Self-Driving Cars: Absolutely, Positively Gotta Have One!

Woke up this morning–always a good sign–and realized that it’s Christmas Day 2016, which means I survived through another annual Christian holiday. This is three in a row since I played basketball with my head on the wooden floor of my office. Now that I seem to be back on track somewhat, I decided what I’d like for Christmas. Daddy. Please. Fucking Please, if that increases my possibility of getting what I want. Otherwise I’ll hold my breath until I turn purple. No. I take that back. I tried it a few years ago; didn’t like the way I felt.

So, back to what I want for Christmas.

I want a self-driving car, one like the Google God drives around cities clipping bicycles and flattening neighborhood pets who inopportunely wander onto the street. I’m not sure about the Tesla self-driver. It doesn’t see semi-trailers if they’re painted white. Cut the guy in the front seat’s head off but didn’t harm the computer. Gotta see the bright side, don’t we, Mr. Musk? Maybe Trump will require that all trailers and other large objects be painted a color the computer can see.

Self-driving cars seem like such a wonderful idea for people who don’t like to drive, people who know where they want to go before getting in the car, people who find such mundane tasks as turning the steering wheel while simultaneously operating fuel feed, clutch, gear shift and a multude of other controls just too, too boring. I mean, how many people do YOU know who pile into the family jalopy and go for a cruise around town with no idea of where they’re going to end up or even how they’re gonna get there? Surely no one…right?

These cars that drive themselves certainly are much more safe than the ones everyone else drives. Well, aren’t they? The only impediment in the path of self-driving cars is a bunch of cars driven by fucking human beings who don’t know where they’re going, don’t know how to get there and just want to poke around senselessly through town while cars that drive themselves need the road to themselves in order to be safe.

OK, so we remove people from the cars entirely. That’s a wonderful idea. Much more room inside for packages, items being delivered by Amazon, bags of drugs shipping from dealer distribution point to user end point, you get the idea. Car design changes are in line, too. No glass for windows; computer doesn’t need windows. No seats; computer doesn’t sit while it’s driving. No money wasted on colorful paint. Computer doesn’t care what color the car is.

Road requirements change simultaneously with the take-over of these new cars. No shitty scenic routes to be built or maintained. Computer don’t need no fuckin’ scenic route. More lanes available on extant roads. Computer don’t need space on each side to miss the other computer-driven cars. Lots more profit…LOTS MORE PROFIT…for Google, Amazon, Tesla, Uber, Unter, InsideYout, and all the poor, starving tech companies…when human-driven cars are removed from the roads.

What I really look forward to is self-driving motorcycles. Not enough space for packages, no practical application for the device, so it’s fun only for the computer itself. I’ll make sure my computer gets a Ducati.

Yep. I’m sold on the idea. Can’t you tell?


October 08, 2014

Ten months since CABG, just a couple of days since grafting new brake lines on the BMW. I just completed a post on my Recovery Page looking back on the ten months since I toppled onto the floor and, like the leper playing poker, almost tossed in my hand. Well, it hasn’t been all exercise and self analysis since suffering the big one on December 9, 2013. In fact, here’s a photo of what I spend some of my time doing:


That’s an old service station in Lowell, Arizona, just a few miles from my home, that I used as a backdrop for my BMW and a spin around town celebrating another month since undergoing Coronary Artery Bypass Graft  (me, not the station or the motorcycle). The station is being renovated, receiving gas pumps, Shell colors and nifty posters in the windows along with a car parked by the pumps. The Ford is…I believe…a ’54 that belongs to the owner of the Broken Spoke Saloon in Sturgis. The BMW K1200rs is mine, a ’98 with 94,000 miles on the clock. It just received a set of Speigler stainless wrapped Teflon brake lines so it stops better than ever. (Kinda like me: I received new fuel lines so my pump works better.)

Sports Uniforms for the…Bold…

Ah, so it’s a rainy Tuesday here in not-so-Aridzona and a fun day to consider: sports uniforms. Why sports uniforms? Because I don’t particularly like organized sports and abhor sitting in front of the mindless (tube, monitor, tablet, fill in the blank) while watching illiterate millionaires provide a life for a mindless and inert audience. However, I do enjoy observing bicycle racing. Part of the thrill is seeing athletes who are of normal height and weight perform endurance feats that are almost beyond belief. Sure, some of the guys (and gals) are imbibing a cocktail of performance-enhancing-drugs but they’re still amazing. (OK, Lance Armstrong turned out to be an asshole but his assholiness was mostly due to bullying, lying and arrogance which seem to be a part of his persona, not a drug-induced state.)


Now, on to the uniforms. The image above is of the Columbian women’s cycling team (borrowed from BBC, though it’s also posted on Google’s pack of pix). Fake? A result of some demented graphic designer with too much time to spare? No. This image came from a recent team appearance (yes, I understand that the reader might construe this line as a pun) at the Tour of Tuscany in Italy. Transparent Lycra, provides venting for sweaty parts? No, merely a design that wasn’t particularly well considered before committing the colors to cloth. Below is another photo of the same group of riders taken in another location during the same race, this time from a slightly different angle.


One can see the wrinkles in the spandex and might realize that the questionable area between the riders’ legs is not what you think it is (unless you already realized that it’s a chamois pad). What might designers of team garb learn from this? Well, any creation that incorporates flesh tones is likely going to be a mistake, particularly if said flesh tones are covering any sensitive area of the body. Spandex is particularly a problem for the graphic artist (what an apt term) though it isn’t merely poor choice of colors that can raise eyebrows among the onlookers as the image of the Polish bicycling team below shows quite vividly.


Years ago when I spent many hours pedaling a road bicycle about the countryside, I invariably donned a lightweight pair of shorts and a vented shirt over my bib Lycra. Modest? Not really. Had I been equipped with impressive parts like some of these young men, I would have flaunted my stuff. Instead, I concealed my shortcomings. Such is life.


Red Hartman, Early Arizona Harley Dealer, Rides Off into a New Adventure

Red Hartman, a franchised Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer from 1948 until 1988, is now riding knuckleheads and panheads along roads the rest of us will eventually visit. Red’s first shop was Cochise County Harley-Davidson Sales in Douglas, Arizona. Years later he opened Hartman Harley-Davidson Sales in Sierra Vista.

When Cochise H-D rolled its first hardly-ablesons out onto US 80 in Douglas, there were no golden arches shovelling out little patties of shit to the locals, no Walmart sprawling across a giant parking lot just north of the US/Mexico border. DC3s, 4s and 6s emblazoned with American Airlines colors painted on shiny aluminum skins roared in and out of Bisbee-Douglas International Airport just outside town. Twin stacks at the Phelps-Dodge smelter belched a plume of smoke that drifted far across Arizona…or, when the prevalent winds shifted, down into the Sierra Madres of Mexico. P-D headquarters was located in Douglas, those airplanes at BDI served businessmen flying in and out of the little border town.

Not much was happening in Sierra Vista back when Red opened that first shop. Not too surprising, as there was no Sierra Vista with its row of fast food palaces and car dealerships on Fry Boulevard. It hadn’t been founded yet. Instead, the town was known as Fry Township, a few dusty bars that served the GIs from Fort Huachuca and some homes for the civilians but the big box stores, the multitude of Wendys, KFC, big Macs, Toyotas, Fords, Chevrolets, Kias and all their ilk wouldn’t arrive for many years. Fry became Sierra Vista and was incorporated in 1956.

Red saw it all. He sold Harleys back when women seldom visited motorcycle shops and men wore leathers even in Arizona heat to protect against the hot pipes and burning oil that frequently spewed from the big twins.

First time I walked in the door of Red’s shop was when I rode into Douglas on an XLH Sportster on my way to Mexico. Drank a cold Coke and asked about what problems I might expect across the border. Back in the early 60’s I was referring to road conditions, places where I might get a tire replaced if necessary, other establishments where I might get certain things of interest to a young man. Crossing into Mexico wasn’t a big deal. A few immigration guys worked at the Douglas/Agua Prieta Port of Entry along with a few more 25 miles west at Naco. One of the Border Patrol senior officers told me (years later) that maybe six or seven green-uniformed officers rode their horses along the barbed-wire fence that marked the international line back then. Like so many other changes, years would pass before two-thousand militarized Border Patrolmen would operate out of the thirty million dollar Douglas Station…and another couple thousand more would call the even more expensive facility at Naco their base of operations.

My last visit to Red’s shop was in 2002. I wanted new handlebars for my ’01 FXDP, something lower than the pronghorns that came with the twin-cam police bike. Red had them. I stood talking to Red in his cluttered little parts and maintenance shop in Sierra Vista, a place tucked behind Oil Can Henrys on Fry Boulevard. Red no longer represented Harley-Davidson, Harley doesn’t support small dealerships like Red owned, at least not in this country. Instead, corporations pony up several million dollars and agree to build impressive shops with racks full of clothing, rows of shiny bikes and a ton of chrome accessories that make the new bikes more reliable, faster, better handling. Well, they make the new bikes more shiny, anyway.

Red smiled when I told him about visiting his shop in Douglas four decades earlier; he certainly had no reason to remember me. I was one of many, many young motorcyclists who rode through southeast Arizona on the main US highway. (It’s now AZ80, a state road that meanders through the border communities then back northward. I10, the superslab, stretches along 50 miles north of here.) I wish I would have stopped in again, maybe taken some photographs of the shop, but it closed not too many years later and I never got around to seeing Red again. There wasn’t much H-D stuff left, just accessory parts and a variety of smaller bikes in various stages of disrepair. Red was 91 years old when he passed away a few days ago, that would have made him about 80 when I saw him. I didn’t realize how old he was.

