Coping: With “Freedom” and Hells on Wheels

Nothing like riding a motorcycle, especially with fall weather finally here.  The wind’s a bit cooler, no bugs slapping you in the face causing “rider’s welts” and the colors….  And so it’s again this backdrop we’re pleased to offer this first-hand ride report from a long-time reader…

Hey George,

Interesting weekend. Helped wish one of my heroes, the great (not late) Sonny Barger a Happy 75th Birthday by riding 150 miles or so in the Hells Angels (no apostrophe, of course) poker run for the occasion. My second year doing the ride on my 2011 Harley Fat Bob, and this year, it was almost overrun by law enforcement, who don’t seem to know the difference between a gaggle trouble-making metric riders, like the idiots in New York (no Harleys in that crowd) and a pack of Americans riding American-made iron. 

They pulled a few of us over, shadowed the run with at least a dozen marked and unmarked SUVs and took enough pictures to keep Walgreens’ photo department busy for a week, printing them all up. I fully expect to have finally earned my “Known Associate” patch.

What I guess they don’t understand, is that if you see a bunch of American made Harley-Davidson, Victory or Indian scoots surrounding an SUV, one of two things is going on. Either:

A – They are changing a tire or otherwise helping the motorist

B – The SUV is the target of an Amber Alert

But then, come to think of it, with all the ex-military, gun owning (and carrying, like myself) and Christian clubs in attendance, that means a lot of potential terrorists as labeled by the current administration. Maybe they were right to be there!

Sonny Barger’s book “Freedom: Credos from the Road ” is unapologetically conservative and libertarian. Maybe another reason to put him away, again!

Tell you what, though, I love being part of a group where it’s almost expected to be large and unshaven!


Non-current pilot and former aircraft owner

Current 1500 CC motorcycle rider and Harley owner

Ah…Barger’s book.  A pertinent quote from it as a sort of Tuesday morning mood-setter:

“Freedom wasn’t written as a political manifesto, although it might be perceived that way.  Rather, I set out to convey equal contempt for all political parties, law enforcement organizations, and any other organization of institution that tried to control me by separating me from my individual freedom.  In other words: living free as an individual….”

Seems to me THE BIGGEST problem we have in America right now is the proper re-sorting-out of this “freedom” stuff, and Barger’s got a good bead on it, damn –straight better’n most.

American jurisprudence, backed up by the long arm of the law has taken what started off to be a global last refuge for those lusting for personal freedom and turned it, arguably, into something else.

Most of the riders I know have a good sense of this and the brotherhood and sisterhood of the road runs deep.

While it’s fine (indeed necessary) to have some baseline laws so that people don’t kill each other (by driving on the wrong side of the road, for example), we have – as a country – completely forgotten the little details like the purpose of the law was to prevent accidents.

Now, as any rider wonders, if there is no traffic about, what’s the harm (and where’s the offense?) in riding in the opposing lane, provided others are not harmed, as is surely the case when no one else is around, right?

But you see, this is where America becomes a little crazy.  Riders (yeah, even writers like Ures truly) would argue that as long as the intent of the law (prevention of accidents) is observed and respected (the code), we paid for both sides of the road, and so if three or four of us want to do a two-block scramble, then fine, that’s how we roll.

But there is another side to America – the side that not only takes the intent of the law (prevention of accidents) but they magically and tyrannically EXTEND this into an iron-clad, clenched fist LAW with legal penalties.  And therein lays a key learning as to how we have lost our way – and our freedom – in what’s now ‘Merica.

The same sort of thing is true of speed limits, too:  The limits were developed for the purpose of accident reduction and yet now their main function is what?  Revenue enhancement.  But again, if a person (like, uh, me) owns, at some point. a highly capable vehicle, and then chooses to drive it where there are no people around at some higher than posted speed, say double the speed limit, is that really such an affront especially if it doesn’t do any damage to anyone? 

I sold the 930 some years back, since I know the “legal” answer and I knew that Texas’ finest would have a different opinion than mine if I was ever nailed on one of my Sunday sunrise outings for 150 in a 70.

But while the rider in me agrees entirely, there’s still that herd mentality that runs deep in my family – and with it, an almost compulsive desire to obey the laws, even if they are ridiculous.

In fact, my whole family road bikes – my dad and uncle Clifford in particular – during the hard times of the last Depression.  A true story about one of George & Clifford’s rides frames the modern debate over “freedom” perfectly.

Seems they’d gotten off work; I don’t remember where Clifford was working, but my dad was working at a cigar store in Seattle.  It was Saturday night and they decided to get on their bikes (dad’s was an old Indian at the time) and set off to have a steak and eggs breakfast in Spokane, WA.

Now, this was Depression days, and the road they ended up using to get to Spokane was a gravel road.  If you’ve never driven gravel, it’s hard at 15-25 miles per hour, but the waviness smoothens out the faster you go.  If you’re going 45-55, gravel’s no big deal.

