Saturday, May 02, 2015

More Drag, Less Macho

Photo by Hananiah Aldrich
There are a lot of folk out there in my little community of Powell, Wyoming that think I dislike everything about this town, its college (Northwest College) and even the state of Wyoming. So, I’m here to declare that, “It just ain’t so (in a Wyoming accent).” I’m critical of many things that I care about, but in this day and age of thin-skinned Pollyannas, anyone who is critical about something is immediately painted as a hater or Debbie-downer.

To be honest though, there are things that go beyond my critique and thus deserve my disdain—those same Pollyannas come to mind.

Here’s what I’m talking about: I’m critical of our Wyoming culture that seems to reward and reinforce overly macho behavior. I’d like to see that toned down a bit in the near future. Besides, it’s sooooo cliché. What I dislike are those assclowns who adopt and embrace this trumped-up virile behavior—in particular those who feel the need to modify the exhaust systems of their gigantic 4x4, quad-cab diesel-powered pickup trucks while incessantly revving their engines everywhere they go. I can’t think of a better illustration of a textbook douchebag.

Contrary to all of this, I served as a drag contest judge the other night on the campus of Northwest College. It was absolutely fun, entertaining and delightful—and as I was sitting there watching men (and women) compete for the best drag contestant on campus, I thought to myself, “You know what this town needs are a few more drag queens and kings and a lot less knuckle-dragging, macho-oozing, look-at-me-because-I-drive-a-loud-diesel-pickup-truck douchebags.”

Perhaps this sentiment has to do with a little incident I had the other day when I flagged down one of these John Wayne, chest-beaters (a.k.a., assclown) as he was doing about 45 mph through the middle of campus and about to run a stop sign. When he hit his breaks and rolled down his window in bewilderment, I calmly said, “Hey man, it’s 25 mph through campus and that’s a stop sign you just went through.” In so many words he retorted that I don’t tell him what to do and after a few more exchanges the dude started to get out of his 4x4 to duke it out with me. I mean honestly, I can’t think of a better example of testosterone-induced rage.  You’re breaking the law and endangering the public, someone calls you out on it and you want to fight them… what the fuck, man?!

I’m not sure if I could have whipped him, but if it had come to that, and I ended up having the upper hand, I would have trashed his 4x4 Silverado too. I suppose if it went the other way, he probably would have done the same to my longboard.

With these thoughts in mind, I’d like to make a challenge to our little community of Powell… How about we all start calling out these hotheads in their rude and self-centered behavior when they are breaking the law, endangering others or simply being disrespectful of peace and quiet. This used to be a quiet little town, but in the past five years, it has transformed into a noisy and belligerent little town. And while we’re at it, let’s see if we can encourage enough students to enter the drag contest next year—perhaps even double its participants.

Let’s bring down the machoism a notch and lift up the drag. It’ll be good for Powell.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Meditations and Confessions of a Geezer Longboarder

Pre-Ride Hike
The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” —Walter Begehot (Quote on a Good Earth tea bag)

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, it’s possible that I was the first kid with a skateboard—and if I wasn’t, certainly one of the first. My board came to me by way of California following a holiday out West in the mid-1960s. I have a hunch that few of today’s more youthful riders have ever seen a skateboard like my first one—with it’s short, narrow wooden deck, and steel wheels. Perhaps it was a sign of my fate, but even as a youngster, I learned how to slide the wheels on our smooth, sloped concrete driveway that dumped onto the rough chip-seal of Stevenson Avenue.

I don’t know what became of that skateboard, but there were others that followed and there were times in my life when there wasn’t a skateboard at all. That said, it seemed like there was always someone nearby who had a board if I was hankering for an occasional ride. To be clear, I haven’t spent my entire life on a skateboard like some, but I’ve never been far away or too out of practice to confidently jump on a board when such opportunities came along.

If you were to ask me back in the 1980s what I thought I’d be doing for fun as a 50-year-old, I probably would have answered you with something like fly-fishing, golfing, or bike touring. Surely one of the last things coming out of my mouth back then would have been anything to do with a skateboard.

