A Perfect Metaphor

07 February, 2006 Temperature: 21 degrees F (-6°C)

The Baron turned over seven thousand kilometers today. It happened early on our morning commute, at about quarter after six. The sky was dark and cloudy, and I wouldn’t have even noticed had we not stopped for gas.

Under the bright flourescents at the Holiday station, the odometer read seven zero zero one, point one. I stood there in the cold and pondered that for a moment. This little scooter has known nothing but hard use for three months. He has stood up to two minor crashes and lots of hard running; salt, sand, and muck attacking his metal components.

I checked the oil: still full since our last change. I looked him over and grimaced at the salt stains on the plastic and accumulated grime everywhere else. He’s looking pretty gnarly again. Yet he purrs like a big cat every time I push the start button, regardless of the weather. He has taken me to work and back every time I’ve asked him to. This is a very good scooter.

All the way to work this morning, I thought about how such a simple, economical vehicle could be the answer to our fuel problems in this country. If only we could uncouple our egos from our mode of transportation, and use our existing garment technology to deal with temperature. We could save loads of gas, and cut pollution by orders of magnitude.

But most Americans don’t think like that. They still buy into our media image, which was created by our enormous advertising industry. Size matters, and might makes right. If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. Ego-driven materialism may be the death of us yet, as illustrated by the following tale:

The Duel…

Now this is funny, in a sad sort of way. Riding home tonight, the Baron and I found ourselves approaching an intersection behind an SUV, on a four-lane avenue. The light turned red, and the SUV turned right, leaving us at the head of the queue in the right lane. Up ahead, a pickup truck was parked in our lane, illegally close to the intersection. I hadn’t seen it because the SUV had tinted windows and blocked my view.

In the lane next to us, a fellow pulled up in a wheezing old, turd-brown Plymouth K-car. I looked over and noticed that the driver was a middle-aged fellow with a bushy mustache and aviator sunglasses. He looked straight ahead, but I could see the muscles in his jaw twitching. He was staring fixedly at the stoplight, knuckles white on his steering wheel, as though on the starting line at the local dragstrip. Like it or not, I had just assumed the nemesis role in his 1970’s disco drag-race fantasy.

Now, you have to take a moment to appreciate the situation…

In his mind, my lane is blocked shortly after we cross the street. NO WAY is he going to let some crazy smart-ass on some kinda foreign motorscooter get ahead of him in that space. He is a pissed-off, blue-collar American Working Man; beaten down at work and at life by powers and people he cannot understand. But right here, right now, he’s gonna get some of that back, if only for a fleeting moment.

I hear his lifters rattle as he revs his tired old engine. He is actually standing on the brakes to get a quicker takeoff, torturing his transmission. His fan belt is screaming pitifully. The light on the cross-street turns yellow, and I look both ways. Nothing coming. As their light turns red, I twist my throttle, knowing there is a lag before the variator spools up. When our light turns green, I am already moving through the crosswalk, with a holeshot car-length lead.

The K-car’s engine cries out, as it tries to obey it’s driver’s command. They come away from the line without spinning a tire. Are they gaining? I don’t know. But now the parked truck is just ahead, and I pull the Baron to the left side of our lane. The K-car driver beeps his horn in frustration, but we shoot the gap, squeezing by with room to spare. We never even have to enter his lane.

The Baron and I make it to the next light first, and it is red. I hear the squeal of brakes and I look to my left. Mister Nineteen Seventy-Nine is thrusting his middle finger at me as though it is the gunsight of some terrible cannon. His face is beet red, and I can see his pulse hammering in his throat. This is full-bore road rage on exhibition. I really wish I had a camera. I smile and wave, then turn right down West River Road.

He did not follow, thankfully. If he’d had a gun, I might not be typing right now.

Yeah, I know… I’m a bad boy sometimes. What can I say? Don’t try this at home?

It’s not my job to be a perfect example. This is a scenario which plays out in much of Europe, and all over the third world, every single day. With the price of gas on the rise over here, it will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Look, if you are reading my blog, I assume you are at least old enough to have a driver’s license. Make your own choices, and accept the consequences. Or as the late, lamented Hunter Thompson would say:

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

28 Responses to “A Perfect Metaphor”

  1. Bus Driver Says:

    Gary I enjoy reading this, because in the Tri state area [NY,NJ,CT] we have 16 million Yahoo’s on the road.We dream of moving to a peaceful place like the Midwest. I have been trying to work up the courage to get back on a bike after a 25yr lay off, so don’t scare me.The last case of road rage in this neck of the woods,a honda (car) crushed to death a sport bike rider between a SUV. Guns are so LA !!!

  2. Kurt Layman Says:

    I like your perfect metaphor.
    From yesterday’s entry about the perfect ride: “But I’m beginning to think that ninety percent of what we experience in traffic is generated by our own attitude. The other ten percent is luck, or fate, or whatever brand of karma you might believe in. ”

    Ride well, live well!

  3. irondad Says:

    Isn’t it funny how it works? It’s too complex for me to state simply. It’s just odd how quickly we take on those challenges. We joke about it later but we certainly “go for it”. I don’t think we do it recklessly. It’s just that we’re used to weighing risks and doing our own thing. That’s the essence of our year round commuting in bad weather. We’re actually proud of being considered branded a “rebel” from the normal picture of a milktoast male. One follows the other. So I am not at all surprised at your duel. I think the finger was his way of saying he was suprised you smoked him with only “1″ cylinder!!

    By the way, we used to run K cars in law enforcement. They are pretty puny. The Baron had an advantage. It was amazing how that short wheel base bounced on city streets at 3 in the morning at 60 MPH. Where the K car would bounce hard it would just be a series of whoop-de-do’s for you.
    Scooters rule!!

  4. Dick Aal Says:

    I’m with you on a couple of these things. We used to own a SUV and have since gotten rid of it. I mostly ride especially if I am doing multiple chores around town. AND we don’t miss the SUV at all. Lighter is better.
    On the road rage thing I have had a few of those cases also. The worst was with a guy in a pickup with a rifle rack in the back window. hanging on the rack was an axe handle. NOT and axe but an axe handle! This was for intimidation only and it really got to me. If I had been armed I may have let him walk up to me with that thing. And I probably would not be here now typing this reply to you. I don’t think they let you work on blogs in prison. At least you recognized the other driver’s intent but maybe you should not have baited him. He can come along that route another day when you aren’t as observant. Take care. Lots of looneys out there…

  5. Mad Says:

    I found with my old scooter that you can get away even quicker if you rev up to take off speed, hold it against the brake and when the light turns release the brake as you wack the throttle to the stop… um but it does terrible things to your transmission. :p

  6. Nick K Says:

    Perhaps you need to arm yourself with something equivalent to the gun rack. You could hang a compound bow over your shoulder, (arrows not necessary), a good use of the intimidation factor for sure. Camo goes a long way too. I’m sure Mr. 1979 would give you more room and consider giving the peace sign instead, unless he is packing of course. Kinda like the brinkmanship game notched down a few degrees from the geo-political realm. I’m starting to think you could use a posse of local riders to ride with you. We could have our lights flashing, horns blaring and be completely unaware of the posted signage just like the presidents motorcade. Nobody would mess with you. Keep Riding, Nick

  7. Seagullplayer Says:

    It don’t take much in the way of riding to figure out the road is only half the battle. Maybe you should have let the dude take ya, you might have made his week…
    Another great read.

    (I ordered a catalog from the company you gave me. I have been using snow boarding gloves with inner gloves, but below 40 F and I’m frozen fingers after about 20 miles. I’ll look into your snow mobil gloves. Thanks)

    Rubber down.

  8. mnscooter Says:

    Busdriver, from what I’ve seen of NYC, I don’t know how enthused I would be about riding there. But I’ve also learned that you can get used to almost anything.

    It’s all about matching your situational awareness to the conditions, and maintaining that level throughout your ride. Task saturation causes mental fatigue, so I would probably want to keep my rides rather short in the big city. Or find routes that are less travelled. How do NYC riders handle this?

