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.
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.