Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jaguar Project (part two)




I started reassembling the machine today. This is the fun part. First , pack the headset bearings, then put the forks back on the frame. Get the front and rear wheels hung, flip it over and put it on its feet. Pack the pedal crank bearings, and put the chain wheel back on. The crank threads turn backwards so you always have to think twice when you go to adjust the bearings.There's no instruction manual for these old bikes, but then again, you don't really need one. These are simple machines. Anyone with a glimmer of mechanical aptitude can work on one. Nonetheless, it is an axiom of all machines, that they come apart easier than they go back together. There are hundreds of parts to one of these things and every one of them goes exactly in one place, and it goes there in exactly the right order, or you have to stop, go back, and disassemble. None of it is really hard, but you do have to pay attention.
Mount the gooseneck, and handlebars, and it's beginning to look like a bicycle again, but this is the easy stuff. The Jaguar is a three speed, and there are tanks, racks, light, horn, fenders, and levers to mount, cables to route, adjustments to be made on both brakes, and the shifter.

I didn't get it finished today. In a way, that's an accomplishment. In years past I would have caught the burn, and worked all night until the bike was finished, or I was too exhausted to tell a wrench from a hammer. Today I took my time, solved a couple or three minor problems, and quit while everything was going OK. So now- well- at least I'm here in the den after a bath and a meal, and not out in the garage in the cold and dark on an obsessive burn to finish the project TONIGHT! I've mellowed just a little over the years.

Taking that job with the utility company had been a bad move. At first it sounded like a very cool gig- out all day driving around the city, going house to house servicing simple machines. Work at your own pace...
It sucked, and I hated it. But it gave me the opportunity to search around in damn near every neighborhood in the southeast corner of Los Angeles County. You see- I had this picture in my mind's eye. I'd get a call at some old house, and back in the corner of the garage, behind a bunch of junk would be that mint old tanker, and I'd ask if the guy would want to sell it and... Over a year went by. I didn't find shit. By this time I'd moved out of La Habra, and rented a house nearer to where I worked. Some of the other guys at the base knew I was looking for old bikes, and once one of the guys actually spotted one, and got me a phone number. Another letdown. It was a girl's bike from the sixties, a Hollywood, or a Starlet, I think. Anyway- it was a middleweight bike with chrome fenders. At least it had a front carrier, a half tank in the frame, and a fancy four reflector rear rack. But it wasn't what I was looking for. I already had one girl's bike. Nonetheless, something told me to buy it anyway. Besides it was cheap. By that time I'd pretty much given up on the idea that I was ever going to find some rare gem of a bike when I was out on a service call. It never did happen. I just gave it up, and quit looking altogether.

There is a thread that runs through a lot of new age baloney, but that also shows up in more respectable spiritual practices- The thread goes something like this: When you pray, or wish intensely, or imagine a thing that you wish to come to pass, you create a sort of energy in the cosmos. But that energy does not get released until you stop the imagining, wishing, praying. You know the old story- as soon as you quit looking for a mate, you find the love of your life. Maybe there is some truth to it. It seemed to play out in the Great Bike Hunt. As I said, I never did find a really great old bike when I was out on a service call. The first true classic Schwinn quite literally came my way when I stepped out my front door to go to work. It was trash day. I opened my front door, and the first thing I saw was an old guy rolling up on a bike to search the trash for aluminum cans. He was on an ancient bright red girl's Schwinn. Full balloon tires, tank, rack, light, chainguard, fenders, trussbars, all intact. Did I say bright red? Both tires, and everything in between- right down to the spokes and chain was brush painted barn red. I bought it on the spot for fifty bucks.

Jaguar Project Part Three

JWM

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Jaguar Project (part one)

The picture actually represents the second part of a four part project: disassemble the bike. Take it down to nuts and bolts, fix what's broken, and give everything a thorough cleaning. Part Three: Put it back together. (not as easy as part two) Part Four: Ride it around. The first part, of course, is finding a bike like this one, and replacing all the missing stuff. I had that mostly done by 1980, but I never quite got around to part two. Thirty years later, I'm finally getting around to it. The bicycle is a 1961 Schwinn Mk IV Jaguar, the classic cantilever frame boy's bike updated for the space age with middle weight tires, four reflector rear carrier, a three speed gearshift, and stainless steel fenders. Here's another shot of the Jaguar:


After years of searching for a classic Schwinn, I found the '61 Jaguar, a 1955 Starlet, and a 1950 model B-6 during a brief burst of luck that lasted from the spring of 1979 until the fall of 1980. I rode it around for three or four years- actually took this heavy metal cruiser on fifty mile rides. It did service as a living room decoration for about a decade, but it's been crated up, and buried deep in the rat's nest of my garage since 1997. This was the second acquisition during that burst of luck so many years ago, and the first in line for a total overhaul now.

Of the three bikes, only the Starlet came into my care intact. The Jaguar here, and the B-6 (we'll get to the B-6 later) were missing major parts when I got them. And it took a wildly improbable web of coincidences to get all three machines into my hands, and help me spin together the missing pieces that put them within nuts and bolts of being 100% original.

I was nine years old in 1961. Back then I had an Evans 26" middleweight with a half tank, and rear carrier. Bikes like the Jaguar, and the the B-6 were around, and kids rode them, but back then they were just- you know- bikes. No one really paid a lot of attention. The first time a full dress Schwinn caught my eye was some time in the late seventies.
I'd been surfing at the Huntington Beach pier, and I was waiting to cross Pacific Coast Highway at the light at Main Street. A guy rolled up to the crosswalk on the gaudiest, most outrageous, and stone gorgeous thing I had ever seen on two wheels (without a motor, that is). I had to stop and ask him what it was. The bike was a fully restored 1948 Schwinn Autocycle, painted God and Country red white, and blue. It was big, round, heavy. Bulbous tires. Built in horn.Tanks. Racks. Lights. Springs. Curvy steel draped in gleaming sheet metal and dripping with chrome, and reflectors. This thing was Mae West with fenders. It was cool incarnate, and I knew right then and there that I was going to have one come hell or high water. But where did you go about finding obsolete bicycles?
Well. Sometimes you find them right around the block from where you live. Soon after, someone opened a small, what was then not-quite-antique shop on La Habra Boulevard just a few blocks away from the apartment I lived in. The place was called The Nostalgia Store, and sold all sorts of goodies, and trinkets from the 1950's. It seemed like an odd idea- keep in mind, that stuff was barely twenty years old at the time. The store didn't last long either. Anyway- point was- the coolest thing that the guy had was a perfect 1950's Schwinn Panther. For three hundred bucks. That was the price of a decent used car, or a good used motorcycle. No way. So I checked want-ads, and garage sales, and auctions. All I found was a 1950's Co-ed. A girl's bike. No, I wouldn't find my first full dress Schwinn for a few years to come. Not until I'd quit surfing, left my old job, and moved out of La Habra altogether. My new job with the utility company would have me in and out of neighborhoods, houses, yards, and garages all over a big chunk of L A County. If there were Old Schwinns out there, I would find them.

JWM


Jaguar Project Part Two

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Big Loo. A True Christmas Story



This story was first posted on Robot-Japan in '03. The pic came from google images.
jwm

I saw “Big Loo-Your Friend From the Moon” for sale on e-bay. Asking price was just over $1800.00. One thousand, eight hundred dollars for a forty year old plastic robot from the Marx toy company. Big Loo was a “Christmas toy” from the early 1960’s; kin to the likes of Great Garloo, Odd Ogg, Robot Commando, and Thinkatron.

Big Loo was the most desperately wanted toy on my 1963 Wish List. He could shoot balls out of one hand, and bend over and grab things to destroy with the other. He had blinking eye lights, and a crosshair sight for the dart shooters, missile launchers and water squirter. He could talk too. He had a crank operated voice with ten different sayings. Not to mention the warning bell, a two-tone whistle to further terrify the bad guys, and a compass and Morse code clicker in case you were lost in the wilderness and needed to send a message in code. Not only that- Big Loo was huge. 37” tall to be exact. He was just about everything I wanted in life that fall.

But late in that summer of 1963 we had returned home to Trenton Michigan after visiting friends who had moved to California. My younger brother had asthma; the pollen laden eastern summers were killing him. He had done remarkably better in the dry southwestern climate. Instead of spending time in the emergency room he had been running around, swimming, and skinning up his knees and elbows riding a steel wheeled sidewalk surfboard. Sometime around Halloween a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared in front of our house. My folks announced that we too would be moving to California. We were going to a place called La Habra- sort of near Disneyland, and sort of near the beach.

The house sold in November, and one Friday afternoon a fragment of broadcast broke across the loudspeaker in sixth grade Music class. The teacher turned directly to me. "John. Get down to the office right now, and find out what happened". Against all school rules, I ran down the ramp, through the lobby, and into the main office. “What Happened?” I asked.
The secretary looked at me for a moment and said in a flat, stunned voice,” Someone shot the President.” That was Friday, November 22.

Three weeks later, Friday, the Thirteenth of December was cold, and wet. The moving vans had gone. After school we said goodbye to our friends, finished packing, and took a last look at our home. The tree out front was a bare stick. The lawn was brown, the windows black, and everything else drizzly and gray. It was dark by the time we left. Mom piled my two brothers and me into the car, and my Dad drove south that night, into Ohio.

Many days later, our bedraggled family pulled up to the door of our friends’ house in La Habra California. It was after ten o’clock at night when we got there. The moving vans had been delayed, so we spent several days sleeping on the floor in their living room and everyone got the flu at once. One of the moving vans arrived Christmas Eve with half of our furniture and goods.
We spent that Christmas Eve moving into a shabby sprawling ramshackle house right off Whittier Boulevard. There were avocado, persimmon and loquat trees all overgrown in the huge shaggy yard. There were real poinsettias, too. Somehow in the midst of all that confusion my parents managed to get a Christmas tree set up and decorated in our otherwise empty living room. My Dad explained that Christmas might be delayed this year. At eleven, I understood what he meant, but my younger brothers still believed in Santa. He took my brothers and me to “Freight Outlet” and gave us each a few bucks to spend so we’d have gifts to give. My brothers and I never knew how broke we really were then. We got dinner that night from Burger Q, which was right across the street from our new home.

And the next morning my brothers and I woke up to Christmas. The house was half empty, and strange. Stranger still, it was warm, and sunny out. But it was still Christmas. I don’t know how my parents did it, but they did. We had presents. All the silly, wonderful Christmas-toy junk that my brothers and I had coveted, wished for, and figured we just wouldn’t get, appeared beneath the tree that morning. Including my talking 37” tall, ball firing, dart shooting, missile launching, water squirting eye blinking, waist bending, thing grabbing, bell ringing whistle blowing “Big Loo Your Friend From the Moon” robot from the Marx toy company.

That was Christmas 1963. By the spring of 1964, I had discovered car models, surf music, and then the Beatles. Big Loo went the way of most real toys, which is to say that I don’t know when or how it disappeared. And now there’s one for sale for eighteen hundred and some odd dollars on e-bay. There’s not a chance I’ll bid on it. Nonetheless, if it were mine I wouldn’t sell it.

A merry, and joyous Christmas to all my friends in the Coonosphere. John M

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Imaginary Pan




Labels for this post:
e.g. scooters, vacation, fall

I know- I did that one already- the bit with copying the little labels for this post label. And I used it as an excuse to start BS'ing about motorcycles, and ended up writing about a hapless road trip I took back in 1973. Well- it is Fall. I could use a vacation, and an oddly wistful sort of dream has taken hold of my imagination. I say "oddly wistful", because I've been dreaming about motorcycles, and "wistful" is generally better suited to dreams of lost loves, lost youth, and all things nostalgically lost in nostalgia.

Still, I keep dreaming about a Panhead. I want a 1952 Harley, and I want to build. (With the emphasis on build.) a '70's "Frisco style" chopper, along the lines of the Captain America bike that Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider. I'd like to get an old FL, and disassemble the thing down to nuts and bolts, and resurrect it in the image of all those badass machines that the outlaw clubs rode when they terrorized hippies back in the day...

There's always a lot of free brain time at work, and The Project has become The New Favorite Toy for my brain. I muse on everything from the danger inherent in riding a chopped out bike with the old style foot clutch and suicide gearshift, to the ethical question raised by taking a vintage machine and customizing, rather than restoring it. I think on peanut tanks, sissy bars, how far to extend the wide glide... I can play with this stuff in my head for hours.

But that's all it is. Head play. It's a mental weed of sorts that feeds on traces of hope. The hope, in this case, would be finding my way to a financial situation that would allow me to indulge in the project. So I've been playing George to my own Lennie, and fertilizing this mental weed with bullshit. And it's a cover, too. As long as I'm filling my brain with this kind of stuff, I'm not letting my brain fill up with big picture stuff. And you know how it goes- the bigger the picture, the scarier the stuff. So I'm keeping stride with a day's work, and cursing this primitive goddamn pile of gears and iron for not starting after the zillionth kick, and then I remember to turn on the gas, and it fires right up, and everyone laughs, but right now I have to lock the upper field gate, change a couple of lights, and get the trash cans out in time for the first lunch...

I like doing this. Working the day shift is fun, and Stephen King Elementary is a particularly sweet routine. And I've been here for a couple of weeks already on what's looking like an open ended assignment. Short version- the regular day man had planned on retiring after this school year. Unfortunately, he had some heart trouble. He'll be OK, but it's doubtful if he'll be able to return to work. In the mean time, I'm filling in until further notice.

That's the hard part. Filling in. I've been filling in here and there for three years, now. I do a damn good job, too. Doesn't matter. Filling in is as far as I'm going to get in this outfit. I get all kinds of happy talk about what a good job I do, but they hired out the last two openings to guys cold off the street. Nice enough guys, but younger, and dumber to boot. And I've already followed up their work. They're doing an average job. Nothing special. So I know I could work this day position for months, have the plant buffed up like an antique car, and everybody happy with the service. But when the regular guy does retire, they'll tell me, "Thanks for all the hard work", and hire someone else for the job.

It's a U.T.O.L., a Universal Task Of Life. This one is called: Face it, dude, they're not hiring guys your age. They're hiring young men with families to raise, not old men trying for one last career before the boneyard. Hell, I'm older than the guy I'm filling in for. But I don't face it. I do the same thing I've done all along: bust my ass trying to do an exceptional job, and fail at suppressing the hope that I could still get a full-time gig out of this.

And- you know- it's not really about the Panhead. It's what full time work would mean- health insurance, life insurance, - shit we just can't get or afford. And less for me than for my wife. If she got... I'll just leave it there; I don't need to get all melodramatic. You know. So I think about building the chopper, and let the daydream grow like a weed on the false hope that I'm going to get anywhere on this job.

JWM

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Life In The Best Of All Possible Worlds




This post is a boast. A throwdown to every dude and dudette in the Coonosphere. This is a rocket at Rick, and Robin. A bomb at Ben, and Bob. A jolt to Julie and Joan. Know ye now, that the women are on notice, and the men are well, and truly pwn3d. I hereby stake an unequivocal claim on the loftiest and most rarefied reaches of high ground. And I mean like Himalayaville, Daddy-O.
I.
Rule.

What, you might ask, has catapulted your usually humble, and somewhat self effacing host to such ecstatic transports (not to mention annoying alliterations)? A winning ticket on the pick six? A sure shot at fame and fortune? An NEA grant for my cat litter sculpture of teh preznit?

Well, actually it's my wife who gets the kudos. Take heed here, Julie and Joan. Eat yer' hearts out guys. Here it comes.

I've been working this week. Friday morning started as it always does: Mary gets up in the dark to make coffee and oatmeal. I follow a few minutes later, pour a cup, and take half an hour to achieve consciousness while sitting on the couch with the cat. Mary stirs me when breakfast is ready, feeds me, and gets me out the door. It's a sweet enough way to start the day. But.
This Friday I fumbled my way to the table; she set the bowl of cereal at my place, and joined me with her own a moment later. She sat down, turned to me and said, "You've been working hard this week. How about tonight I take you for dinner, and then we can see this new movie I was reading about- Zombieland. How does that sound?"

Keep in mind that it was early, and my blood caffeine level was barely high enough to simulate awareness.
Zombieland?
My wife had just offered to take me to a zombie movie.
It would be well to note here that my wife is sixty one years old.

"That sounds good," I said.

Truly momentous events overwhelm our ability to comprehend them. Their impact is felt not like a blow, but rather more like a drug that requires some time to take effect. It took a while before I began to really realize what had happened at the breakfast table. And this realization was starting to remind me of the time back in the 60's when I tossed down half a dozen diet pills just to see what would happen. Sweet euphoria swirled around the wistful sadness that comes from viewing the Human Condition from afar.

My wife offered to take me to a zombie movie. I knew that just as I was reveling in the anticipation of burgers and fries, followed by a couple hours of guns, guts, shit blowin' up, and zombies gettin' blasted every which way from hell, (not to mention babes and cars!) that there were legions of men out there who were staring down the barrels of vegetarian dinners and chick flicks in the vain hope of getting...
Ah, well.
So, guys. I know you all have lovely women in your lives.
But eat your hearts out anyway.
And ladies take note. I have handed you the key to all sorts of renewal in your marriages.

And Zombieland?
Hands down, the all time greatest movie of all time.

JWM

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Official End of Summer Post


Booger the Cat is Not Amused. (click for more grump)


This is one of those times when the keyboard is a teaspoon, and the blank post window is an empty pool.
Fill 'er up.
Well...
Where do I start?
First, I guess I'll have to apologize for sloppy blogmanship, bad form, and poor etiquette by just walking off, and leaving the blog unattended. No excuses.
Anyway.
I started writing about work some time ago. You see- the idea was to take a look at what work meant to me, to describe a numinous event, and to consider the change that that vision caused in me and my relation to work. It was all going to culminate with a decision I made last spring, and the consequences of having made it.

That was the plan anyway. And the narrative was going to be interspersed with all sorts of fascinating and funny anecdotal slices of life on the summer crew, complete with all the drama one generally comes to expect when the topic at hand drifts around to the cleaning of schools.

None of that shit happened. And, truth to tell, I really don't much feel like drawing out the metaphysical aspects of manual labor, and crafting them into an amusing story, a parable, or a pious admonition to keep your shoulder to the grindstone for the glory of God, or some such thing.

So, for those of you who have given me you time and attention, here's how the story wound up.
I got out of the cardiac event well, but totally broke. I got a spot substituting for the custodial/maintenance/grounds crew at the local school district. That was January of '07. For the last almost three years I have worked hard, and well, and gladly. I made a reputation. I made some friends. This last spring, two full-time jobs became available. After giving it much thought I decided to put in for one of the jobs. One of them is a tough grind of a job, but at 57, I figured I could probably make ten years- well, maybe make ten. It doesn't matter. They did not hire me for either position.
So. There's the wound. I'll spare you all the salt that got rubbed into it.

"It's not what I want, but what God wants for me. Not what I would do, but what God would have me do. Not my will, but that God's be done
That I humbly pray..."


It was no surprise. All summer long I stressed on it- shook the crap out of that inner-magic-8-ball, but the only answers that came up were the various permutations of "Not Yes". Now I'm just glad it's over.

Watch me dodge the part where I say, "Well, here's the lesson in all this..."

A final note:
Rick, I was just over at "Listening Now". I am honored. Durn near speechless. (that's why I typed this out). Thank you very much.
And to Julie, Thanks for the robot link! There's no such thing as a bad day when you have a warrior robot.
Helen (theo) Thanks for the thought, and the link. I checked the site out briefly, read through the introductory stuff. He sounds interesting.

JWM

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sometimes You See Stuff


As I said last week, I believe that hearing The Voice, or experiencing a sudden flash of insight or intuition is a fairly common experience. Most everyone can tell the story of a hunch, a feeling, an impulse that led to some great opportunity or other. An odd thing about the experience is that you can only see it in retrospect. And if you try to anticipate the encounter- catch a glimpse of the wheels of fate in action, it becomes invisible.

So when I got out of the hospital, and wrote the narrative of my adventure in the cardiac ward I made a point of noting that I had not experienced any sort of luminous moment, no angelic visitors, no sudden spiritual awakening, or anything like that. It was sort of disappointing.

It just took time to digest the experience. Throughout the whole episode, from the moment I collapsed in the emergency room to the time they released me, a little over forty eight hours later, I had an odd, and almost annoying sort of tic running like a soundtrack through my thoughts: "I wonder who made that machine? Who drew the plans for this room? Someone sat at a drafting table, or a CAD screen, and created the layout for those circuit boards. Someone planned out the wiring and installed those electrical fixtures. Someone laid the tile, hauled the concrete, broke the earth to lay the foundation of this place. This hospital where these people are saving my life. The tens of thousands of businesses that create the tools that enable them to do so..." and on, and on. If I saw a picture on the wall I was reminded that someone painted it; someone made the frame...
And the vision expanded until I saw that the entire miracle that is Western Civilization is the compounded effort of countless ordinary people getting up and going to ordinary jobs. It is the will of God that life should flourish. Holy is the work done toward that end. And who can deny that life flourishes in this place? For all its microcosmic faults, the overwhelming balance is abundant Good. We here are so richly blessed.

Now as I look back on it I have to laugh at myself a little. I had The Voice shouting in my ear while I was busy listening for the voice. I was so busy watching for angels that I didn't see the vision. At least not until some days later. Not until the shock of the whole event had begun to wear off. The immediate details of the tests, the procedures, the pain, all faded pretty quickly. But the memory of that odd mental chatter, and the vision it pointed to, remained clear.

JWM

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Decision on the Hill.



This has become another odd exercise, writing these musings on work. Almost everything I've written down in the last few posts has been biographical stuff I have covered before in one context or another. And much of the stuff yet to come will have been covered before as well. But there is a point to all this, beyond my vain rehashing of stuff that's already well and vainly hashed. If I go slowly enough I may just figure out what that point is before I finish.
Anyway.

Writing is work. So is drawing, painting, sculpture, music. Blogging too, come to think of it. Exercise is certainly work, and all the really fun things in life: games, sports, hobbies, require huge investments of effort. So not only is work, work; play is work too. Everyone would love to have play for a job, but, of course, once play becomes a job it is no longer play. Just like slack time. Unless slack is framed by a routine of productive work, it is meaningless.

By the summer of '06, the routine, productive, or not, was an eight mile loop that I'd walk every day through the steep narrow roads in the nearby hills. The route took me past the elementary school by my house, and one afternoon I paused there and just looked at the plant. It was built over fifty years ago. The low slung modern buildings are settled under the shade of huge ash trees. It looks as much like a park, as it does a school. I thought back, not on the teaching career, but to the days when I worked the night shift. What a mellow routine it had been. (Mellow was a highly prized commodity in the seventies) I thought about working at this, or a similar small facility, taking care of the place. It wouldn't be a bad gig at all, I thought. And I could see doing that again...

So I started thinking of just saying screw it with this 'retirement' business, and going back to work. But as I understood it, if I went back to work I'd risk losing the retirement income. That was a tough call. I wrestled with the decision all that summer. I was trudging up the steepest hill on the eight mile loop, sweating hard, and pushing the pace, and my head was swimming with 'what do you really want to do?', when the answer just burst out of me, and I said to myself something like, "I don't care, dammit. I want to go back to work."

And just at that moment- right on cue.

pain.

JWM

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Vacancies




Work is what we do and who we are. Notice that we say, "Mr. Smith is an accountant, a salesman, a manager." Not, "Mr. Smith is a father, a golfer, a jazz lover who works as an accountant, a salesman, etc". Like it or not, when you take a job it becomes part of who you are. Same when you lose one.
And although I left the teaching job in'97, I worked on the stones without taking a break until '03. I couldn't stand the thought of not being on project. Some time before the passion for artwork kicked the bucket, I got my first computer, and got on line. The goofy snapshot that headed Monday's post turned into the "Doesn't Play Well" project that took another couple of years to finish. But the story was a project, not a job. And when it was finished in'05, I didn't have anything to follow it up with.

The artwork sprouted under the eve of the teaching job, and grew strong enough to sustain me for a few seasons. Sprouting under the eve of the artwork was a spiritual hunger that pulled me back to a very cool "footbally" kind of internet site. At first I went to the footbally place for politics in the wake of 9/11, and news about the jihad; soon it was less about the politics, and more about 'meeting' with some few of the people there who seemed to carry a peculiar set of religious convictions that just- pulled at me like a magnet. Something in their words carried fire. And got them all expelled from the footbally place. Some started their own blogs. The Coonosphere was born. (thanks, Queeg!)

In the mean time I had *how do you say?* an overabundance of slack. And I was face to face with the Ghost of No Occupation- the place where you dread the "What do you do?" question, because the answer is, "nothing", and the part of you that is measured by what you do remains vacant.
That's not to say that I spent all my time staring at the wall or even the internet. After all, there was still the household to maintain, my mother to take care of, and the myriad details of life that can fill the better part of any day. I spent much time walking in the hills, much time in prayer, and much time wrestling with The Religious Question. And the Question seemed to be, "What do you want of me, God? What is it that You would have me do?"
Some time early in '06 I was marching up the first steep hill on my daily eight mile walk, and I just got The Voice again. And before I go on here let me explain what I mean by, The Voice: Compelling flashes of intuition, maybe. Sometimes, an actual voice in my ear. Ricky Raccoon described moments of intense visual focus. Some may describe a nudge from a Guardian Angel. I believe that most people can describe several such incidents in their lives. Anyway- this time it was a- voice. I was marching up the hill and... "Do you want to carry the fire?" it said. I got kind of a gut drop, and stopped mid-step. Whatever this was it was Real, and it sounded suspiciously like it was asking for a commitment. I didn't know... "You can refuse." it said. That set off a real gut drop. Whatever this was, I did not want to refuse it...And I just said, "Yes. Yes I will."
And just at that moment-

Nothing in particular happened.

JWM

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Worked Out



So anyway- yeah the breakdown and loss of the teaching job, and all that crap... I've written about it before here on the wfb.
But the topic is Work.
I wanted the legendary Job With Meaning. Make the world a better place. Feel secure that your keep has been earned. Teaching school seemed to meet all three requirements. And doing it in the inner city LA added the grit, and the drama. I liked doing it; I gave it my best effort, and for a while, I was very good at it.
Now. I could say the same thing, minus the part about inner city LA, about the night job cleaning up the local Jr. high. It met the requirements according to my own set of values.
But, of course, teaching pays better than cleaning up the classroom. And face it- you can sling all the happy talk you want about the value of 'good honest work' but there just ain't no prestige in answering the "What do you do?" question with saying you're a night janitor. Especially if it's an eligible woman doing the asking. Answering the question with, "inner city school teacher", well- that's a different matter. And it was a point of great pride with me to have earned the right to give that answer. I believed that I was doing good, and doing it well. Eh-maybe. I really don't know, now. But I believed it then.
It all crashed in June of '97. What started as the day from heck turned into a breakdown, and a two year nightmare that ended with my getting a disability 'retirement' from the state. So there went the job, and with it the title, modest as it was, and much of who I was, or thought I was.

And it was work that kept me going through the whole thang. Artwork, actually. For years I had used the drafting table as a source of escape from the stress of the day job. I channeled all the anger, frustration, and disappointment into graceful biomorphic graphics, and later, Celtic design. I have posted some of the work here on the wfb. With the loss of the job I turned my energy to stone carving. I carved every day. I treated it like a job. Show up early; get out the tools, and carve another chunk of alabaster into something new in the world. It got me through. I made some cool stuff, won some ribbons, and got invited to display at several fine venues. Even sold a couple. But did it have Meaning? Was I making the world a better place? Was I secure in knowing my keep had been earned? Not really. And, truth to tell, I was a fair to meddling fine amateur, but not big time material. And the artistic burn that had sustained me from the mid eighties onward just fizzled out cold in '03. I had been slowing down somewhat, even though I was about 2/3 through a very good piece. I just went out there one morning, looked at the rock, and it was like suddenly falling all the way out of love, and all the way down to indifference in the time it took to finish a cup of coffee.
It was like losing another job.

JWM

Monday, August 3, 2009

Where This Stuff Started



Thank you Julie, Joan, Rick, and Robin for the notes. That made my day.
Like I said yesterday, the next few posts are going to be about work. That's nothing new here on the wfb; I write about work every now and again, and most of the stuff I'm going to talk about is stuff that has come up before. Work, for me for the last two and a half years has been substituting on call for the custodial/maintenance department of the local school district. Not exactly life in the fast lane. Nonetheless I like it well enough.
So much for the 'where I am'.

How I came to be here is another matter. I mean- this is how I started out almost forty years ago: pushing broom for a small town school district. Irony is- I recognized, in 1975, that I had every reason in the world to stay right where I was. Surfing was The Most Important Thing, and the job was tailor made for a surf bum. Fall, winter, and spring were on the swing shift, so I could surf every day if I felt like it. Summer was day shift at work, but the summer beaches were crowded, hot, and usually flat anyway. Besides- I actually enjoyed the work. Cleaning up the school was simple, but it was important that it be done, and done well. Administration was easy going, and most of the faculty was appreciative. Life rolled along on the rhythm of season and tide. I was having fun, and I knew it. Money? I had enough. That was enough.

Seeds of discontent sprout anyway. Girlfriend arrives on the scene. Late night beer and bedfest. Bye bye surf, and "By the way, why don't you get a better job?"
So I left the night job with the school system for a job in field service with the gas company. I hated the gas company for three years before I quit. I took a trip through Mexico, and came home wondering what to do. A couple months of salt water therapy later, I had my answer.
I wanted a job that mattered, not just an eight hour exchange of time for dollars. I wanted to do work that was more than just work. I wanted a job with meaning. [insert eye rolling emoticon]. I was on my way home from the beach, waiting to make a right turn. And I just got The Voice. Suddenly I had a picture of myself standing up in front of a high school class getting a bunch of first semester freshmen ready to gain the basic skills that will get them through the next four years and beyond...
So just after my thirtieth birthday I signed up for college. I wanted to teach English in high school.

And so I did. For ten years. Until the breakdown in '97.

JWM

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Getting Plugged Back In





It would just figure. For the last couple of weeks I've been impatient to end the internet fast, get back on line, get in touch with Rick, and Ben, and everyone, and most of all, try to spill some of this turbulence that has been churning up my small corner of the world. But now I'm on line, and the road between my head and the keyboard is crawling along like the freeway at five on Friday. I don't even know where to start, and I can't come to any conclusions while the wheels of all this stuff are still turning. July is over, but the maelstrom of events that began the month will still suck the life out of my brain for another week or so before the next set of challenges comes up to take its place. Vague enough? I hope so. I do not know where things will end up. And much depends. Much.

But I do know where the next few posts are going to end up. They're going to end up being about work: work through the lens of my own epiphany, the translation of The Voice into the hard currency of deeds performed at its prompting: the simple business of getting up and going in and putting out a day's worth- the gritty business of working a tough dirty job. And the bullshit.


There's always crap to put up with on a job. Any job. It gets under your nails and under your skin, and worms its way into your head where it crowds out your attention span, and spills over into every corner of your thoughts. Seeds of discontent sprout into silent soliloquies, and lectures. Righteous internal monologues grow like so many annoying goddamn weeds. Trivial matters morph into mental gadflies that sting you awake at twenty to three, and buzz around the gates of sleep until it's time to get up anyway... This is fly season, this summer in my head.