• • •

My on-and-off skateboarding life continued until 2002 when a college student in need of some quick cash convinced me to purchase his Gordon & Smith 43-inch pintail longboard. Prior to that time, I had seen a few of the “giant” skateboards around, but never rode one. As it turned out, curiosity was the driving force that ultimately sealed the deal in my first longboard purchase.
Longboarding Home

For the next several years, I pushed the G&S pinner around my flat, little town of Powell, located in the high desert country of Wyoming, but unlike a true enthusiast, I never entertained the idea of taking it further.

Despite the flack directed at Original (a longboard maker) from the longboarding community (and I'm not sure why this is either), I’ll confess here that it was an Original video on YouTube that blindsided me one day and made me start thinking about that old G&S in a new light.

Not long afterwards, I started studying up on other forms of riding—freeride and downhill specifically. This line of thinking was influenced by that Original video and a geographical feature just outside of Powell called Polecat Bench.

Polecat Bench is a hybrid of mesa and plateau dominating the Powell horizon from the north to the northwest direction—rising 500-feet above the town. The “Bench” (as we call it) is the closest recreational destination for the locals—whether it’s riding an ATV or mountain bike, arrowhead or bird hunting, or just a place to look over the land in quiet solitude. It is also home to the community airport and a gas refinery beyond the airport. Connecting these operations with the community is State Route 295 (also known as “Road 9”) which includes about 1.5 miles of sloped asphalt that climbs the Bench at a five-percent grade. For the most part, there is very little traffic on this road-to-nowhere except for an occasional truck hauling crude or refined petroleum product along with the pickup trucks of those few who work at the refinery. The highway is absolutely deserted on Sunday mornings, and even when there is an occasional car or truck, you can see it coming with ample time to get out of the way.

As I contemplated the Bench and learned more about freeride and downhill longboarding, I started to realize that my Gordon & Smith FibreFlex wasn’t going to cut it on the steeper parts of the Bench. And so, not long after this epiphany, my Landyachtz Switch 40 arrived followed by a helmet, slide gloves and a set of pads for my knees and elbows.
• • •

To say that things have been “happily ever after” since the drop-deck Landyachtz arrived would be a boldface lie. To be blunt, some of my worst fails/falls have been at the slowest speeds and were attributed mostly to bad judgement rather than poor riding skills. There have been spills so embarrassing that I wouldn’t even speak of them in a confessional—let alone these pages, but I’ll humor you a bit here with a couple that I can stomach.

Before my Switch 40 ever saw an incline, it threw me off the sidewalk and into the street in the first 10 yards of my maiden voyage on it. I could say that the bushings were soft and the trucks looser than I’ve ever ridden, but as I washed the gravel out of my hands I knew it was just poor judgement on my part.

Not long after I’d been riding the lower sections of the hill, a friend of mine was in town and decided to tag along with his camera. I’d like to think my riding was no different than any other time that day, but I suppose having a bona fide camera-toting spectator along alters one’s abilities or at least perceptions of their own ability. Before we returned to town, I had managed to shred my entire forearm and slam by helmeted head into the asphalt thanks to high-siding on a toe-side carve that was reminiscent of any head-to-head collision from my youth of playing football.

Years earlier before I ever gave serious thought to downhill, I rode a traditional skateboard down a small—but very steep—hill at the local park. Prior to that I’d never, ever heard anyone speak about something called “speed wobbles.” Although it was a narrow foot path with lush grass on both sides, the wobbles threw me right into the middle of the asphalt resulting in enough road rash on my legs and arms to go through a tube of Neosporin before the week was out. I hobbled the mile distance home with the board under my bloodied arms. At the ripe age of 43, I was not only embarrassed, but convinced I’d never ride a skateboard again.

