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.

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