Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I hate Google

So I subscribe to Google Alerts for "Motorcycle" and "Motorbike" so I can get hot stories up on Motorcycle Daily. Of course, what I usually get (and this is why I quit subscribing to that a while ago) is every story about a motorcycle fatality or serious injury. Most of the times they are predictable: H-D riders with no helmets "thrown from their motorcycles" and dying. 

This alert was different:

Woman Killed In Motorcycle Accident
WYFF - Greenville,SC,USA
LAURENS COUNTY, SC -- A 21-year-old woman was killed in a motorcycle accident Saturday afternoon. A Laurens County deputy coroner said that Crystal Bryant ...

I did a little internet digging and discovered Crystal was a broadcasting student visiting with her family for Thanksgiving. She went trail-riding with her dad on Friday--he just got her a KDX200--and she ripped on out ahead of him.

Crystal was a real go-getter: surfing (she suffered a wicked back injury doing that, and had a huge scar along her spine to go with her various tattoos and piercings), skateboarding, fast cars, whatever. She'd been riding since she was 5 or so.

Out of sight, Crystal crashed somewhere on the trail and her dad came across her lifeless body. He administered CPR but to no avail. She was wearing full gear, according to the coroner's office.

Sounds like she was a little wild, but just managed to have a freak occurance. Very sad. And that's why I wish I didn't have to subscribe to Google Alerts.

RIP, Crystal.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Strife Continues in Vulcanistan

Vulcan City, Vulcanistan (AP) After four years of bloody struggle in this remote, wind-swept nation, U.N. peacekeeping troops are at last maintaining a tenuous truce among the warring tribes that roam the steppes on their gleaming motorcycles. But distrust and resentment still run deep among the fiercely proud people that populate the high plains of this barren land. Although the two main tribes—the Nomads and the Ell’tees—both ride large-displacement Kawasaki Vulcan cruiser motorcycles, a deep rift has formed between them based on styling and luggage preferences. 

“They are savages,” says Allen Dinkins, a member of the Nomad tribe, as he surveys the wreckage of an Ell’tee tribe caravan he has just ambushed with his raiding party. “Look at the saddlebags on their motorcycles: leather! We spit on them.” During the raid, Dinkin’s small band surprised the group of Ell’tee riders as they slowed to avoid grinding down their floorboards in a sharp turn. They then used Soviet-era machine guns and grenade launchers to mow down their hapless victims. The carnage was horrible: blood-streaked tassels and conchos were scattered along the road, mixed with human body parts and shattered souvenir shot glasses. The Nomad tribesmen, clad in their distinctive brightly-colored nylon riding gear and flip-up helmets, swarmed through the carnage, gathering food, spare parts and unused postcards from their victims.

The Ell’tee village a few miles away is peaceful, even picturesque. Women dressed in traditional black leather chaps and long-sleeved T-shirts sew saddlebags and prepare barbequed tri-tip as children chase each other on homemade toy motorcycles. Robert Krause, the village Ride Captain, speaks of the difficulties they have had under the oppressive, brutal rule of the Nomads. “We are a simple people, with our leather saddlebags and decorative conchos. And we would love to have locking, weatherproof saddlebags like the infidel Nomads do. But God commands us to use leather for our luggage. Is that a reason to torture and kill us?”

Vulcanistan has always been a wild, violent country, but the real troubles began in 1951, when the British ended their 175-year occupation of the country, leaving behind hundreds of ancient dispatch motorcycles. The travelling bands—“nomads”—adopted two-wheeled travel quickly, living a life of peaceful leisure as they rode the thousands of miles of winding roads constructed by Royal Army engineers. Although the advent of reasonably priced and stylish Japanese cruisers improved the standard of living for many Vulcanastanis, rising fuel prices and the closure of a popular chain of all-you-can-eat barbeque buffets created internal conflicts that led to the fall of the U.S.-backed dictator Al Johnson in 1971. This prompted the invasion and 18-year occupation by Soviet forces in 1973.

During the Soviet era, the more progressive Nomad minority—whose abandonment of the traditional leather luggage and conchos made them heretics to “true” Vulcastanis like the Ell’tees—seized the reins of power after a Red Army-backed coup overthrew the theocratic government of Pope Bob Mustafa, jr. After suffering terrible losses, the Soviets left in 1988, leaving the Nomads in charge. Since then, the Nomad regime, led by former accountant Steve “The Terrible” Foreman, has been brutal and repressive enough to attract the attention of Human Rights Watch, the U.N. and oddly, the National Association of Chiropractic Professionals. Internationally monitored elections in 2004 and the presence of an 8,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force have reduced, but not ended, the violence: 23 Ell’tees were killed last week and 57 were injured when a bomb exploded on a charity fun run. Two days later, an Ell’tee suicide bomber detonated himself at a Nomad rally, killing several bystanders and injuring dozens more with flying shards of fiberglass, Lexan and other high-quality factory-installed accessories.

