Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Consequences of Prohibition.

Once, I sat with fellow motorcycle riders and spoke about a trope we often encounter when out on the road. A man who has stopped to check out the machine will inevitably say something like, "Yeah, I want to get a bike but my girlfriend won't let me." I expressed to my homies how vexing this is and told them that I often suggest that they get a bike and a new girlfriend. A friend, however, told me I should have more patience. There are some people, he said, who in fact are making this claim so that they do not have to reckon with a mode of transportation that incites masculine power fantasy but that can be legitimately terrifying. Yeah, sure, these guys are annoying. 

But, he said, some of the men who say that their girlfriends won't let them ride are truly held back by the compromises of love. These are men who have the full measure of Biker's Desire, but who risk disrupting the lives they have built with their soul mates. These riders/not-riders deserve our deepest sympathy, for their lot in life is truly tragic. 

And so it is in the heartbreaking story of Barry Strang.

After 38 years of denial, his wife finally let him buy his first motorcycle at a dealership in his town in Wyoming. Elated, Strang rolled his machine off the lot, rode for three miles, lost control, slammed into a tractor trailer and died. 

Perhaps I am just emotional lately, given the rulings of Florida courts, but Strang's death hurts my soul. His family reports that, while they are completely bent over his demise, they take solace in knowing that he died fulfilling the longest dream of his life. I can hear that; If I die on my bike, my friends should rejoice. I will not have been killed by time or by the cops but by a great love whose risk I accept even as I strive to claw a few measures of safety from chance, distracted drivers and wet roads. But I am still upset over how preventable this all was, and what it says about bike-sellers and soul mates. 

First, what the blood is up with that Harley dealership? He visited that shop, say the news reports, every week for more than forty years. (This fact is especially heartbreaking, since it demonstrates that Strang was truly committed, and lived with his desire at the forefront of his life while being held back from it by the love of his life.) That means that he knew everyone in the dealership and that all of these cats knew that he had little to no experience with motorcycles. 

The story is not complete here, of course. It may be that he rode the bikes of friends, or that he rode at some point in his life for the test a motorcycle endorsement on a driver's license. What the blood clot ever. The people at that dealership should have sent some cats out to ride with him, or something. They should have taken care of him in some manner beyond just letting him ride off and they didn't. There are people at that dealership right now who are feeling like a bunch of assholes and I hope they feel like assholes for the rest of their assholy days.

Embedded in my harsh judgement is a general sense of "fuck you guys" for dealerships in general. I have often felt that the way that many of them sell bikes is reckless and irresponsible. If a cat with no riding experience, whether they bound with youth and stupidity or are old with slow reflexes, goes to buy a powerful bike, sellers should see to it that they get off on the road in the best possible way. They should implore these new riders to make sure they have someone to ride with who can show them the ropes. They should maybe even have a person on site who helps coach them, with whom they go on short this-is-how-you-manage-the-beast-we-just-sold-you rides. Fuck. 200 horsepower. You can buy a bike for less than a Camry that has 200 horsepower and weighs less than 380 pounds. I know that in America anyone with money can buy what they want because 'Merica is Free, but for fuck's sake. The last status is that the dealer of a motorcycle has knowledge that a first timer doesn't, this knowledge could save their lives, and they don't share it because of the full constellation of issues rooted in culture, commerce and our nation's bogus commitment to some harmful ethereal freedom. So, yeah, fuck everybody in that dealership and all the cats in the dealerships who fit my description. 

I have more sympathy for the widow in this story. I don't want to speak about her specifically, but I do have some thoughts on the archetype of the significant other who is the only barrier between their mate and a motorcycle.

This bullshit has got to stop. 

I know that people who are in relationships have to make compromises in order to live well together. But we are also supposed to support one another, right? We are supposed to make sure that the other can be a better person. Sometimes that means allowing, or rather, supporting the pursuit of their dreams, even when these dreams entail risk. "I love you too much to allow you to do something dangerous" should be seen as a shitty thing to say to someone. The liquid modern age has brought boredom to the acts of labor that used to give our lives meaning. (Though there is much to be said for those acts of labor are themselves dangerous.) Maybe that danger is just one marker among many that it is worth doing. I know that my perspective is limited on this one, but it is just not possible for me to imagine a happy life in an immaculate cage, even if it was built by and shared with my life partner.

There is a related version of the cage that I do know about. Some cats have suggested to me that the advent of my daughter should be enough to put me off the bike. I guess the idea is that, if I die on my bike, this will somehow be a disservice to her, what with the robbing her of a dad and all. To this bullshit I usually just say that the best example I can set for her is to go hard with the things that I love. 

Now, getting killed in the Toyota Tercel that I traded the bike in for--that would be fucking waaaaaaaack.

I guess the last point of this focusless rant is that, sometimes it is the refusal to support your love's desire--to do or be something--that kills your love. Maybe it makes them cold, as their deep want to ride a bike or travel to another country becomes a calcified desire for freedom in general, and you become the chains of that bondage. Or maybe, when you finally relent, you do so at a time that is not optimal, though they are still compelled to act before you change your mind. In their haste to finally follow through, they miss the crucial steps that could have seen them off on a better start, one that would not have fulfilled the fears that conditioned the previous decades of your dream-killing denial. 

Strang rode for three miles. It is a pitifully short distance on a bike, yet far longer than many spouse-restricted bike-wanters will ever travel. Maybe this isn't a tragedy worse than death, but it's pretty close. 


Dax said...

Greetings from Louisville! Melissa forwarded this blog entry to me. I think she shared it because the overarching theme is a familiar one re: my failed marriage. I enjoyed your thoughts, especially your "last point".

Real reason for my comment is that as an experienced motorcyclist I too am frustrated by the ease with which the uninitiated are able to obtain a vehicle of extreme performance and ride away with no evidence of competency in operating it. My brother has worked at a dealership most his adult life and has told me that about half of the liter bikes they sell come back for crash damage repair in the first 6 months. Even though I strongly lean toward free-market libertarianism philosophically and therefore rarely seek to solve societal ills with legislation, I wonder if a graduated licensing system such as most European countries employ would not be of great benefit here as well. Check it out, over there you must start with a small displacement bike for a period of time before graduating to a license allowing the next larger engined bike. Takes time and experience to graduate to the really powerful, more dangerous bikes.

The Strange story is tragic. It does not validate his wife's MC prohibition nor place any greater responsibility on the dealership IMO. Sadly, sometime tragic things happen to good people.

Enjoyed sharing a meal with you, hope the rest of your trip went well.

Chismatic said...

Yo. Thank you for your thoughts. I totally hear your points and I have been interested in the UK riding standards for quite some time.

You are not the first person I have heard from who has adhered to libertarian perspective but who is sympathetic to state regulation of riding. I think tragedies like these reveal to us that our political/ideoligcal commitments are secondary to our desire to promote happiness and safety in our sport.

Take me: I am in favor of all manner of state regulation. But it is not the absence of regulations concerning motorcycling that I find problematic; It is the weakness of civil institutions. I feel like riders should be much quicker than we often are to look after other riders. Which is why I am so hard on dealerships. They are the focal point through which most riders must pass and I tend to feel like they should help nurture new riders as a matter of social responsibility (especially since they see firsthand the wrecked bikes that come back to the shop). That which civil society can do the state doesn't have to.

Yeah, Strang's story is properly tragic. Wouldn't it be great if it was the last one of its kind we ever had to read.