I taught Mark all I knew about maintaining Sally, how to keep her tuned and running happily. Mark has since gone on and learned far more than I ever will about building and maintaining motorcycles.

A few years ago I happened to be in the area so I rode through my old home town. The Boots & Saddles restaurant burned to the ground about 25 years ago, all that's left of it is the sign. While in town I stopped at a local bar named Applejack's for a brew, and there I ran into Mark.

He told me that Mandy went off to Oregon and got married and she has a couple of kids now. I learned that Mark has a good career, a wife, and a family of his own. He also said that Ironhead Sally is still in his family. She is well maintained and presides over all his other vehicles in his garage, and he takes her out for a ride about once a week.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my friend and brother Joe.
Where ever you are my friend, may you have peace and live in freedom.


 + Open : Casper and the Bee

Casper and the Bee

"What makes the pain we feel from shame and jealousy so cutting is that vanity can give us no assistance in bearing them."
      - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The main drag; every city and town no matter how large or small has at least one. It could be Main Street or First Avenue; they go by a thousand different names in a thousand different cities and towns all across the country.

These are the roads we ride at all hours of the day and night when the weather is fine. We ride them sometimes alone and other times with friends. We stop at watering holes and other waypoints along the way, visiting, talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

This is Main Street America, the original Social Network.

In the San Francisco Bay Area the main drag is El Camino Real. It runs from San Francisco all the way down to San Jose, a distance of about 60 miles.

The year was 1973 and I was riding the El Camino along with Casper, Sasquatch, and Radio. My ride at that time was Sally, my friend Joe's Ironhead Sporty.

Joe had gone off to Vietnam, and because he knew I would ride and take care of his beloved Sporty he had left it in my care while he was gone.

Sasquatch was one of those larger than life people you come across from time to time. He was a bear of a man that stood about 6'3" and seemed just about as wide as he was tall. He was also one of the hairiest people I've ever known, with chest hair that poked out between the buttons of his shirt, a beard that ran about half way down his chest, and his hair pulled back into a pony tail that hung to his waist. He had a booming voice that commanded attention and a roaring infectious laugh.

Odd as it may seem, Sasquatch always kept a dead cat stuffed into one of the saddlebags of his FLH Shovelhead because he swore that the spirit of the cat kept his bike running. I don't know if I can dispute that, because I can't think of a single time he ever broke down while I was riding with him.

Radio on his Triumph Bonneville rode with us that day. Slight of build and soft spoken, Radio was the antithesis of Sasquatch. With his transistor radio constantly plugged into his ear, Radio never said much probably because he couldn't hear much.

This story though concerns Casper, who was pale, tall and built like a modern day male model, Casper rode a Triumph Chopper with extended forks. He had it custom painted a metal flaked candy apple red. It was a beautiful bike that everyone noticed.

Of all of us, Casper had the most success with the ladies. Whether it was the bike, or the confidence he had from years of seeing what he thought of as his perfect features staring back from the mirror every morning, I will never know. You can't dispute results though. So no matter the cause, Casper usually had beautiful women around him.

It was the style of the day to wear big bell bottom cuffed pants, usually made of corduroy. These pants were a pain to wear while riding because they'd blow up like balloons as you rolled down the highway. As ridiculous as all this sounds, we thought we looked great.

So there we were; it was 1973 and the four of us were riding our loud and obnoxious bikes down the El Camino Real wearing clownishly huge and cuffed bell bottom pants, all the while thinking we were the fondest desire of every girl that saw us.

When we came to red lights we would split lanes and ride up to the front of the stopped traffic, and then with the green light we would take off like demons with a roar. We were quite a sight to behold.

We were about half way along the El Camino, passing through the city of Palo Alto and coming up on the Stanford University Football Stadium when I first noticed Casper madly shaking is right leg as he rode. He would extend his leg and rapidly shake it about, then after a short while he would do it again. His antics reminded me of how a cat will shake their feet when they become wet. At first I thought the wind had pushed his pant leg up and he was shaking his leg to get it to fall back down again.

As we rode the frequency and intensity of Casper's leg shaking episodes increased. He would ride along for a few moments, then his leg would shoot out and he'd madly shake it so hard and fast that it almost seemed to buzz.

This looked ridiculous and so I started to laugh. Radio rode on, stoic and oblivious as usual, while Sasquatch stared at Casper with an expression that seemed to ask "what the hell are you doing buddy?"

Ahead of us lay the intersection of El Camino Real and Embarcadero Expressway. This is the meeting to two busy roads with a corners shared with the Stanford University Football Stadium, a popular strip mall, and a University fast food hang out called "The Stanford Indian." University Co-eds were everywhere, in other words, the place was crawling with chicks.

As we approached the intersection, Casper's leg shaking became frantic. He wasn't in much control of his bike anymore and was weaving all over his lane as he shook his leg in increasingly wild and exaggerated motions.

Radio now came to look mildly amused by Casper's antics, Sasquatch looked increasingly annoyed and alarmed, and I continued to laugh.

As we pulled to a stop at the light Casper leapt from his bike screaming "shit! Shit!! SHIT!!" His bike, with the new custom paint, crashed over on its side and smashed into the tarmac as Casper seemed to do some kind of country dance as he fumbled at unbuckling his pants.

"It's a bee! It's a bee!" Casper screamed. His pants dropped and fell around his ankles as he continued to dance and swatted at his Tidy-Whities still yelling about the bee in his pants.

Traffic came to a stop. People stared. Co-eds pointed. Mothers covered the eyes of their children. Sasquatch, myself, and even Radio laughed hard enough that we struggled to keep our own bikes upright.

Casper's dance gradually came to a stop. He slowly looked around at everyone staring at him. The moment seemed to stretch, becoming eerily still and quiet.

Casper bent over and pulled his pants back up. He then picked up his bike and got it started.

As the light turned green, Casper looked at us over his shoulder and said, "well, that's better."

We gunned our engines and off we went.


 + Open : Pinky’s Ariel

Pinky’s Ariel

"Look officer, I'm not being a smartass. All I'm sayin' is if you caught me then you were speeding too."
      - Unknown

It was a warm summer's day in 1976, and my best friend Ben and I were riding through the coastal Redwood forests of Northern California. Rolling through places like this is about as close to heaven as it's possible to get. In the sunlight the temperature was in the upper 70's, in the shadows the low 70's, with no wind worth speaking of. It was a fine day to ride, and we were taking full advantage.

My parents were having a barbeque, and so that was to be our final destination. We had wandered through the mountains and valleys via twisting roads; we rode smelling the sweet air and feeling the wind rippling like warm silk against our arms. Riding is often a sensual experience.

We arrived at the turnoff to my parent's house, and Ben followed me as we rode the half mile along the dirt road that led to their place. We parked at the end of a long line of bright chrome covered motorcycles. There must have been twenty bikes parked out front.

My parents house was small, only a two bedroom, one bath affair. The house had started its life back in the late 1800's as a sawmill equipment shed; the ruins of the mill still lay about a mile from our house. The house had been built in spurts, with one owner putting in a floor, the next adding a kitchen and bath, and so forth. The house had no foundation to speak of; wooden walls rested on the dirt forest floor, and there wasn't anything even close to level or a 90 degree angle anywhere in the place.

Out back some former owner had built a large concrete barbeque pit and a massive stone fireplace that stood nearly ten feet high. There were picnic tables and Adirondack style chairs scattered all over the property. In short, it was a great place to have a party.

Ben and I walked to the kitchen and collected a couple of beers from the fridge, saying our "hellos" to my mother and the other women that were there as we did so. We then wandered out back to where the men were huddled around the barbeque pit. We said hello to everyone there and then found seats on a picnic bench in the sun.

A friend of my father named Axel asked us what we had been up to, and I answered that we were out for a ride trying to unwind from the work week. Axel nodded and replied that if it weren't for motorcycles we'd all go insane.

I mentioned that some nights after work I can't even get to sleep unless I go out for a quick ride before lying down. My father laughed then, and said "I have a story about that."

My father turned and looked at Axel and asked. "Do you remember Pinky?" Axel snorted a laugh and answered, "Hell yeah."

My father turned and leaned back against the concrete edge of the fire pit and began his story. "It was back in '46 or '47," he said. "Your mother and I were living down in San Bernardino. Axel and Annie were our neighbors and lived about a half mile away. We lived in a little trailer out on a place the locals called Rattlesnake Mountain. You know I hate fucking snakes, and I hated that place.

Anyway, the local motorcycle cop in town was a guy we all called Pinky. I swear this guy was the spitting image of Porky Pig." He laughed and shook his head before he continued. "Pinky rode an old Knucklehead, one of the old 60 cubic inch ones. That SOB puked oil an couldn't get out of its own way.

Whenever we were feeling restless your mother and I would go out and jump on the Indian and go looking for Pinky. We'd ride through town kicking over trash cans, and yelling HEY PINKY, until we got his attention. And pretty soon he'd see us, and here he'd come with his siren wailing and lights flashing."

He laughed then. "God that was fun," he said. "There was no way that old Harley could keep up with my Indian, so we'd let him chase us around for a little while, then I'd turn it on and leave him in the dust behind us. We'd go on home after that and sleep would find us easy."

My father frowned suddenly and a sad look shadowed his face. "All that changed one night though," he said.

"We couldn't sleep, and so we decided to go out and mess with Pinky. So we rolled around town making as much noise as we possibly could and yelling for him to come chase us. And after a bit, he came roaring out after us just like he always did.

But this time was different because I just couldn't shake him. Pinky kept gaining on us, no matter how fast I went, and pretty soon he pulled up right next to us. We must have been going 90 miles per hour. I looked over at him and he just looked back and smiled.

Pinky had a new bike, an Ariel Square Four. I just bowed my head and decelerated, and Pinky just kept going, leaving us spitting his dust as we watched him ride away. We rode home then, and that was that. We never went out and messed with Pinky again."

Note. As I wrote this story it occurred to me that we live in very different times from the days described to me by my father. I think our modern times are harder and less kind; possibly less civilized or at the least less civil. If I were to do the same thing today as my father did then, it would have a much less gracious conclusion.


 + Open : Ball-Peen Hammer

Frying Pan Annie and the Ball-Peen Hammer

"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."
     - Mahatma Gandhi

A word about origins.

Where do things start?

Solutions spring from necessity, and so it is likely that many people with the same need will find similar solutions. So what appears to be a single solution is likely to have multiple origins. Such is the case with the mythology surrounding the ball-peen hammer of biker lore.

The ball-peen hammer has long had a place in biker myth. The largest 1% MC in the world frequently associates itself with the image of that tool. But few if any have any idea regarding the origin of that myth.

Here follows is the origin story I heard.

If you hang around in this life long enough you will meet some pretty interesting and colorful people. This is even truer if you live the biker life.

As I've written previously, I come from a biker family. Also of note is where and when I grew up, this was just South of San Francisco in the 1960's. Due to this proximity, not only were bikers frequent visitors to our home, but I also met many notable people of the age. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were often house guests, along with various iconic musicians, and other colorful people from that time and place.

Annie and Axel were two such people. They were a married couple and were long close friends of my parents.

Axel was a World War 2 vet and was in and out of jail quite a lot, and Annie did some time as well. That said, they were very good people; to me they were part of the family, a second set of parents if you will.

Axel was a dangerous person to know. If you've been in the life long enough you've probably met someone like him. He had experienced much and seen more, and so kept a lot of secrets. It's rude and a bit dangerous to ask someone like this too many questions. When they talk, you listen because they have a lot to teach and tell, but you keep what you learn as a sacred trust. Some things Axel told me can be spoken of, and others not. The stories that can be told will appear here from time to time.

This story however involves something Annie told me long ago.

Back in the early 70's I was putting myself through college by working on people's homes. Mostly I ran a jack hammer breaking out and hauling away peoples driveways and patios. I would then return with a crew of guys to pour concrete. It was hard work, but I was young and still weak-of-mind but strong-of-back.

As my college classes were all in the morning, after leaving school I would stop for lunch on my way to work. My usual stop was a place named Rissotti's which was known locally as "Zott's". Zott's was a biker hang out for as long as I can remember; dating back at least into the 50's. It's still there, still serving up great burgers and good beer although the name of the place has now changed to "The Alpine Inn."

If your riding ever takes you out to Portola Valley California, I recommend it.

Annie worked as a short order cook at Zott's for many years. As I was living on practically nothing back then, she would usually give me a free lunch. Annie worked back in the kitchen and "her girls" would take orders and run food out to the customers.

Annie earned her nick name one afternoon when a customer started giving one of her girls problems. Annie, who was all of 5 foot nothin' and weighed in at maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet came roaring out of the back with a cast iron skillet in her hand. The young fellow causing the problem was well over 6 feet tall and built strong. I suppose he had trouble believing this little old woman was giving him so much sass.

I remember she had a way about her when she was angry; she would stand close and shake her finger right under your nose. She would never back up or take any crap no matter who was in front of her.

Apparently this young man thought he could give her some lip in return. He said something close to "Fuck you old woman," and went to push her back away from him. As soon as he reached out to shove her away, Annie swung and smacked him right on top of the head with that iron skillet. The skillet made a loud echoing bong sound, and the young man went down like a bag of wet sand and didn't move.

When I arrived at Zott's some time later the ambulance was there and this guy was laid out on a stretcher.

I don't know if anyone pressed charges, or even if the law ever got involved at all. Personally I doubt it because what young guy built like that is going to willingly admit that an old 100 pound woman knocked his lights out?

From then on, everyone called her Frying Pan Annie. The owner of Zott's took that skillet and had a skull and cross bones painted on it. For years afterward it hung on a wall back in the kitchen at Zott's.

Some months later as I sat at the bar at Zott's eating my lunch, Annie came out of the back and was chatting with some of the regular customers. She was in a talkative mood that day and she was laughing and teasing some of the younger guys.

One guy was talking about how he carried a ball-peen hammer on his bike. He had fabricated a little metal holder for the hammer so it would be at the ready if he needed it. Annie laughed and said "I'll bet you don't know how all that started, do you?" When the young man said he didn't, Annie began her tale.

"It was back in the late 40's and we were living out east of LA", she said. "Back then if you were riding a bike, people in cars were trouble. They would ease over and would try and run you into the ditch. They seemed to think doing that was funny. The cops were no help either; they were as bad or worse."

Annie shook her head and smiled a bit. She seemed far away and a little wistful as she remembered her life back then. "God we were so young," she said. "And stupid!" she added with a smile.

"There was an old gas station with a bar out back where we all used to hang out. It was an old "Flying A" gas station, but someone had chopped the wings off the "A", and everyone just called the place the "Big A." Axel had loaned some of his tools to a friend that was doing some body work on his car, we had gone to collect them and I was holding them in my lap as we rode back to the Big A.

As we were riding along I noticed this big white sedan easing up on us. I looked back, and I see this guy driving with a big idiot grin on his face, and he started steering his car toward us.

Axel would have sped up, but there were cars in front of us and no where to go. The guy kept coming, and his fender was just about to start brushing up against my leg. I looked back to wave this guy off, and all I see is this asshole's big shit eating grin. In a panic I reached down to the tools in my lap and the first thing I grabbed was a ball-peen hammer. I wasn't really thinking about anything, I just lifted that hammer as high as I could and brought it down with everything I had on the fender of that car."

Annie started to laugh. "You should have seen that guys face!" she cried. She shook her head laughing as tears started to run down her wrinkled cheeks. "His eyes got so big and round, they looked like saucers! He probably couldn't believe what was happening, and I got in 3 or 4 really good whacks and put some healthy dents in that fender before he backed off."

"There must have been an opening in the traffic just then because Axel gunned it and we split lanes and put all that behind us.

When we got back to the Big A we told the story of what happened and everyone had a pretty good laugh. Not long after that though, word must have spread around because more and more guys were carrying ball-peen hammers on their bikes."

I heard someone laughing behind us, and turned to see Axel standing just inside the doorway. He was an imposing figure, not because of his size or stature but due to the power of his presence. In his booming voice he asked, "Did you tell them about that time you shot at the guy that was trying to run us off the road?"

Silence hung heavy in the air for several moments. Annie's smile disappeared and she replied with a quick "No. I have to get back to the kitchen."

So now you know about one of the many possible origins of the biker use of the ball-peen hammer. I think you know something else now too.

DON'T EVER mess with a biker chick, especially if she has a nick name like "Frying Pan Annie."


 + Open : Axel’s Axe

Axel’s Axe

"Anger ventilated often hurries towards forgiveness; anger concealed often hardens into revenge."
      - Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Note: I'm calling this story "Axel's Axe," however to be truthful it's actually about Axel's hatchet. "Axel's Axe" sounds better, which is why I choose it for the title.

Axel and Annie were close friends of my family back when I was growing up. Some people leave a mark on your life, whether through their character or by what they teach you. Both Axel and Annie did that for me in spades.

Axel and Annie were among our closest neighbors, and lived about a mile away, so we would see them just about every day. Most days of the week we all ate dinner together at either our house or theirs. So it was that one night when I arrived home from school and found a note written in my mother's loopy handwriting stating that my parents were over at Axel and Annie's house I didn't think anything of it.

I recall being about 10 years old at the time and since I didn't have any homework; I just started walking up the dirt road that led to their house.

Our house was on the east side of the mountain, and so the sun went down early. At that time of day darkness rises out of the earth stealing the colors from the forest, turning everything into deepening shades of gray. The damp air chills rapidly and there are furtive rustles among the brush as night creatures stir and begin to venture forth. I knew the road well and so walked on careless of the coming darkness, and soon arrived at Axel and Annie's house.

As usual their home was welcoming, warm, and bustling with activity. Yellow light spilled across the porch and brightened every window. There was music in the air, laughter and adult voices from the porch, and the pounding of children's feet.

I was looking forward to playing with Axel and Annie's kids, Dell-Norman and Shannon. Shannon was a couple of years older than I, and Dell was a year younger. The age difference wasn't much, and we all had a good time together.

Some may find it interesting that Bob Dylan was Axel and Annie's neighbor. He was still early in his career, earning a living as a song writer and café singer at the time. I remember going to hear him play one night at the Matrix, a small night club in the Height-Ashbury district of San Francisco that my parents frequented at the time.

Obviously I have very poor tastes in music, as I thought he sounded awful. I doubted he would ever be a big star in the music world since his voice was so terrible. I have to add in here that I also thought that Jimi Hendrix couldn't play the guitar worth a damn. So consider that if you are debating whether or not to take my musical critique seriously.

Bob Dylan was there that night as I recall. He had taken up his usual spot in one corner of the porch and was strumming nameless tunes on an old guitar. Activity would flow around him, and he never really seemed to engage with anyone. It was like he was listening to music in his head and was playing along on the guitar.

As usual Axel and Annie's place smelled of wood smoke from the pot belly stove that squatted in the corner of the living room. When I arrived I warmed myself by the stove then sought out Dell and Shannon and started playing and running about. It wasn't long until Axel arrived home from work.

Axel's ride was a 1948 Indian Chief. He had kept the girder front end, but had bobbed the fenders and dropped the pogo seat so it sat directly on the frame. I remember he had straight pipes on it, and that bike was loud.

Axel was not a big man. He stood perhaps 5'8" tall, and probably weighed about 160 pounds or so. He was strong though, and had a grip that felt like it could crush iron. He walked with a swaggering sailor's gait, and his voice was filled with gravel. That night he came striding down the long walk to the porch, unzipping his leather jacket as he went and carrying a hatchet in his left hand. He was chuckling to himself as he walked.

In modern times that scene would have been a good start to a slasher movie, but we all lived in a better world then and thoughts like that never occurred to any of us. We were all just wondering what he was laughing about.

"You won't believe this shit," he said as he joined the group of adults. He picked up a beer, opened it with the church key that hung from a chain at the side of the front door, then leaned back against the porch rail and took a long drink.

"There I was," Axel began, "I was just riding along, cruising just enjoying the road, and this fucking car comes tearing up behind me and starts trailing me about a foot behind my rear tire. Before I even knew it, this ass blows by me on a blind turn. The son of a bitch passed then cut over sharp back into my lane. Bastard nearly took out my front wheel and ran me into the ditch!"

"Was it deliberate?" my father asked quietly. It was dangerous when men from this age got quiet. Violence lay barely veiled under the fabric of the conversation.

"I thought so," Axel answered in a quiet voice, then he abruptly laughed. "I took off after that son of a bitch. I wasn't trying to catch him, just following along to see where he lived."

"He saw me back there and tried to loose me, but that wasn't going to happen. Pretty soon he pulls off onto a dirt road and I went in right after him. He pulled up in front of his house and I can see him hunkering down in the car and locking the doors and rolling up the windows.

So I grabbed my hatchet out of the saddlebag and ran up to the car and yelled for this asshole to get out of his car. Son of a bitch just sat there in his car and laughed at me, so I started pounding on his fender with the blunt edge of the hatchet. That fucker was in his car leaning away from me, and I can hear him screaming for his wife to call the police."

Both Axel and my father laughed at this. They both knew that the nearest police were more than an hour away, and it was likely that if called, they wouldn't show up at all.

"So I was getting tired swinging that damned hatchet," Axel continued. "And it occurred to me that I was using the wrong end, so I flipped it over and started cutting into his car with the hatchet blade. I'm swinging and hacking up his car, having a pretty good time of it. In fact I was starting to laugh. I had hacked a good piece out of the roof of his car and had opened up about a foot wide hole in the fender."

"Suddenly his wife comes out on the porch and starts screaming about how the cops are coming to get me. So I turn around and hold the hatchet up and give her a look." Axel laughed harder as he relived that moment. "Her eyes got real big and she ran back in the house and I heard the door lock.

Well anyway, I looked at the car and figured I'd done enough. So I went back to my bike and put the hatchet away and rode home. What a day, huh?"

Axel and my father clicked their beer cans together and laughed.

Throughout the story I had stood at the edge of the porch and listened. Curiosity compelled me to ask, "Why did you have a hatchet in your saddlebag?"

Axel looked at me and smiled kindly then said, "All Indian motorcycles come with a Tomahawk in the saddlebag."


 + Open : Phone Booth

The Phone Booth

"Life is tough, but it's tougher when you're stupid."
      - John Wayne

The tough guy swagger, we've all seen it.

There is a public perception of bikers that we are all tough guys/chicks. This view was probably created by movies like "the Wild One" and "Hells Angels on Wheels." Television shows like "Sons of Anarchy," and "Gangland" have also played a part. Going further the seeming unending stream of tell-all books allegedly written by former undercover cops, along with all the media hoopla that came about due to the nasty business at Altamont CA gave bikers a bad-ass criminal image. Taken all together it's easy to see how a misled public can have a slanted perception of those who ride motorcycles.

I've met some Harley owners that rarely ride, but feel that owning a Harley adds "an edge" to their perceived persona. Personally I feel this is hogwash, but I suppose Harley Corporate doesn't mind because it sells motorcycles.

The danger of course is that in time people may come to believe their own bullshit. This can be a bad thing if you ever run into a real legitimate tough guy. So here is a story about a real tough guy, and he isn't even a biker.

When I was 4 years old my mother took me to meet some new neighbors. Because we lived in the country, other kids were a scarce commodity, and they lived quite close by country standards at about a mile away. Pat was 3 years old when I met him and had a cast on his leg. It seems he had crashed going down a hill in his wagon and broken his leg.

Pat and I spent a lot of time around each other while we were growing up. He was a year behind me all the way through Elementary and High School. We were never particularly close, but we played and hung around each other quite a bit.

Pat grew up to resemble Sylvester Stallone, and he even talked like him. He was only about 5'8" tall, but you could say Pat was built like a brick shit-house, and this would be accurate because Pat worked as a hod-carrier, brick layer, and eventually became a stone mason. In my view, anyone who hauls bricks and mortar up a ladder all day definitely deserves respect.

I introduced my wife to Pat back in the late 70's. She's the one that said he talked like Rocky Balboa. In that meeting Pat was complaining that his back was feeling a little tight and said he may have recently tweeked it. We asked him how he strained his back, and Pat explained.

"I was digging out a tree stump behind my parent's house. It was big stump and I had already chopped everything down to ground level. After that I dug down around it and was trying to pry it out of the ground. I'd been working at it for awhile and just kind of got fed up, so I straddled it and just bent over, grabed ahold of the stump and pulled the son-of-a-bitch out of the ground, the stump probably weighed more than 200 pounds. Then I just heaved it up and carried it to my truck and tossed it over the side on to the bed. My back felt kind of tight after that and I thought, oh I probably shouldn't have done that."

For most of us, even attempting this would not have been an option.

If just being strong wasn't enough Pat was once a Golden Glove Boxer. And if THAT wasn't enough, Pat also likes to drink and is a mean drunk. One night a Applejacks (our local home town bar) I watched Pat take on two guys from the city. Those guys each pulled knives and Pat was bear handed, but it still only took about two minutes for both of them to be laying on the pavement bleeding and broken.

So Pat was a tough guy, but the real example of just how much of a crazy bad-ass he was is best illustrated by what happened on another afternoon at Applejacks.

I was sitting in a booth near the front of the bar with my friend Ben. That day we cruised the PCH and had stopped off at Applejacks for a burger and a beer before heading back to the city.

I saw Pat sitting at the bar and could tell he was in a brooding and vaguely pissed off mood. Ben and I said hello to Pat, and he told us that he hadn't heard from his girl friend in awhile and was wondering what was up with that. Ben and I gave our sympathies and tried to smooth things over, then went on to our table to enjoy our beers and wait on our burgers.

Ben and I were talking about other things, and so we barely noticed when Pat walked by on his way to call his girl friend on the pay phone outside.

This was the kind of pay phone that Superman would do a quick change in. It was an aluminum and glass structure about 3' square and about 8' high that was wired through and bolted to a thick concrete pad.

From outside the bar I suddenly heard first a scream of rage, then a really loud crash. I thought a car had possibly run into the phone booth, and Ben and I stood up to see what was going on. Outside the aluminum accordion door laying on the ground, and we saw Pat grab hold of the phone and rip it right off the inside wall of the booth, then throw it a good 20 feet where it crashed into the tarmac.

Apparently the conversation with his girl friend didn't go well, and so it was a bad day to be a phone booth.

Pat wasn't finished. He started punching the phone booth, creating sizable dents and when the metal bent enough for him to get his hands around he would rip that piece off then send it sailing across the parking lot and into the street.

Ben and I watched in amazement as the phone booth slowly disintegrated. One thing (other than the obvious) that astounded me was that Pat's hands never bled, possibly from the conditioning of handling bricks for so many years, his hands had become as hard as the stone he worked with every day.

Pat finally became frustrated and got into his pick up truck and tore off down the street, burning rubber as he did so. When he left, all that was left of the phone booth were some wires and a few bent bolts holding fragments of distorted metal sticking out of the concrete base.

As I said at the beginning of this, we've all seen the tough guy swagger. Let me tell you from experience that no matter how tough you think you are, there's always someone out there that's tougher. No matter how strong you think you are, there's always someone stronger. No matter how fast you think you are, there's alwyas someone faster.

You may think you're the baddest guy around but ask yourself this, are you bad enough to punch out a phone booth?


 + Open : Riding with my Father

Riding with my Father

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
      - Mahatma Gandhi

As a child I spent years riding behind my father. Much of that time was spent on an Indian Chief, but I also was a passenger on his Matchless. There were probably other bikes as well but I don't remember them. As a teen-ager that Matchless was the bike I learned to ride on.

I took my first ride as a motorcycle passenger at 2 weeks of age. My mother strapped me to herself with a seatbelt with a friction buckle my father had brought home from his job at United Airlines. My parents told me that I slept through the entire ride.

My father started riding soon after World War 2, and rode all the way up into his mid 70's when asthma from years of smoking stole his breath to such an extent that he could barely move about at all. As one of the original post-War bikers, it seemed that he was always on 2 wheels, riding and partying like a mad man. He was also usually in some kind of trouble because he never seemed to consider the consequences of anything he did, and as a result spent a lot of time in the gray bar hotel.

Putting all that aside, I have to say that he could fight, party with the best of them, and really ride a motorcycle with utter abandon.

Because he was away so much, I really didn't ride along with him too often until he was older and had slowed down a bit. I regret that. There were times when we could have rode together, but conflicts mostly on my end kept that from happening. I think that I missed out on learning a lot due to my absence.

I do remember one time in particular that we rode together. This was in the late 1970's, my mother was away back east visiting her family and so we decided to ride together down to Big Sur for the day.

Big Sur is a small community south of Monterey CA that clings to the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's heavily forested and quite beautiful, and the view from the high cliffs overlooking the ocean is spectacular. Big Sur is also one of the last vestiges of the "Hippy" culture that was popular back in the 1960's. Our destination for the days ride was a shop / restaurant called Nepenthe.

We met up in Santa Cruz at a small diner just off Chestnut Street for breakfast. At that time my father was riding an early model 1000cc Gold Wing, while I was riding a Harley-Davidson Superglide. I rolled up and parked next to his Gold Wing at the curb, then went inside to find my father studying the menu.

Santa Cruz in the 80's was as alive with spaced out leaping hippies as it is today, but a diner is a diner and so a breakfast of granola and sprouts wasn't yet mandatory. We ordered eggs with bacon and toast along with hot coffee.

After leaving the diner my father noticed a spatter of oil under my Superglide and commented, "Hmm. What a throw back. Harley must still be using that total-loss oil system." My father never liked Harleys, and so my riding one was a bit of a rebellion on my part.

To explain his comment; prior to the '36 Knucklehead Harley did not use an oil recirculating system. Oil dripped into the engine and wound its way through the workings of the motorcycle until it finished its journey on the final drive chain. From there the oil either blew off in the wind or dripped to the ground.

His comment was a typical snide remark of someone invested in what was known as the "Harley-Indian Wars." Remarks such as this were not meant as a personal insult or even anything more than simply poking fun at a friend.

"At least my oil is always clean, and this bike don't eat rice," was my reply. With a mutual laugh we fired up our bikes and made our way out to the coast highway and then headed south.

South of Santa Cruz we rode through miles and miles of fields of growing strawberries. Riding through that cool and crisp ocean air carrying with it that sweet perfume is an experience every rider should enjoy at some time in their life.

Within the city of Monterey those riding the Pacific Coast Highway are treated to a series of congested streets and frequent red lights. I took the opportunity to show off a bit and would nail it as soon as the light turned green and roar down to the next light. After doing this a few times my father rode up to me as I waited at a red light and asked, "Why are you in such a hurry to get to a red light?"

I didn't have an answer to his question and so chagrined, I simply shrugged. It's fun to show off on a loud powerful bike, but I had to admit that for the most part it was a waste of energy. At the last light in town my father lit up his Goldwing and left me chasing his tail light and breathing his exhaust fumes.

As we left the city behind the highway twisted and tightened as it hugged the coastal mountains, and I struggled to keep up. Ahead me my father deftly piloted his bike, lazily guiding his bike with one hand as he scorched his way through the turns, while behind him I was working hard and riding faster than I was comfortable with. At one point he got far enough ahead that he slowed down and allowed me to catch up and pass him. I was acutely aware of my father's scrutiny as he rode easily behind me as I worked on my speed and technique through the sharp turns and short straight stretches of the road.

We rolled into the parking lot at Nepenthe and backed into parking spaces that would provide a quick exit if needed. One of my father's lessons I already knew was that if you don't know a place or the clientele, always park such that you can jump on your bike and quickly get out of there. If things go south it's a good idea to have the ability to leave quickly.

We wandered through the Nepenthe store, looking at the expected caches of incense and "love beads," eventually climbing the stairs to the upper section and finding seats on the stone patio that overlooked the rolling Pacific Ocean. We ordered a couple of beers and then sat for awhile, saying nothing and just taking in the view.

Finally my father turned to me and said, "You know you ride like an old man."

My father called me "Old Man" for as long as I can remember. I believe that this is because even as a child I always considered my actions carefully and weighed the consequences before committing to anything, whereas he was spontaneous but often suffered the ramifications of his actions later.

Long ago we had argued over this, and I recall telling my father that "someone has to be an adult around here!" I regret those words now. On this day at Nepenthe I just shook my head and chuckled.

My father continued, "That's a fast bike you have. It has a lot of power and compression, but you're riding it like you're afraid of it."

I looked at him and frowned then asked, "What do you mean?"

"You use your brakes too much," he said. "These days' brakes are better than they used to be. Disk brakes do a hell of a lot better job at stopping you than the old drum brakes did. The thing is all brakes do is slow you down, and if you want to go fast through the turns slowing down isn't what you want to do."

"Your bike has a lot of compression, so use it," he suggested. "Ease of f the throttle as you come into a turn and let your engine slow you down. Then ease it back on about half way through the turn and your bike will pull you right out of it."

"It's also a mistake to just think about speed," he continued. "Work at being smooth instead, because once you're smooth, speed will come."

We had a good lunch that day. My father told me a lot of stories about riding in Southern California right after the war. He also told me stories about him and my mother living on top of "Rattle Snake Mountain" near San Bernardino. My father was always deathly afraid of snakes, and so these were really funny stories.

We had an easy ride home, and with a wave we parted ways just east of Santa Cruz. As far as I can recollect that was the last time my father and I rode together. Within a couple of years or so he would move to Texas to be near his ailing older sister. Oddly enough she would outlive him; she was just too mean to die.

Before he left he gave me his old bike, and I have to tell you, that old Goldwing was one hell of a bike.

What I want to say with this story is that if you have a father, mother, or older sibling that rides, be sure that you find time to ride with them. Their points of view may well be obsolete. For example these days most motorcycle racers "trail-brake" rather than use engine compression to slow them down as they enter a turn. That isn't important though.

Remember that we all stand upon the shoulders of giants, whether we are speaking of advances in technology, motorcycle riding, or the culture we are a part of. Remember that experience is wisdom. Recognize knowledge and listen; even if you later reject what you hear, in the end you will be the richer for it.


 + Open : Beezer and the Bus

Beezer and the Bus

"You gotta love livin› baby, ‘cause dyin’ is a pain in the ass."
      - Frank Sinatra

If you've ever lived in a small town high in the mountains, you know that we love our back country roads. If you've not lived in such a place, just know that in our mind those roads belong to us.

These country roads are not just the gateway to our community; they are a racetrack and a test of manhood as well. They become a part of our identity and a source of pride that is marked by bumper stickers on our cars that read "Stamp Out Flat Landers." Many of us carry weapons in our vehicles and on our bikes. We ride our roads aggressively, and are quick to anger at tourists from the flat lands that dare enter our domain.

We know every nuance of every turn and bump in the road. We know where to accelerate or slow down, as well as the location of each and every treacherous blind turn. We ride our roads fast and hard, and if you can't keep up you need to get the hell out of our way.

When we meet another vehicle on our road, the race is on. Even when we are alone on the road, we ride as fast as we are able. There is no lazy riding down these back country lanes for us; instead it is either all or nothing. We either go full throttle or we don't go at all.

It was a warm sunny day in the early summer of 1971 and I was on my Beezer (BSA) tearing up an 8 mile stretch of road that led from the mountain top down to the town where I grew up. I was racing my friend Radio on his Bonnie (Triumph Bonneville). His Bonnie was quicker into the turns but my Beezer was faster coming out. We were evenly matched and so swapped the leading position several times as we flew through the turns.

We had just come through a series of short straight stretches and were carrying a lot of speed as we moved into a section of road where the turns tightened and the straight stretches pretty much disappeared. Having just pulled hard through the first set of turns and scraping my foot pegs as I did so, I had pulled into the lead but Radio was fast catching up.

Coming into a blind left hand turn I laid my bike over into the on-coming lane with my tire just to the right side of the center line. At that moment I chanced a glance over my shoulder and saw that I was holding my lead over Radio. I remember the joy and the rush of adrenalin and thought, "HA! I've got him." But just as I looked back I saw the front of a Volkswagon Bus.

If you've ever wrecked your bike you know that there are several things that occur over the course of a few seconds.

First there is the "oh shit" moment. This is when it registers in your brain that you've messed up big time and are about to eat it. Adrenalin rushes through your system and your body tenses up as you try to correct your course even though you know full well that the attempt is pointless.

Next there is the chaos that comes with impact. For myself I am usually acutely aware of sound, but others may experience the opposite which is a lack of sound. I hear the crunching, screaming metal, tearing, and banging noises that comes with the crash, but there really isn't any sensation of pain, just the noise of impact.

Next there is really nothing, because your brain blocks out the memory. Sometimes though there is a sense of soaring, and careening down the road or off it as you bounce away and fly from the impact. Maybe this is some kind of out of body experience people have from time to time. I don't know about the out of body thing, but there is a VERY brief sense of serenity because it happens so fast that it seems unreal.

Lastly there are some few seconds of what seems utter stillness. This is after you come to rest and before the pain closes in. In these first few moments thoughts fly through your mind such as, "well that wasn't so bad," perhaps because you realize that you have somehow managed to live through the accident. You take these first seconds to assess your situation, by diagnostically checking to see if all your parts are still connected.

So after slamming into a VW bus, I found myself lying on the ground some 50 feet from the point of impact trying to determine if I could still move all my fingers and toes. As I did this I reconstructed what must have happened just before and during impact with the VW Bus.

As soon as I saw the Bus I pulled my bike into a more upright position and straightened my trajectory into the turn. Unfortunately though my left handlebar grip must have struck either the bus itself or the side mirror, and this snapped the forks hard to the left. As my front tire impacted the side of the bus the forks snapped back to the right, but my hands kept going in the opposite direction with my left hand smashing into the side of the bus and my right hand going through my right mirror.

I don't really remember what happened after that, but I ended up lying on my back on the dirt shoulder about 20 feet off the side of the road. All my parts seemed to be there and were working, but my left leg was hurting like hell. I sat up and grabbed my leg and felt that my knee cap was now positioned on the side of my knee. My left knee was dislocated.

Fortunately Radio came running up just then and I had him gently pull on my ankle and I was able to ease my knee cap back into place. That seemed to be the worst of it so I slowly gained my feet, and as I leaned on Radio's shoulder I hobbled my way over to where my bike lay in a tangle at the side of the road.

Metal is a wonderful thing because it's forever. Parts can be repaired, reshaped, or in extreme cases replaced. In a sense then, our machines are immortal. They live as long as we care for them. My Beezer was repaired, and in time actually looked and ran better than new.

The human body is much more fragile though, and it retains memory of all the injuries it has experienced. On that day, in addition to my knee dislocation, I broke four fingers and a thumb, not all on the same hand though.

My left knee has been dislocated at least 3 other times since this accident; what I did that day probably weakened it such that it is more susceptible to injury. Between my knee and my fingers (as well as other injuries incurred since) I can usually tell when a storm is coming, and life can be miserable on cold and damp days.

There are three lessons I learned that day.

The first is that pain hurts. That may seem obvious to any normal, rational, and mature person; but remember that I was 16 years old at the time so this was a great revelation to me.

The second lesson is that I am a mortal person, that I'm not somehow impervious to accidents, pain, injury, or death. Again, consider that I was a young man at the time and as such, the possible consequences resulting from my own actions never occurred to me at all.

The final lesson here is actually very simple. The lesson is that where your tire is has nothing to do with whether or not you are in your lane. What counts is where your head is. So keep your head within the lines or boundaries of your lane.

In motorcycle training schools, students are often taught to "hit the tangents" when going through turns. This meaning, steer your motorcycle as straight as possible by riding next to the edge of the road or close to the on coming lane. I believe this to be wrong and dangerous. Anyone that teaches people to hit the tangents through the turns is setting you up to be greeted by a VW Bus (or something like it) somewhere down the line.

Ride safe!


 + Open : 1 MPH Faster

1 MPH Faster Everyday

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
      - Mark Twain

Telling a story is a lot like untangling a knot. The trouble comes in the process of discovering where it begins and ends. In a sense our lives are really just one long story, but to tell someone about a portion of it, we must cut a length from it in such a way that it is itself intact and complete.

To create understanding in the heart of the reader of this tale, I will start a bit earlier than may seem necessary. I believe that this brief bit of history before we reach the center of the story will add a bit of perspective and is therefore important.

I was born into a biker family. That was my normal, and as such I cannot fathom the lives of others who were raised in suburban "Father Knows Best" families. As a child growing up in the 50's and 60's it was normal to fall asleep to either "beatnik" or loud rock music, then next morning having to step over guests still passed out from the night before as I made my way to the kitchen to make myself breakfast.

I took my first ride on a motorcycle at 2 weeks of age. Frankly I hope that's a record because these days doing something like that would get you arrested. I very strongly DO NOT recommend doing something like that with babies. NOT a good idea.

My father worked as a mechanic for United Airlines and owned an early 50's Indian Chief around the time I was born. After determining that having a child was not going to slow him down, he came home from work one night with one of those old friction type seat belts that were once so common on airliners. It consisted of a friction buckle attached to a long nylon belt. The belt would wrap around my mother and I, basically tying us together. From what she told me about these rides, I slept really well when ever they did this.

Again, if your baby has trouble sleeping, DO NOT take them for a ride on your motorcycle.

That was my life though. For me at that time, it was a good life. I spent a lot of years riding on the back of my father's motorcycles. These are some of the best memories of my childhood.

Still though, don't take your baby on your motorcycle.

Now I have to add that my father was a very intelligent man. He was even a member of the "MENSA Society". To be admitted to MENSA you must have a genius level IQ. However, if any of you have ever met someone of such an intellect you may have noticed that at times they can be truly idiotic.

This is a story of one of those times.

By the time I was 5 or 6 years old we had moved into the coastal mountains of California. My father would commute to work every day on an Ariel motorcycle. This was a pretty fast bike for the time and he would really push it as he wound his way through the twisting mountain roads.

There was one turn in particular that was difficult for him to get through. It was just after the top of the mountain that lay between our home and his work. It was a downhill 180 degree switch back that started out flat and level, and then at half way through changed to an off camber turn. The highway sign suggested speed for this turn was 20 miles per hour.

So one day, my father the genius, got the idea in his head that if he could go 1 mile per hour faster through this turn every day, his riding skills would improve.

Ok. Let's take a break here and consider this. What is the most likely conclusion to this situation? How likely is it that he will reach infinite velocity while rounding that turn? And finally, how fast can he possibly go and (more importantly) what is the likely outcome when he exceeds that speed?

The answer to the question "how fast can he possibly go?" is 67 miles per hour. That's pretty darned fast, so I have to hand it to him for his riding skill. However, while he barely made it through the turn at 67 mph, he decided to go for 68 mph the next day.

That did not turn out so well.

Accidents like this can at times be over in a flash that you cannot remember. Other times everything seems to move in slow motion, and you have the grace of time to consider what a fool you are for putting yourself in this situation. This later was the case here.

He entered the turn and seemed to be doing ok until he entered the off camber section. The bike then washed out from under him and he went down behind the bike is it skidded and spun down the road. He and the bike were sliding together with the bike spinning before him as he slid down the tarmac. He later told me that he was concentrating on keeping his fingers out of the spokes. The wheels were spinning madly and he was afraid he would loose his fingers.

Eventually the bike spun off in one direction and he continued sliding in another. That is, until he met the tree. This was a young tree, with a trunk of only about a foot in diameter. He hit the tree sliding sideways leading with his stomach. My father later told me that this was the first (and only) time in his life that his head ever hit his knees.

After an accident there is a sort of stillness that settles over the wreckage. First you're wondering if you are alive, and then once you check that you are still breathing, you usually wiggle your toes and fingers to see if all your parts are still connected. So after those few moments he thought to himself "huh, I'm ok!" and stood up. He felt perfectly fine, great in fact.

Adrenalin is an amazing thing.

He found the bike and got it back rubber side down and shook the dirt out of it. Other than some scratches and minor dents, it seemed ok. He noticed then that his clothing was all torn up, and decided that he would have to go home and change his clothes before heading into work.

So he got on his bike and started riding home. It wasn't many miles until he started to feel pain from practically every part of his body. He also noticed that along with the tatters of clothing there also were areas of missing skin, and skin hanging off his body in sheets.

He was in bed for a week.

The truly odd thing about this story is that I have told it many times to other bikers, and you may be surprised at how many had a similar story, either about themselves or someone they knew. Remarkably, these people didn't even have the impediment of a genius IQ.

So listen and learn. The idea of one mile per hour faster each day may sound like a good idea. Maybe it's a good theory, but like most good ideas and grand theories, it's a better idea to think about them for a bit before trying them out.


 + Open : The Nevada Chill

The Great Nevada Chill

"A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down."
      - Arnold H. Glasow

As a child I was taught that Bikers don't leave their brothers behind. I don't really know the origin of this credo, but speculate that this trait came from the WW2 Vets that came back from the war and changed the Motorcycle Enthusiast into the Biker movement.

This belief is sort of like gravity in that you obey its laws but don't really give it a lot of thought.

So when shortly after I moved to Colorado Springs I received a call from a friend of more than 30 years telling that he was in need of my help, I gave it as much thought as falling down. I was going to go and help him. Never mind that he was out in California. Never mind that I had to cancel plans. Never mind any and all of that, he was my brother and he needed my help, that was all that mattered.

Eamon had hit a rough spot with his neighbors and he needed to "get out of Dodge" as is said. Things had got dicey for him with a group of guys that lived next door, and the law had gotten involved – and not in a good way.

I love Eamon and would take a bullet for the guy if it came to that, but I have to say his people skills are... well, let's say they're limited. Eamon is as stubborn as they come, never puts up with anything from anybody and about as nimble and movable as a big bag of rocks.

So I threw a couple shirts, an extra pair of jeans, and a sweater into my traveling bag and bungeed the whole thing to the back of my Wide Glide and was off. I didn't give much thought to the fact that it was early October and the weather might turn cold, after all I had my leather jacket and a sweater, what more could I possibly need?

I took the US-50 route out to California mostly because it's the most direct, but also because it's a nice ride. I've ridden the "Loneliest Highway" many times, it's a good ride and I recommend it highly.

One thing of note though, don't think you can gas up in Ely NV and believe you have enough fuel to make it to Fallon NV. I delayed getting fuel until I got to Austin NV, then found all the stations closed. I made it but it was tight. My Wide Glide had a 5.1 gallon tank, and when I hit the first station on the edge of Fallon I put 5 full gallons in the tank. Yeah, that was close, and the Loneliest Highway is no place to get stuck at the side of the road.

Once I was in California, Eamon and I got everything sorted out. I'll gloss over this part of the story. Let's just say that things got interesting, and we rolled out of there before either reinforcements or the law could arrive.

We crested Donner Pass at 7pm, riding through light snow flurries. Once in Reno we gassed up, then headed out into the Great Nothing of Nevada with the goal of making it to at least West Wendover NV before turning in for the night.

It wasn't long after leaving Reno that it started to really get cold.

Now I have to say that I measure how cold it is by the number of expletives used to describe it. As we rode into the night, "pretty cold" very quickly changed to "pretty fuckin cold," then to "pretty fuckin god damn cold." Before long the length of the description of how cold it was went from sentances, to paragraphs, eventually becoming entire novels.

We gassed up in Winnemucca NV and while there we put on every single piece of clothing that we brought with us.

Once back on the road the bone chilling cold continued, and as if the trip so far hadn't been fun enough, the snow flurries started up again just to make things interesting. At our last gas stop in Elko NV we each got a hot coffee and did jumping jacks in the station parking lot to get our blood circulating again.

The trip from Elko to Wendover is pretty much a blur in my memory. I have no idea how cold it got, but I tell you that when it gets cold enough that you fart just to warm yourself up, that's pretty cold.

When we got our rooms in Wendover, I was shaking so badly that I had trouble signing in. I literally shook for an hour before I got warm. I swear to you that when I took a hot shower in an attempt to warm up, hot water hit my body but ice cold water flowed down the drain.

After a bit Eamon and I grabbed a couple of burgers and suds at an all night diner. We laughed at what we had just gone through and realized that this ride would be a story each of us would tell many times in the future.

The next day was warmer, but not much. My advice to anyone is to NEVER under estimate how cold the desert can get on a clear fall/winter night.

We rolled into my driveway at 11pm that night. We had a good late dinner and a long talk that went into the early hours of the next day. Eamon stayed with my wife and I for a few days, and has since moved on and has a good life.

We still see each other as our schedules permit. Other than that we keep in touch via phone calls and email. We both know that if either of us were in need, the other would drop anything and come to help.

We know this because that's just what brothers do.


 + Open : Learning / Experience

Learning & Experience

"The only source of knowledge is experience."
      - Albert Einstein

More years ago than I care to mention, I worked at Nicolet Magnetics. We made some of the first molecular spectrometers; these are devices that you can take any element or mixture of elements and get a read out of exactly what chemicals it consisted of. These were huge devices used mostly for scientific purposes.

This was a time before personal computers and when many 4 function calculators were priced out of the reach of most people. If we needed to calculate something we either worked it out with paper and pencil or used a slide rule. Computer Aided Design was a fantastical fiction at the time; we drew our designs with ink on vellum, and taped our circuit boards using black tape on clear Mylar. This was so long ago that the people I worked with referred to me as "the Kid" (it was an honorary title), and I will say that I retired from "real" work in 2006.

At the time of this story I was in my profession for about 7 years and was still on a steep learning curve. I knew there was a lot for me yet to learn, and so I changed companies frequently constantly looking for new challenges and things to learn. Whenever I would join a new company I would identify the most senior design engineer and watch him carefully. Doing this I could learn their tricks of the trade and add their knowledge to my own.

At Nicolet Magnetics the mentor I identified was named Bob. He had worked at Lockeed for 18 years before moving on to Nicolet where he had already worked for about a year. So I watched Bob closely.

As I looked on, I noticed Bob making some very strange design choices. I was puzzled, but said nothing. Bob was a Senior Level Design Engineer, and I was barely considered an Intermediate Level. I assumed that if I watched long enough that the reason, the trick behind what he was doing would soon become apparent.

