Wednesday, December 24

Holiday Greetings and New Year's Wishes

As the year draws to a end and another one begins, I am sending all of you well-wishes.   May your holidays be filled with joy, happiness and gratitude that you've come this far, that you've survived the highs and lows, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows. No matter the challenges we've all faced, we're still standing. We're all blessed and fortunate to see another day and believe once again in the power of hope and what tomorrow may bring. 

Wishing you all health, peace, and balance in all that you do in the coming year.

Holding each of you in my heart.

Happy Holidays! 

Ring out the Old and Welcome in the New Year.

Thanks for sticking with me this year.  See you on the other side!

Monday, December 15

The continuing quest for answers...

I'll try to keep this short. My life feels consumed by the circumstances surrounding my brother's death--just in case the readers here haven't figured that out by now. I am sorry that feeling stuck keeps showing up here. Believe it or not, I am getting a better.

The officer assigned to the case has finally gotten the paperwork processed to pull the rental car off the road. It's been three weeks (plus) since the hit and run. The officer told me that the car is "very clean" with the exception of evidence of bullet holes! This is consistent with the story the driver told the police, which is that he was being shot at and he didn't, as far as he knows, hit anything or anyone. He claims that another car was involved. I asked the police if he asked the guy why he changed the tires on the car. The answer: They were damaged due to bullets. This is insane! Could it be they were changed to cover up evidence of the accident? I asked why he hadn't been arrested for again driving another rental without a license. The police officer told me. "Someone else would have to arrest him, if I did, I could be charged with harassing him." I just don't get this at all.

The officer told me that there is "no doubt" that this driver hit and killed my brother. He needs an eyewitness or the driver's conscious would need to lead to a confession. IF, however, the car, which has been sent to the State of IL police for investigation of DNA evidence, is returned without DNA evidence, the case is basically closed. Unless someone can put him behind the wheel, this guy walks. The passenger has mysteriously disappeared, we think, because the rumors are flying that he's being sought. No one seems able/willing/ to provide anything but anonymous information.

I've written to an investigative reporter with one of the newspapers here and I'm still waiting for a response. Last week, the house belonging to one of the people whose name I gave to the police, was "shot up" as part of some gang conflict. I don't believe this has anything to do with the case but is symptomatic of the problems frequently transpiring in that community.

If the car is returned with DNA evidence that matches Michael, the January court date for the driver then will be upgraded to a felony. He'll be in January court to address three relatively minor citations he was given when he turned himself in.

Finally, another person who has information on the case has been visited by the mother and grandmother of the driver. The rumor is that she is being paid to keep silent. I've talked to this woman to find out why she hasn't called the police with the info she has. Her excuse, "I'm sick and coughing blood. And, I don't have minutes on my cellphone." I resisted the temptation to say I'd get the phone turned on. To date, I've been squeezed for a total of $500 by another "eyewitness."
I've been shown the error of my ways and will not go down that route again. Desperation will make one do strange things and the people who have unfortunately learned to survive by any means necessary can smell a sucker a mile away.

So, I remain determined, but frustrated and more than a little exhausted.

Monday, December 8

Yo-Yo post and emotions...

The last post is evidence, I hope, of my desire to move on to more motorcycle related posts. I am trying. However, it seems that this period of my life is dominated by my brother Michael's tragic death. I am heavily involved in the investigation. In fact, from what I've been told, I've supplied the investigator with most of the information he has.  I've been helped by generous, amazing people in the community. I'm frustrated and more than a little perturbed that the man who struck Michael still walks the streets--and drive--with impunity. 

I've supplied the license plate number of the car; the name of the passenger in the driver's car; info that the car was a rental (which turns out to be true!); and, the name of several people who saw the man in the car. Yet, he hasn't been picked up. That is until, last Wednesday. He turned himself in to the police accompanied by a lawyer. The community has been mounting pressure in the form of subtle distancing. Some have repeatedly asked him to come forward. The rumor on the street is that his family has encouraged him not to come forward.  

The investigator called me Wednesday night and said, "I have good news and I have bad news." The good was that he was in the police station that very moment. The bad is that he was going to "walk out" with only a few traffic tickets.  One ticket was for driving without a license. Another was for knowing of a traffic accident and not reporting it; the other, I think, was for leaving the scene of an accident. He said he didn't do it and that another car was involved.  The police officer was restricted in what he could ask him because his lawyer prevented that. The officer told me that his man has a "long criminal record" and that he "knows the system" and that he just might get off if no one can actually put him behind the wheel. I don't get this. What about the mounting evidence that does every thing short of that? It's called hit and run, for heaven sake! A person does it and leaves the scene, often long before anyone can get a plate number. But in this case, it happened in a relatively small community, where every one knows everyone else. Where there are no secrets in such places. Where people talk to each other and confessions are inevitably given to friends who talk...

But every person, and there have many, who have called the motor vehicle department anonymously and they have supplied this man's name. This information has been unequivocal in its consistency. No other name has been mentioned!  I even obtained the name of the person who helped the culprit change the tires on the rental car! Yet, this car has not been impounded. I'm trying to resist the feeling that the investigator doesn't care enough to make this a priority case. I could be wrong. But it's how I'm feeling. I keep asking why the car hasn't been impounded. The last response I was given is unacceptable. "We're working on that but the rental company said the car is currently being rented, so we're waiting until it is returned." What the heck is that all about?! That's a bunch of DNA evidence that is being destroyed! The rumor is that the car was re-rented by the same family.  Why doesn't the police have the power to say, "That car is suspected of being involved in a traffic fatality, get it here immediately!?" I can't help feeling that if Michael was a Bush or a Kennedy or even an Obama, his case would garner more attention. I'm hoping this is just my anger talking and not the deep corners of my heart. 

