Guns, Football, and Motorcycles

Guns, Football and Motorcycles – Danger vs. Risk

Much ado about possibly very little in the news these days.  Playing football leads to brain damage, shooting guns will fill you with lead even if you’re never hit by a bullet, and motorcycles will kill you. But wait – are we skipping the thinking part?

I’ve written before about the difference between “danger” and “risk.”  To me, the difference is that risk can be reduced through education, equipment, experience, and focus on the matter at hand. Danger is just – dangerous.  Walking through the streets of some cities in the world at night can be very dangerous. It is difficult to lower the risk factor unless you have access to millions of dollars’ worth of  bomb proof vehicles and choose to ride.  Oh wait, local police departments now have that access. Most of us do not.

A recent study showed that some 96% of the brains of NFL players examined after death showed signs of brain damage. That is an alarming statistic. What I have not seen is a statistic revealing that percentage for all deceased men.  This is not sexist – there are no former NFL players who are women that I know of.  Look at your own life. Most men (and now women) participate in some or many activities that carry the risk of a head injury. I played football for three years. I was a linebacker and a center. Yes, children, we played “both ways” back in the day, and I do not remember ever being taken out of the game for a substitute. I played hockey for at least ten years, and for most of that time helmets were not worn, even by the pros. There was no face or eye protection. My mother was worried about my teeth, but never mentioned concussion. I played basketball for years (not well, and not for the school team), and played soccer for the University of Minnesota for a year. I dabbled in many other activities that would now be listed as carrying possible danger. And then, of course, I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost half a century.  I wonder what % of brain damage I will rack up after my death.  How about you?

Stepping back just a bit, there is certainly a massive difference between the number and severity of hits to the head taken by an NFL player and what I endured in junior high.  Then again, the equipment is so much better now. Overall, the % of men who will play football in the NFL is so small that data from them has to be statistically insignificant when applied to the general population. In fact, it has little relevance until a % is calculated for that general population. It is possible that number exists and that I have simply not seen it.

The Seattle Times is now spewing ink all over the topic of lead poisoning arising from the use of guns at firing ranges.  What % of ammo still uses lead? I am not well versed in this topic, but I remember reports years ago of concerns for lead poisoning in the Midwest from the sheer volume of spent ammo used to hunt ducks and deer and pheasants and so on.  I think it has been phased out, or is in the process of being phased out.  Perhaps the Times will cover that in future articles in their series.

And motorcycles.  Oh my. When I started riding I was told countless times that I was about to die. People would ask you about your “murdercycle,” or label you as an “organ donor.”  (Everyone should list themselves as an organ donor on their license, but that is a different issue) You were considered to be a dangerous drag on society, and the principal at the high school where I did my student teaching wanted me kicked off his campus and out of the student teaching program because I rode my motorcycle to a faculty meeting I was not required to attend.  After school.  He was not fond of my hair either, which reached all the way – to my ears. Ironically, the first principal I worked for after graduation told me he was happy to see me riding my motorcycle to school because he wanted students to see that you could ride a motorcycle and be a productive member of society.   Insert jokes about how productive I was here….

I countered the “wisdom” of the day by always purchasing and wearing the very best equipment I could afford. In the early days, that was not much, but a top shelf Bell helmet, boots, jeans, and a ski parka put me ahead of most.  I read everything I could on how to ride a motorcycle.  Some of it, such as Kenny Robert’s book on road racing, I did not understand.  He referred to some motorcycles as “front wheel bikes” and others as “rear wheel bikes.”  I figured out what he meant about 20 years later. I took several courses of riding instruction, and even helped develop one. All of these actions were taken in an effort to reduce the risk.  A friend once told me that he thought that what I enjoyed most about motorcycle riding was the act of taking on a dangerous activity and using the assets available to me to make it relatively safe. I think he was correct.

If you read the horror stories about motorcycling and put their content against the majority of my riding for the past four decades, which usually involved relatively high speeds on narrow back roads in all sorts of weather, you would have to conclude that I am now…dead. And yet, several hundred thousand miles later and having ridden over 500 different motorcycles, I am still functional.  At least physically, and I don’t think my mental oddities can be ascribed to head injuries or lead exposure.

I survived a big crash in 1969 and have not hit the ground in the 45 years since. (Knock on fuel tank for luck) In that crash I was unconscious for just a few seconds. Concussion?  Probably. Never tested or diagnosed for that.

And there are so many other dangers we exposed ourselves to growing up in our almost total innocence and ignorance. Car and motorcycle folks washed parts in leaded gasoline.

All the time. I did too.

Drag racers that used nitro methane and other concoctions even had a motto – “Gasoline is for washing parts.”  When I worked as an announcer at SIR in 1972 and at times ran the staging lanes, I absolutely loved inhaling nitro methane.  That cannot have been good.

I know from friends that have volunteered at ski areas that Friday night is a triage festival in the medical tent, with sprains, broken bones, and concussions lined up wall to wall. Soccer is now under the microscope for concussions, and that is a serious issue, since that sport is played by more people in the world than any other. And most of them children.

If you have children they are going to want to try things. That is what children do.  My son played soccer for several years, and eventually suffered a very bad wrist break.  Concussions too?  He was a goalie, and made many saves with what he could get on the ball, including his face. I.E., could be.

I was worried that my children would want to ride motorcycles in their teens, and since I’d been riding since before they were born, what arguments would I use to slow them down? Instead, my daughter took up rock climbing, and was soon very good at it. When she brought home pictures of her crossing a deep ravine over rocks by hanging from a rope and propelling her way across the chasm with her arms and hands I had the thought, “How bad could motorcycles have been?”

What to do?  I think the answer is to make sure your children are taking on an activity or sport because they want to, not because Mom or Dad wants to see them exceed the achievements of a parent in that area.  The odds are high that at least one of their choices will involve danger and risk.

My son has now completed a great many marathons and triathlons, including an Iron Man triathlon and a “super triathlon.”  Risks?  Oh yes.  Did he get any shove toward these events from his parents?  Hardly.

So back to the beginning. In approaching an activity, see what you can do to lower the risk through equipment, education, experience, and total focus on the matter at hand.

Read sensational newspaper and magazine articles for the content, but always balance it with your own experiences and other sources of information.

After all that, relax and live your life.

Copyright 2014                                      David Presto

Posted in Cars, Education, Equipment, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

A Reading Assignment For You

Reading assignment for this week:

Chuck Yeager’s autobiography:

Think you’re tough?  67 years ago today (October 14th), Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X1 experimental jet plane. He did this despite a broken rib that he kept secret.

The cause of the broken rib was an unfortunate collision with a tree branch the night before the flight. He and his wife were in the habit of having steaks for dinner, and a glass or three of scotch. After that, they often went for a ride on horseback, which usually ended up as a race across the desert. The winner of the race got to have sex with the loser, which strikes me as a wonderful arrangement.

Racing under the moonlight, they came to a tree with a branch extending out to the side. His wife saw it and ducked. Chuck Yeager did not and was “close lined” off the horse by the limb, crashing to the ground and breaking a rib or two. His wife told him they had to call the leaders and abort the planned flight for the next day. He refused, and had her tape his ribs up so tightly that it was hard to breathe. The only person he told of his plight was the crew member assigned to help him get from the B29 carrying the X1 down into the plane.  He stuck a length of broom handle up his sleeve, which he used as a pry bar to close the hatch, which he could not do with his one functioning arm.

Even at that, he was not scheduled to break the sound barrier that day, as nobody knew what would happen to the plane in such a circumstance. He got to .99 of Mach 1, muttered an imprecation under his breath, and nailed the throttle.  Thus was history made.

This is only one of a great many stories in his autobiography, all of which can be verified by official records. He was the only pilot in WWII to be shot down, put in a prisoner of war camp, escape to freedom, and then talk his way back to duty.  It was common practice at the time to retire pilots who had lived through the horrors of a prisoner of war camp once, as it was thought they could never survive if put in the same situation again.  He argued his way all the way up to General Dwight Eisenhower before being allowed to return.

His life story is full of impossible challenges and unlikely success on every page, and is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read.

 

Chuck Needham’s autobiography:

There are many weird parallels in Needham’s life to Chuck Yeager’s.

Both had childhoods of deep poverty. Both had very little education. Needham rose to fame as a Hollywood stunt man, simply by agreeing to do everything he was asked to do. Along the way he became a stunt coordinator.  There he got to be friends with Burt Reynolds, and it was his idea to produce the movie that made them both famous, along with a black Pontiac Trans Am with a gold “screaming chicken” decal on the hood. He also owned a successful NASCAR racing team, and careened from one adventure to the other, including several wives. Marriage was one area where he was not as successful as Yeager.

Can’t recall the title of either book, but you need to find them and read them.  You’ll have a new horizon for what you’re capable of.

 

David Preston                          Copyright 2014

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

An Adult Approach to Physical Fitness

An Adult Approach to Physical Fitness

“Getting in shape.” This is a goal of so many who are fortunate to live in an area of the world with access to plentiful food and the economic status to purchase it. Sometimes to excess. Food that is yummy and plentiful can be counterproductive to the fashionably trim and fit visage we wish to present to the world, an image marketed to us incessantly.  How to get there?

Caveat: Although I taught PE for one year, coached a variety of sports for 15 years, and have always been active in one or more sports, I make no claim to expertise. What follows is intended merely as food for thought.

So many people have taken on one diet or exercise program or other (or a great many of them) and failed. How to reverse this and create a program that works for you? There are five things (at least) needed to make this work, and one thing not needed at all.

  1. What You Don’t Need
  2. Time
  3. A venue
  4. What I call the “plausible lie.”
  5. Partnering (optional)
  6. A plan of what to do

What you don’t need: A diet. How many new diets come along in a year, have their fifteen minutes of fame (and fortune) and then fade away?  Most diets are based on a lie. We’re all eager to find the short cut, the magic diet or pill or potion that offers something for nothing (except money). There is no such thing. The only way to get in better shape (and losing weight may be part of that) is to expend more energy in physical exercise than you take in as food and drink. Yes, you can cut down on fatty foods and alcohol and that frozen Snicker’s bar you enjoy before bed. All of that will help, but less than you would hope.  You do not need a “diet.”  You need a plan, and how to get from where you are to where you can make your plan work

Time: At some points in your life it can be between challenging and impossible to create the time.  When I was teaching I had the benefit of a gym and locker room at my place of work – which I rarely took advantage of.  There I was, coaching every day, putting my teams through vigorous workouts – while I watched.  I could scrimmage with my tennis and basketball teams, which helped. In the early days of my career, the coaches had keys to the school. My park league basketball team used my access for practice sessions on weekend evenings.