So it’s about 4 in the morning out in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Washington, riding this two-lane gravel road, and way up ahead they see a stop sign.

Remember now, the night is clear as a bell, stars are bright, and you could see the loom of a car’s headlights probably 10-miles, or better.

Clifford sailed through the intersection, although he looked for cars as he approached, but no loom was visible.

My dad, on the other hand, diligently applied the brakes, came to a complete stop, put his foot down on the gravel, looked both ways, and then crossed the (totally vacant, no one around for 20-miles) intersection.

Later that morning, as the story goes, Clifford asked “Georgie, are you an idiot?  There was no one around for 20-miles…what in the world did you stop for?

My dad simply answered “Well, the Law says, when you come to a stop sign YOU STOP, which is exactly what I did…

Later in life, as a reporter, I frequented the Public Safety Building in Seattle a fair bit.  On the wall of the building on the 3rd Avenue side was a quote that went to the idea “Happy is he who follows the law…”

Near as I can figure it, a proper American should be able to see both sides of it, at all times.  Should the stop have been made with no one around?

The problems we have today is that not only is everyone begin convicted for failure to stop but we now are making up all kinds of additional reasons to infringe on a persons freedom, including and especially in the warrantless search area.

Even this morning, I argue both sides of the Spokane Ride Stop Sign debate.  Clifford was right – there was no one around, and he’d looked carefully for lights, but why stop.

Pappy’s view (if a person isn’t honest when no one is looking, they aren’t honest at all), he pointed out to me, made driving a whole lot more relaxed, since he didn’t have to work at keeping a sharp eye out for speeding traps and such.

In a perfect country, I suppose, people would generally follow the “Stop at the stop sign, anyway” school.  And then, in event of pure oversight, the rule of Law could show a little mercy and that would be that.

Of course, such reasonableness is not where America is.  No sir, not by a long shot.

Now we have photo enforcement cameras which are mainly to provide jobs (by making the cameras, selling them, etc.), and then padding the coffers of local government for the slightest offense.

By the way, I can also tell you how to build software that will auto-write tickets all day long for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

But the fact I can even conceive of such an F/U’ed approach to making money shows the depths to which we have sunk and the distance over the Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness we’ve gotten.

I haven’t had a moving violation since I was 18 (and that was in a Volkswagen, lol).  So, obviously, I’m one of the stop sign guys.  But only so long as the system is reasonable.

And it’s NOT moving more in that direction here, lately.

I’m just willing to suppose that there are millions of people, like me, who will only keep playing along IF the intent of the law in genuine protection of the greater good.

You see, it’s an open question in my book whether the Affordable Care Act really is affordable,  to name one hot topic in the headlines.

Ultimately, laws in America should, under our founding principles,  be the absolute bare minimum to keep us from hurting someone else.  If we want to hurt our own selves, that ought to be a matter of personal choice, not governmental decree.

Tinker’s Workshop

You might want to read the MIT Technology Review article on OpenRemote just in case you feel compelled to be able to turn on a light in your house while you’re at work.

I mean my idea of a “smart house” would be one that does its own shopping, laundry, and clean-up.  We still have upward potential in this consumer category…

Hi to the Dust Bunnies

All kinds of videos surfacing about “7 Fireballs to Intersect with Earth.”

Just a suggestion, and you’re welcome to hide under the bed if you want, but one of these things actually hitting us is about like trying to shoot a BB with a BB gun at 100-feet, or so.  The graphical displays are always scary until you get down to the detail level and run out probability numbers.

Chasing Down Wujo

A while back I told you about CM’s disappearing phone and a couple of good science-minded questions came in:  One was whether the battery on the phone was dead, while the other wondered if there might be a cat involved…

Hi George,

Thanks for sharing my phone story…

Phone was definitely dead….

No cat but small dog who acts like a cat

Had looked under couch before…..wasn’t there…

Keep them Wujo reports coming in.

Passings: Clancy

I forgot to mention earlier this month the passing of great writer Tom Clancy.  Reader Norman has a thought or two on point:

So, Tom Clancy just died. And now there’s a movie being released, that’s supposedly based on his characters (who were based on real people/events).

While the trailer doesn’t go into too much plot detail, they mention an evil global plan that the hero discovers. He mentions that it involves taking control of Europe first, then Japan, then the US. All “without firing a shot“. Does that sound familiar?

The movie is on our watch list…but it’s all a coincidence, right Norm?  Just a coincidence, right?  Right?  Yah hear me?  Coincidenceright?

Branson Trip: Reader Gathering?

Say, since we’re planning (Robin Landry and I) to do our annual two-day sit down to stare at charts and such, are there any readers in the Branson, MO area who would like to get together with us when we do this?  Just curious –   Also, send in any questions.  We figure to be up there  about next Wednesday to Sunday, or so…