Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Keeping It Going

It's been nearly two months since I posted. The problem is that I've been working so much that I haven't had time to create new experiences on my poor, neglected bike to write about.

In an effort to keep the blog active, I've decided to post regularly, even if it means simply posting a photo once in a while.

This entry is from May of 2010, and is in keeping with the title "Keeping It Going". This is me teaching the young 'un about maintenance. Hopefully he'll be riding on his own soon and will remember some of these lessons.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Day's Ride (Fiction)

(An attempt at some really short fiction)

He sat on the deck in the back yard, the coffee mug at his elbow pouring steam into the cool morning air. As the sun broke over the horizon, his gaze wandered from the lightening sky, across the freshly half-lit dawn yard to his bike. He’d prepared the motorcycle for this journey over the last couple of evenings after work. Fresh oil and filter, newly adjusted and lubricated chain, brakes adjusted and suspension dialed in. He admired the slope of the fuel tank from the neck down to the seat. Took a glance at the V twin engine that seemed to him in his dreamy, still-half-asleep state like a race horse, chomping at the bit, impatient to get running. He stretched his sleepy back and took a sip of his coffee. He loved this bike. She’d always gotten him down the road and back again with no hassles.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………



He sat on the deck in the back yard, whiskey and Coke at his elbow, beads of condensation from the humid evening running down its side. His gaze wandered from the purple tinged dusky clouds across the newly shadowed yard to his bike. He admired the slope of the dented tank from the neck to the torn seat. He glanced at the bent handlebars now missing a mirror. He saw the dust stuck to the lube on the links in the chain. His eyes took in the leaves and grass stuck to the side of the V twin motor, now seeming more like a horse ridden hard and put up wet. He took a long pull on the cocktail, wincing at the way the fresh scabs on his arm pulled against the skin. He loved this bike. She’d always gotten him down the road and back again, alive and in one piece.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Prescription: More Throttle

I haven’t posted in a while, because I didn’t have anything new to post. I hadn’t found work, and was running out of money for gas to ride around on. Finally started work, and now I don’t have the time. Insert something here about greener grass on the other side or something like that…

Anyway, today I had kind of a stressful day. Nothing bad about the job; just me being me and mentally overreacting to things. Once I start down that road, I’ll just keep stressing. I’ve only found three cures for it. My girlfriend is a few states away in college. That left the bottle and the throttle. Living in my Dad’s strictly alcohol-free home left only one treatment: the throttle. After all, that's what had been missing in my life lately.

I came home, made a quick cup of coffee to perk me up – that 6:00 a.m. start time is still getting to me after a month and a half of unemployment. Then, grab the jacket, lid and gloves. Snag the iPod and dial up some appropriate music, and head out to mount up.


First, to the gas station. Well, gas stations. Plural. Here in the Southeast, we’re going through a miniature version of the historic gas shortages of the 1970s. The first station I tried was out of gas.

Full tank, helmet back on, hit the starter button, pull up the kickstand, engage first gear, and roll out. Waiting for the light to turn green, I reach up to the earbud cord and squeeze the Play button. Then roll away from the intersection to the opening tones of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”.

I rolled down GA Hwy 42 out of Morrow, through Stockbridge, on southward. Continued on 138, turning onto 155 toward McDonough. Neat little town, from what I saw as I rode through the square, past a courthouse from another time. I’ll have to go back again when there’s less after work traffic and check it out.


I continued on the street I sort of wound up on, Jonesboro Road, riding on across I75. When I noticed that the street name had changed to McDonough Street, I realized I must be getting closer to Jonesboro. Sure enough, not much longer, I wound up turning onto Tara Blvd. Back into territory familiar from my teen years. Coming farther into Jonesboro, I turned onto Battle Creek Rd, another familiar signpost from high school years. I passed Tara Stadium, where all the high schools in the county play football (at least in my day - there've been a lot of changes, so who knows?), and where, as a member of the ROTC Color Guard, I performed countless presentations of the colors during National Anthems.