Then I got married and bought a house, and then a child came along…

When I was president of the local teachers’ union for two years I worked about 60 hours a week. It was the most exciting and stressful two years of my life. The work, an expense account, and frequent meetings with food contrived to bloat me with about 25 pounds of flab while my muscles atrophied. The low point for my physical fitness was the fall of 1978, when I returned to the classroom.

Things did not improve much for the next several years, and when our children reached their very active teen years and I was working at a 2nd job most of the time on one of the weekend days there was simply no opportunity to create work-out time. For many there may be no viable options at a particular time of life. But things will change, inevitably.

When I left teaching in 2000 and entered the motorsports business, the relatively later starting time plus our children having left home offered space in the mornings for workouts. Things got better.

Venue: Some people can work out at home.  You can purchase all sorts of exercise equipment, plus audio-visual training aids such as jazz dancing or a plethora or work-out videos.  These can be inexpensive, as many people find that working out at home does not work for them and sell their equipment at bargain prices.Including me. I purchased a rowing machine, and our son had some weights. Neither of them worked very well for me, and both were eventually sold or given away.

Your results may differ, but I found that I had to get off my largish butt and drive to a facility to work out.Fortunately, the Northshore YMCA is only two miles or so from our home. We joined way back in 1993, when a boyfriend of our daughter’s introduced us to this fine facility. I began to work out a bit, and played a lot of racquetball with Chet. I was distressed when Dorine broke up with him. She had thrown away a boyfriend for whatever reason, but I had lost a fine playing partner. I mean, what were her priorities, anyway?

We’ve enjoyed the YMCA for over 20 years now, and I’ll bet there’s a similar facility near you. I think our dues are now about $110 a month.  If the two of us go an average of three days a week each visit sets us back about $5 a head. We can afford that.

The Plausible Lie: Things picked up markedly when I created my first “plausible lie.”  Some people are self-motivated to work out on their own for the considerable benefits that accrue.  My son is like this, and his own regimen has changed his life dramatically in the past few years.  Finishing an Ironman Triathlon and so many other events is a wondrous thing, but the changes in his body and outlook on life are utterly incredible and awe-inspiring.  I do not have that much self-discipline.

Enter the lie.My new career meant that I needed to be able to hop on virtually any motorcycle made and ride it any distance in any weather, usually in the company of others with vast experience on that brand and model of motorcycle. So… I told myself that I needed to be in better shape to be able to pull this off, which is probably sort of more or less true – in a way.Having accepted this, my workouts grew in frequency and rigor, and the results came ever so gradually but at a rate such that I could see and feel the changes, even if others could not. My waist remained a stubborn problem area, still to this day, but my shoulders expanded, my arms got longer, and my posture improved markedly.  Almost as an afterthought, I could ride motorcycles for longer with less fatigue and greater concentration.

What to do when I retired last year?   I created a 2nd plausible lie. I planned a 4,000 mile ride for this past summer, and used that for inspiration to keep working out. That worked, and now I’m planning a ride for next summer with the same added bonus of motivation. Over time, in this case 14 years, the habit of exercise becomes embedded and the need for a plausible lie lessens.

What will work for you? The need to be in better shape to increase the odds of a job promotion?  Couldn’t hurt. The reward of a new wardrobe for measurable improvement? Bribery is always effective. A new car?  Whatever works, whether logic and truth-based or not – go for it.

Partner: Once we settled into our new life in 2000 it became clear that morning workouts were the way to go.  Susan needs to leave for work by 7am or so, and having taught 4th graders all day, an evening workout schedule was not going to happen.  I prefer to shower before going to the Y, and also after my workout, and of course I want to eat some food beforehand. The upshot is an alarm set for 4am.

Could I do this on my own? Perhaps not, as it often takes two of us to get up that early. The benefits became manifest. Once back from our workout I could enjoy the morning paper and a cup of coffee at leisure. I was ready and eager to go to work in plenty of time.

Now that I am retired it’s even better. If Susan has a morning meeting, or has endured a bad day or evening meeting the day before, she may choose to “sleep in” to 6am, but I have the luxury of being able to work out later in the day.  On days when I choose to not do that, I try to make sure I get out for a walk or a hike.

If you make it to the important stage of regularly attending a gym, you’ll eventually get to know people who work out at the same time. You may be able to work together, or set up a racquet ball session, or whatever works for you. The key is to get your butt to the facility.

What to do: Once there, my experience has been that it does not really matter what you do for a workout. You can use free weights, or machines, or walk, or jog, or use a stair step machine or a treadmill. Whatever floats your boat is infinitely better than what you were doing previously, after all. Most facilities have people who will guide you if asked, and also show you how the machines work. I have my favorites, and your brain will keep track of your usual reps and weights. Over time, you’ll probably increase both.

In summation, my experience has been that most exercise programs over-promise and under-deliver. You’re not going to lose 50 pounds and turn into a beach Adonis in a couple of months. Perhaps ever. You will, over time, notice muscles appearing for the first time in your life, if only to you. I remember so clearly pulling on a t-shirt one day and noticing something that had never appeared in my peripheral vision before. My shoulders. On another occasion I learned I now had to pay attention when drying off after a shower, as there was now a water-collecting low point between my larger shoulders and the center of my chest.

You’ll find, in time, new levels of stamina and energy, along with lower stress and a more positive outlook. Foods you used to gobble with impunity will become less attractive, and you may wonder “What was I thinking?”  You’ll look better, if only to you, although your spouse, if you’re so equipped, will notice.

At the end of the day, you are the only person you need to impress.

Copyright 2014                                                        David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Why I should be the next NFL Commissioner

 

TO:              NFL Headquarters

FROM:        David Preston

RE:              A New Commissioner                          9/18/14

Executive Summary:

Recent events have made it clear that the current NFL Commissioner needs to be replaced. He bungled several opportunities to deal with domestic violence issues and has now disappeared from public view, even as new allegations surface and the situation worsens. With long time marketing partners now expressing alarm, his lack of leadership is becoming a severe deterrent to league success. Not only has his leadership failed, the public perception is that he has failed, and in matters of marketing and public image, perception has far more power than fact.

Once he’s been let go, the search for a new commissioner must be done with both speed and care. In contemplating a replacement, I have pondered all of the possible candidates in a comprehensive thought analysis that consumed several actual minutes. I have arrived at the perfect candidate.   Me.

Here’s why:

Dealing with others:

In thirty one years of public education, I dealt with all possible varieties of people. The truly gifted, the deeply challenged, the rich, the poor, the obnoxious, and the arrogant. And then there were the student

Sports:

I’ve played almost every sport in my life, including football. I played on both offense (center) and defense (center linebacker) through 9th grade, when I was a team captain. I played on teams that won all their games, and teams that won none of them. My parents abruptly ended my career when my 9th grade fall grades arrived home.

I spent the first 15 years of my education career coaching boys tennis (head coach), track (assistant), boys and girls basketball (head), slow pitch softball (head), fast pitch softball (assistant), and girls volleyball (head). I had a winning record in every sport I coached.

Labor negotiations:

I was the president of the Lake Washington Education Association from 1976- 1978. During that time we had the first successful strike vote (1976), the first strike (1977) and the 2nd strike (1978).  I worked with three superintendents during that time.  The first was a man who was not very smart, the 2nd was a fine person screwed out of the job by an arrogant school board (where I got to deal with the threat of a wildcat strike by teachers), and the 3rd a calculating evil genius who I think allowed strikes to happen because he wanted it on his resume.

I received training in negotiations from WEA, attended negotiations sessions and planning meetings, and signed the first master contract in district history. That contract was so well done that I was taken to lunch by a local attorney interested in hiring me to work on labor law cases, until that awkward moment when I disclosed that I had not actually written the contract. Or read it…

Working with the egos of the rich and powerful

During my two careers in education and motorsports I was continually working with people who made more money than I did and had more perceived power. In business, salaries are often used to calculate a perceived pecking order, and I worked out how to be successful in attaining what I wanted without the crutch of money or power. There are other ways to do things.

Media presentations:

I hosted a call-in radio show for three years. I have announced dozens of football and basketball games, and hosted many presentations and shows of one sort or another. I have published hundreds of articles on a myriad of topics, and have authored 6 books. I have been interviewed for both radio and television programs on a number of topics.

I have the ability to give a talk on virtually any topic for any specified length of time, and can fill that time with a wealth of content of utter fluff, as deemed appropriate for the occasion by my clients.

Background:

Spotless. I have never been arrested, never divorced, never accused of any impropriety of any kind, and am probable the only liberal of my 60’s generation who has never smoked or ingested marijuana. In other words, there are no skeletons in my closet.

Salary:

Almost moot, as any salary likely to be offered for this position will comfortably exceed, in one year, my lifetime earnings.

Age:

67. This will appease wealthy and powerful owners wary of an up and comer who wants to transform the league over many years. In five years the NFL should be in a better place, and I can retire (for the 3rd time) in peace.

Health:

Excellent, other than profound hearing loss on my left side. This gives me the handy ability to turn a literal deaf ear to people I do not want to listen to.

Here’s what the NFL needs to accomplish on several issues:

Domestic violence.

History is created by individual moments that capture the public’s attention, and some of them come from unlikely sources. General Dwight Eisenhower’s concept that racism should not exist in the Army was whacky (at the time) and not immediately successful, but the ripples of his act have transformed society and continue to do so in positive ways. Rosa Parks decided to stay seated where she was. Title IX happened, and altered sports forever.  And so on.  Domestic violence is a huge problem in the world and while the NFL might seem to worst place to work for a better way, it is what it is.

The NFL needs to formulate clear and consistent guidelines that can be adhered to in such situations, regardless of the star power of the individual involved. It needs to provide avenues for counseling for all players in these matters, and if those avenues already exist it needs to publicize them.  A squad of speakers and trainers must be created to work with teams in the pre-season in terms of education and be able to respond to individual needs during the season.

Drugs:

The NFL and the players’ union have recently agreed to a new drug policy, and while an improvement, discussions on further changes needs to begin immediately. Under the NEW policy, for example, players can be fined or suspended or both for trace levels of marijuana lower than what commercial pilots are allowed! Many players now live and work in states where the use of marijuana is legal.  The NFL has now adopted a good drug policy for 2002, but this is 2014.

Head injuries:

Here is another issue where perception is running away from the facts. A recent study determined that fully 1/3 of all NFL players will leave the game with some degree of mental impairment. What is missing is the other shoe.

What is the % of all adult men who have some degree of such impairment? Most men, and now women, have deep involvement in a sport or hobby that entails risk.  What is the damage incurred by soccer players?  Hockey? Skateboarding? Skiing?  Bicycling?

As a motorcyclist, I’m used to the uninformed referring to motorcyclists as “organ donors” or other pejorative terms. Years ago Harborview hospital in Seattle ran a campaign to ban motorcycles, with the logic that the public was forced to pay for the care and treatment of a disproportionate number of citizens who rode motorcycles and had severe brain trauma as a result.  A lack of facts to support this allegation did not deter them.  On the other hand, what percentage of pro motorcycle racers end their careers with multiple broken bones and fractures?  I would guess that number would be over 90%, but “guess” is the operative word.

The NFL should be in favor of, and perhaps fund, a study of head injuries from all sources to build a bank of reliable data. At the same time, efforts should be made to publicize on-going research by equipment manufacturers to reduce injuries. Equipment today is far better than 20 years ago, and will assuredly be better in the future. Nobody gains from an injured player.

The NFL as a non-profit

This to me, is a moot issue. NFL teams and players support so many different charities in so many ways, usually as a part of their marketing campaigns, that any CPA could make them “non-profit” anyway.  This issue may already be lost due to public perception, and if so, converting to a profit nature will not alter things in any meaningful way.  For confirmation, check the tax payments from any large multi-national corporation.  The tax laws were and are written by wealthy people for wealthy people and corporations, and the NFL has both.

The Washington team name:

Is the term “Redskins” a racist term? Yes, but it really makes no difference. It is perceived my many as such, and thus it needs to go. Now. This is a perfect issue for the Commissioner.  As the name violates the NFLs commitment to civil rights, it must be changed immediately by order of the Commissioner.  For one, this gives the owner a handy out, and makes the Commissioner a handy “bad guy” to blame.  Name choice can be a marketing coup for the team, with a campaign to allow fans to nominate the new term. Historically, there were several tribes that occupied the area. Why not reach out to those tribes to see who would like their heritage to be institutionalized?  Or, the city of Washington D.C. was built on, and often referred to, as a swamp.   How about “Swamp Creatures”?  Imagine the possibilities for  a mascot!

Image of the Commissioner

The NFL commissioner should immediately cease appearing in public in an expensive suit. The coaches do not wear suits these days (A tip of the trilby to departed coach Tom Landry and several others), and neither do the players.  The Commissioner should look more like a fan and less like just another talking head in a suit.  This could be accomplished by having the commissioner attend games wearing the jersey of the home team, or (slightly more complicated) a jersey created from cutting up and re-sewing a jersey from each team into one garment.  This was done 40 years ago by Mrs. Unser. Her sons were professional race car drivers. One was sponsored by Goodyear and one by Firestone. She took two jackets and cut them up and put them back together, so she had two jackets that supported “Fireyear” and “Goodstone.”

The commissioner, in other words, needs to look like someone who loves football, and not power and money.

Of course, a great deal of the Commissioner’s time is spent dealing with issues that come down to power and money, but that part must be done behind closed doors.

 

Copyright 2014                                                               David Preston

 

 

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

Great Cars Loved and Lost – and others

Great Cars Loved and Lost – and others

I’ve been a car and motorcycle enthusiast since I first became aware of such magnificent creations.  Recently, while watching an auction on TV, I was amazed at how many of the classics on offer I could relate to in a personal way. There were so many that I’d owned or driven or spent considerable time with in some fashion.  Many are now worth a fortune, and our personal assets would be pretty amazing today if we’d kept everything owned in the past. Here are my stories of the ones that got away, and some I was relieved to see go.

1962 or so.  1957 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coupe.  This car was in a local body shop in the Minneapolis suburb where I grew up. Someone had brought it in for a fender dent repair and a complete windows-out paint job, and then had scuppered out of town.  There must be a story there.  The body shop had it for sale for $5,000.  For a couple of grand more they could have finished the paint job and put the car back together. My Dad thought about it, but declined.                           Current value:  $1,000,000 to $2,000,000.

Early 1960’s. My father made occasional trips to New York City on business, and whenever he did he made time to visit Inskips, the New York Aston Martin dealer.  The Aston dealership was on the 14th floor, and an Aston Martin DB 5 cost about $14,000. A good American car was perhaps $4,000.  Surveying a curving arc of pristine British glory, my Dad asked the salesman what would happen if he did not like any of the colors they had. The salesman replied, “Mr. Preston, for $14,000 we will paint your Aston any color you like.”  My father could have purchased one, and certainly should have.  But – that would have meant a loan, and loans were anathema to him.                                     Current value:  $700,000 to $1,900,000.

1962 Sunbeam Alpine. My father’s first sports car.  The Alpine was a lovely design, and a tad more sophisticated than the MGA it competed with.

It was in most ways a better car than the Sunbeam Tiger, which was an Alpine with the meek 4 cylinder engine replaced by a Ford small block V-8. Yet another Carroll Shelby idea, and he once commented that the Tiger was a better car than the Cobra that made him famous. On the other hand, a friend who owned one found that the V8 engine would torque the chassis so much that at times a door would not open, and at others open as the car went around a corner.

Dad owned the Alpine for about 5 years. He made various improvements, such as removing the cylinder head and drilling new cooling passages on the metal lathe we had in the basement. Didn’t everyone?  The wire wheels were painted black, as the stock silver paint chipped off easily. It was always kept spotless, in no small part to my washing and waxing it every other moment.

He sold it for $850 if I recall. I was in agony, as the guy who bought it brought a friend who was an “expert.” The friend had a very tired Porsche 356 he’d paid $3,000 for, and it seemed to me that the Alpine was a far better car. The “expert” drove the Alpine with me as the passenger, and failed to impress me with either his knowledge or driving ability. The Alpine was pretty much perfect, and also underpriced. My father thought that everyone maintained their cars as we did, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The “expert” knew it was a better car, even without the price difference, but could not bear to admit it.

Dad never let me drive the Alpine, feeling I would put it into a ditch within 5 miles, which was a bit harsh. I certainly waxed the red paint a lot, and loved going on occasional rallies as the navigator, where Dad would actually drive the car with brio, as it was designed to do. My Mother, on the other hand, drove it that way all the time, and rides with her were much more fun. On one occasion, I was allowed to start it in the driveway and drive it – 20 feet forward to park it in the garage. That was it.

As life turned out, he should have given me the Alpine instead of the 1963 Mercury he left with me when Boeing, after years of trying, head-hunted him away from Minneapolis. This was in the dirge of life that followed my Mother’s untimely death from cancer at the age of 49.

He felt a bit guilty at “abandoning me” (I was 20), so the Mercury was added to the Yamaha 250 motorcycle I’d just purchased.  In truth, the Mercury was far more practical, and the Alpine would not have done well sitting outside in the three Minnesota winters that passed before I moved, but still…

Current value:  Maybe $6,000 to $10,000

1969 Camaro Z28.   Truly the one that got away. Once I’d been offered a teaching job at Rose Hill Junior High in Kirkland, I spent the last two months of college in Minnesota mooning about the new car I’d buy when the money began to roll in. $7,200 dollars a year!  My God, what a munificent sum! My preferences boiled down to a Mustang or a Camaro, and I settled on a Z28 Camaro in yellow with the black stripes, and of course a 4 speed. This would have cost about $3,500, and I was set to take out a loan for 50% of my salary in September. Instead, I crashed my Yamaha three days after arriving, and spent the summer with my arm in a sling with my separated shoulder healing after the surgery. This also cost me a great summer job one of my new colleagues had lined up for me without even meeting me. No money, no Camaro.

On the upside, I met Susan two years later and learned that she really did not like this car. At all. It made her think of mullet hairdos and disco.  I actually liked the mullet, which was not a popular thing to admit even then, and I always liked disco.  Oh well.  I have yet to drive one!

Current value:        $35,000 to $60,000 depending on condition.

1958 Corvette. Actually the first car I purchased for real. My Dad sold me the Mercury shortly after I arrived, because I’d crashed and destroyed my Yamaha and was making noises about purchasing a new bike and a $500 clunker to drive when needed, and he did not want me to die in a death trap car. He sold me the Mercury for $1,500 with low payments (and interest) -much less than what it was worth.

The Corvette was purchased in 1972, a month after we were married, and about two weeks after I learned that Susan loved “old” Corvettes but hated new ones. Knowing that she was an enthusiast, I sold my new Honda 500 4 motorcycle (which was actually such a perfect motorcycle it bored me to tears) and purchased a 1958 Corvette with…“needs.”  It had been painted a sickly blue with rattle cans, and white racing stripes applied with – a brush. The interior was in dark gray plastic metal flake material, if you can imagine that, with a tear or two in the seats repaired with bright green tape.  The chrome front wheels had been stolen, and narrowed black rims from a Nova were back in there somewhere.  I paid $800, and driving home on a warm summer evening listening to the 283 burble through the leaking glass pack mufflers,  top down and rowing through the 4 speed transmission –  it was love.

Within two months I’d purchased two new chrome front rims, had the car painted a butterscotch color, and had the interior redone in a dark tan with matching carpets.  Much better!  I removed the spare tire and put a can of Fix-A-Flat into the trunk, which I lined with scraps of tannish orange shag carpet cut and glued into place. Appalling, but it was 1972.

To the dismay of Corvette enthusiasts, a small hood scoop was installed at the time of the paint job, in order to clear the Edelbrock high rise and Holley carburetor, right in the middle of the washboard ripples on the hood that were a 1958 only styling feature of the Corvette.

We used this for our 2nd honeymoon of that year. The first was in March, the week after our wedding, and involved a 5 day ride down the coast of Oregon on the Honda. It did not rain, as I had promised my fiancé it would not.  The 2nd was a two week camping trip with the newly fettled and farkled Corvette into Canada, where we parked on the shore of Lake Louise and went for hikes each day.  The top stayed down for the entire trip. Bliss.

All of a muddle with excitement, I joined a Corvette club, although Susan warned me it would not turn out well. Sure enough, most of them were into modern Corvettes with panel paint jobs and big stereos.  I got my revenge for several social snubs at a Redmond High Homecoming, where the club provided the cars for the parade. All of the students gathered around mine and ignored the new ones.

At a club picnic, I was standing in a group when the topic turned to rain. I exclaimed that I loved driving in the rain, because I could make a turn from a stop sign and go down the road half sideways for 200 yards.  Most of them, it turned out, did not drive in the rain.

At all.

Ever.

