Aug 21, 2011

A Partial Gearhead

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Most of my friends think of me as a gearhead. It's true that I like almost all kinds of gear; motorcycles, guitars and other musical instruments, recording studio equipment, computers, manufacturing and machining tools, almost everything mechanical or electrical. It's not true that :I like all things mechanical, though. I particularly dislike gear that has passed into obsolescence and continues to waste human resources and energy; like cars. I don't like driving them, riding in them, thinking about them, and, especially, I hate owning them.

My wife ruined her knees walking on concrete, while working for one of the big box hardware stores. So, riding a motorcycle is no longer a pleasant pastime for her. For our anniversary this year we took a cage trip south along the Mississippi into Iowa. She gets carsick, so traveling by cage, plane, boat, or bus isn't all that pleasant for either of us. She usually drives and that's fine with me. Other than the knee issues and the motion sickness, she's a fine traveling companion.

I hate driving cages. There are two too many wheels and the damn things give me an unpleasant feeling of instability and cumbersome awkwardness that is mind-numbing and a little scary. For three to four months every winter, I'm stuck in my Ford Escort wagon wishing bus service was even close to practical where I live. No, having a "better car" wouldn't help. I've driven Beemers, Porsches, stockcars, dune-buggies (my favorite cage), and a collection of staid Eurotrash luxury sedans and unpronounceable Italian "sports" cages and they all leave me bored. Convertibles are almost tolerable. If I could poke out the windshield, they'd be better. If I could legally drive a dune-buggy wearing a heated suit and helmet, I'd be about as happy in a cage as I'm likely to get. However, if I have to be in a cage I'd rather be a passenger than a driver. Being a passenger in a cage is at least productive, since I can write stuff like this as I ride along isolated from the wind, weather, and all sensations of speed and motion. If I'm going to be caged, I prefer the biggest cage I can get into: buses, trains, and such.

Floating past my favorite letter roads along WI35 was particularly frustrating. My GPS is littered with routes I would be taking along the river, if I were on a vehicle that well-tolerated dirt roads and twisty two-lanes. That kind of path is a perfect formula for agitating my wife's nausea. And her getting sick doesn't do my traveling Jones much good. I can hang upside down in a moving box while reading a technical journal without a lick of stomach instability, but if someone else gets sick near me I'm following their path like a cow heading to the barn. Barfing is something else that never happens to me on a motorcycle.

I keep hearing about "man's love affair with the automobile," while talking heads try to explain why we're pouring money into the black hole of cage manufacturing. I don't get it. What's to love about a cage? To me, that's like loving a chair or a wheelbarrow. At best, a cage is another utilitarian device that has outlived its usefulness; like horse-drawn plows or buggy whips or cell phones. We only cling to the damn things in the US because we haven't been bright enough to maintain our mass transit infrastructure. We're going to pay for that within a few years.

In San Francisco or New York, I could rent or borrow a cage on the rare occasion I need one. Where I live, the bus stops running anywhere near my home at 6PM. A decade ago my route ran till midnight, but that schedule ended after the current administration took office. I don't expect to live long enough to see real mass transit in the Cities. We're way too conservative and oblivious to reality to put rail or any other alternative on the burner until the last pump drips its final drop of gas. Then, in true conservative fashion, we'll shriek "the sky is falling" and it will.

We made the Wisconsin-and-back trip safely. She didn't get sick. I didn't throw a boredom-inspired tantrum. That's as good as cage traveling gets for us.

The next day I mounted up and headed back to Wisconsin. Almost immediately, I got stuck behind a gaggle of doddering cheese-burners on WI35, but at the first county road (which happened to be gravel), I split off and got back on my pace. Within a couple of hours, I had almost forgotten the torture of being trapped and strapped behind a windshield, listening to poorly selected radio music or talking head babble. On a real vehicle of transportation (physical and mental), I was swinging through the countryside with my own music in my head, pacing my own rhythms, thinking my own thoughts, enjoying the ride and the place. I hate cages and love motorcycling.


Anonymous said...

You have to move south to where you can ride every day of the year, if you can find someplace you can stand and that can stand you! Just kidding.

T.W. Day said...

No kidding to it. SoCal about killed me, financially and human-overpopulation-wise. I loved the weather and ocean, didn't care about earthquakes, and never had trouble finding work. The expense and 30 million people crammed into a 200k space did me in. And you're right about the south, we wouldn't like each other much. Charlie Daniels may have revised his opinion, but I still go west"by way of Omaha." I'm not a red state kind of guy.

I'm a great passenger, however. If I could find a place with an adequate bus/train service for the cold months, or some place small enough to walk to where I need to go when it's cold, I'm good with that.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you would like Maine. Lots of small, walkable towns, winters aren't too bad on the coast though they are rather wet. It's got the ocean. Lots of twisty backroads too.

T.W. Day said...

Good suggestion. On a Nova Scotia tour 3 years ago, I spent a little time in Maine and a little more in Vermont. I liked both places a lot.