Thursday, August 10, 2006

A visit to the V.A.

4:30 AM! The alarm is set to go off at 5:30. I hate it when this happens. Lately it's been happening a lot. No matter what time I set the alarm for, I wake up exactly one hour earlier. It's beginning to drive me crazy. Katie, in that smug way an old friend can have, assures me that it won't be a long trip. Har, har.

Today I don't mind so much, though. Instead of a Ride To Work day, this will be a Ride FOR work day. My goal is Roseburg which is 120 miles South. As a factory rep I've been called in to troubleshoot an electrician's low voltage wiring. The whole day is to be fabricated around this task. I figure that this mission and a courtesy call to another place will take about an hour and a half. The rest of the time can be devoted to getting there and back in interesting ways. Another sunny day is forecast. Temperatures are supposed to top out in the mid 80's. Yes, I'm wide awake and facing A Perfect Day.

By 5 AM I'm sitting on the front porch steps watching the world wake up along with me. Above me the full moon looks ready to rest from the night's watch. The Indians call this one a "Sturgeon Moon" among other things. A big mug of steaming good-morning coffee is in my left hand. My right hand idly scratches my cat behind the ears. She's come over to see me. I'm not at all fooled. She's acting like she's missed me so much overnight but one eye is constantly trained on the door. On a split second's notice she'll be ready to dash into the house.

Our cat's name is Heidi and she's getting senile. 17 years have come and gone for her. It's kind of funny, actually. I swear that Heidi practices so she can perfect the most grating and annoying meow noise possible. My cat reminds me of my late Aunt Edith. Never sick a day in her life. Scrawny and as tough as they come. All mouth and she knew how to use it. Edith lived to be a hundred. Heidi will probably do the same. We let her in the house to feed her and then she wants out. Five minutes later Heidi's once again on the porch with that annoying noise. It's like she's forgotten that she just ate. Lately Heidi's taken to running crosswise in front of the bike when I get home. Could be interesting one of these days. Anyway, I digress.

As I sit on the porch I consider possible routes for the trip today. Imagine a man standing in front of a table full of melons at a Farmer's Market. One by one I pick up the possibilities and consider them. I could take the freeway. That would take about two hours. I'll have about three hours to spend and I'm sick of freeways. Put that one down and pick up another. This one's mostly back roads with only a little bit of freeway. It will do nicely.

How about the trip home? Hmmm. Highway 42 leaves Roseburg and winds through the Southern Coastal Range towards the ocean. From Coos Bay I could take Highway 101 up the coast to Waldport. From there we could head inland on Highway 34. That one's even more winding than 42. I mentally add up the distances. Should be around 243 miles. Combined with the trip down it will spin the odometer wheels another 400 miles or so forward. Perfect, I'll take both, please.

Leaving home at 6 AM works out perfectly for the sunglasses situation. For the first 15 minutes or such a matter it's almost too dark for the Ray-Ban's. Suddenly, the sunlight bursts over the foothills as if to loudly shout "Good morning!" to all of us out and about at this hour. It saves me from just getting underway and then having to stop to put the sunglasses on. What can I say about the ride South except that it was a great way to start the day? Picture a perfect summertime morning, a long-legged and comfortable bike, and three hours to just soak it all up.

Timing of the route turns out to be nearly perfect. I arrive 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It gives me time to make a pit stop, take some tools out of the saddlebags, and stash my gear. You have to be a little creative to get a full face helmet and a two-piece Roadcrafter in two saddlebags.

Here's a picture of the building I'm heading for:

My destination is the third floor. It's a mental health ward. I figure I should fit right in. Besides, might as well check it out for when I actually do go crazy. Seriously, though, it's a place where those who have trouble remembering and those who have gotten too good at forgetting can find help. Other minor social disorders are treated there, as well. I've seen other places like this so I expect the worst. Not here, though. There's a prevailing calm that I find restful.

I really hadn't intended to write about the work part. I do, however, want to share a little humor from the situation with you.

With tools in hand, I make the trip to the third floor where I'm supposed to meet the electricians. They're not here, yet. As soon as I exit the elevator I'm standing in front of the Nurses' Station. Sitting behind the desk is a woman I can only describe as an Army Matron. Looking me up and down she makes a stern pronouncement.

"You are not supposed to be up here without a badge!"

Ok, your house, your rules. After informing me where I can obtain this precious badge, I make my way back down three floors and outside. Presenting myself to a young woman behind a grill at the Security Office, I ask for a badge. After signing in on a sheet of paper and showing absolutely no ID, I proudly exit bearing badge #8 that declares I am a "Vendor".

