Thursday, October 20, 2011

Now is the winter of our discontent

Last Sunday, I had to be at work at 6 a.m., which meant leaving for work at oh-dark 5:30, in the middle of October. In Kansas City, that meant dressing pretty warmly. But I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped outside, swaddled in Aerostich, to feel that it was almost summery. We've had that kind of wonderful Indian Summer/fall here.

I unlocked and uncovered the Triumph. For the last few weeks, I've been commuting on my scooter, because the last time someone tried to steal the Triumph, they left it short-circuited and completely flattened the battery. I recharged it, and it worked in the heat of summer, but when we had the first touch of fall in September and temperatures briefly cooled, the battery lost enough voltage that it wouldn't turn over the starter.

It took me a while to get around to replacing the battery, during which time I got used to commuting on the scooter, even though my route includes about ten miles of divided highway. It was one of those deals where, the first time the Triumph wouldn't start and I had to take the Vino, I thought it was going to be real ordeal, and when it wasn't that bad, I got used to it. To be honest, my full-sized motorcycle is a turd; it wasn't that big a step down to the Vino.

But, with a new battery and (however brief) a new lease on life, the Triumph felt like a big step up from the scooter on Sunday morning. With a warm wind blowing from the south, I picked just the right line on my on-ramp -- one of the two 'interesting' bends along my commute. I'm using interesting pretty loosely. The tires on the Triumph don't have too much mileage on them, but they are about eight years old; it's not like I'm really going to lean it way over.

I've spent the last two weeks droning down the right hand lane on the scooter with the throttle pinned as every car passed me. It was a pleasure to slip through the cars for a change, and I had time for my mind to wander a bit. Actually, it wandered pretty far. to thoughts of T.E. Lawrence riding his Brough Superior. (Actually Brough Superiors, plural; he owned eight or so.) I figured that my Triumph, as crap as it is by modern standards, is probably functionally superior to anything Lawrence owned.

Mentally, I identified the Triumph's weak points (they are legion) and fantasized about actually turning it into a good bike. Of course, even scratching the surface of that project (fork, triple clamp, brakes, wheels and tires, shocks and swing arm, flat slides, and general weight reduction -- just for starters) would cost thousands of bucks. And at the end of the process, no matter how clever I was, the bike would still be nowhere near as fast as, say, a 2004 Suzuki GSX-R750 -- a bike I could find on Craigslist any day of the week, for sale for much less than the cost of building up the Triumph.

Anyway, all that is moot. Because winter's inevitable, and for the first time in a decade or more, I have a regular job; it's not an option for me to stay home writing on snow days. That means that I am going to need to be able to commute to the grocery store in the dead of winter. And that, in turn, means I need some kind of crap car (or preferably a crap small pickup.) Ergo, I'm going to have to sell the Triumph and probably my '64 Honda Dream too to fund it.

The wife knows this, and even she realizes that the longer I wait to sell them, the less I'll get for them. And that if I wait until the snow's piling up, I won't have the luxury of being picky about a used car or truck. We've discussed it; we've been discussing it for at least a month.

"Why are you resisting looking for a truck?" She asked me the other day. It's not so much the looking for a truck part I'm resisting, it's the putting my bikes up for sale in order to pay for the truck part. Still, I got her point.

And, about the time that I got to work last Sunday, having really enjoyed the ride, in spite of the fact that it was just a mundane commute on a very mundane motorcycle -- I realized why I've been resisting switching to four wheels to get to my job.

It's that I realize that the way the economy's going, and working at 12 bucks an hour, if I unload my bikes it's not likely that I'll ever replace them. I'm not totally pessimistic about my own future (although if you've been reading my more political posts lately you know I'm pretty pessimistic about the future of the U.S. as a whole.) There are things I've got in development that, if they come together, will certainly allow me to start riding again, and at a higher level than just commuting to a crap job on a crap bike I basically rescued from a scrap yard. wisdom

But making those good things happen is  not within my control, it will take an element of dumb luck for any of them to come true, and I've got a little too much life experience to rely on luck.

When I think back on my racing 'career', such as it was, I often mull over this bit of... In the hundreds of races I entered, I was sometimes a real underdog; I was more usually destined for a mid-pack finish; and once in a while, I was even a favorite to win or at least run in the lead group.

Regardless of where I could be expected to finish, virtually every time I took my place on a starting grid, I had a plan to win the race. If I was a favorite, the plan may have been pretty simple; get a good start, keep my rhythm, and just flat outride everyone behind me. If I was an underdog, the plan might have counted on a couple of red flags to re-bunch the field, and me blitzing the final restart while, hopefully, faster riders crashed into each other and took each other out ahead of me.

The plans could have been plausible then, or far-fetched. But I always had a plan to win.


Until I got to the TT. There, my only plan was to survive. And while it was great to be there and have the experience, the certainty that I'd spent my life savings to get there and the realization that all I could hope to do was finish... It was bittersweet.

After the TT, I rather foolishly let myself get out of touch with my old career, in the ad business, and I got stuck into motorcycle journalism -- a 'profession' that I should have seen was about to go the way of say, maritime navigation, as a career path.

So now, I'm lucky to have a job that makes me one of the working poor, as a clerk at [NAME OF EMPLOYER REDACTED]. And the odds of working my way up and out of that situation are a.) slim and b.) definitely hinge on luck and elements that are totally out of my own control. The overall direction of the economy and the country are sure as hell not in my favor.

Selling my bikes feels like admitting that I don't have a plan to win; that my goal now is simple survival.

I should place ads for them on Craigslist this week. That's what a pragmatist would do; and buy some crap car or truck that will, at least, allow me to get to work throughout the winter.

But somehow I think I'll ride until it's simply impossible to continue. Why stop hoping now?

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