Humor

Parallel Lives

“I have no criminal record and I don’t do drugs”, J said emphatically, nipping any fore-drawn conclusions in the bud. His outburst would find its context as we spoke, and I got the feeling this issue has arisen  before. “But I didn’t assume” I could have said, truthfully. Instead I just let him speak.  J has been a dedicated biker since leaving school; he’s now in his 50s. I have to ask how his passion for motorcycles started. “I was 16 and wanted to be mobile”, he reveals. Rather than wait another year for a provisional car license and the associated expense of lessons; he took the short-cut to mobility and started out on two wheels instead. Although chosen from a standpoint of convenience, biking soon won him over and he became a lifelong convert, well, so far at least.

“I just loved it”, he says, so much so that he was an all-weather, year-round biker until the age of 30. That’s dedication, especially during the extremes of the UK’s often miserable climate. Eventually the novelty wore off and for the last 2 decades J has switched to his car for the dire winter months. Yes, ultimately the weather always wins.  “It makes you a better car driver”, he says of his life on two wheels. That makes sense, viewing the road from the exposed perspective of a biker must certainly highlight the hazards of the daily commute. Not only that but the awareness of other bikers is elevated. So many are killed, or injured by car drivers who somehow ‘didn’t see’ the two wheeled road user in front, or to the side, of them.

So, whilst dedicated to his bikes, his biker friends, and a good portion of the life that is part of the package, J also moves effortlessly and carefully through the civilian world. He maintains a home, a job, a family, normality by any other name. It takes a little care, but J is well practiced through necessity. Certain behaviors engender associated consequences, usually delivered on the expectations of others, while J is merely minding his own business. “When you pull up (on a bike) alongside people at traffic lights they think you are trouble”, he reveals, admitting a conscious effort to redress the balance when not on the road. “I don’t look like a biker and it’s not on my resume.” The latter point came from a conversation with a former boss, who advised him never to mention it on a resume. Doing so would automatically render him a liability, akin to an “extreme sports” enthusiast in the eyes of prospective employers. He continues: “I hide the tattoos on my arms, even though they are not ‘biker’ tattoos.”  Nonetheless, all the elements contribute to a certain image that could work against him when he wants it least: in the context of a paying job for instance. In some respects J’s care amounts to hiding his true self, by his own admission.

Our society is not yet ready to accept J’s (or anyone’s) parallel, biker life on equal terms, though interestingly and perhaps more accurately, he doesn’t see any separation: “It’s all part of the same world”, he emphasizes. Social media is an ongoing, homogenizing force: the profiles of bikers, civvies, work colleagues, and more all co-exist on J’s Facebook page, side-by-side, each with equal weight and status. The lives behind them glide past each other like ships in the night whilst J’s path crosses them all.

The common, media-fueled perception of bikers, however, is the only consideration to most outsiders unwilling to think beyond prejudice. However like most myths, at the heart of it, there is a rare nugget of truth that most of us have no business with. The world is large enough to contain many rarities, all waiting to be found if you are prepared to search hard enough. Sometimes it’s wiser not to look.

Through a difficult time, a mid-life crisis that saw uncertainty and a change of relationships, J sought the company and perhaps the validation of a biker fraternity unashamedly nonchalant about their reputation among the often fearful mainstream: a “1%er” patch-wearing bike gang. The self-appointed “1%er” label originated in 1947 following a statement issued by the American Motorcyclist Association during the media frenzy that followed the Hollister (California) bike rally, aka “The Hollister Riot”. In attempts to counter the negative press, the A.M.A declared that 99% of motorcyclists are in fact law-abiding citizens. This inspired the hardened clubs of the period to blatantly declare that they were therefore the “other 1%”, choosing to value their own codes above the rule of law and thereby setting their reputation in stone.

After two years as a “prospect” (a would-be member tested for his obedience, respect and dedication), J became a full member although subsequent events were not set to follow his initial plan. He describes his adoptive organization in terms of “family”, but with a dedication over and above any biological equivalent. So much so that he could envisage his own flesh and blood family usurped and sidelined until only his biker brothers remained. This was only the start of his concerns. They saw him as intelligent and useful, even dangerously so. He could potentially be called upon to participate in risky, hazardous endeavors and remain the least likely suspect, such was his ability to blend with everyday “normality”. His clean record meant that any future legal transgressions would be met with relative leniency by the system, should he “take the rap” of course, something that he quickly realized he would be obliged to do. Any legal ‘difficulties’ would also have serious repercussions for his livelihood, such was the nature of his work. The far-reaching consequences of his membership were coming into grim focus: “Until you’re in it; you don’t realize”, he admits.

Usually there is no way back or out, but occasionally there are tales of those who have managed to extricate themselves. With his inevitable future becoming more apparent, J realized he must free himself or be trapped by events that could not be undone. Fortunately his mainstream job involving technical systems would provide the perfect leverage. Work would take him abroad for extended periods, forcing an absence from his biker life and its increasing commitments, much to the irritation of his internal and external families. With stress at home and the demands of work to contend with something had to give. On presenting his case to his gang superiors, it became apparent that he could no longer do his membership justice, and it was with some relief on J’s part that with due consideration they allowed him to step down and also to leave on good terms. “They’re less harsh than in the USA”, he tells me.

Today, nearly two decades later, he still remains good friends with some of his original bike chapter, but as a welcome outsider, a rare breed. His former life, although relatively brief, still follows him as an ex-member of a particular gang. There are places and events that he can’t visit, all territories marked by rival organizations that cannot be crossed now that he is indelibly stained for life by association with the enemy. Some shadows cannot be brushed aside, a cautionary tale.

