Friday, July 19, 2019

Artists, Bikers and Pendulums

It has been long enough and regular enough. It has become a tradition for me. This time of year, for seven of the past nine and again this year, I have been in the midst of a multi-state, several thousand mile motorcycle ride. And for the sixth year in a row (leaving in less than two weeks)  that ride coincides with the Mecca of motorcycle rallies, Sturgis. Riding to Sturgis was not my first extended motorcycle ride, and riding 500 miles or more in a single day now feels like a walk in the park, but there was a time when that sort of adventure was intimidating as hell.

I’ve been riding street motorcycles since I turned 18 years old. But for much more than the 38 years since, the allure of riding on top of two wheels attached to a motor has been irresistible. Although my active participation in that life has ebbed and flowed with the realities and responsibilities of life, at this point in my life and for the past decade-plus, I have owned at least one Harley and ridden as much as I could. That changed somewhat when my son had a serious motorcycle wreck late last year (I no longer commute on my bike), but I still ride – a lot.

A huge part of the allure is an image burned into my memory from some time in the mid to late 60s. My family was traveling from our home in the Santa Clara Valley (now more infamously known as “Silicon Valley”) to Southern California in our 1966 Chevy Impala station wagon. Somewhere on CA-99 (before I-5 was built) a pack of black leather clad, long-haired bikers came roaring by us. The details of who they were and what they were riding were more than I could absorb at that age, but looking back it isn’t too difficult to put the pieces together. It was the “Easy Riders” era, they were likely Harleys and it was likely some club ride.

I didn’t see any of what so many attribute to “one percenters” or “outlaw” motorcycle clubs. And I am not here to defend them or slam them. I know enough to say that we don’t know everything, it is not like “Sons of Anarchy” and, that like all other stuff of legend, there is some truth in it. It would turn out that what I was attracted to had nothing to do with the “pack,” it had to do with the machine itself. It was and is both a tangible and intangible representation of freedom. The actual tactility of being one with the machine, directly encountering the elements and the flooding of all the senses are the physical manifestations of freedom; but the attraction of non-conformity, the personal and varied expressions in terms of appearance and the pride that comes from the confidence of giving the middle finger to “middle America” who so often condemn such expressions is equally compelling. That moment left an indelible impression on my psyche, but it did not create it. I was, shall we say, predisposed to rebellion.

There are some people, probably a majority, who are okay with following establishment. There is nothing inherently wrong with “establishment” in the abstract – indeed, it is, by definition, established. However, simply because something is established, it does not necessarily follow that it is “good.” The truth of the goodness of most things established lies somewhere in the middle. The pendulum swings, slowly, back and forth along infinite planes – societal, social, fiscal, fashion, expression… ad nauseum – but it is the fringes that push it. We, the “bikers” (and artists, and adventurers, and other contextually, socially defined “extremists”) represent what is possible, what can be, because we live it.

Okay, I do not live it every day. In terms of attitude, my appearance, my transparency, sure, I live a non-conforming life. I, refreshingly these days, say what I mean and mean what I say. Interestingly, 25 years ago I would be viewed as even more extreme, based upon the “establishment” of the time. Such is the nature of pendulums. But I am also not some mid-life crisis “Wild Hog” or a “weekend warrior.” I still log around 20,000 motorcycle miles per year. That might sound like a lot, but it is on the low end for most “hard core” motorcyclists. I log most of my miles in the summer and most of those come in a relatively short period of time – my one long summer ride. However, in the interest of full-disclosure, my first trip to Sturgis in 2014 was not a ride. It was a drive and my motorcycle was on a trailer. While there are legitimate reasons why I could not ride, and although I thoroughly enjoyed myself anyway, I could not help but feel I had somehow betrayed myself. And I knew more than half of the experience is in the ride there – it’s the journey.

However, my street cred is not only solid, it doesn’t matter. We – all of us who push the edge, exist on the fringe and otherwise thumb our collective nose at convention are not doing it for recognition. We do it because we have to, it is who we are. Whether a “biker” (an establishment label that still does not sit well with me) or anyone else who is attracted to not just the edge, but what’s on the other side of it, we are the energy that moves that pendulum. We keep it interesting, stagnation fears us. That attraction I felt at five, six, seven years old? It was real and I never forgot it.