But if I want to make sense of anything, I have to go back to the start of the current situation, and sometimes it's a tricky business to know exactly where you are and just how you came to be there. Some situations in life arise from the cumulative result of all the decisions and events that preceded them. Others are visited upon us suddenly, with no precedent or preparation. Sometimes it's a combination of the two. Point is- I need to pick a point, and start from it. I'll do that in just a minute.
Anyway.

To my friends in the Coonosphere: I will be in touch. I have to catch up on The War, and the Froth; I'm hungry for haiku, and I'm lookin' forward to BS'n with Ben.

JWM

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Note to the Coonosphere

Figure in Seven Lines


This isn't really going to be much of a post. I am just sort of checking into cyberspace (as we computer savvy folks like to call it) to leave a note to my dear friends in the 'sphere: Bob, Ben, Ricky, Robin Starfish, Walt, Mushroom, Van, Julie, Joan, QP, and anyone else from the One Cosmos crew who happens by- even the troll. I think of you folks even when I'm not on line.
Anyway.

I'm taking a hiatus from the internet. I'll be back with a boatload of shit to sling after August 1st- maybe even a new project. We'll see. In the mean time, I hope all is going well for all of you. All right. That's it. See Y'all later.

Oh, and just one other thing. If you just stopped by here, and you have a little time to waste, and hey- who doesn't? Check out The Greatest Toy Story Ever Told, (actual title: Doesn't Play Well With Others) linked on my right sidebar. It's dreadfully corny, occasionally funny, and mostly ridiculous with a rock 'em sock 'em bang up epic ending ripped-off from all the best cliche's in anime.

Take care.

John M

Monday, June 15, 2009

Flowers In The Yard

Secret growing heart
opens for a lover's eyes
playing give and take


haiku by Julie




I finally got the evil ie8 uninstalled, and ie7 is back limping along as always. No, thank you. I do not choose to update. I'm using Firefox anyway.
And I still don't feel much like posting just yet, but that may change. In the mean time, as always, I'm ready to go to almost endless lengths to find new material to write about. In this case I went all the way out to the back yard, where I planted one of those trumpet flower plants a couple years ago. So here are some shots of the trumpet flower plant in my back yard. Maybe I can bum a haiku off someone, and then the pictures will have captions. Click to enlarge.










JWM

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

WTF at the wfb. stepping back




I read Joan of Argghh's post yesterday, and it tied in with the last two posts over at Mushroom's. I'll weigh in here, rather than post on both blogs. I too have felt this odd sense of impending doom. Indolence, and Barbarism. I seem to get the flashes when I'm driving. For me the flashes manifest as titles- names for the stages in some huge thing that unfolds before us. 9/11 was The Dark Epiphany. The shock wave resonated around the globe, and set the next phase in motion. What followed was The Alignment of Sides. Sheep to the left, goats to the right. Or was it goats to the left? At any rate, the Alignment of Sides is all but over. The lots have been called and cast. Here we are. We know who we serve. And you see who won the power. Now comes The Inversion. It is impossible to look at pop culture or the media without being drowned in it. Ugly is cool. Nothing is sacred, not even beauty. The Lie owns, and a frightening number of people have placed their Faith in The Lie. Or so it would seem. What will follow The Inversion?

I don't know.

But I'm bettin' it ain't good.

Right now I can't even stand to listen to talk radio unless it's Prager on values, or great issues. Politics is toxic. Pop culture is depressingly ugly. And right now, I just don't want to add another screedy log to the fire.

So, I'm going to drop back into lurk mode for a while.

Maybe just post a pic here and there for a while- who knows?


JWM

Friday, May 29, 2009

Silver and Slack




This is the season for our all silver weatherless weather that blankets the southland in woolen gray. It isn't warm or cold. Eight in the morning looks just like five in the afternoon. Windless. Nothing casts a shadow in the diffuse light. Sound muted; dials turned down to six, and everything is slow.


I didn't get a call for work today. But I'm on Monday for a little over a week. Much to be grateful for.




And I missed old John's birthday party because I didn't know he was going to have one. Neither did he. I haven't hung out at the corner for quite a while. I've been working, and after work I mostly don't want to go hang out- I just want to rest, and poke out a post here on the wfb.


So I missed the whole thing; all the locals there at Starbuck's, along with the Starbuck's crew, the gang from Fresh n' Easy, and Trader Joe's bunch got together and threw old John a surprise party at Starbuck's.


I found out about the party this morning, but it was yesterday, that I learned that John had been down with the flu. I walked up to his place this morning. Some folks up in the Heights let him live in their pool house. He takes care of the dog. He was up, sitting outside talking to a woman who sees him at the corner. She was stopping by to check on him. Old John has a wealth of friends. It's is truly one of the finer things I have seen in people- they way that so many folks look out for him. Even M, the guy I - oh, forget it. But even a guy like M shows a decent side when it comes to old John.


Anyway- The woman left a short time after I got there. John showed me the pictures, and we talked for a while. But he wanted to go back in and lie down, so I walked on back down the hill. He's going to be OK.


Saturday:

Today is a carbon copy of yesterday. If you photographed the place in black and white, no one would notice. I went up to John's place, and he gave me a couple of pictures from the party. He still isn't well, and he doesn't want to hang out at the corner anymore because it's too windy down there, and sitting in the draft is what he figures gave him the flu. M had just given him a ride down to the store so he could pick up a few things. Again, he wanted to go in and lie down, so we visited for just a short while. I drove down the hill, took care of the small business of the day, and now I am in possesion of that sweet distilled essence of time: slack. Of course there's a ton of shit that needs done. Find me a time when that isn't the case.


Slack. God knows I have had my share of it. I think it's safe to say that I have had not just abundant slack, but excessive slack. But slack is like salt. Too much of it spoils the meal, and if it's spread too thin it might as well not be there at all. There must be balance and proportion in order to make slack, slack. Maybe just one day out of seven is enough. Only as long as you keep slack in its proper proportion can you realize how truly precious real slack time is.

Up until the last two and a half years, slack had been the default state of my existence for a decade. But try as you will to place a high value on something, if you have that thing in limitless quantities the value diminishes. Even slack. As of late I've been working very steadily, and my slack time has been reproportioned, and redistributed according to the rules of the forty hour work week. The diminished quantity of available slack has raised the both the quality, and the value of the slack time remaining.

But like all things it comes at a price. With diminished slack time, I have chosen to spend several hours a week writing here on the wfb, rather than hanging out with the gang at the corner. Had I been hanging out instead of sitting home writing I'd have been in on the plan to throw John his 87th birthday party. As it was I missed it completely, and the regret smarts. Priorities, huh?


Anyway.

With that I resume the non duties of the day.


JWM

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Waking up to Wednesday.




Damn. It's like Wednesday, already. How did that happen? I know. I've been working a lot, and hard. And I've ended the last few days just plain tired out. Having Skully around over a long lost weekend didn't help.

Skully was a grim reminder of how far I've fallen from even the semblence of cool. I'm not kiddin'- I didn't know the whereabouts of a single strip joint, underground club, topless bar, or card casino. I had no idea where to go to find a hooker. I told him I know of a guy somewhere back east who makes book on sporting events, but Skully didn't seem interested. I just don't know where it's at. But I know enough about booze- well, I remember enough. It's been quite a while, you know... But I figured Caribbean rum would appeal to the pirate in the parrot, so I grabbed a couple quarts. That, and the computer kept him reasonably happy.

So now the place is a mess, my wife is all kinds of pissed off, and I'm still getting hundreds of spam e-mails from third world countries. You don't even want to know what they're trying to sell.

But Skully's on a Continental Trailways headed for Washington.