About a month after I joined the company, Nicolet Corporate flew in one of their top notch Design Engineers from Wisconsin (where Nicolet is based). Apparently there were problems with some of our designs, not just engineering errors but production issues as well. Initially Dean didn't work directly with my group, but spent most of his time with the Physicists and Electrical Engineers instead.

One night I was working late and Dean came in and started looking at Bob's current design project. As he looked at the work Dean made a few exasperated noises, and so eager to learn from this corporate design wiz I came over and stood beside him. Dean eventually turned to me and asked, "what do you think of this design?"

I cautiously said that it didn't look right to me, and suggested a couple of changes. I also said that there must be a good reason for the design choices Bob had made; he had 18 years experience working on high tech military contracts after all. I was in no place to criticize since I was so far junior to Bob's experience.

Dean said something then that has stayed with me ever since.

He looked at Bob's design for a moment longer shaking his head in negation. He then turned to me and said, "18 years experience. That must be 1 year of experience done over 18 times."

The truth of this and how it applies to riding is that we only get better at what we do. This is known as "Specificity," it works in physiology as well as every other task we do. Lifting weights does not make you a better long distance runner, and conversely running long distances doesn't enable you to lift more weight.

Continually riding your bike at low speed through an obstacle course doesn't make you better at hitting the twisties at high speed. Conversely riding high speed through mountain roads doesn't make you better at riding in group parade formation. Each of these is a specific task that requires specific skills. These skills only get better when you work on those exact skills.

Now before someone jumps in and argues this, I admit that there is some cross over between these skills. However there is not a 1:1 correlation between increasing practice in one skill and an improvement in another. You can improve somewhat, but the truth of it is that if you want to get better at a particular skill, then that is the skill you should be practicing.

To be a better all round rider, we need to gain experience in different situations under different conditions. Ride in the heat, the rain, and the cold, as well as through the mountains, or in group formation, or on long journeys on the Interstate; doing all this will make you a better rider over all.

In the end it all comes down to just getting out and riding. Ride as often as you can, every day if possible.


Ok I can't help myself here; I have to tell one short biker story.

While working at Nicolet I met a woman rider. Pam was a strange combination of brain and brawn, standing about 6'4" tall and weighing in at (guessing here.. 220 pounds), she also held Doctorate degrees in both Physics and Chemistry.

Pam rode a full dress Honda Goldwing. At the time I was riding a Honda CX 500, and so her Goldwing seemed gigantic to me. She was obviously big enough to handle it though.

One morning Pam and I arrived at work at about the same time, and I noticed that she had an alarm installed on her bike. I had never before seen a bike with an alarm on it, so I said something like, "wow, you have an alarm on your bike."

Pam replied, "Yes I do, it's silent though and if anyone messes with my bike I get notified here," and she showed me a pager she wore on her belt. "If this alarm goes off," Pam continued, "I don't want them to hear it and run away, because I'm coming out and knock them into next week."

Now seriously, who doesn't love biker chicks?


 + Open : Life Lessons

Touring & Life Lessons

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."
      - Ernest Hemingway

I had been riding hard at 85 to 90 mph for hours, following a two lane road that wound its way over and around the rolling hills of the dusty expanse of north- central Montana. Earlier it had been hot, but now the Sun was edging its way toward the western horizon and I knew I would soon need to find shelter for the night.

The open plain is no place to be caught riding at after dark; hitting unseen wildlife can kill you, and as the open night sky sucks the heat from the day you will be chilled to the bone.

Before me lay one of those intersections typical of wide open spaces; two roads intersecting at 90 degree angles with a stop sign at each corner, and in every direction the roads stretch unbending to the horizon.

Just on the opposite side of the intersection, at the side of the road I intended to follow sat the instrument of my consternation. The sign read, "Major road construction ahead, motorcycles strongly advised to take alternate route."

There I sat, astride of an 800 pound Kings Mountain Indian Chief that is no friend to gravel roads, pretty much lost and with only a quarter tank of fuel remaining in the tank. I knew that my destination for the night lay roughly in the direction I had been following, but I knew no alternate route, and did not have either the fuel or daylight enough to wander about trying to find one.

Sometimes life can be like it was for me at that moment; sitting astride of my rumbling bike and wondering what to do and which way to go. Sometimes life hands you a shit sandwich and all you can possibly do is take a bite and smile as much as you can. Life is mostly unfair; good people often lead miserable lives and many times the idiots and evil people among us are rewarded. There's no use trying to figure out the rules of the game or lamenting your situation. In times like this all you can do, is to do what you must because there is no alternative. All you can do is to take a bite of that sandwich try to smile about it, realizing that you can pick the shit out of your teeth later.

I dropped the gear into first and rode forward, passing by the warning sign as I went.

At first the road pleasantly wrapped itself around and over low grassy hills, however after 5 miles or so I began to see signs of construction. Then I rode to the brink and stopped. The tarmac before me had been ground up and removed, and in its place lay a sea of smooth river rocks. These were all about 2 to 3 inches in size and polished smooth.

"As slick as Owl shit," my father would have said. Personally I've never seen Owl shit, but I assume it must be slippery.

I surveyed the road ahead and saw wheel marks where cars had traversed and somewhat compacted the rocks. So watching carefully I rode ahead, following those wheel marks and keeping my actions smooth and my speed slow. I had to be wary when the road sloped to the side as I could feel the bike skitter a bit toward the downward slope as I rode.

Patiently and carefully I progressed bit by bit through the construction. There were times when it seemed endless, but eventually it did indeed end as all things both good and bad do.

I finished the day in a small town on the Flat Head Indian reservation. There I found a pleasant accommodation hosted by friendly people. The town had no cell phone coverage and only 2 channels on the television worked.

When I went out for a sandwich I saw a group of young men apparently being instructed in something; I had no idea what the instruction was because they were not speaking a language I knew. Later in the evening as I sat out on the porch of my room I could hear Indian singing/chanting echoing among the buildings.

I was curious of course, but realized that what they were doing was not for the eyes of outsiders or tourists. I stayed where I was; sat and listened to the beautiful song they sang, smelled the night air, and stared up at the clear star filled sky. When I let my thoughts drift from the moment they only flew to considering the wonders I would find while riding the next day.


 + Open : Riding Alone

Riding Alone

"Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe."
      - Anatole France

I'll admit to being anti-social. This is part of my nature, and those that are closest to me have learned to deal with it.

I prefer scarcely populated wide open spaces, and get a sense of claustrophobia in large cities. Eamon, one of my closest friends, often says that the larger the population of a given area, the lower the collective IQ; I think he's right.

I don't like crowded spaces. I don't like "hustle and bustle" and prefer peace and quiet instead. And I prefer to ride alone.

Riding with a group is fine at times, but with a group a lot of freedom is lost. You are stuck with whatever itinerary the group has decided on. This is fine as long as the group is going to an event of some kind, but for wandering it's not so good.

There was a time when riding alone on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle was risky business, especially if you looked a "certain" way. You could be pulled over by the Police, hassled with over paperwork and your bike would be searched and inspected. There was also the near certainty of breaking down in a remote area. All this made riding alone more of a bother than it was worth. In those days riding in a group was actually the safe and sane thing to do.

Thankfully the EVO engine came along and Harley-Davidson expanded their market. Ever since the development of the EVO, Harley quality and dependability have done nothing but improve. Now everyone knows that the guy riding his Harley that looks like the baddest and meanest looking character around could well turn out to be a Dentist or a Kindergarten teacher. These days, riding alone is a easy and safe thing to do.

One of the most amazing places I have ever ridden is North Carolina. I lived there for five years, through the late 1990's into the early 2000's. Some of the kindest, warmest, and most genuine people I have ever come across were folks I met there. Being new to the area, I initially did not know a single person who rode, and so I got on my bike and wandered on my own.

When I ride alone I wander, and in so doing I discover new towns, new roads, and new people. I have come around back country roads to find abandoned antebellum mansions being slowly overgrown and consumed by flowering wisteria. I have come across sleepy towns with deep histories made up of beautiful brick buildings. I have also discovered more small diners serving delicious Carolina Barbeque than I can name.

I have ridden through the Shenandoah Valley; the name and the song associated with it will tell anyone all they need to know about that experience. I have explored the Appalachian Mountains, riding through swirling clouds of multicolored leaves along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I have ridden along the Outer Banks Islands, smelled the ocean and stopped to feel that hot fine beach sand between my toes.