Someone asked why I did, and I replied “I have to. It’s our only car.”  Suddenly I was standing all alone…

At this time I was working Sundays as a drag race announcer at (then) Seattle International Raceway. One day, after the racing was concluded, the crew decided I should race the other announcer, who had a …Pinto wagon. We pulled up to the start area, both in the same lane. I did a burn-out in reverse to switch lanes, which was well received. The “Christmas tree” starting lights had been stored, so the start was an old fashioned wave of an arm. To make it a “fair” race, the Pinto was given about a half track lead. I took off and the car reared up on all four wheels and really got after it.  I won.

The next week I found out that the front suspension was about to fall off the car…

A year later the oil began to turn a milky white, the sign of a blown head gasket. After replacing the gaskets, twice, to no avail, an engine strip down was taken on. To the shock of Roy Urban, my friend who ran a repair shop (I was his first customer, and the signed check for the clutch job hung in a frame on the wall), the engine had a porous block. With a flash light and the block on a stand with a hose connected to the water intake, you could state mesmerized as drops appeared as they oozed through what appeared to the naked eye to be a solid cylinder wall!  We also discovered a notch in one of the cylinders, the result of a mishap in former days as a drag racer, and forged 12.5 to 1 compression pistons!  I did not have the money for a set of headers, which probably would have added 100 horsepower, and ended up with a lot of intake capability, tons of compression, and stock headers which acted as a cork. Oh well.

The car was a heater and radio delete car, another hint as to its drag racing original intent. I purchased a heater from a wrecking yard, and it sat on the shelf for a year while I mustered the courage to attempt what I thought would be a mammoth job.  During that time we drove to Vancouver for my father’s 3rd (of 5!) wedding, with Susan wrapped in a blanket against the cold and clearing the mist from the inside of the windshield with a towel.

In the end, installing the heater required removing and replacing 4 bolts and hooking up the linkage. Took about an hour.

We also used this car for our first attempts at sports car rallies.  This was a bit of a challenge, as the speedometer did not work, but I could usually guess our speed pretty well. We gave up after an event where one of us (our versions differ) was so mad at the other that he (or she) was pounding on the dashboard. We returned to rallying 20 years later and began winning almost immediately, mostly because the driver (that would be me) had learned to just shut up and do what she told me to do!

When Dorine was born in 1975 the Corvette had to go.  It was our only car, and you cannot put a child safety seat (then the new hot thing) in a Corvette. By that time the flaws of the car were beginning to get to me. It was not really all that fast, did not corner well, had mediocre drum brakes, and ate premium fuel at about 12 mpg. An enjoyable 12 miles, but still. It looked and sounded gorgeous, but it needed to go.  We sold it for $2,700, close to what we had in it, and I watched the new Canadian owner drive away with his 9 year old son. I was actually relieved to see the car go.

On the wall of my classroom for decades was a 3’ x 2’ foot black and white blown up picture of the Corvette, which students always marveled at.  They would ask whose car it was, and were gob smacked when I told them it had been mine.   Their amazement deepened when I told them I had sold it when our daughter was born – teen age boys could not imagine such a sacrifice.

Current value:                  $35,000 – 75,000 depending on condition

1967 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe.  This was a brilliant car. An airy cabin offered great vision out; although I’m sure the roof would collapse if you were so crass as to roll it.  A willing 4 cylinder engine, four wheel disc brakes, and a perfect 5 speed manual transmission.  The most fun car to drive I’ve ever owned, and that includes the Corvette and the Porsche 911.  The only thing it lacked was about 70 more horsepower, which the chassis could have handled. Ours was perfectly reliable, except for the fan switch, which failed every two years.  Fortunate, as this was one of the very few repairs I could make myself – in about two minutes. I do not know what I paid for ours, or what I sold it for, or when, but it was a treasure.

Current value:        First, you’d have to find one!

We also had a Fiat 124 Spider from about 1984 to 1992.  It was, I think, a 1968, purchased from a friend who’d purchased a 2nd one that was newer, and then a 3rd to be used as a parts car.  Ours was a bit of a George Washington’s axe, and had well trundled over 200,000 miles when we bought it. It also had Fiat mags, a roll bar, and the preferred red paint.  Our kids loved the car, until they grew taller and began to bonk their heads on the roll bar over every bump.  We went on a couple of rallies in this car and did very well.

One of the last adventures with that car was when it got shot. A miscreant student, who later died after committing a dozen or more felonies in his short life, brought a stolen high-powered BB pistol to school.  To show off to his friends, he went out to the parking lot and shot my car several times. Ironically, I parked my car away from all the others to keep it from getting parking lot dings.

At that time the state had a victim’s compensation fund, so I put in for a replacement driver’s side window, outside mirror and convertible top.  I had to stay on top of the case and write several letters, but 9 months later I got a check for the damages. The repairs themselves were made the weekend after the assault with pieces taken from my friend’s parts car.

Current value:  These are actually pretty common, and the ones on the west coast have not rusted to dust. They make up a healthy percentage of the Fiat club I belong to, in states of condition from perilous to perfect.  $3,000 to $8,000 depending on condition, and a great way to get in to classic sports cars. We sold ours to make way for a 1975 Porsche 911 S Targa – the worst mistake of my car ownership life.

Hillman(s). I actually had the pleasure of driving two of them. In high school my parents owned a 1959 Hillman four door sedan that was available to me if I needed a car, but not for riding to school every day on a perfectly good bus. My first experience with a four speed shift on the floor, and I learned that you could not simply downshift into 3rd entering a corner at 50mph.  Good thing, as the engine would have over-revved and blown up if I had succeeded.  My favorite summer was when the exhaust pipe rusted through, and I begged my father not to repair it as it sounded so marvelous.  I had a street drag race with a Triumph TR3, where the extremely low first gear shot me ahead, and then it was over.

While we owned the Corvette I found a 1959 Hillman “Husky,” a 2 door station wagon.  Ours was in a parlous state. There was no headliner, so you could bang your head on the roof and make a sound like a wrench in a metal sewer pipe. The seats were not attached at the back, so hard braking would see you tilting forward. Susan drove this everywhere at about 70mph, despite my warnings that the brakes were not that great. On one occasion there was a wiring fire behind the dash. I ripped apart the dashboard, which was cardboard with a plastic “wood” surface, and put out the fire with a rag. Some duct tape and it was repaired.

We sold it for not very much to a young man as his first car, despite his older brother arguing against it. They were back in 30 minutes, as the car had died and “failed to proceed.”  A friend and I grabbed a tool box and went to investigate. The lead from the coil had fallen out. My friend found a small twig on the ground and put the coil wire back in with the twig as a shim. Success!  The new owner drove off with pride.

Current value:                  Not much, but good luck finding one.

1975 Porsche 911S Targa.   Better known as the disaster. The short version: Purchased for $10,500, put another $20,000 into it over the next eight years, and sold for $7,500.   That, my friends, is ugly. When shopping I ignored all of the advice I’d been giving others for years. It was red, it was magic, and we agreed to buy it in ten minutes. On the way home I found that the master cylinder was peeing brake fluid all over the floor. I knew the tires needed to be replaced.  Did not bother to check that the Guards Red paint was not the original color.  It was wonderful when it was well, but when anything went wrong it ranged from expensive to you have got to be kidding. I did a lot of rallies in it, with Susan or Will or Dorine as navigator, and we had a lot of fun and did very well.

Will was a fantastic navigator, capable of doing complex feats of math and timing calculations in his head. On the occasion when we got off course, which became more and more seldom over time, he would figure out how to get back on course and calculate how much time we needed to make up before the next check point. In a rally you do not know where the next check point is, so he would say “balls to the wall – have fun.”  After a few minutes of excitement he’d decide we were back on time and tell me to back off.  I was worried for years that he would become a mad hatter of a teen age driver, but he did not.

Showing my flat learning curve, I joined the Porsche club. Other members were not impressed with my car (again!), and expressed horror at the small bubbles of rust at the base of the hood. On one occasion I drove it to a club concours. I did not want to enter; just to park in an obvious spot and enjoy all the anal retentives having the fantods as they looked at my car.

Susan has pointed out that we owned this car while our kids were in their teen age years, and once in a while we would sneak away for a romantic weekend at a B&B on Whidbey Island or some such.  She points out that those were terrific times.  Since the car cost us about $3000 a year to own, I should hope so!

Overall, the experience left me not wanting to own a Porsche ever again, whereas I would love to own a Corvette again.  Not the car’s fault, but mine for being the idiot who purchased the wrong one.

Current value:        Has gone up since I started typing this. With all of its many needs attended to, a 1975 Porsche 911S Targa is now $35,000 – $50,000.

From the mid-1990s on I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased only new cars, with the exception of an ancient Mazda pick-up purchased for very seldom use. None of them are likely to become classics in the future, although I suppose our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport will be valuable about 20 years after my death, if I live a long time.

Do I regret not keeping all of these cars, even if I could have? Not really.  One of life’s cruel ironies is that when you get into an older classic car you realize in short order how good the new ones are.  No creature comforts, little power, iffy brakes, suspect handling, and frequent needed maintenance are all facts of life we do not deal with today.

Besides, there is my friend Mary McGee. Mary raced sports cars and motorcycles for about 50 years, and may not be done yet. She raced a Mercedes Benz 300 SL as her first race car (!), (see above), and also XKE Jags and several race Porsches, including an RS 500.  She did not own any of them, but if she had they would be worth several million today.  Doesn’t bother her much, so why should I besmear these fine memories with regret?

Of course, when I win a big lottery…

Copyright 2014                          David Preston

Posted in Cars, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Car Color of Choice – the Dumbest Research Project Ever

The Dumbest Research Project Ever

Confession: I like to just sit and watch cars go by.  This started when I was very young, but peaked in 1969. Recovering from a broken shoulder, I was staying at my father’s house in Bellevue. The woman he married on the rebound after my mother passed away was a virago who was, quite literally, crazy.  When he went to work I was stuck with my arm in a sling listening to her cheap shots – like why didn’t I get a job?  This was nonsensical since I’d been told by the surgeon to do nothing for about 6 weeks while the shoulder surgery healed and besides, my teaching career would start in 9 weeks.  To escape her peculiar brand of insanity, I would walk down the street and sit in the sun on a grassy expanse overlooking I-405 and simply watch the cars.  Looking back, I think I was a pretty sad and lonely young man. I had no friends, having crashed my motorcycle three days after moving, and no money at all.  Still, it passed the time and was enjoyable.

A few years ago I read an article about the use of color on new cars, and what colors are popular in different time eras.  In the late 1950’s most cars had two color tones, and many had three. More recently there has been a steep rise in what I would call the “non-colors” of white, silver, and black.  Since I do not like any of them, I was curious as to what percentage of people would choose colors that I would eschew for me.  This requires placing to one side the fact that we’ve owned three black cars, because Susan likes them!

On visits to my daughter and her husband, then living about 50 miles north east of San Francisco, I’d go for a walk to sit and smoke my pipe. I began to note the % of cars in those three non-colors – adding the numbers in my head in groups of 50. I also did this on visits to sister-in-law Meghan’s place in Los Gatos, as Susan and her kids and Meghan would often be shopping or at the movies. I had lots of time to hang out at the local exotic car emporium or sit in the downtown park and – watch cars go by.

Weird, but a relatively harmless affectation.

When I worked at Ride West BMW I would often take my lunch to a bench in a park about a mile away and continue my “research.”  I also did a lot of this on my recent motorcycle ride to Minnesota and back. A good way to unwind from the mental focus required to ride a motorcycle all day was to sit in the evening and meditate – while counting cars.

After several years of this and a data bank of many thousands of vehicles, some conclusions can be drawn, if you’ve not fallen asleep yet.

First of all, I did not include taxis, huge trucks, or “commercial” vehicles. Any car or small truck with graphics on the side was eliminated, as many of them are ordered as a fleet in some blah color or non-color. I made an exception for something like a yard maintenance truck that had clearly begun life as a consumer purchase.

As it turns out, the percentage of vehicles that are white, silver, or black will rise and fall depending on the economic status of the region.  Out on the Interstate, where the traffic is a mix of locals and vacationers, the black, white, and silver cars will make up about 66% of all vehicles. In a high-end area, such as Los Gatos, it will rise to over 70%. This is even more telling in Los Gatos, because there are an abundance of exotic cars, which are usually in a bright color, but their numbers are dwarfed by fleets of Mercedes and Porsche and BMW vehicles, almost all of them in black or silver.

Near Ride West, an area with a much lower demographic economically, the percentage declines to the high 50’s, and the cars are older.   In a small and relatively poor town like Lewistown, Montana, the percentage is 50%.  That low number was replicated in East Spokane, also a relatively poor area.

In East Spokane I was sitting on a bus bench that was only a foot or two from the curb, and a new data consideration emerged. Not only were the cars and trucks of color about 50% of the total, but an amazing number of them contained people smoking cigarettes. Here in Western Washington, a cigarette smoker is a person almost defying political correctness, and pretty rare.

I’ve noticed recently that brand new cars and trucks are swinging the other way. Ford pick-up trucks are now made in a brilliant dark blue, and in my research that appear to be selling in huge numbers in North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho.  New cars also seem to be joining the trend – which I find heartening.

Not all colors are created equal. I like yellow cars, but it must be a “good” yellow. Porsche and Ferrari use a great yellow – pretty much identical to my 2000 Ford Focus. When we purchased our Fiat, we passed by the yellow shade because it was too bland. Besides, it’s an Italian car, so it should be red, all things being equal. But they seldom are, and the Fiat red was not inspiring either, so we paid extra for “Rosso Brilliante,” which is a darker red with some brightener in it – much better.  The new model Corvette comes in a wonderful deep metallic green that I bet few people would order.  I would, but I am not all that fond of the car. The previous Z06 model comes in a great shade of yellow or an even better shade of metallic maroon.   Come on lottery ticket!

And what does all this mean?  Pretty much nothing, unless you work for a car company judging consumer buying trends and color preferences.  Bring on the reds, yellows, metallic greens, blues, and deep maroons, I say!

 

Copyright 2014                            David Preston

Posted in Cars, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt III

Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt III – August 15th – 17th,  2014

This year’s edition of the Scavenger Hunt would be different for me – my first time attending as a participant instead of as the representative of Ride West.  I ended up taking on the task of corralling most of the door prizes, and we ended up with more than ever.  Possibly because I no longer felt awkward about contacting friends at other dealerships who are competing with Ride West!  Accordingly, I gathered large boxes of cool stuff from Nelson-Rigg, Lynnwood Triumph, Smokey Point Cycle Barn, and I-90 Motorsports.

A special note for Kerry Deaton at I-90, who forgot all about the door prizes until too late Thursday night. Instead of accepting my “That’s OK – next time,” he chose to get up early Friday morning, ride with the door prizes from his home to where some of us met for breakfast to deliver some amazing gifts, and then turn around and ride to work at I-90 in Issaquah – probably about 80 miles all told. Full respect!

I was certainly assisted by Ride West, as I took them the door prizes Thursday morning, added other prizes and some Riders stuff, and also dropped off a large bag with my camping gear.  All of it went in the Ride West events van. This was such a help, as taking camping gear on a Speed Triple plus door prizes plus… won’t work.

Three of us left brekkie together, while Bill Hucks chose to take the short route across the pond on the ferry.  Bill is the techno-whiz source for the event, and had earlier delivered his computer and assorted accoutrements to Deb Shiel, who’d be taking her truck.

Donna Gaross was to go with us, but a late emergency at work meant she had to take the ferry later in the day.

And so we were off.  Tony Basile with his Ural sidecar (which also carried his pizza paddle for duty Saturday night), Robert Okrie on his BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, and me on my trusty Triumph Speed Triple, which would cross the 40,000 mile mark during the weekend.

The initial plan was to follow a complex route Tony had laid out that would take us east and then south – skirting the traffic horror that is I-5.  Just in case, I placed an old school actual paper map in my tank bag.  Good thing, as Tony and Robert’s “smart phones” proved to be having an idiot day and would not show the route.

As is the theme for my trips this summer, it was raining – counter to all the forecasts. Still believing in the forecast (and why?) I did not put the liner in my Rev’It! jacket, and was soon entertained by water soaking into my turtleneck and shirt combo.

Additional amusement came from following Tony. For one thing, he would often loft the right wheel of the sidecar just for fun. Even better, his tail lights featured a Ural-specific “random” function. Sometimes both taillights would work, and sometimes only one. Sometimes there would be a brake light, and sometimes not.  Took me a while to figure out what I was seeing, or not seeing.

At one point Tony turned on a small highway I was pretty sure dead-ended in the middle of Mt. Rainier, but I’d never actually followed that highway so maybe…  As we passed Carbonado and a sign saying “No Gas from here on,” I realized Tony was directionally challenged, so I caught and passed the two in front and whoa-ed us all down for the first of several U-turns.

For the rest of the day I relied on my map, gradually turning to mush inside the Nelson-Rigg tank bag, which is water proof but not humidity proof. I was determined not to lead the ride, as I did that for 14 years. Whenever I knew an intersection with a turn was coming I would pass the pair in front of me again, lead them through the turn, and then wave them by.

In this fashion we managed to make the 80 mile trip (if you use the ferry) into a 230 mile day of great fun!

Once at the Cove RV Park and Store, we set up camp and met up with friends old and new.  Tracy Jeffries had already arrived with the Ride West van and all of the stuff for the event was set up, so all I needed to do was fetch my gear bag out of the van and erect the tent, etc. Spoiled!

By evening many of the participants had arrived, including Mary McGee – the “star” of the event. At the age of 77, with more than 50 years of racing on her resume and personal friendships with virtually everyone of note in sports car road racing, motorcycle road racing, and motorcycle off-road racing, Mary is a treasure horde of stories that go on forever. I knew she would inspire all Saturday evening with her stories, as she did last year.

We used Deb’s truck and Mary’s rental car to ferry those interested to the Gooeyduck restaurant for their $14.99 prime rib special. A great time, assisted by watching the end of a Mariner’s game  (they won), and then the first half of a Seahawks pre-season game that looked more like a highlight reel as they crushed San Diego.  We had a lot of time to watch, as the service was beyond slow and finally reached full ineptitude status.   My little group was served first, so I’ll leave the bitter complaints to others, but I doubt we will return.

One of the fun aspects of the evening was getting to meet “Flank Steak Kay’s” new fella. She earned the name the first year (she’s an amazing cook) and each year brings ever more of her famous flank steak for the Saturday night potluck, and it always disappears in minutes.  We teased her that we had not met this “Rory” person yet and had not “approved” of him. That went away in very short order. What a nice man!

We spent the evening watching last week’s Moto GP on the “big screen” attached to a wall and played from Bill’s computer.  With his Moto GP subscription there are no commercials, and we even substituted the commentary (which we could replicate with more wit) for a background of various funk – jazz music.  Awesome!

Saturday morning again this year Kay volunteered to make breakfast for all for a donation to Riders, and Rory was there to help. In addition, one of Rory’s sons and his wife drove in to assist, and the 4 of them fed thirty of more people an amazing repast – with Riders for Health getting the entire take of the donations.

For the actual event, you could choose from a variety of street or off-road routes, or make up your own.  You can ride in a group, as almost everyone does, or go solo. You get a list of “targets,” with varying point values, and in the evening you sit down with a “judge” (either Bill or Deb) to go over your pictures.  Creative cheating and bribes are encouraged.

My street group consisted of Tony with his Ural,  Mike with a 2nd Ural  (how many events have you attended with TWO Ural sidecars?), Donna on her Ninja 500, Bill Hucks on his Honda CBR 250, Phoenix Rudner on his BMW R 1200GS with his dog Tapas in a backpack, and me on my Speed Triple.  Eclectic.

I recommended that we first stop at a flea market fund raiser for the local fire brigade – 8 miles or so down the road at the fire station. My group had stopped there last year and had a fun time and also scored a lot of points with pictures of items.

You might think it would be pretty easy to find a flea market at a fire station right on the road you are riding, but Tony made it more complicated. Eventually they all joined me there, as after Tony’s 2nd wrong turn I chose to just ride to it and wait for them.

We were heading for Lake Wynoochie, which I’d never heard of.  Actually, I had heard of it last year, rode part way there, and promptly forgot all about it. Part of the way there I figured out that my map did not actually show all the roads – hmmm.  Accordingly, in a remote area Tony paused at a house with a fellow with a Harley in the front yard and asked him for directions. He informed us that there was a boring way and a great way.  The great way featured lots of twisties, but also “about 5 miles” of dirt road, but he assured us it would not be a problem.

The Honda CBR 250, the Kawasaki Ninja 500, and the Triumph Speed Triple are not your first, 2nd, or 83rd choices as dirt bikes but hey – let’s check it out.  When we got to the dirt section Tony on his two wheel drive Ural and Phoenix on the BMW GS 1200 led off. If the going got rough they would see it first and we could always change our minds and take the boring route instead.  As it turned out – no worries – and we rode to Lake Wynoochie for a lovely break and fantastic scenery.

On the way back I was being a good boy and following obediently, as I had been for two days.  But really, the road was perfect, there was no traffic or population, and the Urals cruise at about 50mph.   This does not abide…

Finally I pulled out and passed and headed down the road at a pace more suitable for a Speed Triple.  Phoenix caught my drift, and followed me and then passed me, which made the GoPro video I was creating much more fun!  Eventually we came to the turn back onto the dirt, and I turned sideways and stopped in the middle of the road for the others behind to see me when they arrived and for Phoenix, when he came back after blowing by the turn.  We regrouped in a few minutes, traversed the dirt section, and had a pleasant cruise back to camp.

We spend a lot of time consuming a lot of incredible food. Tony made several pizzas in the outdoor oven, there was Kay’s flank steak, and the owners of The Cove RV Park donated a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of fresh crab!

As Deb and Bill did their judging duties, Deb asked me to come up with “Special Awards” for folks who did not win the contest.  She wanted 3 or 4, but I came up with about two dozen.  After representatives from the two winning teams (there was a tie) duked it out in a spirited game that involved tossing two balls attached by a string and trying to loop them over one of three horizontal cords on a rack (harder than it sounds) we began to dispense the special awards.   I don’t recall all of them, but the ones I do remember will give you the flavor.

 

Highest Speed Attained Award:              Phoenix

Loudest Riding Pants Award:                  Kurt (this was actually a compliment. Kurt wears orange and white off-road pants and primarily white boots. They still looked that way when he returned.  If I’d ridden off-road for a day I’d look like someone dragged by a horse through a swamp)

Best New Boyfriend Award:                    Rory

GQ Style Award:                                        Tony and Me (matching shirts and shorts)

Best Photographer Award:                     Gary (a perennial award)

Best Inappropriate Language Award:      Mary McGee

Most Farkles Award:                             Tad (Also meant to be a compliment, as he’s added a lot of function to his BMW GS 800 Adventure.  Later I was told of the chrome made-in-China highway pegs he’d added –   oh good grief!)

Tardy Award:                                             Ruth – who arrived after all had returned

Best Ural Technology Award:                 Mike (fuel injection!)

And many more…

I think every person got something in the way of a door prize (one of my goals) and after that I auctioned off several items that had been donated by the participants (!), including two bottles of “Dirty Girls” wine, and four (!) bottles of Scotch, Brandy, etc.

And then for the highlight of the evening, as Mary McGee entertained all with stories of the famous and infamous from her decades of racing. As she did last year, she mesmerized all.  Amazing human being.

As the night ebbed on we watched more motorcycle videos from Bill played on the wall, and enjoyed the bonfire with a wagon load of wood also donated by The Cove. Conversations flowed back and forth, and I am sure the dirt riding folks have many a tale to tell that I missed out on.

Sunday morning was a treat that I’m kicking myself I forgot. For those who remembered to get up at 5am, or were able to, Bill played the Moto GP race from Brno LIVE.

People got up at their own sweet pace, and packed up slowly, still enjoying the whole atmosphere. Tad made individual cups of his “2nd Crack” home roasted coffee, with all the French press and filter and etcetera ephemera he’d brought with him.  About the time it occurred to me to help pack up the Ride West van I realized that others had already done all that!

Many went up the road a bit for a farewell breakfast, but my group chose to just ride to the ferry. Even that was special, as the crossing was slowed several times by – we never found out. The ferry would slow, or even stop, and the fog horn blew repeatedly. There was intense fog, and a lookout crew member at the bow. When we finally reached Edmonds a crew member was pointing with his arm, as evidently he could see the pier better than the captain could in the command house.  Eerie sunshine lit up the fog and made it all look like a movie set.

But no worries – we were ashore and then home.   And now the wait for next year.

There are many things that make this event special, but what stands out to me is that everyone brings something special to the party.  As I picture each person in my head, I see them smiling, and usually helping out in some way.  Display areas are erected, food is prepared, clean-up takes place, and a multitude of tasks are completed with ease, but never alone and never with the need to be asked.

In addition there is the generosity. People pay the entry fee, bring more to the potluck than they can consume, donate additional items of value to be auctioned off, and participate in the auction.  Gary Stebbins even raised his one bid for one item because he thought it should bring more!

Mary has promised to return, and healed from shoulder surgery, she will be riding a street bike next year.  What do you intend to do when you are 78?

 

David Preston                              Copyright 2014

 

 

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part VII

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part VII

I reached Lewistown, Montana in the mid-afternoon, and stopped for fuel and to inquire about any reasonably priced motels with outdoor pools. I was told I could have one or the other but not both, and was referred to a Super 8 a mile or so through town.

Resigned to a blah experience, I idled through the small town and suddenly – there it was. The “Trail’s End” motel – a virtual time capsule of the 1950s motels I loved as a child. A U shaped small business with a small office at the base and only about 15 units. The elderly man at the counter was the caretaker, on temporary duty for the manager. I explained my joy at finding such a place, and stated that I’d never had a bad experience with a motel like this.

“Well then, this will be your first,” he replied. But he was kidding.  I pushed my bike ten feet from the office to my room, and soared back in time. A small room with one bed, a small bathroom, and a TV and small fridge. Perfect.  The “smoker’s area” was a pair of chairs right outside the door.

How old was this motel? Your room is opened with an actual metal key.  How quaint! The key, in fact, did not work, as I could not remove it with the door locked, but it seemed churlish to mention it. I just left the door unlocked.

Unpacked and changed into shorts, I reposed in one of the chairs and basked in my good fortune. A few doors down I noticed and man and a woman that were either Amish or Mennonite by their attire, which was intriguing.  Eventually I wandered across the street to the old school drive in, and dined in style with an excellent cheeseburger, Dr. Pepper, and fries.  Bliss.

Back to my chair for the evening, the gentleman I’d noticed earlier came by and sat down to chat.  I asked if he were Amish or Mennonite, as I knew the Amish were not allowed to drive. He explained they were Amish, and had a driver for the white van in front of their room. They’d come West with their daughter and a friend of hers, and a non-Amish driver. The intent was to help a friend in a nearby Amish settlement move.  On the way back they would take a meandering route, and I believe he mentioned the Grand Canyon. I asked if he’d take pictures and then put on a slide show for the community, and then asked quickly, in case I’d offended, if they were allowed to use the technology of slide projectors.  They are, and he explained it would be quite something.

Chatting with him was fascinating.  He was interested in my Triumph, and although he knew nothing about motorcycles, he could tell it was not the typical choice for a touring bike. I explained how it worked for me, and we both enjoyed the talk.  I noticed later that the van had business plates, so evidently the Amish purchase vehicles for use as needed, to be driven by others. Interesting compromise.

I think this is one of the finest aspects of traveling alone on a motorcycle. Everyone you meet is friendly, most want to talk, and all seem willing to help you if you have any problems. Would I have taken in this experience if I had been in a car? Maybe.

The next morning dawned rain free (at last!) and I romped into Great Falls for a McDonald’s breakfast that, as usual, was fast, inexpensive, filling, and utterly unremarkable.

After breakfast I rode to the intersection with Highway 200, a route heartily recommended by my friend Walt Greenwood at one of the meetings of our small breakfast group. Highway 200 twists and turns its way all the way to Missoula, and it was every bit the delight Walt had predicted. A gorgeous day, and light traffic. Some semis, some locals, and the occasional pair or trio of motorcycles, all of them cruising at a rate slower than me.  A fantastic way to spend a morning.

Until the construction zone…

I knew I’d been lucky so far. The only construction zones that got in my way had been in Minneapolis, where Susan and I drove around in a rental car looking for places important to my youth we were constantly stymied by an amazing number of Road Closed and Detour signs. As I was already unsure of where I was going, this grew to comic proportions – so much so that when I got home and pulled into the garage Susan had made a sign for me that said “Road Closed – Detour!”

The construction zone on Highway 200 was several miles long, and seemed much longer than that.  It started with a stop for a time, and the fellow in front of me got out of his pickup truck to retrieve a bottle of water from the cooler in the bed. He raised a 2nd bottle toward me and asked if I wanted one.  People are so nice to solo motorcyclists.

Eventually a pilot car arrived and we set off. The surface was gravel and hard-packed dirt, with lots of chuckholes, and I wandered back and forth trying to find a line least likely to bend or fracture a wheel rim.  It would seem to get better, and then worse. Finally the pilot car pulled off and we were back on pavement – for about 100 yards.

Then we were stopped again. The 2nd stretch had no pilot car, and the road gradually got worse, become soft sand and rocks in places.  I thought of all my friends who tease me because I do not enjoy dirt riding very much, and knew they would be telling me what a great time I was having.

Eventually I escaped unharmed and made it to the small town of Bonner, where I celebrated with a long break at a gas station with a deli sort of thing.

The previous day I’d been flirting with altering my route from here to home by going North and riding West across the North Cascades.  After all, I was now almost a full day ahead of my rough pre-ride schedule. Then I remembered that there’d been serious fires in that area when I’d left almost two weeks ago. I could assume that things were better, but when we assume…  Eventually I was overcome with “horse going to the barn” syndrome and simply wanted to be home again.

West of Missoula it got hot – and then it got much hotter.  By the time I reached Post Falls I could tell I was heating up, but even in my leather pants I was not all that uncomfortable. My Rev’It! jacket kept an amazing airflow running through my upper half.   In Post Falls I was riding on a lane of fresh asphalt, and the heat simply baked into me like a potato in an oven.  At the motel later I learned that it was 107 degrees in Post Falls when I rode through – warm enough for sure.

Nearing Spokane, it dawned on me that Spokane would have a rush hour, as the freeway traffic was thickening apace.  It was obvious I would get home tomorrow, a full day early, so what was there to prove?

I chose to veer off in East Spokane, and found the most modern and largest Motel 6 I’d ever seen.  After unpacking and changing, I let the air conditioned room work on me for a bit and then took off for a walk.  Five blocks down was a gas station, where I purchased two cans of cold Budweiser – 25 ounces each – and two small bottles of milk.  On the way back to the motel I paused at a Wendy’s for two big cheeseburgers and some fries.  Back in my room I astonished myself by consuming all of it in short order, except for saving one of the bottles of milk for later. Since I usually do not drink more than two beers, a bit over four was unusual, but a good way to take care of any dehydration.

The last day was a simple romp across Washington on I-90. Many people hate this route, but I kind of like it.  On a Wednesday the dreaded back-up East of Cle Elum did not appear, and I sped home unimpeded.

On trips in my youth I was always worried the last day. Much like what I’ve read that winning race drivers experience on the last lap, I’d hear phantom sounds of mechanical mayhem from the engine. Paranoia raged that serious problems would rear up in my face. This time not so much – the Triumph had run perfectly the entire way, was in fact getting better mpg than when I left, and seemed to strut its way the remaining 300 miles.

