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 + Open : 1947: Hollister CA.

1947: Hollister CA.

"There isn't a lot written about the motorcycle culture."
      - Katey Sagal

The original "Wild Ones" at the Birthplace of the American Biker.

Most every year since 1925 Hollister California has hosted a Motorcycle Rally over the 4th of July Weekend. Initially this rally was part of the AMA sponsored Gypsy Tour; that name coming from how motorcyclists traveled the long distances by camping along the way.

The rally was cancelled during World War 2, but resumed in 1947. The events of that 1947 rally would come to define the biker life than has existed ever since.

The Hollister 4th of July Rally is known as the "Birth Place of the American Biker" to this day.

1947 was the first Motorcycle Rally in Hollister after the end of World War 2. 4,000 bikers showed up in the town that only had a population of 4,500 at the time. This number was far in excess of what was expected, and so the town and the seven man police force were overwhelmed.

Motorcyclists came to the rally from all around California, and around the country as well. It didn't take long until San Benito Street, the main road through town, was jammed with motorcycles. To prevent accidents, the police set up road blocks at either end of the street.

At that time there were 21 bars in Hollister, and they all welcomed the free spending bikers. As the liquor flowed the crowd became rowdy, but the reports hinting at violence and mayhem were overblown and exaggerated. Witnesses report that:

Through the weekend the bikers staged impromptu drag and relay races as well as burn out contests between the blockades that were set up at either end of San Benito Street. Several Motorcycle Clubs; notably the Boozefighters MC, the Pissed Off Bastards MC, the Top Hatters MC, and the 13 Rebels MC seemed to be at the center of most of the action.

Forty California Highway Patrol Officers arrived on Sunday in a show of force and with threats of tear gas. After that the biker crowd dispersed and return to their homes.

Over the weekend and into the next week, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper ran alarming accounts of a wild and dangerous weekend with titles of "Havoc in Hollister" and "Riots… Cyclists Take Over Town."

In the July 21st issue of Life Magazine an article appeared that was titled "On Fourth of July Weekend 4,000 members of motorcycle club terrorize Hollister California." This article played into the fears of many Americans by sensationalizing the facts, bringing news of the Hollister biker "riot" to a nationwide audience. Appearing in the article was the now famous photograph of a seemingly drunken biker sitting on his Harley with a beer in each hand amid a pile of empty bottles. That photograph was later proved to be staged.

Regardless of the storm of negative national attention, Hollister was ready to have the bikers return. Yes things did get out of hand and there was some property damage, but the boon to the local economy was more than worth it. However, many other communities knowing only what was reported in the media, cancelled motorcycle events. Many were convinced that roving barbaric hordes of rabid motorcyclists were poised to descend and lay waste to their towns.

Soon after the Hollister event the AMA released a statement saying that they had no involvement with the Hollister riot, and "the trouble was caused by the one percent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists, " and that "the other ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists are good, decent, law-abiding citizens."

This press release probably had the opposite effect of what was desired. Many riders liked the idea be being known as "bad boys" and welcomed being in that one percent. In response many bikers started wearing "AOA" (American Outlaw Association) patches as a statement against the AMA. In time the diamond 1%er patch was crafted and is worn proudly my many motorcycle clubs today.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about this though. First, the AMA considered bikers and clubs to be "outlaw" only to indicate they were not sanctioned by the AMA. The term was not intended to indicate that clubs or individuals were criminal, only that they operated outside of AMA sanctions. Second, of the four prominent clubs involved in the Hollister rally events NONE are considered 1% or Outlaw clubs today.

In January of 1951 Harper's Magazine published a story written by Frank Rooney called "The Cyclists' Raid" that was based on the exaggerated media reports of the Hollister Rally. This story was later published in book form as part of "The Best American Short Stories 1952." Hollywood, never being one to miss an opportunity to cash in, based the motion picture "The Wild One" on this story.

"The Wild One" starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin was released in 1954. Brando's character, Johnny Strabler, was based on Shell Thuet President of the 13 Rebels MC, and Lee Marvin's character, "Chino," was based on "Wino Willie" Forkner President of the Boozefighters MC.

Many bikers I have met say that they first learned of what being a biker was all about from watching "The Wild One." The counterculture that was born from this movie became the template by which motorcycle riders and clubs lived, and polite society continues to demonize to this day.

 + Open : 1975: Riding North

1975, Riding North

"I guess I haven't gotten over being lost, a wandering gypsy."
      - Neil Diamond

Jook, Giants, and the Beach

Like most people, I have a lot of acquaintances that I casually call friends. I suppose these days I could call these people "Facebook-Friends", because these are just people I hang out with once in a while; we move in and out of each other's lives and enjoy each other's company but really the friendship is nothing deeper than that.

Beyond these Facebook-Friends I have two true friends who I call my brothers. These are Ben and Eamon, and I count myself a rich man to have them in my life. Recently I heard someone say that the test of a true brother is that this person would travel whatever distance necessary to either bail you out of jail, or help you move. Over the years all three of us have passed that test. In the course of our times together, blood has been shed and spilled, and through that we were all tested and proven true.

I met Ben in 1967 during an especially difficult part of my life. At that time I was living in Foster Care after being released from Juvenile Hall. His was the second Foster Care Home for me. I had run off from the first due to constant verbal abuse, and after that I lived on the street for a time but eventually got picked up by the Police. Being caught turned out for the best because I hit the jackpot when I was sent to live with the parents of Ben and his brother Andy.

Ben was the first person that really ever treated me like I was a person that had value. Coming from my dysfunctional background, I can't say enough about what that meant to me. Ben is Chinese-American, and we still often joke to people that don't know us well by telling them that we're twin brothers. In truth we are Brothers in every way that matters.

Ben and I attended the same college and we both majored in Industrial Design. After college we went to work for competing companies. Ben went to work at GTE designing communication towers, while I went to work for Farinon Electric designing the communication system installed along the Alaskan Oil Pipeline.

The summer of 1975 was our first year out of college, and so we decided to celebrate with a long ride together. Those going would be Ben and his brother Andy, Sasquatch, and myself.

Ben is among the calmest people I've ever met. I swear you could stuff dynamite up his butt and set it off, and the most you'd get in a response would be something like "I wish you hadn't done that." Ben is also a brilliant mechanic. It was with his help that my 650 BSA was transformed into a beautiful black and chrome bobber that was surprisingly reliable. Ben himself rode a bright yellow Panhead Duo-Glide he had transformed into a bobber.

Andy is the exact opposite of his brother. Every time I've been around Andy, he's been ticked off about something. One time Ben said that his brother would rather hit someone than to speak to them, and in my experience with Andy, that's an accurate statement. Andy rode a beautiful dark blue 850 Norton Commando.

Both Ben and Andy are tall and lanky but surprisingly strong and quick. Neither is one that anyone should underestimate or mess with.

Sasquatch has appeared here in a previous story about my friend Casper and a Bee. For any that missed that tale, I'll say that Sasquatch is as big and hairy as his nick name implies. He has a booming voice and a larger than life personality. One odd thing about Sasquatch is that he always carried a dead cat in the right saddle bag of his Shovelhead FLH. The only reason I can give for this is what Sasquatch told me, which is the spirit of the dead cat kept his FLH running reliably.

It was Sasquatch that picked our destination. You see, we were four young guys with motorcycles that wanted to take a two week long ride. We had no specific destination or even direction. Sasquatch said; "To the south is LA and Mexico, and it's hot down there this time of year. East is Nevada, so that's either Reno or Las Vegas, and none of us have enough money to go there. But north is Canada, and I have an Uncle that lives up that way and so I've been there and it's nice, so why don't we go up there?"

That was all it took. We were heading north to Canada, and that was good enough for us. It was all about the ride anyway, where we ended up really didn't matter much.

On the day we were set to leave we all met at Ben and Andy's parents' house. I had stuffed an extra pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, sox, and underwear into a duffle bag; that along with a sleeping bag and an old canvas tarp I bungeed to the fender behind my seat. All that, along with my leather jacket, gloves, and boots and I was all set. Sasquatch had packed in similar Spartan style.

Andy though got it into his mind that we needed to bring a tent. This seemed reasonable because Sasquatch told us that it sometimes rains up in Canada during the summer. So Andy struggled trying to figure a way to bungee this huge four person canvas tent somewhere on his bike. Some of the configurations were pretty darned comical, but there was nothing we could do to strap that baby to any of our bikes without it either turning into a parachute at speed or falling off the bike. Finally Ben saw the reasoning behind how Sasquatch and I packed and suggested that he and his brother bring an old tarpaulin along that they could strap between their bikes to get out of the rain if necessary.

With that finally settled, I thought we were going to get on the road at last. Instead Ben and Andy steered us back inside the house, where their parents wanted us to eat a sandwich before we left.

Now I have to put in here that when it comes to traveling, I'm impatient to leave and reluctant to return. My father said that we were descended from Irish Gypsies, and were therefore born to be constantly on the move. So I was impatient, and the last thing I wanted was a sandwich. To be polite to these nice people who had once been my Foster Parents, I ate my sandwich and sipped my coke, but remained anxious to leave.

Once the sandwiches were consumed, Ben suggested that we should get on the road. It was already afternoon by that time, and I had already been anxiously waiting to go for several hours, and so with this suggestion I practically leaped off the couch and ran for the door, but just as I was turning the door knob I noticed that no one was following me.

Ben's mother had come out of the kitchen with a huge pot of Chinese rice porridge, called "jook." She was urging us to take this pot of porridge with us so we would have something to eat tonight. By nature Ben and Andy's mother is one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met. She was obviously concerned about her two son's going off on their own, but honestly I had to stifle a laugh because I had this image flash before my mind's eye of all of us riding along, with a big metal pot of porridge strapped to the back of Andy's Commando.

I walked back into their living room to wait until this issue was resolved. Once the pot of jook was ruled out, she wanted to pack us all lunches. Once that was worked out she worried that we didn't have enough warm clothes. I have to admit I must have jumped up and headed to the door four of five times before we finally got out of there.

I also have to say that Ben and Andy's mother is wonderful to be so concerned about their welfare. I doubt my own mother even noticed that I had packed and left the house. I envy people who have parents like this, they may feel pestered and perhaps over protected, but I feel they probably don't realize how very lucky they are.

So with lunches packed in neat little paper bags that were stuffed into our duffle bags, we were finally on our way.

We took the Bayshore Freeway (US 101) north through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge. The cool air of San Francisco Bay warmed quickly after we got across the bridge and headed north toward the small city of Santa Rosa. None of our bikes had the range that touring bikes do these days, and so we stopped two or three times as we continued to make our way north.

It was already getting dark when we stopped in the town of Garberville for gas, and so we made our minds up to look for a place to camp for the night. Leaving Garberville behind us, we turned off the Redwood Highway onto CA SR 254, which is called the Avenue of the Giants, and quickly found an inconspicuous place to pull off for the night.

We parked our bikes well off the road behind a cluster of giant Redwood trees. Not wanting to be seen by any Park Rangers or passing Police, we opted to not make a fire. We fastened the tarps we brought along to our bikes and created makeshift tents by propping up the other end of the tarp with pieces of wood we found laying about on the forest floor. After that we sat around for awhile eating the lunches that Ben and Andy's mother provided and drinking a few warm beers. As the evening air cooled we all eventually crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.

The next morning found us damp and cold, but surrounded by the incredible beauty of the Redwood forest that had been invisible in the dark of the evening before. We took our time getting ready and packing up our sleeping bags and tarps, waiting for the day to warm a bit before we started out.

Some people just have the knack for kick starting a motorcycle, but I am not one of them. Once the bike has been started and warm the process goes easily, even for me. On cold and damp mornings however, it takes at least two or three cussing sessions to get my bike started.

The first motorcycle I ever rode was a Matchless G12 that I inherited from my father while he was away. That bike was the essence of pure evil and possessed by the Devil himself. Somehow it could sense exactly when my knee was the most vulnerable, and would willfully choose that moment to kick back and put me in a world of pain.

My BSA however was only possessed by a mere Demon. She rarely kicked back, but was frequently stubborn about starting. I would kick and kick and kick that girl over and get nothing but that "thump-thump" sound of the engine turning over. Eventually my own stubbornness would win out and she would grudgingly come to life, running rough at first but eventually evening out and running smooth.

Once all of our bikes were started, we pulled out and continued our ride north on the Avenue of the Giants. This road, I feel is a must ride for anyone who enjoys riding a motorcycle. The air under the giant Redwoods, some of which are over a thousand years old and 300 feet tall, is cool even on the hottest of days. Sunlight cascades through the branches forming brilliant columns of golden light that creates a cathedral like atmosphere that is difficult to describe. It's a breath taking ride and I recommend it highly.

We rode the rest of the 30 mile Avenue of the Giants, and then merged back on to the Redwood Highway, now bound of Eureka California. Eventually the highway took us out of the Redwoods and onto the rolling coastal hills. The Pacific Ocean there was a deep, almost indigo blue, and the power of the surf thundered against the sandstone bluffs.

Eureka is a nice little town with many old Victorian homes. It's also the home of a popular motorcycle rally called the "Redwood Run" that takes place in early June. It's a good time with camping and a lot of alcohol infused fun.

We stopped at a bar downtown and had a nice burger and a couple of beers each, before heading on toward the Oregon border.

North of Eureka the ride took us right along the edge of the beach, winding around rivers as they rushed out of the hills to join the Pacific Ocean, and along the 100 foot bluffs that over look the coast. We stopped here and there along the way, not rushing but taking enough time to enjoy the journey. Just outside of Lincoln Oregon we stopped for the night.

On that section of coast we found gigantic heaps of driftwood all along the beach that had come in with the surf. This wood is weathered and dry, and at some time in the past, other travelers had built a series of little shelters right out on the beach made entirely from drift wood. We rode our bikes right out on the beach and parked just outside an empty shelter.

A word to the wise here, don't ever think your kick stand will support your bike if you park it on sand. I know that seems obvious, but we were young and dumb so it wasn't obvious at all. It took Ben's bike toppling over before we figured it out. We each found a flat piece of driftwood to put under our bike and after that we were fine.

We built a fire on the beach and talked about our day, and what we hoped to see tomorrow. The fire warmed the inside of our shelter, and we spread our sleeping bags inside and that night we slept like kings listening to the rhythmic roar and hiss of the waves.

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Sambos, spiders, and the garden

We woke to a cold, wet, and gray dawn. The fire of the night before had gone out, and now the ashes and charcoal remains were covered with the cold morning's dew. Our driftwood shelter had leaked during the pre-dawn hours, not a lot but just enough to dampen the sand upon which our sleeping bags lay.

No one wanted to move that morning. We groaned like old men and complained that sand had somehow found its way into our bones overnight. The cold and damp permeated everything, including our sleeping bags.

My sleeping bag was an old cloth thing I'd picked up years ago, and so the wet morning had started to find its way inside. Ben and Andy on the other hand had nice new nylon bags filled with down, and so they were still asleep and dry. Sasquatch had the worst of it because as it turned out he had only brought along a couple of old blankets to wrap himself in at night.

The sky was gray and fog hung low over the beach; through the mist the hard white light of morning fell down upon us. Everywhere and everything seemed wet and cold. "Those two going to be up soon?" Sasquatch asked regarding Ben and Andy as we sat outside our driftwood hut, wrapped and shivering in our leather jackets.

"Probably," I answered. "Ben's an early riser. He's always been that way; the latest I've seen him get up is 6am."

Just then Ben's head popped out of the shelter, with his thick Chinese hair all askew he looked around and exclaimed, "Damn guys, this is shit weather! Good thing we covered our bikes last night."

Andy crawled out through the shelter's narrow opening then stood and stretched his back. "What a night man," he groaned. "Should we start the fire?"

"Hell no," Sasquatch replied. "Let's get rolling, then find a warm place to eat. I'm wanting some greasy eggs and bacon!"

We rolled up our sleeping bags and tied them to our bikes. Thankfully we had covered our bikes with tarps the night before, because a wet motorcycle seat on a cold morning can be a special kind of hell After all our belongs were rolled up and lashed down we pushed our bikes through the sand until we found a hard flat spot where it would be easier to start them up.

The God of Motorcycles smiled down on me that morning, and so my old BSA started right up after no more than three or four kicks. Andy's Norton started up just as easily, and so we both sat on our idling bikes while Ben tickled his carburetor and kicked, then tickled and kicked some more. I remember Andy teasing his brother saying, "British Iron rules man."

Sasquatch sat on his bike silently and watched Ben struggle to get his bike started. After awhile he chuckled then said, "Hey Ben, check this out." He pushed the start button on his bike and it started right up. Sasquatch roared with laughter and exclaimed, "Hail to the cat!"

At this point we all knew more about the dead cat Sasquatch kept in his saddlebag. As it turns out he kept things stashed under the cat carcass that he wanted to keep hidden. This could be anything from money, to important papers, to things he didn't want the police to find.

That previous night he told us that cops had pulled him over more than a few times, but they had never found his stash. If a police dog alerted to something in his saddlebag he would open it willingly and show the cop the dead cat. The cat was never touched, and his stash was never found.

Note: I don't want anyone reading this to put a dead cat in their saddlebag and keep anything illegal under it. This is probably not a good idea since it's been about 35 years, and the police are likely wise to this ploy by now. It might still work on some people though, but I personally wouldn't count on it.

With another kick or two Ben's bike roared to life and we were soon on our way. Continuing north on the Oregon Coast Highway we rode around the bay and marshlands south of Lincoln City, then stopped in town for breakfast. I remember we stopped at a "Sambo's" restaurant.

It's hard to imagine these days, but if you were riding motorcycles back in the 60's or 70's you were often looked down upon when you ate at restaurants or tried to get a motel room. We were often denied service at restaurants, and coincidentally many motels were completely booked up whenever we arrived. Sambo's though was one of the restaurant chains where we could go and be treated like normal people.

We ordered eggs and pancakes with ham, bacon, and toast. A genuine biker's breakfast that would provide strength for the day's ride ahead. We washed down our meal with cup after cup of strong hot coffee. After a night spent sleeping in a leaky wooden shelter on a cold beach, the meal felt like a feast.

Leaving Sambo's behind us, we continued our journey north on US-101. The highway wove its way inland for awhile but eventually found its way back out to the sea. The day was warming and soon we all had removed our leather jackets and added them to the heap of items strapped to the back of our bikes.