A left turn onto Mount Zion road took me right back to the station where I fueled up a couple of hours earlier. Fifty miles and almost the entire album “No Remorse” to get right back to where I started. A fine use of time, electrons, and liquefied dinosaur remains, if you ask me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

It's Not Junk

I haven't had much chance to get out and about since my last post, but in the interest of keeping this blog active, I've decided I'll allow myself to occasionally repost entries from my other blogs.

With that in mind, one that comes immediately to mind concerns something that took place right here at this house I'm sitting in. The original events transpired in 2003, and the original post was published on July 24, 2011.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as enjoyed living it and writing it.


It's Not Junk

There's a cut up piece of sheet metal that would look like trash to anybody in the world, but I keep it in my toolbox. To me and my father, it's not garbage at all. No, it represents a memory of a shared experience. How two non mechanics put a motorcycle back on the road with improvisation and stubbornness. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Back in 2003, I was riding an '81 or '82 Yamaha XJ650 Maxim. Great bike. Small, but comfortable and powerful enough to power me and camping gear down the road to a rally at 85 mph or so. It wouldn't go any faster than that, though. I know, because the speedometer stopped at 85.

I'd had a little trouble here and there with the taillight going out on me. I messed with it a little, but I'm no mechanic, and definitely no electrician. Our brother, Gypsy Trippple Nippple once told me about automotive electrical systems: they have one “lever” - “Leave 'er alone”. I tried to stick to that philosophy when I could, but I also didn't like the idea of being rear ended because of a nonworking taillight. So I fiddled, I checked fuses and wires, and found nothing. Couldn't trace a broken wire, a short, nothing.

I was going to the Aardvark rally, hosted by the San Antonio chapter of Gypsy MC, and had an independent motorcyclist pull up next to me at a red light to tell me my “red light” wasn't working. Thanks, dude. Figures. Well, he rode next to me to the rally so I wouldn't be invisible from behind, since the sun was already down. I parked the bike at the gate, registered and paid my way in. Got back on the bike. Turned the key. Got curious. Looked back. Whaddaya know? I had a taillight. Huh. Well, problem solved. For now.

Next afternoon, the problem was back. I'd noticed while I was on the poker run that if I put pressure on the key while it was in the ignition, it would affect the taillight. So, I broke out the tools, pulled off the lens, pulled the bulb, checked the wires. Again. Thinking about the key situation, I started messing around the ignition switch area. Various people stopped to help, and/or to give helpful advice. Oh, wait, I meant “helpful” advice. The quotation marks are necessary, because free unrequested advice is usually worth every single penny. Anyway, Gypsy Mr. P.M. stopped and offered some actual helpful advice, but being a Harley man, wasn't familiar with the Yammie. Wizard and Aquaman, of the Knight Riders MC, both long time friends and brothers, stopped and helped for a while. The only thing we figured out was that there was some play between the ignition switch and the dash housing around it. The switch moving around was what was causing the problem, as far as we could tell.

Well, the problem actually got a bit worse, and once in a while I'd lose both taillight and headlight function. Not a huge deal. Well, during the day, anyway. Problem is that I ride day and night. Having figured out that if the ignition is pushed all the way forward, things tend to work okay, I started looking for a way to keep my headlight on. I tore up a business card, folded it and wedged it into the gap. Perfect. I went days with no problem. Eventually, the paper would compress and stop working. I started picking up matchbooks wherever they were offered free just so I'd have some cardstock to “fix” my problem.

I'd been planning a bike trip from San Antonio to Atlanta to visit Mom and Dad. Now a sensible person might have postponed the trip or even gone in a car instead. A person with a better budget might have put the bike in the shop to get it fixed first. Had I paid for the repair, I couldn't have afforded the trip. I'd already canceled trips home on the bike in the past, so I didn't want to do that again. Besides, I figured I'd just check the taillight at gas stops and I knew how to metaphorically Band-Aid it to keep me going.

