Motorcycle (RL250)

When John crashed his motorcycle

At age 17 back in 1986, John crashed his motorcycle on Highway 40 outside of Oakley, Kansas while trying to make it to Kansas City later that night. His excuse was that the road had been straight for a long time. Legend says that as they were building the road, there had been a cow that wouldn't move despite the farmer pulling on the leash on one site and the US Army Corps of Engineers guy pushing on the cow's butt. They eventually gave up and built the road around him, which was where the curve came from. At 11:45pm, John just didn't see it and he drove off. He was hauling ass and had the throttle wide open when he saw a car way up in the distance coming towards him. John was a courteous driver and put his brights down. Since the car was coming toward him in a straight line, he was assuming that the road would continue in the same way. All of the sudden out of the gloom the little reflectors indicated that the road just goes left-turn. John was not the most seasoned motorcyclist to know what to do in this instance because he had zero seconds to make an informed decision. He let the gas off, the motorcycle stood straight up and John went directly off the road over the cow fence and right into a plowed field where his front tire and front forks went down into the dirt, bent into themselves, hucked him and the motocycle over and they were tumbling into the night. John was wearing a helmet, which was not self-evident in the 1980:s. He maybe would have had time to correct and not crashing, but he was a dumb teenager. And what was he even doing in Kansas?

The weed had been harvested, they had cut up all this dirt, "Rain on the Scarecrow and blood on the plow" (lyrics from a Album by John Mellencamp) and John "Steve Austined" (not Austin 3:16 the wrestler, but full on bionic man): "less dust, but more dirt clads, plowing into the ground and now we have to replace your legs. We can rebuild them, we have the technology: Better, Stronger, Faster!"

John came to rest on the inside of the opposite curve where the road turned back around the other side of the cow and continued in the exact same direction straight along. John was able to claw his way up to the road and the car that was still on its way straight at him with its brights up did slow down. He flagged down the car, the driver rolls their window down 1,5 inches and says "You all'right?". The motorcycle was smoking and one turn signal was blinking sadly while John struggled to get his helmet off and said "No!" The driver replied with some version of "Okay, wait here!", rolled the window back up and drove off into the night. So John laid there in the dark with the blinker going ding-dong-ding-dong and his leg mangled.

After some long and indeterminate time, he saw the rotating light of an ambulance in the middle distance and little by little he could hear the siren. The car appeared to be for him, meaning that the guy who didn't appear to be helpful at all probably drove to a closed store at a crossroads and called 911. As the paramedics arrived, they were very activated and got at him, rolled him over, cut his pants and his boots off, but soon they were sitting back on their heels and looked at him visibly relieved because they had been braced for something much worse. "When we get a phone call: motorcycle wreck on the highway, you don't want to know what we usually see! Seeing you moving was both good and bad, because it could have meant we might have to sit with you at the side of the road and watch you die, but you are fine! Even if your leg is broken in 40 pieces, you are still fine!". They picked him up and had a jolly old ride into something that wasn't really a hospital, but maybe an aid station, a place where they had to turn the lights on in each room they went into. That was the time when John learned that the aliens control their government!

John can still play Mr Bojangles with his bones that have turned into a Doctor Rhythm machine and would do all the work! It sounds like you put dried corn into a paper shredder.

Motorcycle culture

After his accident, John got back on the horse: "I beheld a pale horse". He wanted to be and does still want to be a motorcyclist, because he likes being on a motorcycle and he likes the accutrements of motorcycle life and culture. John likes the freedom of it and his GMC RV was just a symbol for a big old man's motorcycle. It has all the motorcycle qualities like a gas-powered carburated thing. Motorcycling is part of a customization culture, a "build it!" machine culture. It is very show-offy and there is a lot of peacocking which John also likes. But there is one thing he has to know about himself: He does not have good judgement and while that has been wonderful his whole life in most cases, it is a contraindication of motorcycle ownership. The chance that he will try and thread a needle that cannot be threaded is too high! He could have all the fun out on the salt flats or rolling around in Venice, California with a motorcycle he works on all afternoon, but in a rainy, hilly town like Seattle it is not that great. Listeners have already seen through how much trouble he can go into with just a ladder and a rusty hatchet. He doesn't need much! Two coat hangers and some Elmer's glue and he can get himself in the hospital. Maybe he should get a hatchet that is not rusty? If it hadn't been, he wouldn't be here today! It was the rust that saved him!