*bitchen*


JWM

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Strange goings on at the wfb

Skully


Well, now this is a peculiar predicament. I went on line, looked at the e-mail, and got a note from one "Bogie", a mysterious troll who often shows up at USSBen's blog One Cosmos at Sea.
I'll cut 'n paste it here:


Lishen, jwn:
I was workin' on a case wit' Mack when I hear these mugs in a dive bar talkin' 'bout kidnappin' Skully the boid. So I says to 'em You lookin' fer someone to pay ransome to get a boid back? Naw, they says. We're lookin to pay someone to get this *^&%#*(*%$ boid outta' here! How much you payin' I asks. The mugs says "I'll give ya' twenny bucks an' the boid". Sho I says, "Make it fifty", and he takes the deal." I'm out here, by the LA airport, and I heard you know Ben good enough to make sure the boid gets home OK. So I'm sendin' him over to your place in a cab. You pay the hack.


Bogie


So the next thing I know I get a knock at the door. I open up, and some guy's standing there. "Greetings very much", he says. "I am Mohammed Mohammed Mohammed from the company of Yellow cab. I have for you the boid.
That will be sixty seven fifty cab fare, please very much."


And now he's here. I have him amused with a bottle of Mount Gay rum for now, but he's already starting to ask when I'm going to be done so he can get on the computer. So any posts from Skully will be coming from this ip address for a while, until I can get him on a Greyhound back to Ben anyway.








JWM












Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blog 101



Yesterday was the 100th post on the wfb, hence the clever, "Blog 101" title today. When I ambled into the bike story last Tuesday I finished by saying there was a point to my talking about bikes. But recounting that road trip was not the point I had in mind. Nonetheless, writing about the road trip turned into the point of the whole exercise. I took up surfing in '74, and sold the bike some time later. The next motorcycle I'd own would be the bad ass Harley that I dreamed of as a kid, and when I saddled it up for a road trip I kept going east until I could go swimming in the Atlantic. That was '91, and the trip was the stuff of epic fiction. And I kept a careful journal the whole time. I ended every day on the road with an hour or so of writing down everything that happened on the trip that day. The first thing I did when I got home was read through the journal, and fill in overlooked details while the memories were fresh. I started hand copying everything, and adding the details to a new spiral notebook, and got about half way through the project.

I still have those notebooks, and a big box of photographs from that trip in '91. That was the point I was getting at when I interrupted myself to talk about the old Beemer.

Here's where it gets weird. It was fun to dig through my admittedly flawed memory to try and put that Death Valley story together. However, when I think of dusting off those old notebooks I balk. I was a different person at thirty eight than I was at twenty, and I'm a very much different person now than I was at thirty eight. At thirty eight I was still somewhat in the thrall of my college education, and the liberal saturated environment of a high school faculty. In retrospect, that trip in '91 was part of what opened my eyes. But here's where I'll just cut through the crap, and say it. I'm sure if I look at those old journals I'll find some moonbatty statement I made back then, and when I see it I'll cringe. And then I will come up against my own strange imperative not to embellish, or waver from stuff as it actually happened... I guess I don't want to awaken an irresistible urge to travel back in time, and kick my own ass for being an idiot.

That's the excuse anyway. I had been thinking of digging out that journal and serializing it here on the wfb, but, as I said, I balked, and the balking was the point I was driving at last week. Spend time with myself back in the moonbat days? I'd rather ride over Cajon Pass in a rainstorm.

But I've done stuff just that hairball before...



JWM

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cajon




I had enough dumb luck left to get me home. No more. Perhaps the ride over Cajon Pass was payback for the freebie I'd had going over Donner, and the last minute storm dodging the day before. But, like I said earlier on: the trip was a masterpiece of poor planning and reckless decisions. Or maybe it was poor decisions, and reckless planning that put me on the on-ramp in Victorville in a late spring storm, with Interstate 15, ahead, and Cajon Pass between me and home. Did I mention that I didn't have any rain gear?






I want to take a step back, and re-post the link to the picture of a 1960's BMW R/69S. The one in the picture is a '63, but they didn't change from year to year. I picked this shot because this bike is set up the way I had mine: solo saddle, rear fender rack, no windshield, or saddle bags. This is just like the machine that had carried me from La Habra to the Bay, to Reno, Death Valley, and now almost all the way home. What's hard to tell from the picture, is that the Beemer is actually not a very big bike. The six hundred cc motor put out between thirty, and forty horsepower. Most family cars were faster. Consider that most modern touring bikes have engines over three times the size and horsepower. They'll seat two people plus luggage comfortably, and cruise all day at at 100 mph. And they come with stereos, and heaters. The Beemer was pretty much a seat, two wheels and a motor. And that little motor had faithfully carried me a very long ways on this trip. Over a thousand miles. I was about to call on it for the toughest hundred or so miles of the trip.




I like road travel. I've crossed the continent, and with it, the continental divide over 20 times. I've ridden, or driven over a lot of mountain passes, including Monarch Pass in Colorado at over 12000 feet elevation. Cajon Pass coming into LA is hands down the worst. And I don't say that just because I live here. It blows chunks. At 4100 feet and change it isn't a particularly high pass. But the road is like some nightmare mutation of a six lane freeway fused with a broken roller coaster. The grade is scary. The freeway plunges down out of the mountain in massive sweeping curves. It's a huge challenge just to stay in the lane, and keep your speed under control. But the road is more than fast and treacherous. In order to appreciate the full experience of Cajon Pass, you have to add weather, and traffic. Any wind that comes over the mountains funnels through Cajon Pass. Trucks flip over. I15 is the road to Vegas. It's also the tie in from I40. So you get to do that wild ride down the the pass with thousands of other cars, and countless big trucks each just barely hanging on, and everyone just one fuck up away from the unthinkable. There's nothing like bumper to bumper traffic at eighty miles an hour. And that's on a good day.


This was not a good day to pull on to Interstate 15 in Victorville. It was like riding into a firehose. Trucks were throwing spray you could surf on, and waves of it were breaking in my face. The Beemer was straining for all it was worth to keep up with traffic, while I dodged cars, said rude things to God, and cursed for all I was worth because I was flying blind and scared as hell. I couldn't have been more soaked If I'd jumped in the lake. Cold, too. But I made it through the pass, through the inbound freeway traffic in the rain until I reached the 10, and then the 60 freeway west, off at Fullerton road, over the hills, and into La Habra.




I made it home OK. Actually, I should say that the Beemer got me home OK. That funky, underpowered little bike beat everything that nature, and my recklessness could dish out, and came though it purring like a long black cat. The Beemer is the hero of this little epic.


My brother had been staying at my apartment while I was gone. I pulled in late in the afternoon, and shut the motor off. That was it. I was done. Home. My ears were blocked flat. It would take weeks to get my hearing back. Of course, the place was a mess, and there was no food in the house. There was beer, though. I remember there was beer. I gave my brother a few bucks, and sent him out for Colonel Chicken.


JWM

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Law in Ridgecrest

Dai Baron
So where was I on that cold rainwashed morning in Death Valley? Again, I find myself conflicted. As I've pointed out, I took this trip over thirty five years ago, and memory is tricky. And I seem to have this odd imperative not to let this story waver from the events as they actually occurred, and not to compress, combine, or exaggerate stuff for the sake of telling a 'cooler' tale. On the other hand, writing about all this does till the ground of memory, and stuff sprouts up here and there. Like Rhyolite. Or does it? Sometimes it's hard to tell.


Anyway.



The storm had passed. The bike was running OK. I had slept some, and I was dry. The campground was full of screwbean mesquite bushes (I remember the sign). They produced a brown corkscrew shaped bean that rattled when it was dry. I brought a few home with me, and kept them on the shelf for many years, along with one other piece of memorabilia from the trip. That much is so.



Now. Here's where the memory gets strange again. I seem to remember that the other two bikers who were camping there were riding a Honda 350, or 450, and a BMW similar to my own. Why is that odd? Well, earlier on in this narrative I made quite a few references to Easy Rider- the story of two buddies on a cross country bike trip. But there's another, in some way more famous story of two buddies on a cross country bike trip: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The main character in Pirsig's novel rides a middle weight Honda. His pal has a BMW.



