A Witless Battle
by Thomas Day
I don’t just write Geezer rants. I write all kinds of crap; short stories, long stories, tech articles, personal letters, e-mail, and (regrettably) letters to editors. I stumbled into this gig with a letter to an editor, in fact. I write when anyone with good sense would watch TV or play Monopoly. A while back, I was infected by an overwhelming desire to write to the editor of the Ride to Work News, Andy Goldfine. Like panic reactions, angry impulses, elective surgery, and sexual perversions, “overwhelming desires” should probably be resisted.
Ride to Work had published a collection of letters and articles about how persecuted motorcycles and motorcyclists are on the road and in court. We’re, apparently, a hobby populated by victims and most of the folks who wrote letters to RTW seemed to think motorcycles have been singled out for special neglect by the court system.
I wrote Andy that I didn’t think that was the case. My own experience led me to believe that cars and trucks, in general, are a specially protected “weapon,” regardless of who gets hurt: motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists, non-mobile spectators, or other cagers. As most states’ motor vehicle manslaughter and homicide laws stand, the murder weapon of choice should always be a cage. Kill a kid with a semi-automatic weapon, go to jail for life or get fried. Kill the same kid (and a collection of his family members) with a Hummer or a Cadillac and you might get out of jail in six months. My feeling for the rationale behind these irrational laws is that the public keeps electing drunks and irresponsible/incompetent drivers to public office, There is no way that those characters are going to write laws that are likely to put themselves away for life. So my logic went.
Andy, in one of his articles, contended that motorcycles are a “clear social good” and that caught my attention. In doing my “Motorcycling Minnesota” cable show, I’ve been working on a series of short articles about motorcycles and motorcyclists’ public image. To put it bluntly, our image isn’t positive, no matter how many Rides for Kids or other benefits motorcyclists do. In fact, many of those benefit rides create as many enemies as friends (or, at least, acquaintances).
Andy’s contention is that motorcycles reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and parking space problems. He argues that motorcycles could reduce fuel consumption, natural resource depletion, and enhance urban transportation options. Mostly, I agree with him. The problem I have with the argument is that today, in the US of A, much of it isn’t true. A large collection of the bikes we choose to ride produce more air and noise pollution and use as much or more fuel than considerably larger cages. The first thing most motorcyclists do to their new bike is dump the EPA-approved exhaust and install a pipe that rattles windows for miles. In the Cities, available parking space isn’t a problem. There are graveyards that experience more traffic than downtown St. Paul and the city counts on parking ticket revenue to fund good bit of the police department.
The reduced congestion argument isn’t going to create a lot of interest with the powers that be in Minnesota urban areas. Minnesota hasn’t even decided if light rail is worth the effort. Reducing congestion is the exact opposite of the Metro Council’s plans. They’d like to transform the Cites and the burbs into a “New L.A.” If the developers and the state government has their way, we’ll be packed, standing-room-only, from the St. Croix to Brainerd.
I think, before any of the socially responsible arguments begin to receive a serious reception, we’re going to be living and driving elbow-to-elbow, buying $6/gallon gas, and breathing air that would choke a Californian. For some reason, Minnesota’s political heavyweights have decided that marketing Minnesota’s quality of life requires sacrificing our quality of life. In the meantime, doing smart things such as reducing pollution and congestion are so far from being on the front burner that they aren’t even being kept warm.
Regardless of which of us is sitting on the perfect side of this debate, Andy makes solidly the most persuasive, literate, and thoughtful presentation; which is what spawned the title of this rant. We passed a few e-mails back and forth and even when it appeared that he agreed with my position, he restated it in such an improved condition that it was no longer something to which I could claim ownership. You’ve heard the expression “a battle of wits against an unarmed man?” That was what I experienced and I realized I was unarmed even before I got into the battle.