2002: A Helmet Odyssey

by bj max

Ibaraki, Japan: In a factory near the Pacific Ocean a helmet shell is removed from a vacuum molding bag, checked for defects and flaws, then sent on down the production line. Computer controlled lasers and water jets cut precision eye ports and vent openings and automated machines punch holes for precise alignment of base plate screws. In the paint booth, Star Wars like robotic arms move in and spray paint the new helmet a brilliant and flawless wine red. After baking in computer controlled ovens, the gleaming helmet is sent to Shoei craftsmen where the interior is assembled by hand. The helmet is then placed in a soft drawstring bag, wrapped in plastic and deposited into a box, sealed tight, then placed on a shelf…Later, it will be sent by truck, along with hundreds of other helmets, to the docks, placed in a shipping container, loaded onto a ship and sent overseas. Destination: Los Angeles, California.

Memphis, TN: My wife manages an ENT clinic and after dealing with a female patient whose chin had been ground off by a close encounter of the worst kind, she no longer felt comfortable with her open face helmet and demanded a new full coverage version. Initially, we considered ordering a helmet, but experience has taught me that fitting anything by mail is a tricky business and could cost you a small fortune in return charges. A trip to St. Louis and the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show was already in the works so we decided to wait till then and buy a new helmet there.

St. Louis, MO: The Cycle World Motorcycle Show 2002 had several bikes that I was looking forward to seeing in the flesh. Namely, the Honda ST1300 and the Harley V-Rod. There was also a trio of prototypes on display, one of which evolved into the new Valkyrie Rune. But we’re getting off course here. Our mission was a new helmet so we pried ourselves away from all those mechanical wonders and took off in search of a skid lid vendor.

Now this was about the time that the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, was living in an “undisclosed area” for security reasons. There was a real threat from terrorists at the time so the VP was tucked away somewhere safe to protect the integrity of the United States should something, God forbid, happen to the President. Well, don’t spread this around but we accidentally stumbled across the Vice President while in St. Louis. Honest. He was selling helmets at the motorcycle show. I swear, the vendor hawking Shoei Helmets looked just like, you know. When I approached him I stuck out my hand and said ‘Aha, we found you.’ He knew immediately what I was referring to and went along with the rib by putting his finger to his lips and shushing me. But those Secret Service guys can be very clever so maybe this really was you-know-who.

After trying on several helmets my wife settled on a medium sized wine red Shoei Syncrotec. Mr. Cheney doubled checked the size by whipping out a tape and measuring the circumference of her head. He said she should buy a small. OK, we’ll take one small, wine red, Syncrotec. Mr. Cheney smiled and replied “I don’t have one.” You’re kiddin’. We just spent an hour picking out just the right helmet and the only one in stock is the demo on the rack. ‘But I can ship it to you’ said the VP. Umm. I had reservations about forking over cold cash to a politician but he did have an honest face and it was such a good deal. So I threw caution to the wind and coughed up the cash. Mr. Cheney said we should receive the helmet within two weeks…

Memphis, TN: Ha! Two weeks my eye. It had now been two months and we ain’t seen hide nor hair of a helmet. After numerous e-mails with no response I decided to contact you-know-who the old fashioned way. I called him on the phone. After raising the roof a couple notches, I managed to calm down enough for you- know-who to explain that all their orders from the St. Louis Show had been lost. What? Lost? I threatened to write my congressman demanding congressional oversight hearings be proposed immediately but the VP, ever the politician, patiently explained that the orders had suddenly been found. Uh huh. Last time I heard that line it was FBI files that had suddenly been found. “But its true” he said “and they’ve already been forwarded to the supplier in Los Angeles.” He said we should have our helmet within the week. OK. We’ll see.

Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains a Douglas DC-10 cruises at 590 miles an hour. With nothing to do but monitor the gauges, the crew is bored by the same old routine and daydream of Tiger Moths and open cockpit Stinsons. Just below their feet, sixteen aluminum containers are locked securely into tracks that run the length of the cargo hold. Inside one of those containers rides a wine red Shoei Syncrotec, my wife’s new helmet, finally on the way.

Exactly three hours and fifteen minutes after departing Los Angeles International the pilot flips a single overhead switch. Outside, in the thirty below temperature, a small exterior lamp near the tail flickers on, illuminating the purple FedEx logo and the big jet begins its computer controlled decent into Memphis International.

On the ground, crews at FedEx’s distribution hub go to work unloading, sorting and re-loading the containers. Several boxes of Shoei helmets are off-loaded, then re-loaded immediately into new containers, stuffed into another jet and within three hours of landing my wife’s helmet was streaking towards Detroit and the Vice President’s hideout.

In an undisclosed area in the state of Michigan a FedEx truck delivers our helmet to the VP who quickly turns it around and within hours the globe-trotting helmet is on a southbound jet to Memphis. Finally, after nearly three months of worry and anxiety, the new helmet is plopped on our doorstep. I immediately order a headset from the J&M Corporation with the intention of installing it myself. But when I learned that the Shoei would require minor surgery in order to fit the headset, I decided to wait and have it done by a professional at the Honda Hoot in Knoxville which, by now, was only a few weeks away.

Knoxville, TN: At the Hoot, for a mere thirty-five dollars, the Shoei was altered to accept the new headset. At last my better half could enjoy the safety and security provided by a full coverage helmet. But it seems we had left a key piece of equipment at home, namely, the new five pin lower hookup cord, or “hose” as my wife calls it. Her open face helmet lower cord is an older version so the two would not interchange and the new helmet rode in a Bushtec instead of on her head.

Memphis, Tennessee: Two weeks later with the new cord attached, we left on a fourteen day trip out west and even though my wife was excited about finally getting to wear her fancy new helmet, she insisted on taking her guaranteed comfortable open face along just in case the new lid needed a little break in time.. Good thing too because the new headset went silent before we had covered fifty miles. So we hauled the Shoei all the way to the Grand Canyon and back, some 3,700 miles. Every time we unpacked and re-packed the trailer, we had to unload and reload that stupid helmet. I was sick of looking at it and verbally abused the thing at every opportunity. Back at home, after exchanging several e-mails with J&M, the helmet was boxed up and once again flown across country, this time to Arizona.

J&M turned the helmet around in record time and finally, the Shoei was taken out on its maiden voyage almost nine months to the day since we bought it in St. Louis. And even though it’s not as quiet as she envisioned, she says it was still worth the money and trouble if for no other reason than her peace of mind. Well, I would hope so after all the energy expended to get that danged thing on her head.

Think about it. From Japan to Memphis, Memphis to Michigan, Michigan back to Memphis, Memphis to Knoxville, Knoxville to Memphis, Memphis to Arizona, Arizona to Memphis, Memphis to Tucson and finally Tucson to Memphis. The new Shoei had traveled some fourteen thousand miles and never been worn. It crossed the Pacific Ocean, survived all three hundred and eleven curves at Deal’s Gap, ambled down Front Street in Dodge City, outran a Kansas Thunderstorm, crossed the suspension bridge at Royal Gorge, circled the Colorado Monument, visited the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and followed John Wayne’s footsteps from one end of Monument Valley to the other. Wears me out just thinking about it. But Mama’s happy now and when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Happy Motoring.


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