Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Star Trek and motorcycles

Even if you're not a Trekkie, or the far more dignified Trekker, I'd ask you to indulge me, if not for a few paragraphs of this blog just to see how much the 1960's science fiction television landmark has so many similarities to motorcycles and the riders who love them.

Still here? Good.

How this came about.
For about a year I've been a member of Netflix and although Blockbuster is the first stop for the latest movie releases, it doesn't have the instore selection of television and documentaries the revolutionary online service has.

My journey through Star Trek: The Next Generation was made officially complete by the delivery of Star Trek :TOS (The Original Series) last week.

Before we go any further, two things;
- Are you still with me?

- I swear, I don't own any Spock ears or models from any of the TV shows. At least not anymore.

The first thing I noticed about the Star Trek :TOS DVD (it's amazing how easily you fall into the lingo...scary...right?) is that Paramount only managed to put two episodes on the disc. My $40 Seinfeld Disc has five episodes per disc and it was filmed in Stereo surround sound, requiring far more precious DVD space than a show from 1966 which just missed out from being filmed in black and white. Obviously Paramount is taking advantage of the poor Trekkers here by spreading the episodes over more discs trying to justify the $100 price tag for an entire series.

Not that I ever looked into buying it.

That's assuming the Trekkers are poor of course. Having never ever dated, they probably have more money than you and I. After all, how much can you spend on Star trek memorabilia?

Back to the point
So I started re-watching the show I grew up with, and saw far more imperfections than I ever remembered. The technology is simply silly compared to today's standards and the sets were, well, just shaky. It was obvious that pieces of plywood were thrown up, blinking lights added and a coat of paint slapped on. Big buttons pressed over and over for different functions and mock screens with pictures glued on.

But I still loved it.

The characters are cliche'd, but only because they've been overdone since the show first appeared in 1966. They were unique and deep compared to the diet of American television at the time it first appeared. Entire books have been written about the Kirk, Spock and McCoy personality triangle.

The lines seemed silly and melodramatic in relation to the current level of sophistication, but when it was running for the first time, cerebral college students were the bulk of its viewing audience. It was their petition writing campaign, the first of its kind, that kept the show on for another series in the shadow of cancellation.

Time for the word motorcycle to appear in a motorcycle blog
How does this relate to motorcycles?

I've written a few times how riding a motorcycle can change your perspective, making the most established facet of life take on a new meaning. Watching this forty year old television show brought this home. Having seen the Star Trek series more times than I'd care to count and quite frankly, more than I'd ever admit, but tonight it was through different eyes.

The science fiction classic is like the old motorcycles of yore. The bikes parents, grandparents and crazy old uncles talk about, lacking the basic technology and systems the modern rider would consider the most basic of necessities.

The episode in the DVD player was the third of the first series, The Corbomite Maneuver. Costumes were still a little rough, the standards hadn't been set yet and it was obvious that the producers and writers knew what they were trying to achieve, but it was just a path of trial and error to get there.

This sums up the motorcycle in it's various incarnations to a 'T'. Trying to find that perfect engine: is it the V-Twin or the Boxer. How to get the maximum power without all the vibration. Stumbling across and implementing counterbalancing. Is bigger better? Or can more power be had from cylinders already designed. Fuel injection, electric starter, bigger bores, all of the innovations you and I know and see walking around the dealership showroom floor was lived through by the people who rode before us.

Just as the seasoned riders we meet at bike nights, rallies and motorcycle events may seem different, and seemingly living a hackneyed stereotype, believe it or not they came to mind when I saw William Shatner.

Once again I'd ask for your indulgence.

At the time the show came out, William Shatner was the man. Sure all the actors who starred in the show knew they were in something that was revolutionizing television, science fiction or even story-telling, depending on how dramatic you'd like to go. Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and (later) Walter Koenig all knew the show was something special and are(were) incredible actors. But Kirk was the man who had the lines, made being in charge cool and got all the girls. Not only that, while all the other actors seemed to distance themselves from the show, he was always proud of it. Okay sometimes it may've been in a mocking way, but don't we consider a sense of humor as endearing?