Home!

A word or two about the Triumph Speed Triple: When you own a Triumph you always hear remarks about oil leaks (“marking its territory”), or electrics (Joseph Lucas – Prince of Darkness), all of them stemming from the Triumphs of the 1960s, and all of them deserved at that time.

But now?  My Triumph is a 2006 model with almost 40,000 miles on the odometer. On this trip I never bothered to check the oil level, water in the radiator, or tire pressure.  To write this I did check the oil, and the bike consumed about ½ a cup of oil in 3700 miles.  That works for me.

All in all, the trip went pretty much exactly as I had imagined it would, for over 40 years.

I’m now pondering the when and where of the next one
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part VI

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part VI

Every trip seems to have “the day,” a day of difficulties that you remember more for what you survived than the pleasure of the ride. Sunday the 27th started out well, however.

I left Chanhassen riding North on I-494 and then I-94, heading for Fargo.  The road was pleasant, and the sun gradually warming things up and the morning rain, which by now I sort of expected.

I was distracted at one point by a sign indicating a turn for “Lake Wobegone Trails,” which I discovered just now is named after the fictional town on “Prairie Home Companion.”

As I approached Fargo I had a dilemma.  Two decades ago Susan and I had befriended a first year teacher, Michelle Moore. She had just moved West with her Microsoft husband from Iowa and Iowa State University, where Michelle had gained All-American status both academically and as a fast-pitch softball player. She’d been hired to teach and be the head coach of the JHS softball team.  In November, her 3rd month of teaching, one of the parents approached her and volunteered to be one of her assistant coaches. She thought about it for a couple of days and then told the parent that since this was her first program, she preferred to put together her own staff. The man replied with “That’s fine, but this is Juanita. If you do not make it to the state tournament you will probably not be back.”

I was appalled and really angry. This was a first year teacher!  I told Michelle that what she needed was an old crusty fart to stand between her and the parents.  I did not know diddly-squat about fast pitch softball, but I could hit fly balls to the girls and do other minor chores.  I would volunteer to be her unpaid assistant.

What followed were two years of mostly terrific adventures. For one thing, the team did make it to the state tournament the first year, and just missed out the second. I could never be bothered to learn the myriad signals sent to the batter, so I was the 1st base coach, responsible only for warning the runner if the 2nd base person was trying to sneak behind her for a tag.  Since I got bored, I began making up signals to send to Michelle, many of which cracked her up.  I also actually won and argument with an umpire, probably the peak experience of this career.  The batter took ball three and the umpire mistakenly said “Ball four.”  The batter walked to 1st base and the runner on 1st walked to 2nd.  Then the umpire realized his error and instructed the batter to come back and the runner on 2nd to retreat to first.  I leapt in and complained. The runner on first had actually stolen 2nd, albeit while walking. He agreed, the runner was returned to 2nd, and I was amazed.

I invented a drill for my outfielders. I made a stick figure and put a shirt on it to represent the cut off person.  I would hit a long fly ball and if the girl could catch it and then hit the cut-off, she would receive a Snickers bar as a reward. That cost me several Snickers bars, as the girls were very good. The drill was so popular that the infielders wanted a shot. Then I went a step too far.  I painted a large GO REBS on the shirt.   Fine, but from a distance the G and the O looked like two big breasts. The girls thought this was hilarious.

I also had the best batting average on the team. One day at practice it was decided that I should try an at bat. We had two pitchers who both went on to college on full-ride scholarships, which was a significant factor in our success.

I’d played some baseball and softball, but never faced a really good fastpitch softball pitcher. The ball leaves her hand at about knee height and then explodes upward toward you!  Her first pitch was, I think, her changeup, and I swung about a day late. Strike One. The second pitch was the same – Strike Two!  For the third pitch I think I started to swing while she was in her wind-up and I drove a line drive right up the middle for a single. Everything stopped. This was a girl who gave up one or two hits a game against some of the best players in the area. Nobody moved and nobody spoke, as what had happened was inconceivable.

I was smart enough never to go up to bat again, and “retired” with a 1000 average. Later, one of the players went over with me, in detail, everything I had done wrong. I stood at the back of the box, as you do for hardball. Wrong. I swung off my back foot. Wrong. I held the bat – wrong. It was all great fun.

The first year I had great fun with the umpires. They would show up and assume I was the head coach.  We would chat for a while and then they would ask for my line-up. I would explain that they would have to talk to the Head Coach for that.  They would always look around in confusion.  Who would that be?  I would direct them to Michelle, who was usually doing warm up exercises with her team, and with a hat and a pony tail and sunglasses looked exactly like one of the players.  Eventually they all knew exactly who she was, because our team was so well coached and had such success.

More importantly, Michelle was the only person in my life that has ever been able to explain to me something wrong without creating resentment.  I had coached about 30 teams over the years and was hardly a rookie, but I handled a couple of situations that Michelle did not approve of.  Each time she explained what she had seen, what she did not like about it, and how she would prefer I handled a similar situation in the future. Here was a 25 year old explaining to the old guy, in ways that were perfectly acceptable, how to change his behavior.  Remarkable.

Brian and Michelle had moved to Fargo several years ago and we had lost touch.  Did I want to stop and see if I could find her phone number?  Ironically, I messed up a confusing freeway exit while stopping for fuel and rode by the Microsoft office building – twice.  I decided not to bother her, and two days after I got home she called me, for the first time in several years and said “Guess where I am?”  I responded with “Guess where I just was!”  They were in Juanita on a vacation, so we had dinner at our house with Michelle and Brian and their two fantastic sons, and it all worked out well.

West of Fargo the drudgery began.  It never really got warm, and the rain came and went in that frustrating pattern where you are dealing with road slop kicked up onto your face shield. It would be far easier to ride in a steady rain. Worse, the wind picked up – a lot. When my nose is touching the chin bar of my helmet the wind is really strong.  Given the conditions, there was little reason to stop at rest areas or for fuel more than absolutely required, and as a result rode 556 miles – my longest distance of the trip.  An almost total absence of corners for the entire width of North Dakota did not help.

I ended up in Dickinson, North Dakota, almost to the Western border of the state.  I stopped at what looked like a 2nd tier motel, and the woman at the desk could hardly be bothered to look at me. I asked for a room on the first floor, as motorcyclists like to be near the bike and be able to see. After a long pause while she looked at her computer screen with abject boredom, she announced that the room would be $122.

For the first time in my life, I said “I think I’ll keep looking.”  That was fine with here.  Four blocks up the street I found a Rodeway Inn of the same apparent level of “unposh,” but the rate was $57.

Dickinson is in the oil boom going on in North Dakota.  I fellow motorcyclist later mentioned that I was wise no to choose the northern route on US 2 I had considered, as the semis and oil rigs trucks were no numerous it was one big traffic jam all day.  Dickinson is a town that might be described as “hardscrabble,” although I do not know what that word means literally. The people work hard, and are hard. I had never had a motel room with a small safe in it for your valuables and guns!

I parked my bike right outside the window and left the window open all night so I could hear if anyone was messing with my bike. That was a greater worry than someone breaking in to my room.  It was the longest and hardest day of the trip. My left forearm ached from holding on to the bike in the wind, bringing worries about how the two severed tendons in that elbow would make their absence known, and felt, the next day.

In the morning I suffered through what the Rodeway provided as a “breakfast.” It was truly horrid, bur for a $57 room you really can’t expect all that much.

Now the highway began to rise and fall through North Dakota’s version of the Badlands, and it was wonderful. And no rain!

 

Thirty miles west of Dickinson I paused at the “Painted Canyon Rest Area” that was utterly spectacular. The vistas spread out in all directions, the colors a panoply of delight. Another “Beware of Rattlesnakes” sign added some zest, but I did not see any.  My left wrist hurt some, which I expected, but it was not debilitating.

Into Montana, and a turn off I-94 at Forsyth for a stretch of US 12 I had been looking forward to.  Over 100 miles long, with virtually no population at all, so I made sure the fuel tank was full.  And I learned that my mental state had changed in forty years.

In my youth I’d loved roads like this. Ignorance is bliss. Now, while I cruised along at 85mph, I began to ponder what I would do if a problem arose.  A deer strike?  I would be sitting there injured or dead for a long time before anyone came along. What if I missed a turn?  Flat tire?  The logical side of my brain argued back. I was unlikely to miss a turn as all of the turns I came to could be handled easily.  If I had a flat tire I could take out the tire repair kit and air compressor in the pack and fix it, for crying out loud!  Still, the voices of paranoia would not be stilled – voices I never heard when I was 22 because I was young enough and had such ignorance that the possibility of a problem or two never entered my head.

Desperate to break the cycle (pun not intended at all) and think of something else, I began to rehearse a short speech to be given as a toast at the rehearsal dinner for our son’s wedding in September.  That did the trick!   I gave the speech over and over in my head, making it shorter and refining it, and that got me all the way back to the relative security of Highway 87 – a “red line” road on the map and thus a more major road.

By the late afternoon I’d reached Lewistown, and it had been a great day.

Coming in Part VII                  The best motel, a great burger, and chatting with the Amish
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part V

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part V

The all years’ reunion for Minnetonka High School is held every four years. It began in 2002, which was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the school. For the class of 1965, thanks to the tireless Sharon, there was an additional treat – a three hour boat cruise on the lake for Class of ’65 alumni and assorted spouses.   When we gathered at the marina in Excelsior for the cruise, Sharon had printed up stick on name badges for all, with the graduation pictures. This was very helpful to me, as I was not able to identify everyone on sight as I had Charlie the previous day.

The cruise was fantastic. Sharon had set it up with a cash bar and a buffet of fantastic sandwiches and shrimp, encouraging people to “mingle” and not get stuck in place at a sit down dinner.  I had dozens of conversations with old friends and heard a lot of stories about me in high school that I had long forgotten.  Most of these people seemed to have photographic memories, while I had moved away and left the past, even though it was happy, in the past.

I am not sure something like this could take place in the Seattle area. I’d never heard of a high school with an alumni associate, complete with glossy quarterly magazine. The school has a wall dedicated both to a staff hall of fame and a student hall of fame. The majority of my classmates had never moved very far away, and even many of those who had seemed to be in very close contact with everyone they grew up with.  As I’d never been to a reunion, I was often a bit lost. Susan was terrific, and enjoyed lots of short conversations with friends from my youth, who were all warm and gracious and welcoming to her.

I had a chat with my brother in law’s partner about this last week.  He grew up in Indiana and feels that this retention of high school contacts and memories is a Midwest thing.

