Thursday, February 28

Musings on music, culture, hopes of riding soon...

In the wee hours of Tuesday, February 26, I had the television on so low it was barely audible. I do that sometimes to feed my news-junkie habit. As I busy myself doing other things, I can hear the faint discussions transpiring from the TV. Occasional I turn to glance at it or pause to take in a snippet of news. Rarely is there much else on at three in the morning; in fact, some news outlets, like ABC World News Now, repeat the same news ad nauseam throughout the night.

Tuesday’s post midnight news was dominated by the Clinton vs. Obama debate. I had heard every political pundit and analyst debate who the winner was and had reached a saturation point that made me listen with only half an ear. Then came some huge news—and I’m not talking about the umpteenth snowstorm that was transpiring in Chicago outside my window. In minutes, an announcer said, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra would be performing “Live” from Pyongyan, North Korea. My ears tuned in.
For more than a year, plans were being laid for this concert. It would be the first and largest cultural exchange with North Korea. The announcer called the event historic.” I longed for the music to start and when it did, magic happened. I sat mesmerized, forgetting about the snowstorm, trying to forget about the fact that motorcyclists were out riding on Saturday and now, on Tuesday, we would be digging out from an estimated 5-8 inches of snow.

Lorin Maazel, the conductor, and the orchestra fascinated the audience. The orchestra began by playing the anthems of North Korea and the USA. The orchestra played Gershwin, Dvorak and Wagner. I especially loved Dovorak’s Symphony #9 in A Minor, better known as the New World Symphony. I don’t think I’ve heard it performed better. Gershwin’s “An American In Paris” seemed to have special significance and I couldn’t help but think of the Americans in North Korea. Panning the audience showed the raw emotions evoked by the music. Some faces seemed lost in the music as people listened with their eyes closed, others moved their heads ever so slightly; one person, a woman, dabbed her eyes.

Thunderous applause followed each piece. An effusive audience showed their appreciation with stand ovations, the last one lasted five minutes! The concert ended with the playing of Arirang, a much-loved folk song evidently adored by both North and South Korea. The audience was visibly moved throughout the concert but the finale brought the house down, so to speak. The concert was followed by a discussion with the audience. Watching Maazel interact across cultural lines added true class to the evening. Such cross-cultural exchanges are demystifying, they facilitate a much-needed understanding among humans outside of all the political caterwauling.

North Korea’s best cellist said he yearns to travel and perform abroad and hopes that the successful visit by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s created such opportunities. Music really is a universal language--you could see it on the faces in the audience. I could feel the connection thousands of miles away.

While this blog entry nothing to do with motorcycling, it has a lot to do with traveling to distance lands, which is what appeals to me most about motorcycling. For many reasons, not the least of which is political propaganda (on all sides), individuals and groups must be bridge builders and bridge crossers. As I continue to research places to ‘cycle this riding season, I shall remain mindful of the historic cultural exchange between North Korea and New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Now, if only the riding season were in sight!

Friday, February 22

California beckons! And, where or where can I get my moto clothes cleaned?!

Recently, a work-related assignment sent me to CA, specifically the Bay area. It was four degrees Fahrenheit when I left Chicago and, of course, the wind chill made it feel like minus 11 degrees F, according to the weather report. By the time I reached Menlo Park, CA where I stayed for part of the trip, a blue sky and the sound of motorcycles at every turn made me forget my roots and wonder what it would be like to live in this part of CA. Riding year 'round, having mild winters, ridding myself of the need for a car...I can live with that--happily. Then I remembered the earthquakes ...

In Palo Alto, on Stanford University's campus, bicycles are ubiquitous! A tour guide said there are 14,000 students enrolled there and 12,000 registered bicycles . I don't know if this includes faculty and staff who ride to work, but the place reminded me of images of China's congested two-wheel traffic. Riders zipped around campus, which appears devoid of overt bicycle lanes . How they manage to avoid crashing into each other is beyond me. But bicyclists seem to know who has the right of way and how to avoid cell-phone talking strollers immersed in conversations so important that they are exempt from following any rules of the road, and bicyclists seem also adept at avoiding tourists, who stop wherever the mood strikes to read the campus map.

I didn't miss the special parking set aside for motorcyclists either. Very thoughtful.

Next stop: University of California at Berkeley, the massive flagship school in the mammoth UC system. Talk about set aside motorcycle parking! It's everywhere! I saw a young guy riding a silver '02 SV650. I couldn't restrain myself from striking up a conversation with him and given that I am old enough to be his mother I knew he'd know that I wasn't trying to pick him up. I asked him how he likes the SV. He loves it! I've yet to meet an owner who doesn't.

