St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/06/2011 : 3:05 PM
I went to a bbq yesterday. It was a great bbq lobster and bbq'd shrimp for appetizers, huge thick pork chops and chicken breasts and filet mignon, cole slaw and macaroni salad and plenty of beer. I brought the dessert shomemade strawberry rhubarb pie and a fruit tart and chocolate covered strawberries. I learned to play "Washers" which is in the same family as horseshoes. You throw big huge washers into this octagonal box that has a huge piece of pvc pipe upright inside it. Get it in the box, that's one point. Get it in the pipe, it's two points. I had a good time and got to know more people here in St. Louis none of which were riders.
William, of course, asked me as soon as he and his girlfriend came in if I was ready to sell him the VFR. He isn't interested in the Sporty just the VFR. His girlfriend said, "I didn't know you could ride" and he said he didn't he'd get me to teach him as soon as I sold him the bike. No way, no how, I told him. Pablo also wants me to sell him the VFR not the Sporty he also said he didn't know how to ride but he had driven an 18-wheeler for a number of years so it he could figure out how to ride on his own. But, as it turned out, Pablo was joking he had taught himself to ride and then had ridden a motorcycle back in Mexico for years. No, I said the Viffer isn't for sale and you'd both have to take the class. It doesn't teach you anything but the most basic of skills, I said, but it's and I swallowed hard and said, "it's better than nothing." Gag. Ha ha, they laughed. They didn't need no stinking class to ride. Well, they weren't going to buy either of my bikes, I said. Not that I would've sold either anyhow.
Later, I was having a great conversation with Carol about the Tower Groves Home Tour and we drifted into politics, agreed to volunteer together to work on a national campaign and talked about government waste. Her daughter is a muckety muck at the Pentagon and, Carol says, throws lavish parties complete with valets and bartenders at the government expense and feels perfectly justified spending tax payer money doing it. And that led the conversation to her son-in-law who is a high powered Washington lobbyist for a huge, powerful corporation. The husband and wife had gone on a cruise this winter and one of the options when the ship stopped in Aruba was to rent a motorcycle and ride around the countryside. Though the lobbyist had never ridden before in his life, chose that option as it sounded fun and he thought it was and was so much fun that he came home, took the class and went out and bought "one of those huge Harleys." He's, according to Carol and while she's a mother-in-law, his brother-in-laws who were at the party agreed very aggressive, takes huge risks in all he does, listens to no one and in convinced that he knows best and lives deep in a tangle of Virginia country roads that are narrow and so twisty that Carol is afraid to even drive them. To them, he fits the profile of the rider who is going to crash hard and soon. The Pentagon muckety muck daughter is worried about her husband staying alive and so is Carol, and now so am I.
Carol, though, hasn't liked motorcycles ever since she was a teen back in the 50s and dated a fellow with a bike. He ran, she said, with a bunch of young men who also had bikes "and back then, there weren't such things as helmets." She told me how her father had warned her not to ride but she ignored him and got on the back and they took off with her best friend on the back of another fellow's bike. Riding too fast down a country road, her friend's bike hit some gravel. Carol paused and said again, "and of course, we hadn't even heard of helmets back then." She then continued the story that bike hit gravel and went sailing over an embankment. Given the comments about the helmets, I thought I knew where she was going but she didn't. Her girlfriend was all right, Carol said. The boy's leg was amputated. I didn't point out that a helmet would've done nothing to save his leg or keep him from washing out on gravel. In part because Carol went on to tell me about how she and a girlfriend had been following a motorcyclist somewhat later. She can't remember exactly what happened but the motorcyclist went down, "and no one was wearing a helmet in those days," and he landed on his face and skidded to a stop. They pulled over and his face, she said, was horrifying. His nose was completely gone and he was having trouble breathing. "We didn't know what to do to help him," she said. No, she doesn't like motorcycles at all, she concluded. Her voice, as she recalled those long ago crashes, shook with emotion although I'm sure she's seen far worse car crashes in the 50 some years since then. Motorcycles were different. And helmets were the only thing that could do anything to help exceedingly dangerous become just far too dangerous to be on the roads. I just sat and listened to her this wasn't the moment to try to educate her about helmets. If anything, it would make her worry all the more for her son-in-law and her daughter.
Mike, coming by at that moment chimed in. Motorcycles are just too dangerous. His good friend had been killed by a car turning in front of him. It wasn't his friend's fault but that didn't matter he said"there's nothing a motorcyclist can do to protect himself." It was like gambling and he didn't gamble because the house always wins. It's stupid to ride a motorcycle." I waited an hour after I had finished my beer and went home to charge the VFR's battery and think about the recent encounters about motorcycling I have had:
It made me think of my neighbor Karen across the street. She fits the profile of the new woman rider a middle aged, divorced, professional. Learned to ride last fall and bought a Virago and rode occasionally through the winter. She wanted to ride with me, she said, but she thought she might slow me down being new. But, Karen said, she had taken the class and knew "everything" she needed to know and felt confident that she knew enough. She wore a helmet and gear, after all. I smiled sickly at the thought that she knew everything she needed to know thought a helmet and gear would be enough to protect her. It was evening and it was cold. I didn't even know where to begin to disabuse her of her misconceptions. Next time I see her, I'll suggest she buy David Hough's books.
She's not the only one. I'm literally surrounded here by riders. There's Ken next door who has a big cruiser down in Alabama and he intends to bring it up here since Ian, upstairs, rides a 1200 Sporty. Ken is another self taught rider who hasn't ridden in years but is confident he will be able to get on an ride like the wind. He asked me if I'd let him use one of my bikes though they were too little being an 883 and 750. The only bike worth riding has to be at least a 1200. Which reminds me of Lewis who I met through work. He plans to buy a bike soon an 1800 cc because anything less is just too small. Since Lewis keeps hitting on me, though, I'm not completely sure if he's actually talking about engine size or a motorcycle engine. At any rate, Lewis doesn't need to learn to ride either, he says, since he used to ride dirt bikes as a kid.
Ian, who lives upstairs, is a stereotypical Harley rider half-shell, rides without gear except when it's too cold and his idea of a ride seems to be the shortest distance between two six packs. One Sunday he and his girlfriend had gone "riding" and came back hours later so drunk that both of them threw up so much and so often that evening it stopped up the main sewer line and came exploding up and out of my toilet on the first floor in the middle of the night not just once but twice since they kept flushing their toilet upstairs. I had their vomit an inch deep over my floor and down into my heating vent. If for that reason alone, I would not be a fan of drinking and riding. I don't think Ian is any safer on a bike than newbie Karen.
Then there's David next door, a retired pastor. He offered to let me keep the VFR there the upstairs folks almost always have my driveway blocked on weekends. He learned to ride a couple of years ago and also owns a Harley. He took the course, he told me, but doesn't feel safe on the bike doesn't feel like he learned enough to ride in traffic and had the bike stored on the outside of town. Though maybe he'd sell it to Jeff who's staying with him for a month or two Jeff doesn't know how to ride but wants to start commuting on a bike to save on gas. A few days after I moved the VFR into his garage, the Sporty appeared next to it. Neither of them have ridden it yet.
Last week on a warm dry evening neighbors across the street and down a couple houses had a party on their porch. It was too dark to see them but I could hear them as they were very loud. And during the course of their conversation, one of the fellows began talking about riding and stupid motorists and how he had kicked the door in on one of them who had almost pulled over on him.
And then there's the police officer in traffic safety who came into price out a granite kitchen a week ago. He's in Traffic Safety and does accident reconstruction for the city we got talking about that, which is worth it's own entry. The most salient points given the above is that it's not the new riders or the older riders but the drunk riders that get killed and the majority of other crashes are angle ones. But he was most concerned about the stunters who ride the in city freeways at "120 mph" doing wheelies and taunting the police who couldn't catch them not too many police helicopters here and not enough to follow stunters. He didn't say that any of them had crashed or died but that they were doing it at all. He tended to lump all sport bike riders into that group. We had a spirited discussion when someone else in the showroom started explaining that laying the bike down was essential to avoid death. No matter what the police officer said from his experience or I said from my research, the fellow defended laying the bike down. The next day the officer came back to work out more details on his kitchen and he stopped by my desk and invited me to come over and observe police training next month and I will.