Wearing a helmet

When he first got the motorcycle, he didn't have a helmet, because: who needs one? Then at one time, a poisonous dragonfly wasp bird hit him square in the face at 70mph. (Was this a Fabio on a rollercoaster-type situation with a bird hitting him in the face?) All those great scenes in movies of Harley-dudes out riding in the wind leave out the carnage! At a later date, a wasp went up inside his helmet and stung him in the face more than 20 times while he was trying to stop his motorcycle. John is somewhat culpable in his motorcycle adventures, but so far, the real provocateur appears to be roads and animals. The cows! The wasp! The flying shit bird! John would be fine in a universe where he could just ride on a motorcycle and didn't have to deal with animals or their consequences. He started wearing a helmet because he realized he could get hit in the face and once the wasp got in there, it was too late to not wear the helmet.

Not using the brakes in curves

One of the forums John goes to is about old men who drive Porsche 911s. It is a whole enthusiast community! Because this model is a rear-engined car, a truism is that you do not lift off the accelerator in a corner if you are going too fast through the twisties, because if you get a little scared and you lift your foot off the gas, the back end is going to cut lose and you are going to spin out and crash. If you get scared in a corner with a Porsche 911, you have to give it more gas, not less. The car will sink down and the turn radius will be smaller.

The situation is similar when you are driving backwards with a trailer: you just have to forget everything you know about driving. Merlin was there when John tried it once and that was the time he and Sean Nelson quivered with fear.

If you are too hot in the corner with a motorcycle, your instinct is to let off the gas, but then you are going to straighten up and you are really going to go straight off the road. Instead you have to give it more gas! If you do want to slow down, you let the gas off before the turn while you are still going straight which will allow the engine compression to slow down your vehicle. As you then set up to go into the turn, you get on the gas, not off!

Driving without braking

If John sees brake lights of any kind on the highway, he puts a Mario Bros coin over the car that says "Ding dong". You do not need to touch your breaks during normal driving because you should be looking far enough ahead! The person in front of you doesn't matter, but it is the person five people ahead of you that matters. The opposite of accelerating is not braking, it is "no longer accelerating". John sometimes drives all the way to town without touching the brakes. They are not needed! It is like wanting to end your hammering by taking a screw driver.

One time they were driving on the PCH and Chris Caniglia dared him to go all the way to Big Sur without touching the brakes. They were driving the tour van loaded with gear and dudes, but they made it and Chris had to buy John dinner. Michael Shilling was making the most noise during that experiment.

The desire to be in a motorcycle gang

For many years, as a child and into his teenagehood, John would find old copies of Easyriders magazine, In the Wind and similar. Biker culture was a big part of the 1970:s. Young people can't understand how big biker culture was! Biker culture was the seedy uncle of CB-culture and CB-culture was the seedy uncle of Country music and country music was the seedy uncle of popular culture, father of the Internet.

John would read those magazines and bikers seemed like people who were having fun. First of all, they were wearing bell bottom jeans, a lot of them don't have shirts on and it doesn't matter whether you are in shape or not or if you are a girl or a boy or a third option. You don't have a shirt on, because… motorcycle! Bikers have camp-outs, they drive motorcycles in the dirt, they are doing pop-a-wheelies, they also have Dodge vans that have pony kegs in them. When you are a little kid on a bus taking you to school where you have to follow rules all day, no part of that does not seem greatly improved by being in a motorcycle gang. You have a nicer climate with better weather and you don't even need a shirt because you are in Virginia or in Alabama.

In the movie The Bad News Bears, Jackie Earle Haley was playing a kid with his dirt bike who came over and tore up the baseball field. After that he was the one that was like "I play you pool and if you win, I'll join the baseball team. If I win, I get to do whatever wink wink nudge nudge. In the end he won and got to do whatever which happened off-screen, and then joined the baseball team anyway. He could hit it out of the park. This movie was another influence for 8-year-old John about the power of motorcycles and the freedom they entail.

The political spectrum of motorcycle culture

When it comes to motorcycle culture, it wasn't about which side of the notional aisle somebody was on, but it was "How do you understand how the power differentials work?" But is it conservative, is it liberal, is it libertarian? It is a little bit of all of those things. "We want to be free to ride without getting hassled by the man!" The culture had been seen as liberal, because conservatism is something that belongs to Richard Nixon, but now we grow our hair long, drink beer, party and rowdy! Today the whole game has flipped and biker culture signals conservatism. "Fuck all your downtown college people, we are, like… motorcycle!" The question is if you are okay with somebody telling you what the rules are and that you must follow them. Depending on the decade and what side you are on, that is a very interesting distinction. In a lot of cases, you are not okay with somebody telling you what the rules are and demanding that you do it. Today, everybody is a rebel. In the past you would meet people who were saying that they were not a rebel, but now you don't find anybody anymore who doesn't want to be a rebel.

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