If possible, it's always a good idea to bind your items behind your seat in such a way that you can lean back against them. This removes some stress from your back and shoulders and just makes the ride more comfortable.

We stopped frequently throughout the day. Ben took pictures here and there, but other than gas and bathroom breaks we mostly stopped so that we could pause, rest, and take in the scenery.

The highway hugged the coast and we rode just above the beach. The day was clear and warm, the sky the palest blue, and the ocean a deep indigo. The air felt wonderful and smelled of the sea. Eventually we crossed the draw bridge into Astoria, then across the great green trellised bridge spanning the Columbia River into Washington State.

Both bridges were long straight two lane affairs with views that make you wish you had the room to stop and take it all in. But there was no room to pull over, and so we continued north. We were bound for Olympic National Park where we had decided to spend the night. The next day we would take the Ferry from Port Angeles over to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

In the late afternoon we arrived at the park and booked our campsite at the gate. Upon arriving I was expecting the usual Alpine Forests that I am accustomed to, but was surprised to find that Olympic National Park is host to a rain forest. This jungle was unlike anything I have ever seen, and I was continually astounded by the scenery as I rode through the park.

Ferns and moss covered everything, including most of the trees. There were bugs pretty much everywhere, and where there are bugs there are critters to eat them. I have never seen so much life in my life.

Our campsite was the usual affair consisting of only a clear area and a place to have a fire. Sasquatch had visited the park before and so he wasn't as interested in our surroundings as the rest of us were. So he went to the local store and got us some wood for a fire while Andy, Ben, and I went for a walk and a look-around.

We followed a dirt path out of our camping area that led down a narrow valley alive with plant growth. Light filtered down to us through a thick leafy canopy that tinted the world around us a vibrant green. As I looked out over this incredible sight I had one of those moments; a moment when you become so captivated by the beauty you see in front of you that common sense takes a vacation. I stepped off the path and walked down into the valley.

I heard Ben's voice behind me cry out, "Hey, where're you going?"

I kept walking. The floor of the forest was carpeted with thick vegetation, under which lay heavy wet soil. The ground gave under my feet; it was like walking on a wet sponge. I was drawn to a narrow stream at the center of the valley that wound its way down the hill. As I walked toward it I passed between two trees that were perhaps six to eight feet apart, and I walked into a huge spider web that spanned the distance between the trees.

Instantly I felt the web tangle and stretch over my upper body, and I clawed at my face trying to get it off. I felt what I thought were a thousand little legs running all over my body, over my face and arms and down my back. Within moments other hands than mine joined in clawing at the web and beat down my back and on my arms.

"Shit," Andy said finally. "That was the biggest spider web I ever saw, and you walked right into it!"

"I didn't see it," I replied. "What the hell was on me?"

"I don't know man," Ben said. "All I saw was little black shapes running down your back. Could have been little baby spiders."

"I hope Mama wasn't around. Let's get back to camp," I said, and together we made our way back to the path and then returned to our campsite.

I was feeling a little lethargic and was having some difficulty breathing by the time we arrived back at camp. Everything seemed like a dream, and a great hammering headache came on me like a storm. I sat on an old log that was at the edge of our camp and leaned forward placing my elbows on my knees. Beyond my headache and a profound sense of disconnectedness I felt extremely weak; it was as if all the energy had been drained from my body. Doing anything just seemed to take too much energy. It took all my will and concentration to simply keep breathing.

Ben had taken my sleeping bag off my bike and laid it out on the ground. "Here man," he said. "You look like shit. You'd better lay down for awhile."

"Thanks," I said vaguely. I kind of fell forward and crawled onto the top of my sleeping bag. That's the last thing I remember until I awoke the next morning.

I smelled smoke and opened my eyes. The gray and dismal light of morning crashed hard into my eyes. The pain in my head was beyond anything I had ever experienced. It seemed there was so much pressure inside my head that my eyes were about to explode. My head felt as if it were pulsing with the beat of my heart. It was like the hangover from hell.

I swore as I slowly sat up and looked around. Sasquatch, Andy, and Ben were sitting over by the fire staring at me. "You ok?" Ben finally asked.

"Yeah I'm fine," I replied. "A bitch of a hangover though, and I feel kinda spacy."

"We need to get you to a doctor," Ben said decisively, but he shook his head in negation as he anticipated my answer.

"No way man, Doctors make you sick," I said while slowly getting to my feet. My boots were still on and so it seemed that I had slept on top of my sleeping bag all night. At sometime during the night Sasquatch had spread one of his blankets over me.

"What I need is breakfast and some aspirin," I told them. With that we packed up and rode out of the park and headed down to Port Angeles.

We found a small diner down by the harbor, then lined up our bikes outside and went in to eat. It was a wooden clapboard building that had been beat to shit over the years by countless storms coming off the sea.

Our breakfasts were hearty and good. I doubt that grease fits into the healthy food pyramid that is preached these days, but for restoring life after spider bites it can't be beat. My headache remained and would continue non stop for the next few days, but otherwise I felt reasonably well.

After eating we rode down to the ferry building to get our ride across the channel to Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria. Over breakfast Sasquatch had informed us that his Uncle lived just north of Victoria in the town of Nanaimo, and we could spend the night with him there if we wanted to.

Once the ferry arrived, anyone waiting on a motorcycle or a bicycle was directed to enter the ferry first. This was done so that the two and four wheel traffic wouldn't mix and cause problems when we exited the ferry in Victoria. We rode onto the ferry over the slick metal ramps and up to the front of the boat. We then parked and secured our bikes so they would not fall over if the ship swayed too much, then walked upstairs to the observation deck.

After a short wait the ferry shuttered as its motors thundered to life. We soon pulled away from the dock and started our crossing to Canada. The wind was blowing in from the Pacific, and it smelled and felt incredibly crisp and clean. It seemed to contain more oxygen, in that it rejuvenated my mind and blew away much of my lingering lethargy. For my headache it did nothing though, but otherwise I was feeling better before long.

As we crossed the straight between Port Angeles and Victoria, I briefly thought of my spider bites and then the river Styx and Charon the ferryman from mythology. The crisp and clean ocean air washed these dark thoughts from my mind, and ahead I saw only bright possibilities in the adventure that lay before us.

The sun was bright and the air remained clear and sharp when we arrived in Victoria; the city of flowers. There were baskets of flowers hanging from the old fashioned street lamps in the downtown area next to the ferry docks. Everything seemed so extraordinarily bright and colorful compared to the dour gray town we left behind us in Washington. I thought briefly of the Wizard of Oz; the moment when Dorothy entered Oz leaving the sepia tones of Kansas behind her and awoke in a world filled with brilliant color. Riding out of the ferry that morning was like that.

Andy nearly dumped his bike as he came down off the slippery metal ramp. He recovered and we were all fine, then Sasquatch moved to the front of our pack took the lead. We rode through the town wide eyed with wonder, as the locals looked at us with similar expressions. Everyone we saw was bright and beautiful, and here we were dirty and ragged after spending days on the road. They stared at us as if we were wild beasts that had just been released into their midst.

Sasquatch led us as we dodged the tour busses and eventually ended up on the back roads of the city. Eventually we all roared down a narrow alleyway and parked at the rear of a local bar. Into the dark and peaceful interior Sasquatch bellowed, "Bob-bie!"

A burley man appeared from behind the bar, surprised and obviously happy, he yelled "Sasquatch! It's been ages since your huge fucken shadow has darkened my floor!" They hugged each other and slapped each other on the back in the usual greeting of old friends and bikers. Sasquatch pulled away and held Bobbie at arms length and said, "I've brought friends and we all need beer!"

Sasquatch believed that what I needed for my headache was just the proper mixture of whiskey and beer. I didn't agree and tried to argue my point, but against his insufferable personality I made no headway. In the end I drank far more than I should have, and if anything my headache got worse.

After what seemed like several hours, we left the bar with Sasquatch intent on playing tour guide. He led us north to an unlikely place to take a group of drunk, tired, and unwashed bikers, Butchart Botanical Gardens.

The Gardens were created in an old rock quarry, and it's really quite beautiful. If you're ever NOT half drunk, filthy, and ragged from being on the road for days, I recommend it. As it was we attracted stares of distain and disbelief everywhere we went.

After awhile I got tired of walking around and found a bench in the sun to lie down on and went to sleep. The heat felt great, and did for me all that the alcohol had promised.

Later in the day we left the Gardens and rode further north to the town of Nanaimo. There we met Sasquatch's Uncle, who looked like an older and slightly smaller version of him. We stayed with his Uncle that night, camping out in his living room. After days on the road, a hot shower, a shave, and a good night's sleep on a couch felt as if we were living the high life in the lap of luxury.

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Bird shit, the Bear, and the western turn

The four of us, Ben, Andy, Sasquatch, and myself spent several days at Sasquatch's Uncle's house. I can't tell you exactly how many days we were there as they all have sort of blended into an alcohol created fog.

We rode everywhere we could and explored as much of the island as possible. Vancouver Island is a wonder that must be seen by motorcycle to be appreciated. It rains a lot there and everything is green as a result. Fortunately for us, we only had to ride through a few showers and the usual fog of morning that is common near the coast.

One sunny and pleasant day we were riding up north on the island and had stopped in for gas at a strip mall along the way. Andy had pulled his Norton into the parking lot and was leaning against his bike waiting for the rest of us to finish fueling up. He seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the sun by leaning back taking it all in.

Seagulls are prevalent in coastal areas such as Vancouver Island as we all know. At that moment one of the birds flying above must have thought that Andy's forehead looked like a good target, and unleashed a huge ball of bluish-white bird shit. I swear, the crap that hit Andy in the forehead must have been the side of a baseball. The bird shit hit him hard enough that he staggered and the spatter covered his hair, face, most of his bike, and several square feet of tarmac.

Fortunately Andy's eyes and mouth were closed when the incoming volley arrived. His head jerked forward and he staggered under the impact, and his hands instinctually flew up to cover his face as he made an inarticulate grunt of surprise and disgust.

Ben immediately grabbed his canteen which was hung from the side of his bike. He ran to where Andy stood, with streams of bird shit flowing down his face and upper body, and he poured the entire contents of the canteen over his brother's head. Meanwhile Sasquatch and I were laughing so hard that we struggled to keep standing.

With his face now somewhat clean Andy quickly looked around for some place to clean himself up. He saw that behind the strip may an ocean inlet lapped lazily against a rocky beach, and he took off running for it. As we watched he quickly ran over the boulders at the shore and leaped, making a long shallow dive into the quietly rippling water, fully dressed, leathers and all. This of course made everything even funnier.

Ben looked at us and shook his head disapprovingly, although I could tell he was holding back his own laughter. He had pushed his brother's bike back into the gas station and was washing it down with a hose intended to top off car radiators.

When Andy returned, he threw his leg over his bike, kicked it over, and then looked at Sasquatch and I who were still grinning and said, "You guys are such ASSHOLES." He then gunned his engine and took off, leaving the rest of us to catch up.

We remained on Vancouver Island another day or so. In our time there we hit every dive bar and strip joint along our way, and perhaps not surprisingly Sasquatch was well known in every one of them. I was becoming restless though and ached to get on the road again, and soon the rest of our group agreed. We decided to take the Ferry from Nanaimo to the city of Vancouver and there pick up the Trans-Canadian Highway 1.

We made the crossing without incident, and then struck out to the northeast on Highway 1. The towering mountains and deep valleys that play host to wide fast flowing rivers we rode around and through were breathtaking. However, after the first day of riding, rain became an issue. This was not a light drizzle or even thunderstorms that we could hunker down and wait until it passed. Instead this was a constant heavy rain that, along with the cooler temperatures we found as we headed east, made our ride a borderline misery.

One afternoon we pulled off the road in a wide open area under some trees next to a fast moving river colored a teal blue by glacial runoff. We had purchased sandwiches at a deli some miles past, and had only now found a good place to stop and eat our lunch.

The rain had eased a bit, but after days of constant rain and cold, my mood had darkened. I was in no hurry to get back on the road; all I wanted to do was to sit some place peaceful, warm, and somewhat dry and enjoy my lunch in peace. I was in a sour mood and needed some space, and so I sat away from the rest.

As the light rain percolated through the trees above me, I sat leaning against a tree as I ate my sandwich and sipped a cheap (but good) Canadian beer. I had never before seen a river colored by glacial run off and was transfixed as it flowed past me. As I sat there I heard an engine start up, and then another. At first the sound and its meaning didn't really penetrate my soggy mind, but eventually I looked around to see what was going on.

There I saw that both Andy and Ben had dropped their sandwiches and had moved away to start their bikes. As I watched Sasquatch quickly walked, moving as lightly as his bulky frame would allow toward where his Panhead was parked. Ben saw me and waved his arms and pointed at the Black Bear that was moving toward where they had all dropped their sandwiches.

The bear was less than 10 feet from me, it lumbered between where I sat and where my bike was parked to where the discarded sandwiches lay in the dirt. I froze and tried to figure out what to do. Sasquatch and Andy waved and took off, leaving me to contend with the bear. Ben stayed, sitting on his running bike at the edge of the road; I suppose he was waiting to see what would happen.

I slowly stood up, and as I did so the Bear noticed me. It gave me a look like a petulant teen looking at an insect. It was the look of someone wondering if squashing a bug would be worth the trouble. I looked at Ben and in a low even voice I asked, "Ben, do you think you could start my bike?" Ben shook his head in negation, "You have the key," he said in barely above a whisper.

I dropped the remains of my sandwich on the ground and the bear looked up from his snacking. As I edged to the left to go around him he looked at me again as if considering if I was worth the trouble to run down. After a moment he looked back at the sandwich he had been poking at and began eating again.

I waved at Ben, whispering that he should go ahead and leave, and that I would catch up. With that Ben slowly edged his bike closer to the edge of road and waited.

At the time I thought that if the bear decided to come after me that I would run and jump on the back of Ben's bike and we would be out of there. I have since learned that in short stretches bears can manage 45 miles per hour and can run down a deer if they choose to. Thankfully I did not know this at the time.

Giving the bear a wide berth, I slowly made my way to my bike. The bear was now less than five feet away. "Come on baby," I whispered as I kicked her over for the first time. She didn't start. The bear looked lazily over at me. "Oh please, come on baby," I said again, and kicked the starter a second time. She started up, but she back fired. This startled the bear and scared the hell out of me. I quickly dropped the bike into first and got the hell out of there.

Ben and I rode down to the next clearing beside the road where we found Andy and Sasquatch waiting. Once there and safe I stopped my bike and put it in neutral, then leaned forward, laying my head on my tank and breathed a long sigh of relief. "Damn," I said. "I NEVER want to be that close to a bear ever again."

"Good thing you smell bad," Sasquatch said with a loud laugh. Leave it to Sasquatch to find humor in my almost getting eaten by a bear. I saw that Andy was laughing as well and thought that this evened the score between us over me laughing when he got hit with the bird shit.

That night while sitting around our campground fire we all came to the conclusion that we were running out of vacation days. Just four days of freedom were left to us.

There comes a time in every adventure that you reach a point where you have to turn back and go home. For me this is a sad time because the Gypsy in me just wants to keep going. There is a full world out there waiting to be experienced. I prefer the uncertainty of adventure over the security of places well known.

The next morning instead of turning east to continue our adventure and explore roads unknown, we turned west seeking an easy and quick way home. As the other three pulled out and rode west, I paused a moment and looked longingly to the east. The draw to leave my friends to the safety of their homes and seek out the unknown on my own was strong, but with a sigh I turned my bike west and followed them.

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The World's Fair, Haystack Calhoun, and the way home

Tired and filthy from days on the road, we crossed the border into the United States and followed US 395 South toward the city of Spokane WA. We had heard that Spokane was hosting the World's Fair that year and that seemed like a good thing to see on our way back home.

By the time we found our way to Spokane we had left the rainy, cold weather behind and had found ourselves in the opposite extreme of hot and dry weather. The heat became oppressive, and riding through endless fields of wheat felt like riding through a blast furnace.

The theme for the Fair was The Environment, and so predictably the USA exhibit was this huge stack of garbage with a giant movie screen in the middle. This was the first really huge movie screen I'd ever seen; in 80 foot movie screens had not made it to the local theaters yet. The first four rows of seats were roped off because, according to one of the ushers, people watching the movie kept falling out of their chairs.

I don't remember much about the movie. All I can recall is that there was an American Indian in it, and there were a lot of scenes shot from a helicopter flying over the desert and Grand Canyon. I never saw anyone fall out of their chairs, but if I had the whole experience would have been a lot more interesting.

For most of the day we wandered around and kept visiting the Beer Garden. This probably has a lot to do with my lack of memory about the fair. That said though, the entire fair was pretty unremarkable. I remember seeing ads for the Fair on the television before we left on vacation. In those ads there was one scene where people in a gondola rode right across in front of a huge waterfall. We looked around and found that ride, but in the summer the falls had all but dried up, so we rode in a gondola by a rocky cliff that had a few dribbles of water running over it.

The Beer Garden was a lot more fun.

That night we camped at the edge of Spokane well off the main highway. The air smelled of wheat and dry grasses, a thick and musty sort of smell. That night we decided to work our way back to the west and pick up Interstate 5 because this would be the quickest way home and we were running out of vacation days.

The next morning found me up before sunrise. I packed up my bike and then sat at the edge of the wheat field breathing that rich fragrance and watching the Sun come up. The sky glowed like red hot coals that morning, and I happened to think of a phrase my father often repeated. "Red skies at morning, Sailor take warning" that was the first part of the rhyme. There seemed to be nothing to take warning about. The world was still and quiet. In those early hours a hush comes over the world as light slowly falls back to earth through an ever brightening sky. I felt completely at peace.

Yesterday while at the World's Fair, Andy had drank quite a bit of wine while the rest of us were drinking beer. As a result he had a miserable morning hang over. He was moving slow and complaining a lot.

Some of the worst hangovers I've ever had have been the result of drinking too much cheap wine. I don't drink wine anymore because I associate it with puking and headaches that last for days. Actually I don't drink alcohol much at all anymore. It seems that sometimes wisdom only seems to come with age.

It took us awhile to get on the road that morning. This was ok with me because I liked where I was, and so I was content to just sit at the side of the road and watch my friends slowly pack their gear on their bikes. Eventually we did leave though, and we made our way west over a series of back country roads that led us through downtown no-where-at-all.

At one point Sasquatch pulled up next to me and shouted that this must be where "John Birch Society" types come from. I didn't know what he was talking about, so he said, "You know, Ranchers, Cowboys, and Rednecks." I didn't see anything to be concerned about. Sure we all wore our hair long back then, but I saw nothing to be worried about.

At the front of our group, Andy and Sasquatch were talking a lot as they rode. I pulled up next to Ben and asked him what he thought that was about. Ben said, "Andy's kinda freaked out because he doesn't think anyone here has ever seen a Chinese guy before."

"So what?" I asked. "You were the first Chinese guy I ever saw." Ben knew that I grew up in what many would consider a Redneck town; where the two major pastimes in town were drinking and fighting. "Is he worried someone will ask him if he knows Kung Fu?"

Ben just laughed and shrugged. Ben and Andy were actually both Kung Fu experts. One of the many things I shared with Ben was that we both had trained for most of our lives in the Martial Arts. My art was (and is) Chinese Kenpo Karate. Even though our arts were slightly different they had a similar origin, and so we were all considered to be in the same Family or Society; the Black Dragon Society.

Some time later we found a wide spot in the road with a bar, and since it was hot out we went in for a cold one. The bar was an old wood building that had weathered many summers that had turned all the boards a sort of grayish tan. Everything looked dried out and withered.

Inside it was cool and dark enough that it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust. There were just a couple of guys at a back table and one person behind the bar. I stepped up and with a smile ordered beers for all of us, and the bar tender gladly opened the tap for us. The four of us found an empty table and sat back to enjoy our cold beers.

The bar felt hospitable and friendly. The floor boards were worn by untold numbers of boot treads over a long history, and the floors creaked when you walked on them. The tables were round; the type you can comfortably pull four chairs up to and enjoy each others company.

The guys at the back table eventually left, and we found ourselves alone in the bar. When I went to the bar to fetch another round the bar tender advised that we consider leaving. "Why?" I asked.

"Those guys that were in the corner," he said nodding toward the table they had occupied. "They cause a lot of trouble, and there ain't nothing to do around here but cause trouble. Just saying, you should watch yourself."

I smiled at the bar tender and assured him that we were all friendly guys that didn't want any trouble with anyone. I also said that we were just passing through and would be leaving as soon as we finished this round of beers.

I brought our second round of beers back to our table and mentioned what the bar tender had told me. Sasquatch wanted to leave right away. As big as Sasquatch was he was terrified of physical conflict. He used to say that if was attacked that he would scream until someone with a gun would come along and shoot the other guy.

Andy on the other hand was excited. Even with his hang over, Andy remained one of those people that just lives to knock people out. "Alright!" he said and cracked his knuckles.

On the other side of the table Ben and I sat and shook our heads. "Maybe Sasquatch is right," I said. Ben agreed and suggested that we all drink up and move on, but just as we were about to stand up, that option was eliminated.

Four big guys walked into the bar, two of them were the ones that were at the table in back when we arrived. A fifth guy that was roughly the size of the state of Texas stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips. He had long blond hair and wore only a pair of overalls and shit kicking boots. Andy looked these guys over, then turned back to me and said with a wide smile, "The one by the door is yours!"

"Crap," I replied.

Sasquatch got up quickly and went to the bar to ask if there was a back way out. Apparently there was because I lost track of him and didn't see him until we all got back outside.

Andy stood up and faced the group and again with a wild wide grin said, "Howdy Partners!"

"Crap," I said. I knew it was on. Andy had done this to us before many times, and he was doing it again. Most of the time Andy was a lot of fun to be around, but sometimes he could be just plain annoying.

Ben and Andy took the attention of the four guys and I sighed and faced Texas. Actually when I got a better look at him, this guy reminded me of an old WWF style Wrestler that was known as "Haystack Calhoun."

"You ever heard of Haystack Calhoun?" I asked what seemed like an approaching avalanche. He said nothing and picked up a chair and threw it at me.

What follows is a little lesson in Martial Arts. Big people are hard to fight. Some people think that a big person will be slow, but in reality they're not. A 300 pound person is not significantly slower than someone half their weight. Also, big people are hard to fight because it's really difficult to actually hurt them due to their mass. When a large mass is impacted by a small mass, even one that's moving with a lot of power and speed the impact won't have much effect. In short, if you're going to place a bet on a fight, bet on the big guy.

So the strategy when fighting a person built like Haystack Calhoun is to tire them out. Moving a such a large mass takes a lot of energy, so if you can trip them or do anything to knock them down they will quickly tire, and you will have a chance at getting away. Also, it's a good strategy to be accurate with where and how you hit them. Don't strike where they have a lot of padding; instead go for the temple, eyes, nose, and throat. Strike at the elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles to cause pain or to upset their balance, and whatever you do, don't let get ahold of you or let yourself get hit with their full force because that will knock you into next week and beyond.

Back in the bar I watched as Haystack approached; he seemed like an avalanche of humanity. At the time I had no idea that human beings came in such a large size.

Haystack threw a chair at me, and I dodged to the right keeping the table between us. He then pushed the table toward me, and again I dodged to the right but the table was no longer between us. He lunged in what seemed like an attempt to grab me, and I kicked a chair into his legs. The chair struck his knees and he went down.

Haystack was quickly on his feet again, showing me that he was a lot more nimble than I thought he was. As he stepped forward and threw a huge punch that was his namesake (a Haymaker.. get it?) with a fist the size of a basketball, I moved contrary to what most people would do by stepping into his punch. I hit his right shoulder, stopping his punch before it gained any power then swept his right foot, and Haystack went down again.

When he got back up, I leaped to a chair then jumped at him throwing my hardest punch, using all my strength and body weight. I hit him right in the temple. This was a punch I'd knocked people out with before, but Haystack just staggered and fell to a sitting position on the floor, then he shook his head and smiled.

"Crap," I said.

I kept at Haystack, tripping him and throwing things in his way, and I lost count of how many times Haystack fell down, but every time it took him longer to get back up. By this time three of the four guys left to Ben and Andy were laid out on the floor and the fourth was laying face down on the bar, and Andy was yelling at me from the door to hurry up so we could all leave.

I tripped Haystack one more time and sprinted for the door. Outside Sasquatch, Andy, and Ben waited, sitting astride their rumbling motorcycles. I leapt like the Lone Ranger and landed on my BSA and kicked her over. Thankfully she started on the first kick, and we all flew out of there.

I kept looking back, expecting to see the cars and trucks that were parked in front of the bar chasing us. In a short while Ben pulled up next to me and yelled that while we were inside the bar, Sasquatch had slashed the tires of every car and truck parked outside. Regardless of this we all rolled on hard into the afternoon and put some serious miles between us and that old dusty bar.

Late in the afternoon we hit Interstate 5 and headed south. That night we camped somewhere south of Eugene on a lonesome side road off the Interstate. It was a very warm night and so we did not make a fire and just rolled our sleeping bags out on the ground. We were close enough to the Interstate that the light and sound of passing traffic carried to us. The sky above seemed dusty and too full of light from civilization. Still though a few stars hung there, and I fell asleep watching them creep across the sky.

The next day we continued south on I-5, then at Sacramento picked up I-80 and followed it into the San Francisco Bay Area. We crossed onto the Peninsula via the Oakland Bay Bridge and ran south on US-101.

Sasquatch left us at Burlingame with a wave. That was the last time I saw him. Within a few months he would leave California and move to Alaska to work on the Pipeline. The last I heard of him, he was married and running a Bed and Breakfast somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula.

At Redwood City I waved goodbye to Andy and Ben, and headed home.

Andy eventually became a Police Officer, and at one time drove Governor Jerry Brown around in his limousine (during his first term as Governor). I never had much in common with Andy and while I see him from time to time at family functions with Ben, I rarely speak to him at all.

Ben remains my closest and best friend. I am God Father to his Son and a close friend to his wife. I actually met my wife because she was a close friend of Ben's wife; it's funny how things work out like that.

Good friends, brothers can be like the best of times in our lives, they live in our hearts forever.

 + Open : 1977: Riding East

1977, Riding East

"It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end."
      - Ursula K. Le Guin

The year 1977 was a bitch.

I had gotten engaged the year before but that relationship had suddenly ended. As a result of the breakup I was drinking too much and getting in a lot of fights in local bars. I had heard that women can either be the best or worst thing in your life, but had not realized the extent of what "worst" meant until this happened to me. It's disturbing how someone could be so compelling and yet be so destructive, and so in the early months of 1977 I was basically a lovelorn wreck.

My only transportation at the time was a Honda CB 750 four cylinder motorcycle that I had traded my BSA and my only four wheel transportation for. Considering I only had a motorcycle to get around on, it's only natural that the winter that year would be unusually harsh. It would rain for days on end which made riding completely miserable. I also discovered that it's nearly impossible to carry wet paper bags full of groceries back home while riding a motorcycle in the rain. In short, I learned that having a motorcycle as your sole means of transportation may sound like a good idea, but it really isn't.

That was only one of many stupid decisions I made that year. I was on a roll, and my life was pretty much a wreck because of it.

I had taken a new job the summer before but really had not fit in with the crowd there. Everyone wore suits; they would be at work early in their crisp clean shirts and ties and in I'd walk, hung over, dressed in boots, jeans, with an old leather jacket, and soaked to the skin from my ride in. The phrase "not fitting in" is a bit of an understatement; I was a pariah, a bane to the existence of the cultured guys and gals I worked with. I was tolerated only because my work was innovative, fast, and accurate, but I had the sense that management was just looking for a reason to show me the door.

So in the early summer of 1977 I had started interviewing for other positions, and had eventually found one with a company that made electronic test equipment. When the job offer came in though, I stipulated that I would take a month off between jobs. I did this because I just needed some down time, a break for all of crap that was going on in my life. I needed to get my ex-fiancé out of my head and find a way to get my life back into some kind of balance and order.

Sometimes all of us really need to take a break, and use that time to put our old troubles behind us. However that process often stirs up new problems, but even so when we return to our old life the old issues don't seem so bad.

So one Friday I told those preppy pricks their neck ties were too tight because they were choking off the blood flow to their brains. I then packed up my stuff at work, told the boss that he could shove this job up his ass, and walked out and never looked back.

I was bound for new horizons, and had decided to take a road trip back east to New Jersey. I wasn't sure how far I'd get riding east on my new motorcycle. In 1977 reliable and motorcycle were mutually exclusive terms, but I decided to just head out with the goal of reaching New Jersey and see how far I'd get.

I chose New Jersey as a destination because I have a lot of family back there. My mother, coming from good Irish stock, was the oldest of 11 children. Family legend has it that my Grandfather wanted to go for an even dozen, but Grandmother shot him down. That side of my family continues to live in the general area surrounding the town of Pleasantville, where I probably still have about 50 cousins.

As they say, go big or go home, so I went big and was bound for New Jersey. At roughly 3,000 miles one way, this was to be the longest trip I had yet taken. That Saturday morning I walked out of my apartment, strapped my duffle bag over the seat behind me, and I was on my way.

There was no GPS or even internet maps available back then. All I had was a large paper map of the US to go by. I was fortunate though, because by that time the interstate freeway system as we know it today was mostly intact and so finding my way would be much easier than it would have been 15 or 20 years earlier. My plan was to head east on Interstate 80, and somewhere along the line find a way to branch south to New Jersey. I assumed that I would find my way to where ever I would wind up; in a pinch the road would show me the way, as it always does.

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I started out on a foggy early summer's day. The morning was cold and wet around the San Francisco Bay, but as soon as I got beyond the east bay hills it was sunny and the day warmed.

My Honda 750 was smooth, comfortable, and had reasonably good power for a bike of that era, but there were some uncertainties. I had only purchased this bike a few months prior and so did not know it well; if I had to do any repair or maintenance along the way there would likely be problems. All I could hope for was that if that if I broke down a Honda dealer would be nearby.

The bike was still new to me and so I had not had it out on the open road much. I was surprised at my first stop for fuel, because at highway speeds I was getting roughly 50 mpg. This mileage and the 5 gallon fuel tank easily gave me a 200+ mile range, which would make traveling through sparsely populated areas less worrisome. I gassed up again somewhere around Reno, and launched myself into the great emptiness of Nevada.

To this day I am still astounded by how much of our world is empty. People tend to pack themselves into tight little clusters around resources and centers of commerce. They stand shoulder to shoulder and struggle against each other, fighting for sustenance and meager square inches upon which to live. But this isn't living; instead this is mere existence and is unacceptable to me. It's better to have enough room to move around freely, and limited contact with other people. People have generally been a disappointment in my life, and so I prefer to keep them at a distance.

The slogan of Battle Mountain NV is "Half-Way to Everywhere", which to me pretty much means "The Middle of No-Where". I suppose "Half-Way to Everywhere" puts a more positive slant on their location. This city is the gateway to the Nevada Outback, and is a mecca for off road motorsports, but if you're not into those things there's really no reason to stop there.

Further along the highway I pulled off in Wendover and saw a small Casino that probably offered good room rates. Casinos make their money on gambling and often offer rooms at very low rates just to get gamblers in through doors, so they're good places to stay if you don't gamble much. I considered spending the night there, but since there was some daylight left I opted to go on and find something closer to Salt Lake City.

Riding across the Bonneville Salt Flats is one of the most mind numbing experiences I've encountered on a motorcycle. The scenery is white, flat, and ugly. As you ride nothing seems to change around you; the road stretches to the horizon before and behind you, and while riding the scenery never seems to change.

I play a mental game while riding through places like this. I pick a landmark far ahead of me, this can be an overpass or some other feature, and I try and guess how many miles away that it is. Then I watch my odometer and see how close my guess was. I've gotten good at this game over the years, but some areas like the Salt Flats and US 50 through Nevada and Utah remain a real challenge.

I remember there was some construction on the Interstate which slowed things down quite a bit. But eventually I came to a truck stop west of Salt Lake City and pulled off. I found a motel called the Oquirrh Motor Inn and got a room. I remember this place because I still stop there often when riding out to California; it's a nice place that's right off the Interstate, and there's a restaurant right next door.

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High plains

The cold and damp always seems to hunker down in low lying areas, and the shore of the Great Salt Lake is no exception. That morning was cool but not unpleasant, and before leaving I checked my bike over while drinking my motel room coffee. Whenever I rode back then I always brought along some basic tools, a rag, and a spare quart of oil, and I still carry many of these items today. The only exception to this is that I no longer carry oil with me, simply because I've never had need of it.

As motorcycle reliability has improved I find carrying tools less and less necessary on the road, still though I think a walk-around check to be a good idea whenever going out on my bike. One thing I checked every day back then that I don't do anymore was to check the oil. Motorcycles of the 60's and 70's either leaked or burnt oil, sometimes both, and so checking the oil was sort of a constant thing I did back then. Now I find that I can't remember the last motorcycle I had that leaked, or burnt oil for that matter; there's a lot to be said for modern technology.

The bike checked out fine, so I got on the road heading toward Salt Lake City. Again there was a lot of construction going on, and I had to take surface streets through the downtown area of the city.

While the following the construction detour down a wide boulevard, red lights suddenly appeared in my mirrors. I wondered what I had done wrong. I was obeying the speed limit and I hadn't seen anything else that I could have done to attract the attention of the police. With these thoughts frantically bouncing about in my mind I dutifully pulled over and shut my bike down and waited.

I must add here that I don't much like the police. When I was a kid they kicked in our front door and took away my parents, leaving me to languish in foster care for several years. As an adult I know this was the fault of my parents, but my childhood prejudice remains to this day.

Even though I was certain I had done nothing wrong, I was nervous when the cop finally lumbered out of his car and slowly swaggered up to where I waited. When he was close enough to see my hands clearly, I slowly reached around and pulled my wallet out of my pants. When the cop arrived he asked in a slightly out of breath voice, "You from around here?"

This seemed like an idiotic question since he could clearly see my California plate. I bit my tongue though and replied politely, "No, I'm from California."

"Yeah, I see that," he answered (not sure why he asked the damned question then), "Where're you headed?"

"I'm on my way to New Jersey to visit relatives," I said.

"Long way," he observed absently as he studied my registration and insurance papers. "So you're just passing through, and not staying here at all?"

When I shook my head no he said, "Be sure that happens. We don't really like bikers in this area, especially ones from California." Then he handed my paperwork back and returned to his car where he sat and waited for me to leave.

I then fired up my bike and pulled back into traffic when it was safe. As I followed the construction detour signs I noticed that the cop car was following me. He continued to do so until I got back on the Interstate and headed east.

Since that time I've ridden through Salt Lake City many times and never had a problem with the police at all. Looking back, I'm really unsure if he was communicating police policy, or if what I heard was his own prejudice.

Once back on the Interstate I rode up into the mountains, eventually crossing into Wyoming. The ride through Wyoming is long and dusty, and the winds were brutal. I've now crossed Wyoming more times than I can remember on a motorcycle, and I cannot think of a single time that wind was not a factor. The cross winds there are brutal. Leaning into the wind that day, I made a left turn for nearly 300 miles.

I spent the night in Cheyanne at some non-descript motel off the Interstate. I was tired and beat up from the wind and the road, and it felt good to stop for the day. Very few things in life feel better than a long hot shower after a day in the saddle.

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After leaving Wyoming, everything I saw seemed to be Nebraska; it's a state that just seems to go on forever. After a while you've seen enough corn fields to last a lifetime. I swear, it seemed that everything was Nebraska until I got close to Chicago.

The next few days are kind of a blur in my memory. I would get up early, drink some coffee and then hit the road. My bike ran like a top with no problems at all, it was a smooth and easy ride. During the day I would ruminate about my ex-fiancé while riding, and wonder what the heck had gone wrong.

I've heard people say that you need to put stuff like this behind you and just move on. I think that's wrong though, instead I believe it's necessary to poke at things such as this with a mental stick and figure it out, otherwise you run the risk of a repeat performance. I'm a detail oriented guy, and so I tend to study things, taking them apart and putting them back together until I understand the relationships between all the parts. I think about it, and think about it, until I'm tired of thinking about it, and that's when it's time to put it behind me.