Which brings me to a sale I made on Saturday. I did an in home measure for a couple and it turned out she was a nurse at a rehabilitation clinic here in the city that specializes in spinal injuries. They deal with a lot of motorcyclists, she said. More on that in another entry, too. But she said, a lot of them were there because of motorists running into them those angle crashes as my new friend the police officer said.
So yesterday, when I listened to Carol and Mike keep coming back to both risk and helmets and Carol who clearly thought that a helmet was the panacea for all motorcycle injuries though she was right that it would've saved that one fellow's nose.
I thought of William and Pablo who didn't think they needed to learn how to ride and who didn't want the Harley because of its staid drunken image but the Viffer because they, mistakenly, thought it was a stunter bike. And Ian upstairs who is that stereotypical Harley rider whoa couple weeks after that vomiting binge went out and did the same thing (but without the vomiting backing up into my apartment). I thought of Karen across the street who thought she knew enough and was safe enough to ride though not good enough to ride with someone who knew more than she did. And David next door who knew he didn't know enough but now wants to ride because I do and Jeff who wants to learn just enough to save money on gas.
There were other folks who talked to me about riding but they fit in one or another of the categories above: First, there's the Appalled the people who've seen (or heard about) a horrible and/or gory motorcycle crash and have an exaggerated understanding of the dangers of motorcycling. These folks either think a helmet is a panacea for all crashes including ones that have nothing to do with a head injury or they think there's nothing that can be done.
Then there's the Me and a Bike crowd. These are the folks that think they are so macho or smart or that motorcycling is so easy that training isn't needed nor a helmet nor safety gear. Even if they know the statistics on motorcycle crashes and deaths, that simply doesn't apply to them. They ain't gonna need to know. Even if they drink and ride to the point they vomit all night after somehow getting home on the bike.
Then there's the Safety crowd they took the training, wear the gear and helmet and they ain't gonna crash either.
And I, with my several filing cabinets and file boxes full of reports, articles and so forth, just shake my head at all of them. How can there be such wildly divergent views of motorcycling?
I think of two other issues that are considered dangerous smoking and guns. When it comes to smoking, everyone agrees it's a huge health risk and that there is no safe smoking. No one defends smoking though some may argue how bad second hand smoking is. When it comes to guns, even gun nuts believe and perhaps even more ardently than gun haters that proper training is essential and that gun safety is paramount, that they need to be secured around children, that not absolutely anyone should be allowed to use them and so forth. Smoker or non-smoker, gun-hater or gun-lover, we all have a basic understanding and agreement on the basics though we may not and often do not agree on exactly to what degree either should be regulated or legislated.
It occurs to me that when it comes to smoking and guns, there's been extensive public relations campaigns to educate the public no matter what side they came from. A lot is known and while there's misunderstandings and misconceptions on the general public's part, it's nothing like the morass of miscommunication about motorcycling.
And it occurs to me that, despite the AMA and MRF and SMROs and despite the industry front organizations, the MIC/Discover Today's Motorcycle Dealership - sorry, I meant Discover Today's Motorcycling and the Motorcycle Sales Foundation - sorry, meant the MSF, there's been very little done to simply educate the general public or motorcyclists. There's no group that solely devoted to working to clear up misapprehensions and misconceptions on either side. And it occurs to me that there's no group whose representatives don't look like a stereotypical biker that consistently challenges motorcyclist stereotypes. And there's no consumer watchdog group looking out for our consumer rights and protections. It's not surprising, then, that such wildly varying understandings of what it means to ride, what our risks really are, and who riders are abound. Of course they would because there's no one there to stand up for us, to present a unified public relations front.
It occurs to me that we need a motorcyclist version of the NRA or the Jewish Anti Defamation League. There's no media or consumer watchdog watching out for us. And right now, I'm wondering why not? Anyone out there have any ideas? I do...