Feb 17, 2008

Conspiracy Theories

Normally, I'm paranoid. Being a sixties refugee, it's normal for me to believe that, around every corner, there is a plot to tangle up my thought processes. Lately, I've noticed that a really sinister attempt is being made to make me reform one of the central premises of my life.

For example, a few weeks ago I went to a local bike's shop's open house. These guys were dealers for the bike I was thinking about trading up to. I called ahead and learned that they had one available, although it was the last one they expected to get all season. It was even the color I wanted. So I plan to blow a Saturday morning hanging out at a bike shop, maybe, buying a new bike.

The place is pretty much a zoo, when I get there. Bikers all over the place. Sales people all over the place and some bikes for sale, including the one I want to look at.

Being the recluse that I am, I try standing next to the bike fumbling with my wallet for a half-hour, or so, hoping to attract a sales dude. Finally, I stick my foot out and trip a guy with a dealer's ID badge. He is a nice enough guy, but doesn't know squat about the bike. He tells me he'll find someone who does and send him my way. I wait another half hour before leaving the bike and hunting down the clueless but helpful guy. This time, he gives me the other guy's name and points him out for me. The guy I want to talk to is, apparently, a week out of high school and is engaged in a pimple squeezing contest with two kids who don't look old enough to buy carbonated beverages.

As I head toward the sales kid does a flanking maneuver that puts the other two zit factories and a couple of crotch rockets between us. I make two more attempts at communicating with the kid and he pulls off two more impressive block passes that put me even further from yelling distance.

I give up and go back to my bike. Nobody wants to sell me anything today, so I have nothing to lose. I pop the seat and grab my tool kit. When I get back to the bike I wanted to buy, there is a "sold" sign on the seat. Fortunately, for me, I'm no longer in the market. I just want to learn something about the bike, in case I'm ever someplace where one might be for sale. In a few moments, I have removed the seat, popped the tank bolts, propped the tank with my spark plug tool, and pulled the radiator away from the motor, so I can look at the cylinders and carbs. All I wanted to know was how difficult it would be to do normal maintenance. Since I was learning so much, I decided to stay in school and was about to play with the shock, when a sales manager appeared and asked me "what the hell do you think you're doing?" He declined my offer to reassemble the bike and I decided to move on, while he was still being polite.

A weekend later, a friend conned me into visiting his favorite Harley shop. We both rode our bikes, a pair of Yamaha's. He owns a Harley, but didn't feel like looking cool that afternoon. Many of my friendly readers are probably still grinding their teeth, remembering my ranting about past Harley experiences. All that history and animosity aside, we chugged into the lot, packed with bikers and cruisers and free hotdogs and beer, and went inside for free food.

A sales guy, who always remembers my friend's name since he bought a new Sportster last year, greeted us and aimed us at the food and the beer cooler. We talked about bikes and I gave him my "dirt bikers don't ride Harleys" routine. He told me that he was an old dirt biker and had felt the same way until a few years ago. He used to race an Ossa Phantom. I used to sell them out of a garage in Nebraska. He wasn't bothered by my disinterest in his bikes and I almost wished he had something to sell that I wanted to ride. He tried to point me toward the Buells that might be more my style of bike, but admitted that they were pretty awful on dirt roads. And so it went for my visit to a Harley shop. Compared to being ignored and abused where the bikes are more to my tastes, it was sort of scary.

My next-door-neighbor rides a huge Harley; a full faired, hard-bagged bus of a bike with a radio, an intercom, a passenger seat that probably reclines, and I'm sure there's a kitchen sink on the bike, somewhere. He's the best neighbor I've ever had, in a half-dozen states and a dozen houses. The man's a walking testimonial for "you meet the nicest people on a . . . Harley?"

Last summer, I went for a ride with my neighbor and some of his friends. A whole collection of nice people on big twins (and a couple of Gold Wings). The pace was a bit slow for me, but you couldn't beat the company.

So what's the deal here? Are all these folks putting on a show, just to confuse me? Are the rice burning dealers going full-bore jerkwad while the Harley crowd turns into mild mannered grandparents and helpful, friendly sales guys? Being painfully honest, it's hard to top those crotch rocketed packs of kids in shorts, Nikes, and muscle shirts when it comes to motorcyclists creating enemies for the rest of us. Only the real Hell's Angels did more damage to two-wheeled vehicle safety than those boys have done in the last couple of decades.

Now, it's likely that a Harley rider is your dentist, banker, or some geeky engineer who bought his bike to celebrate his first million. Even harder to comprehend, the Harley might even be the guy's first bike. If it's a woman, the chances are really good that the Harley is a first bike.

Personally, I like my stereotypes to remain predictable. I mean, what's the point in having unpredictable stereotypes? If Harley dealers and owners are going to become nice people who wave at other bikers, stop to help a fellow biker broke down on the road, and don't threaten kick over my bike when I park it at the end of a line of shining chrome works of porky art, how the hell am I going to make snap judgements about who's riding what? I have to think, a little, at work. I don't want to have to engage tired and worn out braincells on my own time. Motorcycling is supposed to be a simple, recreational activity and thinking about stuff like this is messing up my hard-earned preconceived notions.

July 2000

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