Riding a motorcycle is perfect for working through issues such as this. Maybe that's why the long over used saying of "you never see a motorcycle parked at a psychiatrist's office" seems so true. While riding your mind operates on two distinct levels; the first level being the processes necessary to keep your bike upright and prevent yourself from becoming a red streak on the concrete, and the second sorting through the puzzle pieces of your life and trying to figure things out.

So all day long I would think about my ex-fiancé and how that relationship fit into the pattern that my life was taking. I would stop sometime in the midafternoon for a coke and maybe a candy bar to keep my energy up and my attention sharp. When evening would come I would find some cheap motel off the Interstate, preferably with a restaurant nearby, and hunker down for the night.

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Nebraska ended somewhere right around Chicago, and the roads then became congested, the towns were larger, and cities were more frequent. I forget the exact route I took, but I do recall riding through Philadelphia.

During the Depression of the 1930's my Grandfather had left his wife and family in New Jersey and gone to Philadelphia because jobs could be found there. He would send his entire paycheck home, keeping only a nickel a day for himself. With that nickel he would buy a newspaper and a bag of peanuts. The peanuts would sustain him, and the newspaper would keep him warm as he slept on a park bench. During that same time my mother, being the oldest child, had quit school while in sixth grade so she could get a job to help support her family. Rough times call for hard measures.

I pulled into Pleasantville around noon on the sixth day after leaving California. My Honda had run beautifully the entire way; considering the bikes I had owned previously, this amazed me. I stopped at a local drug store and called my Aunt Susan to get directions to her house. Instead of directions I was told that someone would be by to guide me to her house.

As I stood drinking a coke and waiting for my escort, I heard a rumbling in the distance; shortly thereafter three huge men riding Harleys arrived. All three were heavily tattooed and wore Levis Cuts. I wasn't sure what to think about these guys, so I watched them carefully.

One of these bikers, a heavily built guy with jet black hair, pulled up next to me then shut down his bike and asked, "You Kenny?"

I answered, "Yeah, but Ken will do. Are you Uncle Lou?"

After the other two guys shut their bikes down and wandered over, I was introduced to two of my Mother's Brothers, my Uncles Matt and Luke. My very Italian Uncle Lou had married my Mother's Sister Susan. After the introductions and bear hugs, Uncle Matt asked, "You rode all the way out here on that piece of shit?"

I laughed as I answered, "This piece of shit runs a hell of a lot better than my BSA or my Ironhead ever did. I've come 3,000 miles and not had a bit of trouble the whole way." This was true, and I was proud of both the bike and myself for completing such a long trip without any hardship.

"Hurry and finish your pop, and let's go," Uncle Lou said.

After I tossed out my coke and fired up my bike, Uncle Lou asked, "Think you can keep up?"

I smiled and answered, "Let's see."

All three of my Uncles burned rubber as they pulled directly into on-coming traffic and they shot down the street. I did my best to follow suit, chasing them as they recklessly swerved through traffic, passed between cars, and even riding down the sidewalk a time or two. I was still right with them when we pulled up in front of a 40's style brown two story house in a suburban neighborhood.

There were cars parked all up and down the street, and people spilled out through the front door of the house onto the rather rough looking yard. The four of us pulled our bikes single file across the driveway and parked on the dry untended grass of the lawn.

Uncle Lou quickly dismounted his ride and jarringly slapped me on the back saying, "Good ride Kenny." Lou was a BIG man. He stood well over 6 feet tall and weighed in somewhere between 330 and 350 pounds. He had a gut on him that made him look pregnant, but could bench press over 300 pounds so there was nothing soft about Lou. He was a butcher at the local ACME supermarket, and a former professional boxer as well. He once challenged me to punch him in the stomach, and I discovered that his gut was as hard as a rock.

My Uncle Matt was the second oldest in the clan, second behind my mother. He was shorter than Lou but still over 6 feet tall, and had a stocky build. Like my father and many of my uncles, Matt had served in the Second World War and he carried burn scars down his left arm that were artfully disguised by tattoos.

Uncle Luke was the youngest of the clan, and stood a bit shorter than I. He was thin and slight of build, but the thing I remember most about him was that his greased dark brown hair reminded me of Elvis. Luke never said all that much, but in time I would come to learn that he was the craziest of the bunch.

Inside Uncle Lou's house I was inundated with relatives, so many that it was hopeless to remember how I was related to them, who they were, or even what their names were. I've never had much of a memory for names, but this was beyond impossible. Long lost is a photograph of me taken with my mother's brothers. In that photograph it's very apparent where I got my lack of a hairline from; we all looked like a bunch of billiard balls.

A bit later Aunt Jane asked me if I needed to call my parents to let them know I had arrived safely. I replied that I honestly didn't think they knew I had left town. Such was my lack of relationship with my parents at that time. Jane did not approve because family ties wove the fabric of her life, but this was pretty much an alien concept to me.

That night the whole family ate at Lou's house, dining on paper plates and sitting where ever there was room to do so. I had not seen any of these people since I was eight years old, and so there was a lot of catching up to do.

Later that night I followed my cousin Sarah to the house she shared with her husband. They had a spare room and they welcomed me to use it.

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The next morning Sarah told me that her house, where I was staying, was only about a mile away from where my Grandparents used to live. Having stayed there several times as a child, I had fond memories of that house and I wanted to see it. Sarah told me that the neighborhood had gone bad though, and so it might be safe enough to go by in the daytime, but I should not stop or walk around the area at all.

It was early afternoon when I jumped on my bike and followed Sarah's directions to where my Grandparents once lived. When I arrived at the address given to me, I pulled to the curb and parked. I stood then and just stared at what had become of their house.

The two story Craftsman style home with a wide covered and screened-in porch that I remembered as always being well maintained and clean, had been starkly white washed and was dilapidated to the point of almost seeming abandoned and condemned. The side boarding of the house was cracked and falling apart. Some windows were broken, and the porch screens were ripped to shreds. In front of the house, the tiny lawn my Grandfather had always meticulously maintained was covered in dry grass and littered with broken bottles.

My Grandfather had served in the Infantry in the First World War. He had endured the tortures of trench warfare in Europe and had been subjected to Mustard Gas and was debilitated with very low lung function because of it. Still though, every Sunday he would go out front with his push mower and cut the grass on his tiny lawn. His capacity for breathing was so poor that he would always have to take at least one break during this chore to lie down and catch his breath. My Grandfather had died while still in his mid-fifties due to his service to our country.

Now the people who lived in this house had pretty much just shit all over what my Grandfather had taken pride in. They obviously didn't care for the house, or the neighborhood, or even themselves, because they wouldn't even expend the effort to simply pick up after themselves.

As I stood there taking all this in, I found myself getting angry. How could people take something that was so nice and well maintained, and just let it go to shit? The longer I looked at the house more the cause seemed to be outright vandalism rather than simple neglect.

Feeling disgust for the people who had done this to not only my Grandparents home, but to the entire neighborhood, I got on my bike and sat there for another minute or so while taking it all in. With mixed feelings of anger and resentment, I started my bike and rode away.

Needing to clear my head, I rode east out to the Atlantic City Boardwalk. I parked somewhere off Atlantic Avenue and walked out onto the Boardwalk and found a place to sit and watch the ocean. There were lots of people around frolicking in the low surf and sunning themselves on the sandy beach.

The eastern coast of the US is geologically much older than the western coast. As such the sand on the Atlantic City beach is much finer grained, almost to the point of seeming to be little more than powder. This holds the Sun's heat much more effectively than does the sand on Pacific coast beaches; those that are unaware of this fact are very likely to burn their feet.

I sat and watched the ocean and the people. As usual the people you would rather not see in bathing suits were the most prevalent. The sound and the feeling of the ocean has always had a calming effect on me, and in time it worked its magic and my sour mood slowly evaporated. Eventually I got to my feet and wandered along the Boardwalk. This was before Casinos had made much of the place, and the Boardwalk was a bit shabby and dilapidated. It seems that this place had also taken a shit right along with my Grandparent's house.

While walking along the Steel Pier, childhood memories brought remembrances of men doing high dives, and a man riding a horse also diving into a swimming pool. I saw none of that in 1977. Still though the place was pleasant enough and I had an enjoyable time.

I recalled my Grandfather telling me how on St. Paddy's day he would wear all green but put on an orange tie and frequent all the Irish bars along Atlantic Avenue. People would get angry at him for the orange tie insurrection, but he would just laugh. Political incorrectness seems to run in my family.

That night Sarah drove me over to Uncle Lou's house. A bunch of my cousins had decided to take me out to the local clubs. As it turned out, the cousins that wanted to do this were all female. That night I literally hit the clubs with 20 women on my arms. I felt like a pimp.

The first place we hit was a restaurant / bar. This was a steak house where they would cut the size of steak you ordered right in front of you. It was pretty amazing how accurate they were; your order would be weighed after it was cut and it was always right on the money. I sat at the head of the table with 10 women on each side. Of the women I was with, I only knew Sarah's name and had no idea who the rest were.

Soon the live band started up and the women all wanted to dance. Personally I hate dancing, but women all seem to love it and I have really no idea why that is. Guys would swoop in and cherry pick from my heard of women and ask them to dance. Even I got up and danced with my cousins a couple of times; I always feel awkward doing that sort of thing, but dancing seemed to be a main requirement for the evening. We hit two or three clubs that night. The music, the drinks, and even the people I was with soon became a blur. It was a good time though.

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Newport & Vermont

A few days later I took a ride up the coast to Newport RI to hook up with a girl I had met at a party back in California right before I left. For the most part I enjoyed the ride up the coast, but absolutely hated the traffic near New York City. As congested as the San Francisco bay area is, it pales by comparison to the area around New York City. Beyond New York though the traffic eased, my stress level dropped, and I enjoyed the scenery.

Susan, the girl I met there, lived in a rented a room in an old wooden Victorian house out on the coast. It was really a beautiful location. While I was there Susan took me for a tour of the town and the huge houses and properties there. Some of the houses were so huge that I could not imagine how people could live in them, it seemed like you could get lost just trying to find your way to the kitchen.

One property had a huge ornate iron gate and a driveway that looked like it was at least a few miles long. The driveway wound its way along a jagged coast line to a stone building that would put most resorts to shame in terms of size. The house looked like a castle, and the long drive along with the crashing waves along the coast gave the place a sinister and foreboding look. It was the sort of place Dr. Frankenstein would live.

I stayed with Susan for a couple of days then decided to wander back to New Jersey. I first rode north into the mountains of Vermont before hooking up with a highway that would take me back to Pleasantville. The Appalachian and Adirondack Mountains are very different than the Rocky or Sierra Nevada ranges out west. They're older and so more worn down by the elements, and so the landscape seems softer and there's much more vegetation. It was still early summer there and the forests were coming back to life; the air was perfumed with new growth and the wind swirled around me as I rode and felt delicious.

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New York City

Two of my Uncle Lou's daughters thought it would be a good idea to take me up to New York City for a look around. This seemed like a thing a person should do when visiting the east coast, so we went. The city was too much of a nightmare to drive, and so we took a bus.

The three of us were dropped off in this towering concrete structure in the center of the city. It was cold and dank that day, and the air smelled of urine and garbage. The sidewalks were all crowded with peddlers hawking crap that no one in their right mind could possibly want. It was kind of a pain to get around without getting assaulted.

We took a bus tour of the city, which could be a good idea if you have no idea where you are or where anything is. I sat near the front of the bus and so I could hear the driver and the tour guide talking. Their banter alone was worth the price of the tour. Some of the comments I heard were:

Tour guide: "Shit. Look at those guys in the gutter."
Driver: "Yeah, I think that one's dead."
Tour guide: "God damn it! That son of a bitch is letting everyone in front of him."
Driver: Fucker must be from California."

Of the tour itself, I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty across the harbor in the distance, Chinatown, and Times Square.

After eating in Chinatown it was suggested that we see a play. Again this was one of those, "why not, I'm in New York City" sort of things. At the ticket office I saw that Yul Brynner was starring in "Anna and the Kind of Siam." I've always thought Yul Brynner was cool, and so we went and saw that. It was amazing to see him in the flesh, and his performance was amazing.

After the play we returned to the bus station and bought tickets back to Pleasantville. The place was mostly deserted and my cousins were really nervous. It seems like a lot of people on the east coast know someone that has gotten mugged in New York City, my cousins were no exception. I've been in a lot of dangerous places in my life, but honestly the vibe of the bus station didn't feel threatening to me.

After getting our tickets we took an elevator up to the platform to catch our bus. In the elevator while waiting for the doors to close I saw a man running toward us. When I reached out to hold the doors open for him both my cousins whispered "NO!" but it was too late and he joined us for our ride up.

The stranger thanked me as he took his place among us. I answered that it was no problem then asked him how his day was going, but I got no answer. I thought this was weird, and so I tried to strike up a conversation with him by asking "isn't strange how when people ride in an elevator they all just stare at the door?" Again I got no answer, and I noticed that both my cousins were huddled together in a back corner of the elevator.

In the next moment the elevator doors open onto the floor we all wanted and everyone exited. The guy that rode up with us took the same bus as we did back to New Jersey.

Once on the bus my cousins admonished me for talking to this stranger. They both exclaimed that we could have gotten mugged. My only answer was that we didn't, and we were fine. They were both obviously very afraid of unknown people in New York City, and maybe this is justified, but I don't know having very little experience there. I do believe that in general people need to be careful about what they are afraid of, because often you attract what you fear to you. Also, being afraid is really not a good way to live.

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Insanity runs in my family.

Lou, Matt, and Luke weren't my only Uncles that rode motorcycles, but they were the ones I spent the most time with. We rode out into the country side several times, and hit quite a few bars in town and while on the road. They were a fun, but kind of unpredictable group.

Being unpredictable was not a good thing in my mind. Violence always seemed to be just below the surface where ever we went. While with them I learned to stay on guard because bad things had a way of happening, and when they did it all could go south really quickly.

My first real indication of this was when I was out having lunch one day.

I really enjoyed submarine sandwiches while I was back there. I would order a "whole regular" for lunch and take half of it back to Sarah's house and be set for dinner. I'm not sure what it is, but those submarine sandwiches are better than anything similar I've had in other parts of the country. I'm unsure whether it's the oil or the bread or the other ingredients, but New Jersey Subs are delicious.

Once when I was having lunch at a sandwich shop with my Uncle Matt, one of the other customers cut in front of us. Matt was incensed and told the guy to get to the back of the line, but the guy just made a quick excuse and said he was in a hurry and then made his order anyway. To this, Matt just frowned and didn't say much.

After placing our order Matt went out to his bike and got a tube of "liquid solder". Knowing what car the guy that cut in front of us had arrived in, Matt then filled they guy's door locks with the liquid solder. When Matt and I were leaving, I could see this guy trying to figure out why he couldn't get his key into his car door lock.

While this event did not seem very serious on the surface, it foreshadowed things to come.

One day I was out riding with my Uncle Luke and my Cousin Craig through the New Jersey forests, and in the late afternoon we had stopped at a bar for some beers while on our way back home. The ride had been nice, but it was a humid day, and so we decided to take a break to cool down. Where we stopped was just one of those typical roadside bars that just about every small town has.

When we got inside, Craig and I had ordered a round of beers and were talking with the bar tender while Luke had wandered off toward the Juke Box. Everything seemed to be fine, but suddenly there was a loud crash. My Uncle Luke had hit a big guy at a back table with a beer bottle.

Hitting someone with a beer bottle is not like what's shown in movies or on television. Bottles are hard, and when you smack someone in the head with one, they rarely break. Rather than a semi-comical bar fight antic, an impact like that is more likely to cause a skull fracture or other serious injury. I actually carry the scars on the back of my head from being hit by a broken beer bottle back when I was five years old. I was lucky that the bottle was already broken when it hit me, had it not been my injury could have been permanent.

When Craig and I spun around we saw Uncle Luke standing over a really big guy who lay sprawled out on the floor. Luke was standing over him, screaming with his face red with rage. The situation surprised us both because we had heard no arguing over the loud music spewing from the Juke Box. Craig and I gave each other a surprised glance and I left our drinks on the bar, ran and grabbed Uncle Luke, then got the hell out of there.

On another day, my Uncles Lou and Luke, and I were riding out on a surface road east of Absecon and we came into some stopped traffic. This was on an unremarkable rural two lane road not far from the city. We had come up on an intersection with a four way stop sign, and traffic was backed up because two cars, each traveling the opposite direction, had stopped. I could see the two drivers chatting with each other, neither having any care about the stopping traffic.

My Uncle Lou yelled something at the drivers, and one of them gave him the finger. This kind of thing was already growing old with me, and so I thought, "here we go again."

Lou left his bike idling while he swung a leg over and got off, he then starting walking toward where the two cars were still parked and blocking traffic. Car doors opened, and several people got out and starting approaching my Uncle.

Bikers never let their friends stand alone in a fight, even when they're in the wrong. So I started to follow my Uncle's example, but Uncle Luke grabbed my arm and said, "Just wait."

I've mentioned previously that my Uncle Lou has a gut that makes him look pregnant. As it turned out the leader of the group of men approaching him, threw his first punch into Lou's gut. That gut though was as hard as a rock. Lou just stood there and looked at his attacker, pausing for perhaps two heartbeats. Lou then hit his attacker in the face so hard that the guy's feet flew up in the air before the back of his head met the tarmac. The guy was literally sprawled out spread eagle right on the center line of the road.

When the other would-be attackers saw this happen they all turned and ran back to their cars, and the entire bunch tore off in opposite directions with the one coming our way having to swerve around their comrade as they left him lying in the street. Lou then got back on his motorcycle and we were soon on our way. As the traffic cleared, the cars all had to detour around the still unmoving body lying in the middle of the road.

The continuing violence was wearing on me and I was beginning to get eager to get back on the road and go home. But the fabled "straw that broke the camel's back" occurred while I was changing the oil in my bike at my Uncle Luke's house.

Uncle Luke and his family lived in a nice little 1950's vintage home that had a small fenced yard in front. His place literally had a white picket fence surrounding an immaculately kept lawn, within which his small children could play. It was the quintessential bucolic American-Dream sort of house that people often speak of.

Unfortunately though Luke was continually having problems with his neighbor, but actually and more specifically his problem was with his neighbor's dog. This dog was a white and sturdy looking breed that I now associate with a Pit-Bull mix. The dog had been getting into Luke's front yard leaving little doggie land mines behind, and on occasion dry humping his kids.