This could be taken as a direct comparison to the biker of the sixties and seventies. Back then, the wave when two riders met on the road really meant something. They believed in the passion you and I know today and are allowed to enjoy with admiration from our non-riding peers rather than scorn. Like Kirk, the riders of old lived the life many men pined for but didn't have the courage or circumstances to follow. I'm sure as with the good captain, the rebellious image bikers carried in the leathers and long hair brought them their fair share of attention from the fairer sex too.

The comparison between the older riders and seasoned actor can be drawn to present day. William Shatner is still the same person and actor, just in a different time. His fame is, at least in part, from a nod to the semi-campy acting of the 1960's television show. This can make him seem different or difficult for the younger viewers to relate too. Regardless, he does what he knows, enjoys and in the case of acting, pays the bills

See the similarities here?

The older biker can seem from a different time, with no reservations or certain attitudes that may seem foreign the younger rider who never lived that life. Not to be mean and trying to be a respectful as possible, what was his life and was as unique as could be, can sometimes appear to be a tried stereotype.

Fact is, in reality, the stereotype sped past the rider's real life.

The final 'apples to apples' can come not from what happened in the past, but what was hoped for the future.

The legend of Star Trek is entrenched in Gene Roddenberry's vision, the creator of the series. He pioneered a show that had a whole list of firsts: A black woman (African- American if you so prefer) in a position of power on national TV, all types of nationalities and accents working together, a future of a united Earth (and star system) who had put war, greed and sickness behind them, living for a greater good (to go where no man has gone before) and the very first interracial kiss. Actually, it was a decade after Star trek was cancelled before the British Broadcasting Company would show the kiss on television in England.

How does this relate to our humble riding predecessors? Simply put, they stood by the freedom inherent to riding. Working against societies rush to lump all bikers into one convenient stereotype, the riders of yesterday not only went to fight a controversial war for America's freedoms, they also fought the assumptions of a country where motorcycles were not considered a thing 'normally done'.

From science fiction to sincere respect
Like you are now, I wondered as the credits of my trip down memory lane rolled by where all these similarities and parallel histories left me.

Just as those college students who crowded around the television to watch this amazingly forward looking first run show, giving dignity to science fiction it had long deserved, you and I can ride thanks to the perseverance and indignant stares our fore-riders before us had to endure and bear.

And as I put the DVD in the envelope to be returned and consequently exchanged for the next disc in the series to be delivered to my door, there was a definite thrill of excitement. Looking forward the Enterprises next adventures to bring out that feeling of wonder, the same feelings countless viewers have felt before me when they truly went 'where no one had gone before'. Although I know they didn't watch the show loyally, talk about it at every moment, lived it passionately and wrote letters to keep it around for one more season just so I could watch it years later in syndication, there's still the gratification that they did do all those things.

Do I really have to spell out the last comparison?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Riding, wardrobe and television...what a blog!

Like the riding buddy who takes his own road to head home at the end of a long ride, Donnie, the girlfriends brother recently flew back to California.

Regular readers of Biker Diaries may remember that he came out to visit nearly two weeks ago on the first vacation in a very long time. Actually it wasn't just that it's the first chance in a while to be away from home that made it special, but also that it was his first trip without his two young children. From what I understand he's a phenomenal father, but even the most doting of parents will tell you it's nice to get away sometimes. Throw in the quiet time he spent with his girlfriend who flew out for the last three days of his trip and you'll get an idea of what a good time he appeared to have.

But he's back at home now with the motorcycle ride down to Key West, crazy nights of drinking and visits to the clothing optional bar just happy memories. Actually he went back just in time. Being a lighthaired guy his skin is fair, and as well as it held up under our incredibly hot spring sun, the poor guy was getting as red as his hair!

The last time I rode the Deuce was hanging out with Donnie. He wanted to see the Everglades, I needed to get the girlfriend a birthday present and take the motorcycle back to storage....just typing that last to-do item tugs at the heart. After a suggestion from the girlfriend, we decided to have Donnie drive my car, following me as we made our way through the to-do list, of course dropping the motorcycle off last. Although it wasn't a nice long cruise on the bike, just getting out and using the Deuce as my main form of transportation made the whole day that much more special. Because I thought we'd be bopping around town, I left the windshield off. Slower rides feel better, the wind whips gently around your body and quite frankly the bike just looks that much sharper without the windshield or saddlebags. Of course these are the items that make a motorcycle more practical. Fate intervened and between a long cargo train and roadworks, I had to take us to the Everglades via I-595 which meant that it wasn't a gentle wind whipping around my body, at seventy miles per hour it was more like a wind tunnel battering my body about.

I'm sure it's just being out of practice but it was enough to put the windshield back on the bike by the third leg of the trip. I say third, because like any stubborn man a lesson had to really be taught before giving in and throwing on the windshield.

Call me a wimp.

And as a final note to the Key West weekend, nothing more will be written about it. At the risk of infringing on a certain gambling states copyright, what happened in Key West will stay in Key West.

Sorry El:)

As far as this biker is concerned, the most scandalous part of my trip was the truly painful prayers shouted at the porcelain god. As for the rest of the events, well...they're really not mine to tell.

What month is it?
Supposedly, it's Motorcycle Safety Awareness month. I say supposedly, because you wouldn't know it around the State of Florida. It's interesting to be a biker when the traffic statistics come out and paint me and my kind as reckless (no one ever takes any training), irresponsible (riding without helmets) or chasing our mid-life crisis (older biker buying motorcycles) when the powers that be let an opportunity to make other road users aware of their two wheeled friends simply pass on by.

Like the younger sibling in any family, there really has to be a limit to how much blame we as riders can take, don't you think?

Interesting perspective of it at Clutch and chrome.

Buy motorcycle, increase wardrobe!
So I'm looking through my closet for something to wear over the weekend and it's dawned on me that I have far more 'Riding' T-shirts than 'ordinary' clothes.

How did this happen?

Was it really that long ago that I rotated the only three biker looking t's I had to rack up the miles on my deuce. Between that terrible affliction known to enthusiastic Harley riders 'buying from the dealers where I travel-itis', Daytona Bike Week and Hog's Breath Saloon Key West, it seems I could ride for several weeks and never run out of attire.

This is all well and good, but in Sunny Florida I'm still trying to carry off the skull emblazoned 'Ride to live, live to Ride' with a pair of khaki shorts.

I'm sure its no coincidence that the nieghbors (read condo commando's) have never complained about the noise coming from my place or that they may not necessarily recognise my car in the girlfriends parking place.

From the land of Marmite!
Just because there hasn't been the frequent posts on Biker Diaries doesn't mean I haven't been reading the blogs. Lately an enjoyable blog comes from a country thats next on the list if I ever leave the grand US of A.


Cruisin Down Under is a fun blog written by a someone who truly loves to ride. There's even V-Twin graphics at the beginning of each post! How great is that!

Check it out!

This TV is a wonderful thing
With the Deuce coming into my life and all the recent work I've thrown into helping out over at Clutch and Chrome, television has pretty much taken a back seat over the last six months or so. Sure I had my die-hard favorite 'Lost', which looks to be an absolutely, amazingly must see show this Wednesday. But I made the mistake of tuning into Greys Anatomy over the last few weeks. This cumulated in being glued to last night's show and jumping up and down to watch tonights while typing out this blog.


Even Tivo'd the thing. Will have to watch again.

Once again, my expert opinion. Wow.

Cyperspace Real Estate
So wanting to re-focus on Biker Diaries, I plopped down the dollars on an ISP (internet service provider) and the name of www.bikerdiaries.com!!! Don't go there yet, nothings there! I chose the option of a microsoft package, but noticed when I started looking around that a lot of the blogging software is PHP (not supported) or very intricate perl programming.

Any idea's from fellow bloggers?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Slow ride to paradise

I tried tapping this blog out while sitting in a hotel room at the southernmost point in America overlooking the sparkling blue/green waters that surround Key West. The various boats drifted by: sail, fishing, ferries and an occasional sport boat, all seen through the continuously open balcony doors.

But come on, I wasn't there to type, but carry on in the best possible Hemmingway tradition of drink, people watching and wasting away my time as could be achieved.

And it was definitely achieved, even with the appropriate homage being paid to the all powerful porcelain gods.

But I get ahead of myself.

Cheeseburger in Paradise
As a quick recap, the girlfriend's brother was flying in Friday, renting a Harley and we'd all head down Key Largo way humming Jimmy Buffet as we passed mile marker after mile marker. As a quick correction on the last Biker Diaries, her brother who we'll call Donnie (it is his name after all and besides, I must have less brain cells to be clever with after the Key West trip) does in fact ride a Victory in his native state of California and not a Sportsbike as I mentioned.