Sometimes I don’t realize how old I am, either.

My last Harley (at least I assume it was my last, see ) is gone, too. I have a BMW K1200RS and a Ducati 907ie, I still enjoy riding, but my fascination with the big Milwaukee twins long ago disappeared. I can’t afford the tattoos that seem an obligatory part of the “rough edge” of the Harley culture and I don’t fit the image of a RUB, a rich urban biker, replete with expensive leathers, dazzling motorcycle and curvy young thing accessorizing the package. Neither did Red Hartman.

RIP, guy. Ride Into Perpetuity, smoke belching out the pipes and oil dripping on the ground.

Sex in the Cockpit: Part II

Sex in the Cockpit?

Sex in the cockpit is much more common than many people–both pilots and non-pilots–like to either consider or admit. Of course, as I detailed in a previous post about the Mile High Club, I’m not referring to coitus, whether interrupted, consummated or even a remote possibility. It’s the underlying sexual tension that can cause some men (and women) to act in a manner that can (and does) create dangerous situations. Back in the fall of 1996, I was trying to sell an article on the subject of sex in the cockpit to an aviation publication when a fatal crash occurred that I believe illustrated my point. No matter, I still didn’t sell the concept, but I still believe PIFD (all pilots love acronyms so I coined this one for Penis Induced Flight Decisions) contributed  to the aforementioned crash.

At the top of the post is an image of a Beech King Air A90 similar to the one aircraft involved in a ground accident at Quincy, Illinois, in November, 1996. AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation provided an analysis of the crash in December 1997. I’ve linked the report for those interested in more specific details of the incident. As the ASF report details, accidents between corporate aircraft and scheduled airline flights are quite unusual at non-towered fields. This is the only case in the ASF records dating back to 1982. One might add the caveat that very few scheduled airlines operate in and out of non-towered locations. (Quincy had a tower but it closed earlier in the afternoon.)

What caught my attention concerning the crash in Quincy was the background of the Beech A90 pilots. Retired USAF, 63 years old, male, type rated in a vast multitude of aircraft (Boeing 377, 707, 720, and 747; Douglas DC-9, Lockheed 382 and L1011; and North American B-25) with 25,000 hours of recorded flight time. Formerly a TWA Captain, he’d been demoted to flight engineer due to unspecified flying deficiencies. His co-pilot in the Beech was a 34 year old female CFI who was trying to accumulate multi-engine time in the hope she’d one day be hired by an airline. She was taking instruction from the 63 year old while he demonstrated the A90 for some potential buyers. They had landed at Quincy to drop off the buyers then were returning to their home base.

The male pilot in that A90 recorded a gear up landing in a Cessna 172RG just a few months earlier. FAA had given him the option of remedial training which he had yet to complete. An FAA examiner made note of the pilot’s attitude: not one of compliance. My own speculation was that he was angry. After all, TWA had demoted him and the feds called for him to take remedial training when he had more hours in the left seat than any five examiners tied together with a rope. Plus, he was 63 years old. His glory days were over. He would never again sit behind the controls of a B25 as a young, virile, hotshot pilot. He would never again wear the four gold stripes of an airline pilot on his epaulets or his sleeve. In fact, depending on his health–he had a current 1st class flight physical–he might not have too many years of flying anything. His hair was either gone gray or was turning white. I’m not sure but there’s a fair chance his belly might be overlapping his belt. Even if it wasn’t, he had to work like hell to keep his weight down. (Ask me how I know…)

How do I know so much about him? I grew up with his friends, his colleagues, his commanders and likely his subordinates. I experienced my father’s anger when the USAF grounded him because of vision problems. He was particularly upset at having his flight status ended immediately after returning to the states from flying a tour in Vietnam. So it goes. I also knew what he was like in the company of attractive women. Was he capable of PIFD? Did Andy only allow Barney one bullet? Is the Pope Catholic? For that matter, I can draw on my own PIFD experiences.

Was the young female pilot (1,500 hours recorded flight time) likely in awe of her older companion? Had he told her any of his war stories? She was a part time CFI for the same Air Force Aero Club as he was; surely she knew his background though she might not have been aware of some of the darker details. Without question, she wanted to gain this man’s approval. She might have endured some less than tasteful remarks–speculation on my part based on many years of association with pilots and many years of flying experience of my own–believing that she could deal with the situation.

When the A90 taxied into position on Runway 4, how closely were the two pilots monitoring radio traffic? There was a commercial airliner, a commuter flight doing a straight-in approach on the 13 Runway. Radio transcripts indicate all the necessary calls in the blind were made by the captain of the Beech 1900, PNF (Pilot Not Flying), while the first officer controlled the 1900’s approach.