U.N. officials acknowledge the continuing problems but are hopeful a solution. Brigadier General Sir Alan Cathcart, commander of the multinational peacekeeping force acknowledges peace is elusive but is hopeful. “The media focuses too much on conflict. For every 50 Ell’tees shot execution-style, there are thousands that aren’t.” 

For the soldiers patrolling the dangerous wastelands that link the large towns, the view is more pragmatic. Mike D’Angelo, a U.S. soldier attached to the U.N. mission surveyed the blackened, rusting hulks of heavyweight cruisers abandoned by the side of the winding road to Vulcan City from the roof of his armored vehicle. “Dude, I don’t know what their problem is,” said the 19-year-old soldier. “Why don’t they just get cars?”

I want to thank my pal Steve Natt for giving me the idea for this column, which he did when we were discussing his coverage of Kawasaki's 2008 dealer convention. I was confused by the difference between Kawasaki's Vulcan 1600 Nomad and Vulcan 1700 Classic LT, which are both "baggers," factory-accesorized cruisers equipped with windscreens, saddlebags and passenger backrests. Hilarity ensues. Or not.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

There’s Nothing Wrong with Germans

From San Francisco's CityBike, October 2007

Traveling in Germany is great. The country is clean, filled with friendly--albeit humorless--people. The toilets have self-cleaning seats and the trains run on time. In fact, everything runs on time and functions properly.


It’s equally pleasant as a motorcyclist. The roads are in excellent condition, and the scenery ranges from picture-book villages that could export quaint to incredibly steep, snow-capped granite peaks. I just spent a week there, first covering a big motorcycle rally in Bavaria and then enjoying a few days touring the Tyrolian Alps. Even though it rained the entire time (which meant I had to explain why my crotch was wet from my Aerostich suit every time we stopped) I had a pretty good time, drinking gallons of wonderful beer and consuming enough delicious pork to de-kosher half of Tel Aviv while seeing incredible sights and enjoying a great motorcycle. I just wish the Germans hadn’t exterminated six million Jews.


I didn’t think it would bother me on this trip. The German people have owned up to their atrocities in a manner that--as far as I know--no other group of people has. They’ve paid millions, if not billions of dollars in reparations and have educated their children about the realities of state-sponsored murder for decades. It’s actually illegal to be a Nazi (or a Scientologist, because the Germans sensibly figure they could get carried away too) and aside from a very small number of troubled idiots and losers, they acknowledge that what happened was their fault, was wrong, and they will try to not let it happen again. We as Americans could learn a thing or two from the Germans about learning from mistakes, if we ever learn how to admit to making mistakes.


And so for most of the trip, I hardly gave all that stuff more than a passing thought. But in Munich, I saw a sign that read “Dachau 16 km.” It’s still a town, people still live there. But how can they still live there? How can you write that as your return address on your Christmas cards? How can you tell people you live there? Why does the German department of roadsigns (in German: Deustcheroadsignendepartmenten) even put the sign up? Why would you want to go there?


As I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t just Dachau. It was everybody, everything, everywhere I looked. Those orderly Bavarian villages, the excellent roads, the way everything from toilet seats to subway stations are beautifully engineered weren’t charming characteristics of an elegantly organized society, but reminders that people--these people--turned mass extinction into another expensive government project. Those scenic roads and charming farmhouses were there in 1944 as millions of human beings were being disposed of like chickens infected with Avian Flu.


Leaving the country I handed my passport to a German policeman. I was rushing to make a connecting flight and stepped up to the window before he was done with another traveler. “Please wait your turn,” he said, in clipped, perfect English. Yes, sir! I waited for him to wave me forward, and when he did, he stared at me as he motioned for my papers, staring at me with his pale green eyes. His face was handsome and impassive, with a strong, broad chin and high cheekbones. His hair was a spiky, straw-blonde crewcut. He asked me a few questions about my visit in an disinterested tone, fixing me with a dispassionate gaze.


Was that how his grandfather the SS concentration camp guard stared at the shivering, nude figures during the selektions? How his grossmutti shrugged when she had to find a new gynecologist, ophthalmologist and greengrocer in the same week? Or how Himmler looked over the reams of reports documenting the liquidation of millions of innocents? Like they were observing insects, a temporary problem?


I’m paranoid. It’s likely I’d look at people the same way from that booth after months or years on the job. He could also just be representing that creepy sort of cop that goes into law enforcement because he likes to beat the crap out of people. It’s unfair of me to pick on the fish-in-a-barrel subject of Why the Germans Killed the Jews. Is it a crime to be a good-looking, square-jawed cop?


But being stabbed by those uncaring, bored, pale-green eyes, set in that tanned, handsome face filled me with fear and dread anyway. I was glad to get on the plane.