The Cyborg Junkie and the Greatest Husband Excuse Ever

The Cyborg Junkie and the Greatest Husband Excuse Ever

More adventures in medical land this week.  First up was a visit to a cardiologist, after the Emergency Room doc thought there might be some evidence of hardening of the arteries.  All of the initial tests the cardio doc did looked good, so just for fun I was given a tracker device that is glued to the chest. You leave it on for a week, taking care to not get it too wet, and then seal it into a box and return it. A week or two later they get some results.   It reminds me of “Robo Cop” or other cyborg movies, although in a pretty minor way.  It does not make any noise, but I am supposed to press down on the button in the middle if something happens.

Then off to see Dr. Marinkovich to check in and get my Oxycotone prescription renewed.  He wanted to have a 2nd MRI done on my lower back, and the spine specialist we are seeing tomorrow would want one too. I was very lucky to get in for one 24 hours later, at 6pm this evening.

I HATE having an MRI done!  OK, that is too strong, but if you are even mildly claustrophobic it is not a fun experience. Fortunately, I was able to have it with a “semi open” machine, so you are not totally encased in the tube. However, the roof is about an inch from your nose, so you close your eyes and think about other things.

Any other things.  

They offer you a choice of music to listen to, which is pretty silly. The machine makes so much noise you can’t hear the music.  Every few minutes it stops for 30 seconds and you can hear a song, but the interludes are spaced out far enough that it is a different song each time.

For the MRI I needed to remove the Cyborg device from my chest, and then replace it later.   Hope the glue holds. I may have screwed up this test, but the MRI had far higher priority.

Also at the Doc’s office he advised an “ANSAR” test, which I had never heard of.  You get wired up with various electrodes and then sit for ten minutes and stand for a final five.  This test has three parts.   The first thing is does is measure how hard your heart has to work at a minimum.  How much energy does it take just to pump the blood if you are sitting still?  In my case, very little, which is very good. The second test is when you stand up.  How quickly does the heart respond to a demand for more service?  In my case, very quickly, which is also very good. The final test is to see how the heart reacts and gets back to normal, and I aced that as well.  It’s a small test, but any good news is very welcome.

I had a question. I know that Oxycotone is an addictive opiate. The explanation for its use is that first we will find what is causing the back pain, and fix it, and then later I will go through detox from the Oxycotone.

Thus my question. The Oxcy causes no discernible reaction in me that I can tell. The pain is reduced to a mild ache, but there is no euphoria or giddiness or supreme confidence or anything else that would be “fun.”  I have never smoked marijuana (which my students would never believe back in the day), so I have no “getting high” experiences to relate to, but I have experienced drunkenness to various degrees.  Oxycotone to me is nothing like even two glasses of Scotch, which would put me on the floor. It is – nothing.

In addition, I have no cravings for it. Only a close watch on the clock to make sure I take it every 6 hours keeps me on schedule. I am tempted to skip one here or there, but I have been given expert advice that you want to stay on top of the pain by staying ahead of it, so there you have it.  Experimenting is certainly not worth the risk of the pain I experienced last week!

Worst of all, you are not to drive while taking it, which means Susan is getting a lot of experience driving our new VW Tiguan, and I am getting more and more impatient with not driving, not to mention motorcycle riding.   Plus being the most significant time suck in Susan’s life. Where do we need to go now?  She does not complain about this, but I complain about being the cause.

So I asked. Why can’t I drive?  Answer – it slows down your reaction time and mental capacity. In fact, if you get in an accident and have Oxy in your blood stream, you are considered to be at fault. Period.

Oh.

I replied that I had not noticed any diminution in reflexes or mental acuity, and Susan piped up to say she had. She felt I was not as mentally sharp while on the Oxy.

So as we prepare for an 8am visit to the spine specialist, I have the best husband excuse ever.  When I forget to do something or say something irrevocably stupid, I can say “I’m on Oxy.  Give me a break.”

How long after I’m weaned from it can I continue to use this wonderful excuse?  We’ll see.

 

Cheers!

 

 

Copyright 2017     David Preston

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Adventures in Pain and Suffering

Adventures in Pain and Suffering

Well, THIS has been interesting.  I have been dealing for a few months with issues with my right leg, knee, and lower back. Various MRI and other procedures revealed significant arthritis in the knee as well as two damaged discs in my lower back.  Two months of one or two a week therapy sessions at MTI in Totem Lake revealed that these problems have been there for years, and I had been compensating for them in various subconscious ways, resulting in poor posture and overall exacerbation of the issues.

As an aside, I’ve been incredibly lucky for over half a century with my health.  I went in for a physical every two or three years for decades, and passed all of them with flying colors. I rarely took a sick day.  At least I knew I was fortunate, and wondered when my luck would run out.  Turns out that would be right about… now.

The therapists at MTI did wonders for both my knee and back. In two months I went from being able to bend my right knee to 105 degrees, while prone on a table, to 135 degrees. Anything over 125 is very good.  Various exercises strengthened my back and especially my knee to where I could walk up the stairs normally, most of the time. Things were looking good.

Then we went to Tahoe for a few days before Christmas for a family and friends gathering of 12 people.  Since I do not ski or “board,” and walking any distance is still a challenge, my activities were limited.  I could have joined the others for ice skating, since I am skilled at that, but I did not want to risk further damage to the knee. As a result, I spent a lot of time either watching football games on TV or joining the clan for hilarious good times around the fire, etc., at all times sitting in a puffy couch or chair.

Bad move.

That plus two plane rides meant that by the time we got home my lower back was in a bad state.   One of the treatments for that had been icing my lower back for 20-25 minutes at a time, and on the 10th I tried that. With disastrous results.

When I tried to get up I was in agony. There was no posture than did not bring with it incredible pain.  I knew I was going to pass out or throw up, or both. With Susan’s help, we got me into a recliner chair, and she gave me an Oxycontin pill left over from when this all started back in September. Then things got worse.

I evidently passed out from the pain.  Never done that before. Susan reports that my eyes rolled back in my head, my breathing was raspy, I was pale as a white turnip, and there was some foaming at the mouth while I emitted unintelligible sounds.  I am so sorry Susan had to witness this, as it must have been horrifying.

When I came to Susan was in my face and words were coming through, but what she was saying made no sense for quite some time. She was on the phone to 911, trying to describe my condition. Eventually she apologized to the operator because she felt she was yelling.  She left me to go open the front door for the EMTs who were en route.

This is one of those times when you have to be grateful for the medical assistance that is so close at hand in our area. Next thing I knew I was surrounded by about 5 people. A couple of EMTs began running a battery of tests while quizzing me as to my condition.

They wanted to see if I had suffered a heart attack or a stroke or some other horror. Susan gave them better information than I did.  There were also two techs from the ambulance service, as well as a high school student on a ride-along.

I was now fully awake again, and sweating like I’ve never experienced.  Perspiration was shooting out of all the pores on my head, and in a minute or so my tee-shirt was literally wringing wet.

It’s a stereotype, but even in dire straits I was struck by the good looking EMT working on me.  Dark hair, a muscular build, and bright blue eyes, he looked like a central casting call for the role of the EMT in the movie.  In a way it did not seem real.

One of the positive things that happened here was that I relaxed. I was obviously surrounded by highly competent pros that did not seem to think there was anything serious going on. Or at least they were able to convey that impression, whether true or not. My job was to sit back and relax and let them do their job.  Which I did, with gratitude.

I needed to be transported to Evergreen Hospital, and the next thing we discovered was that I could not stand up.  If I tried, the pain was excruciating. I was asked for the pain level on a scale of 1 -10, and I replied “8.”   Susan gaped at me, but I was recalling the time I tore my knee up in a basketball game.  That was worse, but only lasted a minute or two, so I probably should have upped my answer.  But the Oxy had begun to take effect, and the mind tries to forget extreme pain as soon as possible.

If I could not walk, they would carry me.  First they had to lift my 225 pounds of dead weight (almost literally dead weight) from the recliner into a chair.  I was strapped in and wheeled backwards down the hall, and then carried down our stairs, out the front door, more stairs, and to the driveway.

That was when I noticed they had arrived in a full on big ass firetruck, the kind that has a rear steer cab.   Turns out it was a busy night, and they were out of more usual vehicles. Also, it was the Woodinville fire department, as Bothell was busy with other emergencies.

As we wheeled down the sidewalk past the fire truck to the waiting ambulance, I said “Darn. I wanted to ride in the big one.”

“Me too,” answered one of the ambulance crew.

I had now accepted my condition, and relaxing was probably a good thing. On the way to Evergreen I attempted to keep track of the route being used, for no other reason than idle curiosity.

Into Evergreen’s Emergency Center, and here again the breadth and depth or modern medical care is astonishing. I think I was seen by about 10 different doctors and nurses in less than 10 minutes. Susan and I repeated what we thought had happened to several people, over and over again, while various tests were being run.   Eventually I was trundled off for a chest scan, looking for blood clots.

Then back to the room to wait for results.  Eventually the doctor came in and said “You’re normal.”  

I replied “Nobody has ever said that to me.”

He continued with “I can’t find anything seriously wrong with you, and believe me I tried.”   Of course he had to go on from there and state that obviously I had trauma in my lower back, and I might also have some hardening of the arteries in my chest, but nothing likely to be fatal.  At least not yet.

And so we were sent home, with a referral for a spine specialist, another for a cardiac specialist, and a prescription for Oxycodone.  We stopped on the way home at a Burger King, as it was now 11pm and I had not eaten for many hours. Worst burgers ever.

Alas, the appointment for the spine doc could not be made until Thursday the 19th, so I was now to take a Percocet every 6 hours 24 hours a day – and wait.  For nine days.

This was not all bad, as it would give my back a rest, and over the next few days I learned just how much of my energy reserves I used during this small medical crisis. I emulated our two cats – sleeping an amazing number of hours a day.  The pain would vary from a dull ache to quite acute, and it was difficult to predict what would lead to trauma. At times it seemed I I’d forgotten to take an Oxycodone, but we were very careful to stick to the every 6 hours. When it was bad it felt like my lower back was in spasms, although I know that is not accurate, and I could not find any posture that was not painful.  Last night I hit on the idea of using a heating pad when things were bad, and that has made a world of difference.

One of the minor difficulties in all of this is that I hate to accept the need for help from anyone. Now I was totally dependent on Susan, and she got tired of my continual apologies for all of the chores that are “mine” in normal life.  Imagine how many things you can do around the house if you are to avoid “exposing” your lower back – which means don’t bend over.  Another is the need to accept the need for forced sloth.  Fortunately, I love car auctions on TV, and this window of time happens to coincide with first a Mecum auction and then Barrett-Jackson.

And where would I be if I were alone in life?  When I pondered this I easily drifted into a state of near panic. Susan has essentially stopped her entire life to attend to all of my needs.  She is supportive, positive, and encouraging at all times.  At times I get tears in my eyes just looking at her. By myself I don’t know what I would do, and imagining outcomes was not comfortable. At all.

We did get out of the house on Friday to go to breakfast with a few of our friends, and that was extremely helpful. Their good natured joshing just barely slid over their evident concern, and really gave me a boost.

Now we head into a new week, with a couple of appointments I need to get to. It might be painful, and I will walk slowly, but the need to get out of the house and do something will offset this.

Then there is the constipation brought on by the pain killers. I’m going to guess you would rather not hear the details.

Like I said, it’s been interesting.  And really, I would rather go through this at this time of the year. I would be in dire psychological stress if the sun was out and the temperatures inviting!

Another thought – you will never appreciate the heated seats in your new car as much as when you have a sore lower back.

More when I hear from the spine doc.  And the cardiologist. And…

Cheers!

 

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Purchasing a new 2017 SUV – Part Two

Purchasing  a New 2017 SUV – Part Two

Moving on from Part One (see earlier post), at the end of the day it came down to two candidates – the Kia Sportage and the VW Tiguan.

We’d been considering the vast array of offerings in the mid-size SUV market for a few months.  For sure I was spending most of the research time, but Susan went with me to the Seattle Auto Show and listened patiently while I discussed my constantly shifting opinions. She also has keen insights about cars and about what she wants.

We had a few absolutes, which would probably not apply to most people.  From Susan, the color had to be black. I could envision other colors, but it would be churlish to insist on any of them, as she has been so accommodating and even eager to embrace my wilder automotive and motorcycle plans for the past 44 years.  We both prefer a windshield that is fairly close to the driver, which does not seem to be a concern for many of my friends. We both insist on a sunroof, and it needs to be placed as close to the windshield as possible.  Susan wanted the car to be as small as possible, for her ease of mind in wheeling it around, and of course price was a consideration.

Those four requirements eliminated almost all of the worthy candidates, and subjective opinions about appearance eliminated the rest.  I love the Audi Q3 – too expensive. The Mazda model wins almost all of the road tests, but I was not enamored of the styling, and the sun roof started too far back. The Ford Escape, the early favorite, was a skoche too big, and the instrument panel looked like a prop from a Star Wars movie. The Toyota Rav4 is undoubtedly a fine vehicle, but it just did not move me at all.  Nor did the Hyundai. All the Subarus and the Honda CR-V were eliminated because they have CVT transmissions, which I hate!

The VW Tiguan was one we did not look at when attending the show, because the appearance seemed a bit boring. Later I realized that I was thinking of the previous model. The 2017 looks much different, and it was added back into the mix.  We did look at the Kia Sportage at the show, and it was mightily impressive.

We visited Totem Lake VW and looked at a 2017 Tiguan loaded to the gills.  The top spec model, and in lustrous black. Salesman Bob Hansen impressed us with his calm demeanor, and was not put off when I told him we would not be purchasing for another two weeks, as I was aiming for the week after Christmas.  I really liked the car, although it was causing our financial window to bulge just a bit.

Of course, buying any VW today has to include consideration of the elephant in the room, that being the recent worldwide scandal over VW cheating emissions regs by having their diesel engine cars only meet the standards while in the test mode.  There are two ways to look at this.

My oldest brother has a PhD in chemical engineering. He spent a long and successful career working on energy production and conservation for a think tank in California. As an engineer and someone passionate about the environment, the VW hit him right at the core of his existence. As such, he has sworn never to have anything to do with VW products for as long as he lives.

I certainly respect his position, but I choose a different course. First of all, there are rumors that VW was not the only manufacturer who cheated.  They may occupy the lonely position of being merely the first to be caught. This story has not ended. Secondly, we are not purchasing a diesel engine car.  Third, the crimes against nature were committed by a small fraction of the employees, and especially by members of the high command. Have you ever worked in a situation where members of the upper echelons of the organization took actions that caused you to determine that they were corrupt? I have. It gave me a profound disrespect for them as people, but it did not alter the way I chose to do my job, and their various acts of misfeasance and malfeasance did not intrude on my job performance or expectations. Surely that is true for 99% of VW employees across the world.

Last, it seems to me that VW dealers are currently REALLY eager to sell their cars, and will work very hard to make and retain loyal customers.  Advantage me.

When we got home from a short family adventure to Tahoe just before Christmas it was time to put boots on the showroom floor and try a test drive or two.  By now I had done more research on these two cars, both in print and on various web sites.  I had also checked a used car site to get an idea of what our 2005 Honda CR-V would be worth.  There is a big difference between the trade-in value of a used car and the retail price, of course. Dealers refer to this as “profit.” On the other hand, we would be paying sales tax on the new car minus the amount of the trade-in, which is not an amount to be sniffed at. Selling our Honda on my own was a potential headache, or much worse, that I did not want to deal with.

We also paid a visit to the teachers’ credit union I have done business with for 47 years (!), and were quickly approved for pretty much anything we wanted.

My “plan” was to try the Kia first, thinking that Susan might not like it, increasing the odds of purchasing the VW Tiguan, which I preferred. Of course that did not work out very well.

I also strove mightily to bear in mind that we did not have to purchase a car that week, or at all for that matter.  Our Honda CR-V was still a fine vehicle.  We wanted a new car and could afford it, but there was no sensible argument to be made that a purchase of a new car was mandatory.  Buyer’s lust get thee hence!

We went to Lee Johnson to check out the Kia Sportage, and they had just what we wanted. The top of the line loaded model, and in black. Black cherry metallic, to be precise, although you would only notice the cherry metallic in strong sunlight at the right angle.

Susan really liked the car, although I was a bit put off by the seats. The center sections were black, but the side bolsters were a gray. Attractive now, but in a few years there would be dust and dirt outlining stress creases.

It’s always interesting to see what “angle” a sales person will use.  In rare cases, there is no angle, of course, and those people are always more successful, at least with me. 

Susan’s technique is to smile and agree with everything the sales person recommends. I keep my mouth shut and frown a lot. Besides, Susan is a beautiful woman that men love to talk to. She chatted years ago with an eager young man who talked a Nissan Pathfinder from 18k up to 28k before he was done, even suggesting we replace the stock leather interior with a much better one from his friend down the street. Susan nodded and smiled at him as it got more and more ridiculous. We did not purchase a car from him.

At Lee Johnson the fellow trotted out his favorite angles. When he first came to work there he was allowed to drive all of the products from Chevrolet and Mazda and Kia before picking the one he wanted to sell, and according to him Kia was “no-brainer.”  In addition, the SX model we wanted was the top-shelf SX model, and they were rare, according to him. The one we test drove was the only one on the lot in black, and he had one more on the way but it was already spoken for.  Of course, if we wanted to purchase that car before the person who had requested it…  I did mention under my breath to Susan that there are other Kia dealers, but other than that I managed to keep my mouth shut.

So I was not all that impressed.  We asked him to write up his best offer, that we were off to look at the Tiguan, and that we would purchase one or the other.  After the sales manager drove our Honda, they made a very reasonable offer.  They offered $500 more for the Honda than I had guessed, pointing out that it was in excellent condition. 

Susan loved the car and was ready to buy it on the spot, but this is not her first rodeo and she knew a visit to the VW dealer would not hurt.

