Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Jack's Harley

I bought this motorcycle out of desperation, sort of. My motorcycle got hit and although the damage to it was primarily cosmetic, by midway through last October I knew it was going to be down for a while – months, not weeks. It turned out to be longer than even my worst nightmare due to an all too real nightmare, but that story is over, it has already been told. This bike is one that I have long admired, long thought, “that’s my kind of style,” but when it came time to plunge into a particular line of Harley Davidsons, it would not be the Softails that I ended up falling in love with. Stylistically, yes, the Softails are sexy, but from a purely mechanical, functional point of view, the touring line of bikes became my future steeds.

So, why this 21-year-old Heritage Softail Special, AKA, “Nostalgia?” Serendipity certainly played a role. I know the prior three owners of this bike – its legacy is well documented. It came up for sale right at the same time my bike was down for an extended count. It belonged to a friend who was fighting cancer with everything he had and he didn’t need a bike in his garage he wouldn’t be riding anytime soon. And it was that bike. It was the one whose looks and stance had me right from the beginning. Add that the bike was a limited production model, had only 26,000-plus miles on the odometer and was, for a 21-year-old bike, in very good condition, it was as though the planets were aligned just so. It was, dare I say,  preordained?

Or maybe not.

I put about 1,500 miles on her, but now that my 2017 Street Glide Special is back on the road, the choice about which bike to ride at any given time is clear - and it’s not this old classic to-be. I told Jack when I bought her that I planned to keep her, and I did mean it. But things change and sometimes those starry-eyed promises cannot so easily be kept. If I had more financial freedom (more money) and if I had more space and if I had more time, she would certainly remain part of my stable. Such is not the case and although I have not yet formally listed her for sale, it is known within our circle of circles of friends that I am looking for a buyer.

In the meantime, Jack was battling his last battle. Sadly, his battle is over and he can rest peacefully now. I don’t really know how such things work, but if there is any kind of ethereal essence that can be aware of anything, Jack would be happy to know that the bike is staying in the family, as it were. I will not have to offer her up for public sale. A former owner and friend to us both will be reuniting with what is becoming “our” bike. The price has not changed, it has and will remained profit neutral – nobody is “coming up.” And Jack, in a very real way, will live on through this bike.

I’m really going to miss Jack. He was an early and prominent presence in my recovery. He was opinionated, obstinate, sometimes abrasive, but he was also one of the kindest and big-hearted men I know. He and that old bike had a lot in common. He touched a lot of lives and, hopefully, he knew that he made a difference. I'm sure he must've. He left an indelible mark on my life and thanks to an odd chain of events, that mark is now associated with the unmistakable lope of an 80 cubic-inch, 1996 Harley Davidson Evolution motor.
Rest in peace, Jack.

Friday, January 12, 2018

An "Ah-Ha" Moment

A little more than 13 years ago, I was rebuilding my life, again. It was not the first time I found myself in the throes of a crisis aftermath, but it turned out to be one with a key difference. This time, I addressed the root of all of my problems. That root was, of course, me. Not all of me, but a key characteristic of what drove me. I had a void in my life that would not be filled with the things that satisfy most people. Success didn’t elude me, but every time I started down that path, I’d find some way to chase it away. The core symptom of it was manifested through an insatiable appetite to alter my consciousness through chemistry. Getting “high” was no longer a passing phase of adolescence, it was no longer “recreational,” it was a full-time job. Indeed, the party was over long before the partying was. I just didn’t know it.

It took me a long time to discover that drugs were the problem. Once there, it took less time to understand that drugs were only a symptom of an underlying condition known as addiction. People view those who cannot “control” their drug use (and in most cases - historically, for sure, but also due to its social acceptance, today as well - the most common drug is alcohol) in different ways. Addiction and its special case, alcoholism, is now considered a disease and while there are those who still view it as a moral failing, an inability to control oneself, the idea that I do not have the power to stop once I start is a good starting place to address this characteristic that has caused me so much trouble. And it comforts me that I am not only not alone, but also that there are means available to treat this disease. That holds true whether or not others believe it to be a disease. It doesn’t matter.

There is a lot of science behind what different substances do to the brain and the nervous system, but that science is not as important as the reality of what my story tells. That story, to those like me, holds numerous familiar themes. The common denominator is an inability to deal with life without resorting to self-medication. As I mentioned, there are a number of treatments, or therapies, that have proven successful, but for anything to work I first had to accept that what I was dealing with was not drug use, but that underlying condition that compelled me to use drugs, often against my own will and counter to my best interests. Getting to that place almost killed me. I am not here to recommend any particular path, and I am not here to say that the way that worked for me is the best way for everyone. I am here to say that if I didn’t do something, I would not be experiencing the success I am today.

