I scanned this old photo into my computer. The kid's my nephew who died recently. There's been a lot of history written since this picture was taken. Check out the big bad motorcyclist on his 900 Honda! Looks like a cop, doesn't he? Still have the bike. Unfortunately, we no longer have the nephew.
Summer's just around the corner. I'm seeing an increasing number of riders out. It seems like even more than previously. Rising gas prices and the fact that riding has become very "chic" are surely contributing factors. What bothers me is the casual attitude toward gear. Heck, it's not just gear, it's the whole thing about rider responsibility. Pleasure riding has its own set of risks. Commuting on a bike is an altogether deeper penetration behind enemy lines. There's this atmosphere of "I don't plan to crash" and "These things happen to other people. I'm different".
Guess what, folks? "Other people" is Us!
That was driven home to me like a punch to the chest in Arizona. Here's the brief version of what happened. My nephew was five months past his 18th birthday. An only child. On a Tuesday night he got off work at Taco Bell. Being the swing shift, it was midnight when he got home. Like young kids are prone to do, he decided he wanted something from a convenience store. You know kids, they don't always do things in a real organized manner. Like stopping on the way home instead of leaving again.
Ten minutes from home my nephew was involved in a head-on crash. A nurse who worked at a hospital in Phoenix was on her way home. A typical shift for her was 13 hours. The hospital was an hour and a half from her home. It's around 12:30 AM by now. Judging by the position of the vehicles, the police say my nephew had crossed the centerline in his little VW Jetta. The nurse's SUV had airbags, which deployed. The impact of the wreck was so great that she died anyway. My nephew's car caught fire. His body was burned beyond recognition. Thank God it looks like the impact was severe enough to have killed him instantly before the fire reached him.
Toxicology tests are still in the hands of an over-worked and understaffed police crime lab. It's also possible that the nurse had drifted off to sleep and crossed the line herself. Being inexperienced, the kid could have moved left thinking he was avoiding her. How many times have I seen sleepy or drunk drivers suddenly swerve back into their own lane? Too many. The kid could have just been distracted as kids will be. It only takes a heartbeat or two to be in the other lane.
There were no current dental records. Long story. End result is that DNA testing would be required. Again, in the hands of the crime lab. It will still be a while before the results are available. Circumstantial evidence was enough to have a memorial service, at least.
The point is that I was first responder to a number of really bad accidents. It was always "other people" and their relatives involved. I never imagined one of my own being the victim in a horrific wreck. It happened. Denial does not constitute a protective force field. There are no "other people". It is only us, the humans who live on this planet.
This same denial is evident in the riders I talk with. I ask them if they are really comfortable with having no protection in the event they come off their bike. Answers range from sort of guilty to downright hostile.
There's those who look sort of sheepish when I bring the subject up. These folks know they should have better gear. It's a sad thing when their fear of not fitting in with some "image" outweighs their fear of physical injury. It must be frightening to go through life without the courage to stand on one's own two feet. These type of persons make up a veritable horde. That's why Harley Davidson has had such good success, in my own opinion. Their marketing folks effectively play to this weakness in humans. These type of humans flock together. Nobody wants to break the mold. Nobody gets the truth shoved in their faces. As a result, their reality checks bounce. Denial continues to reign supreme.
Flipping the coin over, I'm often told it's nobody's business what kind of gear they wear. If it wasn't for the laws, they wouldn't even wear the helmets required here. For the record, I don't like being dictated to any more than absolutely necessary by the government. This isn't about government rules. This has to do with taking care of oneself. Folks can bluster all they want about how crashing would only affect them. Sorry. Nobody lives in a total vacuum. That argument holds absolutely no water for me. Aside from that, I don't believe that anyone ( with a very few possible exceptions ) actually doesn't care if they become seriously injured in an accident. I can't believe riders would purposely want to damage themselves.
Most of it is posturing. I've taken to asking people to do something for me. I tell them to go home and wait for dark. Then they need to go out on their front porch. With the light off, they should strip off their clothing and run naked down their street. When they achieve a good running speed they should throw themselves full length on the pavement. While they're down there, I ask them to bang their heads on a curb or large rock. If they can meet me at the same place tomorrow, bloodied and bruised with a big smile on their face, then I will accept their arguments. Nobody has taken me up on the challenge. It's not bravery, it's denial. Personal agendas must be met. There's no such thing as "other people".
I know I'm preaching to the choir, here. I just have to get this off my chest. Too many of the riders I've seen the past few days are riding in t-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes. It's bad enough for themselves, but what about passengers? How much can a man really claim to care about a woman when she's on the back of the bike with the same lack of gear as him? I'd like to reach these people but don't know how. A good crash would quickly bring them back to reality. Isn't it amazing how riders suddenly become believers in good gear after a crash? Provided they walk away with the ability to continue to ride, that is. Some of us have raced. I've been violently thrown off bikes at high speed on a track. I know the value of gear and how suddenly it can be called upon to protect us. Most of us haven't had to crash in order to insist on good gear. Our denial meters are showing a fairly low level. There has to be some denial or we would never ride. That could be a whole post by itself. We won't venture there right now.
Here's my question. How do we get riders to the "after crashing" belief level in gear without actually having them crash?
It's important to me. I worry about the riders themselves as well as their families. There's no such thing as "other people". Real people suffer when motorcyclists are injured and killed. I also worry about what's going to happen to motorcycling as a whole if enough of the people in denial crash. Those of us who are serious riders and commuters don't need the bad press, the unfavorable reputation, or the inevitable government interference. I hate the fact that the clowns are taking over the face of the circus. So much talent and all the public sees are the jesters.
I'm looking for anwers in a place where there may not actually be any. Maybe I'm just temporarily too sensitive. My nephew's father and mother are up here this weekend. My dear wife's brother. We just spent a few hours with them. These people are lost and looking for the "why's?". So much of the death, injury, and suffering in this world is totally senseless. Being alive and well is too precious to take casually. I ride to make the most of it and yet I temper what I do with the knowledge of the gift we've been given. Use it, but don't needlessy waste it. It bothers me when people don't seem to get it.
Thanks for bearing with me. I know this post is a little "dark". Writing here has become a cartharsis for an old warrior who keeps his emotions bottled up. I'm ok, really. I just needed to write this and lose myself for a few minutes. I hope you won't go away from here feeling down. My desire would be for you to go away determined to appreciate even more the wonderful things we have been given to enjoy. If, somewhere along the way, you can help someone else to the same attitude so much the better. I guess my statement works two ways. Good things don't happen to "other people" either. Remember, "other people" is us! Enjoy. Good things happen to all of us. Go find them.
It's 10 PM. I'm going for a ride. It's who I am. It's what I do. Here in the Northwest, if you look just above and to the left of the full moon, you can see Jupiter. I'm going planet hunting!
Miles and smiles, ( yes, there will be things to smile about, believe me! )