Sunday, November 23
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
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
(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
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 post...my much delayed amazing trip to Ohio!