Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ghost Stories

Halloween is upon us. Check these ghost stories that aired on the radio a while back.

Remember: The monsters in your nightmares are real and there are things in the dark out to get you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On the Road

I have made it to Tampa. A journey of more than 1600 miles has come to an end. And I didn't even hit a deer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Fractured Reflection on the Comparative

The route is set and the exit will soon be upon me. I look forward to this trip but I am nervous. The miles will be hard. On the first leg, I will travel more miles in a day than I normally travel in two weeks. The weather will be cold and I don’t know what the cops are like in any of the states through which I will travel. I can’t help but be intimidated. It is strange to think that I am traveling only a fraction of the distance that the men and women known as Iron Butts travel. There are cats who have ridden across the 48 states in less than 10 days. And even now, somewhere in south America, Nick Sanders is trying beat the world record for fastest motorcycle trip around the world. And he’s riding the new R1, which is the least comfortable R1 that there is. 

It isn’t strange to dread something that others encounter with relative ease. Some are more trained or experienced than others; it is only natural that tasks and possible experiences appear differently to us. But is there any use in the comparison? Is there anything that I can gain, any peace that I can find, from a contrast of experiences? 

Humanitarians often return from sites of charity opining about their newfound appreciation for life. The natives do so much with so little, they say. I’ve learned so much about myself just from seeing how they live! In John Edward's famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the preacher tells the congregation that the enjoyment of heaven is amplified by the suffering of sinners in hell. And we all know why we should eat all of our food- there are children starving in Africa. 

Maybe its more of a matter of mood than reasoning, but I find these moves kind of annoying. They give us a sense of location in the grand sphere of human experiences, but at the expense of the object of comparison. Lame humanitarians use the native sub-altern as the vehicle for their “life changing revelations.” Like, I know you are suffering and stuff, but imagine what your suffering has done for ME!  Fire and Brimstone-ish pastors talk shit about people who are in hell despite a theology that supposedly emphasizes compassion and forgiveness. People are burning alive; how is it okay to feel good about that? And the starving african child is just a construct to get me to eat my damn peas. I am not admonished to eat until I’m done, then go to Namibia and share the rest with the Nimba tribe. I am just supposed to clean my plate in a metaphorical act of hoarding resources away from the poor.

Yeah, Peter Singer excluded, comparative evaluation can be a jerky thing to engage in.  And it can also minimize one’s own experience of a thing. If you suffered a trauma, why should the fact that others suffered it bring you relief? Cioran says it best:

“Who can say with precision that my neighbor suffers more than I do or that Jesus suffered more than all of us? There is no objective standard because suffering cannot be measured according to the external stimulation or local irritation of the organism, but only as it is felt and reflected in consciousness. Alas, from this point of view, any hierarchy is out of the question. Each person remains with his own suffering, which he believes absolute and unlimited.”

There are serious costs for stifling your own pain under the greater pains of others. This I know. So maybe I should not deprecate myself because I find this trip daunting and there are others who do not. Maybe I should just find it daunting and get on with it. It’s nobody’s miserable journey but mine. And it starts in two days. Or thirty years ago. Whichever. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

The (Ragged) Edge of Exit.

There are many reasons not to ride a sport bike over a long distance. The seating position is made for track riding and sets your body in a posture that cannot be held for long without tying your back in knots and crippling your knees and wrists. The low windshield protects you from nothing and the constant need to resist the wind causes fatigue. The sport bike’s suspension is comparatively hard when compared to, oh, any other type of bike on Earth, which means that all of the imperfections in a road are transfered through the body of the rider, which compounds all of the issues I have just mentioned. In addition, storage space is quite limited. Even with a tank bag, this is a ride on which you can’t take very much. And space is just as limited in the gas tank. Sport bikes get the worst gas mileage of any type of bike, so the trip involves having to stop to refuel much sooner and more often than other bikes. But hey, you’ll be stopping anyway, because you will be tired and your body will be in so much pain. 