I’ve stated in many conversations that, given my age, I’m probably one bad spill away from transforming my longboards into wall art. And I’ve already taken enough big hits that left me laying stunned on the payment wondering if any bones were broken. I’ve gone through several boxes of extra large bandages thanks to road rash and landed hard enough on my ass to turn it black and blue. My shoulder has likely suffered from a couple impacts with the road and I’m pretty sure I broke a toe and cracked at least one rib. Every time I head out, I always remind myself, “You can’t afford to fall.”

I’ve also been telling everyone in my world that I’m not going to ride any faster than I can run, but the one day I clocked myself at 26 mph on one section of the Bench. I’m pretty sure I can’t run that fast.

Despite the aches and pain on my 50-some-year-old body, I’m riding more than ever these days—and not just the Landyachtz. In fact, I’m downright ashamed to lay out my quiver (of boards) to anyone at this time because—for one—I’m too old to own multiple boards, and secondly—I’m not that good.

Nevertheless, I am considerably better when it comes to riding a hill. I can carve confidently and, for the most part, I’m pretty decent at a hand-down toe-side speed check as well as a shut-down slide. My hand-down Coleman needs work, and I’m unsure if I’ll ever pull off any kind of standup slide, but I’m not ruling it out either.

When I started working the hill last spring, I set a goal for myself to ride the entire hill before the summer was over. I underestimated my eagerness to ride; on June 19th (two days before the first day of summer), I made it all the way down without incident. Since that time, it has become my longboard laboratory and a getaway from the big crowds of a town with over 5,000 residents!

I think riding alone suits me in terms of focus, concentration, and ultimately safety. And there is something about the solitude and quiet of the twenty-minute walks back up the hill to begin another run. Several times I’ve been offered rides to the top by those in vehicles passing by, but I almost always turn them down and tell them that walking back up comes with the territory of riding down. Besides, if nothing else, it is a good little aerobic exercise.

I’m unsure of a particular riding style that defines me—freeride or downhill. Not to dwell on my age, but I simply want to get down any hill without catastrophe regardless of steez (style). Perhaps the only steez I’ll ever possess is in my geriatric efforts. For now, it’s the little victories that keep me going such as marking the highway with long thane lines (polyurethane skid marks from the wheels sliding). Recently I cored (and flat-spotted) a set of wheels which was akin to receiving badge of valor. Making it all the way down a big hill without falling or bailing—no matter how much steeze I lack—is always motivation to go back up or return the next day.

Living in the country’s least populated state, people are pretty spread out. No matter who you are, what your interest or profession might be, there’s always an element of isolation and with it comes a lack of feedback from others like you. This is certainly my situation as an over-the-hill downhill longboard rider. Late this summer I met a college student who has ridden the hill and he has a few other friends that are curious about longboarding as well. It will be interesting to see if we ever evolve into a micro-community.

The other day two old guys smoking cigarettes with grizzled beards and dirty ball caps followed me in their car as I worked my way down the Bench. Upon reaching the bottom, they pulled over for a visit and I discovered we were of the same age. I wondered if they were as surprised as me upon discovering one another’s age. I’m sure there are older riders with more skills out there who have been riding longer. There’s nothing too unique to my story here, but I’m pretty sure it’s not common.

• • •

In the Autumn 2014 Issue of Concrete Wave, the following quote stopped me in my tracks:

“Skateboarding has been around for a very long time now. With very little effort, you can find skaters ranging from 5 to 55 years old ripping at almost any skate park, bombing hills, doing freestyle, or simply cruising to get somewhere.” Because I’m 54-years-old now, this harmless little statement has been haunting me in a Logan’s Run kind of way.

I know there’s not much time left for me—not like a teenager, while the likes of Patrick Switzer, Kyle Chin, or Liam Morgan needn’t worry about me stealing any of their sponsorships. Yet, these are some of the folk I look up to in making myself a better rider. With that article quote in mind, I’d like to think I have a little more than a year remaining. Nevertheless, I know my years on a board are numbered. Assuming I can stay healthy, perhaps I have another five to ten years of riding. Yet, to think I’ll still be riding that hill or one like it when I’m 65 seems utterly absurd.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Problem with Lovers of Freedom

I’m reminded of a hangover. It’s 9:15 in the morning on July 5, 2014.