Meanwhile, we may pass him in the street, and suspect nothing. After all: he still doesn’t look like a biker.

Motorcycles: The Balancing Point

JOHN-G-YOGA-BIKE-1024x683Motorcycles: The Balancing Point

An exploration of how riding motorcycles is a form of meditation, by John G. (originally published for Burn Out Italy)

I saw my first motorcycle when I was four years old, and instantly knew that I was meant to be on two wheels.

Bruce Lee At the age of 14, I was very fortunate to meet and spend time with two of my older cousins who live in Greece. Both happen to be (more…)

Watching Louie

Watching-LouieThe article “Watching Louie” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 1/06/2013.

Tonight I’m watching an episode of Louie, one of my favorite shows. In a few episodes he can be seen riding a Triumph Bonneville. This is a holiday episode in which Louie buys his daughter the doll she wanted, only to discover that its eyes had become dislodged and were missing. A hilarious montage follows that features hacksaws, drills, super glue, and a distraught father who breaks down in tears at the thought of disappointing his daughter.

It got me to thinking about my daughter Devon and the lengths I would go to give her all I am capable of giving her. As parents we’ll do most anything and everything for our kids. My Devon was a gymnast and ice skater, and she grew up being encouraged and supported whenever she showed interest in a new area.

It’s what parents do for kids; but for me, I’ve always thought that it was equally important, and maybe even critically so, that a child get to see his or her parents pursue their own goals and interests. While the safety and security of the child is essential, that parent also has a life to live and an example to set that shows you can achieve whatever it is you put your mind too—that it’s never too late to follow your dreams whatever they may be.

When I started riding I saw the looks on the faces of family—you know the look—the one that says it’s reckless, irresponsible and dangerous. I’ve never thought that way though. I had been rock climbing for years prior and was used to examining risk and preparation. Sure it’d be reckless and irresponsible to ride beyond my skill set, to not wear safety gear, to not maintain the bike properly, or to drink and ride. Devon always saw the counter example though. She and I are planning on taking a creative writing class together this spring. I enjoy considering new challenges, setting new goals, and thinking of where I will be and what I’ll be doing in the future. I’m sure it’ll always be so with me and motorcycling has played a large part in that.

If you get the chance to see the Louie episode titled “New Years Eve” I guarantee you the first 10 minutes will have you laughing hysterically, and the last 10 will make you think and smile.

Where I am Meant to Be

Lonely ST2No matter what the weather is like, for the next ninety days I will not be riding my motorcycle.  That is by choice.  By choice of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation which sternly demanded my license plate due to my failure to pay $8.  In demanding my license plate the Department of Transportation suspended my registration for the next 90 days.

I failed to pay $8 to my motorcycle insurance carrier. $8 was the increase in my premium when I lost the multi-vehicle discount on my policy.  I lost the multi-vehicle (more…)

Some Days

Some DaysThe article “Motorcycle Maintenance: Some Days It’s Harder Than Others” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 11/17/2013.

I have a friend; let’s call him Fred. A long time ago, before he learned to do his own maintenance and before he saw the wisdom in purchasing a trailer, Fred had a unique method for getting his motorcycle to the shop for service. His method involved (more…)

Back to the Present

2013-09-14 14.49.22As a boy I had a fascination with time machines.  Many a night I would fall asleep to a dream of a time machine transporting me to a mysterious and exotic epoch or place.  Little did I know that in my 30s I would acquire something superior to even the modified DeLorean DMC-12 which sent Marty McFly back to 1955.  I am talking about a motorcycle.  At this time of the year when we thank and reflect coincides with the end of (more…)

Meeting Isaiah

IsaiahThe article “Meeting Isaiah” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 8/18/2013.

On the last day of the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend in Maggie Valley, NC, Joe Trey (Adventure Hermit) and I toured the Wheels Through Time Museum taking photos and bumping into riders we had met over the weekend. Joe was headed off to ride the Trans-America Trail. I was jealous since I was staring at 700 miles of highway to get me back home in time for work on Tuesday.

Heading off into the rain I was less than ecstatic about the ride, I’m no big fan of superslabbing; too many semis for my liking and the V-Strom can get blown around a bit. Joe had grabbed a Blue Ridge Parkway map for me at the museum and after several hours of I-81 I decided to get away from the heat and madness of highway travel.

I took the Blue Ridge the last 100 miles or so to Lexington and the next day hopped on Skyline Drive for another 100 miles. Both roads added to the total mileage but it gave me time to reflect on the happenings of the weekend and to meet more riders, one of whom was my new pal Isaiah. We met on Skyline Drive at a rest stop. He was sitting on a blanket on a picnic table dressed like his owners and perfectly content to be geared up. Isaiah loves to ride and has been featured in an armed forces publication after being spotted at Rolling Thunder in Washington D.C.

I asked if I could take his picture, Isaiah obliged and I sat and talked with his owners who are from Browntown, VA, which was just down the road. They didn’t want to give their names, happy to let Isaiah grab all the attention. We talked about Rolling Thunder, riding, Isaiah’s fame, the weather, and good causes, and how if you ever need help for a cause just ask a group of motorcyclists.

As I rode along the rest of Skyline Drive the events of the weekend caught up with me and found their proper places in my backlog of memories and I was glad I took the detour from the highway. Sometimes you make new friends and with a pang of regret you have to leave, not knowing when you’ll meet up again. Sometimes, though, you turn a corner, take a detour, and meet a sweet soul or two and share a tender moment before moving along. I find myself seeking out these little interactions more and more. They are one of the true joys of motorcycling.