Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who's bad?

This is a true story. The circumstances are so ludicrous it sounds like a bad script from a 70's flick. My opposing character started the B movie dialog and so I went with it. There's no moral to this story. It's simply the account of my recent encounter with a member of the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle gang. The post may run a little long. This is the kind of thing you can't cheat. It has to be told as it unfolds. I think you'll find it worth the time, though!

Here's the other guy. You'll see in a bit why this is the only picture and it's taken from a distance. It was the best I could do with the point and shoot digital. I have a new Nikon D40 with a 55 to 200mm lense but I haven't gotten up the nerve to routinely carry it on the bike, yet!

Here's the story leading up to the picture.

I'm riding for work and have business in Salem. Having had it up to my neck with the freeway, I've taken some back roads into the city. My first stop is in South Salem so this works out well. Coming up through a little town named Turner, the road goes by a Baptist College, the new Police Academy, a minimum security state prison facility, a county jail, and the new animal control kennel. Quite the mix, huh? Then the road turns into Lancaster Street not far from where this guy and his bike were. He's just come off Highway 22 which eventually crosses the Cascade Mountain Range far to the East.

It looks to me like the bike's broken down. Whatever the reason, the rider's over in the grass talking on the cell phone. I pull Sophie off to the side but don't dismount. We're near the bike. I don't really know a panhead from a knucklehead from a shovelhead. All I know is that it's old. This bike's seen much better days. Years of abuse and tipovers have left their mark . Dents and scrapes are everywhere. There looks to have been several attempts to paint the bike. Mostly by a rattle can in one hand and a beer in the other, I think. An open primary drive and belt are the obvious features on the left side. Sitting on the seat is a helmet that reminds me of the Nazi SS troopers. It just doesn't have the spike on top.

I can't help but think of the contrast between the two of us. A scruffy looking biker with a rat bike. He's flying his colors. I'm the flip side of the coin. A motorcyclist with his sleek sport tourer. I'm also flying my colors. For some reason I've left the Hi-Viz 'stich at home. Instead, I have a black Tourmaster jacket on. Proudly displayed on top of the jacket is my bright yellow-green retroflective vest with our training program's logo on the back. Nonetheless, I'm thinking the commonality of two wheels will bridge the gap. It looks like he's having a problem and maybe I can help.

Let's deal with this aspect first. The fact that I stopped in the first place. I'm not naive and wide-eyed with wonder. I've often seen the worst side of human nature. I've also been around long enough to know you can't always judge by outward appearance. People often act differently as individuals from what they'd be in a group. It's something I call "group sports". You see it all the time. Behaviour that would be totally unacceptable on the part of an individual seems to be okay if done as a group. Peer pressure makes people act contrary to their better judgement. I see a lot of riders who aren't what they appear. In other words, their choice of gear isn't based on functionality. It's more like they don carefully contrived costumes to make other people think they're "bad individuals". Funny how they all end up looking exactly alike.

On that basis I stop and wait to chat with the guy. He tells someone on the other end of the phone conversation to hold on. Next he proceeds to do a great imitation of the back side of a mule. He questions my parent's marital status when I was born. In the next breath I'm firmly told where all riders of "non-American" iron can go. His serving of hatred is finished off with a liberal sprinkling of obscenity and the traditional one finger salute. How original!

Quiet dignity can be a greater weapon than responding in kind. Nowhere in the Manual of Life does it say I have to become a participant in his gutter level game. Without a word, I shrug and slowly ride off.

My destination was right around the corner. It's a very large sporting goods supply store. My business is at the handgun counter. Like I wrote earlier, I'm not naive. Nor am I defenseless. Cogito, ergo armatum sum. Let's leave that phrase in Latin to sum it up.