In any case, the boat cruise was three hours of mingling and chatting and listening to fabulous stories.  All of them were positive, and most were funny.   I suppose it’s natural that only those with positive memories would want to return for such events, but even so, getting over 100 people (including spouses) onto a paid boat excursion 49 years later is really impressive.  I recall that there were just over 400 in our graduating class.

My oldest brother graduated #1 in his class of 1960. My second brother graduated #2 in the class of 1961.  I was #96.  I exclaimed to my parents that they must be proud that all three of their sons had graduated in the top 25% of their respective classes.  As they had spent years wondering at the disparity between my standardized test scores and my actual grades, they were not all that amused….

One of my friends from childhood was Gary Mosiman. He reminded me of a fond memory, in a surprising way.  When we were in grade school, ever winter recess was spent in massive snowball fights, which were allowed back then. High banks of snow pushed up around the parking lot by the plows made natural forts. The two “teams” in those days were the Indians vs. the US Cavalry.   My mother, in a fit of genius, sewed a yellow stripe down the outside of each pant leg of a pair of jeans, and I had – Cavalry pants!    Gary told me that those pants made him virtually sick with envy every time I wore them. He begged his mother to make him a pair, and she refused.  I had no idea.

I also spent some time with Jerry Marquardt. Jerry and I had combined our lives several times in different ways. In 7th grade we ran against each other for class president. I won, and I was told the reason was that some of the kids from Jerry’s school did not like him, and voted for someone they did not know at all instead. Whatever the reason, being the President of the 7th Grade Class was fun, and also got me the chance to meet and spend time with Olympic Champion Jesse Owens, so I am very glad Jerry lost!

My senior year in high school the basketball coach watched me in gym class one day.  I was a mediocre or less player, but on that day I was hitting every shot I took.  He asked me to turn out for the team.  I knew I was WAY out of my depth, but gosh, when the coach asks you…  I was one of those cut from the team, and should have been, but the team won the state title, so I can always claim I was cut from the best team in the state that year!   And by the way, this was before the complexity of ranking by size. There was no A or AAA or 4A classifications – just one team was the champion – Minnetonka.

During tryouts I lasted long enough to take part in a scrimmage. I was to guard Jerry, and he dribbled down the court looking at me with a silly smirk on his face. I could hear his thoughts in my head – “I may go to the right, or to the left, or just straight over the top of you, but it makes no difference because you can’t stop me.”  So true.

In the state title game, the opponents decided to slow down the high-powered MHS offense with a full-court press. The way you beat a full court press is with a lot of quick and accurate passes.  You do not give the ball to your all-state guard and let him dribble around and through the press.  Unless it was Jerry. He destroyed their full-court press all by himself.

At the end of the game the best looking cheerleader rushed up and leaped into Jerry’s arms, and my jealousy soared.  Three years later it got worse. I was sharing a house with four other guys, and three blocks away Jerry and his gorgeous wife were in their rented house. In the driveway sat a brand new Triumph Bonneville. Envy doesn’t begin to cover my emotions.

Years later I learned from Jerry that the Triumph had been stolen when it was two months old, and that he and the cheerleader later divorced. There’s lesson in there somewhere. I suppose.

Jerry was my lab partner for Chemistry.  Because he had exceptionally quick hands, whenever we needed a piece of equipment for an experiment he was just as likely to snatch one from another table than to use one checked out to us.  When it came time to check in our stuff at the end of the year, I was shocked to see we had multiples of almost everything!  Jerry just smiled.

But the best story is one I was delighted to hear that Jerry has been telling people in the same way I have for 49 years.  One day in class the teacher was back in his office. I was sitting on the lab counter for who knows what reason, when we noticed that the tall chrome water faucet was leaking at its base.  I put my hand on the top of it and wiggled it back and forth and said “Jerry, this is loose.”  At that moment the pipe fractured at the base and came off in my hand!  The stream of water shot straight up to the ceiling and then sprayed out and rained down on the class, who were screaming and running for the walls.   In panic, I tried to stem the gusher by placing my thumb over the pipe. Now the water was shooting out sideways, giving me a nice wet crotch for my efforts.  The only part of the story I did not recall was that the teacher dashed back into the room and yelled “Marquardt!” because he assumed Jerry was the culprit for this disaster.

After three hours of socializing both of us were utterly spent.  We drove back to the Inn and woke up the next day still exhausted. I learned something here.  For all the years I worked in the motorcycle industry I would occasionally lead groups of customers on rides lasting from three (most of them) to five to nine days. I had a terrific time on all of them, and nothing ever went seriously wrong, but I was always useless for a day or two after – totally drained of adrenaline.  I always assumed it was due to the stress of riding a motorcycle far and fast for several days, and in fact I was a little worried about my stamina for this trip. Turns out it was not the motorcycle at all, but the strain of being social and nice to everyone and trying to make sure everyone was OK and having a great time that was so debilitating.

Saturday we planned a relaxing morning, and drove into Minneapolis to Lake Harriet, a small body of water that contains a walking track all around it and a bandstand and concession stand at one end. I have fond memories of attending evening concerts there as a child, and a couple or romantic dates in college. I would rent a canoe, eager to show off my prowess and a canoeist, and the young lady and I would paddle around listening to the concert and gorging on some delicious fresh taffy. I lifted the entire scene for my novel Mourning Ride, but placed it in a fictional town in Kansas.

Like everything else, it had changed a lot. The bandstand was all new and rotated 90 degrees.  My musician older brother told me that evening of one big improvement. The old one had the musicians facing directly into the sun, and there were many pieces where the director could not be seen at all!

I will probably use the current one in some fashion for the current novel, so in a way it is good that it is different.

Back to the motel for an outstanding lunch outside a local spot, and then a brief rest to prepare for the evening.

We left early to drive to Minnetonka High, where a shuttle system of buses has been set up to deliver celebrants to the event. Arriving in Excelsior before the event opened, we adjourned to another outside eatery downtown and had a fantastic light nosh.  As we watched the hustle and bustle, it occurred to us that this was the whitest crowd we had ever seen.  We were surrounded by tall and quite good looking men and women of all ages, especially the women.  I may be biased there.  Eventually we decided to count the non-whites, if we could find any. Eventually, two black people strolled by, and then a family of five Asians. That was it.  Amazing.

We arrived as the event was just starting. It was held in a long rectangle of lakeside park down a ways from the marina of the night before. Inside there were several large tents and a schedule for 30 minute time periods for two year grouping of alums to meet up. Expansive lawns provided standing room for several thousand people aged 20 – 85.There was also a huge tent selling MHS t-shirts and even used football jerseys.  These were tempting and reasonably priced, but since I had never played for the team I decided that would be stupid.

Although I’d played center on offense and center linebacker on defense through 9th grade, and been a co-captain in 9th, when my grades for the fall quarter came home my parents abruptly retired me from football.  In hindsight, that was for the best.

And then things got decidedly weird.  My brother Jim is 4 years older than me, and I had not seen him since my wedding day – in 1972.  Estranged from my father, Jim also stopped communicating with me.  No good explanation was ever offered. I sent him Christmas cards and letters for 25 years with no response. When my father moved back to our area when he was about to die and knew it (so he could be closer to me), Jim never offered any words of support or anything else, and allowed me to deal with the funeral and all the attendant horrors of dealing with my father’s 5th wife, who was a real piece of work. He has never seen or spoken to my 39 year old daughter and 36 year old son. I had sent both of my brothers (eldest brother George lives in Auburn, California) an e-mail several months ago to say that I would be riding to the reunion on my bike, the dates I would be there, and my phone number.  George replied that he was not going this year, although he had been to the one four years ago. No response from Jim.

During my years at Ride West BMW I was paid a couple of visits by my classmate Nancy Carlson and her husband Bob Manders.  They would be visiting relatives in Bellingham, and would drop by Ride West on their way through Seattle with doughnuts for coffee and amiable conversation. During one of these sessions I learned that Nancy and Bob were good friends with Jim and his wife Judith!  I explained our family dynamic, which probably sounded weird – because it is.

As we strolled across the lawn we ran into Nancy and Bob.  Nancy told me that Jim was there.  She had asked him if he had seen me and he responded with “No. He’s been in town three days and has not even called me.”  At that point Susan blurted out “That’s total bullshit!”  She immediately apologized and was mortified, but I laughed as I told Nancy that I had sent my brother my phone number but that I did not even know his.  She asked if I wanted her to take me to see him and I declined, explaining that I’d played this game for forty years and that I was done.

We moved on to the tent where the Class of ’65 was to gather, and as we approached Susan elbowed me and said “That’s Jim!”  Remarkable she should pick him out, as she had not seen him in 42 years either and he looks quite a bit different.  And not all that healthy, really.  We chatted for a few minutes, but I was really uncomfortable even talking to him, and I realized I had a lot of rage inside me that I’d been glossing over for years.   We broke away and wandered off.

After a few minutes I felt badly. I would probably never see him again, after all, nor hear from him, and surely I should take his picture and make more of an effort. I left Susan in an unconscionably long line at the beer tent, and soon found Jim at one of the food vendors.  I took his picture and we chatted, quite amiably, for several more minutes.

After that the event began to lose fizz for me. I had already spent time with most of the old friends I had wanted to see.  Class President Don Mark (I gave him nomination speech) had gone on to a fabulous and storied career, and was rumored to be in line for a seat on the state Supreme Court. We enjoyed some time on the Friday night, but he did not think he would be able to get away from other commitments to attend Saturday.  As it turns out, he did manage to get there, shortly after we left. A shame.

We were “socialed” out, and also needed to get up before dawn for Susan to catch her flight home. As for me, I was eager to get on the bike and not talk to anyone for a while. We chose to amble over to the shuttle bus stop.

Jim again!  He had also used the shuttle, and was waiting for the same bus. We chatted all the way back to the school, and as we debarked asked if we would like to go somewhere to get a beer.  I was confused, but really, what kind of a jerk would say no to that?

We followed his lovely Audi A4 (with a stick transmission – some family traits are stronger than others) to a restaurant and had some nice dessert.

On the way back to the motel, Susan felt this had been monumental, and now everything would change.  I disagreed, and predicted nothing more would be heard of it.  We shall see.  As a last point of oddness, when I got home I decided to be a big boy and sent Jim an e-mail thanking him for waiting at the tent for us.  No response from him, but Judith wrote back to say she was sorry she had missed us and had hoped to get together Sunday; not realizing we were leaving.  Since I’d sent our itinerary to both of them months before, the event ended as it started – with me confused.

Back at the motel, we did some packing and reflected on a wonderful weekend. With all of that – it was time to go home.

Coming in Part VI                                                        Heading Home
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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