Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mad Tea Party: Just a Bad Dream?

So it's Wednesday morning, and I must say, I feel elated by the election results, and it's not just the 3 cups of meth-strength coffee from Mama's Royal Cafe. It's the feeling I have that the media's narrative has no clothes, that the Tea Party movement isn't really a movement, but just the same extreme-right voters being more vocal than usual, and that California is much more liberal than I thought it was--and since California is a trend-setter, the rest of the country will follow...eventually.

First, the media narrative. That the GOP would win back a majority in the House was no big mystery--it's happened to the last two presidents. But to say it was a mandate from some kind of new movement is absurd. First, not that many so-called Tea Party candidates won seats--of the 240-plus GOP House victories, over 200 were by seasoned, old-school GOP politicians, many of whom were spouting Tea Party rhetoric when Glenn Beck was still a pot-smoking, kazoo-blowing FM morning-drive shock jock. And the epic failures of Tea Partiers in Alaska, Nevada and Delaware ("I'm not a witch!") show that just because you're not a career politician doesn't mean you're automatically qualified for the job of being...a career politician.

But that hasn't stopped the media from using all its pre-written headlines this morning anyway. "Mandate," "Tsunami" and "housecleaning" were all over-used terms, I'm sure. But is it any of those things? Not really. Sure, it was a big upset, the biggest since 1948, but, in case you haven't noticed, there's a lot of big, crazy stuff happening in the world these days.

Even if the Tea Party has taken over, what does that mean? I'm going to say it means nothing. A New York Times poll looked at 800 or so people who described themselves as Tea Partiers, and it turns out they are mostly "Republican, white, male, married and older than 45." Hm. Other polls describe them as higher income, well-educated and mostly living in the suburbs. The NYT poll extrapolated that 18 percent of the American public identify with this movement. Sounds like it's the same 20-30 percent of the electorate that has always been far-right conservative. Just because they skip an election or two doesn't mean they disappear.

When you examine what these people are saying and what they want, it's exactly the same as what they wanted in 1980 when they elected Reagan to office. Or in 1994 when they brought in the first GOP majority to Congress in 40 years. Less taxes, less spending, strong military, stop abortion, keep prayer in schools, yadda, yadda, yadda. In fact, as examined in a recent New Yorker story, Glenn Beck reccomends they read books favored by the John Birch society--how's that for cutting edge? They're just slightly more pissed off then they were in the '80s. Putting a new symbol (albeit a very clever one, gotta hand them that one) doesn't make it a "new movement." It's the Reagan Revolution, cleverly re-enacted for 2010.* Eventually, the years will shrink their numbers--this next decade will be their last time to flex their impressive, world-changing political muscle. Enjoy it, guys!

Also, after 22 years of being disappointed by California politics, I saw my home state swing further to the left then ever. It'd be enough for a lefty S.F. Mayor (and former Redwood HS alum!) like Gavin Newsom to be elected Lt. Governor (how did he do that? Just ask Meg--spending more money isn't enough on its own), but when ex Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown gets elected governor it kind of blows my mind. Didn't anybody south of Fresno vote? And if that wasn't enough, Kamela Harris became AG? Did you Tea Partiers even look at your ballots? She's too liberal for me! Richard Simmons would put more people on death row. Not only that, but prop 23--which would effectively kill AB32, California's climate-change legislation--was kicked to the curb by these weird, newly left-leaning California voters. Don't they know Fox News is on 24/7?

As for Prop 19 failing, I think it's okay for two reasons. One, I don't really like to smoke weed. I'm low-functioning and lazy enough as it is. And two, it shows the hypocrisy of the so-called Tea Party. If this movement really was Libertarian (Rand Paul excepted here, and I can't wait to see what the GOP does when he introduces legislation to immediately pull all US troops out of foreign bases everywhere, overnight), pot would have been legal back in the '80s. Those TP guys get all weepy at rallies about "freedom," so how could they be opposed to responsible adults hittin' the bong while they sit on the couch and watch "Married with Children" re-runs? What's more American than that? A real Libertarian movement would give both parties hives, but the TP isn't that and never will be. And thank God for that--a quick look at Libertarian thinkers and philosophy shows the movement sprung right out of the same well of delusional 19th-Century intellectual quackery as Marxism, Eugenics and Phrenology.