Once more I stand before the Matron. Seeing the badge clipped to my shirt she beams at me. Another case of "we don't know why we're doing this but it must be done". Mindless Protocol has been satisfied.

Soon electrician number one shows up. He has a badge so Matron pays him no mind. It is time for me to start finding out what went wrong. This part is actually directly relevant to motorcycling because it's from bikes that I learned my technique. With a little help from one of the original instructors from the 80's. His name is Dale. Dale is no longer an instructor. Over time he became more and more independent. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. Dale is increasingly forward and outspoken. In other words, my kind of guy!

My bikes suffered a lot of tinkering at my hands and Dale knew it. I was always installing some little gadget or tweaking this, that, or the other thing. Oftentimes my efforts would lead to other unforeseen problems. I would never tell Dale that I was tinkering. I would just ask general questions based upon certain scenarios. The first words out of Dale's mouth would be:

"What did you screw around with last?" Like I said, Dale was on to me.

I used the same approach with the electrician. He told me that,

"Things worked just fine until we hooked up this here piece of extra equipment".

About now electrician number two showed up. He did not have a badge. Matron was having spasms about it. This guy kept putting her off with promises to leave real soon. I smiled and assured her that I would be responsible for him. She threw up her arms and went to her desk to pout. I pulled out my trusty Fluke multimeter with assorted probes and found the problem. In my best "Factory Guy" voice I icily asked them,

"What part of 'never apply voltage to these terminals' didn't you understand? When you fired up the power supply did you happen to experience a BBF or MES?"

Those acronyms are highly technical terms and refer to "Bright Blue Flash" and "Maximum Electrical Smoke" which are both to be rigorously avoided.

Both boards had been fried and nothing further could be done pending replacement parts. In their defense, electricians often have trouble with low voltage applications. I grabbed electrician number two by the collar in a big show for Matron. I told him it was time to leave and off we went. My two electrician friends left ( I'm not sure how friendly they are to me right now ) and I turned in Vendor Badge #8.

Like I said, this place is beautiful. It's more like a sprawling estate than a hospital. There's even a golf course which does seem over the top, I admit.

Sophie seems glad to see me. It means it's time to go play some more. Must be boring just sitting in a parking lot showing off her looks. She's lucky I didn't put the cover over her! We decide to take a slow tour of the campus and look for bikes. Much to our disappointment, we only see two. One's a brand new FJR. Judging by how it's parked I figure it belongs to a visitor. The other bike is a big BMW dual sport. I'm glad to note that it seems to belong to a commuter.

I can't really see why there are so few commuters. There's bound to be a lot of employees here. It's such beautiful countryside and weather. This campus is in such synchronization with the essence of riding. Open spaces, tranquility, and grace. Oh well, it is what it is, I guess. In fact, I'm tempted to just park under a tree and soak up the ambience. By now, though, it's 10:30 and I have one more call to make. The lure of an afternoon spent riding on my own schedule is too tempting to resist for much longer.

My ride home was everything I had envisioned as I sat on the porch in the early morning. This post is getting too long already so I'm only going to share one story with you. It's about some deer.

Highway 42 has long stretches of farmland surrounded by forested areas. In my sideview mirrors I see a Honda car rapidly closing up behind me. The driver had passed another car about a quarter mile back and was looking to do the same to me. I've long since resigned myself to just letting speeders go around me. Some drivers are better in front of you where you can keep an eye on them than behind you.

Aggessively scanning, which is a must for surviving on a bike, I see a flash of brown ahead and to the right. Deer! Right away I start tapping the rear brake pedal to get the Honda driver's attention. To their credit they actually slow and stay behind me as I come almost to a stop. I can now see that the driver is a young woman. The flash of brown turns out to be a doe and two spotted fawns. It seems kind of late in the year for spotted fawns but here they are. The doe and one fawn cross the road. The second fawn seems absorbed in something beside the road and hasn't crossed yet. Kind of reminds me of myself as a kid. Always in my own world exploring and discovering.

All at once the fawn notices that it's been abandoned. With what can only be described as a "hey guys, wait for me look" the fawn bounds across to join the other two. Honda girl and I move along. Sure enough, she zooms around me. I'm watching the deer and see them cross back to where they came from. Silly deer. If only they understood about vehicles. Maybe it's better they don't, you know? After being turned on to the magic of internal combustion we're likely to see deer cruising the roads in convertibles. It would have to be convertibles, wouldn't it? How else to accommodate the antlers? With a helmet law in Oregon it's not likely they could ride bikes.

See what a great day it was? Even writing about it puts me in such a good mood that I'm making weird jokes. Isn't that one of the main attractions of commuting on a bike?

Miles and smiles,

No comments: