I Am Jealous After All

While I was in my backyard working on one of my wife’s godawful honey-do projects, a couple of mostly bald, scroungy pony-tailed, noisy and blatantly incompetent Hardly goobers fell over in the driveway of the abandoned dump next door. For some reason, one of the geezers felt the need to adjust something, probably his truss, in this very large and pretty damn flat driveway and instead of parking he decided to fall over “Laugh-In Tricycle” style. The other Willy Nelson-wanna-be followed his bro into the driveway, bumped into the first downed bike and fell over in the opposite direction with his pony tail dangling well into the outside tire track on our country road. I listened to them bitch and moan and struggle to get out from under their hippobikes and after about ten minutes they were back in Greasy Rider mode and on their way to the nearest bar. Not only did they not look even a little embarrassed during the whole episode, but they kinda had that arrogant, biker-badass scowl on their faces as they wobbled down the road.

I, for one, am jealous. If I were that oblivious to how ridiculous I look, I’d fuckin’ wear a Speedo to the damn grocery store. Nothing else. My wife said if she had that kind of self-confidence she wear a see-thru blouse and a mini-skirt to City Council meetings. These guys really think people are looking at them thinking “Wow! That dude sure is cool!” Trust me, they aren’t especially if they have shout to hear themselves think.

I know bikers think I look like a “fuckin’ spaceman” in my Aerostich gear, but who cares what they think? They are more often bloody grease spots littered all over our country roads and city streets, so their sense of style is mostly a comedy act as best I can tell. But it is hard to top that kind of oblivious confidence.

Posted in aging, biker culture, cruiser, motorcycle, noise | Leave a comment

A Dog’s Life

2015-03-15 (2)I began writing this piece on 4/19/2022. I plan to work on it until our close friend, Gypsy dies. It isn’t a journal of those sad days. It is intended to be an obituary of the most amazing non-human life I have ever experienced. Gypsy died on 4/29/2022 at about 12:30PM. In death, as in life, she did her best to be as thoughtful as possible.

This week, as I begin to write this essay, which is very likely to become an obituary, Mrs. Day and I are watching the last days of our 15-year-old best friend, Gypsy, play out. She joined our family, often as the smartest member, a little more than 14 years ago, near Mrs. Day’s birthday in September, 2007. She was a shelter dog and she and a sister had been caged convicts in a puppy mill that the Minneapolis SPCA had raided a few weeks earlier. Gypsy looked like a cross between an Australian Shepherd and a Blue Heeler, so that’s what we described her as her whole life. Her sister appeared to be a classic, black and white spotted Australian Shepherd. Both dogs were being treated well by the adoption agency where Mrs. Day found her and they appeared to be calm, friendly, and intelligent. It could have been a quarter-flip as to which dog we picked, but Mrs. Day really liked the Heeler color and markings. So, we went home with Gypsy (the name Mrs. Day gave her, not the name the shelter had given her). Our previous dog, Puck, who had lived with our daughter’s family for a few years, had died a few days earlier and Mrs. Day was convinced our granddaughter needed a dog to live with. I still hadn’t finished mourning the dog before Puck, a chow mix who had died 5 years earlier. I doubt that I would have ever brought another animal into my life if Mrs. Day weren’t so resolute that we “needed” one.

The ride home was a warning of what the next 15 years would be like. Gypsy whined, shivered, and paced frantically in the back seat of the car all the way home. As soon as the car stopped and she jumped out, she was “normal” again. For at least 15,000 miles of our lives, Gypsy put on that same show every time she was in a moving vehicle of any sort. She was terrible to travel with by vehicle. If we’d have wanted to walk from Minnesota to California, Gypsy would have been all for it.

The first day Gypsy was introduced to our household, she knew she belonged there and did not ever want to leave. We had a cat at the time, Spike. Spike was a neutered male who pretty much thought he owned the house. When we first got him, Puck was already part of our household. Puck accepted that kitten as if they’d known each other their whole lives. Likewise, when Gypsy arrived terrified, shy, and confused. Spike took a good look at her and walked away, back to his usual routine. Until the day Spike took off on us, after about a week living in our camper, they were the closest of animal friends. I am not lying here, but I wouldn’t believe it if you told this story to me: Spike would catch and kill rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife in our Little Canada backyard and deliver them to Gypsy to devour for the cat’s entertainment. I really wish I’d have taken a picture of that behavior. Spike would just drop the dead animal at Gypsy’s feet and she’d make the prey vanish as if it had never existed. Barely a puff of fur left over, at most. When our most recent cat, Doctor Zogar, came into our family, Gypsy gave that nasty little brat the same kind of generous welcome Spike had given her. Gypsy played with both cats as energetically as if they were all kittens from the same mother, but she was always careful not to hurt them. I can’t say that care was repaid with any sort of kindness by Zogar. (Who I always called “Stinker.”) Zogar regularly spiked Gypsy’s nose and tried for eyes occasionally. I never hit Gypsy in anger, ever, but I batted that damn cat across the room fairly often when he hurt my dog.

Mrs. Day took her for a walk in our Little Canada neighborhood that first afternoon and Gypsy slipped her collar and ran off several blocks from home. Mrs. Day was convinced her $300 “investment” had run off and vanished on the first day, but Gypsy was waiting on the front porch when Mrs. Day came home. For several weeks, Gypsy didn’t want to leave the house and had to be forced out the door into the backyard to relieve herself. If we weren’t quick enough, she had decided the area in front of my office closet was a satisfactory “bathroom.” In a few days, the carpet and floor under the carpet were ruined.

We had a fenced yard, but she was unhappy inside that fence. So, I bought a “wireless fence containment system”: essentially a transmitter with a shock collar. I sent the collar to the lowest shock setting and walked her around the wireless fence perimeter, which I’d marked with flags. She freaked out at the first shock and we only stayed near the border long enough for the collar to beep after that. We did the same routine the next day, without the shock and she had it figured out. From then on, she was the smartest animal any of us had ever known. She marked out exactly the boundaries of her electronic “fence” and patrolled that area like a military guard. She did discover, much later, if she ran through the border and kept running down to the lake shore she’d either escape the shock or it would be brief enough not to be a problem. She rarely did that, though.