    Ride aware,
    =gc=

  9. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Kurt,

    Yesterday, admittedly, I was feeling froggy. The roads were dry, and it was a relatively balmy 26 degrees (-3C). I had taken a few fast curves and was “in the zone” by the time the challenge came. So my attitude was aggressive, not zen-humble. I have bio-rythms just like everybody else, and that’s really the best way for me to explain it. While I try to ride in a disciplined, consistent manner, we all know that ego and emotion are very powerful influences. Thanks for writing.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  10. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Irondad,

    I actually thought about your fighter pilot analogy while this was happening. I just didn’t write about it because you had stolen my thunder.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  11. mnscooter Says:

    Hi Dick,

    Your point about possible revenge in ambush is well noted. It’s all about the awareness thing again, but here is one more hazard I will have to be alert for. FWIW, I would never bring an axe handle to a gunfight. The Marine Corps taught me better than that.

    Ride wary,
    =gc=

  12. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Mad,

    I’ve already blown one drive belt. I’m not anxious to have it happen again.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  13. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Nick,

    The posse thing is a great idea! How many local riders do you think we can find in this weather?

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  14. mnscooter Says:

    Seagullplayer,

    When you go on the Bob’s Cycle website, check out the “snow closeout” section. Wait… here’s a link:

    http://store.bobscycle.com/browse.cfm/2,6846.html

    They have good gloves and mittens in there at prices you won’t find in the catalogue.

    Good luck,
    =gc=

  15. Ketchup57 Says:

    My father had a similar experience recently - although it didn’t end as well as yours. He rides a 400cc scooter for his daily 45-60min commute. Now my dad is a fairly new rider, he started commuting with a 50cc scooter 2 years ago and moved up to the 400cc ride this past summer. He also just turned 64 last month.

    Now his experience with the street drag racer wanting to prove how superior his 3/4 ton truck is to his scooter went something like this. Dad pulled up to a red light next to the testosterone rig, when the light turned green Racer X confounded by being behind an old man on a scooter floored the gas. Shortly after this light the lanes merge to a single lane, Dad realizing that being next to this rig isn’t a good idea and seeing some traffic ahead let Racer X into the lead and allowed him to merge. This wasn’t enough, the thanks that Dad got was the driver slamming the brakes as soon as he was in front to show his superiority. Dad got a little too much front brake and slid down the highway onto the shoulder at 45-50mph and the now happier racer continued on his way feeling he taught that scooter rider a lesson.

    I have been commuting year round for a number of years now, started out on a cruiser, went to a sport tourer, a 50cc scooter, a naked sport bike, and now a dual sport tourer. I have had my share of drivers trying to teach a motorcyclist a lesson and have fortunatly not lost any skin or paint.

    My wife reminds me everyday that people have died due to road rage. Reading this blog reminds me that I believe there would be an end to road rage if we were all on 2 wheels and not in the cage of personal security provided by a couple tons of metal.

    Ride safe,
    Ketchup57 in ID

  16. irondad Says:

    I hate to say it but I actually used the “posse” thing, once. My daughter was in fifth grade. A father of one of the students was making the life of the teacher hell. The teacher is a friend of mine. We used to sit in the hot tub at the athletic club and drink coffee. I know, a heavy workout! Anyone, this teacher and friend was kind of a sensitive fellow. At one point he was reduced to tears. I gathered up some of my “bike” friends. We all put on the black leather one day and showed up at the store that this father owned. It was tactfully explained to him that anything that upset my daughter’s education would upset me and, by extension, my friends. His eyes were wide and we had no further problems.

    And to think I now try to present a positive image of two wheels. This was so much more fun!

  17. Bro Shagg Says:

    I like Nick’s idea of the posse- it’s kind of a scooter version of a bunch of Harley’s going down the road. People are instantly on edge when a bunch of bikers go by. Don’t know why though- most “real” hog riders are the most down-to-earth people you’d want to meet.

    I was riding with a bunch of work buddies one day. I wondered as people stayed away from us in traffic if they would have been more frightened if they knew we were postal workers!