I pressure the investigator often to find out what is happening with all the names I've supplied, some of whom have been interviewed. But I keep hearing that they need someone willing to put their name on paper, to come forward in a public sense. What the police don't seem to get is that these people are afraid. They live in a place where the police do not always "serve and protect."  This man is supposedly part of a crime family.  One threat has already been issued. One person supposedly has already received money and/or drugs to keep quiet. I understand the community's fear. I understand also that many fear the police too. Good people have been harmed in the past.   From their perspective, it must be difficult to know the good from the bad. I get that. And, I'm trying to appreciate the bind this puts people in. Still.The guy is now driving another rental car. I gave the police that license plate number too. I am out some money for paying for some of this information. I am not rich. I can't afford this and I only did it for one critical piece of information. The person didn't know I would pay nor did the person ask. But s/he is in obvious dire financial muck so I did it for his/her children and as a token of my appreciation that the person risked personal safety to come forward and do the right thing. This individual recently moved from the community to a place I will not mention here. This person can put the guy at the scene, standing over my brother. This person saw him drive away. This person saw him return and blend in with the crowd that had assembled at the scene. This person saw the car drag my brother. What more do they need to arrest him?!

The police has told me that they "hope" that by the time he comes in for the traffic tickets they can upgrade the charges to a felony but this is a big "IF." I've been told to prepare myself that this could take a year or more. I don't get that. Why can't they lean harder on the guy who was the passenger, the man who helped change the tires, or, the guy who was threatened to keep quiet--why hasn't these been pursued to the nth degree? 

The investigator told me that when a hit and run occurs, that case will take primacy over old cases. Michael's case is considered old. He was hit 21 days ago; he's been dead 17 days. Strange how something so recent to us, something so fresh in our hearts is considered "old."

I am not a litigious person. But I have contacted a lawyer to see if I can get info on the rental company (Alamo!) and get that car examined. Apologies again for unrelated motorcycle content. I'm trying to switch gears, no pun intended.   But this case is what's on my mind. Not motorcycles. At least not today. Just this.

Thursday, December 4

Get Your own ride!: Triumph Sprint ST or BMW F800ST?

Re-entry rider, Dave has now, after only one season of riding the Suzuki SV650, turned his attention to dedicated tourers. I'm glad he's thinking of a ride he will select and that he doesn't feel obligated to hang on to the SV650. I can understand why he'd want to select his own ride. Riding styles and tastes and comfort levels are subjective. Still. I'm going to hate seeing the SV650, aka "Queenie," go and unless I can come up with a good reason to keep her in the family, I think she'll be putting a smile on a new owner's face come next riding season. It's a shame 'cause that little bullet-proof bike has it all. It's a naked, standard bike that thinks it's a sportbike. It's like owning a fun, frisky pony but without poop to clean up. 

Dave has found that the SV, while a "great" bike on which he has already put about 2000 miles, is not perfectly set up for him. He feels it vibrates too much, which contributes to prematurely tired and achy hands. I never felt any such vibration. He's tried to loosen his grip, wear different gloves, but his problem persists. I suggested those foamy grips that slip on the handlebars but so far he's not tried those.A new bike is in order because he's now figured out the kind of riding he wants to do. Used to be that a bike did whatever you asked of it; just point it in the direction you wanted to go and there you went! Specialization is ubiquitous--no area of our lives have escaped the joys--and curse--of specialization.  A month ago it seemed as if he were leaning more toward gravel and back roads riding. I suggested the V-Strom or the new BMW F650GS or 800GS. That changed with is his historical interest in roads like Rt. 66, Lincoln Highway (Rt. 30) Dixie Highway and Rt 1 and desire for long distances with an emphasis on comfort. He wants an out of the box ride-ready bike, not one he'll have to invest extra monies to get tour ready.  So, his move to the sport tourer has evolved rather naturally. 

The December issue of Road Runner has an article on the Triumph Sprint ST and one ride story taken on Moto Guzzi's Norge. While Dave likes both, each is heavier than ideal for him as are other sports tourers such as Yamaha's FJR, Kawasaki's Concours, and Honda's VFR.  Dave doesn't want a bike too much over 500lbs wet. This reduces his choices considerably. The Triumph is almost too heavy but doable. He likes the matching hard bags that are standard on the bike, the ABS, the gel seat, and its technical, performance features. If he could get the Sprint ST in red, or a nice blue one, he's be ready to sign his name. But dealer distance, resell value, insurance costs and maintenance issues need to be weighed first.

A serious contender must be the BMW F800ST, my bike--and I don't even like matching couple stuff! I'm recommending it nonetheless. I know he'd love the bike.  I offered him several opportunities to sit on it (not ride it) and he always said, "I'll try it later." Now he regrets that. When the new bike itch starts pestering you, one of your life's goals it seems is being able to sit on as many two wheel motorized vehicles as possible. Until the spring, I am bikeless. I'm rooting for him that he finds a bike he loves and one that he feels he HAS selected entirely on his own and not one that he's settled for because of inheritance. Honestly, I had ulterior motives about him taking over the SV.
I remember reading on a woman's oriented motorcycle forum about a woman who wanted to get into motorcycling, which initially thrilled her motorcycle riding spouse. He used this as an opportunity (she didn't say this directly, but it was there between the lines) to buy himself a new bike because he would kindly give her his bike. Well...his bike didn't fit her! It was some behemoth HD and not only did it not fit, she didn't like the dang thing!  She had her heart set on some cute small displacement bikes that she thought would suit her well.  To her, the HD  was too big, too intimidating, and too manly looking.  When she mounted it, it generated instant fear, which is no way to build confidence as a rider.  Her husband also didn't think she needed the MSF course, he said, "If I can't teach you, no one can." Well, it ended up being a disaster for the woman. She hated the bike and dropped it repeatedly, which did not sit well with her husband, who continued to push her and yell at her to adjust to the weight, even telling her she'd "grow" into the bike. His reasoning was that she could flatfoot the bike so it was a perfect fit. The woman deserves a purple heart for tolerating such utter nonsense!  

The woman decided to abandon her riding. She gave up, which her confused husband didn't seem to understand why. Some of us suggested she take her desire to ride into her own hands and not rely on her husband to teach her, pointing out that she would be best taught by someone who is certified to teach motorcycle safety skills, someone who would not yell at her, and would patiently help her build confidence. Where she lives, the price for MSF is rather hefty. We suggested she save the money and take the course. We encouraged her to start anew the following season.  I wanted to tell her to unload more than that heavy bike, but I kept this to myself.  She could pay for the MSF class and get a small displacement bike to build skills and confidence on rather than believe her husband about "growing" into a bike. Some encouraged her to talk to her husband and try to get him to agree with her plans. Although I didn't share this with anyone, that recommendation would have not been on my list of things to do--he sounded beyond help--but that's just me. I truly believe in the emancipation proclamation about freedom.  The point of this tale?The SV650 was my bike. Dave inherited it from me and has enjoyed it immensely for many miles. As much as I'd like to keep the bike, he needs and deserves to get his own ride, one that he researches, one that whispers his name when he sits on it. I almost hope he doesn't get the BMW F800ST. I'd always feel a tad goofy having identical bikes--but I'd get over it if he decides to join the BMW F800 family. The  '09 F800ST comes in new colors so we won't match there--and, as I remind him, I'm a solo rider. It's not like we'll be together all the time.

I wish him well as he continues his quest. I'm preparing myself for truly letting go of the SV650, which shouldn't be terribly difficult...I've been surprising myself a lot lately on what I can get through...

Sunday, November 23

A tribute to Superman

Note to reader: This is another, more personal entry. Feel free to skip. Believe me, I’d rather have more motorcyle related material to write about but for now, this is my life.

Friday, November 21, 2008 at 3:37 p.m. my brother Michael died. Not an ordinary death but a brutal one at the hands of a hit and run driver whose conscience has yet to compel him or her to come forward. Vehicular homicide, they call it. Whatever. This individual couldn’t have known Michael, not like his family and friends knew him. To know Michael would make it impossible to objectify him and leave him abandoned on the street near death. Crowded into the ICU over the last few days, especially minutes before he was unplugged, were some of the many people who did know him and love him.

Michael was a really funny guy—even when he didn’t always mean to be. When we were younger and under the same roof, I used to tell him that he should go to Hollywood and hang out on the streets, someone surely would discover him and appreciate this talent. I often added because “I don’t!” I’d say that because I was one of his favorite targets, particularly when we were young. For the most part, I refused to let on to him how funny I thought he was. He called me “Gurl” more often than not, or “Big Sis” in reference to birth order rather than to my size. I’ve always been way too serious and Michael enjoyed making me laugh.

Every girlfriend who came to visit me suffered the torture only Michael could administer. Michael would ask them for a date, tell them how “fine” they looked, and would spend much of the visit pestering them to make him their love interest. All of them laughed and thought he was cute. I just thought he was annoying. He was a skinny kid, imagine the J.J. (Jimmy Walker) character from the 70s sitcom, “Good Times” and you’ll have an idea of just how skinny Michael was—not the dreamboat he considered himself. A couple of days ago, I called one of those girlfriends whom Michael loved to flirt with. She was heartbroken at the news. She asked me to whisper to him that he had to make a full recovery if he ever hoped to have a chance with her. She is a happily married woman but we both knew that Michael would laugh at hearing that and that if there were some way to return to collect on that, he would. But from Tuesday night when he was brought in, to Friday afternoon, he never regained consciousness.No matter what was transpiring in one’s life, Michael could find some odd humor in it. If you could mix Eddie Murphy with Rodney Dangerfield, you’d get Michael. His teasing of me when we were growing up often made me retreat to my bedroom with the door closed. I was forever reading and Michael was forever interrupting that in any way he could. He’s stand there on the outside of my closed door talking with his mouth pressed to the edge, distorting his voice--anything to continue torturing me. Once I bought my own orange juice and put it in the refrigerator and probably put my name on the carton (with three brothers, I often did things like that). Michael told me that he drank from the carton. I was grossed out and royally perturbed. Michael inherited that orange juice. I always had my suspicions that he hadn’t drank from it and said it only make me surrender it to him. As a child, I used to get mad at him for deliberately breathing on me. Yet, when I left for college and came home for visits, one of the first questions I’d ask is, “Where is Michael?”

Two, among the millions of funny, memories I’ll cherish: Michael was about seven years old, which made my other brother eight and me nine. We were sitting in front of the television watching Superman on a hot summer afternoon. My pregnant mother was preparing dinner and my father hadn’t made it home from work. We had no air conditioner so the window to our second floor apartment was open (it had no screens). Michael stood up and announced, “I’m Superman. I’m gonna fly.” He extended his arms and circled the room. We ignored him to watch the real Superman. Michael disappeared somewhere in the house. When he returned we didn’t notice that he had tied a blue plastic bag, the kind clothes are returned in from the cleaners, around his neck and it trailed behind him like a cape. He announced, “I’m Superman, watch me fly.” We ignored him. I saw him in my peripheral vision. Then we heard him say, “Look, I’m gonna fly.” I turned to see Michael sitting on the window ledge. In an instant he was gone!

For another split second I sat in disbelief. I must have been thinking, “Did he just fly?” I jumped up and looked over the window ledge. There he was, in a heap on the ground with that plastic bag in place and blanketing him. I ran to the kitchen to tell my mother who told me to return to the television so that she could finish dinner preparations. It took persistence to make her understand that Michael had somehow exited the room via the window. She ran faster than I thought a mother could. Michael was moaning on the ground. Fortunately, he suffered only a broken arm and a stern lecture from my parents, especially my father, not to play Superman ever again. Just an aside: Michael’s cast had to put on twice because he picked the inside cottony fuzzy stuffing out so much that it weakened the cast and it had to be redone. Warnings to him about how own cast removal followed.Funny story #2. We were up very late at night with my father watching television, so it must have been a Friday or Saturday night. The rule was we could stay up as late as we wanted but when sleep came upon us, we’d have to go to bed. Michael fell asleep and our father told him to go to bed. Michael protested that he wasn’t sleeping. He was given another chance and another. Finally, had was ordered to rise and go to bed. Michael stood up and wobbled, barely able to walk. Except for the glow from the television, the living room was darkened. Michael didn’t turn around as he should have to leave the room. Instead, he walked to a corner of the room, stood there for a brief moment and then we heard something. The sound wasn’t immediately familiar to me. But it was to my father. I remember him yelling, “Boy, what are you doing?” Michael was urinating! Apparently, he was sleeping walking—the only thing that could explain why he went to that corner, unzipped is pants and let go! We later teased him about “peeing” in front of us and sleep-peeing. Our father’s yell bolted Michael alert and our collective laughter turned a black kid very red. Words can never describe his embarrassment nor can words capture the years of teasing that incident brought him. Whenever his teasing got to me, I could always add: “At least I don’t pee in front of people.” His response was usually, “Gurl, shut up!” Then he’d laugh. I’ll have to think hard on it, but I don’t ever remember Michael ever being really mad at me.

Michael was kind-hearted and generous with what he had, which wasn’t much. Still, he wouldn’t hesitate to share part of that with anyone. Judging from the neighbors who came to see him in ICU, it is not an understatement to say that everyone loved him. The men, women and teens who happened to be there when the machines were unplugged, weep openly. I witness women leading their grown sons out of the room. I saw teenagers vowing to find out who did this horrific thing to Michael.

I was somewhat relieved that he would never live with those injuries he suffered. Michael was not the wheel-chair or vegetable type--no one is, really. I was relived that, given that his life was no longer viable, we let him go on the date that we did. That next day, November 22, was my birthday, which forty-five years ago became indelibly marked by JFK's assassination--a day that I remember too well. Adding Michael to that date would have caused me grief beyond measure—and not something Michael would have wanted.Gone now is a man who once tried to fly like Superman.


Postscript: Michael never hesitated to tell me how much he liked both of my motorcycles. In fact, a time does not exist when he wasn't proud of something I'd accomplished.

Thursday, November 20

Live your life...because STUFF HAPPENS!

What happened to my brother late Tuesday night, is exactly why I'm convinced that one should live life the best way one knows how and if that means rejecting how others want you to live your life, so be it. I'm not talking about unethical, immoral and obviously bad Karma living that hurts others (I guess everyone has to have their own way of measuring this). I'm not talking about those things that we'd probably all agree are anti-social, anti-human rights, etc. I'm thinking more like, riding a motorcycle, hang gliding, ultra-marathoning, becoming a weight lifting master--pretty mundane stuff--according to how I measure things.

My brother, Michael, coming home from a painting job Tuesday night was walking down an alley and someone driving at Indy 500 speeds blasted into that alley and this "person" hit him and dragged him a great distance. He is seriously injured, suffering from a crushed pelvis; broken legs; one broken arm?; kidney damage; head and brain trauma; one ripped off ear; bottom lip is tacked on and actually looks like one if you stretch your imagination; two collapsed lungs and some other internal damage that remains rather vague. The doctors do not expect him to survive. But he made it through Wednesday night after suffering one "crash" and internal bleeding that hasn't been stopped but is now leaking only slowly. Last night two ministers visited his bedside. Machines now keep him alive
What does this have to do with motorcycling? A lot! Just as I hopefully made clear in my response to the $65,000 question, we never know if and when our lives can be changed forever--even ended by some unanticipated event. In a flash, our lives can take turns that come seemingly out of thin air. One day you're fine, the next you're dependent on mechanical devices, "living" moment to moment.

Risk is ubiquitous. There is no way to avoid it. Not too long ago a couple sleeping in their house died when it blew up--some sort of explosion from a faulty furnace--carbon monoxide is another silent killer that wrecks horror on hundreds each year.
Stuff happens. All the time. And, that's why I think we should walk through life fully but gently, doing our best not to harm others but keeping a good balance by not shortchanging what brings us joy. Life is short. Treat yours and others special so that when it is your time, you've made this world and the people you know in it, better.

Tuesday, November 18

Insurance woes and my next moto trip

(Note to the reader: Given that my insurance case is pending and that there may be some nasty action taken, I have decided not to post the name of the insurance company here--yet--although I mention it on a certain forum I frequent. My claim should be paid--that's my goal. Nothing more, nothing less).

If my insurance issues are not resolved soon, I am going to be one rabid woman--including foaming at the mouth!

I've written about this on one forum so I'll try to be brief. My mishap was October 4th. My insurance company was notified immediately and they released a claim/case number and promised to dispatch an adjuster soon.

I received a call from Morton BMW telling me that when they called to get an okay to order the parts, my insurance company told them "we" had canceled the policy on Sept. 29th; therefore, they are not responsible for the claim.

We did no such thing.

I called the insurance company. They insisted that my husband had called and had canceled the "policy." Now, we've been with this company for years. At one time, they had both cars, the house, and the two bikes. I sold my car and made that one policy change in May '08. Dave did indeed call them on Sept. 29. He did so to cancel the house and the remaining auto. We would never ride motorcycles without insurance! Thus, we left that policy untouched--or so we thought.

Yet they contend that we canceled. We know that we didn't. Although we did received two reimbursement checks in the mail, we assumed it was for the house and auto since no letter of explanation accompaned the checks.

The company said they would launch an internal investigation. Investigation result: They will not cover the bike because "we" canceled the insurance according to the notes in our file. This went on for a few days.

Finally, Dave called. He was told by someone--the first time we've ever heard this, that the company does not ordinarily cover motorcycles. They will, however, if one has other policies with the company. This person stated that when we canceled the auto and house, the bikes would be automatically dropped. When asked why wouldn't we be alerted to that very important detail, we received a non-response response.

Dave finally reached the person with whom he canceled the house and auto. By the way, we canceled only because we found a better deal. This individual expressed surprise that we were having difficulties. He recalled taking the cancellation request for the house and auto. He claimed to have canceled only that. He knew nothing about the motorcycles being dropped. After all, they are separate policies with separate numbers, which he claims he didn't touch. He seemed ignorant of the drop-bike policy that his co-worker mentioned. Regarding the canceled motorcycle policy, he apologized and said he would immediately reinstate us to show no lapse in coverage and will send paperwork to that end.

I have contacted the state's insurance fraud and abuse department and they've dispatched their paperwork. Given that three superior's of the helpful customer service rep have already denied the claim, I feel for this guy's job. We've yet to receive any paper work detailing this drop bike policy for not having other policies with the company.

Some insurance companies get a bad rap for doing whatever they can to avoid paying a claim. A riding pal told me that some people are still waiting for hurricane relief from several years ago because the insurance companies keep requesting additional proof of lost. I've heard my share of insurance horror stories too--just never figured I'd have my own.

We're now waiting to see if the insurance company will do the right thing.


Still, I'm checking my calendar to see if I can work out a nice winter trip to VA. Hopefully, Claye, Sylvia and I can take a little trip somewhere. I'll need to still leave the bike in VA and return again in the spring to finally ride my much missed bike home.

Saturday, November 1

My answer to the $65,000 question

I wondered how long it would take before well-meaning family and friends asked the inevitable question: “So are you going to stop riding a motorcycle now?” Sometimes someone will add, “…before you get killed?” It’s not always posed like that, but the meaning is the same. Yesterday a friend called it “The $65,000 question.” He asked, “So what does riding a motorcycle tell you?” It has taken less than four weeks for the inquisition to begin.

Those who know me best know my answer. Those who don’t, this space will set the record straight. My accident/mishap/“get off,” doesn’t change—in any way—how I choose to live. Accidents happen. Thank goodness I can continue on as before. I have always done all I could to ride smart and ride safe. Hindsight can color and influence one’s perceptions. I’ve had plenty of time to sit and cogitate about my misadventure. Are there things I would have done differently? Sure. I should have been fed and hydrated. Being better skilled is never a bad thing, which is why I take advanced classes each year. Some of the most skilled riders have had accidents. Stuff happens.

What I find interesting is that I’ve fallen off my bicycle before and really hurt myself. Five years ago I fell while jogging and shattered my wrist, which now has a 6 inch titanium implant holding my wrist together. I was laid up for a long time. No one and I mean no one asked me in either of my previous accidents if I were going to stop the offending activity that led to my injuries. No one questioned whether I’d mount my bicycle again. I’d continue jogging without anyone doubting my sanity—thought the knees were taking a serious beating each day! Yet, both accidents resulted in temporarily crippling injury and either could have been deadly.

Recently, a friend told me of a woman who stepped off a curb and broke her ankle so badly that it had to be pinned together; it took her out of commission for months. I personally know of a couple of people who have died as a result of bicycle accidents. It is not unheard of to hear about fit runners dropping dead of a heart attack while jogging.

So why the questions about my future motorcycle riding?

It has to do, I think, with a mythology circumscribing motorcycles and motorcyclists. For many people ‘cycles are inherently dangerous and the people who ride them constitutionally flawed. Simply put, they must be “nuts.” Many refer to motorcycles as “donor cycles” to capture what happens to the organs of those fatally injured. Motorcyclists are too often reduced to the tiny minority of bikers who ride with total abandon, blasting about on two wheel without regard to their or others’ safety, weaving through highway traffic, performing wheelies on the interstate—all of which takes place sans a helmet or proper gear. Fixated in the myopic minds of many, despite what they may see to the contrary, are that small percent of bikers who fit this “badass” stereotype. That’s the problem with stereotypes. People tend to see what fits the label and ignore and discount that which doesn’t fit the stereotype. The “badass” biker doesn’t represent the majority of motorcyclists any more than Sarah Palin represents all women. The majority of motorcyclists are like me, we do not have a death wish. We do all we can to enjoy our sport safely. Given our chosen sport, we might be slightly more of a risk-taker than the average Joe or Jane, but I would guess that we don’t differ that much from the general population. You’ll find motorcyclists running the gamut of the bell curve with the majority of us hovering in the middle, looking vastly different than that small, extreme tails at opposing ends of the bell curve.

So when people ask if I’ve now had enough of this “dangerous” activity and if am going to stop before I “kill myself,” I’ve told them, “Thanks for your concern. But I see no reason to give up now or later what brings me pleasure. It is true that not riding my motorcycle guarantees that I won’t be killed riding a motorcycle. Why stop there? Why not live my life eliminating all the things that could potentially kill me? The implications of this are far reaching—including not watching television in my living room or sleeping in my own bed for fear that a bullet shot through the window might kills me. Both of these have happened in real life! Grant this is unlikely to happen, but it could! Why not give up eating some of the healthy foods I love that have had E-coli related recalls that have killed some people. Riding public transportation might have to go too as shooting and stabbings happen. Heaven forbid if I needed a blood transfusion many years ago, I might be among those who have perished because of tainted blood. I could still die from a staph infection while in the hospital! No one can tell me that driving a car in downtown Chicago is not dangerous so I guess I should avoid that too.One can live a life avoiding things deemed harmful according to others’ definitions of what’s dangerous. In all that we do, we take risks. Some people really do manage an existence based on fear of what might happen. I’m not one of them. That doesn’t sound like a life worth living to me. I don’t know if I’ll pass this way again, but for the time I’m privileged to be here, I choose to live fully. That includes transcending my own fears and not allowing others’ fears to inhibit me. It means being a good person no matter how many awful ones I meet. It means being kind and a good citizen. It means always walking gently upon the earth, doing my utmost to do no harm to others. It means seeing in the faces of others the faces of my own loved ones.

There is indeed a lot to be afraid of out there. At times the world seems malignant and so menacing that I’d just as soon put my head under the covers than venture out. But I’ve learned that is the precise time I must go out. I need then reconnect and rediscover the goodness in others and to reestablish my faith in humankind.

I’m of an age where I realize I have fewer years ahead of me than are behind me. This isn’t the time to put the brakes on living. Now is the time to look the future square in the eyes and march forward with arms open, body erect, and a mind unfettered by others’ labels and stereotypes of what is dangerous.

Friday the weather in Chicago was nearly 70 degrees! I ached for my blue Beemer and a nice long ride. A day like this would have me disappearing for a 200 or so miles ride for lunch somewhere downstate.

Instead, I am sitting here nursing still afflicted ribs and a collar bone that smarts every time I forget and lift something with my left hand. But I am also smiling as I recall the years of safe riding memories I’ve created for myself. Like my ride to Wawa, Ontario and marveling at the mammoth Wawa Canadian Goose. Or, when I spent a sizzling day on Whitefish Point in the UP of Michigan... Or, that time I rode to Copper Harbor and enjoy the views from Brockway Mountains. Or, taking a fully loaded bike through the narrow and twisty “Tunnel of Trees” from Harbor Springs to Cross Village... Even getting lost in Duluth, MN while looking for Aerostitch/Riderwearhouse and nearly running out of gas on an isolated stretch of the Ontario-Trans-Canada Highway 17. I can’t forget my time near Taqumenon Falls and Kakabeka Falls and the time I located and photographed from afar the sleeping giant in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Ontario. All of these memories sustain me now and easily bring a smile to my heart.

I have some regrets in life but none about riding a motorcycle and enjoying that experience I’ve had. I will continue to ride. When I’m old and forced to put away my two wheels, I will not only wear purple, I will remember and retell my riding tales. But that is a long way off.

To all those well-intentioned askers of the “$65,000 question…” the answer is: unequivocally, absolutely, and emphatically “NO.” I am not retiring the ‘cycle. As long as I am alive and able, I will live unencumbered by fears—yours or mine.

Upcoming much delayed amazing trip to Ohio!

Saturday, October 18

UPDATE: What a difference a day makes!

As of now, the road to recovery is palpable! Wednesday night, however, I felt death lurking nearby. Ok, I exaggerate. But I had such trouble breathing much of the day that I worried about asphyxating while sleeping. Every deep breath felt explosive, like I'd taken a sledge hammer whack to my chest. I dismissed it as part of the aches and pain of a broken collar bone. By Thursday morning, I realized that breathing shouldn't hurt so badly, that coughing and turning my head shouldn't feel like my ribs were about to pierce through my skin at any moment. And, a strange greenish blotch had appeared on my chest.

The doctor's advice? Get thee to the ER. We were serviced almost immediately. After tests that included an EKG, and way too many x-rays, I learned that there is a good reason for my breathing problems. I have five broken ribs--five different ones in front, back and along my left side that were missed by the ER in Bedford, VA. In their defense, I only complained about my collar bone so they didn't x-ray anything else.

Broken ribs explain so much like why negotiating stairs hurt, why sitting on the couch or in a chair makes me moan all the way down; and, why getting up reminds me of giving birth. Like the collar bone, there isn't much doctors can do about rib fractures. Rest, move around as much as one can tolerate movement, and take drugs for pain management.

By Friday--after more than 10 hours of sleep, I felt strong or so loopy, I just didn't give a hoot about my discomfort. I think it's the former, however. In any case, 24 hours has made a huge difference!

Thanks to a friend who is telepathically sending me Reiki energy.

Tuesday, September 16

On being housebound, floods, memory and travel quotes to live by...

The rain started Friday afternoon and continued a slow, soft and steady beat for the rest of the day. It rained heavier and all day on Saturday. Sunday morning opened with fog and still heavier rain. My "Plan A" trip to Ohio was off. "Plan B" didn’t work out either, again because of weather. Housebound, I had to face the ugliness of incomplete work. So I settled in for the weekend, read some newspapers, listened to CNN, switched to BookTV when CNN began repeating its stories. And, in-between all that, I managed to get some real work done.Sunday night, the rain slowed and eventually stopped altogether. Even with the ground wet and some areas reporting as much as 10 inches of water, I couldn’t stand it any longer--I had to get out. I geared up and went for a short ride. I passed by the Chicago River, it looked swollen and angry as it whirled toward the east, angry perhaps that its natural flow was being influenced by the city opening the floodgates to push some of the river’s overflow into Lake Michigan. It reminded me of something novelist Toni Morrison wrote about floods and memory.“You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. ‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”Now, millions are without electrical power. One man (there are many others) had recently finished remodeling his basement, which now holds about four feet of water. I am grateful this isn’t Haiti or Galveston, TX.As I turned from Wacker Drive onto Michigan Avenue, I could feel a slight slide of the rear tire, which I had anticipated by the wet street. I slowly straightened up the bike as I eased on a little more throttle. The ride was short but just what I needed to air out my head. I opened my visor to smell the wet air and the fish as I road across the bridge over the river. Michigan Avenue is beautiful any time of the day. But its quiet beauty at night, when all the Magnificent Mile strollers have thinned out, is unmatched. It is too late in the season to be summer but too early to accept that fall is really here. Yet, its scent is hard to ignore.

While riding, thoughts of riding far, far away filled my head and I smiled at the thought that in a few weeks I’ll be heading south for the first time alone on two wheels. The South is a place I go when I have a reason to and I’ve only had reason about five times in my life. Friends are the reason that beckon me now. I am heading to Knoxville, TN then onto Durham, NC. In addition, I will attend the first annual Eastern BMW F800 riders rally in Buchanan, VA. As I prepare for the mental part of the ride, I thought I’d share some of my favorite travel quotes.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

“It is not down in any map; true places never are. Herman Melville”

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller

“The journey, not the arrival matters.” T.S. Eliot

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” Moslih Eddin Saadi

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” St. Augustine

“When you are traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” William Least Heat Moon

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” G.K. Chesterton

“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless…it goes an equal distance into the world within.” Lillian Smith

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

May the roads be kind to you...