Discarded fireworks casings and packaging are strewn about the high desert of Wyoming—well, at least in one particular pull off about halfway up the Powell Airport hill that climbs Polecat Bench. As I walk by, I wonder how many other places just beyond the town proper of Powell and other Wyoming communities are suffering from the same fallout of freedom’s celebration.

The great expanses beyond any community in Wyoming (like the one described above) see very little traffic throughout the day or year. As a result, these remnants of our independence commemoration remain as an ugly reminder long after the largest of roadkills have been picked over by various scavengers—long after having rotted, dried up, and blown away by the wind.

And so I wonder, “Why do people have the need to go out to an empty place like this and light off their fireworks, only to leave the spent casings behind? Why can’t they do it in their towns where the remnants are more likely to be picked up by the street cleaner or other property owners?

Who are these people?

I think it’s wrong to generalize or stereotype about people, but it’s hard not to as I consider who would commit such a crime or sin on the land we hold so dearly in our heart—Wyoming… America… you know, “land of the free, home of the brave?”

My answer about who is responsible is dead on, although I have no proof.

The people that leave their spent fireworks casings abandoned in the desolate high desert are the same folk who leave their bullet-riddled belongings behind after shooting it up as target practice—refrigerators, 55-gallon drums, old computers, TVs… you name it. If it’s no longer needed, it’s fair game to become a target and then forsaken to an eternity as a desert eyesore.

Again, who are these people? Beyond pyromaniacs, they are banner-waving ‘Mericans who throw around clichés like, “freedom ain’t free.” They’ll proudly tell you, they love America—and the bumper stickers on their big and loud diesel, quad-cab, four-by-four pick-ups prove it. They love the U.S. and Wyoming, but they hate the President. They are the least tolerant people you’ll ever meet and you can bet they have plenty of guns to back up their narrow-minded, Fox-News-driven ideas and opinions.

But, be assured, they don’t love America. Actually they just love themselves and everything about their life. They see themselves as the center of the Universe and are the most disrespectful, self-serving and self-centered folk you will ever meet. Nevertheless, they know how to whoop it up with fireworks when the Fourth of July rolls around each year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Truth and Purity in Looking Down

In the Groove by mdt1960
In the Groove, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
I look down.

It’s an easy thing to do, and know one bothers me about it. Even when I use my camera or cell phone to compose and capture what I see looking down, no one bothers me. I suspect most folk who bother to notice think I’m just plain weird. Maybe I am.

There’s something about photographing those things at my feet. For starters, I don’t have to get anyone’s permission. Years ago, you could walk up to practically anyone and ask to take their picture and the reply was almost always, “Sure!” Nowadays, people think you’re up to something. “Why do you want to take my picture.” Take a picture of someone’s kid in a public place and you’re practically accused of being a pedafile.

Not long ago, I was taking a photo of a dilapidated wind mill in rural Western Nebraska from the roadside when a farmer in a pickup truck drove by, turned around when he saw me, pulled up behind my car on the roadside to ask me what I was doing (when it was obvious what I was doing). Actually what he wanted to know was why I was taking pictures of his land. Who knows what was going through his head when he saw me pointing my lens at the old windmill. Years ago, the same scenario probably would have resulted in him driving by thinking to himself, “Hmm, I wonder what he sees in that old field of mine?”

People with cameras aren’t treated with the same good-natured response/interaction they once were. And perhaps it’s justified considering how much unflattering (even if incredible) photography there is out there. To top it off, there are more people with cameras then ever. In fact, if you don’t have at least a cell phone camera, you are certainly in a minority.

Road Kill by mdt1960
Road Kill, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Recently I was looking at a body of work published in Lenswork by photographer Jun Wang called “Over 100: Centenarians of Hainan.” They were amazing. He even had an incredible image of a nude centenarian—it wasn’t flattering, but it was amazing. Yet, sitting there looking at the images, what was even more impressive about this body of work had to do with the logistics prior to the shutter release… how does one go about making the arrangements to photograph a collection of centenarians? It was difficult for me to imagine how I would approach a person who was 100-years-old in a way that led to a fantastic portrait of them. To put it another way, if a centenarian were to ask why I wanted to take their picture, I’m not sure what I would say short of a boldface lie.