I do recall that Death Valley was cold, clear, and probably as beautiful and hospitable as Death Valley gets. And I remember thinking that only I had the luck to get rained on in Death Valley. The road was still wet, and muddy in a lot of places. I kept the speed down, crossed the valley and made the hard climb up to the junction of 395. From there I headed south, and stopped in Ridgecrest for breakfast, and gas.


I had slept some, and I was dry, but that was about it. I was dirty, sore, and beat. And my usually immaculate BMW was a mud spattered mess by the time I stopped for breakfast. I sat at the counter, glad to be warm, and to sit in a seat that didn't move. I was drinking coffee, waiting for my food, when I heard the unmistakable rumble of a big Harley pulling up outside. A moment later the rider came through the door. He was an old guy, and one look told you he was a grizzled old hard ass from way back. No one to mess with. Being the town cop added to the vibe. He sat down at the counter, "Is that your BMW out there?"

His name was Phil Spooner, and he was indeed a hard core biker from way back. He asked about my trip, and I told him the story so far, sleeping in the restroom and all. He figured it was all good experience, and told me some of his own road stories. We talked for quite a while. He got up to leave, took out his wallet, and handed me his card. It had a small silhouette of a Harley on it, a listing of motorcycle clubs, his phone number, and large text that read, "Phil Spooner-Biker".


"If you ever get stuck up here, and need someplace to put up for the night, " he said, "Give me a call." That was the other piece of memorabilia that I kept for many years.



Getting hot food in me took the edge off the fatigue, and talking to Phil Spooner lifted my spirits. I was beginning to feel like one of the real guys, I guess. I took off from the cafe, and got back on the street that led up to 395. Or so I thought. I was probably running about forty- forty five miles an hour, expecting to see the turn for 395 at any minute. But instead of an on-ramp, the street abruptly ran out of pavement, and plunged down a breakneck steep dirt hill. Recall that it had rained all night.



Here's where I used up almost all the dumb luck that I had left.


Well, not entirely. More than any other machine I ever owned, the BMW gave you that 'extension of self' feeling. It wasn't like operating a machine; it was very organic- you go, accelerate, brake, turn, stop. And I used to just practice keeping the bike upright at very slow speeds, just to better know the feel of the machine. That stuff suddenly turned into a skill that saved my ass where pure luck couldn't. I instinctively stood up on the pegs, and leaned my weight way back, and off the front wheel. That strange front end refused to be thrown off course, and took all the slamming punishment that dirt road had to dish out. Back off the gas slowly. Do not touch front brake. Featherweight tiptoe on the rear binder as it jumps around under your foot...



Somehow, I got the machine to a safe stop, got it turned around, and made the treacherous climb back up to pavement without dumping the bike. When I say, "Got me home in one piece", I mean it.

I found 395, OK, rolled out of Ridgecrest, and headed south for Victorville where I could pick up Interstate 15, which would take me over the mountains, down into the Los Angeles Basin, and home. But by the time I reached Victorville I either caught up with the storm, or the storm caught up with me. I was already soaked to the skin, when I stood under the poor shelter of a gas station bay where I fueled up the Beemer for the last leg of the trip. Outside the bay was howling wind, spitting rain, and the deadly charge through Cajon Pass.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Mekanda Robo


This has been an odd exercise. I really just sort of stumbled onto the topic of motorcycles at all, and before I knew it I found myself trying to recreate a road trip that I took over thirty five years ago. I had a skeletal itinerary, and a few events at hand: La Habra to Half Moon Bay, to Reno, to Death Valley, and then Ridgecrest, and then home. I left off yesterday thinking about that long full throttle race against the storm down the length of Nevada. I spent some time looking at maps, and trying to figure out just why I made the decision to turn west toward Death Valley rather than to try for Vegas, and a motel.




Beatty, Nevada was the fork in the road. And when I took a closer look at the map, another name nearby leaped out at me: Rhyolite. Until I saw the name I had forgotten about stopping in Rhyolite. But noticing that flyspeck on the map lit up the memory. I rode out to see the ghost town at the edge of Death Valley that afternoon. And I was the only one out there, I do remember that...



And here's where it gets strange. I seem to have two almost equally distinct memories of this small occurrence. In the first, I ride out to the ghost town, stop the bike in the middle of the the empty street, get off, and just take in the silence for a few minutes before moving on.



In the second version I don't get off the bike. I just go out there, ride down the main street, turn around and leave.





I lean ever so slightly toward the second version, but not enough to push a balanced coin off its edge.



It's an odd feeling, like being unsure of the truth of a tiny chip of your own existence. And not to get all metaphysical on anyone's ass- does it make a difference? No one saw me go there. And if I wrote out version one, when it was really version two that happened, would that make me a liar? A stretcher of the truth? Or, since the real event lives only in my faulty memory, again- why does it matter? Somehow, it does. It just does.


If I were writing fiction I'd lean toward the first version of the story. It's got all the elements of the Romance of the Road story- solitary biker, abandoned western ghost town in the desert. Wind in the center of empty. Approaching danger...





Or again, if I were doing fiction I guess I could make the second version work too. All it would take is a premonition- a strange sense of urgency- voices in the dust whisper, "runnnn!"


Anyway.


Locating Beatty, and then Rhyolite helped me piece together the decision. The plan must have been to cut across Death Valley on 190, and pick up highway 395 south of Lone Pine, and then hit I15 home. And I must have ridden far enough ahead of the storm that I thought I'd avoided it altogether. Otherwise I wouldn't have taken the detour through Rhyolite so late in the day. At any rate, I left the ghost town, picked up 190, rode over the eastern rim, and down into Death Valley.


Afternoon dropped like a stone into evening; the sky went black, and raindrops smacked my face like hard wet BB's as I buzzed across the desert. I saw a sign for a campground up ahead, and turned off. Fortunately it was a developed campground, which meant reasonably level parking, and a cinder block restroom with running water. As I pulled in I noticed two parked motorcycles, and a couple of guys setting up a tent. I stopped. Yes, it was cool with them if I shared their parking. Rain was beginning to fall pretty hard. Desert lightning flashbulbed the campsite and exploded in ground shaking thunder. I pulled the Beemer up under a mesquite bush, and a bat took a shit on the back of my hand. I wiped it off on the ground, grabbed my bags, and ran like hell for the restroom. It wasn't very big, and I didn't have a flashlight. It gets seriously dark out there, too. Rain hammered down almost all night. I slept under the sinks, cold even in my clothes, and sleeping bag. But dry. That was all that mattered. The next morning the bike didn't want to start. I'd kick it over, and it would fire once or twice, and then crap out. I got out the tool kit, and took the top off one of the carburetors. Fat round blobs of dirty water rolled around the bottom of the float bowl. Not hard to fix. And the bike fired up just fine.


By this time, you'd figure that I had pretty much used up my quota of dumb luck. No. I'd have to call on it twice more in the day in order to make it home in one piece.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Running From the Rain

Most of the movie Easy rider is rolling shots of Fonda and Hopper cruising those big gaudy choppers down empty highways through rugged and beautiful countryside under a clear bright sky, in shirtsleeve temperatures with an incredibly good selection of 60's acid rock jamming away in the background. Stills of the two riders became cultural icons, Peter Fonda's machine in particular, with the American flag motif on the teardrop tank on the long chrome chopper.

Of course it's total bullshit. The first couple trips to 'Frisco on that 750 Honda disabused me of the idea that it would be fun to travel on a rigid frame chopper. It's tough enough on a touring bike with shock absorbers, and everything. That wind in the hair crap works fine if you have a crew cut. Otherwise forget it. I didn't have my hair long and I wore a helmet then, anyway. And speaking of wind- wind is what film can not show. And when you're on the highway you're sitting upright in a 65 mile per hour wind, and the blast in your ears sounds like a perpetual explosion. Fun and exhilarating at first. I mean, check out the scene in Easy Rider set to Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild". Traveling on a big bike is exactly like that. For the first couple of hours. Then wind fatigue begins to set in in your neck, especially if your neck is carrying the extra weight of a helmet. The helmet also gives your head a larger profile in the wind. That larger profile translates into pounds of pressure that your neck muscles have to resist. Try lying on your back on the bed with your head hanging over the edge. You'll get the idea.