My university professors would be asking, “so what?” Where is the “so what?” I agree, it is time to get to the ultimate point in all this. I’ll do it with an example:

My first long ride on a motorcycle was planned for July of 2010. While I had several overnight - maybe two or three night – rides under my belt, this was the first really long one. There were many friends who were “going to go.” All but two of us dropped out for various reasons (maybe excuses). We were now looking at a daunting trip without the strength of numbers or any experience among us – neither if us had attempted anything like it before. The questions washed over me: What if I can’t handle it? What if my bike breaks down? What if it rains or even snows? What if I crash? It was almost enough to stop us. We both had sons in the Army fighting in Afghanistan at the time. We pushed past our fear (because that’s what it was) by comparing our journey to theirs. When put in those terms, we could not not go.

It was magical. We were gone 11 days, rode seven or eight of them, covered six states and almost 4,000 miles. I was finally living an extended version of the freedom I witnessed so many years before. It was eye-opening. Despite my non-conformity in many areas of my life, I was still unwittingly stifling myself, almost buckling under the crippling fear of “what if?” Since that trip, I’ve made many much longer rides – in terms of both distance and time – and although I have experienced my share of “what ifs,” they did not stop me. Ultimately only one “what if” ends it all, and it is the same for all of us. As far as we known, we only get one shot at this… why limit myself?







Monday, July 15, 2019

Real Reality

I opened my Facebook account in May 2006. It was not yet available to the masses, but at the time, many college students were able to create an account. The social media powerhouse then was My Space. I was active there briefly, active enough to not use Facebook at all until my first post in April 2008. I was again Facebook silent until October that year. With the exception of a couple of brief hiatuses, I have maintained a presence on Facebook ever since.

However, my Internet presence predates the World Wide Web (before the “www” prefix was part of any URL). I was active “online” in the early 80s with my Commodore 64 connected to a telephone line via a VICMODEM that transferred data at a screaming 1,200 bits per second (Bps) – today data transmission is measured in thousands of bps (Mbps) or even millions. A recent speed test on my home internet just returned a download speed of about 300 Mbps – that is 300,000,000 bits per second, versus 1,200 in the early 80s. Technology is a wondrous thing.

But even at those, by today’s standards, unacceptably slow speeds, the early Internet brought the world into our homes. I had an account with Compuserve which allowed me to communicate through my modem with other computers. Often they were campus mainframes, but more often it was one of a few “Bulletin Board Services” (BBS). Those virtual bulletin boards, I believe, formed the foundation for what we call “social networking” today. By the time closed networks like America On Line (AOL), the larger World Wide Web and browsers came around, the future was becoming clear. And it would be vast.

Fast forward to today, midway through 2019. I still have some old ties to those early days, though some time ago I dissolved one of my first. I had an early email account through Earthlink that still carried “.ix” in the suffix. That now obsolete designation stood for “Internet Exchange.” It was a designation that meant “email” before email was called email. It was costing me $10 per month to keep it and for simple nostalgia, it was not worth it. My associations with what would become a juggernaut, a little start-up in Mountain View, CA called “Google,” predates most everything since the fall of AOL. My gmail and Blogger accounts are the oldest, but YouTube is likely not far behind. In fact, both my Blogger and YouTube accounts might predate Google’s acquisition of them.

So what? Nice little slice of recent history, but so what? My journalism and English professors would be cringing – “You took how long to get to the point?” Yes, well… call it artistic liberty. The point of all this is not so much our history, but rather, my history, as preserved in these digital archives. For the past 10-plus years, much of what I’ve been up to, what I have done, things I have seen through pictures and videos, and, although some might see it as a lost art, my writing about what it all means, is all still there. Facebook, through its “Memories” tool has capitalized on this fascination with retrospection. Never before have I been able to garner such a clear picture of where I was one, two, five, eight, etc. up to a little more than 10 years ago.

Of course what is there, what has been preserved, is not all of the reality. It is the reality I have chosen to archive. But even with the actual digital record only reflecting what I want it to, the detail that is there is so fine that I can still almost feel what I was feeling then. Again, when these are good things, that is good, but even the bad memories I chose not to archive, or the ones that even at some later date I choose to delete, are triggered by the detail of what is there.

For example, I was married to the mother of my children on Feb. 7th, 1987. I was there, I remember when it was, where it was and much about it. I even have a photo album and a VHS video of it around somewhere. However, I don’t remember it every time Feb. 7th rolls around. There is no reason to relive it, nothing anywhere outside my own thoughts triggers that memory. The same cannot be said of July 15th, 2012 – the date of my second wedding. That was a disaster and among the dumbest things I’ve ever done. It, like so much else documented in my Facebook archives, remains as a very prominent part of my digital record – even though I have gone through great pains to eliminate key elements of it. Deleting it all is not so easy, however. Real friends and family gathered in numbers that had never happened before and probably will never happen again. The pictures and memories of the party (which is what I prefer to call that wedding and reception) are important to me. I can and did delete her, but the occasion remains. And it will come back next year, the year after that and as long as this digital archive survives. Indeed, the memories will outlive me.

Like so much else that has to do with “progress,” there is both good and bad. While I learned quite a lot from that fiasco seven years ago, I can internalize those lessons without rehashing them every year. Some things were meant to be forgotten, others benefit from the permanence of digital storage. The last three years are filled with wonderful memories with my now ex-girlfriend. There is nothing about her or them that in anyway “taints” those memories. There were absolutely genuinely good times I do not want to forget. I looked back on today’s with fondness, disappointed, perhaps, that things couldn’t be different, but grateful for the time we had.

Finally, the line between virtual reality and real reality is further blurred by how we remember. Like the public portrayal of ourselves in the present, the archival portrayal is not entirely real either. It is partially so, but it doesn’t ever tell the whole story. But that doesn’t mean no one knows what that story is. When I access my archives – even though I leave things out, I know and remember what those things are. I’d venture to guess that I am not in the minority – I’d bet that most people have that awareness. But it is wholly personal – no one else can really know the real story – in real time or by looking to the past. That burden and/or privilege is personal; it is ours and ours alone.

Coming full circle, the only real differences between what is recorded reality (history) and real reality (news) before and after the age of information are quantity and access. The sheer volume of information flooding our senses combined with the availability of access to anyone has changed the game. And it is a game. And games have winners and loser. More days than not, I am choosing not to play. Because better than a notch in my win column is peace. Peace is the ultimate victory. When I reflect back on this day a year from now, whatever I might be going through then, I will know and remember the peace I have today.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Irreconcilable Differences


Writing - writing anything – is hard, sometimes. Sometimes it just flows like a river, but right now the river is blocked. I am tempted to say that I’m not sure why, but I have an idea. It’s stress and the source of that stress is also known. Different people will phrase it in different ways, but there are some unpleasant things in life we all must navigate from time to time. Some of those things are universal, others are not, but the disruption and stress that comes from them is unavoidable. We all have to face it. Right now, I am in that mix, a “life on life’s terms” moment. This time it is the end of an almost three-year relationship that included a little more than a year of cohabitation. The specifics of what happened are not anything I need to, have to nor am I willing to talk about. It’s not important. Navigating it is.

Since we combined two households into one, the logistical issues of untangling a year-plus of entanglements is only part of the induced stress. This is not the first time this has happened. My ill-advised and ill-fated marriage ended in the dissolution of our cohabitation in this same house. That situation was significantly different than this one – that relationship ended due largely to many manifestations of dishonesty. It was also different because I moved out (and half-way across the country), too. This house was vacated and rented out for two years. Moving back to this house or back to the Sacramento area was never a sure thing – indeed, at that time it was a pretty sure non-thing. The passage of time softened my perception of what “home” is.

While there is no shortage of pain and hurt this time, there are also no “bad guys,” at least not from my perspective, I cannot and would not speak for her. And what others think or believe is not only none of my business – it’s none of theirs. Regardless, suffice it to say that I did not enter this relationship (or any relationship) with the intention of it ending it at some later date. I did not go through the considerable time, work, expense and compromise of making my home our home simply to go through more considerable time, work and expense to undo it. It begs some obvious questions: Was cohabitating a good idea? Was getting into the relationship at all a good idea? Further, if I was happy alone, or single, or unattached, or however one wishes to categorize anyone who is not in a romantic relationship, why take a risk with establishing one?