Still though, underneath it all the guy had severely offended me. It crossed my mind to mention it in a post. In order provide a little visual documentation, I decided to take a picture. Just in case. This photo is from the parking lot of the sporting goods store. I had a chain link fence and some distance to deal with. The rider was pacing back and forth. I pointed the camera and waited for him to get as close to the bike as he was going to get. Then I snapped a couple of pictures. He looked my way a couple of times during the process. I now had my photo and really figured to just sort of let it all slide. It would have remained that way, too. Except the biker had to play tough guy. At the time, though, I didn't know there would be an Act II.

I've been here several times before. This KLR is often parked here. There's a display like it on the other side of the entry. Lacking the Kawasaki, of course. I'm pretty sure it's being ridden by an employee but I don't know the staff much at all. I fiddled around with the camera and managed a decent shot in between passing cars. This store is at one end of a strip mall which includes a very large grocery store. Nearby is a restaurant and a Burger King. It took a while to get clear shots.

Of course, there's always the need to both express myself artistically and prove I was actually someplace with the bike. So here's the mandatory bike pose.

By the time I finish getting the pictures and completing my business inside, some time has passed. The rude biker has pretty much slipped into the background. As I secure stuff on the bike and gather gear, I hear a loud bike fire up. The Joker comes around a parked truck and is headed for me. He was hiding where he could see me but my view of him was blocked. I find this part funny all by itself. It seems the bike either wasn't broken or he got it running. Why the Joker didn't just park by the bike and wait for me is a mystery. All I can think of is that he wanted to try to intimidate me by having me watch him roll up in all his "bad-ass" glory. When will these guys learn that you don't need a costume and props to be "bad"?

Interestingly, he either made a tactical error or was trying to protect himself. Or maybe he never even thought about it at all. There was plenty of room on both sides of the bike. Instead of pulling in right beside me, on the left side of the bike, the Joker pulled in so that Sophie was between us. If maximum intimidation requires closest proximity he fell a little short. He shut the bike down and stared at me. I didn't know exactly what was on his mind or what was coming next. I did know two things, though.

Firstly, I wasn't going to run. Secondly, in a confrontation I might not win, but he was going to suffer damage. Not boasting. Just the way it is. Blame it on Grandpa and the old Cowboy Code. I had the advantage in the staring contest as my eyes were covered with sunglasses and his were open to the elements.

Deciding to take the initiative, I put the first card on the table.

"I see you came to apologize for being such a jerk!"

No response. I could see the cords in his neck move. It kind of made the jumbled tatoo's wriggle.

"Why were you taking my picture?" he asked.

Like I say, this guy started the B movie script and I just went with it. I've deleted his abundant use of colorful metaphors.

"I'm looking for Citizen of the Year candidates. While you're here, care for a close-up?"

Keeping the camera out of his easy reach, I held it up. His eyes rested on it for a while.

"I don't like my picture taken. Maybe I oughta do something about it."

He tried to sound as threatening as possible, nearly growling. I blame my next response solely on Gary Charpentier. Gary got me reading Raymond Chandler's mystery novels. The spirit of Phillip Marlowe filled me and inspired my answer.

"The last guy who threatened me like that quit having birthdays".

Now the Joker's taken somewhat aback. This isn't going like he imagined, apparently. I can see the resolve in his eyes waver. Then he asks his next question.

"You a cop?"

I can see how he might come to that conclusion. Katie's recently buzzed my hair back to "regulation" length. The beard's been gone a while and I've remained clean shaven. My eyes are behind aviator style Ray Ban's. They're slightly mirrored and polarized lenses. My quiet self assurance certainly isn't what he would normally experience in this situation. Not wanting to come right out and say no, but not wanting to be guilty of impersonating an officer, I gave him a noncommittal answer.

"Use your imagination", I say.

Now I can see in his eyes that he's planning some sort of macho exit strategy but can't quite get there. This obviously didn't turn out like he'd written it in his mind. I decide to pounce on the moment of weakness.

"If there was a reason you rode all the way around here, get to it. If not, maybe you should leave."

