Friday, July 21, 2006
Gems among the stones:
Ride to Work Day
3:45 AM. The alarm was set to go off at 4. I'd been awake for a while. Why did I decide to put myself through this? Especially considering that the days have been hot and I couldn't get to sleep at a decent time. Our little air conditioner in the kitchen window doesn't cool off our bedroom despite the fans.
The reason for this venture? It was Ride to Work Day and I had a plan. Sighing, I reached over and turned the alarm off. It's pretty much routine for me to wake up before the alarm goes off no matter what time it's set for. When she hears the "click" of the alarm switch, Katie rolls over for a goodbye kiss. I'm not sure if she really wakes up or if it's something like sleep walking. Either way, I always feel better knowing I've left her with a kiss. It's a holdover from the cop days. If there's a chance I'm not coming home I don't want to regret not kissing her goodbye.
Here's the plan my wild-man brain came up with. The purpose of Ride to Work Day is to promote commuting on two wheels, right?. Extending that thought, I figured that this meant making the number of motorcycle mounted commuters visible to as many as possible. My plan was to leave extra early and go to the office. Instead of taking the freeway, I would ride the main drags of the large towns enroute. I could go through downtown Salem which has a population of around 100,000. From there I could hook up to Hwy 99 which would take me most of the way North. That would give me Woodburn, Aurora, Oregon City, and West Linn. Then I would improvise as the whims moved me.
I confess that I didn't get quite the early start I planned on. The couch and coffee kept calling my name. My excuse was that I wouldn't be too visible if it were still dark when I left. That's logical, isn't it?
Finally I heaved my carcass off the couch and stumbled outside. Sophie seemed to sense that this was a special day. Maybe the washing, waxing, and polishing gave me away.
The first part of the trip was planned for an 18 mile stretch of freeway. This would take me into the Southern end of Salem. I have to say I was pretty excited to see quite a few sport bikes heading South. I never really thought it would be the sport bikers who would respond to Ride to Work. I always pictured the commuters as being more like me. Maybe a little saner, though. Since I was going North it gave me a chance to check them out and exchange waves. Something kept nagging at me in the background. Hmm, sport bike riders aren't usually this eager to wave. Why do they all seem to have packs or luggage?
It suddenly dawned on me what the deal was. I'd seen it a year ago but had forgotten. A conversation I had on Monday came to mind. The director of our motorcycle safety program had informed me he was leaving on Wednesday to go to Laguna Seca. Of course, these riders were going to the Big Race!!
The South Commercial exit into Salem soon loomed into view. Here it was, BIG CITY TRAFFIC! I steeled myself and remembered it was for a good cause. It could also be worse. It could be L.A. Here's a quote from the July 2006 issue of Motorcyclist magazine:
"According to Wikipedia.org, 982,735 people drive to work every day in Los Angeles, alone with their neuroses, cell phones, and Grande Frappuccinos. There are 2474 who commute on two wheels".
Are we outnumbered or what? I certainly felt outnumbered as I proceded into the heart of town. As I passed a Dunkin Donuts shop the urge to turn in was extra strong. It was really odd since I hadn't been to one since a stop in Atlanta, Georgia 12 years ago. Maybe it was a psychological craving for comfort foods. Maybe it was a premonition. I almost wish I HAD stopped. It would have altered my timing and kept me from meeting The Zombie in the Huge Ford Pickup.
Here's where habits become so deeply ingrained that you're hardly aware of them. A veteran two-wheeled commuter needs several of these. Years ago I worked on prying my eyes away from looking at storefront windows. It was just so darn tempting to keep checking out my coolness in the reflection in these huge glass expanses. Little by little I switched over to watching side-view mirrors to see if I was in someone's blind spot. I also started watching the front tires of vehicles around me. You can get clues about a vehicle's movements here faster than almost anywhere else. By the way, those new wheel covers with spinning centers drive me nuts. It always looks like the car is going to pull out in front of me. You watch, the day I ignore one it will turn out to actually be a car violating my space.
There are four lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. I am in the second lane in from the right. Beside me to the right is tightly packed traffic. Mostly little cars. Right behind me is a Toyota 4Runner who's trying to read a bumper sticker I don't have. I've been tapping my brake lights to get him to back off without success. Immediately to my left is the Zombie. He's driving one of the four door pickups with the long bed and a canopy. By the way, don't you find that a four door pickup is just plain wrong?
Ahead of me is space. It's the one thing I can control and I'm leaving about three car lengths. Suddenly, brake lights flash on ahead of The Zombie. I can see the guy's face in his right side- view mirror. His head and eyes never move as he suddenly moves into my lane. I was going to use the word "dart" but big pickups don't dart. They just "move" over. Fortunately, I'd seen the front wheel twitch. At least, my subconcious scanning had seen it and sounded the alarm. It gave me just enough time to once again flash my brake lights at the Toyota driver behind me. In an unbelievable coincidence, his attention must have actually been on surrounding traffic, for once. A little space opened up behind and to the right of me. No harm, no foul, but I could have done without the drama.
As I headed out the North end of town I shook my head. Today we're supposed to be visible. Interestingly, to most drivers, we're still invisible. Even when I pulled up beside The Zombie I could not get him to look at me.
The rest of the trip went pretty much as planned. A lot of slow traffic but we looked the part of a motorcycle commuter mixed up with cager traffic. Sophie and I did have an encounter with a man in a moving van. This time I'm sure the driver saw me. He just wanted our space and decided to take it. Might makes right. I was tempted to get him to stop and show him some Might, but figured it would reflect badly on the whole Ride to Work Day. I could just see this guy telling his friends ( if he has any ) about his adventure on Ride to Work Day.
"I'll tell you about commuters on bikes. Ban 'em. Make 'em pay". Of course, he'll be pretty reluctant to tell about how he got the snot beat out of him by a rider who didn't appreciate being nearly shoved off the road.
No, we just let the guy go. I will still take on anybody but I pick my battles more carefully. Drivers like this guy will always be jerks when surrounded by so much metal. He has to live with who he is. That's punishment enough.
Took some pictures around our business park. The Connie ( Concours ) and the Harley in the last two pictures are regulars. The dual sport is a "sometimes" visitor. He usually shares a spot with the Harley guy. The other bikes are ones I haven't seen, yet. Don't know if they rode because of Ride to Work or not. Either way, it's good to see them.
As a side note, did you see the gal in the car in the fourth picture? She was just sure I was taking her picture. She even looked over and smiled. Since she probably won't ever read this blog, she'll always remember the day the handsome and dashing guy on a bike took her picture. If that was Katie, she'd be over in the photographer's face and taking him to task for being such a pervert! Living with a Road Warrior has made her slightly aggressive, me thinks.
Miles and smiles,