In December of 2011, I had a full hip replacement. I was determined to be mobile again in time for the 2012 motorcycle safety training season, which would start in mid-May for me. I had even loftier, less realistic goals for before that deadline and I was slowly failing to meet any of those targets thanks to pain and Minnesota winter. By then, Gypsy was a spectacular frisbee dog along with several dozen other amazing tricks and behaviors; including being able to jump into my outstretched arms on command, leap head-high (to me) to snag any object out of my hands in a running, flying leap, and jump on to any reasonable object around 5’ high from a standing start. One of my favorites was called “go ‘round.” On that command, Gypsy would run the perimeter of our yard full blast, which was as fast as I have ever seen any animal run. I’d seen something like that in the sheep dog demonstrations at the fair and Renaissance Fairs. My grandson helped teach her the trick by running ahead of her until she figured out the routine. Then, no one alive could have kept up with her let alone lead her. She was the dog I’d dreamed about when I didn’t even know I liked dogs. (I delivered newspapers as a kid and read water meters for the City of Dallas for 3 years. At the end of those experiences, dogs were never high on my list of interests.)

So, as I was struggling with maintaining my rehab discipline I kept up our afternoon walks and tried tossing her the frisbee. The problem with the frisbee was that I had initially trained Gypsy to drop the frisbees at my feet. We would sometimes do a kind of relay toss where I’d flip her a frisbee 15’-20’ out and she’d return it on the run, drop it at my feet, and keep running in the same direction where I’d toss her another frisbee. (I wish someone had video recorded us doing those things, but I’m the only person in my family who knows how to use a damn camera.) After the hip surgery, bending over to pickup a frisbee from the ground was close to impossible. Gypsy figured that out on her own and started handing me the frisbees about waist-high. That became a huge, incredibly distracting and enjoyable part of my daily physical therapy and, thanks to my dog, I was back walking 11 miles a day and teaching a full schedule of motorcycle classes in early May of 2012. My dog was my best, most dedicated, most sympathetic physical therapist and I can only hope I never need that kind of help again because she won’t be there to take care of me.

If you are one of those unperceptive, species-centric goobers who believes that animals do not have a sense of humor, Gypsy would have laughed in your face and you would have to be a complete fool not to know it. She had a wonderful laugh and a smile that was, literally, ear-to-ear. Her joy in running, jumping, wrestling, and performing her many tricks/behaviors was undeniable. On my worst, darkest depressed moments, Gypsy could make me smile and laugh. As happy as she often made me, I don’t think I ever realized how sad I would be at the end of our life together. As I write this, I feel like my head is overfilling with tears and sorrow. It physically hurts as badly as the worst headache I have ever experienced. I can’t imagine being willing to go through this ever again.

Gypsy had so many tricks (“behaviors” for the politically correct crowd) and she’d taught herself most of them. Speaking of the sense of humor, one of the first things she did was when someone would say “cute face,” she’d cover her face with both paws and act shy. That unmistakable guffaw would often follow that if someone would pet her and talk baby talk at her. She had the most gregarious hand-shake of any animal on the planet. She would raise her right paw even with the top of her head and swing it into your hand to shake. It looked like she was someone almost impossibly happy to meet you. The usual “roll over,” “sit,” “lay down,” “stay,” “speak,” and dozens of other words and actions were almost naturally in her vocabulary. We had to spell words like “walk,” “hike,” “go out,” “outside,” and anything else that might imply going for a walk or she would be whining at the door, looking up at her leash, waiting to go for a walk. Like most dogs of her breed, “heel” was a tough command to obey. She could do it, but she’d much rather take off to the end of her leash and nose about. Early on, she was a plow horse but she learned that obeying “don’t pull” got her a lot more freedom. She also understood “right” and “left” even off of the leash.

2016-02-17 Bunkhouse (77)While Gypsy might have been the worst traveling companion possible, whining in spectacularly irritating and painful ways non-stop for whatever the length of the car ride, she was the best camp dog imaginable. She was fearlessly protective of Mrs. Day (as seen at left worrying about Mrs. Day on the back of a horse) and kept us aware of everything and everyone who came near our campsites 24-hours/day. She slept at the foot of our camper bed, every night, and always seemed to have one eye open for threats. Once, when she was tried to the bumper of our camper, a coyote had the gall to try and cross the outside edge of our campsite and Gypsy nearly pulled the camper uphill to get at the coyote. The coyote ran away with the knowledge that he’d have been in a fight to the death if Gypsy had gotten loose. People, however, were automatically given a pass unless Mrs. Day seemed nervous. And she was always ready to go for a walk, on a leash or not, and delighted to do it.

She liked everyone and loved many. For most of her life, she was free to roam our backyard and when delivery people came into the yard to drop off packages, she was always quiet and friendly. Many of them came to like leaving packages at our home because they got to visit with Gypsy. Deer, rabbits, and squirrels, not so much. One of my favorite indoor activities was, when I would spot a squirrel attempting to mangle one of my bird feeders, I’d let Gypsy out into the yard and say “squirrel!” She’d dash into the yard, looking for squirrels, and chasing any who were dumb enough to ignore her into the trees, over the fence, or up the hill into the woods. She loved terrorizing squirrels and rabbits and would not tolerate deer or other large wildlife in her yard. Mrs. Day’s hostas will likely be substantially less lush without their guardian.

Her will to live is inspiring. As of today, April 25th, she can’t eat or drink anything without throwing it back up. Her energy is a microscopic fraction of what it was a week ago and she was a shadow of herself then. Every morning, she drags herself out of bed and walks to the back door to be let out. (Yes, she has always been smart enough to know where her home is and did not need a fenced yard or tether until the last couple of weeks.) She is mostly operating on habit, since she isn’t ingesting anything she rarely expels anything. It is very much like she doesn’t want to inconvenience us with the process of her dying. If you are one of those who believe dogs are incapable of love, I can’t imagine what I could say to you. Even when she is on her last legs, she would rather sleep on the floor near Mrs. Day than in a comfortable bed in the living room. She has a bed in the bedroom, too, but in these final days she wasn’t to be closer.

Gypsy died today, 4/29/2022, at about 12:30PM. She had a rough night, mostly waking up and thinking she was alone. She didn’t seem to be in pain. For the 2nd time in the life we’ve known her, she soiled herself last night and when I carried her outside to lie on the deck bench she was still responsive but had no strength at all. She couldn’t even hold her head up and I had to carry her like a baby, supporting her head when I laid her down. We went for our last walk 10 days ago, it that one didn’t last long due to her strength. The day before, we walked almost a mile and she was slow but still moving well at the end of that walk.

Her will to live throughout all of this miserable week was inspiring and humbling. She did not want to give up and we did not feel that we had the right to make that decision for her. She was struggling out of her bed and staggering to the back door to be let out up to Tuesday evening. Wednesday, I carried her out after she was able to get up but couldn’t walk without falling down. We stood in the backyard for a while, listening to birds and night sounds, but she needed to lean on his leg to stay upright. Thursday, she soiled herself and wet the bed overnight. She was conscious most of yesterday and responded to being touched and our voices, but we think she was in a coma most of the day.

Last night, we left her in a bed we’d made for her in the living room but about midnight just as I was going to bed she started whining for the first time in a week (Gypsy whined a lot, that was her “voice” for communication, so the silence over this past week has been weird.) and we laid down beside her. That was what she wanted. I carried her into the bedroom where she had a “bed” and she was fine most of the night, but she woke up twice afraid and I comforted her until she was quiet. I honestly think Mrs. Day’s snoring helped keep her calm for most of the night. Me, not so much.

She seemed to be comfortable on the outside bench and she was there for about 4 hours before I discovered she had kicked off one of the blankets and died. She had been alone for about 5 minutes. I guess she was being considerate to the end.

Life is short, precious, and painful. And if you are as special as our dog, when you go your loved ones will miss you desperately.

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Gold Ole’ American Quality?

 Mrs. Day watches a lot of streaming television. Today was no exception. We’re on a sad death watch for our 15-year-old Aussy dog and that means we’re shackled to the house for an undetermined period and that Mrs. Day has a great excuse to spend the day doing art work in front of the television. Being the helpful guy I am, I drop in occasionally to suffer with her. We’re both suffering the odor of an old dog on her last legs and I am suffering television. One of the painful moments today was a binge on Seinfeld’s “Comedians Getting Coffee” (or something like that). I am not one of “Jerry’s Kids” and I usually think he is about as funny as a favorite pet on death’s door. His visit with Bill Burr was no exception. 

Jerry is one of those goobers who thinks incompetent engineering that makes a lot of pointless noise is “soulful.” That particular program was in a 70s Mustang, which was a particularly pitiful excuse for a machine. While Jerry and Burr were carrying on about subjects they know nothing about, like engineering, I fiddled with one of my dumb retirement hobbies: model vehicles. Mostly, I assemble Tamiya motorcycles, but I’ve had this damn Revell VW kit in my pile of models-to-be-built for decades and I decided to mess with it this past week.

If you ever wanted to closely examine a good example of why manufacturing in the USA disappeared almost overnight, this kit would be a good place to start. It is, to put it mildly, a piece of shit. The pieces are poorly formed, the extrusion frames are huge compared to the part sizes and often there is more flashing on the parts than there are parts, and the detail is just embarrassingly mediocre. A few weeks ago, I spent a really fun few days assembling a Tamiya RZ350 Kenny Roberts Replica, so my standard of comparison is very recent. After I finish assembling this model, I’ll probably just leave it in the box for some poor relative of mine to find after I’m dead. It will not be something I’ll ever be proud to show off. 

While I’ve worked on this model kit, I have been constantly reminded of David Halberstam’s book, The Reckoning, a mid-1980s book about the fall of Ford and rise of Nissan. In describing the state of the US auto industry at that time, Halberstam listed the collection of lowered expectations American car buyers had to accept if they were going to “buy American.” Things like patterned seat covers that were installed with not interest at all in maintaining some kind of consistency in the pattern direction or plumb line, missing fasteners in visually obvious places, paint jobs that looked as if they’d been applied with a half-empty spray can, and plastic parts like radio knobs and windshield cranks that fall apart on first use. This model reflects all of that kind of lack of concern that 70s American labor was famous for. It is a painful reminder of how quickly power can become weakness. This model was sold in the mid-80s about the same time Halberstam was examining the American auto manufacturing. Revell, of course, is no longer an American company; it’s currently based in Bünde, Germany. Like pretty much every manufactured product that requires assembly skill, those skills are found elsewhere today. I bought mine in a model shop’s going out of business sale in Colorado in the 90s.

In the 60s and 70s, tech writers like myself often made fun of Japanese translated manuals. Even Robert Pirsig did it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  We were wrong. It’s hard to tell from the picture at right, but this is the assembly document from the Revell model. You might wonder what’s wrong with it, until you tried to assemble the model. Steps 1-6 are about putting together body and suspension parts. Step 7 is about installing the front suspension and the footwell cowling to the “chassis.” That suspension piece you see at the fat left of the chassis just appears there like magic, then it disappears in 8-10, and magically reappears in step 20. That is the kind of crap that would make a kid migrate to Japanese models. like the dozens of Tamiya models I have built and never buy another Revell product as long as he lived. Not only was Revell incapable of building a quality model, they couldn’t layout a competent assembly manual.

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Product Review: Sargent Cycle Products World Sport Performance Seat

04/2022 This is another really old (2009) MMM review/Geezer column. There are two interesting, at least to me, things about this review: 1) It is a great product that I lived with for 70,000 miles and 2) This was the 1st V-Strom seat Sargent ever made. I worked with them on the phone and via email to sort out the design and after I’d test ridden if for several thousand miles I identified a couple of failure mechanisms that they fixed in later versions of the seat. Sargent Cycle Products is a great company.

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

My new World Sport seat.

Initially, I was pretty happy with the stock Suzuki DL650 seat. I hadn’t planned on swapping it out for a custom unit because I had other, more critical, places to put my money. After a 2 day, 900 mile trip through a variety of roads and non-roads, I was convinced I had “old guy butt” and needed some additional support for my upcoming 2007 Canada-Alaska-west-coast marathon. In the past, it was a no-brainer for me to buy from Corbin, whose replacement seats I’ve used on a half-dozen bikes. The last two seats from that company were disappointing, so I was looking for an alternative supplier. I’d heard good things about Sargent from other riders and decided to give them a try for the DL’s seat replacement,

A week and a half after placing my money on the table, I received my new butt-platform. It wasn’t cheap, which is why I didn’t go this route right from the beginning; $399.90, including shipping, for the base-stock, GTX/Black welting, no-frills seat. The shipping container was incredibly light, much lighter than the stock seat, and I wondered if they’d forgotten to put anything other than packing peanuts into the box . I opened the box and found the seat was there, it’s just incredibly light. There were a lot of packing peanuts, too.

Secret stash container

This is a true custom seat, unlike some brands that simply recover the bike’s original seat or use bits of the OEM hardware. You can sell your stock seat, because Sargent provides a complete replacement part. The Sargent seat slipped on to the V-Strom’s frame much easier than the stock seat. The base is surprisingly flexible and, I suspect, that is some part of why the seat is so comfortable. Sargent puts almost as much thought into the bottom side of the seat as the business end. The documentation for the seat is conveniently rolled into a plastic tube that is bungied into a notch in the seat base. The tube provides a secure, water-tight place to store your owner’s manual, insurance and registration information, passport, extra trip cash, and lots more.

Fit and finish-wise, it looks at least as good as the stock seat, even though I didn’t buy any of the attention-getting color options and I went for the utilitarian GRIPTEX stock material. Sargent offers a lot of possibilities for the exterior decorating motorcyclist, one of which I’m not. This was one of the first 650 V-Strom seats they’d made and I was warned that it was “near-experimental.”

The only things that really matter about a motorcycle seat is how it sits and how it holds up. I found the seat to be very roomy, for me and for a passenger. The platform base is wider than the stock seat, the foam support is stiffer, and that distributes the pressure more evenly across a rider’s backside. After a 27-day, 10,000 mile trip to Canada, Alaska, and back, I can say that my Sargent seat was extremely comfortable.

Seat seam failure point.

On a negative note, the standard seat material (GRIPTEX, pictured at right) didn’t prove to be particularly durable. After three months and 12,000 miles, my seat began to deteriorate, on both sides of the seat, at the point where the seat frame turns upward toward the tank. It looks to me like the frame edges needed to be de-burred to prevent abrasion at this pressure point.

However, the whole lower edge of the seat looks pretty stressed, so it could be the material is inappropriate for motorcycle seats. Maybe that thin, flexible seat frame creates an edge that is too sharp or flexes enough that it makes contact with the frame? Sargent stopped offering the GRIPTEX material, as of July, 2007, so when I returned it for warranty repairs I was offered a different material (out-of-warranty) as a replacement. I declined. Eventually, Sargent repaired the seat by trimming the pan and tucking the excess material back under the edge, hiding the damaged material under the seat.

I had my last Corbin seat repaired by a local boat upholstery technician and it held up for another four years (the original seat only lasted a year) and still looked like new when I sold the bike. I’ll just take the Sargent back to that guy if the material flaws become a serious problem. At this point, I’d have to say, “No, I probably wouldn’t buy a Sargent for my next bike.” Their “one year limited warranty” was a disappointment, at least as far as the torn section of the seat is concerned. This may be another American company that is suffering from too much success? However, I can’t complain about Sargent’s customer service. The tech was communicative and did a good job repairing the tear and reworked the other side of the seat to prevent a similar failure there.

POSTSCRIPT 7/1/2018: 12 years later, my Sargent seat looks as good as it did the day it came back from the factory repaired. I put another 60,000 miles on that seat and never again reconsidered my initial investment as anything but brilliant. I sold the V-Strom today to a relatively young rider who plans to double the bike’s mileage in the next few years. He was as impressed with the comfort of the Sargent seat as me and has written me twice to comment on how well the bike “fits” him. I’ve changed my mind, the odds are excellent that I’ll buy another Sargent seat for my WR250X.

Posted in dual purpose, geezer with a grudge, minnesota motorcycle monthly, suzuki, Uncategorized, V-Strom | Leave a comment

Love This: Yamaha TY-E2.0

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When Looks Beats Works

I just finished reading an entertaining and informative Kevin Cameron Cycle World article about cooling fins, "The Fascination With Fins." [You might be disappointed to discover there is nothing about Finland in the article.] There is some terrific stuff about how practical engineering and ascetics often combine to make some very artistic mechanical systems. Lots of information about how motorcyclists didn’t take to the look of fan-powered air-cooled motorcycles because the look reminded “motorcyclists of the weak putt-putt engines in lawn mowers and golf carts.” The most important byproduct of air-cooled engines is that the limits to moving heat via air requires that what Kevin calls “Ideological Purity” (the look of air-cooling) also requires engineers put a cap on peak output before the heat fries the motor. Shade tree mechanics have fooled with removing those limits and testing the power-limit assumptions for at least 100 years and scrap and junk yards are full of the results. Liquid cooling just works better. Liquid cooling even works better for high efficiency electric motors (and batteries). As much as I hate plumbing, it’s pretty obvious that it is necessary.

Scanning around the reader comments and a couple other new bike articles was an education in how much humans value appearances over function. For instance this guy who “bought a new [Honda] 500x a few months ago. Love the bike. I would however like a second brake disc, I think this will be a good upgrade. Mine brakes just fine, but they could of course be better. I also think a bike just looks better with twin discs.” It would have never occurred to me that someone would like a front wheel laden with an unnecessary 2nd disk and the associated complications just because “it looks better with twin discs.” I absolutely don’t see the overpowering attraction of symmetry and the fact that a large single disc delivers more stopping power than two small discs. For my money, brakes are generally ugly so the less space given to to lookin’ at them the better.

But I’ve long since realized that what I like to look at and what a whole lot of people like are totally different.

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Getting Parked and My Opinion

February 2022: Man, talk about digging up the past! I wrote this essay after writing an essay, twice, about the subject of motorcycles and urban parking. Andy has been a good friend for longer than he has known me, having created a riding suit that I bought in the 1980s that extended my time-on-the-road from California to Colorado to, finally, Minnesota where I actually met Andy and he convinced me to pop for another $800 and a Darien suit because my old Roadcrafter had “shrunk” after 40 years of use. Andy is a “glass is almost overflowing” kind of optimist, which has to make anyone wonder why the hell he has anything to do with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Duluth and have often considered moving there.

August 2009

A while back, Andy Goldfine asked me to write a Geezer column about motorcycle parking laws and other irrational human activities. I took a first shot at it and sent it to Andy for his opinion. His opinion was “you get more flies with honey than with . . . ” whatever the opposite of honey is. He thought I should tone it down so I might have a chance at changing some official opinions rather than hardening their opinions even further. He might be right. At any rate, I toned it down and the column is sitting out there in the temporary ether waiting for my editor, Victor, to decide the time is right for publication.

My personal opinion is that, at least in the United States, things do not get better. About 40 years ago, a Canadian politician came up with a fable that pretty much sums up the way politics works here. He called it Mouseland. The idea, to put it briefly, is the mice keep electing cats to run their country and the cats (surprise!) keep passing laws that make life easier for cats and much worse for the mice. That’s the system we’ve built and we’re #1 at it. Nobody has more cats governing the mice than the US. Something to be proud of.

My grandson , Wolf, and I took a short the-week-before-school-starts motorcycle camping trip to Duluth this week. We wandered from the Cities to Duluth through backroads and had a great 270 mile trip to a place that is only 130 miles from home, by freeway. We spend the afternoon and that night at Jay Cooke State Park, one of Minnesota’s great unknown natural wonders and a terrific motorcycle road. We hiked a half-dozen miles of the park’s trails and camped there Wednesday evening.

The next morning, I headed us to Duluth for breakfast. My goal was a coffee shop/bakery in Canal Park. My wife and I stumbled on to that place on our 40th wedding anniversary two years ago and I thought Wolf would enjoy the atmosphere and great food. When we rolled into Canal Park, I was surprised to discover the place had been decorated with parking meters. Obviously, Duluth is continuing its recessive decline into oblivion and the City Douchebags are doing everything they can to hurry the city’s demise. Big sections of this ghost town are littered with parking meters and downtown is about as close to dead as a once-lively city contaminated by braindead officials can be. All of downtown is now metered and the city’s parking mafia has turned the city’s empty spaces into empty parking lots manned by politically-connected deadbeats. It has the feel of Chicago without any of the rebellious attitude or the architecture.

I didn’t have a pocket full of quarters (also known as “metermaid foodstamps”) and the new electronic metering system Duluth is using for much of Canal Park is extremely biker-hostile. Instead of plugging a meter in front of your bike, you have to buy a parking pass at a kiosk and find a place on your bike to put the pass. Obviously, cagers will be inclined to rip off the bike pass and put it on their cages. It’s also impossible to bag up your bike with your gear under the cover and leave the bike and gear so that Lovely Richard the Metermaid would see the biker had paid his welfare-tariff. I gave up on the Canal Park restaurant and cruised the downtown area looking for a meter-less place for us to eat. Every restaurant was open, but empty. The meters had done their job. Finally, we ended up at a Perkins on the north end of town that had a parking lot. The place was jammed, unlike all of the metered businesses.

I had a brief conversation with an assistant manager when we paid for our meal. He said the downtown meters had caused a boom in their morning business.


While we were waiting for our food, I snagged a Duluth paper and read a really funny-sick article about a dude (check out the Duluth Faux News video, it’s hilarious) who got into an argument while partying with another dude. To sum it up, the first dude shot and killed the second dude. Within an hour or so, 60 of Duluth’s finest had the neighborhood surrounded with So-Where-Are-They’ers dressed in full Iraq invasion outfits. They looked fierce, just like they do in the movies. However, the guy they were surrounding looked like he’d be about as likely to sneak out and run away as Michael Moore. Look at him. He couldn’t hide behind a mountain.

After cutting the phone lines, the Duluth cops hid behind armored cars, barricaded the streets into the neighborhood, posed with their automatic weapons for news camera crews, and had a bunch of huddled meetings with each other for five hours. Apparently, messing with a guy and his gun is a lot cooler than their usual meter-maiding duties and they wanted to try out all of their gear before they outgrew it. Finally, the guy came out and they loaded him up and went back to patrolling all those parking meters. Now that I know how much firepower is behind a parking violation, I’m going to be even more inclined to spend my money in the burbs.

After breakfast, we gave up on Duluth and headed for Two Harbors. We stumbled on to a great tour of an old steampowered tugboat and a short history lesson from the curator of the lighthouse and museum. We kept going north for a few miles and had lunch on the way back at Betty’s Pies. Yeah, we ate a lot for such a short trip. Get over it. It’s a guy thing.

On the way back, I decided to put up with the meter crap and parked in front of Duluth Pack. I used my credit card to buy a $0.75 hour and discovered the meter gouges you for an extra quarter if you use a card. Something not advertised on the &^%$# meter kiosk. Since we couldn’t close up the gear, we carried it around with us, which finished off any good feelings I had about Canal Park, since it got hot and carrying all our crap limited what we could do and wanted to do. I guess the good side, if you like parking meters, was that the park area was pretty much empty for a perfect last summer week afternoon before school started the next week. I’ve never seen that before in 12 years of hanging out in Duluth. The meters were doing their job of draining the city of downtown tourists and locals.

We gave up after 1/2 hour and went back to the bike to get the hell out of Duluth. Another biker was parked in our space, which looked like a bad idea, based on what I know of metermaids and city meter laws. As we were packing up, the other bike owner came over to ask about my luggage badges and the V-Strom. Turned out, he was from northern Minnesota and was making his once-a-year trip to Duluth. He hadn’t noticed the new parking meter system and was surprised to learn he was parking illegally. I gave him the last 1/2 hour of our pass and left him looking at the damn thing, wondering where to put it so it wouldn’t get stolen if he left the bike to get lunch. I recommended the Perkins north of downtown.

It would be cool to believe that the simple stuff, like parking for motorcycles, is fixable. Obviously, there are logical solutions and all of those solutions provide economic and social benefits to a wide range of citizens. However, we’re a mousy “conservative nation,” which means we’re afraid of our shadows and we’re even more afraid of pissing off the cats. Political correctness is just another form of mousy-ness. Burying ourselves in make-work jobs like metermaids and stuffing millions of citizens behind bars and hiring another few million to convict and guard them and all of the useless crap government does instead of providing useful services to working citizens is exactly the tactic every other failed dynasty has taken in the history of humanity. I would freakin’ love to believe we’re going to be different. But I don’t.

It’s all part of that fear of change and risk avoidance thing we’re growing so proud of. One thing we used to know out of our manufacturing experience is that “change happens.” You don’t have to do a thing and change will happen. Hoping that it won’t is stupid. One of the concepts I’d hope people would get from riding motorcycles is that you have to constantly adapt to change; changes in the road, in yourself and your abilities, traffic, weather, and even laws and cops. The cool thing about getting young people into motorcycling is that they might learn this lesson from riding, since they won’t learn it in school, from their parents, or from video games. The not-so-cool thing about the Boomers getting into motorcycling is that they are too inflexible to learn anything new. They are constantly surprised when the universe doesn’t notice their existence and fails to adapt to their all-important-selves. When they crash and burn, as they will, their reaction is to sue and pass more brainless laws to try to force the world to accommodate them. Like my home state, Kansas, passing laws to require pi to be a nice round 3.

I don’t see this getting better. As much as I’d like to believe gentle argument and logical persuasion will convince the cats to allow us mice the right to lane splitting, filtering, multi-bike parking space access, and all of the cool things that motorcycles and motorcycling could bring to culture, I don’t believe any of it will happen. Honestly, I think the best I will get is the right (for a while) to be pissed off about the incompetence of city, state, and federal officials and to say something about it. The problem with using sugar to catch flies is . . . who wants to catch a fly? When I see a fly, I always reach for a flyswatter.

I am pissed off. You’re right. I used to love visiting Duluth, especially for hanging out around Canal Park. I’ve spent a small fortune on chocolate penances at Grandma’s for my wife, since she often didn’t get to go to Duluth with me. The Canal Park Famous Dave’s is my 2nd favorite place in that chain. The lift bridge and ship harbor entry are pretty near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on my “favorite places” list. But I hate parking meters. I don’t care much for metermaids, either (unless they look like these three, Australia knows how to do everything better). From now on, until Duluth meters-up 18th Avenue West in front of Aerostich, I’ll probably limit my Duluth sight-seeing to the RiderWearHouse, Jay Cooke Park, and points north of town. It’s a weakness, I know, but human-waste like toll booth operators and metermaids bug me so much that I can’t get past that irritation to enjoy the good stuff that’s left of the city. There are too many places to be to have to put up with that kind of drivel. If Duluth doesn’t want my money, Elie, International Falls, Redwing, and more mid-sized towns than I can count do. (Even some Duluth residents have a clue about what the city’s tourist gouging is costing.) Like most Americans, I do as little business as possible in my own downtown, St. Paul, because of the transportation hassle. Between the near total lack of useful public transportation and the miserable parking experience, I’d rather skip downtown and miss out on everything that happens there than risk a $40 parking ticket for some obscure unpublished rule or from being beaten to my car by a metermaid.

Posted in aerostich, economics, motorcycle, touring | 2 Comments

#1 What Are We Riding For? (The original, from whence The Geezer came from ;-) October 1999

February 2022: Now we’re really in the Wayback Machine to 1999, the very first Geezer with A Grudge column (before it was called that) in the original Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine. I wrote this first essay on a dare from the founders of MMM, who I met at a publisher’s party as a guest of my author-daughter, Holly. The column “retired” with the rest of the magazine in 2017, just short of 20 years.

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

After reading the last two issues of M.M.M., it struck me how difficult it must be to write about motorcycling in 1999. First, the majority of riders are geezers (over 47, according to the last poll I read), rich ($8Ok average income), and girly-man geeks (claim “Allie McBeal” and some other godawful soap opera as their favorite TV shows).

Second, as one of your writers discussed last month, damn few of us appear to be actually riding the motorcycles we buy. When bikes are the minority vehicle at a motorcycle event (not an event occurring at the Metrodome in January), you gotta know something is wrong in two-wheeled America.

Third, the U.S. of A’s motorcycling tastes have become so unimaginative that it’s not even fun to visit the local bike shops and drool on the bikes that I’d buy if I won the lottery. The two main street bike choices are 1) Harley clones with dumbed-down motors and enough overweight chromed pot metal to build a John Deere farm implement or 2) 180hp crotch rockets with 0.25″ of suspension and a riding position that would cause a proctologist’s finger to twitch uncontrollably.

