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.