I'm not even that bothered by the Democrats losing the House. I recognize the party is not so good at leading, as it's a bigger tent than the GOP, with a confusing, complex message. I think a Congress with a fairly thin majority (and a Dem-controlled Senate) will be forced to compromise with the president if it wants to get anything done. And these new Congresspeople will need to show their constituents they did something for two years other than attempt to block Democratic legislation and moan about tyranny.

I--and I don't think I'm alone--want compromise with the GOP. This country is split pretty much 50/50, and neither side is right about every problem. I will never see eye-to-eye on most issues with Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin (I hope!), but that shouldn't matter. If your motorcycle won't start, you need to fix it the quickest, cheapest, easiest way, even if you have to use a tool you despise. Somewhere in between, there is truth. It's not flashy or glamorous, but it's right, and it will work.

*And I have no problem with historical re-enactment; even though I'm a Jew, Tea Party SS stormtrooper Rich Lott's hobby doesn't offend me in the least. I think it's kind of cool, as I love WWII history and the Waffen (combat arm) SS had the best uniforms, leadership, tactics and equipment of any military of that era (and sure, they were brutal and murderous towards subjugated civilians when they had the chance, but mostly they were too busy losing the war for that), although I wonder why he wants to play the losers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Favorite Bikes: My 1977 R100/7/S

Photo: Kenyon Wills

A post on the kick-ass Bike Exif Blog brought back memories of my favorite bike: a 1977 BMW R100/7 I bought from some guy in San Francisco in 1992. It was custom-painted like the S version, with smoke-grey paint and a bikini fairing, and it also sported the bigger "S" heads and 40mm Bing carbs. The bike turned out to be kind of a lemon: almost imideatly it started smoking and exhibiting hard-start symptoms. That led to my discovery of Dave Gardner's Recommended Service (probably the best independent BMW mechanic anywhere, call him at 415/822-2041), and Dave's discovery of several thousand dollars in my checking account, which he used to do a masterful rebuild of my motor.

It was a great bike. Under 500 pounds, with about 60 horsepower at the wheel, purpose-built for long trips and carrying a passenger. It was also stable in turns and had great throttle response. The bike taught me how to ride, and after a couple of seasons of roadracing (not the Beemer!), I could keep up with guys on much faster, lighter bikes.

The R100 held up through four years and about 70,000 miles of abuse. I modded it with rearsets, lower bars, a dual front-disc conversion, and a succession of shark-tooth-painted fairings, art courtesy of artist friend Francis Mcilveen. I learned to not be intimidated by routine maintenance and simple bolt-on repairs. I could do a valve adjustment, change the clutch flywheel (I swapped mine for one lightened by the owner of Rennsport, a Moto Guzzi expert), even pull the cylinder heads for service.

My love affair with BMW Twins ended one July Sunday, up on Mines Road, headed up Mt. Hamilton. I was at maximum lean when I hit a bump midcorner. The bike was levered up on the right cylinder head, and when the rear tire regained traction, we high-sided. I broke my leg, got a helicopter ride to San Jose, and the old Beemer was sold for parts.

I still have great memories of leading modern sportbikes up a twisty road, cylinder heads sparking, the roar of the flat-Twin behind me. If you want a '70s superbike, a good-running BMW Twin is hard to beat.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The First Squid of Spring

This column first appeared in the March, 2006 CityBike magazine.

For about ten years now, I’ve been noticing my first squid of the season.

I’ll never forget the first time. It was an unseasonably warm day in late March or maybe early April, and I was standing in front of Alice’s with a friend of mine when three guys go whizzing past us on Highway 35. They were on late-model Japanese sportbikes, and one of them was wearing a half helmet, shorts and a tank-top. He saw us staring at him and made a weird, joyous sort of shriek.

I turned to my buddy and shrugged. I remember thinking, “well, it must be spring.” For the previous five months, I hadn’t seen any motorcyclists clad in anything less revealing than a rainsuit and full-face helmet. I thought about what kind of idiot would ride a high-performance bike in such flimsy protective clothing.

After a few more minutes of speculating on the roots of squidliness, we suited up and headed north on 35. As we rounded a turn not a mile up the road, we saw our friend in the dirt being tended to by some paramedics. His motorcycle was smashed up, lying on its side, but Mr. Squid could care less, as he was so badly torn up with road rash that his leg looked like an extra helping of my high school cafeteria’s sloppy joes.

