I haven’t been writing much lately. I was working too much over the last year (with less to show for it than I planned) and that, along with drama, made it so I really haven’t felt like I have had much to say. My experiences have stored up and I hope over the next few months and years I’ll get to share what I’ve discovered.
This past weekend I traveled to Los Angeles for the “Nah” event in response to the LA Art bookfair. It was a fine event. A bookfair, which I think is a fine activity for anarch* friends to involve themselves in, plus my project did alright. But in this case it’s the how that I want to discuss more than the what. Trigger alert: the rest of this post is mostly going to be about motorcycles and aging.
The day before I got shitcanned from my last full time gig I purchased a very nice and very new motorcycle. I don’t talk about it a ton because I’ve never experienced motorcycling as a social activity but I’ve been a rider for most of the past 26 years. I started with a Vespa (‘68 super sport 180cc) and went for 10 years riding piece-of-shit motorcycles that were dirt cheap. Since then I’ve been riding standards (a category of motorcycle distinct from cruisers, twins, and sport bikes) from the Kawasaki corporation of Japan. My latest bike was a 2009 Versys that was an excellent commuter but a little small for me at 650cc.
For some months I’ve been daydreaming about a big trip. I took one in my early 20s (from San Diego to MI with scattered stops between) and have wanted something similar for some time. But the differences are real. Last go-round I slept on dirty couches, porches, and whatever I could find. This go-round my body is 20+ years older and I wont be staying at or near crushes. In fact I plan on bringing a tent (and air mattress) which will shrink my world to a pinprick (and expand it to some of the grand National Parks that I’ve never seen).
Anyway, as a test run for my new motorcycle I loaded it down with books and headed to Los Angeles. Muscling an extra 150lbs or so has taught me some important lessons about what I am capable of, what I like (and hate) about motorcycling, and has made me long for the road to an extent I wouldn’t have imagined as I limped into LA tired and sore.
The Grapevine was the worst of it but when you go faster than about 65 MPH (100KM/H) the wind becomes a great hand. It pushes you nearly randomly from side to side and front to back. The ‘Vine was, in fact, terrifying as it both forced me to slow down about 15 MPH and to change a lane or two. I visualize wind as a series of flows and vectors rolling off the gentle mountains but experience it as wanting nothing more than to fling me off the side of a cliff. Kind of like the milieu I guess.
What’s fascinating about this as a ride is how utterly ambivalent the drivers of cars (and especially the 90 MPH SUVs that screamed by) are to the physical exertion and real life danger I was experiencing as they sat in climate-controlled gas-guzzling bliss. Kind of like the milieu I guess.
My new motorcycle (name forthcoming) is as hard as diamond. It is a machine designed to gobble up whatever road I throw at it. It would happily start every ride by throwing up its front wheel, it hits 90 MPH before I even notice the speedometer, it is 10,000 miles away from caring about anything other than an oil change. I, on the other hand, have the body of an office worker. I am soft and weak. My heart may soar but my wings have been brutalized by all the peck, peck, pecking and giving two fucks about what people say on the Internet. I am going to slow us down.
During my trip to LA I felt the need to stop every 40-60 minutes just because my wrists and forearms couldn’t handle it. My main criticism of the bike so far is that it forces me to sit differently than I prefer. Standard motorcycles force you to sit up straight. I like that. This bike kind of forces you to lean on the gas tank in “sports bike” pose. I put a tank bag on for the trip but didn’t like the way this kind of riding made my back feel. Perhaps because of the pose, or the inflexibility of my body, there were times when I’d come off the freeway where I couldn’t move my right leg (which only operates the back brake) as it had frozen in place. This did not happen to me at 24.
I used what is called a cheater (brand name Throttle Rocker) to ameliorate arm pain on the throttle side. This didn’t work that well for a couple reasons. The concept is to afix a piece of hard plastic to the accelerator so that instead of having to hang on and hold you can just rest your palm on the plastic to maintain acceleration. You can only safely maneuver the plastic when you aren’t moving and pretty much anywhere you put it isn’t exactly the right spot. Because it modifies how you accelerate, it is quite unsafe until you are at real speed. This much I knew from trying to use the Rocker in the past. This go-round I learned that my RSI is bad enough to be triggered by the plastic pressing against my palm. Tingle ahoy!
The only real solution I have come up with to all these issues is to slow the fuck down. This isn’t easy for me because my personality has always been hostile to slowing down and smelling the roses but if the only way I can travel in the world (whether by motorcycle or whatever) is to do it slow, then that’s what it’ll have to be. I’ve kind of suspected this “slow down” thing has to be the way for some time as I find that after I take big trips (like LBC bookfair trips where I blast through by going, tabling, returning) I always need 1-3 days to recover when I get home. This coming trip I’ll have to build in recovery time while traveling.
I despise Los Angeles. Perhaps I’ve just fallen into the trap of norcal v socal and just picked my team but, much like NYC, I just find the city itself to be an intolerable mess. The past few times I’ve traveled to the area for the anarchies I haven’t even spent the night. It is fucking hot. The traffic is brutal and terrifying (doubly so on a motorcycle because the car drivers do not seem to give a fuck that a fenderbender with me equals death). The attitude of the political scene is extremely fragmented (which makes sense given how enormous the city is) from very young and naive to older and jaded-as-hell. It is a town that is sophisticated except where it is not, both diverse and lily-white. A huge mess that you can’t possibly understand in a weekend.
This event was unusual for a couple of reasons. It was politically sophisticated (and obscure as it wasn’t necessarily political at all. It was a type of response to the LA Art bookfair) by a crowd I’m ostensibly in a type of agreement with (the ASC/post-situ crowd) but if I were to just walk in I’d mostly have experienced a group of ethnically diverse friends drinking together alongside a serious hodge-podge of tablers. Spiked belts, ancient surrealist books, some remnant of “the Oakland scene,” and LBC.
The real charm of the event was the after-party. Next door to LA Skidrow (I did not realize how Blade Runneresque the LA Skidrow is) we spent the evening in total bliss. Chilly, a fantastic roof view, while a total mix of people shot the shit in as unpretentious of a scene as I’ve ever experienced in a big city. Take note of the new website project that has come out of the group that put on the bookfair. http://www.onda.la/
I scurried away as early as I could to avoid the LA marathon that morning. The ride home was fast. I had less weight on the bike and always find return trips to be faster than away trips. Next up, the Northwest and big National Parks.