Luke had told his neighbor that if he caught his dog humping his kids again he would kill the dog. This was a threat his neighbor did not take as seriously as he should have.

As I was working on my bike in his garage, I suddenly heard Luke cursing. Hearing this, I stopped what I was doing and walked up to the front of the house to see what the matter was. I then saw my Uncle Luke kick at the dog, who snapped back at him, then take his kids inside. At that time I thought that was the end of it and had started to return to the garage.

Suddenly there was a loud bang that came from the front of the house, so I turned and ran to see what had happened.

After Uncle Luke had taken his kids inside, he had gotten a pistol and returned to the yard. He then shot the dog and killed it. Then as I watched, my Uncle grabbed the dog by the scruff and walked over to toss the carcass onto his neighbor's front porch.

The neighbor then stormed out of his house and yelled that he was going to call the police. Luke calmly stood there with his gun still in his hand, and replied "Do that, and you'll end up like your dog."

There are a lot of things I can tolerate in this life. Violence among people is one of the things I've learned to tolerate, because in my mind people generally deserve what they get. Animal cruelty though is one thing I cannot stand and will not tolerate.

That night at Sarah's house, I packed up and prepared to leave the next day. I thanked Lou, Matt, and Luke for their hospitality and asked them to spread the word among the family that something urgent had come up and that I needed to return home at once. Normally on riding adventures such as this I feel deep regret when I have to make the turn that will eventually lead me back to home. This time, on this trip, was the single exception.

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Early the next morning I strapped my duffle back to the back of my seat, gave Sarah a hug and thanked her husband for allowing me to stay in their home, and with that I was on my way.

I saw on the television the night before that thunderstorms were predicted to rage across the northern portion of the plains in the week ahead, and so had decided to return via a more southerly route. Retracing my route out, I rode back through Philadelphia then continued west. By the time I got to Harrisburg and turned south on the Interstate, the clouds were darkening and the air felt thick and heavy. Soon the skies opened up and the deluge began.

I don't like riding in the rain and avoid it whenever possible. The rain makes traction questionable, the wet muck from the road gets everywhere, the drops smacking against your face are painful, and in most parts of the country it's cold. The only riding condition that is definitely worse than rain is hail, which can leave welts on your arms and face.

In 1977 I had not learned the wisdom of having a windscreen on my motorcycle yet, and so I had nothing to hunker down behind. So I lay forward on my fuel tank to create as low a profile as possible and just rode on. Not soon enough an overpass presented itself, and I pulled to the side of the freeway and stopped beneath it for protection.

Throughout that day I found myself seeking shelter under overpasses to avoid sporadic thunderstorms. The scenery in that section of the country is extremely beautiful, but on that day my ride was brutal and I was glad when I finally found shelter for the night in a cheap motel by the freeway.

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Mountains and Plains

The next day I picked up Interstate 40 and turned west. The day was cloudy and seemed to threaten more rain, but as it turned out the day was mostly dry. The forests of the east are lush, beautiful, and the scenery varied and interesting. My ride through Tennessee took me by bucolic farms with horses grazing in beautiful fields of green grass; the ride was pure pleasure.

I crossed the Mississippi River at Memphis. The river there is very wide and slow moving, and I stood up on my foot pegs to get a better view. I do that a lot when I cross bridges, there's just something about the water that makes me want to pause and enjoy the view. If there were places to pull off at mid span on bridges over rivers such as the Mississippi, I would do it every time.

West of the Mississippi the sky became larger as the mountains faded into the distance behind me. The grazing horses became cows, and eventually the scenery changed to crop filled fields. In the heat and growing humidity the long and straight highway took me over gently rolling hills.

As days on the road passed the skies cleared and the hot sun pounded down on me relentlessly. The soft and thumpy drone of the four cylinder engine was like a lullaby and I would struggle at times not to fall asleep as I rode. I passed through cities, unnamed in my memory; they all seemed to be the same as if stamped out like production parts on an assembly line.

One afternoon as I came upon another of the miscellaneous cities that dot the plain, a guy riding a motorcycle passed me like I was standing still. I was doing about 60 mph at the time, and so he must have been going in excess of 100 mph. He slowed suddenly and as I caught up with him he waved his arm frantically and pointed up to a towering strangely shaped cloud that hung over the city. The then got back on the gas and soon left me behind.

I had never seen a cloud like that before. It appeared almost cylindrical with clouds wrapping around it, orbiting like rings of dust around a newly forming star. Ahead and under the cloud day had turned to night, and in the distance I could see that it was raining heavily.

A rest area was ahead, and I took that exit hoping for refuge from the rain. As I parked my bike the first thick and heavy drops of rain began to fall; I pulled my bike up on its center stand and ran for the shelter of the rest area buildings. The rain came on us quickly, and the initial few drops turned into a torrential deluge.

Lightening flashed across the sky and immediately upon its heels thunder crashed. It sounded like the opening notes of the Apocalypse. The wind roared and even though I was glad I had thought to put my bike up on its center stand for stability, I began to fear that the wind would blow it over. Rain turned to hail and pounded the landscape and the buildings around me. Lightning and thunder followed each other in a tight cadence, the flashing so bright it seemed like paparazzi at a movie star gala.

I huddled with other refugees from the road under the eaves of the rest area buildings for about a half hour, waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually the wind slowed and the rain eased as the massive cloud moved off to the south east.

When I finally came out from under my shelter I was relieved to find my bike undamaged by the wind and hail, although my motorcycle seat was soaked of course. I wiped my seat down as best I could, mounted my bike and was soon on my way again.

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Soon after Oklahoma City the landscape began to dry out. The lush green east gave way to the parched west. Rounded green landscapes yielded to jagged, harsh, and desolate rocky ground. Passing through the cities of the arid west I wondered, why would anyone build a city here, and how could anyone live here before there was air conditioning?

Coming out of the Arizona desert, I paused at Flagstaff to enjoy the cooler temperatures of the higher altitude. I had been riding through temperatures of 110 degrees that had left me feeling scorched. My bare arms and face had taken the brunt of the abusive heat; at times it felt as if a hot iron were being pressed against me.

While gassing up in Flagstaff I rehydrated myself with soda (not the best thing for this), and purchased a lightly colored long sleeve Flagstaff souvenir t-shirt. I had parked my bike away from the pumps and under the shade of a group of pine trees, and it was there that I changed into my new shirt, drank a coke, and waited for the sun to retreat a bit from the sky. I wanted to make it to Barstow before turning in, but it was simply too hot down in the desert to attempt it.

It felt good to cool down, and pretty soon my body seemed to regain some of its equilibrium. With some of my reason restored, I questioned when I should leave my refuge and strike out across the desert. If I waited too long I would find myself riding through the desert in the dark which could be a dangerous prospect, but if I left too early the heat could well be too much to endure.

I left in the late afternoon, riding toward the setting sun. As I rode out of the high altitude, the heat of the desert rushed up at me. The hot wind seared the exposed skin of my face and I considered turning back to Flagstaff where I could strike out the next morning when it was cooler. I went over and over this idea for a while, then eventually realized that I had gone too far to turn back.

Committed to getting to Barstow, I rode on into the fierce inferno of the Mojave Desert. My long sleeve t-shirt helped a lot by keeping the sun off my arms, but still my face took a beating. The mountains around me looked cracked and broken by the intense heat, and the tumbled rocks and unforgiving soil was parched beyond belief.

In time the sun set and the temperature dropped quickly. The stars came out, and the heat of the day escaped into the clear sky above. Somewhere along the road I stopped for fuel and put my leather jacket on. Through an act of will and the strength of endurance, I finally made it into Barstow, and found a motel for the night.

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Intending to get through the rest of the desert before the heat of the day hit, I left Barstow early on that last day of my trip. Riding through the desert is monotonous; all I saw were miles and miles of desolation. A few scattered clusters of homes or businesses huddled here and there, but that was about all there was to see.

Eventually I wound my way down Tehachapi Canyon and found myself in Bakersfield CA. From there I rode up highway 99 and crossed over to Gilroy through Los Banos. After that it was an easy and familiar ride up US 101 back to my apartment in the San Francisco bay area.

Late in the afternoon I pulled into my designated parking spot and parked my bike. I sat a moment longer in the saddle and reflected on my trip. I had seen a lot, and met new people; my journey had been good, but it was also good to be home.

After removing my duffle bag I went into the apartment building and walked up the stairs to my apartment. I had been gone almost a month, and everything was as I had left it except for a singular house plant I kept next to the window. The plant had been given to me by my ex-fiancé, and I saw with little surprise that it had died while I was a way. Plants do that when you don't water them.

I collected the fallen dead leafs then took the plant down the hall and tossed it down the shoot into the garbage. It occurred to me that while all of our past should be remembered, some things should be cherished while others remain in the trash.

 + Open : Don't be Frank

Don't be Frank

"Objects and their functions no longer had any significance. All I perceived was perception itself, the hell of forms and figures devoid of human emotion and detached from the reality of my unreal environment. I was an instrument in a virtual world that constantly renewed its own meaningless image in a living world that was itself perceived outside of nature. And since the appearance of things was no longer definitive but limitless, this paradisiacal awareness freed me from the reality external to myself. The fire and the rose, as it were, became one."
      - Federico Fellini

There is an ancient Irish curse that goes, "May you live an interesting life." If you think about that for a minute you may see how living an interesting life could be a curse. For most of us living an "interesting life" entails living through "interesting times".

What sorts of times are interesting? Many times these are periods that span years of social upheaval and wars; in short interesting times usually equate to difficult times, during which people must do desperate things to get by. In the context of this tale, which is a true story, the times were the middle 60's through the early 70's.

My father was a member of MENSA (a society of geniuses), however he was the dumbest genius I have ever met. In the mid 60's he quit his secure and well- paying job at the Hewlett Packard Company because he thought he could make more money selling drugs to the Hippies that were at that time infesting the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco.

My father always used to call me the "Old Man" because I tend to think of the possible outcome before I make a decision. Unlike him, I am not a spontaneous person, and tend to think things through before jumping into any new situation. As a boy I recall entering our living room while my father and mother excitedly discussed the prospect of the riches they would make in this new endeavor. When my parents realized I had overheard their conversation, they asked me what I thought.

I told them that the most likely conclusion to their decision to sell drugs would be that they would eventually get caught. My father believed they could continue to sell illegal drugs to spaced-out Hippies and occasionally to local biker clubs indefinitely. I disagreed, and in so doing was once again referred to as an "Old Man".

Of course my parents were eventually caught, with the result being my father serving 7 years and my mother 3 years in State Prison. After they were caught I was at first sent to Juvenile Hall, and then stayed in Foster Care for several more years. The result of all this is that I was raised around a lot of questionable people that were involved in the drug trade, and so I had an interesting childhood.

Frank was a friend of my father whom I met after my father got out of prison. He was perhaps 20 years younger than my father, and 10 years older than me. Frank was tall and frightfully thin. He had long unkempt hair that hung half way down his back and his tangled beard ended about half way down his chest.

The best way I can describe Frank, is to refer to the comedian Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong). Frank though was far more burnt out than Chong ever was, because he had imbued substances and chemicals of questionable origin for so many years that his brain only seemed to function normally about 25% of the time.

When Frank was speaking, many times in the middle of a conversation, his face would suddenly sag, with his eyes going blank and his mouth hanging open, and he would utter a long monotone "uh…." sound. Whatever was going on with Frank during this time would last for several seconds. I think what was happening was that Frank's brain would literally just down for a moment, but then he would shake his head a bit and just continue on with what he was saying as if nothing had happened.

In short, Frank should have been the poster-boy for the "Don't Do Drugs" campaign.

In spite of Frank's drug overuse induced ticks, he was a kick to hang around with. He was funny, with at completely off the wall sense of humor. Frequently he would make observations about people, places, and things that were startlingly comical. He was also highly animated and would gyrate, waving his thin arms wildly around when he told a story, looking much like an old fashioned marionette wooden puppet as he did so. At his heart Frank was a good person who made me laugh, and as such I overlooked his other short-comings.

Frank rode an old Harley Davidson Panhead that looked every year of its age. He was an excellent rider though, often showing off by standing on the seat, surfing style, as he rode his bike down the hills of San Francisco.

Back in the early 70's I hung around Frank a bit, we rode together in and around San Francisco mostly. Riding with Frank was always an entertaining experience. He was a funny guy, and his off the wall observations could be both strange and hilarious at the same time.

Sometime around 1973 Frank got invited to an "Acid Capping Party". Now we are not talking about Hydrochloric or Sulfuric Acid here, this was LSD, the mind altering hallucinogen. This was a party where people would encapsulate powered LSD crystals into pills or caps. At this time I was in a wild and self- destructive phase, and so for reasons I can't really figure out now, I went along with him then.

The Haight-Ashbury district had reached its peak as a free-love Hippy fiefdom by about 1968. However by the early 70's the drug use and Hippy lifestyle had taken their toll with the area gaining a reputation for high crime rate and being a dangerous place to be.

Frank and I parked our bikes out in front of an old Victorian style building that had been converted into a rooming house, which was located on Fell Street next to The Panhandle Park. After backing our bikes in to the curb, I looked up the old white washed building; even then, in the state of disrepair endured under Hippy ownership and tenants, I thought the house was beautiful.

We went upstairs to an apartment on the second floor that overlooked the Fell Street. I was glad of this because we could keep an eye on our bikes from there.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, aka LSD, is an extremely powerful hallucinogen, and trips can last 12 hours or more depending on the individual. While LSD is not known to be physically addictive or cause brain damage, strong psychiatric reactions are common. Whatever physical and/or mental state you are in gets amplified. If you are a mentally stable individual and you take LSD in a tranquil and beautiful place you are likely to have a "good trip" and experience a sense of euphoria. On the other hand, if you are in a troubled mental state of mind or in negative surroundings you will probably experience a "bad trip" filled with fear, paranoia, and anxiety. Visual hallucinations are also common, for good or for bad.

When we first arrived at the party pot (Marijuana) smoke hung heavy in the room, forming a dense cloud that hovered about half way up the wall. If you sat on the floor, you had no need to smoke anything in order to get high.

Add to this that many people at the party were handling the LSD with their bare hands. A "contact high" comes with physical contact with LSD crystals as the drug is easily absorbed through the skin. It was obvious that those who were handling the drug were experiencing hallucinations; the process of encapsulating the drug was therefore slow going.

I kept my self away from the actual LSD capping, as I had experienced Acid trips before. Under the effects of the drug my senses tend to get amplified to the point of it being an overwhelming experience. So I found a place on the floor where I could lean against the wall and just observe all that was going on around the room.

Soon I was joined by pretty young woman named Karen. I usually am attracted to dark haired women, but Karen, with her nearly white blond hair and startling blue eyes was certainly good looking. We talked for several hours, during which time I learned that she attended the same College I did. This encounter would soon turn into a short term casual relationship, but that's another story entirely.

In the early hours of the next morning there was a power failure, sparking comments such as "Oh WOW man..", "Bummer", and "Hey, I can see through my hand".

While I talked with Karen the night before and later as we drifted off to sleep next to each other, I lost track of what Frank was doing. It was about a half hour to an hour after the power went off that Frank burst into the room from being outside. "Oh man, I'm in so much trouble", he said.

I asked Frank what had happened and he answered saying, "I blew up the power for the city man."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"I was getting so stoned," Frank began, "and I started having these chest pains, like I was having a heart attack or something.

I could just feel the energy running out of my body. I was running out of energy man, and if I couldn't find a way to get more energy, I was going to die. So I went outside to look for some more energy.

I staggered down the street, and I was dying, I could just feel it. I kept walking and walking, holding my chest looking for some place I could find more energy. And pretty soon I found it.

It was one of those power transformers. You know the ones they have in vacant lots off the street, the big ones that hum with energy?

I could feel the energy coming off the transformers and I pressed up against the chain link fence between the sidewalk and where they were. The energy began to sink in, but I knew I needed more. So I backed up a bit and held up my hands and started pulling the energy into my body. It felt so good.. I could feel the energy flowing into me and I knew it was going to save my life.

But then there was this big explosion. There was a big bang and there were sparks shooting up into the air. So I pulled my hands back and said, 'oops… I took too much'".

The area around the Haight-Ashbury District actually was blacked out and without power for several days. I remember reading in the San Francisco Chronicle that the reason for the transformer explosion was unknown.

Frank remained convinced that he had sucked too much energy from the transformers, and it was his fault they had exploded. As far as I know no one was ever able to make him believe otherwise.

So what's the point or moral of this story? Well, you've met Frank who was a pretty interesting character, and you know a bit more about my past; perhaps that's all the reason needed for this story.

There's more that can be found here though.

 + Open : Exploits of Bill & Ted

The Adventures of Bill and Ted

"I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom."
      ― Edgar Allan Poe

I met both Bill and Ted in 1980 while working as a Printed Circuit Board designer at Memorex Corporation.

In previous few years I had worked for the Department of Defense; first on projects that blew really big holes in the Nevada Desert, then later designing communications systems for fighter jets. Over time I had grown tired of the corruption, price gouging, and restrictive standards that forced us to design using ancient technology, and so sought work in a commercial environment.

At the time I was recently married and living in a nice little house in Pleasanton CA. Aside from my wife and career, my main driving force at the time were the Martial Arts.

By 1972 I had earned my 1st Degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate under the instruction of Master Jack Long, and by 1975 had earned my 2nd Degree in that same style. In 1977 I had switched Martial Art styles to that of Taekwondo, and was studying under Grand Master Dan Choi. When I started work at Memorex I was getting ready for my 1st Dan Black Belt test in Taekwondo.

My wife has often complained that the motto of my life should be along the lines of "What's worth doing is worth over-doing". She has threatened to make me a cross- stitch sampler with that motto, frame it, and then hang it above the door of my home office.

The truth is that I do believe we are here in this life and on this Earth to experience what it has to offer, and those that only engage in half measures miss most of what life is about. So in addition to three classes a week, I was going out to the training hall every day at lunch to work out on my own. In short I was more than focused on this upcoming Black Belt test, I was obsessed.

I had been working at Memorex for about a month when Bill was hired as a temporary contractor. When he arrived he was assigned the drafting table in front of mine, so it was natural that we would chat occasionally. As it turned out Bill was a 4th Dan Black Belt in Okinawan Karate, so we had a lot to talk about. Bill was also an Alabama boy, and so his long slow southern drawl and impish nature made for many entertaining conversations.

Bill and I got together several times to train after work. He helped me a lot with my technique and taught me fighting skills from his Okinawan style that are absent in Taekwondo. Usually after working out we would sit around his apartment to talk, smoke, and drink.

In one of these conversations Bill taught me to make the alcoholic version of Continental Coffee. I forget his recipe now, but I recall that it involved 3 different types of alcohol, just a splash of coffee, and whipped cream. His technique involved sugaring the glasses and lighting the alcohol on fire then pouring the flaming liquid back and forth between the two glasses. It was more than just a drink, it was theater. Bill often referred to this concoction as "Panty Removers".

Even though Bill was a good 10 years older than I, he was as obsessed with sex as a 16 year old boy. Most conversations with him ended up veering into sexual territory at some point. This was usually about his current girlfriend or some woman from his past that he had done this or that with. The man was a walking encyclopedia of sexual conquests and techniques.

Bill was a Road Shopper, which meant that he traveled around the country working 6 month contracts as a Design Engineer. Road Shoppers like Bill usually have a "pimp" or a contract firm they work out of. These places let him know of new contract job opportunities around the country, and when one of those openings would sound appealing; Bill would pack up everything and hit the road for wherever the next assignment was. Road Shoppers made very good money back then because most people were unwilling to completely pack up and move every 6 months.

I admit that Bill's Gypsy lifestyle was alluring, but as was said earlier, I was recently married with a house in the suburbs, so mimicking Bill's career path was not in the cards for me.

Bill had a vintage 70's Dodge Van that he would load all his clothing and belongings into whenever he moved to a new location. He also towed a trailer that carried his late 60's Shovelhead Harley Davidson FLH.

He once told me that a few years back he had a two year assignment in Ottawa. He had driven up there in a new Datsun 240Z, and during those two years the road salt had so deteriorated his car that the only thing holding it together was the paint. He said that if you pressed your finger against the fender it would leave a dent in the paint.

He went on to say that he had gotten sick of the winters and had found an opening in Arizona. This was at a government installation of some kind in the middle of the desert and the whole place was made up of a bunch of mobile home type trailers that had been repurposed such that they held two rows of drafting desks, leaving an aisle down the center, with the boss sitting at the back of the aisle.

During his phone interview he was asked if he drank. The interviewer said that the base was remote with the only entertainment being a local bar / strip club. Bill answered saying, "Oh no sir I don't drink at all; I'm a Mormon."

Bill was no Mormon, a fact that was probably immediately apparent when he showed up for work the first day on his Harley, with his arms exposing two full sleeves of tattoos, wild shoulder length hair and ample beard. The contract had already been signed though, so Bill kept his job.

He said he liked Arizona because a person could open carry their firearm without hassle from the Police. He told me that he liked riding around with his pearl handled revolver on his hip, just as he imagined Cowboys did in the old west.

Apparently his boss disliked Bill due to the Mormon deception, and made working there difficult. Bill did his 6 month contract term though, but over time he had grown tired of the constant flak from his boss. Bill said that on the day his contract ended, he rode his FLH up the stairs and into the work trailer. He managed to ride down the center aisle, gunning his engine as he did so. Then with his front tire pressed against his boss's desk and the man shaking with fear, Bill simply said, "I quit."

Who among us would not want to quit a job that way?

I met Ted about 2 weeks after Bill started work at Memorex. Both Bill and Ted were Road Shoppers, and had worked together before. Bill is actually the one that went to our boss and recommended Ted for the job.

Ted was a huge human being. The first time I saw him as he walked into the design bull pen I was shocked that people even came in such a large size. Ted was 6' 10" tall, he said he weighed about 340 pounds, but he didn't look fat; he looked like a normal human being that had been built at a larger scale.

Ted was Islandic by heritage, which explains his Viking like size. He had long jet black hair that hung to about the middle of his shoulder blades and a thick beard that nearly reached his waist. He looked like a dark haired Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top).

The combination of his soft voice that seemed so out of place, wry antics, and unpredictable sense of humor made Ted a very entertaining person to be around. He once tried to impersonate a Chinaman by wrapping a rubber band around his head. By stretching the rubber band across his eyes, he thought his eyes would look Asian.

I remember sitting at my desk watching him put the rubber band over his head saying, "Hey lookie Kenny, I look just like a Chinese guy." Almost immediately after saying this he yelled "OW" as the rubber band slipped off his eye lids and into his eyes. But then he did it again. "Hey lookie Kenny…. OW!" And again, "Hey lookie Kenny… OW!"

By this time tears were rolling down my cheeks as I laughed, not at his impersonation of a Chinaman but that anyone would try this at all, and keep attempting it even after it went badly. Eventually Ted quit trying to look Chinese, saying "Well normally this works fine, and it's really funny."

Ted always seemed to be filled with electricity. He just couldn't stay put and still for any length of time. With the combination of his gargantuan size and his monkey like arms that he would flail about in wild abandon whenever he became excited, being around Ted could be a bit hazardous at times.

I considered Ted's electrified antics were all the more unusual after one day when he said he had been stoned on pot for the last 4 years. Pot usually has a mellowing or calming effect on most people, and yet there was Ted practically bouncing off the walls.

Ted said that when he would wake up he would smoke a joint, and then smoke another on the way in to work. During breaks and lunch he would go out to the parking lot and smoke, and smoke another joint on the way home. Throughout his evening he would continue to smoke more until he went to sleep. It seemed to me that this was a pretty expensive habit, and I mentioned this.

Ted would often say that "Money isn't important, that's why they make it out of paper." Needless to say Ted was usually broke.

Shortly after Ted described his pot habit, Bill began pestering him to quit. Bill told Ted that he was probably addicted, and that he should stop. Ted of course said that pot was not addictive and he could stop any time he chose to, but he was simply not choosing to quit.

Bill then offered Ted $100 if he could quit smoking pot for a month; and Ted who needed the money agreed.

Everything seemed to go fine for the first few days, but soon it became obvious that Ted's boundless energy was reaching new heights. He would sit at his desk working like a mad man for 10 minutes or so, then practically leap out of his chair. He would then quickly walk up to the front of the room and start furiously talking with whomever would listen. Ted would talk, laugh, and flail his arms about until that person became exhausted, at which time Ted would move down the row to his next victim. Eventually he would find his way back to his own desk, and the process would start over.

By the end of the first week Bill was willing to give Ted the $100 just to get him to start smoking again. It got so bad that we were starting a collection to buy Ted some pot, just so he would calm down enough to stop his pestering and allow us to get our work done.

One Christmas Ted brought some brownies to work. He was really excited when he brought them in, but this didn't seem unusual given his usual demeanor.

Ted said that he had purchased a pound of Marijuana, and had put all of it into a pressure cooker and boiled it there for several days. He then scooped out the weed, and then put butter into the water that now contained all the THC that had been boiled out of the plant. The butter then soaked up the oil, and Ted had used that butter to make the brownies.

Several people in the design bull pen had brought in treats for the Christmas season, and Ted set his brownies out on his reference table behind his drafting desk just as everyone else had. I didn't touch Ted's brownies until after lunch.

Like most people who came of age in the 60's and 70's, I had eaten hash brownies before. Personally I was unimpressed with the affect they had on me. So after lunch I strolled past Ted's desk and took a brownie; as I took it Ted said, "Watch it Kenny, those are pretty strong."

Soon after I took a brownie, our Supervisor came by. He paused at Ted's desk and took a brownie saying, "Oh brownies! I love these things. Thanks for bringing these in Ted." That was the last we saw of him that day. He went into his office and locked the door and refused to come out.

I have never been as high on pot as I was that afternoon. My head was spinning to the point where I was unsteady on my feet, and within a half hour I had lost the power of speech, all I could do was laugh.

Remember that this was back in 1980, a time before the cell phone was in common usage. Back then we all worked in a large room, called a bull pen, filled with drafting tables. Only a single shared phone was available to us, and that phone was kept on a table at the front of the room. At about 2pm that day Tara, an Indian woman who sat at the front of the room, answered the phone and called back, "Ken you have a phone call!"

When the call came in I had my head down on my drafting table desperately trying to regain some sense of sobriety. I looked up when I heard Tara's voice, then with a deep breath I staggered up to the front of the room to pick up the call. I was hoping this was not a business call, because if it was and I was unable to communicate there would probably be trouble.

As I walked down the aisle I heard people around me chuckle. Everybody knew how stoned I was, and they were probably anticipating what was about to happen. As I picked up the phone Tara quietly said that it was my wife on the phone. With the phone in my hand I stifled my laughter but could only manage a sort of croaking sound. Then my wife said the funniest thing I had ever heard in my entire life.


I laughed of course, who could have helped do exactly that in this situation? Then my wife said something even funnier.

"Ken, is that you? What's going on over there?"

I couldn't help but lose control at that point. I was laughing so hard that tears were running down my cheeks. I managed to croak something in response to my wife's hilarious words, and hung up the phone.

The next day Ted was spoken to about the brownies by our Supervisor. No action was going to be taken, our Supervisor just asked Ted to not bring any more things like that into work.

Ted owned a late 60's Harley Davidson Shovelhead. Over the years he had taken the bike apart and stretched the frame backbone and down tubes to fit him, and rebuilt the engine several times so the bikes original form was hard to determine. In its latest incarnation his bike had a chromed frame. This was the first chrome plated frame I had ever seen; Ted said that his girlfriend's father owned a plating shop, and he had them plate his frame for him. It was a really good looking bike.

I was riding a 1975 Harley Davidson Superglide at the time. This was an AMF Harley; the bike ran rough, leaked oil, and was pretty darned troublesome. I was already thinking hard about replacing it with a more reliable bike, like a Honda. Bill and Ted chastised me for even considering this. Harleys have personality they would say, Hondas don't. My reply was that the personality they spoke of was leaking all over my garage floor, and often refused to start when I needed to ride to work in the morning. Personality is great, but in my estimation reliability is better.

One weekend Bill, Ted, and I decided to get together for a ride down the coast. Bill and Ted being Road Shoppers hadn't experienced much of California, so I thought it would be nice to take them south along the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to Nepenthe.

Nepenthe is a store/restaurant combination that sits high on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a region called Big Sur; it's one of my favorite places to visit along the coast. We all met in the Memorex parking lot one Saturday morning on our bikes with our wives or girlfriends in tow. Together we then rode CA-17 out to Santa Cruz then down the PCH through Monterey, Carmel, and on south toward Big Sur. The air was cool and crisp with a clear blue sky overhead; it looked like it was going to be another perfect California day.

When we arrived we all checked out the "Hippy" store for a while, and then went upstairs for an early lunch. We ate out on the patio which was perched on a hundred foot high cliff overlooking the rolling Pacific Ocean. The water was a deep indigo blue and the endless rolling waves were hypnotic. We sat out there for several hours drinking beers and just talking.

Both Bill and Ted wanted to continue south and see more of the coast, and since this was before my wife and I started having kids and we had no pets, we decided to go with them. We all fired up our bikes and headed south on the PCH (CA-1).

The PCH runs right along the cliffs overlooking the ocean pretty much the entire way south from Big Sur to San Simeon. It was an absolutely stunning ride along the road as it wraps around the edges of the coastal mountains then veers back inland to ford the creeks and small streams that run out of the Redwood Tree forest. We stopped here and there along the way, mostly when the women saw a shop they wanted to have a look at; still though we made the 60 mile trip in about 2.5 hours.

After entering the town of San Simeon we found ourselves rooms at a small and non- descript motel just off the highway. We got ourselves situated, then sat outside our rooms on plastic chairs to watch the sunset. As we sat enjoying the scenery, Ted brought out a small bag of "butter cookies".

Yes, butter cookies made from the butter he had used to soak up the THC from the boiled marijuana. Knowing the strength of Ted's baked intoxicants, each couple decided to split one cookie in half and share it.

As the THC began to take effect the sunset brightened and spread its orange glow across the sky. This color faded through the spectrum until turning deep purple behind us to the east. It was a stunning sight.

Bill and his girlfriend Jennifer wanted to go out to dinner, and soon we were all boarding our motorcycles and heading out. This was an extremely stupid thing to do considering how stoned we all were. We made it to a local Mexican restaurant without problems, but it still was a really dumb thing to even attempt.

Once at the restaurant we got ourselves situated and ordered our food. Time seemed to stretch out as we sat there talking. At one point I asked Bill, "How long have we een here?" He didn't know, and we both started to get paranoid. Do the people around us know that we're high? Maybe someone called the cops.

My wife had her head down on the table with her eyes covered, and Jennifer and Ted's girlfriend Pam were talking at each other, but from what I could hear they were each having a separate conversation. Ted was chattering about how nice the restaurant was and how much he liked Mexican food, and Bill and I were getting increasingly worried about the possibility of the Police coming in to bust us.

After what seemed to be at least 2 hours our food finally arrived. We had all forgotten what we had ordered and so our waitress just set the plates randomly on our table and left it to us to sort it out. The food was really good though, and eating washed some of our paranoia away.

We had trouble remembering what motel we were staying in, but we eventually found it. I had to carry my wife back to our room because she said she could not feel her feet. Once back in our room she crawled on her hands and knees into the bathroom to pee. And once in bed we both had trouble sleeping because the room seemed to be moving around us.

All of this was caused by only half a butter cookie.

It was mid-morning the next day before we all got out of our rooms and back to our motorcycles. We stopped for a much needed cup of coffee before leaving town, then struck out on CA-46 toward Paso Robles where we would connect with US-101 and turn north. Our return ride remains pretty much a fog in my brain; although it's apparent we made it home without problems most of the specifics are lost to me.

I worked at Memorex for 3 years, and it was there that I first started to learn how to program computers. In those days companies were moving away from hand drawn designs and moving toward Computer Aided Design. Back then though graphic terminals were cutting edge technology, and so to design you actually had to do some programming.

Ted and I were transferred to another design group and were among the first to be trained on the use of CAD systems. We were fortunate enough to have a Computer Programmer as a boss, who had also taught High School in the past. Learning to program from someone that knew how to teach made all the difference.

I lost track of Bill shortly after the transfer, but Ted and I continued to work together for another year or so. Eventually I moved on to a design position at Olivetti and Ted stayed at Memorex and eventually became the manager of the CAD design department.

I still hear from Ted now and then via email, but I've not actually seen him in years. I know he lives down in Southern California now, and with my plans to visit that area this coming summer maybe we'll get together for dinner.

No cookies for me though.

 + Open : Bells or Bags?

Bells or Bags?

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."
      - Helen Keller

There's actually quite a bit of folklore that surrounds motorcycling; these old stories include the origin of the ball-peen hammer, the gremlin bell, why green bikes are considered unlucky, and many others. I've previously written about the origin of the ball-peen hammer, and today I'd like to discuss the origin of the Gremlin Bell.

There's a lot of "information" to be found on this subject on-line, however most of it seems to come from people and companies that manufacture and sell these little bells. Because of the profit motive involved the history they recite might be a bit biased or skewed.

The essence of the story these purveyors of motorcycle trinkets tell is that there are little evil spirits out there called Gremlins, and they exist just to cause trouble by wrecking machinery. The myth is that the light tinkling of a bell hung somewhere low on a motorcycle is supposed to scare these Gremlins away. At the least, it's a cute story.

To quote Marcus Aurelius: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

What I offer is only what I have been taught. As I was not there personally at the inception of this tradition, I can only retell what I have been told and then add my opinion.

My Grandfather who started riding an Indian around the year 1918 informed my Father of the origin of the bell tradition, and my Father in turn taught me. The legend as my Grandfather told it is that a bell was originally not an object of protection, but actually a mark of shame.

Back when my Grandfather was riding, paved roads as we know them were very rare. Most roads were quagmires of mud for half the year, and consisted of ruts and rocks the rest of the time. A lot of riding was also done on what amounted to walking trails and even cow paths. In short riding conditions were really difficult and hazardous back then.

To keep a motorcycle running properly the owner had to do a really good job maintaining his bike. Obviously there were guys who didn't do such a great job keeping it together, and these fellows were often forced by their peers to hang a cow bell from their motorcycle to warn other riders. Ill-maintained bikes would often shed parts as they rode over those unforgiving roads and paths, and those falling parts were hazardous to other motorcyclists, so the bell was a warning to other motorcyclists to beware of a poorly maintained bike.

My intention is not to hamper sales of motorcycle related trinkets, only to tell the origin story as I heard it. In the interests of full disclosure I admit that I have hung Gremlin bells from various motorcycles I've owned. These were gifts from friends and I took the bell in the spirit that it was given. I also gave a Gremlin bell to my God Son some years ago. Gremlin bells are a cute tradition, and I am of the "whatever floats your boat" mindset in this regard. If anyone believes that hanging a little bell from your motorcycle will help keep you safe, I say go for it.

If you are a superstitious sort as I am, you may want to consider another older tradition that was followed by many Native Americans, which is the Medicine Bag. A Medicine Bag seems to me to be more appropriate to riders of Indian Motorcycles.

Unlike a Gremlin bell whose intention is to keep evil away, the Medicine Bag is all about increasing a person's internal strength and abilities. I like this idea because let's face it, shit happens in this life and I'd rather rely on my own abilities to deal with it than hope some dingy little bell is going to keep it away.

At the core of a Medicine Bag are elements from the plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms, as well as from the life of man. A plant element may be some leaves or twigs from plants from a garden near to where you grew up; an animal element could be some fur from a favorite animal or pet; a mineral element could be a stone or a piece of quartz which you found that seemed appealing; and life element is usually something manufactured that is important to you such as a coin.

Other items you might include are things of special resonance to you. Often these are found objects such as a piece of petrified wood you found on a hiking trail, or even an interesting button you found in a parking lot. These items can be anything that you feel drawn toward. Also items that represent past experiences such as military insignia and other badges of honor could be included as well.

I know a guy that keeps the key fob for his new Indian Motorcycle in his Medicine Bag. What you keep in your Medicine Bag is personal and need only have meaning to you. What you are creating is a talisman, an object that enhances your abilities and strengthens your spirit. No one should open or mess with your Medicine Bag but you.