Wandering is a beautiful experience and one of the finest things you can do in your life. To wander though, you must dare to ride alone.


 + Open : High Tech Paranoia

High Tech Paranoia

"Sometimes paranoia's just having all the facts."
      - William S. Burroughs

Maybe it's just because I'm an old fart, but it just seems that technology is overtaking society and common sense these days. This must be a generational thing because I'm pretty sure the younger generations don't see the problem.

My grandfather was a farmer and school teacher in Tennessee. As a school teacher he made five dollars a week. Shortly after my father was born he discovered that Henry Ford was hiring assembly line workers and paying them five dollars a DAY.

You can imagine how fast any of us would switch jobs if we could make five times our current salary somewhere else. So obviously he moved his family to Detroit.

My father was a precocious and inquisitive child, who often acted without considering the consequences of what he did. For example he once created a home made stick of dynamite and set it off in his bedroom.

As a teenager my father got the idea to put a radio in his car. Back then radios were huge things in wooden cases that ran on tubes, and cars just didn't come with them. My father figured out how to install it, and so had one of the very first cars with a radio.

When my grandfather first saw this he threw a fit. "You're going to kill yourself!" he said. "You'll be listening to that damned radio and not paying attention when you're driving, and you'll either kill yourself or someone else!"

These days I feel the same way about people using their cell phones in their cars, so I suppose it's all relative. Ask any biker though if they have ever been nearly run off the road by some vacuous wanker talking on his cell phone, and no doubt you will get an ear full. So perhaps my grandfather had a point.

The advent of technology into our lives reminds me of the story of Pandora's Box.

For those that don't know the story of Pandora:
The story of Pandora comes from classical Greek mythology, where she was the first woman on Earth. The Gods who created her gave her beauty, grace, speech, and curiosity.
Then as a test Zeus gave Pandora a box and told her to never open it. One day Pandora's curiosity got the better of her and she opened it. In an instant every kind of disease, sickness, hate, envy, and every horrible thing known to mankind flew out into a world that had never experienced these things before. She tried to close the box as these things were escaping, but once opened she couldn't close it again.

In a sense I view the radio my father put in his old Ford to be the first thing to fly out of a technological Pandora's Box. If radios in cars weren't bad enough, this development was followed by 8-Track and cassette tapes, CD's, and navigation systems. Each of these was a seemingly innocuous step along the path to where we are now.

When I was young I had memorized the phone numbers of all my friends. Today, since the advent and proliferation of cell phones, there are a lot of people that don't know their own phone number. We rely on GPS systems to tell us where to go, when in the past we knew were we were and how to get to anywhere we wanted.

I don't even want to get started on spelling checkers and calculators. Do kids even have to memorize their times-tables anymore? How about spelling tests, do they have those still? Recently I was told that many kids don't learn how to read an analog watch until they are in the 5th grade, but I hope that's not true.

Now we carry a mountain of technology with us wherever we go.

Our cell phones have gone so far beyond their original purpose that they're hardly recognizable for what they are. Not only do we talk on our cell phones, but we text, surf the internet, take pictures, update Facebook, check-in at businesses around town, check prices at other stores while we are shopping, get directions, play games, and much more. Recently I read about a pedestrian that was run down because a person driving a car had been distracted while playing "Angry Birds" on his cell phone.

What does the reliance on technology do to us as human beings? There have been studies that have shown that the function of our brains have changed due to this reliance on technology.

It's not just our cell phones that are the issue here, because technology is everywhere, in every item we purchase and in every aspect of our lives. It's getting increasingly difficult to even find a product without a computer chip in it. Clothing and food is about all that remains; but I recall an article I read recently that was about "Smart Clothing" that would soon find their place to the market place ("smarty pants" may become a reality it seems); so I guess that leaves only food, for now.

I recently visited my grand kids out west and was astounded by all the flashing talking toys they had. My Grandson has a stuffed animal that talks, moves its eyes, and even knows his name for Christ's sake! I worry that this overload of external stimulation, the constant cacophony of light and sound from toys, may be to the detriment of imagination and internal dialogue; frankly I fear a rise in cases of ADD due of this.

Your car has so many computer chips in it that it's almost sentient. Along with all the engine and body management systems there are sensors that tell the driver if someone is in their blind spot, and other sensors that will automatically engage the brakes if there is a hazard to the front or rear.

What happens though when cagers start relying on this technology and stop watching for these hazards themselves? Going further, what happens when one of these technical systems fail and someone is injured or killed? Who then is at fault? Will it be the driver or the car manufacturer?

What will happen when some kid living in his parents basement figures out how to hack into systems like this? Will they engage the brakes just for fun while we are shooting down the expressway?

Our bikes aren't far behind what is found in cars. A friend of mine recently had a problem with his bike; the starter would try and engage while he was riding, and sometimes would not engage when he wanted to start it up. The problem was with the BCM (Body Control Module) and it took almost a year of the bike being in the dealer shop before the problem was diagnosed and fixed.

And what does the future hold?

Back when I had a real job, I worked in technology. I designed one of the earliest personal computers in fact. Mostly I did hardware design (printed circuit boards, wiring harnesses, sheet metal, extrusions, and castings mostly), but eventually my career took into software engineering, programming computer systems, writing code.

With that in my background, I tell you I'm concerned. I'm troubled not only by what an over reliance will do to us as human beings, but also very worried about the potential for misuse of all this technology.

Every night on my ride home from work I pass one of those "smart" highway signs that tell me how long it will take me to get home. Those signs are usually pretty accurate, but have you ever wondered how they work?

Today a lot of cars come equipped from the factory with transponders. People can also add these to their cars so they can zip over bridges and down toll roads and be billed automatically without having to stop and pay at the gate. The "smart" highway signs read your transponder as you pass by, then read it again when you get to a specified destination. The displayed time on the sign is the calculated aggregate of the cars with transponders passing by.

Clever isn't it? But you should know that with this same calculation both the police and your insurance company can tell if you're speeding or not. One day you may get automated speeding tickets or insurance rate increases by way of this clever little system.

Let's speculate and take this a step further. What would happen if someone were to use your cars transponder to locate you through the GPS system? What if that data were to be linked to another database about the speed limits on the roads and highways?

In that case we all would be looking at automated speeding tickets wherever we go (not just on the interstate). There is also the possibility that this information could be used to track the movement of people. So your spouse may know that you're at a bar with your friends when you tell them you're working late, which could be trouble.

Some say that they have nothing to fear from all of this. They have nothing to hide, and all this stuff keeps us safe because it will be used against terrorists and criminals. The problem with this is that the terms "terrorist" and "criminal" can be re-defined at any time. What if the political opponents of those in power were to be considered terrorists? What if some of us who ride motorcycles were suddenly considered criminals?

The real danger lies in the reality behind the obscure computer software term, "Relational Database". Although this sounds like gobbledygook, you should be concerned.

A computer Database can be thought of as a table in a document. A table has headings, and each row contains bits of data under each heading. There are databases on everyone, everywhere. Your bank transactions, your credit card purchases, the driving record (DMV), your medical history (your Doctor), and the stores you visit all maintain databases on you. Also in the news lately there are indications that our internet usage and email activity are being tracked.

A Relational Database is actually just a group of regular databases that are "related" or linked to each other. All that's needed is a unique field or heading, such as your social security or driver's license number.

Any field that's common between the databases will do, and the merged databases will inevitably grow. Your insurance company has access to your driving record, but through the use of a relational link can connect to your medical records, your bank account, and your credit card expenditures. With that data if you order an extra large pepperoni pizza your health insurance rates may go up.

This doesn't sound that harmful yet, but if this data were to find its way into someone that has the power to control your choices either by edict or by penalty, our freedom could be in jeopardy.

Technology can be a good thing. Personally I think that whoever put an electric starter on a motorcycle ought to get some kind of Nobel Prize. Relational Databases can also be useful in finding information. I really like being able to connect to the internet at home and having the ability to look up any odd obscure information. I also enjoy listening to books on CD when I drive a long distance in my truck. However I refuse to even talk on my cell phone while driving because I know that doing so significantly reduces my attentiveness and I become a dangerous driver.

A saying that I wish more people would live by is "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." This not only applies to collecting data on people, but also to the proliferation of personal technology. For example it could be convenient to have a chip planted in your body so you can make purchases easier, but that does not make this a good idea, and it certainly doesn't mean that you should do it.

Just because you CAN use your cell phone while driving doesn't mean you SHOULD.