Sport Touring in a Fiat 500 Sport

Fiat 500 Sport Touring

A couple of weeks ago I read a long term test review of the Fiat 500 in one of the car magazines. Although positive, it stated that the car would not be suitable for a long drive. This was of interest because the very next day we launched off on a drive from Seattle to Santa Cruz and back, which covered over 2,000 miles with some creative planning and assuredly counted as a long drive.

With the modern Fiat 500 there are essentially three choices, and your choice would have a dramatic effect on a longer drive, so pointing out our own selection would be a good start. Ours in a 2012 model 500 Sport, purchased in August of 2011, and it now has 18,000 miles.   At the time of purchase there were two choices, and now there are three.

The “base” model is the “Polo,” which has smaller wheels, no fog lights, and an overall lower level of bells and whistles. This is the model used by Fiat to brag about fuel mileage, as the smaller and narrower wheels allow it to top 40mpg. We chose the 500 Sport, which gets you wheels, and tires that are taller and wider, plus different front and rear fascias to allow the fitment of fog lamps, etc. There’s also a rear roof spoiler that lengthens the look visually and looks a little bit cool. The Polo does appear to be rather plain in comparison.

We also opted for the 5 speed manual transmission, although I did drive an automatic when mine was in for a day of repair to a gouge in the roof (a saga described in detail much earlier) and the automatic was much better than I would have expected. We also chose the $875 power glass sun roof, and I consider that to be a mandatory option. Without it, as in the loaner I had, the interior is a small and cramped black box that seems much smaller and more cramped with no light from above.

With Sport model you also get the “Sport” button, which tightens up the steering and speeds throttle response. The only flaw is you have to press it each time you start the car, and I wish you could reverse it and make the heftier steering and faster throttle response the default setting. I do not remember if this was available on the lesser model, but it makes the car fun to drive rather than an economy sacrifice.

Last, we paid up for “Rosso Brilliant” paint, which is a deep metallic red to you and me. The standard red is rather blah – possible chosen by Fiat to spur purchase of the Rosso Brilliante option. There are other colors available of course, but really – it’s an Italian car! Sort of a mini-Ferrari, which is less absurd than you might think, since Fiat owns Ferrari. OK, it’s still absurd.

At the time the Abarth model was not available, and I almost waited for it. In addition to a turbo giving a healthy boost (almost 40 %!) to the 104 stock hamsters pedaling away under the hood, I assumed it would come with a 6 speed. I eschewed waiting because I also presumed it would come with a much higher price.

I was sort of half right. The price increase is not all that much, but it still retains the 5 speed. It also has more weight on the front end and is reported to handle less well, although I have not driven one. Last time I visited the dealer he had 7 left over 2013 Abarths and was willing to make a screaming deal, but I behaved myself. We really like ours.

Other options included a rather silly fabric “convertible” top which leaves two strips of roof on either side. It retracts and sort of folds at the back, but the windshield header is far enough back that it does not really provide much more of an open air experience than you get with the glass sun roof opened up. It was also a $3,000, which I thought ridiculous. Then there was the red and white leather interior, which Susan loved, but she agreed it was beyond the pale. After we win the lottery…

So off on our tour…

The plan was to drone down the freeway to Santa Cruz to visit our daughter and her husband and our 7 month old grandson. We would spend three days with them and then return via the fabled US 1 up the California coast, as far into Oregon as we wanted before veering right and back to I-5 for the drone home.

I was really looking forward to this trip, as I did the same route at Christmas of 1969 on a Honda 450 Street Scrambler. The end point for that one was to see my brother and his wife in Berkeley. There are people who will tell you it is not possible to ride a motorcycle to Berkeley from Seattle in late December due to the weather in the Siskiyou Mountains at the Oregon border. I had a friend at the time tell me “You will die doing this.” Well, it can be done, but I admit I would not dare attempt it again.

Since this trip was to take up most of Susan’s Spring Break, it was important to do this in vacation mode. As such, we did not leave until after 9:30am, which is far from my personal practice of leaving on trips at the crack of dawn. The trip down the freeway was uneventful, and we were glad to have chosen the drone route for the drive south, as the weather was awful. Rain, showers, spitting rain, wind, blah, more rain, drying, and repeat. All day.

Nevertheless, the car was a pleasant place to be. There’s enough wind noise that you would either need the radio on very loud or occupy yourself with a book, which is Susan’s choice most of the time. She also enjoyed time learning some of the infinite techno-treat apps available for her new smart phone. For myself, I’m one of those odd people who enjoy driving. Anything. Anywhere. For any reason. I’ve driven everything from a Hillman (in fact, two of them) to Miatas, Fiats (we’ve owned three of them – all reliable – what are the odds?), Corvettes, Porsches, and a Hummer or two. I like to drive.

One of my concerns over a long trip was the seats. Fiat seats are upholstered in what feels like Nerf ball material. Soft and spongy, but over the long day? Actually not too bad. I also found that putting the seat further back than I usually place it allowed for enough leg room. It does get a little tight if you are close to 6’ tall and “working” the car.

We stopped in the late afternoon in Ashland because – Susan likes to stop in Ashland. Her favorite motel is downtown, so you can walk around and enjoy a nice relaxing meal, etc.   Instead, we went to a local grocery and purchased a “picnic” dinner to enjoy in the room.

The trip began in earnest the next day with a romp up and over the mountains. I had a lot of time to get more proficient with the cruise control and gear selection, as I learned that a Fiat Sport, even in “Sport” mode, does not have enough beans to be able to maintain 65mph in cruise control up a steep hill. In fact, if the grade is severe enough, it cannot even maintain 5th gear, but a shift to 4th will allow whatever speed you want. After several hours of this I began to see that the eventual and inevitable shift to paddle shifting in all new cars of a sporting character will not be the horror I have imagined. I had a great and amusing time varying between 4th and 5th gear and cycling the cruise control on and off.  Despite all that, this tank returned 40.5 mpg, a new high for this car. That is on regular gas, also.

In California we made a slight route error in search of a good restaurant, going 20 miles or more out of our way to reach Woodland. Turned out to be a great idea, as they were having a food truck festival. We ate outside in the back of a restaurant with all the hubbub out in the street and I enjoyed a seriously delicious cheese and bacon hamburger – a menu selection that became a theme of the trip.

Once in Santa Cruz we spent a lovely three days with Dorine and Dorje and Arthur, although Dorje had to attend a conference in Berkeley while we were there and was otherwise working, so we did not have as much time with him as preferred. We did spend quality time with Dorine and her son, including a day at “3 mile beach,” which is 4 miles up the coast from Santa Cruz, and an afternoon at the Long Marine Research facility, which I highly recommend. We also blew a large wad of cash at the UC SC student store stocking up on “banana slug” gear. The banana slug is the mascot of UC SC, which is where Dorje works. The hat I purchased has the inscription “Fiat Slug” emblazoned, and how cool is that? In Latin it means “let it be done” or “let it be,” while FIAT the company is an acronym. Different word, but why be picky?

We also enjoyed the best burger feast of the trip, at a restaurant close to D and D’s called “Hamburger .” as in Hamburger – period. That turned out to be a lie, as they serve much more than hamburgers, plus a mind boggling array of different beers. Wasted on me, as I never drink while driving, even in Dorine’s ancient little Nissan, chosen for ease of access for baby Arthur and his accoutrements, which would have been a challenge for the Fiat. The highlight here was the fries. Imagine a big bowl of French fries, covered with bleu cheese and pieces of bacon. Wow!