I know all of this. But this weekend, I will set off on a 1500 mile journey on none other than my R1, the Pharmacon Atlas. 

It has been a while since I have seen my friends. And winter is coming to NYC, which is a time that I can’t do any meaningful riding. And I need to get away from this infernal city for a while anyway. And none of these reasons actually mean anything, because none of them motivate my desire to make the trip. 

Saturday is the day.

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Samara's Story

In August of 2008, a traumatic event shook my homegirl Samara's whole status. She spoke with me about it. Here is the radio version.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"I am not without scars on my brain and my body, but I can live with them. I still feel a shudder in my spine every time I see a Vincent Black Shadow, or when I walk into a public restroom and hear crippled men whispering about the terrifying Kawasaki Triple…. I have visions of compound femur-fractures and large black men in white hospital suits holding me down on a gurney while a nurse called “Bess” sews the flaps of my scalp together with a stitching drill.

Ho, ho. Thank God for these flashbacks. The brain is such a wonderful instrument (until God sinks his teeth into it). Some people hear Tiny Tim singing when they go under, and others hear the song of the Sausage Creature."

"But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right. The final measure of any rider’s skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. If you go slow and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles."

-Hunter S. Thompson

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Letter

A couple years ago, a friend of mine was raped at gunpoint in an elevator. After a time, the rapist was caught and his case went to trial. He was accused of assaulting three women. The weight of the testimony against him and the DNA evidence brought down a guilty verdict on all counts. At the day of his sentencing, his victims were given a chance to give statements. My homegirl rose to the status and addressed him personally. This is the letter she read to her rapist.

Eric Lewis was ordered to serve 174.5-178 years in prison. Somehow it seems more cruel to not just call it Life.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Riders in the Storm: Chapter Two.

The Story of the Sunday Ride.

     The rain beat down upon the world as a group of weary travelers hid away in the roadside tavern. In a dim corner, two riders sat attentive as the rider with the white helmet began a story about a mishap of a sunday ride:

