Monday, November 18, 2019

Angels, Again

Way back in January of 2014, I wrote an essay to help support my friend whose young son, Zak, suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident. The essay was intended to offer hope. Unfortunately, in Zak’s case the injury proved to be too severe and after fighting for some time, he passed away. My friend, his mother, suffered the unimaginable agony that only a parent who has lost a child could possibly comprehend. While no one “deserves” such agony, there are some who are so far removed from the “bad” end of the good/bad continuum that it recalls every single one of those cosmic questions of fairness. Kimmie’s light was bright, so bright that everyone who came into contact with her knew they mattered and counted in some significant and unique way.

Was? Yes, past-tense. Not long after Zak passed, Kimmie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it, won some battles, but eventually the disease took her. She passed away last week. Ramp up that unfairness, call back into question those big cosmic truths, wonder why someone so good can be struck with so much hardship and pain – all of that. It makes no sense. Yet it is only those ethereal notions of what comes next, what is after life, that makes any of this even palatable. We can say that she is back with her youngest son who was only allotted such a short time. It helps, but it flies in direct contradiction to any semblance of fairness. It doesn’t address the pain of those left behind to say nothing of the biggest question: What is the fucking point?

I don’t know. Kimmie was special to me. Our relationship began on a certain trajectory that was deflected when Zak’s accident occurred. I remember the exact moment. However, throughout it all, every day she was in my life, I felt as though we shared something special and unique. I have since come to realize that she shared that with everyone in her life. Each of us was unique, each was special to her in our own way – she had that way about her. We were all special - and felt it. Not everyone can give that, indeed, most cannot. We used to talk about a lot of philosophical stuff, about what, as a species, we don’t know and what we, as a species, think we know, but really don’t. I don’t know about the hereafter, I don’t know if there is one and to date, no one has convinced me there is. But that does not mean there is not.

At most points in my life, not believing in the cosmic, in the unproven and, so far, unprovable, serves me just fine. I don’t need to explain anything beyond what science can. Yet, there are times, like now, when it is comforting to imagine that there are angels. I have written about one such angel before, one whom I choose to believe helped guide me. She, too, was taken too soon and for no good reason. She, too, was a very good person. And she, too, died leaving a whole lot of pain behind. I could not understand it then and I really don’t now. If this is the big preordained “plan,” it is a bad plan. However, some iteration of what might lay beyond is comforting, like it was many years ago. And if such an alternate reality does exist, I can take comfort that there is another angel in my life. And I do not have to “know” anything to know that.

Friday, November 15, 2019


The Facebook “Memories” (formerly, “On this day”) tool is one of just a few of Facebook’s redeeming qualities. Ready access to these snapshots of my life, even though they are filtered and skewed through the medium, is beyond interesting. It is cathartic. It is enlightening. It is profound. They are triggers that remind me not only of where I was, but also offer me a definitive retrospective of where I was going. In those moments, of course, anything that was going to happen was only speculative. Looking back at that look forward removes the speculation – I know what would happen, because it happened. One year ago today, for example, I found myself at a crossroads. I was forced to reckon with a reality that would change some of what I thought defined who I am.

A year and two days ago my youngest son, who was 29 at the time, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. He wasn’t at fault; an inattentive motorist (and that is the absolute kindest description I can offer – everything else is much more, deservedly, derogatory) turned left into my son’s path and his Harley Davidson hit that idiot’s car (okay, I went there, sue me…) at about 50 miles per hour. His injuries were severe and life-threatening, but after weeks in the hospital followed by months of rehabilitation, my kid can walk and function again. He went back to work 10 months and four days after the wreck. In other words, as I write this, he has recently returned to work. He is not 100 percent yet, he might never be, but he has progressed through significant injuries and a bunch of surgeries to get back to self-sufficiency.

But this is not about that. I have written about this over the last year a few times. The anniversary of his wreck did not take me by surprise and I did not need Facebook to remind me. The past year has been one in which we have spent too much time dealing with multiple bureaucracies. I could go on and on about the problems with medical industrial complex, insurance companies, etc., but this is not about that either. Facebook’s “Memories” triggered something else, something I have thought about over the past 12 months, but never really dwelled on. Until now.