“Yiiiiiiii!” he said in a piercing shriek. Or maybe it was “Arrrrrgh!” Or perhaps, “Ahhh! It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!” It was a long time ago. I’ll bet he remembers that day a lot better than I do.

I wouldn’t say I felt a great deal of satisfaction seeing a fellow motorcyclist in so much pain. But now I always notice when I see the first guy on a motorcycle or scooter in shorts in a new year.

I saw him just a few days ago this year, one of the earliest sightings I can remember. I think this is a good sign, like the groundhog seeing his shadow, or not seeing it, or whatever it is. He was at the corner of 24th and Castro on a Vespa ET4. He was wearing shorts and a half helmet. I’m happy to report that I did not see the Vespa a few minutes later wedged under a Muni bus like a pastel-colored tire chock.

When I was a kid, I didn’t like to wear shorts. I thought they looked silly. You never saw a tough guy in a movie wearing shorts. About the toughest movie hero I can think of in shorts was Alec Guinness in Bridge Over the River Kwai, a poor role-model for an eighth-grader, as few 13 year-olds can whistle The Colonel Bogey March convincingly. So I’ve always avoided shorts except when exercising, sleeping, swimming or attending rock concerts high. Also, since I’m a boxer short kind of guy, the idea of riding a motorcycle while wearing shorts is kind of horrifying to me. As the psychiatrist said to the naked patient, “I can clearly see your nuts.”

I’m starting to see a pattern. Self-taught motorcyclists learned how to ride by doing. When they were kids, instead of watching old movies, they were pedaling BMX bikes over rusty heaps of scrap iron. They would often fall down and hurt themselves, get up and do it again, returning home bloody and scabbed. That’s what kids do. So when they age a bit and move up to faster bikes, they use the same safety equipment and learning techniques: none and crashing until they die or stop crashing.

Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you not to ride without protective gear. Wearing a full-face helmet is really just a start. Even if your head is safe in its Kevlar and Styrofoam to-go container, the lump of meat its attached to is crucial for its survival. Severe road-rash, contusions and other injuries to the body can make you less likely to survive a severe head wound, even if you are wearing an $800 Rossi Replica helmet, according to an article in Motorcyclist magazine examining helmet standards last year. And as we all get older, we get more fragile, less able to resist infections and other nastiness.

We all know this, but what is it about warm weather than brings these guys out of the woodwork? And why can’t they wear at least a pair of freakin’ blue jeans? Are their legs so Adonis-like that they have to display them proudly at every opportunity? Are scorching Bay Area 75-degree temperatures just too much to handle wearing long pants? Are they afraid they will be mocked in the society column for being too formal whilst riding?

Who knows? Just put your damn pants on.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Around Laguna With Michael Czysz

There's nothing terrifying about a ride in a big white 10-passenger van, right? Well, not unless famed motorcycle racer and designer Michael Czysz is driving it around Laguna Seca. A little taste of what you may get if you take the outstanding Skip Barber Superbike School! Great school, just stay out of Michael's van.

Jason DiSalvo is in the front seat (which is why you can't see him), and he was trying to mask his terror like the rest of us. Ari Henning's dreadlocked head swings back in forth in front of my camera. Hilarity ensues as Michael keeps talking and talking as the rest of us are bounced around the interior of the van, trying not to scream or wet ourselves.

There's nothing terrifying about a ride in a big white 10-passenger van, right? Well, not unless Michael Czysz is driving it around Laguna Seca. A little taste of what you may get if you take the outstanding Skip Barber Superbike School! Just stay out of Michael's Van.

Jason DiSalvo is in the front seat (which is why you can't see him), and he was trying to mask his terror like the rest of us. Ari Henning's dreadlocked head swings back in forth in front of my camera. Hilarity ensues as Michael keeps talking and talking as the rest of us are bounced around the interior of the van, trying not to scream or wet ourselves.

Oh, I suppose this might be helpful to those of you who might be riding or driving Laguna in the future, or even playing a video game.

Please go to the Skip Barber Website for more info about the (excellent!) Superbike school!

Monday, February 8, 2010

BMW S 1000 RR: My Impressions

I rode the BMW S 1000 RR at Palm Beach International Raceway last week, and I'm very impressed. Behold my video walk-around and impressions. Thanks for watching!