Speaking of space, the Fiat was fine for people traveling light. Susan likes to be able to access water and fruit and etc., so a small cooler went in the middle of the bag seat, plus a bag full of jackets and sweaters and reading materials. Her luggage went behind her, and mine in the trunk, along with other stuff. It all fit, but carrying a stroller for Arthur would have been a step too far, even with everything else removed. There is enough room in the back seat for a passenger or two, provided they are small people.

The trip back was where things got interesting, and then fantastic. Highway 1 is a challenging drive in anything, and a joy in a small and flickable car like the Fiat. Susan did a wonderful job of whimpering seldom, and I would not have wanted to be a passenger on this road if the driver was having fun. About 8 hours of hairpins, with infinite changes of gear, on the brakes, off, on the gas, OOPS!, off the gas – an endless ballet, and probably about as graceful as I would be if actually attempting ballet. Closest to riding a motorcycle on a winding road I have ever come. Some of Susan’s spare time activities were curtailed by a total lack of cell phone service for most of the day, which really surprised me. This area is more than remote. We paused in Stinson Beach for yet another hamburger feast, and then resumed the fun.

In the late afternoon we stopped in Mendocino, and scored a front room on the 2nd floor of a hotel that opened in the 1878. After a stroll to another burger place – mediocre- we luxuriated out on the deck in jammies, wrapped up against the chill, reading the New York Times as the sun set. Bliss.

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The next day the twisties continued, although things did straighten out from time to time. There was one romp up and over a semi-mountain that featured dozens of hairpins and very few guard rails. Challenging, but spectacular.   These are the roads the Fiat was designed for, and it took me almost three years and 18,000 miles to find them. I wondered at times if I would blow the tires off the car, but they did not show appreciable wear despite the abuse. I wondered what car might be better here. Perhaps an open top Ferrari would make a symphony to be enjoyed. A Porsche Boxster would also be sublime. Most performance cars would be too long, too wide, and would have power you could never use. A modern Corvette convertible would be terrific, for example, but also a lot of work and I suspect frustrating at the end of the day.   The Fiat was fantastic.

This day ended in Coos Bay and a large motel that was mundane, but also spacious, clean, and cheap.

For the last day we planned to romp over to Eugene on Highway 38. Our schedule was thrown the monkey wrench that usually clangs into your travel plans by a horrible accident that had us parked for over an hour while the wreckage up ahead was cleared. It turned out to be a head on collision between a Toyota pick-up truck and a fuel tanker. 4500 gallons of fuel on the truck and 5500 gallons in a trailer. When we finally trolled past the site, the remains of the Toyota were on a trailer, and it was obvious a fatality had taken place. Did not see the truck, but several Haz Mat trucks added a sobering touch to the heavy fuel fumes in the air.

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Waiting for the wreck to clear.

We finally reached Eugene and then set the cruise control and motored home.

Can you tour in a Fiat 500 Sport? In the same manner that you can tour on a small motorcycle, the answer is yes. We would have been far more comfortable in a modern entry luxury sort of sedan perhaps, although Susan opines that I-5 from Eugene home would be a drag in anything. Besides, for the experience of Highway 1 – sacrifices should and must be made!

 

David Preston                   Copyright 2014

Posted in Cars, Rants and Raves | 2 Comments

Me and the Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts

My experience with scouting is a bit unusual.  I had no experience with the boy scouts until I was in 9th grade. Many of my friends were in a very active Explorer scout post, and they invited me to join. Their reasoning was that they occasionally had parties, and they all liked my girlfriend.   I joined the post, and promptly broke up with the girl, and they were stuck with me. Sandy Nelson, where are you now?

You advance in scouting by getting merit badges, but to earn a merit badge you had to have attained the minimal status of Tenderfoot.  To reach that level you had to complete tasks that I considered beneath my dignity – make a drum out of a rolled oats box, learn some Morse code, and other small tasks that I did not want to take time to complete. Or I was too lazy, which is a distinct possibility.

As a result, although I took on many merit badge classes, I could not actually be awarded the badge. I really enjoyed the fire-fighting class.  Holding a full on hose and blasting a hole in a snow bank on the other side of the parking lot was really cool.

The result of my badgelessness suited my growing appreciation of irony. All of my friends had Explorer uniforms weighed down with pounds of merit badges, as they were old hands and had been doing this sort of thing for years.  Some had attained the rank of Eagle Scout, which is a tremendous honor and accomplishment.  Some had gone beyond to the very difficult earned status of admittance to the “Order of the Arrow,” which got you a sash to wear over the uniform.   I had great respect for their efforts, but no desire to emulate. As a result, when we appeared somewhere in an “official” capacity, you had this row of highly decorated scouts and then me, resplendent in a lovely dark green but naked uniform.

We had lots of terrific activities, supervised by a few fathers who invested enormous amounts of energy and time to provide fun and educational experiences that created memories to last a life time.

The big fundraiser for the year, and the only one, was a Christmas tree stand. At Thanksgiving we would journey to Oshgosh, Wisconsin, and camp down in the gym of an old school. We spent the weekend cutting down an enormous supply of Christmas trees from a farm.  I referred to the owner as “Johnny Pineseed,” which he thought was delightful. For the month of December we took turns at the stand, which was located in the parking lot of a local SuperValue grocery store. As it was often cold, being Minnesota, we had a small trailer (owned by the troop) with a potbelly stove where we could make popcorn.  It was hard work, but also fun.

In the summer there was an annual canoe trip into the wilds of Canada, using several canoes also owned by the troop.  I have always been so impressed by the fathers who sacrificed weeks of their vacation, all of it for most of them, to go camping in the literal wilderness with a dozen or more teen age boys. This was not camping in areas created for the purpose, but the same kind of camping I did with my family.  No rest rooms or showers, no picnic benches, no accommodations of any kind – usually just a small island in one of thousands of lakes, reached by paddling down rivers and completing several portages. We caught Northern Pike in such quantities that I eventually grew sick of it.

One year this trip was actually much longer. After the Canada expedition, we were entered in a canoe race down the Mississippi River, with teams of scouts from all over.  I talked my parents into loaning me our Desoto wagon for the entire trip. For the race, I was not deemed a good enough canoeist to be in the race, but instead was the team manager, charged with ferrying relay teams of our paddlers from one check point to the next. It turns out I was much better at hustling a Desoto wagon down dirt roads at breakneck speeds than I was at paddling, so this worked out well. In a spirit of glory, I used rolls of white tape to place the 201 numbers of our troop on both doors. When I got home I pulled the tape off the doors, and it brought with it most of the paint, down to the primer.   I was very fortunate that my father thought this was funny.

At the end of the trip we invited a troop from Florida to stay in our homes. As hosts, we took them out for a day of water skiing. Most of us had years of experience and thought we were pretty good.  As it turns out we were mere posers compared to these guys!

Another trip involved a lot of running of rapids.  We portaged around some of the worst, but took on many of them and got to be pretty good. One was called “Dead Man’s Falls,” which should have provided a hint.  Only the most experienced were allowed to run this one, and as the rest of us were completing the portage we saw one of our own canoes float by, it’s back “broken” where it had been bent backwards around a rock.  The two boys in the canoe were OK, but we lost the canoe and a lot of equipment. It was a sobering lesson in the power of Mom Nature.