  18. Mad Says:

    I carried a spare drive belt under my seat… which actually says far more about Italian scooters than it does about me. ;)

  19. Kurt Layman Says:

    Gary, I did not mean to sound critical. On the contrary, aggressive riding is an important part of the ride experience. Do ride aggressively and within your limits. Do ride in the zone and in the moment. Do not be intimidated, do be safe, don’t be a victim…
    I appreciated the contrast between your perception of reality and your antagonist’s. I enjoyed the ‘karma’ of each and the consequences.
    I identified with yours. Your perceptive comments from the previous days blog made today’s blog even better!

  20. Nick K Says:

    I’m thinking perhaps there would be a few people interested in some kind of ride. Maybe a ‘ride to gary’s work’ day. The hard part would be to find some people to not only battle the elements but to wake up so damn early. You are a brute. Nick

  21. irondad Says:

    A comment on aggression. I agree it is necesary. To slightly refine it, take this from police motors. In training I was told to use this mantra:

    “Controlled aggression”. Sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?

    Dan

  22. mnscooter Says:

    Ketchup 57, I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s misfortune. While most SUV pilots tend to be oblivious to those around them on the road, it seems most of the actively hostile jackasses I have encountered have been driving big pickup trucks. Is there a lesson in there somewhere? Hmmm…

    Bro Shagg… Postal workers on Harleys!? Ye gods, man! What could be worse?

    Mad, I’m going to ask them for a spare next time I go in for a ‘pitstop’.

    Kurt, that is a fascinating comment. You’re the first one here that seems to have ‘got’ the connection between the two posts. I’m going to elaborate tonight, but the telepathy thing seems to be working. Never worry about being critical. I only delete abusive or spam comments.

    Hey Nick…not to mention the reactions from my conservative coworkers when a whole gang of ‘bikers’ descends on the parking lot.

    Finally, Irondad… Dammit Dan, you have GOT to stop reading my mind! When I read your last comment, my stomach dropped into my boots. That is EXACTLY the title and content I have planned for tonight’s entry. Anyone reading this first would think I ripped you off. Well, I’m not changing it now. But that is just so damned spooky! Great minds think alike?

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  23. Kurt Layman Says:

    “controlled aggression”
    “existential gravity’”

    These are gems! Absolute GEMS!

    No wonder you do not see MC in front of psychiatrist offices!

  24. Buster Brown Says:

    Gary, I think I see where you are headed, too. I will just hold my tongue for now. In fact, the only reason I need to post at the moment is to see if my vanity email address is working again.

  25. Buster Brown Says:

    >“controlled aggression”
    >“existential gravity’”
    >
    >These are gems! Absolute GEMS!

    Just wait until he does “lapsed Unitarian” and “karmic prophylaxis”!

  26. Mad Says:

    “Controlled aggression” is my philosophy on overtakes oddly enough. I think there’s something in the air over here. It’s a good description for a certain style of riding.
    I find the thing I struggle with on the road is regaining my “zen” after someone pulls a dumb move on me. What I want to do is: react to the situation, remove myself from the vicinity of the idiot and then continue my ride as if nothing has happened. What actually happens is: I react to the situation, then I make the numpty aware of my displeasure and then stew on it for the next ten minutes of the ride. The stewing on it means my concentration is suffering which is less than desirable. I need a way to get back to my zen quicker…

  27. David Eakin Says:

    Seagullplayer - you might want to check out Motorcycle Gear Review (http://www.motorcyclegearreview.com/) as this is a feedback forum on cycle gear (including Winter gloves). When you’re ready to buy, don’t forget New Enough (http://www.newenough.com/) as they are running some Winter glove sales; PowerSports4Less (http://www.powersports4less.com/); Helmet Madness (http://www.helmetmadness.com/ under “Accessories”); Extragear1(www.Extragear1.com); Snowgear (http://www.snogear.com/).

  28. Steve Williams Says:

    I get the existential gravity. Controlled aggression just doesn’t work for me. It’s like controlled crack use. Once I start down the controlled aggression road the control evaporates quickly.

    I am more closely aligned with the aggressive submissive group.

    I do really appreciate a good red face and middle finger from another driver. What is it about me….

    steve

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