If I wanted to ride something that had just left state-of-the-art when I was born, in 1948, I’d be in hog heaven (pun intended). When I was an active off-road racer, the Harley crowd ruined a collection of my favorite events (including Sturgis) and I still hold a grudge.

Fortunately, I had an active, motorcycling, childhood so I don’t need to relive my “Wild One” self-image at the same time I try to ignore calls from burial plot salesmen. If I was willing to hand over my driver’s license and, probably, my freedom for 90 days or more, the spine-pounding, more-power-than-Tim-Allen-can-imagine imitation racer bikes might trip my trigger. I really do love the concept behind these bikes, but I like to do 400-700 mile days and take off on the occasional dirt road. Off of the race track, this is a 75mph-max world, so all that power is just trouble looking for a billfold to empty. The concept appears to be without purpose, to me. I bike-commute to work most weekdays and there just isn’t any place to safely wind out to 170mph between Roseville and Shoreview. But I do admire the technology.

I know, I’m ignoring Goldwings (and their clones) and dirt bikes. Any bike that’s so cumbersome that it needs a reverse gear is not going to do it for me. I’m not knocking them, though. I have nothing but admiration for a 70-year-old who can tote his trophy wife, pull a trailer, and crank his Wing through Montana backroads at 80mph+. I’ve seen it and it is scary.

With a 29″ inseam, Japan hasn’t made a dirt bike that’s a practical ride for me since 1984. Finding a place to ride a dirtbike is harder than finding honest politicians. While rocketing around places where goats need a hand up is as much fun as anything you can do on two wheels, hauling a trailer for four hours to get there isn’t.

That leaves the Suzuki SV650, a couple of decent mid-sized “standards” that have been around as long as me, three or four equally mature dual-purpose bikes, and the Ninja 250 as the sum total of “novelty” bikes imported into the US.

How many times can a magazine write “this year’s model is seventeen pounds heavier, 3hp weaker, and provides more than forty-seven square feet of polished chrome?” The alternative is “200mph is no problem, assuming you can support your family from prison.” I think the pages of praise written about the Suzuki SV tells the story. You guys can’t stop raving about how much fun it is to “ride” this bike. More than half of the reviews I’ve seen talk about going places and seeing things while the reviewer is having a great time riding the bike. I know you guys know that there are at least two dozen equally cool bikes that aren’t imported into the U.S. because the manufacturers don’t believe Americans will buy bikes that are fun to ride. We’re, on average, a freakin’ nation of posers and squids and we aren’t worth the effort it takes to run an EPA test.

October 1999

Posted in economics, geezer with a grudge, harley davidson, journalism, minnesota motorcycle monthly, ride to work day, rider training, technology | Leave a comment

#77 On Being Alone

February 2022: This is another old one, from 2008, and another Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Geezer with A Grudge column. For me, today, there were a lot of insights into my own personality here that I didn’t unpack until I’d been retired about 3 years. Depending on who you decide to believe, somewhere between 10 and 50% of the US population are introverts. Spending time uninterrupted by small talk and pointless communing with other humans takes an energy toll on introverts and I’d spent 90% of my life trying to pretend that wasn’t me. It is. Turns out, it takes me less energy to walk the fuck out from some backwater isolate place where my bike got stuck, busted, or lost than it does to carry on a pointless conversation.

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

“I gotta hand it to you. I couldn’t ride 6,000 miles across country by myself.” I’ve heard that a few times, but I haven’t been able to explain how untrue that assumption is. There isn’t a place in the country where you can be alone for long. In fact, as Ted Simon said at the Very Boring Rally II this summer, “You aren’t alone anywhere you go on this planet.” There are people everywhere and they are, mostly, pretty friendly and helpful. Sometimes, they are a little too interested in what you are doing, where you are going, and why you are going those places and doing that stuff.

For example, I was riding in the Yukon last summer with a friend when I managed to get blown backwards and crash on the Dempster Highway. My riding buddy was about 1/2 mile ahead of me and managing his own problems. So, by the time he discovered I wasn’t inhaling his dust I had picked myself and my bike up, patched up the busted stuff, and was ready to struggle my way back to asphalt when he showed up. About the same time, a trucker stopped and offered to satellite phone for help. Of course, if I had slid off of the road into the permafrost nobody would have found me or the bike when we sunk into the muck.

My favorite example was in Montana on a dirt road to a microscopic place called Helmsville. The road to Helmsville is between a two-lane highway from nowhere to another two-lane to the grand village of Lincoln, MT. The road is paved for the first few hundred yards, turns to loosly packed clay punctuated with sections of deep gravel and sand. There were no signs that anyone had driven County Road 271 since the last wind or rain storm, not a track in the gravel. About 50 miles into this adventure, I needed to stop and relieve my bladder. I found an abandoned corral with an even more abandoned outhouse outside the gate. The outhouse floor was collapsed, so I chose to water the weeds by the door. About the time I got an unstoppable stream flowing, a flatbed full of high school girls drove by, waving and whooping, “Yooo-whooo!”

I’m pretty sure they’d have stopped to rescue me, if I’d have needed rescuing. As it was, they kept moving without asking about my well-being or vehicle status. I don’t blame them. I wasn’t even secure enough in my position to wave back.

Later that summer, my wife and I were on a 40th anniversary trip around the Iron Range and points surrounding that territory. We were on a dirt road detour around the construction on MN Highway 1 to Ely, when I discovered a cool two-track path to a hidden lake. We dirt biked our way down the path to where it dead-ended at a picture perfect lake. It was absolutely quiet; again, no signs of any other vehicle having been on the path. We enjoyed the lake and the privacy for a half-hour or so. Before we headed back to the main road, I decided to get rid of the morning’s coffee. Once again, at the point of no return, a couple wrangled their pickup and boat trailer down the road and headed down the path to my watering hole.