Because our troop was so large and well-equipped, we evidently had a lot of pull with some people. In the fall we attended Minnesota Gopher football games.  We only had two duties. Just before the game we raised the flag for the National Anthem, and this was tricky because it had to be raised around a projecting ledge on the building, and if the wind was blowing you had to wait for a breath of calm so as not to snag the flag. At the end of each game we were assigned to hold ropes along the sidelines to deter fans from running on to the field at the end of the game.  Not sure how effective we would have been had a large group actually wanted to run on to the field, however.

The game I remember clearly was against Iowa, a game played each year for a bronze statue of a pig called “Floyd of Rosedale.”   Minnesota was leading by not much, and at the end of the game the Gophers had the ball and were running out the clock. We were assigned to the Iowa sideline, where the Hawkeye players vented their rage at the opponents – large men screaming obscenities and about to fight anyone they could find. I was terrified. When the game ended the entire Minnesota team came sprinting across the field to claim the trophy, which Iowa had won the year before, and I grew even more terrified.

At the end of each game I’d look up in the stands, where scouts from other troops took on the odious task of walking all of the rows of seats with large trash bags picking up the detritus of the game, while we went home. Sweet deal.

Not all of the lessons were positive.  I recall doing parade duty at an Aquatennial Parade and listening to a scout “leader” from another post go on an absolute rant when a marching group went by that had both white and black participants. I’d never been around a true racist in my life, and I was so appalled by what he had to say and the hatred that oozed out of his pores.  Later a float went by with a pretty black woman on it, and his comments about her were sickening.  Possibly the first time in my life I kept my mouth shut.  Probably shouldn’t have.

After I “graduated” from scouting my experiences were less positive.  I walked into a meeting for a HOG chapter at a pizza parlor, and to get to the large room where we met you had to walk through a smaller room. Here was a group of scout leaders. They were all in full uniform, including the khaki shorts and short sleeved shirts, with various badges denoting whatever.  This is not a flattering look for fat adult men, and as I walked through in my black leather jacket and black helmet they looked at me like I was some sort of thug. To me, they all looked like child molesters.

And now we have the Boy Scouts of America trying to deal with homosexuality.  Like many groups, they are starting from a place of ignorance and hypocrisy and hatred, and it will take many years for this all to calm down and go away.  Many people have been hurt in this slow evolution, and more will be. It is very sad, but not unusual. We seem to make social progress in such tiny steps, each one marked by pain and suffering.

In one of my books, (I think it was No Corner Left Unturned) I referred to the Boys Scouts as a homophobic organization. I don’t recall the context, as the essay must have been about something else, and I wrote it as an aside and an obvious truth.  Later I received a scathing review on Amazon’s web site for that phrase. The writer urged people not to buy the book based on one-half of one sentence!

I think scouting has a lot to offer, for both boys and girls, and I hope in time it can rise above this current idiocy to provide great experiences.

For all.

Copyright 2014                                   David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | 2 Comments

Thoughts On Vacuum Cleaner Design

On Vacuum Cleaner Design

As mentioned multiple times previously, my parents were both mechanical engineers, and both of my older brothers were technically minded and interested.  I was the odd ball who wandered off in other directions, but occasionally I like to exercise the DNA shreds that I retain to think about design.

Like when cleaning the house.

In fact, I’ve been interested in the design of pretty much everything for pretty much forever.  Perhaps if I’d thought that I had talent in that area I might have pursued a different path. Dinner conversations in my house revolved around the design of houses, cars, and space ships. My father was working on the Apollo mission at that time, and of course could not talk about it in specifics because it was classified.  My mother was designing hydraulic switches for something.  George was into chemistry, and Jim Physics. You know you’re in a house of engineers if everyone in the family has a slide rule and knows how to use it.

Nobody much wanted to hear about how I did in the football game, in other words.

I recall a father and daughter trip to visit Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. It was the spring of 1993 and Dorine was making college choices. She eventually decided to go for the Honors program at the University of Washington instead, which would get her out of college about $150,000 less in debt.

One of the ironies of life is that I spent a career teaching young people how to write for college, while not earning enough money to be able to pay for my own children’s college education, as my engineer parents had done for me. Oh well.  No regrets.

In any case, I remember walking through the graphic arts department at Willamette and thinking, for a fleeting second, that I did not want to send Dorine there, but me!

So… on to vacuuming. We have three machines for this in our house. An upright Oreck, a portable small Oreck, and a Roomba. While bustling away today I determined that all of them could be improved, and should be.

The Roomba is essentially a novelty toy, purchased in a spasm of economic excess at the urging of a neighbor.  It works just fine, of course, but you can leave it locked up in a room for an hour, or get off your butt and vacuum the entire house in the same period of time.  The Roomba simply meanders along until it hits something, turns itself a random number of degrees, and sets off again. Eventually the entire room has been cleaned, most of it many times.  It might be more useful if we had a grand ballroom, or perhaps an indoor tennis court.  Although it is amusing to see it wandering around and bouncing off the furniture like your drunken Uncle Bob who is so embarrassing at family gatherings, it is really not all that clever, and we rarely use it.

What is needed is a “smart” Roomba, like a smart phone. It should be possible to use laser scanners, et al and be able to put your Roomba down in a room and have it scan its surroundings. It would determine if it recognized the room, and if so, go to its stored memory for “room 1,” check for anything different, and then vacuum the room in the most efficient manner possible.   Most tractors and combines used on modern farms these days have this technology.  As for stairs… we’ll come back to that later.

The small portable Oreck is used for an ongoing battle between the fabric couch in the TV room and our two cats. The cats win.  The Oreck removes copious quantities of fur, but it is frustrating to use.  To move around, you need to use the strap to carry it. First you slide it over your shoulder, and after the third or fourth time it slips off you give up and put the strap over your head. Now the weight of the strap is bearing down on the side of your neck, and if you’re not careful you can cut off your own blood flow to the brain and knock yourself out.  I did not do this…quite. What is needed is a four strap harness like a backpack. Would customers use it?  Dunno

The large upright Oreck is used for everywhere else, and where it is most needed is where it has a weakness. The stairs.   Cat hair seems to be magnetically attracted to stairs, and is hard to ignore because as you come up from the lower level there it is, right in your face. To deal with it, you need to manhandle the machine up the stairs, doing one step at a time. This is not a big problem, now, but I can see that it would be if I was old and frail. Or perhaps “when” I’m old and frail.

There are now robots that can climb stairs. I think the way ahead is to combine the technologies that allow a combine to harvest wheat efficiently, cars to park themselves, and GPS systems that are gradually removing the ability of people to think for themselves as to where they are (except for troglodytes like me).   Put those all together and you’ll have a machine that can do all the rooms, and the stairs, and the furniture, while I do something more productive.

Like go for a motorcycle ride.

 

David Preston                              Copyright 2014

 

 

 

Posted in Equipment, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

The Story of Our Wedding

The Story of Our Wedding, Or At Least Some of It                March 25th, 1972

42 years ago today I stood at the altar of Holy Family Church in Kirkland in a rented tuxedo, and I was nervous.  Not nervous in general, but specifically. I was about to be married to Susan, and although I had no doubts about that, I was terribly afraid that I would be so nervous my voice would squeak, or I would pass out, or commit some horrible social faux pas or another.  I was not all that familiar with weddings, and churches were pretty much an unknown land to me.

As I stood there I looked down at my father, sitting in the front row. Tears were rolling down his cheeks.  He was happy for me, but thinking of my mother  who had died 5 years earlier. That was the last think I needed, and I almost collapsed into tears myself, but instead chose to look past him over his head.