It all went great, until I got alllllmost to the Louisiana state line. The day had been sunny, hot-but-not-too-hot, light traffic. Great day for motorcycle travel. Then, BAM!! Suddenly, all traffic came to a screeching halt. The “not-too-hot” became “too hot” as it took nearly an hour to go one mile. Finally, I saw an exit. I needed gas soon anyway, and I saw there was also a Waffle House restaurant at this exit. I grew up eating at Waffle House, but at the time there were none in Texas west of Houston, so I thought I'd fuel up, get something to eat and maybe wait out some traffic. Sitting at the counter, talking to a couple of locals, I found out the traffic was due to a lot of road construction. I was in for at least ten miles of this crap. Ten hours for ten miles? Hell, I could walk faster. One of the guys suggested an alternative route that, as luck would have it, started on the state highway that the exit we were sitting at was for. He said it would take me way out of the way, but at least I'd be moving and would probably make better time anyway. He also said it would be a better ride than the interstate. He was right on all counts. Interstate highway riding can numb the mind with boredom, and this was a fairly scenic route. I looked at the route on a map days later and it probably added close to a hundred miles before putting me back onto I-10, but I bet it was still hours quicker than staying on 10 would have been.

It was also starting to get more interesting in other ways. I was hitting rain here and there. Nothing bad, but I did get wet. As did the cardstock holding my ignition in place. Good thing I'd stocked up before leaving San Antonio, eh? Picture me packing for my trip: Clothes, check. Tools, check. Helmet, check. Spare helmet, check. Book, check. Rain gear, check.

Two dozen matchbooks and assorted business cards, check.

Then things got interesting. Not only were the lights doing their little trick, now, once in a while when I'd hit a bump in the road, the ignition would cut out and the engine would die. I'd reach up and slap the key and it would come back on. Odd, eh?

After dark, the rain got bad. Then it got worse. Then it got “oh my god” bad. I wasn't making much progress, only going about 45 mph due to limited visibility. It was after sundown, and it was really, truly. Raining. That. Bad. I was stopped for gas and a cup of coffee to wake up and warm up. A Sheriff’s deputy happened to stop by and told me it was really getting bad on the interstate: wind was picking up, rain ruined visibility, and there were wrecks all over. He told me there was a motel at the next exit, about 10 or 15 miles east. I decided to take his advice.

The next morning, I turned on the Weather Channel to see what I should expect out of my ride for the day. Wow. Turns out the night before, several tornadoes had touched down in the area. Guess my decision to stop for the night was the right choice. I also had a mixed bag for the ride to Atlanta. 400 miles of rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun. Oh well, at least it wasn't all rain, right?

Well, I spent that Sunday of Labor Day weekend, 2003 riding to Georgia. Pull over to put on the rainsuit. Pull over an hour later to take off the rainsuit. Pull over and shove fresh cardstock into the ignition gap so I can keep riding. Yup, interesting day, it was.

I got to Mom & Dad's house. It had been years since I'd been there, but I grew up in that house, never moving. Every single time I walk in that back door, it takes me back to childhood and the sense that I'm Home. With the capital H. I can't see myself moving back to Georgia, but there's just something about the house you grew up in, isn't there?

So, once I'm settled in and rested and all, Dad and I talk about the ignition issue. The next day, we decide to tackle it head-on. Like I said in the beginning, neither of us is a mechanic, but he grew up in the Depression. Suffice to say he's practical minded and knows how to improvise. We took the ignition out of the bike entirely and found the problem. I guess it had been too faint to see before, but had gotten bad enough to be visible. There was a hairline crack running along the side of the switch housing, almost the entire length. Hmmm....there could be the location of an intermittent short, eh? I bet that just might even be worse in the rain.....

We called the only motorcycle salvage yard around. I'd already had experience in the past paying for new ignitions from dealers, and that just wasn't an option. Not to mention the bike was only a couple years from being an antique, so most dealers wouldn't even have the part, anyway. It turned out they didn't have an ignition to fit my bike. Not exactly, anyway. They did have Yamaha ignitions, which meant the wire connections would match up. The catch was that the only one they had was from a dirt bike, and was physically quite a bit smaller than mine. Well, it wasn't going to let rain water in, or vibrate and short out, so I took it.