We developed a system of sorts for this sort of thing years ago when I explained that the salesman would say some things that were mostly but not entirely true, and that I would respond in the same fashion.  She is very good at smiling at the salesman and not saying anything if what I say sounds a bit bent.

And so, off to Totem Lake VW. On the way there I told Susan that I would opt for the VW if they could get to within about a $1000 of the Kia price, as I felt the VW was a much more substantial and refined vehicle. As we walked in we were greeted by Bob, and he welcomed us by name and asked how our trip had gone. Ten points and a gold star to Bob!   I could not have done that.

The more we looked at the VW the better it got, and the test drive impressed.  The panoramic sunroof extended for most of the length of the roof.  The leather seats were all black.  The 2 liter turbo engine has sufficient power for our needs, and a sport setting for the shift pepped things up a bit. It did not have the paddle shifters of the Kia, but I think those are kind of silly in an SUV.

It had more gizmos and techie do dads by far than any car we have ever owned, and probably more than all the cars we have owned added together.  Which is fine if they do not break… All in all it just seemed more complete than the Kia, and of a much higher quality of fit and finish. 

We got down to numbers in a timely fashion.  Although they offered about $900 less for the trade, Bob also decided to not charge us for some of the little add-ons dealers install so they have more haggling room.  We did not really need the tinted windows, but they would be nice. The 3M paint protection on forward facing surfaces would be nice as well.  There was also a pulse gizmo that flashes the 3rd brake light when you first step on the brake. 

The end result was just a hair over $1000 more than the Kia, and we opted to purchase.

The after-sale paperwork was pleasantly devoid of the usual boiler room pressure to add on this and that, possibly because this model is so loaded there is little to add.  While this was done a lot assistant took the car away to fill the fuel tank to the brim and make sure everything on this clean car was spotless. The General Manager spent some time thanking us for our business, which was nice.  Bob gave us a tour of the dealership, which is supposed to happen in every dealership and often does not take place, and threw in a VW hat for good measure.

I am sure we could have saved some money if I wanted to play the “bad cop” game and spend a lot more time, but he had done his job and reached the price I was willing to pay. I would much rather be a nice guy if I can afford it, as that can pay dividends further down the road if something goes awry.

In this case, that happened right away. As Bob was synching Susan’s phone to the car (we chose to skip my flip phone for this!) he also showed us how some of the dash controls worked. Oops. Something was wrong with the sun roof.  Rather than asking us to bring the car back, which would have been OK (how often will we use the sunroof this month?), he insisted that we wait in the comfy showroom while he took the car back and had a technician figure out the glitch and fix it.

Since then I have been happily returning time and again to the 372 page (!) owner’s manual.  Bob also sent us an e-mail with a link to a Tiguan web page, where entering the VIN will get you to a menu of videos to show you pretty much everything that is in the owner’s manual. A nice touch, as some are more visual learners than readers. He also responded by e-mail to a couple of minor questions I had.

All in all, we’re ecstatic with our new car, and if you want to purchase a new Tiguan or other VW I can recommend Bob Hansen and Totem Lake VW to you.

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

Posted in Cars, Equipment, Marketing, Rants and Raves | 4 Comments

The Most Astonishing Motorcycle Show on TV

The Most Astonishing Motorcycle Show on TV

Motorcycles have a not so fabulous history on network TV.  A few years ago you could watch national level road racing, dirt oval racing, motocross, plus world Superbike and MotoGP racing – all on major networks. Alas, the motorcycle demographic is so small that all have retreated to special access channels available at extra cost. About the only racing on TV today are a few Supercross events plus the annual Dakar Rally, if even that survives.

Motorcycles as a major plot element of fictional shows is a history even more troubled.  What do we have today? “Sons of Anarchy”?  Please.

Remember “Then Came Bronson”?  This debuted in 1969 and was must see TV for me.  Then in my first year of teaching, I had two colleagues (also first year teachers) who shared an apartment and went out and spent their new found wealth ($7200 a year with coaching stipends!) on a pair of Honda 350 street scramblers. In their shared apartment they would turn two dining room chairs around backwards and sit on them to watch the show, with their helmets on!  As an “experienced” rider of two years, I was too sophisticated for such nonsense. Of course.

And who can forget “CHiPs”?  I can still hum the theme song.

Over the ensuing years a motorcycle would occasionally roll across the screen, usually a lone title role character on a Harley with virtually no luggage who roamed the country doing good deeds. Sigh.

But now – oh my. I’ve just discovered the most remarkable show, and it is now going into its 5th season.  Ironically, I almost did not watch it at all after an initial visceral reaction to the image of the star.  My error.

The show is called “American Ride,” and it runs on the BYU channel.  A motorcycle show sponsored by the Mormons?  Curious.  The main character at first glance is a cartoon caricature of the “biker” image. A very large man with a jeans vest minus sleeves, the fingerless gloves I have never understood,  sufficiently torn jeans, black engineer boots, an open face helmet, dark glasses, and the obligatory Harley.  And of course long hair and a beard and a very impressive mustache. Probably just another poser! What can this show possibly have to offer? As it turns out, a great deal.

First of all, I need to be more careful about poser assumptions.  After all, almost every motorcyclist is a poser to one degree or another. Including me. Back when I rode sport bikes, I would venture out with my full leathers, including sliders on the knees, full face expensive helmet, racing gloves and road race boots. I looked like I was ready for the road race to begin.  At one point I owned a Muzzy Raptor, one of 53 super rare custom sport bikes that were essentially race bikes with license plates.

I have never raced.  I have attended a couple of cornering schools held at race tracks where I could ride as fast as I wanted to, but riding as fast as I wish or as fast as I think the motorcycle wants to go is a very long way from racing against other people, and I know it.  I decided long ago that I did not want to race, for several reasons, but I did not mind looking the part.  The sliders on my knee have never scraped the asphalt, and probably won’t unless I suffer a crash.

A lot of dual sport or adventure bike riders get all dressed up so they are ready to tackle the far reaches of China or perhaps the Sahara desert, and yet rarely venture off the pavement. These are occasionally referred to as “Starbuck’s Adventure Riders,” a phrase I did not invent but wish I had.

I spent several years riding with a HOG group, and many of the members looked exactly like the star of this show. At the same time, most of them were fine people, and some were excellent riders.

Not to put them down, please understand.  One of the lessons learned in 15 years of leading customer rides is that some people are riding a motorcycle, and some are sitting on a motorcycle that is moving. The latter have little idea of what to do when something untoward occurs, and disaster may ensue. Sport bike posers have a higher rate of disaster than others because they are usually traveling at a higher rate of speed, and things go from bad to disaster much more quickly.

With all that in mind, I watched the first show, and my jaw dropped. Often.  The star is Stan Ellsworth, whose background includes stints as a major college football coach, and years as a teacher. And a lot more. Each show hones in on a region or era of America with a lot of important history, and Mr. Ellsworth is a fantastic teacher.  He has a mesmerizing voice, and each show features an obviously high level of research into the theme of the show.  It might be the history of the Pacific Coast Highway, how Nashville became “Music City,” political corruption in the 19th century, the history of race relations, the flood of immigration in the latter half of the 19th century – the topics are all over the place. You will learn an enormous amount, even if you think you are a history buff, as Susan and I both claim to be.

I treasure the interviews. Mr. Ellsworth is usually seeking depth of background from a historian, the curator of an art gallery, the director of a historically significant choir from an African American university, or some such. These people are scholars, usually dressed very conservatively, and are obviously used to spending time in quiet and scholarly environments.  At the beginning of each interview, their faces betray traces of a fight or flight response – leaning heavily on the latter. Here they sit across from a mountain of a man in full biker gear, and you can tell they are pretty sure they’ve agreed to something that will turn out to be a very bad idea.

As the interview progresses and they come to understand Mr. Ellsworth’s passion for the subject and his obvious depth of knowledge, they begin to notice that he is extremely polite and respectful of both his interviewee and the topic, and his vocabulary stuns them.  It is amazing to watch.

About the vocabulary. As a career English teacher, I tend to pay attention to that. In this case there is a fascinating mix of good ‘ol boy lingo, biker talk, and academic terms that flow together.  In one sentence he will offer “Let’s hike a leg over and take a ride.”  In the next paragraph he will be explaining corruption in the Presidential elections from 1872-1890, or why Tesla and Edison had such disagreements. When was the last time you heard a biker use the term “acumen,” for only one example.

Some aspects are left out due to time constraints, but I guarantee you will learn a great deal, even about topics where you thought you were well-versed.

And sponsored by BYU?  Obviously, I have to alter my perceptions of the Mormon infrastructure as well.

Imagine a “motorcycle show” that Susan wants to watch with me.

I highly recommend “American Ride.”  Whether or not you ride a motorcycle is not important.

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

 

Posted in Education, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Motorcycle Trends for 2017

Motorcycle Trends for 2017

For a motorcycle enthusiast this is an exciting time of year. Actually, any time of the year is exciting, come to think of it. At this time the thrills come from all of the manufacturers trotting out their latest great ideas for the year to come.  It’s fun to see where they’re choosing to invest their manufacturing and marketing dollars, as over time their choices change.

This is by no means a complete review, as I lack the sources and work ethic to do a lot of deep research.  Thus, the following may be superficial, but I hope it is interesting. In any case, you’re not paying for it.

From 2001 to 2003 I had a call-in radio show, and every year at about this time I would invite my friend Harvey Gilkerson to be the guest. Unlike me, Harvey did spend the time to research and learn, and he always offered a wealth of fun detail on what was to come on two wheels in the year ahead. He was better informed than anyone I knew in the industry. I learned in 14 years in the motorcycle business that customers almost always know more about what is coming than dealer personnel do. Some customers go to great lengths to hear the latest, while people in the dealership are more focused on what is in the store today. They may expend some interest on what is coming, but only for the brands they sell.

Here are some things I’d like to point out as we rush toward 2017.

Best New Trend: Small displacement motorcycles.  Been waiting for this for what seems forever. When I got into motorcycles, it was possible for a young man (and most motorcyclists were man back then) to get into motorcycles at a very low cost. Particularly Japanese bikes of a sporty persuasion. You could purchase a Honda 250 Scrambler with the carefully stashed proceeds from a summer of mowing lawns, and all of the cool guys in my high school did.  I was not a cool guy, but I can still recall waiting to board the bus after school and looking out at the parking lot at the rows of new and used motorcycles being readied for escape.

      By the early 2000s a small sport bike was 600cc, and the price had zoomed past $6,000.  Performance had long ago surpassed anything that was available at any price or displacement when I started, but $6,000 plus gear plus insurance plus, plus, plus, pretty much eliminated most young people. Kawasaki soldiered on with a 250 Ninja that was less expensive, but it was beyond long in the tooth and the styling left a lot to be desired. Like style.

         A couple of years ago Honda and Kawasaki dipped a toe into the younger (and physically smaller) market with 250cc sport bikes that went fast enough and looked terrific. Now everyone is in on the act, and the future looks bright for the young buyer.  This is spreading now to include smaller displacement (and physical size) cruisers and dual sport bikes, and even sport tourers.   May this wave of sanity continue.

The End of a Trend:   Performance. In the 1960’s all motorcyclists wanted more. More power, better brakes, better handling, and especially – more power.  My first three bikes had less than 50hp, and yet I was able to complete several multi-state rides of 3,000 miles or more.  With the inevitable march of technology, motorcycles of a performance bent have now outstripped the riding ability of anyone who is not a professional racer.  Even worse, they’ve grown too fast for an increasingly decrepit surface transportation infrastructure.

        Between roads that are falling into disrepair and rapidly worsening traffic volumes, there is literally nowhere you can exercise a modern large displacement motorcycle to the point where it is using even 75% of its capability.   Where on a public road can you unleash a 200hp motorcycle that can reach 100mph with at least three gears left to use?

Response Trend:  Many purchasers of high performance motorcycles are now reserving their use to track days only, not ever using them on the street. I think this is a disastrous trend in terms of sales, which is why you see manufacturers spending less and less time and energy on new technology or even more performance. I suspect that most high performance and high price sport bikes are now used as “halo” bikes.  Their purpose is to draw people into showrooms on their way to purchasing something more reasonable. Some of them are now made different each year by the application of what a long term industry pro termed “BNG.”  Bold New Graphics!

The Stagnation of Big Tourers and Sport Tourers:  To a lesser extent, this segment parallels what is happening with sport bikes.   The Yamaha FJR, Kawasaki Concours, BMW R1200GT, and a slew of others are nigh on perfect for their intended use.  Is there any meat left on the technology bone to entice increased market share?   I don’t know. And large tourers?  Where is the noise over the latest Goldwing? I have not seen one mentioned in print in a very long time. Lots of ink spilled over Harley’s new engine, which harnesses most of the technology others were using twenty years ago, but the riding experience will be about the same.

Trend I like The Most:  Retro.  It is now possible to produce a motorcycle that looks almost exactly like one built back in the boom times of the 1960s and 1970s.  Triumph perhaps leads the way here. If you park my 2016 Triumph Bonneville next to a 1968 Bonneville the resemblance is absolutely eerie. And yet, mine has fuel injection,  an engine of almost twice the displacement but virtually identical exterior size, ABS brakes, heated grips, traction control and modes, and on and on. It is amazing.  BMW is now offering three of four models in a similar vein. I have seen mock up pictures of prototypes that might make it to production, such as a reborn Kawasaki Z1000, that are drool worthy.  I looked at a new Norton the other day, which looks appropriately retro and yet actually functions reliably.  Save the letters – I once owned a 1982 Norton.

There are several advantages to manufacturers in this niche. For one, because bikes back in the day were so much simpler, a lot of expensive stuff can be left off a retro. No bodywork, simpler suspension, simpler and lower horsepower engines than your leading stuff, and a demographic that is probably older and more able to purchase. And as a double bonus, they tend to be cheaper.  My Bonneville was the “loaded” version, and had a list price of $12,500.  And this leads me to my favorite trend:

The Return of Beauty:  For twenty years the emphasis has been on function.  A glaring exception has been Harley.  Harley invested a ton of money almost twenty years ago in a just beyond state of the art painting facility, and Harleys have had the best paint jobs of anyone for a very long time. Ever year Harley comes out with new models with just a tick or two of new innovations in function, but the paint – oh my.  Gorgeous.  Now that is spreading. 

Every time I park the Bonneville someone comments about how beautiful it is. This applies to both motorcyclists and to people who do not know what it is.  And I mean “every time” to be taken literally.  Closer inspection reveals the pin stripes on the tank are hand painted, and the initials of the person who did it are under the seat.   You have to love that.  People in cars cruise parallel to me to get a better look, not that I am all that happy about that.  In short, motorcycles that are beautiful more than they are hugely functional are now “in.”

The Trend That Will Not Die:  But I hope the preceding may kill it. Somewhere in Japan, in my imagination, there’s a giant tank that is 100 yards tall and 300 yards in circumference.   That tank holds flat black paint, and the Japanese siphon off hundreds of gallons of the stuff to spray on frames, tanks, fenders, fairings, etc. When will that blasted tank run dry?  The effect of all the black paint is to lose the details of the design and create a black blob. There was a time when flat black was the new cool thing.  That was 1998.  It’s time for colors to return to motorcycles.  Harley has had their own way with a wild and creative color palette for long enough.

       Speaking or Harley and retro together, some might argue that all Harleys are retro, but I think the reality much more complex than that.  If your core company religion is an air-cooled V-twin, and yet you want to stay competitive with modern performance standards for power, braking, and fuel economy, plus requirements to control both noise and emissions, you face a very tall task.  Harley has stirred multiple solutions into this cocktail of engineering challenges.  Partial water cooling has snuck into some of their larger designs. Very hard brake pads help with stopping, at the expense of requiring some break-in miles.  Sophisticated electrics, which they do not talk about much, control many engine functions.  Harleys had cruise control that was simple and effective long before most others did. The addition of a small light on the instrument panel that lit up only when in 6th gear was a brilliant solution, to my mind. In short, Harley has successfully marketed “old school” while using a lot of leading edge technology.  They just do not talk about it much.  Coca Cola may have invented marketing, but Harley surely holds the crown in motorcycles.

       In 2000 or so Harley did introduce the VRod, with a water cooled and very sophisticated V-twin engine, most of which they designed. It is a brilliant engine, albeit heavy, but Harley lacks the desire, expertise, or corporate will to use the engine in the many forms it should have taken.  A lost opportunity, to my way of thinking.

Retro Spin-Off Trends:        Retro has worked very well for Triumph and others, and now there is a new wave of bikes from the same sorts of marketing thinkers.  Street Scramblers.  These were huge back in the 1960s, led by the Honda 250, 300, and 450 Street Scramblers. These were pure street bikes with a smattering of ‘get tough’ dirt bike parts and pieces, and they were brilliant. I put 19,000 miles on a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, and all but about 300 yards of that distance was on pavement. There was that one rainy afternoon with a friend on his similar bike that featured a lot of mud and wet grass.  How I managed to not fall down is something I will never know, but I did not repeat it.

      Triumph made a Scrambler version of their bikes both back then and for the past twenty years, but it is probably the Ducati version that it leading the charge now.   A low seat height, relatively affordable (for a Ducati) and oozing cool, these bikes are the hot thing, and variations on that theme will be prominent in 2017.  And I heartily approve.

       Bobbing and Bagging along:  The latest trend seems to be “bobbers” and “baggers.” The terms go back to just after World War II when returning GIs (and others) purchased thousands of surplus motorcycles meant for the war effort and “bobbed” them, which meant taking off anything that did not make the bike go faster. Front fenders went away, rear passenger seat gone, and often the rear fender was removed or “bobbed.”   Of course this made the bike less utile, so some added saddlebags to the back, creating a “bagger.”

      Now both of these styles are back with a vengeance, with Ducati and Triumph and others offering the bobber look, and several going for the bagger ideal, even Moto Guzzi and Honda. Like the street scrambler niche trend, there is not much of any performance advantage to the bobber or bagger ilk, and in fact most of them are less capable than the bikes they are based on. It’s all about capturing a look or a mood or a style.  Not much wrong with that that I can see. Motorcycles, at least in this country, are still for the most part toys for adults, and if you can have the exact toy you want, more power to you.  Like retros and street scramblers, the bobber and bagger variants allow manufacturers to offer a wider range of models at little additional cost, and in many cases less cost, which may  (or may not) lower the purchase price. Most are based on cruisers, which have always sold well, and adding the requisite “look” is relatively easy.

The Trend That Never Was:          Women riders.  People have been excited about the coming “boom” in female motorcycle ownership for decades, but although many more women ride now than in the past, the tidal wave that has been predicted has never hit the shores of the dealerships.

       The predictions came about with the rise of participants in motorcycle safety classes, first of all because they were a very good idea, and secondly because insurance and licensing pressures gradually made them all but mandatory. People got excited when they saw that the percentage of women in these classes spiked upward, in some areas reaching almost 50%.  However, one factor was left out.

       I have long opined that one of the great benefits of such classes is that they allow people to give motorcycles a try.   Some of them find out that either A.) They actually do not enjoy riding motorcycles or 2.) Their motor skills and depth perception send them strong messages that they should not ride motorcycles. Either of these conclusions is of great value, and easily justifies the reasonable cost of the class.

      I think a hefty chunk of the people who opt out, for good reasons, are female. From my limited experience (never having been a female); it seems to be much harder for women to get into motorcycles.  In our sexist culture men are often ‘taught’ through movies and social interaction that they can do anything they want, particularly if it carries a whiff of danger.  In fact, it is almost that they should. Women have to slog through a lot of crap related to ‘girls don’t do that’ or simply ‘you can’t.’  There are women (like my mother, wife, and daughter) who don’t particularly give a fig newton about what others think. But not the majority. 

       I just noticed that I used the word “hefty” and “female” in the same sentence.  No slight intended

      In addition, women are often more sensible than men, and may choose to opt out of something when the going looks dicey, whereas men may allow the powerful forces of testosterone to lure them on to folly. Been there, done that.

      Yes, I simplify, but it is not all bad. It used to be that there was a used Sportster on the floor with almost no miles. Every day. Hubby had been so sure his wife would love riding that he bought her one as a surprise.  The wife wanted to show her appreciation, and perhaps took the class. But in reality, she may have enjoyed riding behind him as a passenger, but just did not like riding at all.  Eventually the bike would show up on the sales floor with less than 500 miles.  At a large cost in financial terms, and possibly marital bliss.

      Today women are faced, at last, with motorcycle gear that is designed for a female shape. It may take some looking, but it does exist. The safety classes provide a great start.  Most men in my experience are delighted to have a woman or three join a riding group.  And best of all, women of shorter stature now have a bevy of beautiful bikes to choose from. It used to be a Harley Sportster or a Ducati Monster and that was about it. Now their choices abound.

      So yes, more women than ever are riding, and we are all the better for it. But a massive increase ain’t gonna’ happen.

The Trend I Ignore:  There are probably things happening with dirt bikes. I lack curiosity about them and don’t particularly enjoy riding them, so I will pass on this enormous segment of the market, and with that I include dual sport bikes. Also electric bikes and scooters. Sorry. Just not my thing.

Clouds on the Horizon:  It bothers me that motorcycle racing is disappearing from the common TV screen.  Moto GP and World Superbike used to be available for free, along with AMA pro road racing, but now can be accessed only by the purchase of an additional package, if that.  The most likely place to see a motorcycle now is on a “bad boy” show or movie such as “Sons of Anarchy” or various spin offs, and that is a shame. There is so much more to motorcycles than cruising around being, or pretending to be, some sort of bad ass biker dude.

      The Isle of Man TT races are shown each year on a major cable channel, but I’d like more than one hedonistic week of binge viewing a year.  I’d like to see TT racing and flat track racing as well.  The new USA road racing body organized by Wayne Rainey shows promise, and the serious entry of Indian into AMA flat track racing does offer some silver lining to the clouds. I hope.

That’s what I think.  You?

Copyright 2016                      David Preston

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

Purchasing a Small 2017 SUV – Part I

Purchasing a Small 2017 SUV – Part I

I’m probably one of the very few people who enjoy the process of purchasing a new car. Not that I have a lot of practice. We purchased our first new car in 1997, and have purchased a whopping three cars since then.  I also do not have all that much experience with purchasing new motorcycles, which seems a bit odd since I’ve ridden more than 500 of them, most of them new.  Although I purchased several new motorcycles in the almost ten years I worked at Cycle Barn, all of them had some sort of delectable friend of the dealership or promotional consideration string tied to them. The rest of the new bikes were rental bikes, test bikes, demos, or those purchased by the dealership for my own use.

The first part is the research, which is the most important part of the process, and the most fun.  Once the decision has been made, or forced upon us, I dive into the amassing of a wealth of printed and on-line information, which is pored over and studied ad nauseum. In addition, we went to the Seattle auto show last month, and had a wonderful time looking and sitting in some of the contenders and discussing our individual preferences.

We’ve decided to replace our 2005 Honda CR-V. At 90,000 miles, it has a lot of life left in it, but there are various small mechanical and electrical issues to be addressed, and we can afford a new one – within reason.

The good news is that the small SUV niche of the market is currently the “hottest,” and virtually every manufacturer offers their iteration on the theme.  The bad news is that almost all of them follow the same formula, so gleaning the winner from a tidal wave of hopefuls can be confusing.  Prices range from about 25k to well over 100k.  We will be focusing more toward the lower end of that range.

To generalize, we’re looking at a 4 or 5 seat small SUV. It will have a 4 cylinder engine that may or may not be turbo charged. It will have either on demand four wheel drive or permanent AWD.

Since so many of them are so similar in spec, we can first toss out those that we do not find attractive.  On the one hand, the appearance of a utilitarian vehicle should not make that much difference, but if I am going to spend over 35k on a vehicle, it needs to be one I really like. Susan has her preferences as well – it needs to be black. 

(She also wants a car that is the size of our Fiat 500 and has the interior room of a Ford Expedition. Hmmmm.)

Due to the subjectivity of appearance the Mazda CX 5, which seems to win most of the published comparison tests, was ruled out.  I just don’t like how it looks. Same with the Hyundai Tucson, the Buick Envision, the Chevrolet Trax, the Mitsubishi Outlander, and even the Honda CR-V, although ours has served us well.  The field is getting smaller already!

Others were knocked off the list by price. I REALLY liked the Audi Q3, and argued that this might well be the last car we will ever purchase, but Susan is worried about what might happen to our IRA funds and Social Security under the reign of the idiot my peers have elected to be President, and her caution is warranted. So all the contenders likely to soar over 40k are gone.  Now we’re down to a manageable few.

As personal preference, I dislike CVT transmissions. Intensely. I’ve driven my daughter’s Subaru Forester, and the CVT drove me wild. It accelerates from 0 to 10mph in a jerk, and then falls on its face. I was pleased to see several printed references to the same problem.  It’s not just me! So all Subarus, great cars that they are, were summarily booted off the list.  I’ve read that CVT is some other brands are not as bad, but I’d prefer a good old automatic. Some of the contenders are still available with a manual transmission, but only in the “stripper” models.

Because we’re older and retired and no longer have to pinch all of our pennies, we’re looking for a top of the line model of whatever.  We both love a sunroof, for example, and opting for a sun roof in most of them shoots you to the top model in one step.  But wait, there’s more. Some cars have the sunroof set so far back it almost does not count, which weighed again the Mazda, for example.

We’re not that enamored of high end stereo systems, and nav would be nice but not really all that necessary.  However, most of the finalists have both at the options level we’re interested in. Oh well.

So the short list, after three months of research, comes down to three.  The Ford Escape, the Kia Sportage, and the VW Tiguan have made it to the finals.

Here’s where research pays off.  The Ford Escape was at the top of my list for a long time.  I think it looks sensational, and the reviews are positive.  We liked the one we sat in at the show as well.  Last week we stopped by Ford of Kirkland to look again, and it did not go well.

The salesman failed to impress. When we told him we were there just to sit in the car, he lost all interest in us, even though I told him we would be purchasing a car before the end of the year.  Maybe we looked poor.

Much worse, the one of the showroom floor was a loaded model, which comes with larger wheels. I had not realized how big this car is!  Not by most folk’s measurements, but by ours. Every time I’ve seen once since it seems to get larger.  This has to be an optical illusion, because by the numbers it is about the same size as the others. However, perception is so often reality.

In addition, the windshield is a LLOOONNNG way from the driver, which is a pet peeve of mine.  The further away the glass the more obstructive the bug guts are.  Evidently this is my personal bugaboo. I mentioned this to a friend and he said “Yes, and nobody gives a crap.” Probably true.

The Kia Sportage is saddled with a dumb name, but impressed us greatly at the show.  All the spec we want, and a decent price. We have yet to visit a dealership.

We were early for one of my PT appointments last week and chose to stop by the Totem Lake VW dealer to try on a Tiguan.  The example on the showroom floor aced every one of our criteria!  Leather interior, forward sun roof, windshield within reach, and on and on. A tad expensive, yes. The salesman was Bob Hansen, and he was very impressive. At my request he e-mailed me several PDF’s with enough data to keep my head spinning for a few days.

Up next is a visit to a KIA dealer, and then more pondering.  We will purchase the last week of the year, when dealers tend to want to pad their annual sales totals.

Who will win?  Stay tuned for Part II!

 

Copyright 2016                                                    David Preston

Posted in Cars, Equipment, Marketing | 1 Comment

Merry New Hap News for 2016

What do fruit cake and family holiday letters have in common?  The fact that some people love them and others, possibly a majority, hate them!  I happen to be a fan of both.  A Christmas card with nothing inside strikes me as a tragic waste of a stamp and a lost chance to communicate. As for fruit cake – well, lest I descend into lecture, here is our annual holiday missive.

Merry New Hap News for 2016

Happy Holidays!  Here’s our effort to recap some of our 2016 adventures. We kicked the year off in March as we flew to Los Gatos to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary with Dorine and Dorje and grandson Arthur, as well as the Lewis family.

In April David went and purchased – a new motorcycle!  The Triumph Bonneville T120 is his first new bike in ten years, and quite magnificent.  He also published Farrier Ride, his 8th book, 5th novel, and 4th in the “Harrison Thomas” mystery series.

June was great fun. First up was Will’s graduation from the U of W with a BS degree in science ecology.  Wow!  Then Susan took off for Los Gatos to spend a weekend with grandson Arthur.

July got hectic. First David was the driver for a team that entered the “Gambler 500,” a hilarious adventure of a two day rally on non-paved roads in Oregon, in a $500 car.  Both the car and David survived. The next week Susan was off to California again, and David followed her a day later on his motorcycle. He had many adventures, including getting lost a few times, a broken attachment for his helmet visor, and staying at a motel that had just been the scene of a murder! In between those events, Susan had a romp to Santa Barbara featuring an afternoon of sailing with sister Meghan and nephew Sam, and then Susan and David enjoyed playing with grandson Arthur and attending his swimming lessons in Los Gatos.

August began with the Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt V, a fun weekend with close friends raising money for health care infrastructure support in Africa.  David amasses the door prizes for this event, and had a fantastic time.

Alas, Susan was left with a crisis, as The Dorine fell and broke a rib in her back, and then fell again and broke her hip and wrist. David came home and joined the family in crisis mode, trading off nights and days in the hospital. Virtually all of the family rallied to Dorine’s side, as well as neighbors and friends, and in the few days she had left she had the chance to chat and say farewell to so many. After she passed in peace the family continued to pull together to plan the funeral mass and a celebration of her complete and fulfilling life. The entire extended family appreciated the love and support of so many.  Then, on to the task of sorting through almost 50 years of accumulated possessions, pictures, memories, and such. Painful, but inspiring to see her children and grandchildren working so hard and so well together.

As life began to return to sort of normal in September, Susan was off to Los Gatos and then on to Davis, helping Dorine and family move to a new home and job for Dorje at UC Davis. Exciting! Meanwhile, David was engaged in a several month science experiment to work on issues with his back and right leg and knee.  After an MRI on his head (as we suspected, there was nothing there) and his lower back, several visits to all sorts of specialists, and a lot of PT, he is coming along.

After a year of family and electoral disasters we worked on recovery with Thanksgiving in Los Gatos and then a (coming) pre-Christmas jaunt to a ski resort in Tahoe to end the year!  (No, we won’t be skiing!)

All our best to you and yours!

David and Susan Preston

Stay in touch!

E-mail: Susan: Preston.Susan@comcast.net          

David:     David@davidpreston.biz

Copyright 2016      David Preston

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Toyota Yaris and other California Adventures

The Toyota Yaris and Other California Adventures

We took a jaunt to Las Gatos, California for Thanksgiving.  Due to several factors I needn’t go into, we flew into Sacramento rather than San Jose. San Jose would have been much closer, but choosing Sacramento led to several fun adventures.

For the busiest travel day of the year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving proved to be much less of a trial than imagined. We splurged on a town car to get to SeaTac, and it arrived on time and got to the airport with little drama. Alaska Airlines had every man jack on duty, and baggage and ticket processing went smoothly and quickly.  The TSA personnel were all friendly and efficient. Of course, it was 4am, and that might have helped.

The Sacramento airport, according to others, is never crowded, and that proved to be the case again. Soon we were on the road in our Hertz rental, a Toyota Yaris.  The Yaris is the bottom feeder of the Toyota lineup, a very small four door sedan with an engine comprised of several eager hamsters spinning in a small cage.  Perhaps. I never lifted the hood.

From Sacramento, I chose a longer way to Las Gatos, repeating the route I’d used last summer on my motorcycle.  I remembered it as a fantastic ride, and wanted to repeat the experience in a car.  Thus we found ourselves cruising South on I-5 – past Stockton and all the way down to Santa Nella, where a cut-off takes you to 152 and West to Gilroy.

I spent several minutes on I-5 trying to find the cruise control on the Yaris, as my arthritic and damaged right knee enjoys the rest that cruise control provides. I could not believe that a 2016 model car does not have cruise control.  Finally, I asked Susan to open the glove compartment, on the slim chance that the owner’s manual was still in the car, which it often is not in a rental.  Voila – an owner’s manual.  But sure enough – no cruise control. Also no power mirrors, and I never remembered, in 5 days of trying, to adjust the right door mirror.

No matter, as the Yaris proved to be a fine highway machine.  The hamsters were able to maintain the California freeway pace, which is an indicated 75-80mph.  I am sure speeding tickets are given in California, but you must have to try pretty hard.

My original concept was to pause for lunch at the In ‘n Out burger emporium in Santa Fennel, as I had stopped there last summer, but it was soon obvious that we were both too hungry for that.  Thanks to Susan’s phone, we located one in Stockton, and peeled off the freeway for lunch.

I’d heard of the In ‘n Out chain for years of course, as has any car or motorcycle enthusiast.  The original owner focused on hot rods and motorcycles as his core demographic, which led to great success.  I was astonished last summer to find that it more than lived up to the hype, as so often a first visit to a famed store brand results in disappointment.  Susan had never been, and she was skeptical.

Our first clue was a line of cars through the parking lot and winding around to the street.  This proved to be the line for the drive-through, with an employee taking orders and sending them ahead.  We parked and walked inside to a combination party and chaos atmosphere.  If you are new, there are three ordering options, labeled 1, 2, and 3.  We found out later that there are other options, but you need to be “in the know” to select them. No matter, as a 1 for me and a 3 for Susan was fine.  Then we stood and watched with others as a crew of about 1,000 employees filled orders from both inside and outside as fast as they could, which was pretty fast.

Susan noticed two Stockton police officers waiting, and as she does with all officers, she approached them and thanked them for their service. This always goes well, and led to a conversation about the crowd. The officers told her it was like this every day, and they usually did not stop at this hour, but like us, they were starving.

Soon we were outside in the sun enjoying fine dining. Susan was astonished.  Lettuce and tomato that appeared to have been harvested as we arrived, and fries that were piping hot. Delicious burgers as well.  It occurred to me and an “In ‘n Out” motorcycle tour of California would be a good idea.

Further South we cruised by the rest area where I’d injured myself tripping off the bike last summer, as well as an interesting chat with some people who’d just had their car broken into. Then we were off to the West on 152.  Spectacular scenery and a highway with lots of elevation changes and hundreds of curves. A perfect motorcycle road, and my memory had served me well.

In due time we reached Gilroy and then Watsonville, where I got off-course last summer. We managed to mess up again, and found ourselves on a nice meandering country road outside of Watsonville that was clearly going in a wonderful direction. Just not the right one.   Again to Susan’s phone, and we eventually got back on track and aimed toward Las Gatos.

After a very long drive, I was surprised to find that a Toyota Yaris also has fantastic seats, which was a fine bonus. If you need to rent a car, and prefer as we do the smallest car that will do the job, I recommend the Yaris.  The steering was light, as was the throttle, which my knee appreciated.  To be sure, on a winding road driven with gusto I think the front end traction would go away very quickly and you would understeer into a ditch, However, who in their right mind would want to try hard in a Yaris?  The skinny tires and light weight also meant that laying off the gas as traffic slowed had almost no effect for a very long time.  I have never driven a car that coasts that well!

Thanksgiving was a great pleasure, thanks to the hospitality of Susan’s sister Meghan and her husband Rich and sons Sam and Quinn. A mixed bag of a dozen relatives and friends dined sumptuously.

The day after Thanksgiving was hilarious.  Rich and Meghan are both WSU graduates. Both of our children graduated from the U of W, and Susan and I have earned many post graduate credits there.   I am not a big fan of UW (or any) football, but nevertheless, the game was on.  Meghan had to work, so Susan and I lolled in a room with an enormous TV.   Rich was cooking various things in the kitchen, where a second TV kept him up to speed.  His bellowed anguish as things began poorly for the Cougars was amazing, and then things got worse. Added to this were text messages flying back and forth to Pullman, where Susan’s brother Denis is the county prosecutor. He was threatening to have the entire UW team arrested; particularly the guy that caught the first two touchdown passes.  He was jesting.  I think.  I have never been so entertained by a football game, although it was a task trying to be polite and not laugh out loud too often as another pained cry came from the kitchen.

In between other events I spent time outside smoking my pipe and swapping tales with Steve, the boyfriend of Rich’s sister.  Steve had more wild motorcycle stories than I do, all told with the gifts of a born story teller. Most of his tales from long ago involved combinations of high speed, alcohol, and drugs, whereas all of mine lack the latter two. In one of them he used a phrase I must save for the next novel. “Back then I was prone to cursing and wickedness.”  What a great line!

On Friday night we went out to a country place with live music that started with lessons in two step country dancing. I had great misgivings about this, as I do not like to dance, particularly with women I’m not married to, and I seem utterly lacking in talent.  Fortunately for me, my damaged knee sent me a memo that I needed to stop trying, and Meghan the physical therapist not only agreed but ordered me to stop.

Whew!   I enjoyed sitting and watching much more, and took in the scene of line dancing, two-step, swing dancing, a variegated crowd, and even a mechanical bull back in the corner.  All recorded in my head for possible future use, while Susan and the others danced for quite some time.

First time in my life I have ever functioned as the “designated driver,” and we drove back to Las Gatos in the Yaris.  I never realized that people who have had some wine or beer and had a great time are so loud!

Saturday brought a new adventure.  We drove two cars to Sacramento to a hotel, as Sam was visiting his girlfriend who lives there. We had a fantastic dinner with her parents and sister.  

Here’s a bit of Seattle snobbery.  We were told ahead of time that dinner would be salmon. Being from Seattle, we are used to access to great salmon, and we thought “Salmon?  In Sacramento?”  Shows what we know. The salmon in question had been caught by Dad in Alaska.  Delicious.

We flew home on Sunday, and again it was not as crowded as feared.  Good to be home.

Copyright 2016                David Preston

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cars, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

How Physical Therapy Resembles Top Fuel Drag Racing

Physical Therapy and Top Fuel Drag Racing…

…have much in common.  That has probably never occurred to you, so let me explain.

The past few months have been a physical adventure for me. Various and increasing ills sent me to the doctor and selected specialists for a variety of procedures. These included an MRI of my right knee, a second of my lower back, and a third for my… head. Out of all of these tests came a list of issues, some of them serious.

The failing hearing has been helped by very high-tech hearing aids. After years of waiting for my friends to install their ear plugs before a ride (I have always hated them, and my hearing loss does not seem to be related to my not using them), now my friends will have to wait while I take my hearing aids out, as they are not to be worn inside my helmet due to feedback issues.

The other health problems are more interesting in terms of solutions. I have, evidently, some significant arthritis in my right knee.  This may or may not be related to two operations on that knee. A missing right anterior cruciate ligament is now 1/3 of the tendons that go over the top of the knee. This goes back a long time. The major operation was in 1982 to correct the shredding of the ACL in 1977 during a basketball game, where my right knee decided that the abrupt stop I attempted exceeded its strength. I also have what is termed a “Baker’s cyst” in that knee, which is evidently fairly common, and “acts up” from time to time. In addition to that I have one bulging disc in my lower back and one herniated disc. I had evidently been working around these issues for quite some time, with the result that my inner core posture and walk were all screwed up.  I was having a lot of pain in my right thigh and knee, could not walk rapidly or without a limp, and numbness in both feet was a constant.

In short (too late?), I have a multitude of issues, and the treatment would be somewhat involved, as some solutions would collide with other problems.  A first attempt was made with an injection of steroids into the right knee, which helped for about a week.  After that it was off to Physical Therapy, where I have had a fascinating time and learned a great deal.

This is where the comparisons to top fuel drag racing became apparent.  These days a top fuel engine makes over 10,000 horsepower. That is not a typo. At that level the amount of power available is not a concern.  Getting it to the ground in a useful manner is.  A crew chief armed with a lot of computer data makes myriad decisions between each round of a drag race.  Get it right and your car is on to the next round.  Off by a tad and your race day is over.

Top fuel entrants race from a standing start to a finish line 1,000 feet away. The distance was shortened from a full ¼ mile about ten years ago in the name of safety. The cars are now going faster in 1,000 feet than they used to do in the full distance, but that is a topic for another time.

After each run, the engine is torn down to its bare bones and re-built in less than an hour by a highly skilled crew, often working in cramped quarters at a race track with an engine that is retaining enormous heat, as top fuel cars have no cooling systems.  To prepare for the next run the crew chief makes a great many decisions from the options at hand. The compression ratio can be changed by altering the thickness of the cylinder head gaskets. A thicker gasket lowers compression, which lowers power. A thinner one will increase the power. The rules limit the % of nitromethane used to 90%. Most teams use 85%, and an increase of a couple of percent will increase power.

Even the design of the exhaust headers can alter aerodynamics and weight balance affect the performance of the car.

The crew chief can also specify a different pulley for the supercharger, increasing or decreasing the rpms and the power. The centrifugal clutch is engaged by timers, and the release of those timers can be changed by small bits of seconds.  And there are others.

Teams collect data on the temperature, both air and track surface. They know the altitude, and measure the humidity. If the sun goes behind a cloud it changes the precise tune needed, quite literally.  The condition of the track changes due to heat and the passage of cars during the day. The crew for the car with the lowest time for the preceding round gets to choose the lane they want, and this decision can be reversed at the last minute if the pair just in front does something to alter the perceived available traction.

Some of these decisions are made while the engine is being put together, and others are made in the staging lanes, or even at the starting line.   It is extremely complex, and fascinating to me.

If the crew chief makes the right choices and the driver leaves the start correctly (which is also complex) the result is an elapsed time of less than 4 seconds at a speed well in excess of 300mph. Wow.

If things are not perfect, all sorts of things go wrong.  If you are a bit “soft” on the set-up, you will lose. Day over. If you are too aggressive with the clutch application, it is likely that the tires will lose grip and immediately spin up into an angry cloud of tire smoke. This often results in the engine revving too high too fast, and a spectacular explosion may result. If too much fuel is fed to the engine too soon it may fail to ignite, and a plume of unburned nitro will shoot into the air. Since each cylinder is producing 1,250 horsepower (!), one of them not working will slow the car down and may force it toward one wall or the other.  In any of these scenarios, losing the race may be the smallest problem.

At MTI, which is where we are going for my therapy, I have been working with three people.   The first was an intern working under the close supervision of Therapist A, and then there was B for a few sessions and now back to A.  Susan made the appointments based on the availability of A and our own schedule, and apologized for the multiple therapists. 

I think this has been an advantage.  Like most teachers, I am a poor student, and hearing things said three different ways increases the odds the content may slip through the cement of my skull.  All three therapists have been fantastic, and I actually look forward to each visit.

Like a drag racing team, the therapists have a goal.  That goal is to restore me to full function, or as close to it as they can get.  The progress they have made so far is stunning.  Yesterday was our 9th visit. Each time copious notes are made on a computer, and Susan keeps notes for our use later in our sessions at the YMCA.

Like drag racing, the data in the computer helps keep track of where we have been and where we are headed. It is often very much a two steps forward and one step back deal.

Also like drag racing, the therapists are working with constantly changing conditions.  On one occasion my right knee might be having none of it, and on other days it is bring it on time.

The choices available are mind-boggling. In racing the bottom line is “did you win?”  In PT, it is “does that hurt?”  If it hurts the therapist will try a different combo of weights and straps and whatever in an attempt to get at the same muscle group while not causing pain.  Bear in mind that this question applies to my own specific plan for therapy. There are others, I believe, where some “discomfort” is part of the process. Your results may differ.

Each week the PT puts together some new exercise involving different equipment or a different combination of variables. I usually come out of this with a drastically decreased assessment of my own coordination, but each exercise gets easier when repeated.

When I started into this, I could bend my right knee, while prone on a table, to 105 degrees.  Yesterday it was 125 degrees. When we started I was walking with a limp, my right foot was numb all the time and my left foot at partially numb most of the time. My right thigh hurt to some degree all the time, and my right knee was usually in some sort of pain. I could go up the stairs or down only one step at a time.

One month later I can go down the stairs almost normally, my thigh does not hurt, and my left foot is no longer numb.   There is a trace of numbness in my right foot remaining, and stepping up with my right foot is painful in the knee.

In drag racing the driver gets most of the attention and the “star” treatment, but it is the crew chiefs who actually bear the responsibility for getting the driver a car that can do what it is capable of.   In PT, the patient is the focus, but without the brain trust of the PTs the progress would be minimal, if any.

I had pretty much resigned myself to enduring some pain in my right leg for the rest of my life.  I was willing to accept that as one of the prices of being alive for almost 70 years.  Fortunately, my “crew chiefs” have much higher aspirations, and under their care things get better every week.  I am becoming aware that we are nowhere near exhausting the options their expertise can provide.  They are just getting started with what they can do.  As the “driver,” I am responsible for doing my homework at our house and the YMCA, and getting myself to the appointments, where I give feedback as to how things are going. Susan does an amazing job of keeping great notes and providing me with a lot of encouragement.

Not sure how far the team can go, but I am positive about one thing.

We are winning.

Copyright 2016                                David Preston

Posted in Cars, Education, Equipment | Leave a comment

Making Almost Any Motorcycle a Touring Motorcycle

Make Your Motorcycle a Touring Bike

A lot of people think they cannot take a long trip on their motorcycle because it is “not the right kind of motorcycle.”    Bosh to that, I say. If your motorcycle is capable of maintaining the pace of modern traffic, then you can take a longer trip on it.  You just need to have the right “stuff.” 

Keep in mind that the pace of modern traffic on a freeway in California is 75 mph or more, but that is the extreme.  For most of the time a motorcycle that can maintain 60mph will be just fine.  Slower than some others, but are you traveling to have the adventure and breathe in the fun, or just to see how rapidly it can be over?

You can opt for a “touring” motorcycle, of course, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. A Honda Goldwing or a Harley-Davidson Ultra or a BMW K 1600 or a myriad of other choices will whisk you in supreme comfort for as many miles as you want to go. My point is that such a bike is not required.

If you like meandering on smaller highways, such a bike may seem too gargantuan to you, and you will be reminded of the girth at every gas station or when you need to maneuver it around with the engine off.  There are so many other options.

Beyond that, perhaps it comes down to how you visualize yourself on such a trip.  To borrow some thoughts from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, this may come down to whether you are a classicist or a romantic.  In this theoretical place, the classicist imagines a long trip with everything taken care of. A large motorcycle with heated grips, fairing, communications connectivity, the entire palette of technological assists.   The romantic goes for the rose-tinted image of the solo rider on a simple machine cruising this great land, or a small group of friends enjoying a ride and the camaraderie of a shared adventure.

I am definitely a romantic. I first envisioned myself on such a trip in 1967, and that first adventure took place with a friend in 1968.   All of my trips since have lived up to the fantasy, and I can think of nowhere else in my life where the reality so closely matched my dreams aforehand.

Because of that, I happen to be attracted to, or perhaps addicted to, the motorcycle experience sans bulk and a windshield.  Some have told me it is not possible to tour on a motorcycle with no windshield, and yet I have enjoyed several cross-country tours on a variety of machines similarly naked to the wind.  I prefer to know exactly where the wind is coming from, and most windshields bring with them a degree of visual distortion as well as buffeting from either side that can alter continuously based on the conditions.  I prefer the plain unvarnished reality of the wind coming from the front.  Having said that, I have preferred a full face helmet since the first Bell Star model appeared all those decades ago.

Sticking just to motorcycles I have owned, my multi-state and sometimes multi-country (if you count Canada) rides have included a Yamaha TDS-3 250cc, (OK, that one had a windshield, but it was essentially a road racing fairing), a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, a Yamaha XS 750D triple, a Kawasaki ZX12R, a Triumph Sprint (small windshield), a Triumph Speed Triple, and (currently) a Triumph Bonneville T 120.

Yes, you do have to make concessions. When I was younger, blessed with the benign ignorance and optimism of youth, I took off for Minnesota or California or Florida with no tool kit, first aid kit, tire repair kit, or (long ago) cell phone.  I never had a problem, but I cannot recommend this.  Now I carry at least a small first aid kit, air compressor, and tire repair kit, which does take up space to be sure.

Amusingly, I am now going backwards on this. My new Triumph has a tool “kit” stashed behind a side panel. It has one tool – that used to adjust the rear shocks. I toss in a small wrench or two and hope for the best.  In like fashion, a T 120 has tube tires, so I leave the air compressor behind and hope for the best with the “slime” in the tires.

I have added to that a cell phone and an AAA membership with 200 miles of free towing.

How to pack and what to pack?  Depends on your needs and desires of course, but let’s assume you are leaving the camping gear behind.  I’ll admit that camping is more romantic, and I have spent years in that realm, but the advancing concerns of elderliness and a clean credit card with an enormous limit as strong enticements for motels. I retain some romanticism by seeking out older and smaller motels, which in my experience are far more interesting. Cheaper, as well.

If you are wearing your ATGATT gear every day, which I trust you are, all you need for clothes is some t-shirts, socks, undies, and a warm sweater and perhaps a liner for your jacket.  Most gear these days is at least sort of waterproof, so I choose to opt for benign chance and perhaps a change or route if needed.

I have a friend who takes a shower in his clothes at a motel each evening, and then rolls them carefully in towels until dry, and repeats this the next day. He carries about one change of clothes this way, but most will never feel the need (or have the desire) to do this.

The famous moto-journalist Peter Egan has a fine idea in this regard.  He packs for each trip some of  the ratty t-shirts he finds at the bottom of the drawer, and then simply discards them as he goes. A trip will often provide a great excuse to purchase a new t-shirt or two, after all, and most of the time the shirt your wearing is not visible anyway as it is under your jacket.

I am a real fan of the tank bag. If you’re fortunate enough to have a steel fuel tank, any number of magnetic bags on offer will do the trick. I never bother with the extra security strap, as I have never had one slip.  I also used one of these on my Yamaha 750 for 22 years with no discernible wear to the paint.  Of course, the tank usually had about five coats of wax on it and that bike had excellent quality paint in terms of depth and finish. If your bike has a plastic or fiberglass surface with a steel tank underneath, there are all manner of tank bags for sale with various arrangements of straps and harnesses to attach them securely.

As for carrying the rest of your chattels and what that looks like, here are two examples.

2006 Triumph Speed Triple:  I owned this bike for eleven years and ran up almost 50,000 miles on it, including trips to Minnesota and back and several three day excursions hither and yon.  I ordered the “bikini” fairing for it when purchased, and such a fairing provides just a little bit of wind break.  It’s mostly for appearance, and that was the reason I ordered it.  However, that fairing and a pretty large Triumph tank bag did provide more protection from the wind that you would expect, while leaving my full-face helmet in the wind.

The tank bag was used for stuff I needed at any moment. My wallet if I was wearing my leather pants, a throat warmer, sunglasses, hat, perhaps a second pair of gloves, and the all-important pipe and tobacco for quality musing time at rest stops.

To carry the bulkier gear, I purchased a Ventura rack system.  This comes as a set of “L” brackets which are specific to a particular model. They attach under the seat to the sides of the frame, or the muffler mounts on a Speed Triple, and end as a pair of hollow tubes sticking up behind the bike. Into those tubes you insert either a small upright with a parcel grid, or a very tall upright with parcel grid.  There are knurled knobs with locking washers to lock them in place.

I used the small one most of the time, with a magnetic tail pack. That was enough, with the tank bag, for anything I would need for a day or three.  For longer trips, on went the tall upright, and then two large packs, essentially backpacks, that zip together and slide down over the upright.  You can purchase either a single or a double bag. I started with the single. After a year there was a zipper issue. I could have replaced the bag for free under warranty but opted up for the double. With this rig I was able to ride from Seattle to Minnesota for a high school reunion and back, taking almost three weeks in total, with plenty of storage space.  The Speed Triple as tourer? Job done.

I traded the bike in with the L brackets attached, but kept the two options for the luggage racks and the double bag.  All together the full meal deal would cost about $600, but it you are interested in this sort of thing I will sell you the double bags and the two racks for $200.  You would then need to order the L brackets for your specific make and model. My bags are black and like new. Let me know if you are interested.

Along the way I picked up some other items that were handy for touring.  I purchased a new throttle cable and a new clutch cable, because you never can tell.  I still have them, and if you have a Speed Triple, make me an offer!  I also have a battery that was used for 30 minutes (it’s a long story), and an extra set of mirrors.                   

2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120:  I took this on a three week romp to California this past summer, just after having the first service.  A Nelson-Rigg magnetic tank bag is smaller than what I was used to on the Speed Triple, but suffices. For the back I purchased Cortech set of saddlebags with a matching top bag that snaps into the saddlebags. I am now set for trips of any length I am likely to take for many years to come.

If you have a motorcycle, a summer ride of many days duration on your steed will change your life. The destination is almost irrelevant, but I would recommend the roads less traveled.

You need not wait until you can purchase the “right” bike, as it is probably already sitting in your garage or carport.  You just need to plan ahead and purchase the bag capacity you need.  And in this as in so many other things, less is more. You need less carrying capacity that you think.  If you have a Speed Triple I can make it easier for you.

It is now November.   Let’s think about next summer. To the maps, Watson!

 

Copyright 2016                                          David Preston   

 

Posted in Motorcycles | 1 Comment