I looked to the back of the church and in walked Susan, looking so spectacular I wondered if I’d never before noticed how gorgeous she was.  And is.  As she walked down the aisle my nerves vanished, and I was so surprised that I was calm and happy and confident. As we turned to face her uncle Joe, the priest who would marry us, I was sure she would be nervous.

I wanted to give her some confidence, so I muttered an aside to her.  “Pretty low-cut wedding dress you have there.”

She glanced at me with a smile and said “Thought you’d like that.”   She was not nervous at all!  We actually enjoyed the ceremony, which neither of us had expected.

I had met Susan a scant eight months earlier.  I was 24, and she was younger. I had no idea how much younger. After we had dated a couple of times I was over at her house having lunch. I told her a story about how, when I had turned 21, I did not want to just get drunk. What I wanted to do was get all dressed up and go to a fancy nightclub. My friend Bob Abel turned 21 a couple of days after I did, and he felt the same way. We got all fancied up in suits and went to a fine nightclub. The odd part was that Bob was 6’ 5” tall, and I guess we both looked older. The people at the nightclub welcomed us and led us in to a table, and did not ask for an ID.  We repeated this at several nightclubs and got increasingly frustrated. Nobody seemed to want to check our IDs!  Finally, by now pretty smashed, we got carded at a seedy bar two blocks from my rooming house.

Susan replied “That’s what I’d like to do when I turn 21.”  I froze; my sandwich halfway to my mouth. How old WAS she?  Was I putting my teaching career in peril by dating an underage woman?  I gasped out the obvious question, and was only partially relieved to hear that she was 19.

We became engaged ten weeks after we met, and I was away on a motorcycle trip to Florida for five of those weeks.  When she burst into her parents’ bedroom on the night of September 24th to announce that she was engaged, her father sat up in bed and asked “To whom?”  I’ve always loved the fact that my father in law, also an English teacher, used “whom” correctly at that moment.

Entering into Susan’s family was a journey for me.  I sat through the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” a few years ago with a smile on my face, for I had pretty much done  “My Big Fat Catholic Wedding.”  I came from a family of three sons that had pretty much shattered when my mother died of cancer when I was twenty.  Susan was the eldest of SIX children!

There were also adjustments to be made for the wedding. Her uncle Joe was a priest, and this was an era when the Catholic Church was pretty liberal, but allowing a heathen like me into the church was a stretch. I joked that the church might be struck by lightning and burn to the ground when I entered. About ten years later it did.

While filling out the seemingly endless paperwork required for this church wedding, Father Joe was very patient with me.   Most of my answers were not ideal.  At one point he asked “And where were you baptized?”  I looked blank, and his face went pale.  “You WERE baptized?”     When I replied “I don’t know” I thought his credulity had been stretched to the limit.  Fortunately a call to my father confirmed (good pun!) that I had been baptized, and we were back in the game.

Then I learned that people were seated by sides at most weddings at that time, depending on whether they were there for the bride of the groom.  Asking “Why?” was no help.  Susan came from this enormous family and had lots of friends. I had moved to Seattle three years earlier, where I knew my father.  That was it.  Pretty much the only people I knew where the staff at Rose Hill Junior High, some of their parents, and my students.  This problem solved itself, as many of my students wanted to attend, so “my side” was filled with colleagues, students, and their parents.

We wrote most of our own ceremony, which was quite the thing back then.  It started with the poem I had written for Susan when we got engaged, and I recall standing “back stage” and flying into a rage because Father Joe had inserted a comma that did not belong. Fortunately my best man was there to bring me back to a semblance of reality.

The reception was held at her parents’ house, and eventually we made our escape for the first night of our honeymoon, the Westin Hotel in Seattle.  After we checked in to our room we realized that we had been so busy at the reception that neither of us had eaten for about 12 hours.  Our first wedded meal consisted of cheeseburgers ordered from room service and a bottle of champagne provided as a gift by the hotel.  The next day we returned to my apartment, now our home, and packed for the rest of our honeymoon, a 5 day motorcycle tour of the Oregon Coast, in March.  But that is another story, and there are so many.

I’ve been very fortunate in life. I have made several good decisions, and been on the receiving end of a bizarre litany of lucky breaks and good fortune. I have enjoyed excellent health and two careers that were perfect for me, I managed to marry into a large and chaotic family that supplanted my own that fell apart.

But the best decision I ever made was proposing to a beautiful woman who was remarkable in so many ways, and in fact far more remarkable and amazing than I had the capacity to imagine.

And still is.

 

David Preston                                     Copyright 2014

 

 

Posted in Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

The R-Ides of March XII March 15th, 2014

The R-Ides of March XII             March 15th, 2014

In about 2001, while employed by Cycle Barn, I invented two fund-raiser events for Riders for Health.   I had become interested in Riders at the urging of Cycle Barn owner Jim Boltz and long-time customer Bruce Scholten, now an ex-pat living in England and a tireless supporter of Riders.  The chance to have dinner with Riders for Health founders Andrea and Barry Coleman sealed the deal – they are two of the most inspiring people you could ever meet.

The original intent was two-fold.  We wanted to raise some funds, and also wanted to extend the riding season for people who might need an excuse to go for a ride on a day with less than ideal weather.  In addition, I did not want to compete with customers who, at that time, were involved with several big charity rides held during the summer.

I came up with the “R-Ides of March,” held each year on the Saturday nearest the 15th of March, which is the Ides of March on the Roman calendar, and made famous by references to it in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.”   The fall event was the “Chilly Turkey,” to be held the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year.

Both of these were termed (by me) “eventlets,” which was a word made-up to refer to customer events I could put on alone, not involving other company staff or resources. This has the added benefit of creating a 100% return for Riders on the amounts raised.  The cost is time and fuel, etc., was covered by Cycle Barn (Ride West BMW from 2010 on) as a part of my job duties.

To make it possible for the event to be done with a staff of none I would lay out a route months in advance, using a Thomas map book. I would then drive the route in my car on a day when I had some time, making notes and corrections to the first draft and finding likely places to pause so people could find the answers to questions I created that were odd or silly, or merely appealed to whimsy.  My favorite question ever was “What is the name of the road?”   Contestants at that spot were facing a road sign that read “Boat Launch Road.”  Boat Launch road was 15 yards long! Another personal favorite asked contestants to write down the street address number of a large out house, which had one for reasons unexplained.

I would then drive the route a second time a week before the event and make final corrections.  On the day, people would donate a requested $10, and it soon became a tradition for many people to donate more than that. The idea was more to raise awareness of Riders than to create a huge windfall of funds.  When folks returned from the ride they would hand in their answer sheets, and if they qualified with enough correct answers they were eligible for a prize.  The rides usually ended at a restaurant, so I’d register people for the event and the dealership and then later drive to the finishing restaurant with my car full of door prizes.

This year Ride West BMW staged the “R-Ides of March XII.”  The number is not exact, as in the beginning I did not keep close track of how many of these I did.  Some years there were two of each, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.  I can’t really look up the information, because the finer minds at Cycle Barn wiped my computer clean after I left at the end of 2009.  In 2013 the Chilly Turkey was not held, as I was in the process of retiring and it was all a bit much. In other words, this year’s was probably the 12th, but why get hung up on trivia?

This year’s R-Ides of March was different in a couple of ways.  There was no longer the need to pause to find the answers to questions, as setting that up required more time than Ride West staff had available.  Instead, people could sign up for a ride of 100 miles that I would lead, or go on a scavenger hunt to take pictures of items related to “Julius Caesar,” with a very liberal interpretation of what would be allowed.  For example, a picture of a dog, because at one point Julius Caesar utters the phrase “let loose the dogs of war.”  Both groups would return to Ride West BMW, where they could fill out a lottery ticket for one of 14 door prizes. In this manner only those who completed the ride could win, which was a very good idea.

For a route for the people who wanted to ride with me, I took the intended route for the Chilly Turkey event of 2013 that was not held and changed the title and removed the pauses to ask questions.  For the first time ever I chose to pre-ride the route on a motorcycle, and I was thrilled when 5 friends came along to assist!  That was a good move, as there were several errors in the route directions, and I had time to fix them.  Further assistance came from Laura, who prepared a GPS version for people so-quipped to use, even though she was not in town for the actual event.  Some of the friends on the check-out ride pre-paid for an entry on Saturday, in case they were not able to attend.

The event was very well promoted and organized by Jessica at Ride West, with technical and graphic design assistance from the fabulous Vanaly, her assistant.  In fact, the event was better promoted and organized than any of the previous two dozen I did.

On the day, things were just about perfect.  The weather was remarkably good for mid-March in Seattle, with temps in the high 40s to low 50s and some scattered rain drops but no actual storms.  Ride West provided me with a lovely 2014 BMW F 800 GT and a full tank of fuel, and we were set. Over 30 people showed up, which was impressive, and were greeted by a display table with registration and route sheets handled by volunteers Deb and Tracy and others.  The hour and more before the event was wonderful reunion with a lot of people I used to ride with when I was employed full-time.

Pretty much everyone chose to go for a ride with me, which was humbling. One group of five chose to do the scavenger hunt AND follow my route.  After a riders’ meeting we geared up and were out of there.

How can one motorcycle lead a group of 25?  Quite simply, it cannot be done.  I have written elsewhere about small and subtle tricks of the trade you can use to help keep a group together, but keeping 25 motorcycles together for 70 miles to the lunch stop through urban areas, freeways, and winding back roads with occasional stop signs and miscellaneous turns? Can’t be done. Which is why I was astonished to get to the Buzz Inn restaurant at the Snohomish Airport and get off my bike to see that pretty much the entire group was still with me!   I do not think we lost anyone on the day, and again, that is not possible.

The Buzz Inn is a great place to use for these sorts of things because it has a big and level parking lot, the ability to absorb 25 people or so who do not have a reservation, and enough informality that the potential situation of 25 people in heavy gear that is dripping wet can be accommodated. Fortunately, we were all pretty much dry.

After lunch I had a smaller group with me, and the last section was more open, so the speeds crept up. Perhaps “shot up” would be more accurate, but it was terrific.

All in all over $900 was raised, which is stunning.  May not sound like a lot, but when you’re supporting health care infrastructure in Africa, $900 can go a long way.

The event was such an adrenaline spike and was so moving in many ways.  Thanks to the many people who added a little or a lot to create a memorable event.  Thanks to the supporters who provided terrific prizes, as well, including Ride West BMW,  Nelson-Rigg, Touratech, Café Veloce, and Sound Rider magazine.

As to Chilly Turkey XII for this fall?  We’ll see.

 

Copyright 2014                                   David Preston

 

 

 

 

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

The NFL, The “N” Word, and Language Evolution

The NFL, the “N’ word, and Language Evolution

This week the National Football League has raised at least a small media flutter with the floated concept of a penalty for the use of offensive language on the field.  This is most likely (yet another) NFL media ploy to make sure that the NFL is discussed ad nausea by the legions of “experts” on every sports talk show, of which there seem to be an infinite number. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting concept to ponder.

First of all, I taught my students for years that there are no purely “bad” vocabulary words, but there are lots of poor choices of audience. The example I used was the sort of language used on the lake on winter weekends playing hockey with my friends, as opposed to the language used at Grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving dinner.  Nobody I knew ever said, “Please pass me the puck, for I appear to be open.”  And nobody would ever say “Pass me the fucking mashed potatoes, you stupid son of a bitch.”   Well, at least not in my family.

In fact, virtually any word can be made to sound ugly or obscene in the proper context. Or would that be improper context?  What is a word that is beautiful?  How about “love?”  Have you ever heard a convicted child molester talk about the “love” he had for his victims?  Is that not obscene?  Context is everything in word meaning, and our tone and body language communicate well over 90% of the meaning of any expression.

Words evolve over time, which is why we do not sound like Shakespeare in our everyday speech. Interesting (to me) side note:  For many decades language scholars noted that the “purest” English, by which we mean that closest to the English of centuries ago, was spoken in small backwoods areas of the Appalachians. These were, due to a lack of technology, travel, education, and other factors, almost completely closed societies, and many things, including language, tended to remain static over time. The onset of radio and other media rapidly destroyed this language lab, and now all national-level TV announcers sound about the same.

As words in general use evolve, and so do words meant to be insulting.  “Cops” was once a negative, but is now used every day by everyone, including the police.  That was replaced by the more negative “Pigs,” and the police turned this around in later years by staging charity football games between departments referred to as “Bacon Bowls.” There was one between the Seattle and Tacoma forces for years.

As new cultures are assimilated into our country (and language) the people of them are new, and different, and therefore mysterious. Mystery in people tends to cause distrust and fear, and so every new group, even indigenous peoples who had their lands stolen from them by invading cultures with better technology and more aggressive policies, have had negative terms associated with them.  Note the current furor over the use of the term “Redskins” by the Washington NFL team.  Some argue that the term is now positive. Some Indian tribes argue for its removal. In a great irony, some of the tribes opposed to its use have high schools on their own Indian nation property with teams that are referred to, fondly, as ‘Redskins.”  It is all very confusing.

I recall my teen angst and fury when my brother married a woman of Japanese-American descent when I was 20.  Their wedding was one of the most fun and meaningful ceremonies I’ve ever attended.  My parents could not be there, as mother was ill in the hospital with the cancer that would soon end her life.  Months later I showed the slides of the pictures I had taken (remember those?) to my father and Grandmother.  Grandmother had grown up in North Dakota, and World War II was much closer to her consciousness than to mine.  She did not want to speak what was on her mind, at all, and finally, after great thought, uttered the most positive thing she could think of to say.  “I understand they are a very clean people.”  I was so enraged I stood up and left the room.

Today if you indicated bias against a person of Asian descent (I know, it does happen) the vast majority of people who look at you in disbelief, like you had farted aggressively in church.

During and just after the Vietnam War, thousands of Vietnamese immigrants came to our country.  A GI term for them that was unfortunate was “Gooks.”  I once had an argument with an imposing lady with a large blue hairdo because I was applying for a “vanity” license plate that said “Geek 3.”  A “geek” was a term for the lowest paid performer in a circus sideshow, who usually had an “act” that consisted of (I am not making this up) biting the head off a chicken or small rodent. In our times it usually refers to a nerd, which was my intent, and I had to explain to the lady that no disrespect was intended to the people of Vietnam. One of those immigrants, by the way, is now a head stylist at Ford responsible for the look of the Mustang, that icon of American sports cars.

The “N” word is particularly worrisome at the moment, because it is the latest in a long time or pejorative terms being dragged, kicking and screaming, to the trash pile of language usage.   But it is not the first or last (sadly) by any means. For people of around my age who were raised in liberal households, the “N” word is never to be used, and is so repugnant that I don’t even want to type it.