I’m telling you, there is no such thing as a place to be alone on this continent. Anywhere you go, someone is there to share the planet with you. You might as well travel without food, tools, clothing, or shelter. While they are in your space, you might as well borrow something from them. At least ask for spare change. I know I can’t go anywhere without someone asking me for money, why should you be any different? If you really get insecure, feeling alone in the world, whip it out and relieve yourself. If your luck is anything like mine, a truck full of high school girls will be along any minute.

On a motorcycle, you’re pretty much by yourself as long as you are rolling. No matter how many folks there are in your “rolling bowling pin” traveling configuration, nobody but you is in control of your bike. Assuming you are in control, that is. Once you get off of the bike, though, it’s harder to find privacy than it is to instigate an intelligent conversation in Missouri. 300 million citizens in the US amounts to about 85 people per square mile. Eliminate Alaska’s 1.16 person per square mile ratio and that state’s 572,000 square miles and the nation’s grazing ratio is 101 people per square mile. That’s a lot of people for every 640 acres; one of us for every 6.4 acres in fact.

Being “alone” is a relative thing. Simply being outside of your neighborhood is a long ways from alone. Not being able to hear the rumble of traffic doesn’t mean you are out of the reach of civilization or humanity. A bonus that comes with traveling alone is that you are almost forced to make new acquaintances and friends. If you let yourself get into the traveler mode, you will meet people you’d have never known about if you had stayed home.

Being alone is probably scary. I wouldn’t know, I’ve only been to places where I’m surrounded by other people; as few as 1.16 of them per mile2 in Alaska and as dense as more than 500 per square mile in the eastern states and way more than that in the cities. Since man is the “most dangerous animal,” being alone is probably safer than being surrounded by people. Still, sometimes it’s comforting to know that anywhere I go I have the opportunity to be part of a community, if only temporarily. Starting off by myself means that I get to chose where and when those opportunities happen. That’s as alone as I can get.

Winter 2008

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#84 Because It Is Still There

February 2022: Yet another one from my deep, dark, boring past and the 84th Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Geezer with A Grudge Column.

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

George Mallory, the British mountaineer, supposedly told a reporter that he was compelled to climb Mount Everest “because it is there.” Later, he simply said his was the logical response to a reporter’s stupid question (or a stupid reporter’s question). For most of my life, when asked why I have taken on (or want to do) some of the nuttier adventures of my life, I’ve tried to avoid that simple “because it is there” response. For good reason, it seems like an exceptionally lame justification for risking life, limb, property, and security. And, honestly, I didn’t get it. Alabama and New York are “there,” but the existence of those places does not inspire me to experience them. Likewise, I have no particular desire to visit prisons, mental institutions, an IRS office, or Haiti.

Early in the summer of 2007, I took a 10,000 mile motorcycle “trip of a lifetime” through northwestern Canada and a little of Alaska. I’ve wanted to see Alaska since I was a grade school kid who escaped to the cold, harsh, exciting worlds of Jack London and Mark Twain. Alaska seemed as far from western Kansas as any place on earth and that was a good enough reason to want to go there. One of the few country songs that has stuck with me since childhood is Johnny Horton’s “Way Up North.” I’m pretty sure that I’ve watched every Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Public Television show on Alaska and the far North American northwest. If I’ve missed one, it wasn’t because of disinterest.

Alaska and the Canadian northwest turned out to be everything I imagined it would be and more. A little too much more, in fact. About 20-40 miles south of Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, Canada, I lost a wrestling match with my heavily loaded V-Strom, a deep-gravel-coated Dempster Highway, and a strong crosswind. In the end, I was bruised, slightly broken, and so was my motorcycle. A few hours earlier, back at the Eagles Pass fuel stop, I’d heard that the road north of Fort McPherson was mostly paved. If that’s true, I was less than a hour from something more identifiable as a “highway” when I crashed. Of course, a character in a Canadian Highway Patrol uniform told me that the road from Eagles Pass to Fort McPherson was in better condition than the 250 miles of the Dempster I’d just traveled. He couldn’t have been more misinformed (or misinforming) if he were from an alternative universe.

After picking myself and my bike back up and assessing the damage to the two of us, I decided to turn back while the turning was still good. Knowing my old, busted up body as well as I do, I suspected I would be a physical wreak after the shock and adrenaline wore off. It’s not like this is the first time I’ve mangled ribs, maimed a shoulder, or busted a finger. It might have been the first time I did all of those things at once, though. With my first northern target almost in sight, I reversed directions, heading for the relative safety of asphalt, approximately 350 miles south of the crash point. I chose the devil I knew vs. the one I had yet to meet. In turning back, I gave myself a target destination: a hot bathtub in Dawson City. Likewise, that provided me with a goal I had failed to reach and a reason to do it again; “because it is there.”

While I was on the road to and from Alaska, my 90-year-old father was wringing his hands and asking anyone who would listen, “How did I manage to raise such a dumb kid?” He’s always suspected that I was dropped on my head in the hospital, which would explain my motorcycle and bicycle racing, backpacking and canoeing the wilderness, and wildly erratic employment history. So far, this chronicle of irrational behavior has peaked with me crashing a motorcycle on an isolated Canadian highway and going on to ride another 6,500 miles before returning to the safety of home. The next year, I rode 10,000 miles in the opposite direction. The year after that I explored the back roads of North Dakota, going places that aren’t even on Garmin’s maps. I think my father is convinced that I have some sort of death wish; or am simply stupid. A few other family members agree with that assessment, as do several of my work associates and a few friends.

They are wrong about the death wish, but I might be stupid.

Stupid or not, I am enjoying the hell out of the tail-end of my life. After an adventure, I have a renewed appreciation for my “normal” life with my family and my work. I have no shortage of places I want to see and adventures I want to try out. I expect my father will be even more confused next year.

September 2009

Posted in aging, geezer with a grudge, minnesota motorcycle monthly, touring | Leave a comment