My son expressed interest in getting a street motorcycle about three years ago. I have had and/or been around motorcycles most of his life – dirt and street. He rode on the dirt when he was young, but had no real experience on the street. I offered to pay for the California DMV sanctioned motorcycle safety course that would also provide him with half of the testing needed for a motorcycle license. It would also reveal how serious he was. I was and continued to be “worried” (for lack of a better word) when he rode partially because he lacked experience, but mostly because of other drivers not paying attention and not seeing us. I wanted to support him not only because I support my sons in their interests, but also because riding motorcycles is something I am passionate about. Doing it with my kids is, as I’ve written before, real bucket-list shit.

Fast-forward to a year and two days ago and my worst fear was realized. Everyone I know who rides regularly has had an incident or two and some have been serious. I’ve had friends who were killed on their bikes. It is a risk we all take and accept. Lots of things – hobbies, jobs, other activities – are dangerous, motorcycle riding is one of them. I’ve wrecked, too. I could not help but feel some guilt in my kid being laid up in the hospital in so much pain. A year ago today it was still early and it was still really bad. While fault for the accident was absolutely on the moron driving the car, I wondered if, with my years of experience, I would have foreseen the potential ahead. Of course there is no way of knowing, and the only way to get experience is by experience, so the question is somewhat irrelevant. Except that it is not.

I have been riding street bikes since I was 18. For most of the ensuing almost 40 years I have owned and ridden motorcycles on the street. For the past 10 or so years, my riding has escalated quite a lot. Until this time last year, I was logging around 20,000 motorcycle miles per year. Most motorcyclists log 5,000 or fewer miles. In my much younger years, that was probably where I was, too. My current motorcycle, a 2017 Harley Davidson Street Glide Special, has 47,000 miles. She turned three years-old just a couple of months ago. So why not 60,000 miles? There are two good reasons. The first is simple enough – she was involved in a wreck that put her on the sideline for about three months a couple of years ago. It was not that serious and should not have taken that long, but the miles that would have gone on that bike were put on a 1996 Harley that I bought to ride while I waited. It’s a long(ish) story and not pertinent to this conversation.

The second reason is really where all this is going. My kid was taken out by a car being driven by someone who had no business behind the wheel, but fully one third of drivers have no business driving. That is no exaggeration. We who ride sit above you who drive. When we go by you, we can see into your car. We can see what you’re doing. Too many of you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing – driving. In fact, it is the only thing you are supposed to be doing. Some of you are eating, some of you are fiddling with the radio, some of you are doing your fucking makeup, some of you are “sight-seeing” and way too many of you are on your fucking phones. Yes, one third of you – one out of every three are distracted by something – you are not paying attention, you are not driving.

I ride hard, sometimes I ride fast and I take chances, when appropriate. What is appropriate? Things like how fast can I attack that turn, how much throttle before the rear wheel breaks loose, how quickly can I slow down before cranking back up on the throttle? All these things involve me, my machine and my abilities, they don’t involve or endanger anyone else. And, I don’t consider that kind of riding dangerous anyway. I am well within my abilities and my bike’s capabilities. Some disagree, so be it. However, I don’t like having to drive for you and when I am in traffic, around a lot of other cars (like when I am commuting to work), that is exactly what I have to do. I have to anticipate every idiotic thing every driver might do because I don’t know if you are the one out of three until it is too late. Doing that has saved my ass more times than I can count.

But it is exhausting and no matter how good I am, and even if my experience might have prevented my son’s wreck, eventually someone is going to surprise me. My vigilance will crack ever so slightly and in that split-second one of the one third will take me out. It is just a matter of time. Two days after my son’s wreck, as he was screaming out in pain, I considered, seriously, selling my motorcycles; I was, for only the second time in my life, thinking about hanging my helmet up for good. I had three bikes at the time and I was ready to get rid of them all. It was just a matter of time. Someone was going to get me. I was almost done.

It is still true. It is just a matter of time. Someone is going to get me. But there are some things I can do short of selling my bikes and quitting. And that is the other reason my high-mileage 2017 Harley doesn’t have more miles. I still logged around 10,000 miles in the last year, but most of them came in relatively short periods of time. Where most of my rides used to be short, commuter rides and my daily average was 30-50 miles, last year most of my daily totals were in the hundreds of miles and one was almost 1,000 miles. My motorcycle is no longer my “daily driver,” she is not my commute vehicle (my Lexus GS350 has “softened” that blow). I have limited my exposure to the one third significantly. I can’t eliminate it, but I sure don’t have to invite it. My motorcycle is now, 90 percent of the time, a recreational vehicle.