This made his rental of a Road King less of a leap but certainly still a thrill.

We picked up the bike from my favorite dealership, Peterson's. A quick conversation with a couple from Pittsburgh PA and short test ride later and we were heading down to the Keys by 9:45am. His Road King was a metallic golden bronze, equipped with a windshield, saddlebags and sissy bar. Don't tell the dealership, but wanting a naked look as much as possible, Donnie took off the sissy bar and threw it in the trunk of his sisters car. Since my girlfriend/his sister had to leave at 4am on Monday morning for an appointment in Fort Lauderdale, our caravan going south consisted of the two bikes as well as her car. With nearly all the luggage packed in the car, the riding was made that much more enjoyable.

Boys and their toys!

Beautiful weather made it even more so, with the temperature in the upper seventies and maybe a touch too much wind. Being a Northern California kid, Donnie was happy enough in a T-shirt, jeans, rented half-helmet and a pair of borrowed full finger gloves (he is the girlfriend's brother after all and although it's not the shirt off my back, it is my first pair of riding gloves). Personally, I'm a wimp. T-Shirt, denim long sleeve shirt as well as the jeans, fingerless gloves and of course half-helmet.

Donnie and I seemed similar with our main focus of riding to be as much time in the saddle and moving as much as possible, stopping only for the essential unloading and loading of fluids. Between the great mileage from a motorcycle and strong bladders we only stopped twice, and once was to eat at a restaurant we 'absolutely had to try'. I mentioned the girlfriend was on this trip, right?

The ride to Key West really doesn't get interesting until after Islamorada. Sure, there are tourist places to visit and some nice parks for snorkeling and scuba diving well before that, but for views and cruising, the trips just beginning as you leave Islamorada.

Just before the first of the spectacular bridges, the wind speed was pretty noticeable. With the height and their open design, the wind was even stronger on the bridges. Knowing the girlfriends tendency to overreact when it comes to motorcycles I warned her that the bikes would need to be leaned over considerably when riding over the bridges and not to panic at the potentially strange site.

Not that anyone would be looking at the motorcycles crossing the bridges. When traveling across these man-made transport arteries its three hundred and sixty degrees of breathtaking beauty. Where America meets the Caribbean, crystal clear turquoise waters sparkle for miles around with little islands dotted about near and far. Running alongside the modern roadway are large portions of the 1938 traffic system which consisted of bridges for both cars and trains. This is most famously seen in the Schwarzenegger movie 'True Lies' where he yells "The bwidge is ooouuuuuttttt" to his onscreen wife, Jamie Lee Curtis.

With so much to see and very few traffic lights the ride to Key West isn't just enjoyable but also a quick trip, albeit at a steady pace. Whether by car or motorcycle anyone who wants to go faster than 45 miles per hour will get both themselves and any other unfortunate soul who gets in the way, in trouble.

Although it wasn't a perfectly clear sky, we only suffered a few brief showers of rain with the warm air and sun drying off what little rain made into the clothes. By the time we were at Seven Mile Bridge, so named because its Seven miles long the wind had died down enough for a normal ride. Well, normal considering the bridge you're riding on curves off into the horizon.

Truly amazing.

The girlfriend really wanted to make her brothers trip special and booked us into the Hilton overlooking the water, conveniently located on Mallory Square and not even one block from Duval Street. This put us a few blocks from the famous 0 mile marker sign and just as close to the infamous Sloppy Joes. Yep, Key West is the only town where the sight-seeing hotspots have strategically placed bars to make sure you're never far from live music and the drink glass never gets empty.

Once at the hotel, the bikes were parked and not touched until it was time to leave again. Because they were kept at the furthest corner of the multistory parking lot, we both took off the windshields, I removed my saddlebags and Donnie used the metal cord lock that came with his bike. Ideally it was supposed to wrap through the spokes of the front wheel, but with the Road King not having any he had to improvise and wrap it around the frame and forks.

Since this is a biker blog and not 'What I did on my summer vacation' here are some highlights.

- World Famous Kelly's serves raw, fatty steak and girlfriend less than impressed.

