Black and White
By Thomas Day
For a good portion of my life, I’ve been accused of being unable to see shades of gray. The story has been that I only see things in black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. Usually I get this pitch from someone whose perspective is completely different than mine and who wants me to change my way of thinking to reflect their own. Often, that someone is an executive who was trying to convince me that he was earning his outrageous salary by doing something stupid and I should agree with it.
I have no problem admitting to being stubborn. I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge that my outlook is often different, even diametrically opposed, from the norm. I don’t even have a problem accepting the fact that most people are incapable of taking a stand that is far off of center, unless it’s currently politically acceptable to stand in that spot. However, I see grays and other uncommitted shades just fine. That capacity just isn’t likely to make me more malleable.
This is not a sociological essay. Far better minds than mine have wrestled with skin color and I subscribe strongly, to the “all men (and women) are created equal” philosophy. This is a visibility rant. Last week, I came up against a motorcycling kind of black vs. other colors experience.
I stumbled onto a great deal on a terrific riding jacket. Well armored, great ventilation, perfect fit, it was exactly the jacket I’ve wanted, but couldn’t afford, for a long while. The only negative was that it was black. It was all black except for a reflective stripe on the back. I choked down my dislike of black riding gear and bought it.
In the past week, I’ve apparently become invisible. I’m suspecting it’s because of the jacket (or bad karma). I’m working on the karma, while sort of hoping the jacket isn’t really the problem.
While I’m riding, I am unusually suspicious of all cagers’ abilities and automatically expect anyone in a car to be dumb as a brick. I plan on their doing all sorts of stupid things under all conditions. I never approach an intersection without getting ready to brake, swerve, or take a detour over a curb into the nearest front yard. Usually, all that paranoia and preparation is wasted energy. For the last couple of years, my actual avoidance activity has been a microscopic percentage of my preparation activity. That’s not a bad thing, and I’m not complaining.
My old riding gear was either a red with black highlights Motoport Canyon Jacket with black Motoport over-pants or a gray with dark gray highlights Aerostitch Roadcrafter. I have a white helmet and a red bike. The helmet’s beat up and hasn’t been polished since Shoei packed it for shipping and the bike gets washed and waxed every fall, whether it needs it or not. If I have to work on it, it’s washed before I do the work. Priorities. . . you know? The Canyon jacket was designed for pencil-necked geeks and has always left my throat exposed to rain and weather. The Aerostitch is old, leaks, and falling apart. So, I needed some new gear.
With my old gear, I wasn’t a flashing florescent motorcycle sign, but I didn’t blend in with the environment. Add the black jacket to the mix and I’ve apparently vanished into the scenery. I commute every day on the bike, doing the same route at the same time. I put a lot of miles on my bike, but I’m not doing anything creative, adventurous, or fast. I’m just going from my usual point A to point B through G (I live a boring life) the same way, over and over again. I’m a freakin’ test pilot for consistency.
Since the black jacket purchase, people are staring right at me as they pull out in front of me in moving traffic. In freeway traffic, I’ve recently had cars swap lanes when I’m positioned right by the driver’s side window. I mean right by the driver’s face and they look at me and swing right into my lane like I’m some kind of phantom. None of this stuff happened more than a tiny number of times before I went for the black jacket. Recently, it’s been a time or two every day. I should sell my invisibility to the folks who design stealth military equipment. Since they’re already tuned into flat black, I suspect they already know about this phenomena.
I’ve had a poor relationship with black gear for a long time. Back in Colorado, against my better judgment, a friend convinced me that a black helmet would be as comfortable as my usual boring white helmet. Under the illusion that it would also be easier to maintain, meaning I’d have to clean it less often, I went for a full face Shoei. From the first, it seemed to me that the helmet was a lot hotter than my old helmet. Now, it would have been useful in the winter, but it was a real detriment in the summer. Denver gets hot and stays that way through a short piece of the summer and I was almost convinced to ride without a helmet in mid-August.
So, I did the geek thing and ran a test with my old helmet (the white one) and the new one, which only differed in color. They were the same model, size, and condition, except for a small dent in the back of the old helmet. On a bright 100 degree afternoon, I stuffed thermocouples into the two helmets, connected them to my battery powered temperature meter and went for a 25 mile ride, first with the black helmet and then with the white one. The black helmet was, on average, 5° hotter than the white one. But the top of the helmet, where I had stuffed two sensors (front and back), the helmet was almost 15° hotter. I found a sucker for the almost new black helmet (I’m ashamed to admit who) and gave it away. He used it for the ride home, about 800 miles, and it’s been in his garage ever since.
Going back to the white helmet seemed to bring me back into cagers’ radar, but at the time I didn’t make much of that. Denver is second only to Houston in motorcycle unawareness, so I spent a lot of effort trying to stay out from under cages while I lived in Colorado.
Since then, I’ve avoided the whole fashion statement aspect of helmets and buy white every time I need a new one. It doesn’t bother me that white is cheaper, too. I’m 40 pounds overweight and bright colors or a fancy paint job aren’t going to improve my appearance. I need a girdle way more than I need color coordination.
Now I have a dilemma with the black jacket. I love the damn thing. It’s a perfect fit. It has pockets up the kazoo. It has a removable insulated liner, removable neck insulation, and a huge pocket to store the liner and small children until the weather becomes predictable (mid-July to early-September, in Minnesota). It has double-layer armor and Kevlar skid shields. And it might be making me invisible.
At least it’s heavy nylon, so I could start adding brightly colored patches until cagers start seeing me again. Maybe I’ll make an experiment out of that, being the chronic scientific method analyst (geek). I’ll add one 4×2 white or bright color patch per week until cagers stop trying to squash me. This week, I’ll keep notes on the number of invisible incidents I avoid, assuming I avoid them all. Next week, I’ll start adding color and keeping track of squash events until the number starts dropping. If it doesn’t change, I’ll go back to working on the karma thing.