Here’s where we spread culpability, or, as the FAA likes to put it, “build the accident chain.” The pilot–he shall remain unnamed, though I’m aware of who he was, where he was from, and the angst his family suffered in the aftermath of the crash–was not alone in responsibility. The Beech 1900 crew was running almost two hours behind time. They, both the captain and the first officer, had been on duty for twelve hours. The 1900 was making a straight-in approach to the 13 Runway, though the prevailing 8 knot wind favored the 4 Runway being used by both the King Air and a general aviation Cherokee.

Had the 1900’s captain chosen to enter pattern via a downwind or even a base approach, possibly the accident chain would almost certainly have snapped as there would have been a clear view of the A90 on the runway. Had the Piper Cherokee pilot, a low-time Private ASEL certificate holder, not answered a call from the 1900 and affirmed that he would stay in position and hold…maybe the chain would have been broken. The 1900 would have landed, the King Air and the Cherokee would have departed and twelve lives would have been spared.

That isn’t what took place. The 63 year old pilot of the King Air likely asserted his command as PIC and began the take-off roll. It wasn’t a 747 but the A90 beats flying a C172 doing basic maneuvers. Even if the woman pilot building time in the A90 felt uncomfortable, likely she would not have tried to stop the take-off. The Cherokee pilot is out of the equation. He didn’t have enough flying time to know what was unfolding in front of him. Had he, possibly a radio call to the King Air, assuming that the two pilots in the King Air were monitoring the CTAF (Common Traffic Air Frequency),  might have saved the day.

Still, responsibility for determining that departure could be safely undertaken, was the responsibility of the pilot at the yoke of the King Air. Indications are he heard the CTAF announcements that a Beech 1900 was inbound for landing on the 13. He was familiar with the Quincy airport and, had he thought about it, might have realized the incoming commuter crew was unlikely to see his King Air as it gained speed down the runway.

How likely was this experienced pilot–a pilot with some problems in his past but certainly a very experienced aviator nonetheless–to have committed the same errors had he been alone in the cockpit? I would speculate that he might have had considerably better situational awareness had he been by himself…or even had he been flying with another male pilot. Flying is an ego-driven profession. Even today, not a significant number of female pilots sit in commercial cockpits and those who do can tell tales of their testosterone fueled companions.

Is there an answer to this age old conundrum? Certainly, if we’re willing to accept that the danger exists. People in the aviation field spend endless hours studying accident reports in the belief that they can learn from the mistakes of other pilots. In researching this post, I read several analyses of the crash situation, both from the FAA, NTSB, AOPA and other pilots. Not one referred to the possibility that the King Air pilot’s judgement might have been clouded by the woman flying with him. This is not to assert that he hoped to peel off her flying garb, though that possibility might have existed. It’s merely to suggest that this 63 year old retired USAF officer might have had hormonal decision making (PIFD) raise its head simply because he was flying with a woman in the other side of the cockpit.

My last point, and I’ve discussed this with several other pilots during the past couple of decades since I began considering PIFD, is based on the response I’ve received from my colleagues. I can sum it up in one short phrase: “That’s bullshit.” OK, much of what I think likely belongs on that pile of bovine dung. However, I would expect to hear at least a few pilots say my hypothesis was possible for some aviators under some conditions. That hasn’t happened. Well, with one exception, and I think it’s an important one. I talked to a young woman who recently completed her studies at a prominent university that specializes in aviation. She’s already earned her ATP, she’s a CFII MEII. She agrees with me.

Can we learn from knowing that a situation exists? Certainly. I’ve learned to recognize danger signs when flying (or preparing to fly), when riding a motorcycle, driving a car or even when I sling a leg over a bicycle. In future posts, I’ll write about what I think I’ve learned and whether I think I can apply the knowledge.


The Mile High Club: Sex in the Cockpit

The Mile High Club: tales of sex in the cockpit abound, particularly among non-aviators ensconced at a watering-hole, imbibing glasses filled to the brim with instant idiot. Many years ago, sitting at the bar (sipping instant idiot) in a downtown Denver hotel, I overheard a conversation in which the narrator–a real raconteur–described having sex with a girl while he was flying a Piper Super Cub over the Rockies. I so wanted to ask him how he moved her from the front seat to the back (or vice-versa) as the Cubbie is a tandem. Two seats, one in front of the other. He was big; I’m not. He looked violent. I’m not. He looked crazy. So am I but I’m not especially stupid. Silence was the order of the day.

However, this post isn’t about coitus in the cockpit, no matter how pretty the pilot’s companion or how skilled the pilot may be or how unlikely it is that one might consummate such an act. (Hmmm…hand on the stick, honey…oh, yes). I’m writing about something far more insidious and much more common. I attempted to sell a couple of stories on this concept a few years ago–just after John Kennedy, Jr. dunked his Piper in the Atlantic–but even an editor who agreed with my perspective said he was uncomfortable with publishing the story.

OK, why now? Because just this past weekend I was visiting a small general aviation field here in Arizona. Weather conditions were worse than iffy, a series of convective disturbances were lighting the afternoon sky over the eastern part of the city, more storms were gathering in the south and a flash flood warning was in effect.  I had stopped by to look at a friend’s airplane which was tied down under covered parking. He’s a retired USAF pilot with more than 8,000 hours of military time plus another  5,000 hours of civilian flight, much of it as a corporate pilot and some of the remainder as an instructor. Neither of us would have chosen to cut holes in the sky, not on a day like this. Were there a mission specific task that merited taking a chance and had we examined flight conditions and determined that the risks did not outweigh the value of the mission, maybe. And that’s really maybe, with several other caveats tossed in for good measure. Most likely the decision would have had to be accompanied by an order from above. (Someone in the chain of command, not Gawd. So far, I’ve received no orders from Him, either written or oral.)

Back to the airport. As Jim was showing me his newly acquired Citabria, I observed a Porsche Boxster whip into one of the parking spaces just outside the entry gate to covered aircraft parking. My, my my, I said to myself as I watched (eyed, googled, leched…) the driver and his passenger walking toward the aircraft next to Jim’s. “Why not me?” I asked myself. “Well, ’cause you’re old, you don’t have any money, your teeth are crooked and you fart frequently,” I answered myself.  I was being kind to myself, too. No matter, there, just thirty feet away, was a young man (in his thirties: young is like incest and nepotism, it’s relative) and a verrry attractive young woman who was wearing verrry tight shorts that truly epitomized the term short. I wondered whether the young woman would find me more attractive with a Neiman-Marcus bag over my head but we’d need two bags: one for me and another for her just in case mine fell off.

The aircraft was a shiny Diamond. The young man gingerly crawled underneath the plane to unfasten the tie-downs, pushed the little bird back out of the parking spot then the two climbed in. Oh, my God what legs. Long, tan…and very quickly out of sight as the little bird roared to life. “No pre-flight, no warning to by-standers, too much throttle…” Jim observed as they taxied away in a cloud of dust, small pebbles and other propwash-blown detritus.

“Yeah, I’d have pre-flighted her,” I murmured, thinking of how enjoyable such a task would be, touching each of the joints, flexing her breasts for proper operation…

“Would you take the girl up for a flight today?” Jim asked.

“No,” I said, thoughtfully. “I would attempt to divert her attention from aviation into more meteorologically appropriate pursuits.”

My description is facetious (fatuous?) but what we watched isn’t really humorous. The young pilot did not conduct a pre-flight examination. He didn’t sump the tanks. He checked nothing on the aircraft at all. Had he used the computer for a pre-flight weather briefing or phoned Prescott to check conditions? Did he select an alternate landing area should the field we were at get socked by those storms approaching from the south and east? Somehow I doubt it. How many hours does he have? Is it possible the ink on his PP-ASEL is barely dry? Was his delightful companion aware of just how dangerous the excursion could be, particularly if they encountered convective disturbances while up in the sky?

This is a paradigm of “sex in the cockpit.” Even otherwise cautious pilots sometimes allow their gonads to do their thinking. Could this have ever happened to me? Captain Willie, that one-eyed maniac ensconced in the crotch of my flying suit, made many decisions for me, some of them disastrous. Fortunately for me, he never suggested when to fly and when not to.Maybe he didn’t care to get his nuts knocked off. Want some examples of PIFD (Unofficial acronym for Penis Influenced Flight Decisions)?

Based on descriptions of the events surrounding John Kennedy, Jr.’s “go-no go” decision-making process on July 16, 1999, I believe Kennedy allowed his manliness to overcome his good sense. He launched into a somewhat hazy late evening sky when he was aware he wasn’t instrument certified or, certification aside, comfortable with flying by the gauges. As long as he was over the city, he was fine. When he turned east over the Atlantic on the final leg of his flight to Martha’s Vineyard Airport (KMVY), VFR conditions were not acceptable from a safety standpoint. Five miles viz at night over the ocean heading away from the coast means no lights to mark the horizon. Kennedy flew into a black hole without having the requisite ability to fly even a simple instrument pattern. What was going on inside the cockpit of Kennedy’s Piper Saratoga that caused him to enter a spiral into the ocean? He had taken several hours of instrument instruction. In this situation, he needed to maintain flying speed, keep wings level, maintain altitude…and if he couldn’t manage anything else, poke the mic button and ask for help. Vectors to MVY…or…even…declare an emergency and get the authorities to send a helicopter to fly his wing to the airport.