Then he simply fired up the bike and left. I'm sure he wanted to flip me off, cuss me out, put on a show, or whatever. I'm also pretty sure there was still a lot of doubt in his mind at to who I really was.

Being totally caught up in the B movie, I really wanted to yell to him as he left, "Have a nice day!" but I decided that would have put this bizarre scene right over the top.

So there's the story. It's not a story about how Irondad took on a biker gang and backed them down. It's simply about what happened with a single biker flying the colors. Things could have gone either way. This time it went my way. It kind of made my day, actually. "Bad" takes many forms, doesn't it?

Miles and smiles,



Biker Betty said...

You are so right, it was worth the read. I love a happy ending :)

Arizona Harley Dude said...

Great story telling Irondad. Almost as if I was watching it live. Funny that some just won't accept that two wheels are two wheels. If he was out of cell range he might have been more accepting of your generosity. Thanks for sharing.

Bryce said...

Far too many of those twits on the
roads these days. If you are riding
a non-American metric bike, then you as a person are not welcome! Ditto for those who drive and enjoy foreign motor vehicles as opposed to the big (and dying fast) three. There is a very distinct line between foreign (read Japanese,
for they bombed Pearl Harbour)and anything else.
Ironically haven't observed the same feelings towards two and/or
four wheeled German or Italian
When you mentioned you were going to the handgun area, I cringed. Here in Canada nobody except those
so authorized carry firearms. We are mostly a non-firearm using
country. I have never handled a gun; never seen a need so don't
even want to learn now.

As to the D40, are you enjoying

Also isn't it great to be able
to impersonate a police
constable and not have reprucussions? You looked the
part and acted the part. Good for you. Now to complete the ensemble
pull out the black fold over record
book which so many carry and start
to write down details. The twit might well leave very quickly, eh?

R.G. said...

You handled that beautifully. I always think of the perfect thing to say or do two minutes too late. I am surprised that you said it kind of made your day though. Whenever I encounter the ugly side of human nature it leaves me exasperated for the next few hours.
2nd ammendment props!

American Scooterist Blog said...

You did the right thing. When I bought my HD in '93 I knew there were Japanese parts on the bike. Some of the older crowd still believes in the whole American Made deal when the company they treat with high regard isn't even holding to that business practice. They ride the old AMF designs which were poor to begin with. Out of date technologically speaking, right from the factory.
The Company was somewhat hindered by its own image. The telltale bike which proved it, the '77 cafe racer. Not a bad machine in its day but certainly not real competition to others in its class. The lack of sales when HD brought the bike out made it pretty clear HD would lose money trying to work its way into the broader market with improved technology. You could say a large enough segment of its loyal customers were holding it back when it needed to expand into a new segment of the market.
Its people like the guy you met who played a part in holding HD back from doing things it really wanted to do. To the point an engineer had to step away from the Company, start his own offshoot, and move forward as best he could.

The way I see it, people like the guy you met created an image of what they suppose the company was. But their perceptions were incorrect. HD sold the types of bikes it could. When it tried to branch out it was shut down by the same people who made it part of their shrines to being outcasts.

Secondly, that thin margin of people like the guy you met are the ones who speak of freedom the most. Yet at their core, they can't even tolerate an individual whose bike is not American made, who stops to see if they need assistance.

Its a fading segment of even that group. Oh, a few try to work that image into their own fabricated stature, but they're even younger than I am. They fall for the misinterpreted adage that ya gotta have the right look if ya get X bike.

No. Be who you are regardless of the rest of the damn world. Truthfully, it doesn't give a shit about you anyway.


American Scooterist Blog said...

Please forgive my swearing. I got carried away. Edit my post as you see fit.



R.G. said...

Read this whole post again. Just love that "..stopped having birthdays" line. That is laugh out loud funny!

Stacy said...

There's something to be said about projecting confidence during a potentially dangerous situation. I'm not an expert in self defense, but confidence can be the deciding factor between becoming a easy victim or someone not worth the effort.

This is particularly important for the ladies out there, because we tend to receive "women are victims" messages from birth.

Glad to see that this incident ended well for you, Dan. If you don't mind me asking, did you have a weapon on you, and would having one (or not) affect your response?

Becky said...

That is hilarious. I was rolling with laughter reading your account of the situation. You should have thrown out the line, "Go ahead, make my day". I think you put that loser in his place. He is obviously trying too hard to be tough, and you beat him at his own game. Good one.


Desert MotoRat said...

Nicely done Irondad, I bet he went home and kicked his dog out of frustration.

Lucky said...

Wow. Just... wow.

It's a shame that some people won't give respect without being put in their place.

Luckily, those same people are usually pretty easy to put in their place...

Conchscooter said...

I hate bullies. One down, millions more to go. Oh well, we can make fun of them as we go.

irondad said...

Biker Betty,
It was happy for one of us, at least!

Arizona Harley Dude,
Thanks for the feedback on the story. I love telling stories in words but worry about making blog posts too long.

I'm still learning the D40 but it has promise. Yes, I really like it. I checked it out on that website you sent me. There's a lot of useful review information there. By the way, I still have my leather bound folding notebook. I don't think that heavy basket weave is ever going to wear out!

That's the reason it made my day. I actually said what I wanted to say at the right time! That part about "he quit having birthdays" is right out of the last Phillip Marlowe novel I read. Funny how it sticks with you, isn't it? I never thought I'd ever use it in real life, though.

You're exactly right. Harley became a victim of its own success. It wasn't so bad before, but now they have to go find younger riders. I think Harleys will eventually be much more modern. The traditionalists will groan but the money of the new bike buyers will be the ruling factor.

It's ok about the cussing part. Deep passion can create that side effect. Happens to me once in while, too!

You get it. Quiet confidence can make a huge difference in the victim selection process. As to your questions, the answer to the first one is yes. Legally. The answer to the second one is that my approach is different but not how a person might expect.

I'm aware of all the deepest ramifications involved. Because of that, I hold myself to a very high degree of accountability. If I have a choice I try every other form of conflict resolution to the best of my ability first. Due to that commitment I have a lot of success.

Power and responsibility have to be equal.

I was in Phillip Marlowe mode and not Dirty Harry. That would have been funny, though! I was lucky to have been in a battle of wits with a relatively unarmed opponent.

Desert Motorat,
Now you've got me worried. I hope someone more defenseless didn't suffer for it. Ouch! There wouldn't have been anything I could have done about that, anyway, I guess. I just never thought about it until now.

Some people do just seem to beg for it, don't they?

Now I'm depressed. Are you telling me it's like swatting one gnat in a swarm of millions? Dispatchers and ex cops sure have cynical attitudes, don't they?

Take care,

Jeff In NY said...

Hi Dan - Nice. I particularly like the question he asked you about being a cop. That is probably something he should have been thinking about when you first stopped.

The other thing that comes to mind is that it may not have been too suprising to get such a rise out of him by taking a picture. He did make it clear he was cranky and irrational.

But, I am glad it turned out well (for both of you :-) since when you mentioned you went into the store I started to think you were going to run into the entire gang when you came out...


Krysta in Milwaukee said...

One more great story,
one more idiot held up for ridicule.
Beauty day, eh?

Charlie6 said...

as I learned they say in the navy: Bravo Zulu Dan!

or in plain Army lingo: Hoooah!!

Dave McCallister said...

What a jerk that guy was. I would appreciate it if my bike was broke and you stopped to help.. Done that for others many time.

irondad said...

Running into the entire gang might have changed the outcome somewhat. Someone might have gotten hurt, including, but not limited to me!

I seem to get a perverse satisfaction out of putting posers in their place. Shame on me.

That brings back memories!

That's how it's supposed to work most of the time.