Once you have everything assembled you need to find a suitable leather bag. This bag should be small enough to carry around easily. You can find Medicine Bags (just the bag part) on eBay, but suitable bags can also be found at County and Renaissance Fairs as well as craft shows. Pick something that is appealing to you.

When you assemble everything take time to think on the significance of each object as you place it in your Medicine Bag. As your life unwinds before you other items will become significant and should be added to your Medicine Bag.

So will you go with a Gremlin Bell or a Medicine Bag? As I said earlier, whatever gets you through the night, and whatever floats your boat. Have fun with it and ride safe.

 + Open : Halloween 1958

Halloween 1958

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
      - Plato

I had only just turned 4 years old in late October 1958 when my father scared the daylights out of me.

We were still only a slightly off kilter family back then; things hadn't completely gone off the rails yet. My father still had a good paying and respectable job with Hewlett Packard at the time. He worked in the Dymec division of that company, which made one of the first computers to come out of the SF bay area (later known as Silicon Valley).

My father was an extremely smart person; he was actually a genius and a member of the Mensa Society with an IQ somewhere north of 145. He would create astounding electronic devices just on a whim. The one I most recall was what looked like a bundle of wires and components with little lights attached. This contraption would create a light show, without any outside power source. My father told me that the lights were triggered on by charged particles from space entering our atmosphere.

He was the most brilliant person I've ever known, but in some ways he was also the dumbest. He was frequently at odds with his employer, the law, and society as a whole because he never considered the consequences of his actions beforehand. But those are stories for another day.

The San Francisco bay area was still mostly an agricultural area back then; orchards were dominant all along the west side of the bay, from San Mateo southward to San Jose. The soil there is among the richest and most fertile in the world; it's pretty much all paved over and forgotten now though.

My family had moved out of East Menlo Park when that area started to get rough. This was originally a working class neighborhood filled with newly built Eichler Homes. But investors had started to buy up the houses in the area and using them as rentals, and the neighborhood went south pretty rapidly after that. Leaving East Menlo Park behind, they moved up to the Redwood Tree covered coastal mountains to the west, into the town of La Honda.

My parents bought their house because it was a good place to have parties. The house itself was small, but it was on a half-acre surrounded by county owned land. Our nearest neighbors were about a mile away. Outdoor lights were strung all through the woods around our house, and in the back yard there was a built in barbeque and a huge outdoor fireplace surrounded by a semicircular seating area.

There were a lot of parties at our house back then; so much so that as a very young boy, on most mornings I was accustomed to coming across guests that were still passed out from the night before. The people who attended my parent's parties were from either one of two possible backgrounds; these were either people from where my father worked, or bikers and motorcycle clubs.

At the time my father had two motorcycles; one was his old 47 Indian Chief, and the other was his new Matchless. Normally he would alternate between the two bikes when he rode to work, but as time passed he was increasingly favoring his Matchless because replacement parts for his Indian were becoming more difficult to find with each passing year.

He was riding his Indian on the day he decided to scare the wits out of me.

On that day my father had gone to lunch with his work friends at a bar / burger place that was over on California Ave., just a few blocks from Dymec on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. He probably had one too many beers with lunch because as he passed a Five and Dime store on the way back to work, he saw something in the window that made him laugh, and he just had to have it.

The object he was attracted to was a Halloween mask. The Halloween holiday was only days away, and so the store was selling all sorts of costumes. The mask my father saw was of a Witch's face. It was made of rubber and colored a sickly yellow, with a crooked red mouth spouting ugly looking teeth, and a huge nose that protruded a good 4 inches. When he saw the mask he thought, "I'll bet that would scare Kenny" (that would be me). So he went in and bought it.

When he left work that day he first put the mask on, then slid his motorcycle helmet over his head, using it to hold the mask in place. He then donned his motorcycle jacket and the rest of his gear and started to ride home.

He had a blast on the way home. As he rode north on El Camino Real and was stopped at a red light, people in cars would look over at him and absolutely freak out when they saw the mask. On one occasion the light had just turned green when this happened and the person in the car next to him had in a panic popped the clutch and killed their engine.

He was laughing and having a great time scaring people, but there was also some danger. Every time he would accelerate the long yellow nose would flop over and the mask would distort enough so that he couldn't see through the small eye holes.

He rode this way through the city, down Sand Hill Road through cattle ranch country, then up the treacherous mountain road through Skylonda and finally on to La Honda. He rode with the mask on all the way home; later he said that there were several times that he almost rode off the road because he couldn't see. A normally intelligent person would have ridden home without the mask, and then put it on at the foot of their driveway if they wanted to scare their son. Obviously a genius wouldn't do that though.

That evening I heard his motorcycle coming, and I ran out to meet him. What I saw was a hideous person with a large nose start to ride up the dirt road that led to our house, and then slip and fall off his motorcycle. I didn't know what to make of what I saw; it was my father's Indian, but some demon was riding it and had fallen off. "Dad?" I said hesitantly.

My mother ran over and helped lift the motorcycle off the demon, and as soon as the bike was up and the kickstand was down, the creature rushed at me with his arms extended. I screamed, "No…. Dad?" then turned and ran.

Down the concrete steps to our porch and through our front door I ran. I was still screaming, "Dad… NO… Stop it…. DAD!" The creature was relentless in my pursuit. Its arms were wildly flailing about as it wailed some sort of "BUGGA'BUGGA-BUGGA" gibberish as it chased me through our house.

I dashed through the living room and then into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I leaned hard against the door, pushing with all my 4 year old might, hoping to keep the demon at bay. It began pounding on my bedroom door, saying something like "I'm going to get you" over and over.

Finally I heard my mother's voice. She said, "Stop it, you're scaring him."

"That's the point," I heard my father's voice answer. Then finally, "it's ok… come on out young-un. It's only a mask."

I slowly opened my bedroom door, and there stood my parents, both laughing. In my father's hand he held the mask that had frightened me so much. That day I learned that more often than not, what we fear lies within our minds, rather than the reality that surrounds us.

That mask remained in our house for many years after that. I believe I even used it myself as part of a Halloween costume at some time or another. It's gone now though. While my parents were away and I was in Foster Care our house stood empty for a few years. A lot of things disappeared during that time; furniture, books, old photographs, and that mask, they were all gone when my family came together again.

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 + Open : The Dead Man

Riding with a Dead Man

"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"
      - Edgar Allan Poe

They say you meet the nicest people on a Honda, and maybe that's so, but you meet the most interesting people on American made bikes. By far the most intriguing and unusual characters I have ever met were either riding an Indian or a Harley.

I met Paul Talman while I was working a 6-month contract position for the DOD (Department of Defense) back in the early 1980's. I'm certain that Paul Talman was not his real name, and so I don't understand how he managed to find work at a company that required a security clearance. Regardless of this incongruity, we were working together at designing communication systems for US fighter jets.

Paul was what we used to call a "Road-Shopper". These were people who moved about the country like gypsies; they would work short term contract engineering positions and then move on to somewhere else. To paraphrase Woodie Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty, they came with the dust and left with the wind.

Paul was tall and gangly built with brown hair and an olive complexion. He had a soft voice and mundane manner that allowed him to move through crowds and remain mostly unnoticed. What brought him to my attention was that he arrived at work every morning on a beautifully restored 1952 Seafoam Blue Indian Chief. Regarding his bike, I recall Paul saying that the best and most elegant designs are the simplest; that complexity for its own sake is a mark of a poor design done by an engineer without imagination; he also believed that unnecessary technology can become an intricate entanglement that in time will often cause more problems than it solves.

He would go on and on regarding the virtues of the 80 cubic inch flat head engine in his bike. According to Paul, that engine could use just about any flammable liquid as fuel, and so could run perfectly well on the lowest grades of gasoline, which frequently was the only thing available in remote areas. He said that he had even run his bike on moonshine and whiskey, as well as other alcoholic beverages found in the remote villages in Argentina. Places like that, he said, you might get into with a high tech engine, but you won't be getting back out.

Paul was one of the best Mechanical Engineers it has been my pleasure to work with. Our project needed to withstand stresses in excess of 10 G's, that's 10 times the force of gravity here on Earth. Forces such as that will turn rivets and screws into bullet like projectiles, and can transform a human body into something resembling toothpaste. Additionally, the power supply we were designing would occupy a space less than half the size of a red brick, and operate at 5,000 volts; this would require a clearance between conductors of about two and a half inches. So this was not a design for the faint of heart, and yet Paul handled it with ease.

Soon after going to work together Paul and I met for a FFF meeting (Form, Fit, & Function) regarding the system we were teamed up to design; Paul was doing the mechanical and I was doing the electrical design. As we were getting to know each other I asked Paul if he was married. I thought this was a pretty common question and therefore should be easy to answer, but Paul hesitated then finally said, "I don't think so, but maybe."

In response to my puzzled expression, Paul went on to explain that some years back he was married with two kids and living in Indianapolis. His whole life revolved around his family, his home, and his job. His one outlet and form of self-expression was working on and riding his 1952 Indian Chief. He said he took his bike out as often as he could but his time in the saddle was never enough.

Paul continued, saying that one day while he was riding his Indian to work he realized that he really wasn't happy, and that he hadn't experienced any real joy in years. In spite of all that he had, achieved, accumulated, and possessed, his life was pretty miserable.

I interrupted him at this point by suggesting that this was really not a good line of thought to follow. I said that some thoughts were dangerous because they invited dangerous changes; to quote Shakespeare, "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."

Paul smiled a little uneasily, sighed and then went on. He said that this thought process continued to spin in his head as he rode, and he found himself wondering, what was it that he needed to be happy? What was missing? It quickly came to him that his problem wasn't that he lacked anything, instead the issue was that he had too much, because all he needed was his motorcycle, a place to sleep, and free time to ride. So when he came to the corner where he should have made a left turn into the employee parking lot, he continued straight instead. He said that had never returned to Indianapolis.

I asked Paul whether his wife and kids knew what happened to him? He replied that he didn't know. He said he took from their savings just enough to buy a used camper truck to sleep in, and a trailer to haul his bike around when the weather got bad. He also said that he had purchased documentation for several false identities under various names because after a while he thought it would be best if he couldn't be found. Finally, he said that by now his wife probably thought he was dead.

After I remarked that he was pretty much a ghost, he laughed and said that he haunted the highways.

Paul told me that he worked one 3 month contract a year, and spent the rest of the time riding. He showed me a little schedule he kept in his pocket; with each paycheck he added to the amount he had saved, and when his savings reached a specific level he would quit and leave town. Over the years he had ridden the trans-Canadian Highway several times, rode to Alaska, and even down to Argentina. He was free, and because of that he was happy.

During our time together Paul and I rode together many times. I was native to the area and so knew many of the back roads: Kings Mountain, Alpine and Old La Honda roads (otherwise known as "big snot" and "little snot"), Big Basin, and down the coast to Big Sur. It was during those rides that I started calling him "Ghost". Paul laughed at the name, saying that I was more than likely riding with a dead man.

One more story about Paul before I end this.

One of the constant irritations of working in the engineering field is the demand by management that we attend status meetings. Nothing ever actually gets done in any meeting, and so they're a huge waste of time. The managers who insist on these meetings are either too lazy to go around and speak to their employees individually, or too stupid to care. The result is that we usually end up working excessive hours to catch up for the time wasted in meetings.

As a contractor Paul just decided that he would not attend meetings of any kind. He was there to work, and that was all he would do. He said that the meetings were useless, boring, and he felt that just being in the same room as these manages would lower his IQ. Paul was a pretty funny guy.

Management tried everything they could to get Paul to attend these meetings, but no matter how many times they would invite him, he would never show up. They offered donuts in the morning, catered lunch, even project t-shirts, none of it worked. Finally, the head of Engineering sent his secretary to Paul's desk to personally invite him. She was a cute little thing, and Paul seemed to be interested in her, so maybe this was a clever move by the Big Man in Charge.

The Boss's secretary begged him to come to the meeting, saying that her boss would be angry at her if he didn't attend. Paul repeated his position that he would not attend any meeting, but offered to write up a status report for her. She said that wasn't good enough, that he absolutely had to come. Feeling cornered Paul told her jokingly that he hadn't attended these meetings because he had never received a written invitation.

Excited now, she returned to her desk and wrote up a formal invitation for Paul and had her boss sign it. She then returned to Paul's desk and triumphantly presented the letter. Paul said that he was astounded as he took the invitation and read it. He even laughed a little as he noticed that it was signed by the big boss. Then, right in front of her, he threw the invitation into his trash can and said that he just did not ever attend meetings. I guess Paul wasn't that interested in her after all. As they say, freedom has its price.

After the project was completed Ghost and I went our separate ways and I lost track of him. Ghosts are what they are after all. I imagine he's out there somewhere, still riding free.

For Ghost I'll paraphrase Woody Guthrie's Pasture of Plenty again:

It's always I've rambled, that 'cycle and I
All along the green valleys, I'll ride till I die
My choice I'll defend with my life if need be
Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free.

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 + Open : Freedom

Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose.

"What light is to the eyes - what air is to the lungs - what love is to the heart, liberty is to the soul of man."
      - Robert Green Ingersoll

My thought process tends to be circular when I ride; maybe that has something to do with gliding atop a pair of round tires.

I took a nice ride on my 2016 Springfield a few days ago. I rode through the Garden of the Gods then headed into the mountains on US-25. It was a perfect day for a ride into the mountains; temperatures were in the mid-90's in Colorado Springs which was border-line unpleasant, but as I climbed from 6,000 ft. up to 9,000 ft. elevation, the pine scented air cooled and felt delicious against my skin.

After fueling up in Divide CO., I turned south on SR-67 and headed toward Cripple Creek. Riding at a leisurely pace along the winding road through the Aspens, I eventually crested the 10,200 ft. elevation Tenderfoot Pass, then descended into town. The sweet air was refreshingly cool, and I had the whole day ahead to wander over Colorado's back roads as I pleased.

My Springfield was performing flawlessly, even in the high altitudes. I recalled how my Vintage had problems after the Littleton Indian dealer installed the Dyno-Jet Power Commander 5. I'm glad I had that removed; the improvement in performance was good, but not worth all the problems that came with it. Ah well, I thought, it's fixed now so all that's history; freedom and peace of mind is only attained by letting things go.

Made famous by a popular song, in reality Cripple Creek is not really memorable in and of itself. It's nestled high in the mountains and is a nice location, but the town itself just hosts a bunch of small time casinos, so unless you have a gambling addiction, Cripple Creek really doesn't have much to offer. The speed limit is 25 mph through town, but along Bennett Avenue, which is the main street through town, that's too fast. There are usually tour busses parked along the side of the street and a slew of blue haired old women wandering around. The Casinos bus them in because they know these elderly ladies are anxious to gamble away their children's inheritance. With that slow and unpredictable foot traffic, I usually keep my speed below 10 mph through town.

In mid-August Cripple Creek plays host to the "Salute to American Veterans Motorcycle Rally". One of the cool things about this rally is that the police close all the roads from Woodland Park to Cripple Creek to allow only motorcycle traffic. The parade of bikes must be 10 miles long. It's fun to ride in a group that large, taking up both lanes of the road and with to concern of car traffic. Beyond that the rally is predictable, with the usual venders and food kiosks. Parking at the rally is a bitch though because Cripple creek is built on the side of a hill, so it can be difficult to find a place to park amid the thousands of other bikes where the inclination is such that your bike won't fall over.

With the bulk of Cripple Creek behind me I made my way out of town on CR-1, heading in the general direction of Florissant CO. There's a National Monument in Florissant that preserves fossil beds left by an ancient volcanic pyroclastic flow. There's actually fossilized Redwood tree stumps there, which I find interesting because I grew up in the Redwood forests out in California. I wasn't planning on going to Florissant on this day though.

I followed the twisting path of CR-1 down and out of the mountains until I passed by Wrights Reservoir, where I made a left turn onto CR-11, heading south toward Canon City. CR-11 passes through some remote country that features low rocky hills surrounded rolling grasslands that are dotted with pine and scrub-oak trees. It's a nice ride, mostly because it isn't traveled as much as the roads in and out of Cripple Creek.

I rolled along, wandering lazily with no timeline to keep or specific destination in mind; just riding freely, enjoying each moment as it passed that day. The engine note of the Springfield was rich with a comforting pulse, and the air warmed as the elevation decreased. The road ahead was free of traffic and behind me stretched only the empty rural highway; I rested my feet on my highway pegs, leaned back against the back rest, and relished a moment of complete freedom.

CR-11 eventually became SR-9 then wandered out of the mountains to intersect US-50, where I made the decision to turn left toward Canon City. Soon after turning east on US-50 I passed the entrance to the Royal Gorge. The main feature at this attraction is the Royal Gorge Bridge, which spans a narrow granite canyon a thousand feet over the Arkansas River. The Bridge was built in 1929, and was the highest suspension bridge in the world for nearly 75 years, it still is the highest bridge in the United States, however it's not open to regular traffic. It is possible to ride a motorcycle out on the bridge; I've seen this done but don't know what permissions are necessary to obtain beforehand.

The heat was beginning to get unpleasant as I rode past the Royal Gorge amusement park, and headed down the hill into Canon City. This small city has one of those foreign letters in its name; the middle 'n' has a little sideways 's' over it, and the city name is supposed to be pronounced "Canyon" rather than "Canon" which is how it's spelled. This bugs me a little bit because we speak English in this country, and we use the English alphabet. Ok I get it, people want to enjoy their ethnic heritage, but this country is supposed to be the Great Melting Pot, where we all adopt the same culture and language. If the little sideways 's' is ok, what's next? Will we eventually see Kanji glyphs as part of city names? Little things like this make me crazy. When I was a kid my Karate teacher used to say that I thought too much; I suppose he's probably correct about that.

There were traffic lights through town, and naturally, with my bike telling me that it was 102 F, I hit each and every light red. The Springfield model does not come with a standard oil cooler, and at times like this I think that maybe I should install one. Still though, oil coolers only really do their work when the bike is moving and air is flowing through the cooler, so in this situation an oil cooler wouldn't help much. The engine does throw off a lot of heat, and seems to run hotter than does my Vintage (that has an oil cooler), for now though I think I'll trust the Polaris/Indian Engineers and leave everything as is.