Let’s return to Essex County Airport (New Jersey), where the Kennedy flight originated. Another pilot reported overhearing a heated exchanged between JFK Jr. and his missus. According to Kennedy’s personal assistant, Kennedy and his wife were having marital problems. The wife hadn’t want to fly with him then changed her mind earlier in the day when she and her sister agreed to go join him and attend a Kennedy family wedding. The threesome were already running late when they arrived in New Jersey. If they decided to forego flight to Martha’s Vineyard, they would be quite late. John Kennedy made the wrong choice. Did he accede to his wife’s demands to either fly or return home? What was going on in the cockpit when he realized that he was in over his head? Was he sweating? Did he panic? Was his wife upset? Was she voicing her dismay with the situation? Did he think of switching the intercom off? Did he consider ordering her–if such an order would have been effective–to maintain cockpit silence while he sorted out the situation?

Has it ever happened to any of the rest of us? Of course it has. That’s were experience comes from. We make decisions, some bad, some good. If we live through the results of our decisions, we have gained experience. If we don’t, well, we’ve still gained experience but it may not be particularly useful, at least not to us. What did John King of ground training fame say? “The superior pilot uses his superior skills in order to avoid situations where he has to rely on his superior skills in order to survive.”

Not to pick on John Kennedy, Jr., I will follow this post with another example, one involving a 30,000 hour former USAF pilot, former TWA Captain, instructor pilot…who I believe made a PIFD that resulted in two aircraft being destroyed and several people losing their lives.



Old Trucks…Old Junk…Detritus of the Past

Old trucks, old junk, old men sifting through the detritus of their past. I found this photo of a Chevy truck for sale, seems to me that it might have been taken in either Deming or Lordsburg, New Mexico, probably sometime around 1978 or 1979. I didn’t ask how much the owner wanted, don’t know what I’d have done with the thing if I had bought it. From the looks–this is merely a guess–the vehicle must have been created sometime in the early 1930’s and likely was used to transport some sort of drilling rig. Regardless of its age, appearance, and usefulness (or lack thereof), I looked, admired, photographed. That’s what I’ve done with rusty, cobwebby, derelict objects ever since I was a kid growing up out here in the west.

Why was the west important for such objects? Well, it’s dry. Metal doesn’t oxidize as quickly as would be the case along the beach in Florida (though the heat and lack of humidity is hell on wood). Cars and trucks that were abandoned in the field remained where they’d been left, often becoming home to rats, mice, snakes who ate the rats and mice and a variety of insects that lived on the leftover parts of the rats, mice and other stuff inside the old vehicles. I learned early on to examine the remains from outside. Opening doors, trunk lids or even trying to lift the hood might result in an unpleasant surprise.

One of my joys as a young man was to visit air fields that had been abandoned following WWII. My father was a military pilot and he told stories of the derelict objects that remained in and around the cavernous hangars at the old fields, most of which were far enough from what passed for civilization that they weren’t desirable real estate. That would come later…as would the chain link fences that the federal jackboots demand be erected around air fields no matter how undesirable the location or how unlikely it would be that a terrorist would covet that Cessna 140 with the jack-knifed wing from a ground loop or the ratty Bellanca that’s been out of annual for three decades.

I have other photos of rusty cars, trucks forgotten by their owners, airplanes left to the elements that I’ll be sharing…some of them accompanied by stories…all with comments that probably are as irrelevant as the objects themselves.

Harley: the FXDP

Downtown the other day I met a straw man who commented on my lack of a Harley. Straw man, such as in the guy who said, really does exist. He was a visitor, his Vietnam Vet hat screwed on over top of the tin-foil covering his pate to still those annoying voices. The hat was festooned with army, marine and navy service decorations, badges, qualification devices and so on. I suppose he could have been in all three branches but somehow… Anyway, he cast a disparaging gaze toward my blue BMW and asked why I didn’t have a Harley. I considered his question and answered, Good sense as much as anything. A bare modicum of taste might be another reason. That ended our discussion. The comment was appropriate. As I’ve referred to in past posts about my Harleys, (here’s a four part series on the Sportster), I’ve owned several of Milwaukee’s finest two-wheelers. Below is a photo of the most recent in the series.

It’s a 2001 FXDP, a police motorcycle that I bought in 2002 with 8 miles on the odo. Yes, 8, such as in eight miles. It already had most of the police poop removed. When I took this image, I had added windshield, saddlebags and front forks from an FXDX. I thought I had a stylish cruiser that could transport me to Tucson (100 miles) or Phoenix (220 miles) in comfort with a touch of panache. Ah, well. I had good intentions. I’ve filled a double-bottom dump-trailer with good intentions, all of which I plan on using to pave a four-lane thoroughfare that will terminate in hell.

The FXDP has it’s own special spot in the inner circle of hades. I reeeealllly wanted to like it. This was a motorcycle that looked like a motorcycle, not like a two-wheeled version of the bat-mobile. Sounded like a motorcycle, too. Potato-potato-potato it would rumble reassuringly. Made of metal. No plastic fenders, tank, and so on. Plus, the FXD provided that ineluctable entree to the brotherhood, as in Hey, bro, yuh know, dude…like…fuckin’ A. Gawddamn. I belonged to something. Finally. A group I could be proud of, unlike being a registered member of the Green Party or having become a vegetarian years ago. Proud, dude.

Unfortunately, I don’t get my identity from what I ride, who I fuck or what I eat. I have no identity. I’m a non-entity, but I prefer being anonymous and unidentifyable. That fits with riding a fifteen-year-old BMW or waving proudly from the open window of my VW Vanagon. Wie gehts, mein herr.

I might have lived with the identity crisis of dealing with membership in the Harley fraternity but this motorcycle combined poor performance with lousy handling. That’s a bit too much. I thought when I purchased the throaty monster that coupling an engine only slightly smaller that the one in my SUV with authority certification, that’s what cop bikes are called now, would mean plenty of grunt and good cornering. Even with the replacement FXDX front tubes (the DX is the sport FXD), new rear shocks and some engine tweaking, the bike was frighteningly slow and unwieldy. However, on the plus side, it was now noisy, too. Loud pipes save lives.

Say what, bro?

Yeah, even with ear plugs and my full-coverage helmet that clued other HD riders into the fact that my brotherly bona-fides weren’t in order, I couldn’t hear after a ride. That might have something to do with a few thousand hours of flying small airplanes, shooting guns and frequent masturbation between the age of 12 and about 58 but it’s not pleasant unless I’m sitting in front of a Republican Presidential debate.

The FXDP went through a few changes of livery, some more mods…then a drooling afficianado of big twin scooters fell in love with the bike. He rang my doorbell–bike was parked out front, insured, and ready for a thief–and asked what I would take for it. Three days later we met at the local motor vehicle office and the motorcycle became his. He asked me–cross where my heart should be–before he rode away, Do I need to mix oil with the gas? I didn’t have the heart to tell him that process would occur naturally as a result of blow-by from around the pistons.

I hope he enjoyed his purchase. Me…I bought a Buell. I live. I don’t learn. Read about the Buell here, in Part IV of the Sportster series.


Middle of the Road Bicycling

What do you call bicycles, lots of them, with spandex-garbed riders proceeding up an down the hills in groups? Well, in a race, that might be a peloton, a pack or riders vying for position, focusing on every advantage, marshaling their resources for the possibility of a break-away. However, there’s something different about these ‘cyclists. They don’t have the carved muscles gained from hour after hour of pedaling day after day, year after year. The spandex is bright and colorful but what are those bulges that some of the racers carry around waist and thigh? No! Surely not…could it be? Yes. Rolls of adipose tissue. Fat, in common terminology.

Who are these middle-and-older aged folks promenading up and down the streets and highways, two and three abreast, seemingly oblivious to the two-ton pickup trucks and ton-and-a-half cars that are shooting by with inches to spare as they pass? They’re touring riders, bicyclists who are are accompanied by sag-wagons, vans with food and drink and the occasional task of scooping up bike and rider who have exceeded their capabilities.

This is not a race. It’s a pleasure jaunt. These guys and gals aren’t preceded by a state trooper or a county deputy with lights flashing, warning drivers that an event is taking place. The tour operators don’t apply for permits to use the roadway for a race. The riders should, by both reason and law, adhere to the same vehicular codes that any other bicyclist is supposed to obey. One of the important ones: stay to the right of the road as far as practicable.  That’s a law specifically written to apply to bicycle riders. It’s common in most states. Stop signs mean stop. In the case of a bicycle, slowing to check traffic, proceeding at a safe pace once the rider has ensured there’s no traffic, is (in my tiny mind) both prudent and safe. Blowing past the sign as if there’s no possibility of causing an accident (or maybe ending up as fleshy-colored gravel under a set of truck tires) is not just imprudent…it’s insane.

For the past few days I’ve watched these touring riders struggling up a six percent grade, two and sometimes three abreast barely at a walking pace, ignoring the cars whizzing by with barely any clearance. I’ve seen the riders swerve in front of traffic in town and blow through stop signs as if the rules only apply to other people. I’ve watched them toss candy wrappers over their shoulder as if littering is their right. Many–not all, but many–of these people are rude. They park their bicycles in the path of people walking along the sidewalk as if they’re Hardley-Ableson riders outside a Starbucks. And, like the Harley riders glaring at anyone who comes close to touching a motorcycle parked where it shouldn’t be, these riders think other people should avoid their spindly bikes by at least a few feet.

I like bicycles. I’ve been riding bicycles for most of my life. I raced, I was a USCF official for several years. I still throw my leg over the frame and ride 15 to 20 miles a day two or three times a week on a mountain bike. I stop for stop signs. I don’t toss my detritus on the street. I don’t challenge cars to run over me. I’m not a nice person and I don’t deserve nor desire thanks for obeying the law.  I want to continue riding without those tell-tale car tire tracks on my arms and legs. I don’t want to offend other drivers. That way, the other driver is more likely (at least in theory) to give me a minuscule bit of space here on the highway of life.

And I don’t appreciate the rude, oblivious to the rest of the world, riders who will leave a residue of distaste in the mouths of people who already dislike bicycles. After these tourists leave, I still ride my bike here and I get to contend with the aftermath of the visit.

Time to Ride

When the political situation (or whatever else bothers me) seems really crazy, it’s time to ride. Little problems–city manager screwing the people who live here, what more should we expect–can be a local ride; often the bicycle is more effective than a two-wheeler with an engine because of the personal energy expended. Then, there are those conditions that require a bit more time on the road. It’s scooter time. The image above is from one of those pointless hegiras back in late spring of 1992. Yes. Remember? Following an unbearable eight years with the great forgetter, Ronnie R, George the First was considered a shoo-in for re-election. Bubba Billy Clinton was a pimple on the great Bush’s ass, a minor irritation. Bush had wiped out Hussein’s forces in Iraq. The US had suffered more casualties from misguided missiles than from Iraqi guns. The same President who presided over the Savings and Loan debacle and managed to emerge clueless was going to have another four. Noooo way the bumpkin from Ar-Kansas would whup George. I tossed an old aviators bag on the back of the BMW, packed both system cases then pointed the front tire westward. San Diego then north, I parked alongside the Pacific Coast Highway near Sea Cliff and walked down to the water.

The ride was soothing; miles of no particular place to go, hours in the saddle, stopping when I wanted to breath deeply. Entering Santa Barbara, I paused to call some people I remembered from when I lived in Carpinteria in the mid-70s. Surprise. They were still in the book. Another surprise. They were still drinking, smoking, getting small at every possible opportunity. I chatted for a few minutes then moved on down the road. By now, Bush was forgotten. I was more interested in why people who were once part of my life had stayed where they were not just geographically but psychologically. Geographically I understood. Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland, Goleta, Isla Vista…it’s not difficult to spend one’s life in a coastal paradise. Why, then, remain stoned? Merely a matter to ponder as I pushed north. California to Oregon, pause in Lincoln City, on to Aberdeen, Washington, for a day then up the peninsula and another stop, this one in Port Townsend. I almost bought a house in Port Townsend back (1983) when I could still have afforded one that had roof, windows and all those silly amenities.

It was time to return home. My head was clear. Bush didn’t matter. What my buddies in Santa Barbara were doing with their lives was their business, not mine. We each choose our paths, hopefully consciously, otherwise by chance.

Another photo from Southern California to the right; this one near the Santa Barbara Biltmore, an old resort that still occupies a fascinating corner of my memory closet. Back in 1974 I had joined a couple of friends for lunch at the Biltmore. We were all three stopped at the door and informed that our hair was too long to be allowed within the hallowed regions where food was served. To be specific, if a man’s hair reached over his shirt collar, he was an undesirable. That included the City Manager of Carpinteria at the time, who I later learned had also been denied entry to the dining area. He may well have been an undesirable–and I certainly accept that my friends and I likely fit that appelation quite well–but I did and still do find such categorizations to be an unpleasant concommitant of the conservative world.

Then, the return home, mind cleared (not that there’s ever too much going on inside the stone walls of my cranium) and ready to face the vagaries of publishing a bi-monthly art and entertainment magazine.

As we all remember–those of us old enough to remember the 90’s–Bush’s leaves caught a blight and he was a dying shrub. The one act of his Presidency that made a modicum of sense had most likely caused his defeat at the polls. Instead of rolling through Iraq and planting the Stars and Stripes in the middle of Baghdad with Saddam Hussein hanging by a wire from the flagpole, Bush chose to stop the military advance 50 miles from taking the big city. Bush understood the ramifications of tossing Hussein out (or taking his life); Baghdad was A Bridge Too Far, using a WWII analogy.

Bush was right, though keeping him in office because of his one correct major decision seems a rather pointless choice.

What about today? What about the uber-rich Romney? Is there a possibility he could be nominated as the Republican candidate for President? Likely, as it appears now. Is he a better choice than Gingrich? That’s not a useful question and there is no suitable answer.

Is it time for another ride? Probably not. Enough years have swept by, enough mile-markers on the highway of life, that I mostly accept that all of this political action is no more than theater of the absurd. I can ride for fun, I can ride for enjoyment…but I’m no longer at the point of needing to ride. That’slikely yet to come. On Newt, on Mitt, on Rick and on Ron, on Rudolph, on Blitzen, on Britney Spears if I get lucky.