And of course there's no rock n' roll soundtrack on a bike. And no one to talk to. Self induced earworms, or tunes you can hum is the best you're going to get. And that gets old really fast. Even with a good set of earplugs, the soundtrack is windblast. Add as much exhaust pipe noise to that as you would like to listen to for days on end. You get a lot of time alone in your mind. Point is- motorcycle travel is much less fun, and much more work than it seems. And then there is weather.

Weather was what I was facing that morning in Reno Nevada, spring of '73. Remember what I said about reckless planning? I didn't have rain gear. Nor did I have enough money to get some. No credit card. And at this point I had just about enough cash to get home on if nothing went wrong. A storm was coming from the north west. That's about all I got from the news on the TV in the coffee shop. But I could see that without the weather forecast. I headed east out of Reno. I didn't want to go down 395 through the mountains, so I opted for highway 95, a two lane that ran straight north and south through the desert. Nevada had no speed limits. The R/69S would go 85. And it hummed out its eighty five mile per hour best for me all day long, with cars and trucks whooshing past like I was parked, and black clouds growing in the rearview mirror. I pulled off for gas and food, probably in Tonopah. I've forgotten much about the trip but I do remember shoveling food down in some roadside coffee shop, and rushing to get back on the bike and get running before the storm caught up. Sometime late in the afternoon I reached a junction in the highway: Las Vegas to the left, Death Valley to the right. I have been thinking about this all day, today. I can't quite figure it out. I must have been very short of money. Otherwise, why in the world did I think Death Valley would be a good place to be in a storm?


JWM

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cruisin' in Reno



Like so much that I did in my late teens and early twenties the first motorcycle road trip was a masterpiece of reckless planning, bad decisions, and dumb luck. It was spring of '73, sometime in April or May. I was between jobs, and had a little money saved up. I had taken bike trips up to San Francisco; I had a friend from high school who lived up near Half Moon Bay, but LA to 'Frisco is really just a day trip. This time I was going to keep going. So after spending a couple of days getting famously stoned, and drunk with Gerald up in El Grenada I cruised the Beemer out of The Bay area, and headed toward Reno on I80.

That was the dumb luck part of the trip. Interstate 80 does run from San Francisco, California to Reno, Nevada. But you have to cross the Sierra Nevada to get there. The Donner Party had some trouble up that way, you might recall. Driving over Donner Pass is an iffy proposition in spring, and the Sierras are no place for a bike if it gets iffy. I cruised over the snow covered summit under a blazing white sun in an electric blue sky, the Truckee River charging down its course in ice white foam to the right of the interstate. I rode along, comfortable in a light jacket. That used up almost all the dumb luck I had in store. I had just exactly enough left to get me home in one piece. I got a cheap motel just outside of down town Reno. I couldn't have too much fun in Reno because I wasn't twenty one. So I went down town, got dinner in one of the casino buffets, and then went to see this hot new sci-fi movie, Soylent Green. (*spoiler alert* It's made out of people!) After the movie I cruised the main drag through town a few times. Damn, I was cruisin' in Reno Nevada! This was it. I was really travelling.

When I got up the next morning it was overcast, and cold. I got breakfast in a coffee shop, and sat at the counter where I could see the TV. They had the morning news on. Storm coming.


JWM

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Motorcycle Stuff

Mekanda Robo (four missile version)
CLICK for Mekanda Robo private auction site info

When I sat down at the computer yesterday I had no intention of putting up a post at all, much less writing about motorcycles. I signed in, looked at the empty text box, and the bike thing just happened.



I left off talking about the old BMW. Actually, I should have made mention of what gave me the fever in the first place. Simple. It was seeing the movie, Easy Rider. Fonda and Hopper. Captain America and Billy. Those incredible Panhead choppers. And what on planet Earth could possibly approach the absolute awesome coolness of saddling up the most ass kickin' bike of all time, and heading out on a cross country rolling stoned party across America? I wanted to do that. Promised myself I would someday. You bet. I couldn't wait to get a Harley, and chop it all out, and head out on the highway. Go lookin' for adventure, and all. Like most teenage kids, I found out what a Harley cost. And even out in seventies suburbia, people knew. Bad dudes rode Hogs. If you weren't a bad ass, they'd kick your butt, or kill you and take away your bike.


That actually happened to a kid I knew in high school- skinny blond haired sixteen year old hippie. He got a bunch of money from a settlement of some sort, and bought himself a really cool chopper. Long front forks, ape hangers, five foot tall sissy bar, and loud ass pipes. Everyone was jealous as hell. For about two weeks. He wanted to go ridin' with the bad boys. They don't call those guys outlaws for nothing. They didn't hurt the kid. They just took his bike away from him.


Anyway.





A Harley was out of the question, but a 305, or 350 Honda wasn't. For a few years after Easy Rider, the streets just swarmed with 350 Hondas, some of them chopped. I ended up with a used 305 Superhawk. It wasn't the Captain America chopper, but it would do. For about six months, that is. I had big bike fever. I wanted the power, the weight, the size to travel on. And I didn't want to go Japanese. I wanted the cool, the low slung lines, and the machine gun exhaust note of a Triumph or a Harley. But both were expensive, and tempermental machines. They broke a lot, and you had to know how to get the machine going again if it stalled out on the road somewhere. Honda produced so many of their four cylinder superbikes that late in '72, the price dropped to around 1200 bucks for a brand new last year's model. And you couldn't break a Honda if you tried. So I bought the 750 Honda that I was talking about yesterday. And as I said, I sold the thing less than a year later, and got the '67 BMW. And it was on the Beemer that I finally got to try my hand at long distance motorcycle traveling.


Road Trip Part Three





JWM

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Road Trip 1973 (part one)

Mekanda Robo (spinner version)
Click for Mekanda Robo private auction info

Labels for this post: e.g. scooters, vacation, fall.

I'll pick scooters. I've had four: a Honda 305 Super Hawk, a Honda CB750, a BMW R/69S, and a Harley Davidson FXSTS. Oddly enough I have only a very few bad snapshots of the Hog, and maybe one picture somewhere of the 750 Honda... Too bad, because they were all beautiful machines. That I survived owning that 750 is indisputable proof of the existence of guardian angels. I mean- you want a combination that will like to take you out of the gene pool? Try a 19- 20 year old kid, a motorcycle that will break 100mph without even breathing hard, and oh, yeah. Beer. I shudder to think. See what I mean about the guardian angel(s). I kept that thing less than a year. Long enough to ruin my driving record for years to follow. But owning the big Honda cured me of the need for speed. I traded the Honda for a 1967 BMW R/69S. It was a classic. Beautiful, but slow. (I searched google images and came up with this. It's a 63, but a dead ringer for my old bike) Even though the 69S was the sport model with a hot cam and bigger carbs, it was barely as fast as the old 305 that I started out with. The R/69S topped out at 85. Period. And I was fine with that. It was my only transportation for a few years.

The Beemer was eccentric in a lot of ways. The opposed twin's crankshaft spins in line with the frame, just like the engine in a car. To kick start, you stood at the side of the bike, rather than straddling it. When you twisted the throttle the torque reaction from the engine rocked the whole machine sideways. It was harmless, but it took some getting used to. The other weird thing about the Beemer was the Earles front suspension, a kind of leading link construction. When you stabbed the front brake the shocks extended, and the front end of the bike lifted, rather than dove. Again, harmless, but it took some getting used to. But, in an age of push rod vertical, or V-twins, the flat opposed twin was the smoothest thing on the market. And the bike did have its sweet spots- right around sixty, where it just felt like coasting a two wheeled easy chair. Great piece of machinery. I sold it after I took up surfing, back in '74. Didn't even think of bikes for quite a while after. Anyway.

There is a point to this, and I'll get to it later on. Right now I'm calling it a day.


JWM