     “I went on a group ride one Sunday, with people that I didn’t know that well. It’s never really that good an idea, but a friend roped me into it and we were headed down roads I didn’t quite know. The meet up was posted on a rider’s forum so I wasn’t the only stranger in the group. We set out from a gas station just off a curvy road that went through a valley. Twenty or so bikes, all sport bikes. Skill levels varied wildly and it showed. On the first run, some people checked out and others nearly ran off the road. One rider in particular didn’t seem to know where he stood in relation to the rest of the field and attempted to ride up front. He was making bad moves. Crossing yellow lines in turns. Running wide. And he kept trying to pass people who were clearly faster than him. At the next gas station most people didn’t even want to talk to the kid. But I saw one rider pull him aside. Well, pulled him aside in earshot of everyone pumping gas. 
     He told the kid he needed to ease off. He was riding too serious for the road and too fast for his skill level. He said that everybody has to ride their own ride and can’t let ego get in the way of that. It didn’t matter what pace you were running; we would wait up for everybody at stop signs and at the gas station. 
     Whenever one person gives another advice, the person getting the advice has to be open. He has to take the role of the student and consider what’s being said. Everybody that asks for advice does this. But this kid didn’t ask for advice and didn’t want to be a student. For everything the guy said to him, the kid would just give off some ridiculous counter. But the kid didn’t know anything, all he had was the will to go fast and a fragile ego that he had to defend. So the guy finally gave up and just told him that trying too hard to follow pulls you out of your comfort zone and makes it easy to crash. Then the guy went back to his group and waited for the call to ride out. 
     Looking back, I think it was the girl that took that kid down. She hadnt been with us for the whole ride; she rolled up while we were all getting gas. And she was quite good. I guess the kid didn’t like the idea of a girl being better than him, because when she went into a sweeper at full speed, he did the same. Except this particular turn had a decreasing radius and the kid couldn’t cope. He went of the road into the trees and when I finally passed by all I saw was a cloud of dust and some pieces of his bike. 
     As it turns out, the kid himself had avoided serious harm. This is not to say that he didn’t need an ambulance. But I’m sure his arms eventually healed. We spent a lot of time dealing with that situation and by the end of it only a few of us were still in the mood to ride. So we decided to turn back. It was on the ride home that the second accident happened. 
     One of the riders up ahead went down in a nasty crash. To us, it looked like he slammed on the brakes and endoed down the road at full speed. We learned later that there had been a recall on the rims of his bike because the spokes had a tendency to buckle at speed. He broke several bones, including both his femurs. We found one of his rims a hundred yards away. Funny thing was, the guy that crashed was the same guy who had lectured the kid about riding within his limits.
     There is an old proverb that says: ‘the wife of a careless man is almost a widow’. I think the truth is that the wife of any man who’s not already dead is almost a widow. We forget that because we have doctors and backup plans and traction control, but the forces that want us wrecked on the side of the road reach out for all of us and don’t care who gets caught. Maybe the only thing that matters is that we get up and keep moving. Or maybe that is the lie that careful people tell themselves in order for their lives to have meaning. So you have to wonder: if a wreckless man rides for twenty years and dies in a crash while a careful man rides for twenty years and dies of cancer, what is the difference? I think the closer to the end that you get the less difference any of it makes. But from here, where we can’t see how things will end up, we use caution. It’s just that caution can’t really ever count for that much on a motorbike. Maybe even in life.
     Yeah, so after that day I thought a lot about what it means to be safe. And I figured that I had been conflating the safety of helmets and turn signals with the safety of not doing anything that could humiliate me or make me uncomfortable. So I tried something different. I have taken jobs I wasn’t sure about, gone places that people don’t even think to visit. If there is an extra mile to travel, I travel it. One day I am going to get caught out anyway, you know? And if that day comes twenty years from now, I just need to know that I wasn’t the one that held me back from getting a fast lap time.”
     The men at the table sat in thought as a waitress came around to collect their empty glasses. Each man understood the meaning of this tale, and while none spoke, each thought back to the moment when they had a similar realization. The man with the black helmet thought back to the time he himself crashed at a racetrack. The man with the green helmet remembered a memorial ride he went on for a rider who died in a slow speed collision. Every rider can chart the mortal moment when riding changed from a hobby to a life commitment, when the motorcycle merged with life itself. It is a revelation marked by stitches, casts and tombstones. 
     But no rider present was foolish or committed enough to brave the storm whose rains still fell upon the roof above them. So there they sat. And when lightning struck the power grid and all electricity was lost, they sat in darkness. It was in that dark that the man with the green helmet began his story. 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Green Ninja Speaks

The Green Ninja Speaks to the Students about the Metaphor of God's Motorcycle.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Riders in the Storm: Chapter One.

The Story of a Chance Meeting.  

      “I never got into the social part of motorcycling,” said the man with the black helmet.  “I never went to meetups or went on group rides. Hell, I don’t even wave back when I get the rider’s salute on the road. The bike to me was always a way to be alone, like taking a boat out to sea or going on a long walk through the woods.
      One night I had been riding for hours. Things were going really wrong in my life and I didn’t want to go home. I feel that way a lot. So on this night, I was in the mountains. It is stupid to ride up there at night, much less when you are upset about something. But I didn’t care. I rode past deer and against strong gusts of wind, until I came to a lookout point with a view of the valley. I had been there many times before, but this was the first time I wasn’t there alone. A man stood by the brick railing, looking out and smoking a cigarette. He didn’t look back when he was lit up by my headlights. Didn’t look back when I walked up beside him. Gave me the impression that he wanted to be alone and that suited me just fine. I walked to the other end of the lookout and pulled out a cigarette. But my lighter was gone.