Which gets me thinking… I suspect many photographers do lie about their intentions when it comes to their rationale behind a photo request. And if not an outright lie, certainly some of a photographer’s rationale goes unspoken or turns out to be misleading. Further, if portrait-requesting photographers have never lied, why are so many people suspicious about having their picture taken upon request? I also wonder what percentage of fantastic (but unflattering) portraits have been actually viewed by their subjects?

Success in photography is more than just knowing how to work a camera. It’s also about working your subjects and those related to your subjects. And given that sobering truth, I’ll likely keep looking down.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flying Naked, De-Icing, and In-Flight Etiquette

Passengers by mdt1960
Passengers, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
I don’t fly often, but I’ve flown enough in my lifetime where getting on an airplane is no longer the novelty or thrill it once was—akin to an amusement park ride. Further, my sorties over the years are punctuated by long spans of time on the ground and away from anything to do with air travel. As a result, the changes in the airline industry which have developed slowly and gradual over the years for the common traveler are rather pronounced to me. Where most air travelers take little note of the ever-evolving modifications in airline travel, I often find myself rather flabbergasted.

One thing I still haven’t figured out yet are the details of proper flying etiquette. Given everyone has a smart phone or some kind of electronic tablet to keep them occupied (even if they aren’t permitted to use the phone itself), is it polite or rude to engage someone sitting next to you? I remember air travel back in the day as a setting where you were certain to have a conversation (delightful or painful) with a fellow passenger. Given the ever-growing presence of personal electronic devices and noise-drowning earphones, I’ve received more than my share of cold shoulders in any one of my friendly attempts to engage a fellow traveler. And given these distractors, who has time to chat with a stranger anymore?

Perhaps the regular traveler hasn’t noticed, but airports are bigger than ever. They are small cities with a population in flux, some even have their own zip code. Today’s major airports are more like shopping malls and pedestrian freeways under one big roof. You can buy anything, but you had better use a turn signal when walking through the terminal unless you want to be trampled. I remember years ago I was lucky to get a cup of coffee in the St. Louis airport late at night. That place was a cemetery.
Chicago O'Hare by mdt1960

Chicago O'Hare, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

Which brings me to… why would you want to buy “anything” at an airport? Jewelry? Fine Clothing? A Harley? Something for your pet? Really, I’m going to buy something for my pet at the airport? Perhaps the rationale here is today’s airports are catering to the poor planner who happens to possess plenty of spending cash—albeit someone who forgets to pack their clothes or forgets to get that diamond ring in his I’m-going-to-ask-her-to-marry-me junket. That said, it’s not a stretch in justifying the coffee services of Starbucks, a magazine/book store, or places where one can grab a sandwich or drink, and even a store that offers accessories for your iPad as you wait for your next plane.

In my recent journeys by air, I’ve had a thorough introduction to the de-icing procedure. It reminds me of cell phones: how did we ever get by without it? Further, when did ice start gravitating to the wings of a plane… what is it about wings that attracts ice? During the late 70s-early 80s, I clearly remember flying home several times in the winter as a college student and never did I see a de-icing truck or operator. How did planes fly without de-icing back then? One would think it involves a simple squirt on the leading edge of the wings, but the truth is, de-icing is like a car wash for airplanes.
Spoiled View by mdt1960
Spoiled View, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

Admittedly, although the de-icing process adds 20 more minutes to sitting inside a grounded airplane, it is rather intriguing to watch this activity. First, the orange spray and then the green liquid goo—obscuring the view from the window seat that I worked so hard to get. It seems like overkill to me since I couldn’t see a sign of ice anywhere on the wings. Given its new psychedelic de-iced finish upon completion, the plane appears to be more prepared for a Grateful Dead concert than flying. The blurred window view reinforces this notion.

I think my preference for winter travel is shifting back to driving.

As a side note, I did a little research on de-icing while the plane sat there during the process. I turned off my iPhone’s “airplane mode” long enough to find out—hoping I wouldn’t endanger our flight as it was getting hosed down… hosed down with ethylene glycol that is! That’s right, ethylene glycol—a.k.a. antifreeze! And all this time I had thought that the reason one never sees animals around an airport is due to the loud planes. I never would have guessed that the varmints that once lived nearby drank up the sweet-tasting de-icing fluid during the winter season and then crawled over in the nearby weeds to die.

In addition, while in Minneapolis, I observed a de-icing operator lugging a de-icing hose around the perimeter of a plane in zero-degree temperatures and …he wasn’t wearing any gloves! I had to wonder: does de-icing fluid warm one’s skin and taste sweet?

Other random flying observations…
Wilford by mdt1960
Wilford, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

• Whatever became of the hot-looking stewardesses that gave the airline industry its great in-flight views? My jaunt between Minneapolis and Cleveland was hosted by Wilfrod Brimley’s clone asking me if I wanted coffee, juice, soda, or water? That was downright sobering.

• While about to depart from Minneapolis airport and its sub-zero temperatures, the pilot announces that they were having a small problem that was being looked into by the mechanics. I’m sitting there thinking about the conversation that’s going on between a couple of mechanics looking for a “small problem” on a plane in bitter cold conditions. Wouldn’t the conversation gravitate quicker to a solution like, “Ah, it’s probably nothing too important… it’ll be OK. Let’s go get some coffee.”

• What is it about the anxiety of going through the TSA security? I don’t think it has anything to do with being pulled aside and accused of terrorism. In my case, it seems more about the fast scramble to unravel everything about your attire and baggage and then reassemble it without holding anyone up. There is something incongruent about having to take off your shoes when you are late in catching a plane.

•I tried the new in-flight Internet service. At first it was a bust, then I read the fine print—you have to pay for it while the plane has to be over 10,000 feet. Nothing is free on a plane anymore; just a small bag of nuts and four ounces of a nonalcoholic drink. Not very impressive.

•Recharging Stations for your electronic devices… OK, I get it, but still it seems a bit weird to dedicate actual space in an airport for electrical plugs. I wonder what would happen if a person used their portable hair dryer in a recharging station.

Airplane Signage by mdt1960
Airplane Signage, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

•Beginning in 1988, regulation was introduced that banned smoking on 80% of flights (two hours or less). In 2000, the no-smoking ban was expanded to include all flights. Today in 2013, one would be hard pressed to find an airline that allows smoking on any flight. With that in mind, I find it a bit odd that the “no smoking” signs are still present in the jetliners of today. It seems that enough time has passed that everyone knows by now that smoking is forbidden on an airplane—especially since that’s the case in the airports too. Besides, isn’t it silly to make a lighted sign on an airplane that is never turned off? They should simply build a non-illuminated message into the back of the every seat—directly in front of every passenger.

•There are somethings that haven’t materialized in air travel that I predicted would have been the status quo by now. Why isn’t there a camera mounted in the cockpit or nose of the plane for passengers to view on the video screens in front of them (embedded in the back of every seat)? For years we’ve listened to the conversations between the crew and air traffic control, why can’t we watch them fly the plane too? Also, a camera mounted on the belly of the plane would be a nice addition for a view straight down. And why can’t the industry provide passengers with a map on these same screens so we can know exactly where we are as we look out the window for recognizable landmarks? These features should be standard fair if a passenger doesn’t want to pay for a movie on these same video screens.

• “…airplanes are a kind of time machine. The flying aluminum cans that transport us across distances that once required weeks, if not lifetimes, are not like the time machines of fiction. We can’t just transport ourselves to any place or time.” —friend and colleague Rob Breeding

•Finally: The new TSA body scanning machine (Advanced Imaging Technology)… it’s the closest thing to my father’s idea about how to prevent terrorist from boarding a plane—make everyone fly naked. Perhaps TSA could make their money back on these big-ticket machines in selling the scanned images to their owners for a nominal charge.

Postscript: I dare any in-flight magazine to publish this story. On a related note, here’s a little more information on TSA and their “advanced imaging technology” operations.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Age of Innocence is Relative

As I was preparing coffee the other morning, I found myself unexpectedly thinking about the x-rated movies that played at Neeb Hall on the campus of Arizona State University when I was an undergraduate student (circa 1979). I don’t remember how many played in the course of a year, nor how long that genre continued playing there, but I know for sure x-rated movies were shown on campus. Several of us from Hayden Hall’s third floor actually attended one of those skin flicks too. It was the first x-rated movie I ever viewed. Most memorable was the funny, almost embarrassing feeling that came over me when the lights came up after it ended and I could see who was attending—and (gulp) they could see who was attending. I don’t remember wondering if other schools had the same kind of movies, and if someone had asked, I would have suspected that was the case almost anywhere. For the record, I don’t think ASU was ever known for any kind of radical behavior or activities back then. In fact, I think it was considered a fairly conservative school when it came to the country’s larger campuses.

For the record here, I’ll have you know that nothing became of this experience. We didn’t go out and attempt a rape, and none of us to my knowledge became involved in the porn industry or addicted to it. As college students, our reaction/response was probably typical—we giggled, laughed at how unrealistic it was (at least to us), felt a bit awkward, and then moved on. Further, of all the memories of my graduate years at ASU, going to that movie surely wasn’t one of those, “Hey guys, remember that time we…”

On a related note…

As a football cheerleader, we travelled to Stanford once. The day before the big game, we took in the campus. Amongst the beautiful architecture I remember most vividly the fragrance of marijuana in the air as students were smoking on the campus mall between their classes. I was a bit taken back as I never saw anything like this at my ASU (even if x-rated movies were shown there). Yet, after that trip, none of us on the cheerleading squad returned to ASU to initiate a movement for pot-smoking on campus. It was one of those, “Hmm, how about that. Yet another crazy thing attributed to Stanford; they smoke pot on campus and no one seems to care.”

And so, there I was pondering all of this over a cup of joe at 6:30 in the morning. I projected such activities to the Wyoming junior college where I work. I couldn’t imagine such activities permitted on our little pollyanna campus. But, then I wondered: are there still campuses that offer/tolerate such “atrocious” behavior today? Are things still the same in Palo Alto? Am I in such an isolated place that I don’t realize what is happening beyond this high desert, or are such campus escapades a thing of the past? And if they are something of the past, how did that come to be? When did it all shift to something more like the 1950s and Leave It To Beaver?

I mentioned all of this to a friend, and his answer was simply, “Reagan… President Ronald Reagan.”

A few other colleagues chimed in as well. When it comes to pornography, some thought that because the Internet provides a sense of privacy, we will never see it in such everyday public settings (like a major university). And as the legalization of marijuana becomes more widespread, a couple of them thought a day will come when we will see students having a toke or two between classes—assuming they are the same campuses where alcohol is permitted.

As I sit here thinking about all of this, I still wonder: What was that part of my past all about? For the most part, it’s not unusual to consider the things we do and experience today as stupendous in light of our past, especially when technology is factored in. Yet, here is something that was incidental back then that comes across as monumental today. Although I don’t have any hard and fast explanations, it is truly fascinating.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

There Goes The Neighborhood

Red Lodge Riders by mdt1960
Red Lodge Riders, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
My favorite Harley joke...

Q: How is a Harley Davidson like an old dog?
A: They both like to ride in the back of pickup trucks.

Well, the “The Red Lodge Iron Horse Rodeo” has come and gone which means this quiet little mountain town is now in recovery mode from an onslaught of loud motorcycles (mostly of the Harley Davidson variety). I’m happy to report that the Subaru corps of Red Lodge are slowly reclaiming the main drag again. Like a Jekyll and Hyde story, Red Lodge transformed from a quaint and tranquil enclave into a village of chaos and paranoia located next to an easy-escape-penitentiary. Some of the locals compared it to an infestation of cockroaches.