Monday, September 8

A quiet weekend of small journeys

Rarely do I allow a weekend to pass without a day trip or an overnighter. This was a weekend for doing some of those "must-do" things that pile up when the call of the outdoors is defeating. We suffer here in most winters. So I respond eagerly to those calls! Thus, my avoidance has caught up with me. So rather than a long ride or a weekend getaway, I rode up north, along the lake shore and enjoyed the mid-seventies temps and the captivating scenes from the lake. There's been some road patching done on Lake Shore Drive but it's still an obstacle course in spots. I don't mind that too much because I know this road. I love living in a place where I know the nooks and crannies of the streets, intersections and neighborhood. I value the familiarity of being able to visualize what's around the bend before getting there. On Lake Shore Drive, I know which lane has a huge crater in the road, I know where the most popular exit ramp is and when to move to the best lane to avoid the inevitable backups there.

"How do you ride in downtown Chicago?" I've been hearing that a lot lately. "It's dangerous," people tell me. But Chicago is my backyard. If you're smart, you learn your environment. Survival depends on it! Knowing how to get through the often crazy streets is no different, to me, than knowing how to deal with any of the challenges that any environment throws at you. When I was in Vermont recently, I recall thinking how those early morning fogs would made me reconsider my preference for early morning starts and how streets not on the Chicago grid pattern would really force me to hone my map skills or render me totally dependent on the GPS. And, night riding, forget it. There is no blackness more absolute than those country back roads--and I do enjoy an occasional night ride. I suspect, however, I'd learn to adapt to my environment if I lived in Vermont; I'd learn that shedding the outsider's perspective and just getting out there and living like a native Vermonter would accelerate the adaptation process. It's all a matter of perspective. My house in the suburbs puts me within 10 minutes of country roads and when there, I feel the new sensory challenge that it demands and the excitement of not knowing what's around the corner fills me with wonder.This morning, I was out for a walk around 5:15am and the traffic on Lake Shore Drive already was brisk, ample and robust. The sky was dark and in the horizon I could see evidence of the sun preparing its glorious rise. I took my gym rope on the walk and a little camera too. I took the rope because I want to reconnect with jumping rope, something I used to be very good at, including hand crossing the rope, fancy foot work and double-jumps in one turn of the rope--those were the days. My supposed bone condition probably prohibits this shake up to my skeleton, but I wanted to feel a little flight--get my feet off the ground for a change. It went well but I tired long before I could do any damage, I'm sure. I took the camera because I always have one on me, just in case I want to capture a memory. The long walk did me well. Tomorrow, if my body must pay a price, I'll be ready.It's the beginning of a new week and my mind is already thinking of where I'll ride to the coming weekend. The days are getting shorter and the mornings are darker and cooler. Fall hovers. No doubt about it, every day brings me closer to the inevitable: winter storage. This year, I will ride as long as the ground is clear and i can bundle against the cold. I will ride without regard to a calendar date. With still-to-be-purchased winter gear, I don't plan to go to that inaccessible motorcycle winter camp quickly or quietly.

Hope your week changes you in some interesting way. Get your feet off the ground some, if you can.

Ride smart.

Sunday, August 31

State Capital, Underground RR and a dollop of Mark Twain

Notes from a two-wheeled historian wannabe...

I haven't visited my state's capital in years. So after scrapping my plan to circle Lake Erie this weekend, I headed south for central IL. My plan was to ride around Springfield, IL do a bit of sightseeing and head west for Jacksonville, IL, about 38 miles west of Springfield, where I would learn more about its role in the Underground Railroad history. Jacksonville is important for many reasons not the least of which is its close proximity to MO, a former slave state. Jacksonville is home also of Illinois College, whose first president happened to be Henry Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and brother to theologian Henry Ward Beecher. The Congregational Church, founded in 1833, preached anti-slavery sermons and filled the church with like-minded parishioners. Eventually, The Congregational Church became known as "the Abolition

For much of the ride, the temperature was around 78 degrees. Everywhere the roads were lightly traveled--a perk of leaving early in the morning. Once beyond the Aurora area, the roads were downright desolate! I arrived in Springfield nine minutes shy of my estimated arrival time. My last visit to Springfield occurred on a weekday. It reminded me of a bustling, mini version of downtown Chicago, with traffic congestion, people rushing around and evidence of Illinois' rich history everywhere. But on this Saturday, much to my utter amazement, Springfield was dead. I felt as if I were riding through a ghost town! The GPS led me to two Thai restaurants, both were closed for the day. I parked and walked along a main street only to find that the overwhelming majority of restaurants were closed. The one or two I found open were the kind of places I'd eat at only if I were famished--and I'd still have to be forced. The occupants insde cars looked like tourists as they slowed down and peered blankly from the windows. People were on the street, but most of them looked like tourists too. I expected far more action from Springfield. After stopping at a train depot visitor's center, I head west.Well, Jacksonville wasn't much better. However, I was on a mission there so the desolate streets worked for me--some of the underground stations were difficult to find and I roamed up and down some streets repeatedly. Earlier this season, I had visited Princeton, IL to see the Homestead of Owen P. Lovejoy. His brother, Elijah Lovejoy, a minister and abolitionist had lived in Jacksonnville, IL and was affiliated with the Congregational Church. During slavery's reign, many in Jacksonville blindly followed prevailing notions about slavery. The Lovejoys and other local abolitionists tirelessly tried to spread their humanitarian, anti-slavery gospel. They encountered considerable resistance and I'm sure their close proximity to slave state Missouri made their preaching particularly dangerous. Jacksonville was literally surrounded by slavery sympathizers and slave owners who did not hesitate to cross state lines in pursuit of their runaway "property" and to deal brutally with those they believed wanted to destroy their human chattel investments. High on the hit list were abolitionists like Lovejoy, and a host of religious leaders and institution that dared advocated the abolition of slavery.Jacksonville has seven house I wanted to see and is home to Illinois College, whose first President, Edward Beecher, was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Henry Ward Beecher, famous abolitionist and renowned theologian. Some of the homes have historical landmark designation that document their UGRR station status, while others have what they feel is unequivocal evidence of being an UGRR stop, but lack landmark status. Like Woodlawn Farm. Tucked far back off a narrow road on gravel that requires careful navigation. The road is narrow and shoulderless. It is easy to envision a horse and buggy traveling this old farm road. The path is gently rolling and winding in spots that make seeing what is coming at you impossible. I looked for animals, animal droppings, and cars that might want to use this road as practice for the Indy 500. At one point, I thought of turning around, but the road was so narrow that a u-turn was impossible. It was downright scary in parts. I cut my speed to navigate the sometimes wet, freshly mowed grasses that covered huge sections of the road. Relieved that I had finally reached Woodlawn Farm, I pulled into the small gravel filled lot and parked.A personal opinion here about landmark designation for recognition as a "true" underground railroad station (UGRR). I get why it is important to acknowledge the real deal and disallow any old house to claim UGRR status. Still, the requirements to meet certification is a Catch 22. On paper, it makes sense that the process remain a careful one. But it's a little paradoxical too. By definition, the stations were highly secret locales and involved in intricate webs of clandestine networks around the nation and Canada. These were dangerous endeavors for both runaway slaves and the families who sheltered them. People were killed for housing slaves and slaves were killed in failed attempts to recapture them. Thus, it makes sense to me at least that some of these houses would not have the tangible documentation to prove they were part of this secret society to combat slavery. Getting these runaways to Canada or places outside of the slave South depended on people keeping secrets. Word of mouth, messages embedded in quilts and human memory was often all anyone had to pass down. Stories passed on with some tangible evidence found in homes are often all that now remains. Still, the committees that confer the UGRR stamp require far more hard evidence than stories, crawl spaces and secret underground passageways in old houses.