Beyond Canon City I continued east on US-50, and eventually passed by the town of Florence. This is a nice little town, but seems a bit economically depressed. Most of the jobs to be found in the area are at the Florence Super-max prison, aka the ADX – Administrative Maximum Facility. I could see the prison in the distance off to the south. It's a near windowless structure that resembles a bunker, surrounded by guard towers and high razor wire fences. I don't know if anyone famous is kept there, I suspect those incarcerated are probably either hopelessly crazy, or just downright evil.

As a society we realize that we need to keep these rabid humans away from the rest of us, but we do this at substantial cost, and keep them in conditions that amount to torture via sensory deprivation. We keep them fed and cared for, and afflict them with lack of stimulus. I'm not saying that these individuals don't deserve every bit of agony this brings; however, I do believe we are paying too much for it. I read somewhere that on average we pay about $31,000 per year to keep a single person incarcerated. For those imprisoned that are too dangerous to ever be set free, I wonder if it wouldn't be more merciful to the inmate, and more cost effective for the rest of us, to just put them out of their misery. A bullet doesn't cost much, and a shot to the back of the head is supposedly painless; wouldn't it be fiscally smarter and morally more compassionate of us to just treat these people as we do rabid animals, and just put them down?

As I rode by the prison I thought about what a total loss of freedom would mean to me. I would much rather die than totally lose my right of self-determination. To be controlled on where, what, and when to eat, sleep, and do; to be deprived of any sort of constructive outlet; to have each day be identical to the day before, and to have that go on for our eternity, all this would be horrible beyond description. Yes, they deserve every bit of pain and suffering they get because of what they've done, and if I were in their place and had done some terrible thing, I would deserve that too. I think that loss of freedom, that loss of self, is far worse than death.

Are any of us actually free though? I think total freedom is impossible because we inhabit a body. There are operational obligations that come with a physical presence, whereas our spirit does not have these requirements. Bodies must be fed, clothed, and protected from the elements. To care for our bodies, we must work, which can be considered a form of slavery because it constrains us. Some bikers say they're free, but any who have actually owned and ridden motorcycles know that these wonderful beasts can be money pits, so the very vehicle that symbolizes freedom demands some amount of slavery. Whether we are speaking of our bodies, or the machines we ride, if you have to earn money to be free, are you actually free?

So freedom really is just another word. Back in 1966 or 1967 my parents knew Janis Joplin fairly well. Back then my father (the shining example that he was) was dealing drugs in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, and he got to know Janis through his friend and customer 'Pete' who managed the Matrix Club, which was located on Fillmore Street back then. As a 10 or 11-year-old I visited the club on several occasions and remember watching Janis and Big Brother and the Holding Company perform.

Janis visited our house several times; I remember her sitting in our living room smoking pot along with my parents and a bunch of other people. She was the most impressive artist I recall from those years; to this day I have never heard anyone sing the blues the way she could. She had a voice like none other, however, she was an utter space cadet and air head.

As I rode by the Florence Super-Max, I could hear Janis singing 'Bobby McGee" in my head; Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. Originally written and later performed by Kris Kristofferson, I've always found Janis's version of that song to be both haunting and beautiful. That lyric in particular holds some truth for me though.

To be really free, you must have nothing. As such, nothing can be taken from you, and with that fear removed, a person is truly free. As I recall people saying back in the 60's, you don't own things, things own you.

So I wondered, are those in captivity actually free because they own nothing? No, I don't think so. Their agony lies in the fact that they still own and are trapped in a body. They're trapped in a box, with negligible sensory input, and also stuck inside their bodies, as such they are far more captive than any of us will ever be. How horrible that must be, still though, they deserve their punishment.

We all like to think we're free, some though see through the illusion. Others pose at being free, dressed as pirates, pumping high test gasoline into their $30,000 motorcycles, then riding out for a $5 cup of coffee at Starbucks. In the end though, all of us are far more free than those stuck in Florence, and that's a damned fine thing.

Riding a motorcycle is about as free as any of us will ever be. Let's all be sure we all appreciate it.

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 + Open : Eamon


"One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood."
      - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Eamon, or should I introduce him by his full name, Eamon Fung Quan, was of Chinese ancestry. You wouldn't guess that by his first name, and even though our friendship lasted thirty years, I never knew how he managed to come by his Irish name; I asked him several times about it over the years, and his reply was always the same, he didn't know either. It's one of the mysteries of the universe I guess.

Eamon was born and raised in San Francisco's China Town, and rarely ventured beyond its borders for most of his childhood and young adult life. His family owned and operated a restaurant near the corner of Jackson and Stockton streets. Their restaurant was popular in the area, but personally I didn't much care for the food because it was too ethnic Chinese for my tastes.

At a very young age, Eamon started studying Choy Lai Fut style of Kung Fu, and soon thereafter became involved in the Wah Ching Chinese street gang. Eamon was nearly six feet tall, which is tall for someone of his ancestry, and was built like a stack of bricks. His size and fighting skills brought him up through the ranks of the gang, and for a time he was living the good life in China Town.

In the late 1970's Eamon and his best friend were ambushed on the street by a rival gang (the Chung Ching Yee, or Joe Boys). Eamon was shot twice, and his friend died at the scene. This happened a lot back in those years; the gangs would bring in young (illegal) kids from Hong Kong, teach them how to shoot, and use them as hit men. When the little kids were caught, they were sent to Juvenile Hall, where they lived a much better life than they had in Hong Kong, and when they got out they were fully vested members of the Wah Ching.

While in the hospital recuperating from his wounds, he learned that there was a contract out on him, and that if he were to return to China Town he would be killed. Once out of the hospital, Eamon moved to Mountain View, a city just north of San Jose CA. Shortly thereafter his family sold their restaurant and followed him south. Once he was settled in the area, Eamon attended San Jose State University, and in the early 1980's graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Design.

I met Eamon in 1986, when he came to work at Olivetti ATC in Cupertino CA, as a Printed Circuit Board Designer. He was the very best designer I ever had the pleasure to work with.

Eamon always said that he met me, before I met him. I was already working at Olivetti ATC in Cupertino CA when Eamon came to work there, but when he joined the design team, I was working in Italy for the company. At that time, I had been in Italy for nearly a month, and was completely sick of the place, and to top it off, President Reagan was making angry noises at Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

If you look at a map, you'll see that Libya is just across the Mediterranean from Italy, and all the Italians I worked with were completely freaking out about the possibility of US air strikes. Libya had some short-range missile capabilities, and Italy was easily within their range. So, in a very real sense, the Italian's fear was justified.

Every day at work I would send messages back home via Unix mail over the USENET, which were the precursors to e-mail, and the internet. I would vent a lot in those messages, worrying about possible missile attacks, and how I was going to make it back home should the shit hit the fan. Our boss at the time was someone who refused to read his mail, and so he had Eamon read all my messages and then report what he had read. At the time, I had no idea Eamon existed, so in a sense he was right, he met me, before I met him.

As it turned out, President Reagan bombed Libya a week or so before I was set to fly home. This led to all airports in Europe being under extreme threat of terrorist attack. Not looking very Italian at all, I was very concerned as I waited for my flight to leave Milan, and so bought a 'La Stampa' newspaper, which I could not read, and hid behind the paper as I waited at the gate. The Italian soldiers that wandered about the airport, wearing sweaty disheveled uniforms, usually with cigarettes dangling from their lips, and carrying Uzi's, did not give me much comfort.

When I finally got back to work in Cupertino, I met Eamon and we hit it off right away. We worked in adjacent cubicles, took breaks together, and went to lunch every Friday at Harry's Hofbrau for the next eight years.

The Cafeteria / break room at Olivetti was up on the third story of our building, and sometimes in the afternoon we would go up to have a coke and sit out on the balcony. Apple's Marketing Department occupied the building next door, and as there were a lot of young women working there, the view from the balcony, was a pleasant one.

I recall one day we were out enjoying the sunshine and the scenery, when an attractive young woman walked from her building into the parking lot. She was dressed nicely, but she was wearing bright green stockings, and Eamon turned to me and said, "Reminds me of asparagus spears". As soon as those words were uttered, the young lady spun around and glared up at us. How she heard us remains a mystery to this day; we were three floors up and she was walking some distance away from the building. In the end, we concluded that women come equipped with some sort of sonar.

During his Olivetti years, Eamon rode a 1983 Harley Davidson FLH; well actually, he rode that cantankerous old bitch only when she decided to run. His bike marked its territory with oil leaks, as most Harley's did back then, and was prone to leaving him stranded. At that time, I was still riding a Honda GL-1000, and so I teased him relentlessly regarding the reliability of his machine. Eamon always replied that he would never own a Japanese machine, out of respect for the suffering his people endured under Japanese occupation.

On weekends, we would sometimes take off and ride together, usually ending up at Apple Jacks in La Honda. We'd sit out on the back deck, drinking beer and endlessly talking. It's rare, but during our time together no subject was off limit, and the conversation never got old. I remember one time when my wife was with us, and Eamon took off his shirt so she could see his bullet wound scars. Both shots went completely through his body, so he had both entry and exit scars.

A favorite conversation between us was concerning religion and spirituality. We would discuss our ideas regarding what happened before our life, and what would come after. We debated the existence of ghosts, witches, magic, and any wildly off center topic imaginable; as I said, no topic was off limits.

In 1991 the high technology field was suffering a downturn, and Eamon was laid off at Olivetti. He went to work at a service bureau, doing freelance designs for smaller companies that couldn't afford an in-house engineering department. He worked the graveyard shift back then, and it was a hard time for him.

By 1994 I too had been laid off at Olivetti, but had managed to land a job at Cisco Systems. Eamon had stagnated a little at the service bureau, and wasn't up to speed with the latest computer aided design systems. So, every weekend we met at Cisco, and I trained him on the system we used. Shortly after I joined Cisco, a position for a new designer opened up, and Eamon was the first person I called. We continued to work closely together at Cisco Systems until I retired in 2005.

In 2003 Eamon finally traded that old clunker Harley in for a 100th anniversary Harley Softail Fatboy. We actually bought bikes together at the same dealer in Newark (my bike was a Softail Heritage). A month or so after our purchases we decided to ride to the Street Vibrations Rally in Reno NV. My friend Ben and his brother Andy went with us. Ever the high-roller, Eamon insisted we all get rooms at Fitzgerald's, so we would be right at the center of all the action.

The four of us had a great time; music, mayhem, and motorcycles, what could possibly go wrong? We dined on steak and lobster dinners, listened to a lot of good music, and rode to Carson City, Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, and even went on the 'Cat House Poker Run' (none of us partook in any of the pleasures offered at the stops) hosted by the Big Red Machine. In the evenings, we would all hit the casino bars, and attended a few parties.

On our second night at the rally we attended a party sponsored by an all-female motorcycle club. I won't name the club, as they have a local chapter where I live now, and I don't want to suffer any blow back. So, Andy and Eamon, who were the only single guys among us, were really looking forward to going. I guess this was because the sponsor was an all-woman group, and they figured it would be a target rich environment. They were wrong about that, because to our surprise, the group was a lesbian motorcycle club.

Both Eamon and Andy, having gregarious outgoing personalities, and always popular with women, thought the evening would result in a somewhat easy pickup and score. Predictably, trouble started almost immediately, when Andy found a tall blonde at the bar, slapped her on the ass and asked if he could buy her a drink. When the woman turned around, displaying a large ring piercing through the lower part of her nose and a facial tattoo, that should have been a clue, but Andy just stood there transfixed, and smiled. She then punched Andy square in the face, breaking his nose.

From our table across the room, the rest of us saw what happened, and we ran to help Andy, who was just sitting on the floor, bleeding profusely. Details of what happened after that remain sketchy in my mind, however chairs flew through the air, and I recall thinking that the scene resembled bar fights from the old Marshall Dillon television show. The police arrived eventually, and yet somehow, we all were able to escape relatively unscathed, and without jail time.

About a year and a half after our Street Vibrations experience, my wife and I attended a Cisco Systems Christmas party. This was back when the technology sector was booming, and any company that had any sort of internet presence was heavily overvalued. Cisco had rented out the entirety of the San Jose Museum of Art, so it was a very posh and (in my view) pretentious event. At the time Eamon was between girlfriends, and so we met up with him and had dinner together.

There was an open bar, which was probably ill advised, but nevertheless it was the center of a lot of fun. After dinner, we all went for drinks, and everything seemed to be going perfectly. I had stopped drinking alcohol by that time, and so only my wife and Eamon were drinking. While were there, Eamon spotted a beautiful Chinese girl alone at the bar, and pointed her out to my wife. "Why don't you go up and introduce yourself, and offer to buy her a drink," she suggested.

Eamon was understandably gun shy after the whole lesbians in Reno happenstance, but my wife continued to prod him into action. "She's at a company party, and I don't see any tattoos or piercings," she said. "Just go up and talk to her, what do you have to lose?"

Reluctantly Eamon walked up to the young woman. She was facing the bar, so he had no other way to approach her than from the rear. The bar was crowded, so there was no room for him to squeeze in beside her, so he tapped her on the shoulder. The girl spun around angrily and slapped him, and he staggered backward, caught his foot on a leg of a bar stool, and fell right on his ass.

The girl was shocked by what she had done, and rushed over to apologize. Apparently, another man had been persistently bothering her, and she had finally had enough. When she realized that she had inadvertently struck a stranger, she helped him to his feet and bought him a drink.

They were married about a year later. They bought a historic Craftsman style house in the Rose Garden area of San Jose, collected antiques, and had a son about two years after their marriage.

I moved to Colorado after I retired in 2005, and so we didn't see each other very much for quite a few years. Whenever I rode to California to see my daughter and her family, we would arrange to have lunch. It was weird I suppose, but even though we wouldn't see each other for a year at a time, when we got together and talked, it was like we never parted.

Eamon had a rough couple of years starting in 2011; first his father died, and then his father-in-law passed on. Per Chinese tradition, he was not permitted to attend his father's funeral, or even visit his gravesite for a year; that was especially hard on him. Also, being the eldest son, it was his responsibility to see to the wellbeing of both his mother and sister. His father had done his own financial planning, and so there were stocks, mutual funds, and properties scattered all over, and it was his task to organize it all, and be sure his mother was well taken care of. He did all that and more.

He arranged his work schedule such that he could work from his mother's house every Friday. While he was with her, he took her shopping and made sure that everything was working properly at her house. He was a good son.

Eamon's wife Julee, never particularly cared for non-Asians, and so I rarely saw her. In fact, it seemed like she actively worked to keep us apart. The only time I would see him, was on those Fridays when he was with his mother, and he could sneak away and have lunch. Still though, we emailed each other constantly and kept in close contact.

He had started to have health issues around 2012, probably some of which were due to stress, and also because his lifestyle had become sedentary. The last time I saw him, he had put on considerable weight and was having trouble walking.

In 2014 all communication suddenly ceased. I was concerned of course, and continued emailing him; I knew he had an overloaded life, and so I just assumed he was busy, but the silence persisted. Not wanting to make a pest of myself, I backed off on trying to contact him, assuming that when he was ready he would get back to me. Still, every once in a while, I would leave a message at his office, or on his cell phone, but never heard anything back.

In early 2016 I posted something to Eamon's Facebook page. I knew there was little chance of hearing back from him through that medium, he hated Facebook, but by that time I was worried because I hadn't heard anything from him in such a long time. Finally, about mid-way through that year, I received a message from his son, informing me that Eamon had died. He had been sick for a long time, and finally succumbed to his illness in late 2015.

I wasn't told because I'm not Asian, and as far as his wife was concerned, I'm barely human. I still don't know where he is buried, and I really wish I could visit his grave to pay my respects.

Eamon, I miss you buddy.

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 + Open : Learning & Living

Learning & Living

If you love life, don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
      - Bruce Lee

The human mind can be likened to a tool; if a man knows only a hammer, he will solve all his problems as though they were nails. So, the more tools a person possesses, the more intriguing the nature of the problem, and the more interesting life becomes.

I've been participating in martial arts for most of my life, longer even than I've ridden motorcycles. Although I took time off from both these disciplines when my kids were very young, for the most part they have remained a constant in my life.

When my father discovered that I was studying Karate, he told me, "If you only have one teacher, you'll never know more than he does." In the spirit of that axiom, I've always tried to keep an open mind, and carefully study anything new, then add what is pertinent to what I already know. As Bruce Lee famously said, "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add to what is specifically your own."

In the world of Martial Arts, I have studied several different styles, and hold the ranks of 6th Degree black belt in Taekwondo, 2nd Degree black in Kenpo Karate, and 1st Degree black in Shotokan Karate. I have also competed extensively in 'Open Style' martial art tournaments, and so faced practically every martial art imaginable. I believe that due to the diversity in my experiences, I am a better artist.

Each style of martial arts solves the same problem, succeeding in combat and self-defense, but they all go about the process differently. The diversity of these approaches, have at times caused me some consternation. While each style works, the functional reasoning behind many techniques seem at first to be contrasting. However, when both techniques work, there can be no contradiction. It takes time, dedication, and an open mind to find the truth within what is being taught, and it is that core truth, that I add to what I already know.

When I went back to school to study Computer Science and Programming, a friend and mentor asked what course I was about to take. If I recall correctly, it was Pascal, which is a beginning programming language. My friend nodded, then suggested that I take a creative writing class as well. At first this seemed crazy; how could taking a subject so apparently different help me?

I took his advice, and I believe I became a better programmer because of it. A computer program is actually a kind of story, and by conceiving it as such, my programs came together faster, and worked more efficiently. Later, when I was about to start a Database design class, this same friend suggested that I take an art class. Again, this was a huge benefit, because the ability to mentally conceive data structures in a visual form, helped me design matrices in multiple dimensions. Straying outside the lines, and approaching a problem from different directions added depth to my knowledge.

In Motorcycling, learning to effectively carve up the roads on a sport bike, can make you a better rider on a touring bike. This works both ways of course. Also, riding the same road every day won't make you a better rider; all that does is make you good at riding that one road. To become better at what we do, we need to apply what we know to different problems, and in so doing come away with new and improved skills.

Never believe that you know it all, because that will lead to road rash, if you're lucky. I've been practicing martial arts for about fifty years, and have been riding motorcycles for roughly thirty years. I still consider myself a novice in both disciplines, because there remains so very much to learn. My goal with every ride I take, is to learn something new.

I believe the day I stop learning, is the day I start to die.

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