- Matt Avery is one funny singer. Used to play guitar for Tiffany (I think we're alone now)

- A gay bed race is a funny thing to watch.

- Yes, there really is a rooftop bar where girls get body painted or just run around topless. Oddly enough, Garden of Eden is located on top of the rock bar that features an Elvis impersonator during the day. Only in Key West.

- A conch is a conch is a conch.

Mile Marker 0

Paradise from the water...the hotel is in the left picture to the left

Found in an alley in Key West

Maybe the girlfriend found her ride!

Sunset in Paradise

The ride back
The last night was long and the morning far too short. Because I'm dating a very smart young lady who knows her brother likes to party and that I'm obviously easily led, she set us up for a late check out time for us before heading out at 4am for her appointment. We had until noon to pack up and get out of the room and quite frankly even that was a push. A stop was made for brunch at the IHOP located on the way out of Key West, but I picked and Donnie tried to wake up. This was the first time I'd ridden feeling less than 100 percent and as much as I was worried about the noise of the wind and engine making the ride an ordeal, it actual felt better to be riding than it did any other time.

We no sooner left Key West when Donnie made some signs he needed to pull over. Once stopped, I walked towards Donnie hunched over the front of his Road King and he embarrassingly confessed that the motorcycle lock was still wrapped around the frame and forks! A smile came over my otherwise drained body. Having ridden about 10 miles from the Hotel, going through various sharp turns in traffic, obviously the lock wasn't much of a deterrent to a would be thief. Or it could just be user error.

Did someone forget to take the lock off?

The wind picked up as we headed north at about the same point it dropped when riding down a few days before, making for a gusty ride, if not a little chilly on the bridges. Once again Donnie was fine with a T-shirt and I went for the sleeveless T with my leather vest. Both had jeans, helmets, gloves and very tired faces of course.

The journey back, the route actually curves in a northeasterly fashion, was a little slower than the ride down. A few slower drivers ahead and more traffic on the road took the average speed down the thirties and forties. It could've also seem like a longer ride because I was looking for Card Sound Road, a little side route that's favored by bikers riding the Key West trip.

After I told Donnie for the third time that the turn off was only five miles ahead, we finally found it and not a minute too soon. The traffic was getting heavier and the simple light free atmosphere (both in physical traffic lights as well as attitude) was quickly disappearing behind us. As soon as you take the slip road off of US 1 onto Card Sound Road, you're immediately taken back a few decades with the road cut through the short trees that dominate this part of the keys as you gently bounce along a rolling two lane road. With hardly any traffic and some nice curves thrown into the mix, it's such a great road to ride. When going the direction we came, the twenty minute excursion is topped by going over a tall bridge which gives a bird eye view of the surrounding waters and islands. Although the area is less tropical than the lower Keyes, it's still an amazing sight to see.

Once through the toll booth at the bottom of the bridge, it's time to back the bike in and grab a drink. Alabama Jacks is a favorite place to stop for bikers cruising Card Sound Road and I've mentioned it a few times in Biker Diaries. Being a Monday afternoon it was fairly quiet with only four parked bikes and no boats tied up to it's docks.

As we walked in I tried to work out why a biker couple already sitting at a table were smiling at Donnie and I. Fly open? Drool?


It was the couple from Pittsburg PA we met while filling out the paperwork for Donnie's rental! We sat next to them comparing drinking stories and Key West experiences, all the time remarking what a coincidence this meeting was. It turned out they must've been in the same bars at about the same time the night before…..what a small world.

During the conversation I finally had a chance to catch up with the girlfriend who's heavy foot it turns out gave her a nice little meeting with the Keyes finest. Because she was heading back to Fort Lauderdale for Jury Duty the policeman let her off with a warning, but she suffered the speed limit for the rest of the trip through the Keyes.

Once out of the Keyes, the highway riding was pretty much what highway riding is. An upside was not only were we going against the flow of rush hour, we were on the road about forty-five minutes before it was really starting.

Three hundred ninety six miles from door to door, round trip. As usual, there was nothing usual about the ride. It was a unique experience that just re-enforces why I love being on a motorcycle so much. Every moment, from the most mundane to occasional frustrations make the urge to ride continue to grow and find new journeys to take.

Where is that map!