I arrived at the Woodlawn Farm just in time to be greeted by a small boy, who looked to be around 6 years old, with a basket of apples and pears. He kindly showed me where to sign the book and invited me inside the house where the final tour of the day was just beginning. This is one house that has no confirmed designation of being a UGRR. In fact, they've been turned down twice. The UGRR evidence seems convincing, to me. The oral history handed down by the family is gripping and some written documentation exists. The farm was settled in 1824 by the Huffaker family and never suspected then of being a "safe house for 'freedom seekers'" It is now under the ownership of Illinois College and is used as a service project. The highlight of the Woodlawn Farm tour was the mention of the Lovejoys. In Princeton, on the Owen P. Lovejoy Homestead tour, there is considerable mention of his brother, Elijah Lovejoy, minister and abolitionist who was murdered for his anti-slavery beliefs in Alton, IL.Now, in Jacksonville, I'm listening to the story of Elijah Lovejoy. Later, I visited the Congregational Church in which he preached. The little boy who acted as a tour guide assistant was another trip highlight. He assisted the elderly tour guide who appeared to be any one's doting grandmother. She donned period clothes and reminded me of Mrs. Claus, Santa's wife. I swear, I felt this way before I saw that her license plate read, "M. Claus"!! (Dang, I should have taken a picture!). Her little helper was black. He called her "Grandma." He's must be adopted. He couldn't have been a better helper. I wanted to take him home with me. He was professional, articulate and gave a heck of a demonstration of one of the dolls reminiscent of the past. Cute, patient, and clearly a sharp kid. He'll understand more when he matures how valuable his experience was hanging out with Grandma and absorbing all the rich history stored in her brain and poignantly shared with those lucky enough to visit Woodlawn Farm.

I spent the next hour or so riding around Jacksonville looking for the other underground railroad stations. Some are now private residences, others have been turned into museums or organizations (all of which were closed). I looked for two important places on the grounds of Illinois College but never got close enough to the interior campus to see the building and plaque. When finished, it was nearly 7pm, which meant I had been on the bike for 10 clock hours but probably only 8 of it was actual riding. Still, I was nearing exhaustion but it took another 30 minutes to find the hotel when it should have taken 10. I slept soundly with the bike right below my second floor window.Sunday, I was on the road by 8 a.m. U.S. Highway 36/Interstate 72 was devoid of traffic! I mean NONE! This on a holiday weekend?! I went miles without seeing another vehicle heading west--and this was true too for the eastbound lanes. It was actually rather spooky. In the 70 or so miles it took to get to Hannibal, I probably saw a dozen cars MAX. The closer I got to MO and the nearer to the Mississippi River, the more beautiful the terrain. Deep verdant trees and grasses, sandy and iron colored cliffs and increasingly winding roads made the journey pleasant.Hannibal, MO is Mark Twainville! His essence is everywhere! That's both good and well, bad. I loved feeling transported to the past but only for about two hours. After that it became too much. In high school, I hated Mark Twain but admired his writing and story telling. I now realized I just hated reading Mark Twain in my classroom and in the school I attended. I'll leave it at that. This town's love for Twain is in your face obvious and they maximize all things Twain. Like, Mark Twain fried chicken? Mark Twain vending machine? American capitalism hard at work. My two hour stay in Hannibal didn't do it justice and I will return some day.I headed back to IL and traveled U.S. highway 36/Interstate 75 East--again, no traffic to speak of. The sparsely traveled roads encouraged me to try out the Throttlemeister--I love it and used it a few times. It's far easier than all the forum discussions I've read on how to activate it. In a few spots, I also tried out Jesse's speed. The bike flies! I'll leave it at that! Didn't see many policemen out but I did see one totally cool looking motorcycle police office--now that's a job to have! Traffic picked up on I-55 North and I was on heightened alert by the time I reached the Aurora area. It got crazier and crazier the closer to the city I came. A few trip highlights: I met up with some elderly women (on separate occasions), who looked to be in their mid-80s. Their eyes twinkled as they eyed the bike. One said, "You're lucky to know how to ride that thing," Another commented that she was happy to see women having fun. A third gave me a huge smile and a thumbs up. It made me think of how restricted some women must have felt about their lives in 1920s--then again it was the "Roaring Twenties"--hopefully, a few were flappers and in their day and in bold acts of independence they wore "slacks" and marched to their own drummers.

Mileage: 650
Fun factor: 8/10