The answer to the first two questions is the same. Yes. It was a good idea to both get into that relationship and cohabitate. When applying the same two questions to that train-wreck marriage some years ago, the answer to both is not no, but hell no! Those were decidedly not good ideas and the signs were there. This time that is not the case. It was a good relationship, but there were issues that became intolerable. What those issues are, specifically, is not important. What could have been done to ameliorate them before it became too late is only important inasmuch as how it affects future actions and decisions. But that last question is a good one. Why would I get into a relationship if life was so good? If I was indeed “happy,” why take that risk (because entering any relationship always has risk)?

First, there are numerous kinds of happiness, contentedness, fullness and all sorts of other “nesses” that make up the substance of life. While I was indeed very happy with my life prior to this relationship, and especially in contrast to the storm I emerged from not too long before, I felt that happiness could be enhanced, or take on a new dimension, with a partner. It was a known risk. I thought long about whether I really wanted to make that commitment again. I dragged my feet, I stalled, I had some serious reservations about exposing myself to that kind of pain again. Perhaps due to the caution and slow progression, I had time to notice that we always had a good time when we were together. Ultimately, being together was good and made my otherwise good life better. It extended the level of whateverness and created a newness. Almost two years later, when the idea of living together was approached, I didn’t even think twice about it. It seemed obvious.

I should have thought twice, at least, about it. That doesn’t mean it was a bad idea, it doesn’t mean I regret the decision and it doesn’t mean I would have come to a different conclusion. It only means that I let emotion and the false narrative of “love is all you need” take an unwarranted precedence over the decision. In fact, if I had entertained the thought process of what could go wrong, it is possible that what went wrong might have been avoided or, perhaps, effectively mitigated. There are new and unknown factors that will necessarily materialize when such foundational elements of a relationship change. But that still doesn’t entirely address the last question.

There are two different ways of looking at what arrives at the same paradigm of the “family unit.” We are “supposed” to be connected in a romantic way to someone else. Where that comes from is likely part human biology – an evolutionary response that secures the proliferation of our species – as well as a social construct that drives us towards some connection. Indeed, isn’t that where so much homophobia comes from? This idea that men and women are “designed” to be together, to procreate, and anything that subverts that social tradition represents some kind of threat. Of course, there are numerous traditional relationship examples that contradict that “standard,” but the tradition persists.

Maybe I was looking for my own place myself in that tradition, too. I can’t count how many times, when I was unattached, someone would say, “you’ll find someone,” as though it is some kind of ultimate goal. As much as I think to think myself independent, a “loner,” and as much as I genuinely enjoy my solitude, having that one special person to share life with, combined with that social expectation, had an allure that was impossible to resist. Yet, to make any union successful, certain sacrifices, compromises, concessions and adaptations must be made. Unfortunately, even with a lot of foresight, planning and thought, unknown and, ultimately unacceptable situations can arise. That happened and although the positives were, in fact, positive, the negative could not be brushed aside any longer. I thought I considered all the potential “deal-breakers,” but this one I did not see coming until it was too late.

Unlike my short-lived marriage in 2012, I do not regret this relationship at all. It added richness to my life. We had a lot of fun, too many good times to list. It is sad that this fissure proved to wide to cross. It seems the official cause of so many divorces bares the label, “irreconcilable differences.” Usually that is code for something much more nefarious. Not this time. Our differences are not evil, they are not deceitful, they are not malicious and they are not adversarial. They are just incompatible. I wish they were not.


Friday, June 21, 2019

Self-promotion, Ego and the Interwebs


This essay will probably go largely unnoticed, unread and will ultimately be forgotten. It will fade into obscurity not because it is poorly written, not because it is not relevant, and not because it is not insightful; I’ve been doing this a long time, that combined with perhaps more than my share of experience packed into my 56-plus years gives me the confidence that this essay is all of those things. While there are a number of reasons why good writing, relevant thoughts and insightful prose slip through the cracks, one of the more prominent is dilution. The Internet has provided, but it has provided way too much.

Through technology generally and the Internet specifically, now all people can be all things. Photographers used to have to know a little something about how exposure and shutter speed and many other factors including how different film made different images – and that’s to say nothing of the magic that happens in the darkroom. Filmmakers – same thing. And writers, too. All of the arts have been enhanced by technology to the point that the artists need not be talented. The means to produce it and consume it is, literally, at our fingertips. Fifteen minutes of fame? Warhol had no idea… It used to require more than just “followers” to get exposure, an artist had to have actual customers of some sort. And to get there, it took a little luck, a lot of dedication and it took skill.

Kenneth Webber Jr. - 2012
There’s a lot of really good art floating around on the interwebs. We have access to more truly good art than we ever have. Ever. In the entire history of humans, our collective creative output has never been greater or more available. There is no filter, however, and a lot of shit comes with the gold. True, there are some places where we can count on a certain level of quality – we still have legitimate publications that do not publish bullshit, but there are enough either look-alike “quasi-legitimate” publications and/or a general lack of discernment regarding what is real and what is not that even those once clear waters are now muddy.

This essay will appear on “The 25 Year Plan,” a blog I created way back in late 2005. I don’t have many “subscribers” or regular readers. I have never been “popular” in Internet terms. Even on Facebook, I only have just north of 2,000 “friends.” I will also publish this on an online publication called “The Medium.” I found it when Jeff Bezos published his confessional in response to the attempted blackmailing by David Pecker and The National Enquirer. As fascinating as all that story was (and, forgetting the infidelity that got him into that pickle, can I just say how much I admire Bezos for firing back as he did?), when I dug just a little deeper, I found gold. A lot of it. Maybe too much.

To that, I am adding this. It will likely not receive even the very modest attention I sometimes get for one reason: I will not link this to Facebook. Facebook and I have been having issues for quite some time now. I even canned it for a few weeks recently. I brought it back for reasons which I’ve already hashed and rehashed, but the bottom line is that Facebook has made itself necessary. It is not life-and-death necessary, but there are connections that I value housed within the platform that are either impossible or not easily replicated elsewhere. For the past few days, I have gone on a “post strike.” It was not intentional at first, but it is now. This might be that happy medium I was looking for.

Copyright:©tashatuvango - stock.adobe.com
Of course there is a downside. Since my Facebook profile has more “followers” (euphemistically, “friends”) than I have anywhere else, I will lose that exposure. Why not just post links to my writing and forget the rest? Because it feels dirty. Not in a dishonest or cheating way, but in a “like” groveling way. Self-promotion always runs the risk as coming across as pandering, and often it is. I don’t want “clicks” just because a friend sees that I published something and thinks, “That’s my friend, Mike. I’m going to click ‘like’ to show my support.” Even if that friend actually reads it, I’m not doing it to collect “likes.” Or am I? And maybe that’s where all this is going. Maybe the war I am fighting is against an enemy as old as we are. That enemy is ego.

I write for a number of reasons, one of which is simple enough – I am good at it. I, like anyone else who practices his or her craft, get pleasure from the production of that craft. But I would be disingenuous if I said I don’t care if anyone else finds it as compelling, as beautiful, as thought-provoking, as interesting as I do. I do care. I want others to read what I write and find something in it that is at least worth the time spent engaging with it. Like any other artist does. But that isn’t the be-all, end-all. It can’t be. If it was, I would have quit a long time ago. Something else calls me to it and whether or not anyone else ever sees it, it is worth my time. My ego tells me to promote the hell out of it, but something else is fighting that.

Maybe it’s a sense of confidence. Maybe I have been around long enough, been through enough shit, hit the restart button so many times that I do not need or crave external validation. And I think “need” is the key word here. I don’t need it, although it “feels good” when I get it. I do want it, but I want it organically. I don’t like where the social media and virtual reality is going. It’s a place where being famous is reason enough to be famous. I don’t want fame, I want to understand and be understood. To that end, I write. Even if no one ever reads anything ever again, I would continue to write. At the very least, it interests me.








Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Empathetic Perception


I was recently refered to as “one of the cool kids.” This, of course, is the current colloquialism for being part of the “in” crowd, the “popular” people and the like. Funny thing, though, I have never felt like I was in the “in” crowd, never felt like I was popular and, despite having had a few “best friends” throughout my 56 years, I have never felt as though I was someone else’s “best friend.” Granted, much of that feeling is just that, it might not be reality, but my perspective of always being on the outside looking in, sometimes longing to be in, is real. In the past 15 or so years, I have done a lot of work on myself, a lot of self-examination, some reflection and quite a bit of writing just like this and, as a result, my self-perception has changed.

Perception. It is much more than just the framework through which I see the world. It is also the framework through which you see yours, and through which you see me. And how I see you. And how everyone sees everything and everyone else. Each one is wholly unique. I guarantee that they way I view Sally is not exactly the same way anyone else views her. Not in terms of appearance, character, personality, privilege, luck and thousands of other ways we see things, each another sub-frame, or perspective. The number of ways in which we construct reality is mind-boggling. How I am receiving the world — right here, right now — is only my perception; it’s not like anyone else’s, and it never will be.

Empathy differs from compassion or sympathy in that it is not an emotion, per se; rather, empathy seeks understanding, the ability to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.” However, despite our efforts to imagine what it must be like to wear those shoes, we cannot actually put them on. Still, similar experiences can get us remarkably close — in isolation. But the perspective, that frame we are forced to looked through is not only influenced by a wide range of variables - and experiences are not only just one variety of variable; all of our disparate experiences work with and against each other, rendering each a distinct element, a new variable, in just this one area. When factored all the way out, the number of things contributing to our perception is infinite. Groupings and similarities aside, each one of our worldviews is totally unique.

That means that whether I am a “cool kid” or not depends on the perception of others. It is a tenuous place to be, teetering on the edge of coolness. There was a time when my image – that version of me that I present to the world – was constructed to create a perception that would allow me access to that which I desired. Friends, of course, but also other human connections that would validate who I was. There was a problem, however. I did not know who I was. To say that my self-perception is unaffected by what others see would be a lie, much the same as saying, “I don’t care what you think.” I do care what certain others think, and I am very much affected by how others view me. I contributes to how I see myself. But it doesn’t have to dictate who I am.

So how do others view me? I actually have a little insight on that. It took more than 50 years to get it, but I’m a little slow out of the blocks. I am one of the “cool kids.” To those who were like me earlier in my life, who saw those who looked like me and did some of the things I do, who see a veritable “free spirit,” my life looks pretty fantastic. But there are those, too, who think I am arrogant, obnoxious and, frankly, an asshole. Nothing cool about any of that, but for some I can come across that way and their perception is that I am an asshole. And it is perfectly valid, I do not discount it. For others I am a professor – some think I am a cool one, other’s think I am anything but. I am a father to three boys and although they share many similarities in their lives, each their perceptions of me as a father and as a person is also unique – they each see me as an entirely different person. Again, the variables are infinite, the result cannot be anything but unique.

And that brings me to me. Who am I? Really, who the fuck am I? I see myself in a way that has been built on my experiences, my interactions, my environment, an infinite number of variables have contributed to the way I see myself and where I fit in the world. The answer today is not the same as it was last week or last year. It will not be the same next week or next year. Are there constants, certain static aspects of what makes me, me? Maybe, or perhaps aspects that change very slowly, but there are also plenty that can change me and my viewpoint violently. Who am I today? I am me.

But I know that the way I see myself – in all my various and sundry roles, is not the same way anyone else sees me. My perspective and that of others could be so different that I would not recognize the person described as me to me. Indeed, that has happened. And the way I see others might not remotely resemble who they think they are. It’s a humbling thought that the “poor, misunderstood me” routine can and probably does apply to everyone. We are all misunderstood by a lot of other people, but we are also very closely understood by others, probably far fewer. Some perceive in a way that is very close to how we see ourselves. By keeping all that in mind, I can come closest to putting on someone else’s shoes and lacing them. They might end up hurting my feet before I get a mile, but I’ll be that many steps closer understanding. And understanding is what empathy needs to realign perception.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Life in a Bubble


Last November 13th, at about 3:00 p.m., my youngest son, Matthew, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. The motorists who turned left in front of him was wholly at fault and entirely underinsured, with just minimum liability coverage. His coverage didn’t even put a dent into the financial cost of my son’s injuries, injuries he is still very much being affected by today, months later. In two days he will endure another, hopefully final, operation to repair his left tibia, again. His other injuries, combined with extensive physical therapy ever since, are responding well to the surgeries he had right after the wreck. He has not been able to work and will not be for weeks to come, at least. At just 29 years old, this has been a serious interruption in his life.
 
The reality of this is not lost on me or him – he was lucky to survive at all. It was a violent wreck forceful enough to beak every bone in his left leg and his humerus in his right arm. The humerus break also caused some damage to his radial nerve, but even that has been slowly getting better. It is the tibia (which, like his femur, was an open fracture and now has a rod in it) that is not healing correctly or fast enough. The operation is going to, hopefully, get his leg to finally mend. He is ready to put this all behind him, and the chances that he will be able to are still good. We are optimistic.

Riding a motorcycle is dangerous even for the most experienced riders. While Matthew is a good rider and had a great deal of road awareness, his experience is limited. When he approached me about buying a motorcycle, I had some reservations – the same reservations I am sure my own parents have about me riding mine. Although it would be hypocritical not to support him in his decision, that is not why I supported him. I did so because of one simple word: freedom. And in Matt’s case, it’s freedom that he literally fought for while in a Hell-hole called Afghanistan.

Do I feel partially responsible for the situation he now finds himself in? At first, yes – a lot. But that was a knee-jerk reaction. The truth is that I could do little to stop him from riding even if I wanted to. Still, when seeing my son splayed out in a hospital bed, enduring unimaginable pain, it is difficult not to feel somewhat responsible. It was also difficult not to exact retribution from the idiot whose fault this really was, the moron who was, in fact, 100 percent responsible. There is nothing there, financially, and to take it out of his hide would be counter-productive, illegal and only briefly satisfying.

What we are left with is dealing with the unfairness of life. We are not the first nor the last who, through no fault of our own, have consequences that must be dealt with. Again, in the big picture, he is lucky – life could have been significantly more unfair. While the physical rehabilitation is work that no one else can do for him, with the help of an attorney and a pretty good social safety net through MediCal and the VA, Matt will not fall into crushing debt.

He is nowhere near a decision regarding whether he will ride again when he is able, or at some point down the road. He’s pretty sure he will at least go back to his roots – dirt and off-road riding – when he is able, but street riding is, appropriately, a big question mark. Me? I still ride, but not the same way I used to. I was averaging about 20,000 miles per year before he wrecked. I rode everywhere, all the time. My motorcycle was my primary means of transportation, it was my “daily driver.” I rarely ever commute on my bike anymore. That’s what he was doing when he wrecked – nothing out of the ordinary, he was just going home from work, like any other day. I still ride a lot of miles, but now it is primarily for recreation, not utility.

Although I have had a couple of relatively minor wrecks, this time, despite it not being my wreck, it came much too close to home. Every time I throw a leg over my bike, I think about the very real risks like I haven’t in a long time. It doesn’t make me more vigilant, I am already ├╝ber-careful, but it is always on my mind. Even with my experience, considerably more than Matt’s, I am very conscious that some idiot behind the wheel of a car can surprise me. In other words, I am not exempt, it could happen to me.

On the other side of the equation lies actually living life. Risk of all kinds exists on a continuum. Being more or less careful, limiting one’s exposure can move the level of risk one way or the other, but no matter how careful one is, there is no “zero-risk” place on the scale. How much we are willing to expose ourselves to is a personal matter and should not be limited by laws or regulations unless my risk exposure affects someone else’s. Lot’s of things in life are dangerous – life itself is a crap-shoot. By limiting how I live it based on someone else’s aversion to that risk is not living. Freedom is not easy and it is not always “safe.” But living life in a bubble is not living – it’s dying a slow death.