On the other hand, am I, as a white male product of an upper middle class childhood, going to tell a young man who grew up in Compton and who graduated from Stanford what words he can use while playing the most violent of sports?   That seems a stretch, to put it mildly.  When I was playing hockey on the lake in the winters of my youth the language was usually “inappropriate,” although my crowd tended to go for expletives rather than racial catchwords.  Since we were all white males that makes sense.

Over time, such language will probably go away in the manner that most words do over time. They fail to communicate effectively in the culture of their time and thus lose communications value.  “Gay” as a negative term for homosexuals appears to be leaving the room with all good speed, although not fast enough for sure.

Over 25 years ago, my wife was teaching at an elementary school that was attended by then-Sonics coach Bernie Bickerstaff’s son. Bernie Jr. was in 5th grade.  One day there was a ruckus on the playground, and the teachers came out to see that, on the far side of the playground, a girl had a boy pinned down on the ground, sitting on his chest and absolutely pounding him with all the strength her arms and fists could muster. She was white, and so was the boy on the ground, and she was furious that he had called her friend Bernie a “nigger.”  (There, I typed it).  The teachers spent some time pondering what to do, before sauntering over to break it up.   The boy was not hurt, but I doubt he ever used that word again.   That was an effective way to create language change, even if mildly violent.

When my wife related the story at dinner, our son Will, who was 10, asked what “nigger” meant. He had never heard the word.  Now that is progress, and my hope is that in a few years his reaction to such a story will be common.

The NFL mandating penalties for expressions nobody but the players can hear?  Which ones?  Who says?  I don’t think it is workable.

As for “Redskins,” I am conflicted.  There’s a parent at my wife’s school who is a full-blooded Cherokee.  A very nice man who helps out at school and has such a wonderful smile and attitude.  He often wears a t-shirt that reads “Fighting Terrorists for 200 Years.”

Food for thought, that.

Copyright  2014                                              David Preston

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

Skullduggery at “Top Gear”?

Skullduggery at “Top Gear?

There are two TV car-review shows that come to us from England.  One is “Fifth Gear” and the other “Top Gear,” and I very much enjoy them both. Actually, there are more than two, but I’ll focus on this pair due to recent shows that left me puzzled.

Both shows aired reports on the “Zenvo ST,” which you have probably never heard of. This is a new car from a relatively new (2004) company located in Denmark.  Denmark, as you might surmise, has  no significant history of car manufacturing.

The Zenvo is yet another supercar (as if we needed another), that costs a reported 800,000 British pounds, which is about $1.8 million to us Yanks, if we could import one and park it in the garage.  It uses rather “old school” technology in that it has a steel frame.  The engine is a 427 Corvette monster as used in the ZR1, with a supercharger and a lot of displacement generating over 600 horsepower, which should be adequate.  The Zenvo boffins then bolt on a turbocharger to add another 100 horsepower or so.

On first glance, I liked the car a lot.  Not a lot of go-boy wings and look at me bits, but a fairly straightforward aero shape with an enormous engine in the back, aided and abetted by huge brakes and so forth.

So far, ho hum.  What aroused my curiosity was the treatment the car received at the hands of both shows. Fifth Gear had their pro driver Jason Plato take the car around a track, and he was not impressed. He felt the handling was not up to par and was also inconsistent.  He made his opinion very clear, but it seemed he was trying pretty hard NOT to be impressed.  I wondered why.

Top Gear is the most-watched car show on the planet, and in recent years has become less enjoyable because the hosts have to act more and more like “themselves” in order to top their last effort.  Thus, Richard Hammond has gone from being pleasant to obnoxiously cute, and Jeremy Clarkson has felt the need to amp up his buffoonish tendencies, whereas I thought he was quite sufficient as a buffoon from the get-go. Only James May has remained consistent, but when your role is to be “Captain Slow” (he is not), and the tiresome nerdy bore (he is not), perhaps it is easier.

When it came to the Zenvo they really went after it.  Clarkson drove the car around their track and mentioned that the Zenvo top engineer told him that with all the stability controls turned off the car was virtually undriveable. Top Gear then showed a minute or two of Clarkson spinning out repeatedly, and then he agreed with the assessment of the engineer.  What point was made?

He posed the question, in reference to the cost, of “Why would you have one of these rather than a Ferrari or Bugatti or Aston Martin or Porsche?”   Seems obvious to me – precisely because it is none of those. Rather than being “the rich asshole in the Ferrari,”  some might prefer to be “the rich asshole in a car you’ve never heard of.”

The Zenvo, to me (I will never own one) offers some of the same appeal as a Dodge Viper and  to some extent a Corvette.  Dodge Vipers have always had a surplus of power and, until the most recent edition, no stability controls at all.  Some people like that.  The Corvette remains more popular with just about everyone than road most testers can understand because at the end of the day they are fun to own and drive.   I think the Zenvo would appeal as a fun and very fast car that makes great sounds and is also stunning to look at, if money were literally no object.

And then Top Gear blew the lid off. First they spend a lot of time on mechanical issues the car had in their hands – including an (oops) fire. But they did not mention similar problems they’ve had with other cars in the past. When they finally got a Zenvo in one piece and had their pet racing driver “the Stig” turn a lap for time,  they chose a very wet day – and turned off the stability controls.

What? They’d already proved that the car was undriveable with the stability controls off, especially in the wet. The only reason to turn them off for this test, against the advice of the company head engineer and counter to their own previous testing, was to force an artificially slow time.

Sure enough, you could see the driver virtually tip-toeing around the course in the rain, and his time was just a pip slower than a Ford Focus ST.  They grudgingly admitted that the ST was on a dry track, but made it sound like a Focus ST is a slow car, which it is not.

So what is going on?  A desire to protect the established in crowd who provide them test cars? A grudge against Denmark, or against one of the principals of the company?

I don’t know, but my suspicions have made me less of a fan of both shows.

 

Copyright 2014                       David Preston

 

 

Posted in Cars, Marketing, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Where the Gates Foundation Goes Astray

Where the Gates Foundation Goes Astray

Let us first pause to admire what Bill and Melinda Gates are attempting to do, which is awe-inspiring.   Put yourself in their position, which is a mental exercise well-nigh impossible.   Consider the small club of humans in history who have amassed, by means of talent, circumstance, pure luck, or some degree of chicanery, truly vast sums of wealth.  Not millions, but billions of dollars in 2014 terms.  Now reduce that club to those that have given considerable sums back to their society.

Now you have a much smaller group.  Some that come to mind are Alfred Nobel, who created the Nobel Peace Prize after he realized, to his horror, that his development of what we call TNT was responsible for the deaths of untold masses of humanity. That was not his intent. Then there is Andrew Carnegie, who took the money from his steel expertise and created libraries all over this country, dramatically affecting literacy rates.  There is Warren Buffet, who has given enormous sums to his friend Bill Gates, and even Ted Turner, who donated, if I recall correctly, ten million to the United Nations. For sure there are others, but the number is still going to be small.

Bill and Melissa Gates have set out to donate all of his fortune to the world. Given the sums at hand, this is a daunting task. You do not want to waste the sums, and you have to consider the long range goals and affects of what you do.  They are in a position where they will dramatically affect the future of the entire world, and the downside of that is the felt need to make sure the effects are positive – not just this year but for all time. It would be far simpler, like Ozymandias, to simply erect a huge statue to your own significance.

In sum, I have all the respect in the world for Mr. and Mrs. Gates, which does not deter me for a second in mourning where I think they are making errors. Three of them, at least.