He told me that he pays a nominal fee to park on campus but that all street parking is free for motorcyclists. He's able to literally ride to his classroom building. He also introduced me to many of the bike's upgrades, none of which he added, by the way. He got a "great" deal because the previous owner did all the work. He had Givi luggage and rack, Corbin seat, and a "slip-on" exhaust system, which gave his bike a nice, deep throaty sound--definitely not loud. Still, his neighbors complain about it. Their problem, he said, is that they simply don't like motorcycles. They've complained but his landlord, who lives on the premises has sided with him and also contends that the bike's exhaust level is a non-issue. Frankly, I'd add that "slip-on" in heart beat. It wasn't loud at all! It brought to mind a Ducati I once heard...
While walking the streets of Berkeley, motorcycles were omnipresent. Parked along each street, sometimes lined up four and five cars deep. I saw several SVs and if I didn't fear an arrest and didn't respect other people's property, and no one was around to catch me, I swear, I would have tossed a leg over one of them and just had my own little personal thrill for a minute or two.
San Francisco, near Fisherman's Wharf, was a haven for motorcyclists. By then, I'd become less obvious in my glee at seeing and hearing a bike go by. I focused on the riders. Every one I saw wore a helmet--including the passengers. I did notice that many wore the beanie helmets, which I surmise is an attempt to circumvent the mandatory helmet law 'cause those helmets sure didn't look very protective.

Beautiful weather the entire week made me wish I'd made arrangements and had the time to rent a bike while there. I must return in March and if time and funds permit, I think I'll look into that...Upon my return to Chicago, and despite the fact that I was met with single digit temperatures and a wind so cutting that it could easily rip the skin off your face in only a few minutes of exposure, I felt inspired to get my moto jackets and pants ready for the riding season. I diligently separated the hand washables from the dry clean only. The first cleaners hesitated to say he could clean the garments. Something about the leather and textile mix? Within days, I learned that they could not clean the garments. Supposedly, the leather parts could be cleaned but there was concern about the textile.

Recommendation: "Clean it yourself." Later, I stopped into another cleaners and explained my situation. "Oh, yes, we can clean that." But upon examining the two jackets and one pair pants, a husband and wife team said they would check with their cleaners (the cleaners has a cleaners?--outsourcing, I guess). Well, long story short, they won't or can't do it either. I have about six or seven jackets and several pairs of pants. These three items are the exception with regards to cleaning. Every other garment can be hand washed in cold water. And, I typically avoid purchasing clothes that need professional cleaning. I bought these garments because they are cute--and protective. See, it's easy to get the protective part, but as a female, it's challenging to get the cute part. It's difficult to acquire garments that fit your shoulders and taper a bit in the waist. Contrary to what some motorcycle cloths makers think, female riders need more than a garment made for a male but in a smaller size. It's about the cut and the style and...oh, don't get me started.

I'm not a clothes horse; however, I've become a fashion maven about motorcycle wear. I don't ride comfortably when the jacket I'm donning doesn't fit well and reminds me of being a child trying on her father's coat. I've made too many purchases that initially seem suitable, only to find out later that they don't ride well. One doesn't wear such garments, they sort of just hang on you. So, now I have these two jackets that ride well that I absolutely fancy but can't get professionally cleaned!

Fortunately, I have other jackets and pants that can be handwashed. But I tell you, they are not as much fun. They are functional, yes, but not necessarily fun. I desire and deserve both. For example, I love my FirstGear Kilimanjaro jacket--it's definitely my favorite.

For long trips, I never leave home without it. There are those days, however, when the FirstGear is in the laundry and it's a beautiful day out, where I know I don't need to worry about rain protection or plummeting temps and I want something a bit more stylish.

I bought a silver TourMaster Transition jacket, which I wore around the store for a long time, debating its practicality. I bought silver to match my helmet and the trellis on my bike. Bad idea! The jacket is a dirt magnet! I can stretch three, maybe four outings out of it before desperately needing to toss it in the laundry--that's way too much work. Thus, it hardly gets worn.

The quest for an intrepid cleaners to tackle my jackets and pants continues. But just in case the search fails, the back up gear is clean and raring to go.

It is 22 degrees F this morning. Still, if I take a really deep breath, after the nose hairs thaw a bit, I can smell spring in the air. I really can...

Tuesday, February 5

Motorcycle Bloggers International Riders Choice Awards

(Click picture on the right to see the weather-proof scooterist)

Motorcycle Bloggers International (MBI), a group of dedicated motorcyclists for whom “riding and writing is what we do,” is at it again! It’s time to nominate the best and worst in all things motorcycle related in 2007. What were the best products introduced—and the worst? Who were the extraordinary achievers in motorcycling? Who contributed great things to the motorcycling world in safety, touring, and adventure riding, to mention a few? Let’s not forget the fallen stars, those who demonstrated “a serious lapse in judgment in 2007.” Nominations continue until February 10th (sorry for the short notice).

Voting begins February 15 and runs through March 16, 2008.

Winners will be announced on March 19, 2008.

I’ve nominated Carla King for her amazing contributions in solo motorcycle touring (national and international), her extraordinary “misadventures “ and her wonderful motorcycle blogs and book authorship that keep readers up-to-date on her whereabouts and newsworthy motorcycle information. She's recently partnered with a frequent visitor here, the multi-talented, D. Brent Miller of Sojourner Chronicles, and now offers a Miss Adventuring Podcast series--very cool! I can't hardly wait to dig in there!


Here's what it looks like here in Chi-town: