Dumping on Ourselves
by Thomas Day
I’m just exiting I-694 on to Century Avenue in White Bear when I see a big-butt cruiser wobbling north on Century, just passing a local bus. As the bike goes by the bus, the passenger turns around and gives the bus the fickle finger. The bike attempts to make a powerful exit, aiming straight-pipe blasts at the victims behind, but the light changes and the biker nails the brakes, practically losing the passenger, barely avoiding a car that had to stop to avoid the light-running bike, and fumbling to a really uncoordinated stop in the first few feet of the intersection. Sitting in the midst of jammed up traffic, trying to look cool and macho, the biker struggles with his shifter while the passenger is applying the fickle finger in all directions. The stalled traffic appears to be honking at the two (to watch them flinch and wobble a few feet before stalling again) mostly for the entertainment. It’s pretty funny stuff. It takes them nearly a minute, the whole light change, to get across the intersection. Just another motorcycling lifestyle advertisement.
Moments later, another cruiser passes me in the opposite direction. The driver is, as you’d expect, as unprotected as the day he was born. In the passenger seat, holding on for dear life, is a small child wearing shorts, a sleeveless shirt, sandals, and an adult’s grossly oversized helmet. This is just a couple of days after a child was killed on a motorcycle when a poorly-fitted adult-sized helmet flew off in a low speed accident and the kid died from head injuries sustained on the second and subsequent bounces. I’m not the only one scowling at this motorcyclist. He’s oblivious, marginally in control of his bike, and happily risking a child’s life. If a Century Avenue vote could have been taken that moment, I suspect there would have been a 90%+ mandate to ban motorcycles from public highways and to prohibit motorcyclists from procreating.
And it strikes me that these incidents are symbolic of why motorcyclists are so unpopular and get so little respect. Few things make me feel as old and crotchety as watching motorcyclists make new enemies for me. While showing absolutely no understanding of, or concern for, how we are perceived by non-motorcyclists, bikers stagger and blast their way through our culture making opponents and creating an image as a group of clowns and vandals. If nature and politics didn’t naturally create enough underdogs, humans would find a way to make a few.
The first two black leather cross-dressers probably managed to piss off at least a dozen motorists and irritate a bus load of passengers in a single intersection. Their entertainment value wore out when the light changed. The other guy convinced a pack of observers that motorcyclists are negligent and incompetent parents.
The loud pipes crowd burns motorcycling bridges in huge quantities for each traveled mile. Every time they fire up their noisemakers, they make new enemies for two wheeled transportation. Ignoring the “closed course use only” stamps on their straight pipes, these spoiled children proudly violate laws and common sense at the expense of every responsible motorcyclist in the country.
Too many off-road motorcyclists tear up private and public property (and eliminate access to terrain) with the kind of political sensitivity that made so many New Yorkers consider Afghanistan and Iraq a great place to test modern American weapons. While competitive dirt bikers fight to hang on to a little patch of Mother Earth to practice real riding skills, the vandals are out making enemies every chance they get. Like having a violent, retarded older brother who has booby trapped the way into high school for his siblings, the idiots have pushed real riders into shrinking territory that threatens to eliminate the sport altogether.
Interminably long and wide cruiser parades/funeral processions piss off other motorists (who are actually trying to get from point A to point B in less than an elephant’s lifetime), homeowners, roadside vegetable vendors, bicyclists, pedestrians, and Walmart investors by hogging roadways or blocking intersections and driveways until the scowling, wannabe-mean-looking bandana-protected riders manage to wrestle their blimps-on-wheels into bar-front parking spaces. The impression the world has of these Village People bozos is that they are either jamming up the highway more pointlessly than the state’s “men leaning on shovels” or drinking themselves stupid before jamming up the road.
And we wonder why it’s so hard to obtain a small concession like lane splitting or filtering from the majority’s representatives in the state legislature. It’s more a wonder that we aren’t regulated off of the roads altogether.
Libertarians claim that “self-regulation” is more effective than government regulation. I’m still waiting to see a practical example of that, but it seems that motorcyclists could be a good test case.
In my early racing years, we were occasionally plagued by a species of biking rodent we called “pit racers.” These morons usually didn’t actually race anything, but they often tagged along with a friend who did and ended up sneaking a bike in the pits, a place they considered prime for showing off. After a few races and the anarchy that follows when riders get tired, the dirt spends more time hanging in the air than lying on the ground, and what little order that existed early in the day begins to disintegrate. That’s when the pit races decide to showcase their pitiful talents. Blasting back and forth through the pits, demonstrating their one or two worn out techniques, usually an embarrassingly out-of-control wheelie or a dust spitting rooster, the pit racers took our life and peace-of-mind in their foolish hands.
Usually, a mechanic, or a really macho racer who could still stand upright after a 20 minute moto, would step up and ask Pit-Boy to “park it or get lost.” Sometimes that would be all it took. Sometimes it wasn’t. One of my all-time favorite moments was when a mechanic decided conversation was a waste of effort. He stepped out with a long 2×2 in his hands and stuffed it in between the spokes and the front forks of a passing pit racer. Pit-Boy exited the pits flapping his arms like he hoped to take wing, which was a good tactic because he was sure as hell airborne; for a second or two. Losing a bit of skin and what little dignity he had inherited from his parents, Pit-Boy was escorted from the pits, whining all the way. The bike was loaded on to someone’s trailer and probably spent the rest of its life in a barn somewhere in central Nebraska. Now that is how real Americans self-regulate.
Today, Pit-Boy would be back with Pit-Boy’s mom’s lawyer and the track, the mechanic, and the trophy girl would all find themselves named in a lawsuit. Thirty years ago, even Pit-Boy had more self-respect than to think “lawyer” every time he busted a fingernail or got caught acting like a moron.
These days there appears to be no such thing as a frivolous lawsuit. Or all lawsuits are, by definition and intent, “frivolous” and we’re proud of the fact. Self-regulation is only going to work the day we follow Henry VI’s advice and decide “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Shakespeare didn’t get it done and we probably won’t either. Civil law has turned into an endless loop of idiocy, and is happy to remain so. Since nature loves chaos and nobody is more chaotic than Americans, I don’t expect to see self-regulation in my lifetime in my country.
Still, it’s a wonderful dream, isn’t it? I can still clearly see that perfect moment of self-regulation-time and it was one of the great historic examples of justice. Now we just have to figure out how to send brain-dead dad flying without doing harm to his kid. Most likely the two fickle-fingered bozos will self-regulate and naturally de-select themselves, based on the riding skills I observed.