First, public education.  Simply put, Mr. and Mrs. Gates should never allow themselves to be quoted, in any context, on any issue relating to public education. Neither of them has any experience teaching in a public school.  Being a teacher is a lot like being a cop in that, if you’re not doing it, you have no idea what the job is really like. This goes for retired teachers as well, including me. I stepped out of a public school classroom for the last time in 2000, and I would not trust anything I had to say about the tasks at hand today.

One thing my experiences in both education and motorsports taught me in the past decades is that, for most people, perception is their reality. The perception is that Bill and Melissa had the good fortune to be born into loving families with the resources to provide them with all the education they desired.  They have no experience of being in a public school as a student or, more importantly, as a direct provider of education. I.E., as a teacher.  As such, whenever they open their mouths on this topic, which is regrettably often, the perception is that they do not know what they are talking about, even if they do. For teachers who are actively trying their best, every criticism or even intended positive idea, is a slap in the face from powerful people with a bully pulpit denied those who deal with the issues in real time, every day.

Massive and comprehensive utilization of computers is not the answer for every child nor every subject. Testing students to the point that ten year olds throw up on a regular basis when faced with yet another state-mandated test is a form of child abuse. Taking creativity out of the teacher’s bag of talents and substituting mandated lesson plans of a one size rammed into all is a disaster.  There are days where issues arise in the classroom that must be dealt with immediately as a part of the education,  and to turn away from the judgment and experience of thousands of dedicated professionals in search of a panacea of mandated tests is a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.

There are people who could speak to these issues effectively, but they are all currently employed as teachers. The Gates’ have a need to find one or a few of them to speak for them on education, after consultation on a particular issue.  At this time, the Gates are just one more drop of a tidal wave of criticisms and ignorance that depress teachers, who did not sign up to be abused for their very strengths.

Secondly,   genetically modified foods are not a step toward the future. They are a short term ploy to generate massive profits for agri-business and the big pharma companies that feed it. Can we feed all the people in the world with non-modified foods? Yes. It would be more difficult, and it would require a lot of change, but it could be done and it would produce profit. Less profit from greater investment?  Yes.  For a healthier long-term result?  Absolutely.  It’s a question of what is good for people and good for the planet versus corporate greed, and the Gates’ are on the wrong side, for reasons unknown.

Third, the use of charity to improve all of our lives.  The amounts of money spent by the Gates foundation are vast, and to be admired.  But money does not create lasting change – attitude shifts do.

In my years in motorsports I spent a lot of time working for various charitable groups. All of them have a compelling story to tell that gives you the desire to help. Some of them are scams, and others are disorganized and waste a lot of the funds generated, or spend most of their time and money generating more money.  Let’s ignore all of those for a second and just consider charitable causes that are “pure.”

What all of them have in common is that at the end of the story, there’s a hand put out. They need your money, or a combination of your physical and mental efforts and your money.  The Gates Foundation stands alone in my experience in that they do not need either.  They have the money, and they can hire buildings’ worth of experts to complete any task.

What they have is a pure charity with a compelling mission, (actually, several thousand missions), and all the resources they need.   Why not use that solitary advantage by using social media to spread the word of successes large and small?

Every day.

I would love to receive a daily e-mail from the Gates Foundation about a project, large or small,  somewhere in the world, that is succeeding and making positive change. Wouldn’t you? There would be no pitch at the end for a contribution, just a small glimmer of positive news to provide hope for the future.

What would the effect of a daily bombardment of good and inspiring news be?  One outcome would be an increased motivation for all of us to make similar changes in our own small world.  Reading of such news every day would make you more likely to step out of your own ego-centric life and do more to help others, with no expectation of reward.  There are thousands of volunteer opportunities around, or you can create your own.

I have a neighbor down the street who lives alone.  Nobody on the block seems to talk to him much. His house is falling into disrepair at an astonishing rate. The roof is covered in thick moss.  The lawn gets mowed perhaps three times a year.  There’s a street light that has disappeared because a tree has so overgrown itself around it that the light is totally blocked. An actual hole in the siding under the roof is allowing birds and who knows what else to have access to the attic.  It is a horror story.  I have talked with neighbors about perhaps a gang assault on his yard and house, and one neighbor tells me he is gone for a week at a time.  It could be done while he was away. Others demur, as when they have spoken to him about his yard the response has not been jolly. Another opines that the back deck is so far gone it would be dangerous to set foot on it, and is worried the entire house might collapse if we tried to work around it. And so, nothing gets done and the situation worsens day by dreary day.

A Gates Foundation outreach e-mail and social media campaign, over time, could change attitudes all over the world and would have the potential for positive outcomes exceeding anything that money, even hundreds of billions of dollars of it,  can do.

I admire the Gates Foundation and wish them success, but mourn the errors and lost opportunities.

 

 

Copyright 2014                                   David Preston

Posted in Education, Marketing, Rants and Raves | 2 Comments

Mental prep for the summer motorcycle trip

Mental Prep For The Summer Trip 

Right about this time of year, when the weather is pretty much awful pretty much everywhere, the thoughtful motorcyclist opts to spend quality time dwelling on more pleasant topics – like perhaps a longer ride than usual this summer.  Here’s some food for thought.

Bike:   If something as crass as money is not a concern, purchase whatever new motorcycle you deem perfect for whatever task you’d like to be at hand. For 99% of us, however, there’s a more comforting thought.

What you have will do just fine.

My first long ride was from Minnesota to Seattle and back on a camping trip in 1968.  My steed was a Yamaha YDS 250, a two stroke twin that weighed about 300 pounds and had 33 horsepower or so on a very good day. It was terrific.  Two years later, after a few west coast adventures and one return ride to Minnesota, a Honda 450 Street Scrambler took me from Seattle to Florida.  Neither of these machines would fit anyone’s definition of a touring bike.  Both of them were fine touring bikes.  This summer I’ll ride my Triumph Speed Triple on another sojourn to Minnesota and back.  Anyone who tells you that a large touring bike is required for a long ride has either never done such a trip at all, or on anything else, or is trying to sell you something.   If you already own a large touring bike, of course, this entire paragraph has been a waste of your time, and hopefully the next few will be of more use.

Two rules for the long ride:

  1. You need more carrying capacity than you think.
  2. You need to pack less      stuff than you think.

These appear to be contradictory, but are not.

1.  You need more carrying capacity than you think because you’ll be spending a lot more time either by yourself or at the very least further from your usual sources of help and supplies.  That means, if you do not carry them at all times now (as I do), you’ll need space for a First Aid kit, a tire repair kit, and an air compressor.  Flat tires do occur, and they happen more frequently to people who are not prepared to have them who are riding on a lovely road that is 75 miles from the next town. In an area with no cell phone service.  Some tire repair kits carry small canisters of gas to inflate the tire. What if you botch that? What if you do not have enough?  What if you have two flat tires?

You’ll also need to carry water, sun tan lotion, bug repellant, visor cleaner, water, maps, and perhaps batteries or chargers for your phone, GPS system, and other et ceteras we cannot seem to live without these days.  In addition, it is an excellent idea to take at least three pairs of gloves to deal with heat, cold, and rain.  You’ll need a jacket liner and a sweater and perhaps a neck tube thingie for the cold, and in the mountain regions it is always cold in the morning. When the temps hit 80 or so, you’ll need enough capacity to be able to carry the layers you want to shed.

Most of us do not carry a rain cover for our motorcycle at all times, and yet a Nelson-Rigg cover can be a real asset on a long ride.  People of lesser morality who like to steal things seem to go blind when confronted with a cover – they do not see that there is a motorcycle there at all.  Therefore, covering your bike even when parked in the relative security of a motel parking lot can do a lot for peace of mind.   As an intended bonus, it can keep the bike dry and clean if you find a rain system on your travels.

All of this means the need for more carrying capacity than you might be accustomed to for day rides or commuting.

Choices.  Depending on the bike, you may need to add saddlebags (panniers), a tail bag or tail rack and trunk, a tank bag, and/or a back pack. All of them have advantages and disadvantages (possibly next month’s article?)  and time perusing the Nelson-Rigg catalog will help pass the time until your adventure, offer a lot of good information and quality choices.

2.  You need to pack much less than you think you do.

Almost everyone who goes on their first long ride packs way too much clobber. This is particularly true of clothing. We spend time in preparation trying to imagine every possible need, and pack everything we think might ever be needed. But the reality is that most of the situations and needs we think up will never occur, and a lot of them can be given a lower priority and taken care of with a charge card if the need arises. A charge card takes up virtually no space and you would be carrying one anyway.

The famous writer Peter Egan once shared his own packing system for a long ride. He would start the trip with the most worn-out and shoddy t-shirts in his drawer, the ones you should probably throw out but never get around to.  You will be riding a full-coverage jacket all day on your ride (or you should – see a future article) so the shirt you are wearing will not be seen as you are styling your way through a gas station of rest area. At the end of the day, Mr. Egan would take the shirt, perhaps clean the bike with it, and then toss it. He reasoned that he would probably want to purchase a shirt or two at the event he was attending anyway, and those would replace what he threw away and be stored in the same place.

A lot of us have a lifestyle that features daily changes of every clothing item, daily showers, and daily shaving.  Out on the road there’s a tendency to get a little bit more liberal with these things, and as a consequence you may go through clothing items less frequently.  Or, in a motel or a campground, you can do a pretty good job of washing a few clothing items by hand and they’ll be dry by morning.

If you like to wear leathers, you only need an inexpensive set of rain pants and jacket  (see the Nelson-Rigg catalog again) and I often eschew even those because my leathers will keep me dry for several hours, at which point I will be ready for a motel anyway. If you wear a one or two piece textile suit, all you will need is one pair of jeans for “evening wear,” a pair of shorts and perhaps a swim suit, and one small and light pair of tennies for relaxing.

Obviously, this is all very general, because I do not know how much time you’ll have or where you want to go.  This is intended to be the prod to get you thinking, however. So many people think about a long trip every year and never do it.  But you?  Why not you?  Make this your year (if you’ve never done this before) or the best year, if you have. You have map books to peruse, event schedules of various types to consider, and vacation days to put in for.  Get busy!

I’ll be contributing a piece for each Nelson-Rigg newsletter from now on. This is the first one.  To sign up to receive this free newsletter by e-mail, please go to:

http://www.nelsonrigg.com/store/EmailSignup.aspx

 

David Preston                                                              Copyright 2014

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

The Seahawks Parade and What We Teach Our Children

The Seahawks Parade and What We Teach Our Children

Ah, the hoopla and uproar over the celebratory parade for the Superbowl Champion Seahawks in downtown Seattle tomorrow.  Will the schools close?  Shall we skip work?

Here’s the deal:  children are always learning what we teach. Sometimes what they are learning is not what we intended.

Caveat: full respect to the Seahawks for a tremendous season.  It is not only that they won, but how they won that impresses so.  What an example of team effort and sacrifice for the good of others.  The MVP award to a linebacker that pretty much nobody has ever heard of.  A defensive end that, just a few years ago, played for an 0-16 team.  Myself, I thought the MVP award should have gone to the entire team, as every game of the season highlighted team first and individual fame second.

And yet.  The players are pros who make enormous sums of money in a short career that is usually nomadic. How long will they be identified with Seattle?  Just this morning I heard a discussion with a famous sports pundit, who, on the question of how Seattle will manage to retain these players in the face of looming contract renewals and the expectation of huge recompense for the stars ($100 million for the quarterback for one example) offered the idea that they may need to let Marshawn Lynch go after next season. The soul of the offense, the creator of “Beast Mode,” and this two days after the greatest victory in Seattle pro football history!

If schools close (and Seattle schools will not) or if parents hold their kids out of school, what is the lesson that is sent? How many parents were “too busy” to attend the school’s open house? How many parents do not attend the school play featuring the kid down the block they have known since birth? How many parents attend all of the school functions their child performs in?  How many parents know what the homework is, or the course of study?

If a parent chooses to send their child to school, and then slips out of work to go to the parade, what lesson does that teach?  That work is less important than a party, if the party happens during work hours? That your responsibility to the employer who provides your income is less important than your “duties” as a member of the 12th man?

Kids remember. Forever. In 9th grade I started both ways for a not very good junior high football team. I was a co-captain, and thought I looked quite heroic on game days in my spiffy #36 uniform.  How many games did my parents attend?  None. Think that has affected me my whole life?

One of the many lessons teaching taught me is that students recall things differently. I cannot count how many students have told me of the greatest thing that they ever experienced in my class. An appalling percentage of the time it is something I cannot recall, or a lesson I was not attempting to teach.

Best example. A few years ago I received a letter from student I taught in 1989.  She had come to the junior high as a new student, and was miserable. Her mother had died, and her father re-married a woman she could not stand.  Her life was in tatters.  I remember that year because my own father and my wife’s brother also died.  I wrote this girl a long letter about dealing with the death of a loved one. I probably would not do that today.  A 40-something male teacher writing a personal letter to a 14 year old girl?   Might as well resign, as you are quite likely to be fired.  Knowing me, I would probably do it again. In any case, she wrote that her life got worse rather than better. Her grades plummeted, and she got heavily into drugs. Over the next 5 years she was about to attempt suicide – three times.  Each time she took out my letter, read it again, and changed her mind.

Over time life got better, and she was writing from her new life with a man she loved and a small child.  She thanked me profusely, and as I read her letter tears ran down my face.

The horrible part is that I could not remember her at all, or writing the letter. I pawed through the old year books (I kept them all) to find her picture.  Nada.  I had done something tremendous, and it made very little impression on me at the time.

At the other extreme, I think in my early teaching days I “taught” some students that sarcasm can be an effective weapon against the defenseless.  I inadvertently did a lot of damage to self-esteem, and I cannot go back and undo it.

It is not at all black and white. In about 1979 the Rolling Stones played a concert in the Kingdome. Two of my colleagues “skipped school” by calling in sick, so that they could attend. One of them was a woman past 60 who loved rock and roll and used song lyrics quite a bit in her English class. The other was a 2nd year teacher who was my assistant coach for volleyball.  I did not think the young teacher should have done it, and it was not in season or I would have really been upset. But I thought it was pretty cool that the older woman went, as she was teaching her students what music meant to her. Of course they both got “caught,” as many of the students went as well and saw them there.  An amusing side bar is that I turned down a chance to see the Rolling Stones on their first visit to America in 1964, before anyone knew who they were, because I thought $3 was an exorbitant fee!

And I am not pure in this either. In my 2nd year of teaching I cut school to drive my friend and co-apartment dweller to the airport, as he was moving back to Florida. The next day the principal was so concerned for my health (I don’t think I had ever taken a sick day in two years) that I was filled with guilt and never did it again.

Whether or not  you choose to take your child out of school to attend a parade for a bunch of wealthy athletes, and/or to skip work, you are teaching your child a huge lesson.

Be sure you know what it is.

 

Copyright 2014                           David Preston

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