So have I done enough to protect myself? Definitely not, there is no “enough.” But under the circumstances, I have likely extended the time it will take before someone gets me, statistically, anyway. Statistics are not facts, they are just likelihoods – the chances are statistically remote that I will be struck by lightning or win the lottery, but both happen to people regularly. Motorcycles are still dangerous and we all need to take whatever lever of caution or precaution we feel is warranted. My greatest risk involves people driving cars. By taking myself out of that world, to the extent I can, minimizes that risk, but risk still exits. And you don’t have to ride a motorcycle to be exposed to risk. It is part of life and although I have changed some of how I express it, I still embrace risk.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deal With It

It’s early. I am not now and have never been a “morning person,” yet there are occasions when I must get up before the sun. My schedule this semester has me teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. On those days my alarm goes off at 4:30 and I am out of bed by 5:00. Today is Wednesday. It is 4:00 a.m. and I have been up for an hour. I don’t know why I awoke so early and so completely, but after about a half hour of trying to go back to sleep, I gave up. I am awake and that is that. Now what?

Coffee? For sure – I am on my second cup. Prepare for class? Sometimes I will get up earlier than usual to do that, but today I am already ready. Think too much? That’s a given – at 4:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. – it doesn’t matter, if I am awake I am thinking too much. But that should not necessarily be taken as a negative connotation, despite the “too much” qualification (or would that be a quantification? I digress). While I cannot say with any specificity what woke me up or why I am awake this early on this day, it is also true that today is one of those days that holds some significance. It didn’t happen yet, it would not until later in the afternoon, but one year ago today I got one of “those” calls every parent dreads.

“Those” calls come in different levels of severity, this one was up there, but it was not the worst case scenario. It is not the first such call I have received, either. This one involved my youngest son who was 29. The call came from an off-duty first responder who happened to be “first responding” when my son was cut off by some moron in a car turning left in front of him. Had my son been driving his Jeep, there would be very little to write about. He was not in his Jeep, he was on his Harley. The impact was violent and my son suffered major and potentially life-threatening injuries. Exactly one year ago from right now, no one had any idea that this day would be so pivotal.

When I got the call, I was driving my then girlfriend’s daughter home from school. I was told enough to realize the severity, but while the guy who called was honest enough, he did not indicate the actual extent of my kid’s injuries. He said something like, “He’s got a broken leg and a broken arm.” It turns out that my son’s broken leg was an open left femur fracture and an open tib/fib fracture, both likely occurred on impact. His broken arm was a nasty longitudinal fracture of his right humerus, likely occurring when he landed 25 or more feet from his bike. All required surgery and weeks of hospitalization followed by months of rehabilitation. But he did survive.

Ten months and a few days later, he was cleared to go back to work. He was not and is not 100 percent, but he is walking and able to care for himself completely. It was a long road back, but I never doubted his resolve. More importantly, he never did either. It is somewhat ironic that after I got the call and got home, I jumped on my bike to get to the hospital. I did not do that to make some sort of “motorcycle loyalty” statement. It was not in defiance towards every idiot, inattentive, cell phone using driver out there (and easily one third of y’all fit into that category – we who ride can see you, we can see into your cars as we ride by you – we can see what you’re doing and too often it ain’t driving). I rode because it was the fastest way to get through the traffic that the afternoon commute placed between me and my kid.

The nature of this day, a before and after kind of day, is probably not why I am awake so early. It’s not like it has been weighing on me; it’s not like I have seen this day coming and was tripping over its significance. Lots of things changed in my life and in his life since that day, some are a direct result of one moron who should not be driving and some are not. One of the few constants in life is change. If there is even a point to all this (and a point is certainly not a requirement), it is that no one is exempt from the inequities of living. My son was simply coming home from work. That’s it. He did not “have it coming,” he did not “deserve it,” it was not some kind of karmic retribution, it just happened. Furthermore, that idiot driving only had the legal minimum insurance coverage – nowhere near enough to compensate for his actions.

And life goes on. I am less than a month away from the completion of my 57th trip around the sun. That I have survived to see this day is amazing, maybe even unlikely, yet here I am. Shit happens, sometimes because of what we do or what we don’t do, and sometimes it just happens. It isn’t always “fair,” sometimes it is abjectly unfair, but it is upon us to deal with whatever it happens to be. I am still here. And so is he. His brothers, too, have had their share of incidents – defining moments, before and after moments – and they are still here. Life is not only not fair, it never has been and it isn’t supposed be. We will deal with it, how we deal with it is up to us.