Dad and I got to work. There was no way this pencil thin ignition switch was NOT going to rattle around the hole where it went in the dash. The dash was smooth, so I couldn't zip tie it, either. Dad took a look at the whole arrangement, told me to hang on a minute and walked away. He came back with a piece of sheet metal left over from some home improvement project or other. We held it over the dash of the bike, made some measurements, and went to the workbench, aka the picnic table on the deck in the back yard. We drew a pattern onto the metal, and drilled out mounting holes where we'd measured the mounting screws needed to go. When the tin snips turned out to be too dull, Dad was not to be defeated. He went and got a flat head screwdriver and a heavy hammer and chiseled out the piece we needed. He even chiseled out the hole for the ignition switch with that screwdriver/hammer combo. The edges and the edge of the hole were left a little jagged. Only so much smoothing out you can do with a hammer and improvised chisel.

We took it over to the bike, connected all the leads to the ignition, and put the sheet metal in place. It wasn't pretty, but it was better than pretty: it worked. Damn near perfectly. It took me around Morrow (the Atlanta suburb I'm from), took me to my grandparents' house in northeast Alabama, and took me from their house all the way to Austin (just over 800 miles) in one day. Our improvised repair lasted longer than the rest of the bike, even. I wound up selling the bike a few years later, but I kept our sheet metal dash. I consider it an heirloom now. It's the time my non-motorcycle riding, non-mechanic Dad and I put a near-antique bike back on the road.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Kudzu Memories and Honeysuckle Flashbacks



This weekend was a full one, which was welcome after a week of unpacking and job hunting. I spent last weekend reconnecting with my daughter, and tried to settle in during the week. Then Friday brought a back to school dance with my wee princess (her first; cue the “awwws”).

Suzi in her new home.
Saturday, I got together with literally my oldest friend in the world. We were born a day apart, and until his family moved away when we were thirteen, we lived two houses from each other. Even though we had no contact other than a phone call or two over the following decades, we led oddly similar lives – both served in the Navy (we found out we missed each other in the Persian Gulf by just a few months), and both became bikers.

Suzi (my trusty 2003 Suzuki SV1000N) needed some parts for repair after being knocked over in a parking lot after a concert, so David offered to show me the local multi-brand dealership on my side of town, as well as some of his hangouts.

We hit Freedom Powersports in McDonough, then headed to a cool biker bar called Motorhead’s. From there, we went to The Grove in Locust Grove. Then we rode over to the American Legion post David belongs to, and I was introduced to his fellow members. From there, we went to Hammer’s in Atlanta, where David’s lovely fiancĂ©, Marjorie tends bar.

Riding along the relaxed, gently winding roads, I found myself thoroughly enjoying all the green. Don’t get me wrong – I love central Texas and the Hill Country, but I love it in spite of its brutal heat and dry, brown climate. Yesterday, once we got away from the suburban sprawl and onto the back roads, we were surrounded on two sides, and sometimes overhead, by actual, by-God-green trees. Of course, they were overgrown with kudzu, but that’s the Southeast for you. Visually, it just added to the green. I sort of went on auto pilot, letting the sight of kudzu and the scent of honeysuckle take my mind back thirty years to my youth here in this region. The fact that August in Atlanta is cooler than August in Austin was also welcome.

On autopilot, my mind wandered back. David and I used to ride our bicycles up and down the little dead-end street we lived on, dreaming of motorcycles, inspired by Ponch and John of the TV show CHiPs, and of course by Fonzie from Happy Days. Yeah, thirty five years ago, we were riding bicycles and dreaming of motorcycles, but this weekend, we were riding motorcycles and reminiscing about bicycles.

We didn’t actually get my parts on Saturday, but Sunday’s trip to Cycle Gear got me started on the needed repairs. I’ll still need to replace the handlebars, and David’s going to help me fabricate a license plate bracket.
David and me.
Both days found us riding into and out of and along the edge of rain showers. Hey, if you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride, right? Although I did point out to him that in a week and a half I’ve gone for four rides, and the only time I got rained on was with him – and that every time I’ve ridden with him, it’s rained. Therefore, he must be to blame, and I just need to start showing up to ride already wearing the rain gear.

After we got the parts, we went to his house and straightened out bent brackets as best we could, removed destroyed pieces and installed the replacements. All in the yard. In the rain. Because apparently we don’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain.

All in all, it was an outstanding weekend: Friday night “date” with my daughter, reintroduction to the land of my childhood, but this time via motorcycle, and also rekindling my oldest friendship (also via motorcycle).


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Home Again



(Note: I actually wrote this a few days ago and forgot to post it for some reason. I say this because I'm in the middle of writing about today's exploits, and it feels odd not to have a few days' separation between the posts. Maybe I'll put off the other until tomorrow. Maybe it doesn't matter. Meh. Anyway:)

It’s done. I’ve traded surface-of-the-sun heat for muggy humidity, mesquite trees for pine, caliche for red clay. Texas for Georgia.

It’s been a few days now, most of it spent either reconnecting with my young daughter or unpacking and settling into Dad’s house – my childhood home.

I did squeeze in one short ride the other night, just taking random turns here and there through my hometown, a place that’s changed quite a lot in 29 years. I rode past old childhood and high school friends’ childhood homes, wondering if their parents were still there, knowing in most cases that they weren’t. I wheeled past my old high school, noting that they’d added several temporary buildings to accommodate a larger student population. I went past several old employers, or the addresses, anyway. The buildings are all there, but different companies occupy them now. I even rolled through the parking lot of the church my family attended while I was growing up. Leaving that, I passed my mother’s alma mater, then I was slightly surprised to find myself in the same place I got my first speeding ticket over 30 years ago. I may or may not have been cruising along right about the same speed…..

So things change, things stay the same, the big globe keeps spinning, and we keep twisting that throttle.

Can you go home again?

I’ll let you know how the re-exploration of my hometown and its surroundings goes as I get settled in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Start Seeing (Parked) Motorcycles


 
 
We see the bumper stickers, the road signs, even the LED signs on the highways:

Start Seeing Motorcycles



How Many Motorcycles Have You Seen Today? Look Again.

 

Look Twice, Save A Life – Motorcycles Are Everywhere

 

And of course, as a motorcyclist, I’m all for them. I’d even go so far as to say that if a car driver hits a motorcycle, then uses the excuse “I didn’t see him/her”, they should immediately have their driver’s license suspended until they undergo an extensive vision checkup. After all, if you can’t see an adult human operating a street legal vehicle, then how do you expect to see things like stop signs, or school zone warning signs? Those are smaller than my bike, especially with me on it.


But I also think we need to educate some people on the topic of seeing parked motorcycles. I’ve learned the hard way not to park on the passenger side of large trucks and SUVs. I’ve had to replace more than one mirror (my mirrors extend off the end of my handlebars) due to what I can only assume is a half witted, half blind, inattentive driver who is so far elevated in his/her driver’s seat that they can’t see my bike to their right. Then, instead of actually pulling out of the parking space, they angle their way across what they wrongly believe to be an empty spot. I know, because I saw it happen once, while I was inside eating and watching through the window.

 


 

 

Last week, it happened to an extreme point. My son and I came out of the Korn/Rob Zombie concert to find my beloved Suzi on her side. As I was loudly expressing my opinions on those responsible, a young girl (late teens/early twenties) came up and sheepishly asked if it was my bike. She didn’t see the actual impact, so she didn’t know exactly how it happened, but she did see the truck pulling away and got a quick photo. Unfortunately, the license plate wasn’t quite recoverable from the photo. What kind of asshole does that and just drives off? At least leave a damn note with contact info if you’re not going to stick around.
 
 
 
 

Luckily, the damage was minor - broken right mirror and bent handlebars. A very minor crack in a rear tailpiece that I won't even bother pricing. Honestly, even the helmet was barely scuffed - I don't know how that managed to be so slight.

People have said, and I know some reading this will agree, that it was most likely “just a mistake”, and that he was in a big truck, and probably didn’t even notice that he’d bumped my bike. My question is how in the everloving fuck does that make it okay? What if it had been a dog? Or a child? “Oh, he just didn’t see it because the truck is so big”…. “He probably just bumped it and didn’t even notice”. How is that okay? People, start actually pulling all the way out of the parking space.


Even better: be aware of your surroundings while driving, even in a parking lot. In this case, there were crowds of pedestrians. The idiot could just as easily have hit a person.