Motorcycles, Life and FEAR of the Unknown

I was gathering some information on a safety related site about single vehicle crashes and riding away without reporting an accident and this comment was made:

“When I took a first aid class a while back, they spent a lot of time discussing the legal trouble you can get into trying to help someone. Pull someone out of a burning car and fail to handle a spinal injury properly and they end up paralyzed you can get sued even if you saved their life.”

The conversation progressed to:

“Just be careful about doing anything more than not letting someone die. If somebody is not going to die anytime soon, usually better to wait for the professional.”  

Which is actually sound advice.  I’m an “aid and comfort” sort of guy, hell, I’ll even light your smoke while we wait for assistance.  I would address the stuff the Boy Scouts taught me:  ABC  Airway, Breathing and Circulation.  To listen to some folks in the conversation you should live in constant fear of being sued, so much fear that (and this is a quote):

“When we had a boat and I took a lot of friends out, I considered getting my captains license to make sure I was doing my best to operate the boat safely. I was advised that could be a bad idea. As just some shmo with a boat I am held to a lower standard than a licensed captain, even if I am not charging anybody for the ride..”

Again, it’s probably sound legal advice and fine except the idea that you’re better off knowing less.  Are you ever really better off knowing less?  I think they call that “willful ignorance”.

Heck, by taking basic first aid this gentleman appears to have learned a “best practice” which is “lifesaving measures only”.  Don’t be resetting bones, or grabbing that fishing line and a hook out of the saddle bags and stitching things up, open heart surgery is a bad idea, as is any invasive procedure.  If someone has arterial blood spray a tourniquet may be in order.   See, every rider should have basic first aid training.  Should you have a Combat Livesaver rating?  Probably not.  True story:  was teaching a experienced course when a rider fell.  He lay there on the ground a moment so I asked the line of riders “Anyone here with advanced medical training?”  A young man said, “Yes”.  I asked “Where?”  He said “Navy”.  I said, “Come with me Corpsman.”  Worst fear was that something more that embarrassment was holding this crashed rider to the ground; I didn’t want to roll this guy over without a pro there.  Luckily our rider’s pride was the only injury.

So, what should you know and do?  Get a little training.  Go to the local Red Cross–they’ll know where you can get absolute rookie training.  What new parent doesn’t want a 16 year old baby sitter with some Red Cross certification? Maybe you and your riding buddies should get some too!  Why?  Because often at crashes riders want to immediately take off their helmets.  I’m fine with that.  But if you can’t get up?  Maybe leave it on so you don’t wrench your neck getting it off?  If your buddy asks you to “Take off my helmet, would ya?”  Maybe you’re better off saying, “We’ll let the paramedics make that decision.”  Like plenty of areas of riding knowing what you don’t know is very important.  That means taking a course which you can even do online.  Learn a little something and find out what you don’t know so you can do the right thing.

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A Dirty Business

Things were going better than he thought.  The road surface was smooth and he ran slower than usual his brain was happier.  There was no nagging worry except riding on a dirt road.  Everyone seemed to fear a dirt road because somewhere in their brains they thought a dirt road was paved with grease and BBs.  A steady throttle hand and controlled braking kept the bike from getting sloppy.  Looking into his mirrors there wasn’t the cloud of dust he had been expecting.  In his mind there should be a swirling towering cloud he could not see through.  The low fog of dust wasn’t biblical enough. There should be a trail of fine particulate destruction in his wake.  Unfortunately the road was well built and packed tight.

He saw no one.  He passed no one.  There was no one.  An odd serenity falls on him.   Maybe he is here.  Maybe he’s not here.  Maybe he fell of the planet and into some kind of Twilight Zone.  Displaced from the world he went for miles on the dirt road rolling up onto the asphalt before an intersection, looking both ways and continuing on with a thump as he dropped off and left the asphalt behind.  In the rumble and the dust and the vibrations he has stopped looking for a beacon of humanity.  He was locked in to the experience of riding on dirt and was soaked it in and rolling around it it.  You weren’t supposed to do it.  He was doing.  He was liking it.  It was like getting away with something.

Approaching another intersection he gets ready to roll through and, checking to his left, realizes there’s a large blue water tower in the distance sticking up like some strange, inverted blue onion. A town.  There are no silos, which is strange, but water meant people and people meant being somewhere and he was ready to be there.  Loneliness wasn’t a thing that stalked him.  He wasn’t lonely but missed people.  His Pop at the end of his days might have been the same: things that are now, are better than the things that were.

Rain on the Road

Inside his head a distant thunderclap brought him back to the world.  Sleep had slipped up behind him and taken him for a short ride.  The urge was clear.  Pee.  Now.  Getting up was uncomfortable.  Should have gone earlier.  Standing on the bank he knew he couldn’t pee in or around the water because it was just wrong, three weeks of sleeping bags, oatmeal and jerky had helped drum that one in.  Scanning about he can’t see a helpful soda or water bottle.  Trash just wasn’t there.  “No garbage, no people,” his father’s voice said in his head, if that was true then this was truly nowhere.  The trees were a possible target but felt wrong too.  Looking at the packed gravel road he realizes he can get off the creek’s watershed if he just drained the hose there.

The problem wasn’t a shy bladder because no one was around.  Problem was he’d been holding it a long, long time.  Relaxing enough to get started took closed eyes and forced thoughts and a good minute.  Standing there with his wick in his hand random thoughts wandered through his mind.  Anchor-less thoughts about high school or birthdays or the crash; a wind whipped, nonsensical circus parade.  The dog he hit in the early dawn hours with his mother’s car he wasn’t supposed to be driving.  Nikki J in a red prom dress.  Mowing the lawn.  His father’s lawyer.  Waking up behind the 7/11.  The fallen apple tree in Grandpa’s backyard.  A college dorm room.  Things began to flow.  A third grade water color.  Baseball dugout both empty and full.  Compound fracture, big toe.  Tattooed knuckles up close, very close.

The flow of urine petered out.  How strange, he thought, standing in the middle of nowhere with a motorcycle and his dick in his hand.  He realized that like everything else he’d pissed away–the sun would bake it dry and the wind would whip it away.

Talking to Jesus

His nose still hurt.  It wasn’t broken–he knew that feeling.  Pulling into the gas station he figured a short stop to throw in a gallon and a half would give him time to hit the head for a piss and wash his face.  Watching over the top of the nozzle he looks into the tank and he hears a voice.

“Those things will kill you.”

Looking up there stands a middle-aged guy on the other side of the island with one hand on a Honda Odyssey minivan and the other on the pump trying to make himself look hard in a vintage Mountain Dew shirt and Walmart shorts.

“Pardon?”

“Those things will kill you.”  Minivan nods at the bike.

“What was their name?”

“Whose?” Replies Minivan.

Bubbles appear in the bike’s tank, the gas almost foams as it fills up into the collar.  A careful eye and clicking in the last few ounces, he pulls the nozzle and flips it up to keep it from dripping.  “The one who died?  What was their name?  Was it an uncle or a brother or cousin?  Maybe that friend in high school or the guy on your softball team?  What was their name?”  Hanging up the nozzle he just looks at Minivan.  Minivan looks startled.  “Don’t you remember?”

Minivan looks lost.  “It was my cousin.  His name was Dakota.”  Memory flashes in his eyes a cloud of a flashback.

“High school?  Dirt bike?  What?”

Minivan’s eyes appear to dilate, focus shifts in time and the shimmer of memory appears.  “Dirt bike.  Family reunion.  Hit a tree and broke his neck.  My Aunt was there, right there…”  Minivan is gone a moment but wakes up with a start as words start to flow over him.

“I am not Dakota.  Warning me won’t save him–or me–or you.  Someday, in motorcycle heaven, if I see him I’ll tell him you miss him.  I’ll tell him you miss him and wish you had told him to be careful.  He was a good kid wasn’t he?”

Minivan nods, in daze, a haze, a heather.

“He don’t blame you man.  He don’t.  But if I get there first I’ll let him know you love him.  That you miss him.  That you wish things were different and he were still here and you could wrestle and fight and tell stories.”  Stepping back and turning he throws a leg over the bike.  There’d be time for pissing later, maybe in a culvert or behind an abandoned service station. “He’s cool with you.”  A click and a rumble and the bike, its heart beating, oil flowing and spark flashing drops into first.  Easing out the clutch he pulls away.

Minivan hangs up the nozzle, presses “No receipt”, opens his driver’s door and drops into the driver’s seat.  The van rocks gently and Mrs. Minivan returns with chips and sodas in a plastic bag and sits down.

“Honey,” she asks, “are you OK?  You look like you saw a ghost.”

Before he can answer a five year old voice speaks from the middle row, “It’s OK Mom, he was just talking to Jesus.”

Definitions and Expectations

I am a “safety professional” and sometimes that’s very cool and other times it is downright embarrassing.  One of the biggest problems motorcyclists face is labeling; by sorting and categorizing people we actually make our lives simpler because it saves us the time needed to do the research and get to know somebody.   So we are perfectly clear on this:  I believe that stereotypes run both ways–sometimes we use them and sometimes we live them.  Yeah, sometimes it’s pretty darn easy to be a “safety professional” because all I have to do is live up to other’s expectations…If you’re not ATGATT you’re an idiot, if you’re riding like a ninny you’re a stat waiting to happen–you know, that basic Safety Nazi stuff that’s so offensive when someone uses it against me but sooo easy to live when I’m not interested in working on my own opinions and ideals.

There is a elegance of living that comes with a stereotypes; we simply do what the stereotype requires and BOOM!  Done.  Is every moment of every day lived by the stereotype?  No, however we often find ourselves in positions where it’s easier to drape ourselves in a title rather than explain who we are.  When I say, “I am a safety professional” then you instantly pull up a file and say, “OK.  I know what those guys are like.”  That just happens.

Labeling ourselves is pretty common behavior.

What religion are you?  Episcopal? That’s Catholic lite right?

Political views?  Conservative?  Rush fan eh?

Sports?  Soccer?  Yeah…keep score or not?

This is a two way street I’m talking about we use stereotypes to our own advantage because it’s easier to throw out a category rather than define our own unique position on the scale.  There is a danger to this and that is we sometimes get lazy and start believing our own stereotypes.  We become that thing by which we identify ourselves.

Recently I was with a like minded group of safety professionals and I wound up asking myself, “Self, is this who you are?  Or are you something different?”  In motorcycle safety there is an orthodox position (or maybe expectation) on most issues.  Once you have a gaggle of safety folks around it’s curious to watch as everybody cinches up their safety belt and sucks their safety paunch in.  Hey, I do it myself.  Ain’t no way I’m gonna admit to those folks that I routinely ride my bike to work without wearing dedicated riding pants or an over pant.  Do you want to be that guy?  You want to fit in, to not rock the boat–you want peer acceptance.

Adults face peer pressure just like kids and adult peer pressure is just as capable as causing you to change your behavior as teen peer pressure is especially when you’re with a group of people engaged in a good cause you respect. Orthodox behavior and beliefs can lead to a thing I like to call “Hyper-obedience”.  This is when, to feel success in the group, you push the envelope farther than standard orthodoxy requires.  In the motorcycle safety community (over time) I’ve ran into folks who offer that you should wear a helmet just to move a bike around in the garage–no lie.  There’s an orthodox position on helmets, type of helmets, gear, quality of gear, hi-viz v. anything else, helmet–solid, pattern, color– how much gear to wear and when to wear it, pre-bike inspections (which, for me consists of looking under the bike for puddles of fluids…I can tell if the tires are low by pushing it out of the garage), group ride etiquette like hand signals, lane discipline, road captains, and sweepers, what size bike to start with, when to step up on size…just a ton of stuff that actually has a position that peer pressure says:  Feel THIS way about this.

When I’m in a conversation with another safety pro it’s very easy to know what you should say and if it’s not what you want to say then you might clam up or even just quote back what you feel the orthodox position is–unless you feel safe enough with the person or persons you’re with to actually say what’s in your heart or mind.

The problem is that this can create an “Us v. Them” mentality; a bit of a besieged state of mind.  Once the world is against you there’s a certain amount of zealousness that sets in.  A potential to dig a trench and bunker down can set in and you can end up viewing yourself as a lone light in the darkness, maybe even a bit of a martyr.  If the chattering hordes are against you it can only mean you’re very right…or very wrong when in fact you’re neither.

As a motorcycle safety professional I believe it’s not my job to change the world.  I shouldn’t be worrying about legislation or whether or not dealers should sell 1000cc bikes to 18 year old kids.  It’s not my job to hassle you in person or on the web to ride the way I want you to ride or to change your habits and hopes.  My job isn’t to make you not want a bike that’s too big, too fast or too (insert orthodox negative asset here).  I’m not here to change your dreams of clothing or cross country club cavalcades.  I’m not here to make you renounce your speeding sins or slothful slaloms.  My job as a “safety professional” is to love motorcycles and motorcyclists; to let your head know that your heart is special to someone–even to me.  Bikes are a blessing and giving riders the tips, tricks and techniques to have a long, full, joyful riding career is, well, my business.  Do I want you to change?  No, I want you to be better, to make a reasoned choice, to think beyond yourself and create a situation where you’re more likely to come home at night and be with those you love.  Motorcycles aren’t here to leave gaps in the web of family and friends, they’re here to build a bigger community and connect us with others who share our love.  And friend?  If you’re on a bike–any bike–I love you too.

Be Safe.