Now that it is history, I find myself questioning the communities that kowtow to the loud Harley events/rallies. Typically we are told that it’s good for commerce, but there are obvious costs in hosting this particular crowd—for starters, extra law enforcement and emergency services are always beefed up when a “rally” comes to town. No doubt, a few watering holes probably do extremely well during these rallies, but one has to wonder how an entire town truly benefits, especially if alienating many of the permanent residents of the community is part of the fallout. And this: might there be other groups a community could cultivate that would generate as much (if not more) commerce without all of the consternation? After all, I don’t recall anyone ever informing me how great the Harley crowd is when it comes to tipping or splashing out with their dough.

As one Red Lodge resident pointed out, “I bet I spend a lot more money in Red Lodge over the course of a year than the average Harley rider that is here and gone for one weekend. Why should I be told to leave for the weekend if I don’t want to tolerate them?”

When walking up and down on Broadway, Red Lodge’s main drag, the rally was akin to a circus freak show. Harley riders and non-riders sit or stand, gawking as the the parade of roaring bikes go by. Often you see the same riders go by several times within the hour. I wonder if they are reliving their teenage years of cruising or making up for the cruising that eluded them as a teenager.

One also has to wonder if the riders see themselves as some modern-day outlaw (à la Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter character) riding into town hoping every local will stop what they are doing while staring with their mouths wide-open.

As long as I’m speculating here, I’ve gathered that many of these riders are likely singing to themselves Bon Jovi’s “Dead Or Alive” as they make that first pass down a community’s main drag.

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride.
I’m wanted dead or alive.
—Jon Bon Jovi.

Too funny.

On a related note, I also found myself chuckling as one rider who was decorated with the obligatory black vest that spelled out “Lone Wolf” on the back—cruising Broadway with all the other bikes. One is hardly a lone wolf if they have to wear a label telling the world such.

One friend asked recently, “If Harley riders are the ideal of American rugged individualism, why do they all wear the same clothing that usually entails some ensemble of a black leather vest with patches, black leather riding chaps and blue jeans, and a black t-shirt (often sleeveless) advertising some Harley Davidson dealership? In reality, they are conformist lemmings.” My suspicion here is if the Grateful Dead groupies were as loud as the Harley crowd, they wouldn’t be allowed in any town.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. My partner simply said it this way, “It’s a chance to dress up in a costume and be someone they aren’t.” In essence it’s a Halloween party on wheels.

Though I’ve never owned a motorcycle myself, I do understand the excitement, passion, and that feeling of being free associated with riding a motorcycle. Perhaps I’ll even try it someday, but what I fail to process is the need to carry out this activity on a piece of equipment that overpowers every other sound including a normal conversation—not to mention the need to rev the engine excessively or when it's really not required at all. Such is hardly a practice of respect or considerations for others—which seems to be sooooo unAmerican these days. As I see it, every time a rider revs their loud Harley Davidson, it is simply an outcry for everyone to look at them. And usually I do—with great disdain. Like a dog barking excessively at us, we all should be encouraged to yell back “SHUT THE FUCK UP” every time a deafening Harley goes by. And, if noisy scooter trash is now permissible in America, then such outspoken replies should be licit as well.

In short, the excessively loud Harley Davidson motorcycle has become the quintessential illustration of today’s loud, overweight, underperforming, entitled and overbearing American. Surely such “audible” gatherings of machines would never have been tolerated in the same way back in the 1950s.

And through it all, somehow this particular loud and unruly group that commonly displays messages like a skeleton’s middle finger on the back of their riding vest, or patches that celebrate guns and death, with grandiose, stereotype depictions of Native Americans is somehow considered patriotic. How is that… because they ride an under-performing, oil-slobbering, gas-guzzling, overpriced and overbearing motorcycle that’s made in America?

When will the noise-based, “look-at-me” Harley contingency finally ride that “Highway To Hell”...and not return?