I shot this picture just a little while ago. I was in my garage brainstorming what the next steps would be in putting the motorcycle in the middle (the white one) back together. It’s a long story as to why any reassembly of a 2017 Harley Davidson is even necessary, but suffice it to say that the experience has taught me much about how far I’ve come. The fact that not only it, but also my 1996 Harley as well as a 2009 Harley, my youngest son’s, are all parked in my garage just on the other side of the wall from my office, are all things that I came to gradually, things that I can sometimes take for granted. But other times, like just a few minutes ago, it strikes me: My Harleys, my garage, my son riding alongside me, my office… my house. All of these things and so much more - being present for my boys and family, being a productive member of society, not being a sheep - I managed to put together in a relatively short period of time and, truth be told, all are things that I have desired, consciously and not, for a very long time. While it is true that brief periods of success have seen me with some of this stuff, it was always fleeting. This time it’s different.

But the stuff is more than just stuff - it’s more than just my stuff. It is representative of what I am capable of when I stopped chasing that which drove me to have nothing. What came along with that stuff was responsibility, integrity, deep, meaningful relationships, a career that I never dreamed possible, and respect. The really cool part about it is that I am still me. I am still a “non-conformists.” I still take chances. I still travel the path least followed. I am an explorer, a traveler and a seeker, but I do it without the need to alter my consciousness through any artificial means. I took this picture because I was experiencing an “ah-ha” moment, a wave of pure gratitude and the ability to recognize it as such is special. Really special.

I try not to put too much importance on material things - they come and they go. Success is not determined by the stuff I acquire, it is much deeper than that. But there are times when I think of the things I’ve wanted in life, the things I’d do “anything” for and found that I could not do anything to achieve them. When the focus became internal, when the things I strove for were not immediate or tangible, the rest fell into place. I even have an 18-month romantic relationship with a beautiful woman, and we have had exactly zero fights - none, not even a disagreement or cross words. I have always believed that I, like most people, can achieve virtually anything I put my mind to. When I couldn’t, it was always because of someone or something else. As it turns out, it was, but that someone was me and that something else was part of who I am. And it was true, I could achieve virtually anything I put my mind to, but now I have a mind that is clean and clear. It seems to make a big difference.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Before Facebook added its “On This Day” feature, indeed, before Facebook was even a thing, I established an online presence through what has become known as the “blogosphere.” A little more than 12 years ago, I created a blog I titled “The 25 Year Plan.” Although this thing called a “blog” (a hybridized word crafted from “web log”) had been around for a few years prior, the blogosphere concept came about while I was actively blogging. It denotes the idea that blogging was a community. It was actually a community of communities, almost like different circles of friends, each with intersections into other circles of friends, but in virtual space.  Through it I established relationships with people, most of whom, to this day, I have never met in person. It was social media, but it had far more depth than the status updates that are the norm for Facebook. My community consisted primarily of people who wrote, at length, about the things that were going on in their real worlds. It was intimate and it was personal.

I started the blog at the suggestion of one of my journalism professors. He used it to keep his writing “fresh” during the breaks in school, between freelance assignments and to be able to say things that would normally not have any other “public” presence. I was writing quite a lot in those days and the idea that staying with it even when I had no deadline, no requirement to fulfill, no other reason to write than the writing itself was appealing to me. On December 18th, 2005, I published my first blog post. It was aptly titled, “My First Blog Entry - Ever!” complete with an unnecessary exclamation point. That month saw three more blog posts and in the following two years I posted well in excess of 100 posts each. I slowed down somewhat for the next three years (80, 75 and 54, respectively) before dropping down to just a handful each year from then until now. There are a number of reasons why, not the least of which is Facebook’s world domination, but I was also writing for newspapers, for my undergrad classes and, when it came to grad school, much longer and far more complex papers, some of which were published at various academic conferences in my discipline, communication studies.

While Facebook, and its more recent feature, “On This Day,” gives us a snapshot at activity years back, it does not provide the same depth that my blog posts do. Even with my abbreviated blog activity (and I used to maintain a few blogs, only “The 25 Year Plan” is still active), I still find myself inspired to write and post my musings here. Of course, I link them to my Facebook “timeline,” and those links also show up in my yearly archives, but the response I receive from them is seriously limited. Facebook is not the place for longer, detailed posts. It could be, perhaps should be, but it is not. The corner of the blogosphere I lived in has largely been abandoned. Most of those I regularly followed are now abandoned or simply no longer there. My blog “community” is a ghost town. Regardless, and even though I am like most writers in that we write to be read, what drives me to write is not the feedback I might or might not receive. It is nice, but not necessary.

Even with my sparse writing for this blog, I usually do manage to write some sort of year-end reflection. Sometimes it falls at or very near year-end, others it occurs near the beginning of the month on or around my birthday. In 2006, I titled that reflection, “The Year in Review.” In just that one year of writing regularly, I was fully involved in a thriving community of writers - not only was I writing and posting, but I was also reading and commenting on many others’ posts. That entry had 24 comments, most of which were also longer than a standard Facebook post. The next year, “Ringing out the old…” I reflected on another good year. On New Year’s Eve, 2008, I wrote a post titled, “1962 to 2008,” in which I attempted to bring my entire existence into some sort of perspective. In 2009, my year-end post, “Still a Seeker,” spoke to the journey I was, by then, well on my way to. Interestingly enough, I never dreamed it would lead me to where I am now. On December 20th, 2010, I was back visiting Truckee, CA, a small mountain town I once lived in for about five years. That post, “Mountain Song,” opened with a decidedly more poetic paragraph that spoke to the nostalgia I was feeling. For some reason, in 2011, I did not write any sort of personal reflection, but I did write about some things going on in the world that directly related to academia, a world that I was very much part of. The next year, 2012, was a strange one, one in which I had way too much personal shit going on in. I must have shut down, as far as writing here goes; it was a year in which this blog saw just six entries. I got married that year and by the time it was over, for all intents and purposes, that marriage was, too.

My post in 2013, “Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out,” was bitter. It was the year of the fallout. It was not a good year, and I documented what it meant to me. The title of that post was in reference to 2013 - good riddance. In 2014, my post, “Home Again,” was written from a coffee shop near my house. Although it was (and is) still my house, it was not my home. I was living full-time in Baton Rouge trying to finish a PhD at LSU, my house was rented to people I never met. The title was ironic, it was not home anymore. My entry two years ago, “Another Banner Year,” is similar in nature to this one. However, it was the first good year after two exceedingly bad ones (spoiler alert - the years since have also been very good). The last sentence, “This has been a very good year and… 2016 looks like it will be even better,” turned out to be true. Last year, written on the winter solstice was titled, “Winter Solstice.” That post was also a selective chronology of how I got to where I was and the nature of the first word in my blog’s subtitle, “purpose.” It was also the first time I revealed in a very public space that I have been clean from drugs and alcohol for 12 years - I am happy to say that number is now 13 years.

This past year? It was very good. I am in a space now where I feel like I am making a real difference in the world. I am going into the second half of my third year as an adjunct professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento - my alma mater. What I did for a part-time job as a graduate student is now what I do all the time. And, once again, I am on winter break. I got past that ill-advised marriage and subsequent divorce and have found a relationship with a girl who is more than I could have hoped for. My immediate family, all things considered, is hanging in there and while there are some things to deal with in the coming months, we will deal with them. The coming year will be filled with challenges, however, there is every reason to be optimistic and, a year from now I hope to be writing, once again, that it was another great year.


Saturday, December 23, 2017


On September 29th - almost three months ago, I was rear-ended by a moron riding a 2002 Honda VTX1800. The impact on my right saddle bag and exhaust was strong enough to shatter my right saddle bag, lid and shove my exhaust forward about a quarter inch, breaking its mounting point. It also propelled me into my son riding his new 2016 Sportster Roadster. His bike had a little more than 3,000 miles on it, my (almost to the day) one-year old 2017 had about 21,000 miles on it (yes, his 2016 was newer than my 2017). The impact of my front wheel/fender/crash bar/fairing/turn signal (they all had damage) was enough to put him into a slide which high-sided him when it instantaneously corrected. He went left, the Sportster went down on its right side. I managed to keep my bike upright, but dropped it as soon as I stopped (maybe not quite stopped) because I saw my son go down and things like kick stands don't seem too important in those few seconds of not knowing if he was hurt or not.

He was fine. He had minor road rash, but otherwise no injuries. I was fine, too, no injuries at all. The other guy was not fine, he had non-life-threatening injuries (busted shoulder? collarbone? something like that). At the time I had some empathy for him, but now, almost three months later with every new headache and delay - some his fault due to not only his negligence, but also his minimal insurance coverage, and some not his direct responsibility except that he caused it all in the first place - the more time that has passed and with every new twist... I hope it still hurts. I hope it cost him his bike. I hope he never rides again - for his safety as well as ours.

But I digress. Since my son and I both have full coverage that greatly exceeds the state mandatory minimums, we were covered. The estimate on my bike was right about $10,000. The estimate on my son's bike was almost $7,000. Both bikes could have been fixed and looking good for less because not every little thing had to be restored to new condition. The money saved on, say, a minor scratch on the fork tube (replacement = hundreds of dollars, a back Sharpie costs much less) could be used for something else. Our local dealer won't do that, but the independents will; my friend owned a shop that could do both bikes the way we wanted them done. However, my son’s insurance company decided that $6,900 was too much to spend on an $11,500 bike and, after fighting them for two or three weeks, they totaled it. They ended up paying the shop more than $1,000 in estimate and storage fees and took the bike away. It was not cost-neutral for my son, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the worst outcome.

Because my bike cost almost three times as much, it was not totaled. The insurance company had a $9,978 check made out to me and the shop about a month after the wreck. Then we ordered parts, the first were the custom rear fender, saddle bags and one lid, painted to match, from Bad Dad. The lead-time on those parts, because we were having them do the paint, was about a month. Other parts would be ordered as needed because the lead-time was shorter, but the new two-into-one exhaust and front fender were supposed to have been on order as well. Just about a month later, I got word that the owner had committed suicide. No one, at least no one I knew, saw it coming. It’s sad. While not among his closest friends, Dennis was my friend and it saddens me that he would choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But it also left me in a very precarious position and the end result, while not absolute yet, looks like I will have lost more than half that nearly $10,000 check.

It also meant that I would have to finish acquiring parts and complete the build myself. I needed a front fender, exhaust and some minor body work done on the outer fairing. Then both the fairing and front fender had to be painted. I also had to get my garage squared away - it has been a very long time since I have done anything remotely resembling major work in there. It was a long overdue project that is now done. In the end, putting my bike together cost me about 15 hours of labor, much of that is longer than normal due to a learning curve for certain tasks I was not familiar with - others I have done before, but they are just time consuming. It also cost me around $2,500 out of pocket to cover what was not ordered, but already paid for. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the paint to get in before the painter could shoot the outer fairing and front fender. And during the two-day reassembly process, I was frustrated to the point of trading her in more than once - of just saying, “fuck this!”

But she ultimately came together beautifully. There are only a couple of things I’d like to revisit, but they are not critical and, more importantly, they are not preventing me from riding this gorgeous Street Glide (very) Special. The name of the shop was (because it no longer “is,” it died with Dennis) V Dawg Cycles. Dennis was in business for more than seven years and worked on all of my bikes at one point or another. This one was going to be different, this one was going to be a V Dawg build. I guess in a way, it still is. It is, in a way, a tribute to a man I had a lot of respect for, even if the end was more than a little off-putting. Suicide is generally a tough thing for those left to deal with and in this case, it left me with that and a large sum of money that disappeared into thin air.

I haven’t ridden much or far since finishing her up yesterday, but I can say that it was just like old-times, but better. She runs better, looks way better and now, there is not another Street Glide anywhere that is just like this one. We ride Harleys and other similar bikes for a lot of reasons, among them is that they are an extension of our creativity, our individuality, and, in part, of our identities. A Harley commercial a few years ago finished with, “What you ride says a lot about who you are.” Who I am is not easy to nail down - just like this build. It was messy. It was complicated. It was frustrating. And it still all came together. Just like me.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Malcom and Slash

Last night I was fortunate enough to be gifted two tickets to see one of the latter iconic bands of my youth, Guns N’ Roses. The GNR story is, in many ways, typical of the excesses of the time. They hit hard and flamed out almost as fast. In less than 10 years they went from the very top of the hard rock world to non-existent. They came and went, flashed in the news and went away for years until just last year, guitarist Slash returned to the band and their current tour, “Not in this Lifetime” took off. The Sacramento date was announced a while ago - I knew they were coming. I saw them back in their heyday. I was good. Pass. My girlfriend and I went to a lot of concerts this year, we were pretty sure we’d seen it all. And, it was GNR - not exactly on the top of my “must see” list. So… the seats were good, it was free and we had no other plans last night; with about a day’s notice we placed another concert on the agenda, thanks to an old and dear friend.

Also, yesterday, one of my very early rock icons passed away. Malcom Young, AC/DC’s driving and creative force died way too soon at 64 years-old. Those who are less familiar with the band might be tempted to say that his younger brother Angus was the leader, or maybe lead singer Brian Johnson (after original lead vocalist Bon Scott died tragically in 1980) was the driving force. While all played their roles, and while both brothers received writing credit for all those timeless hits, Malcom was the glue, the driving force behind AC/DC. The tweets coming from so many in the music business acknowledge that very fact and how, because of his song-writing, the loss is that much greater. Slash and the rest of the members of GNR dedicated Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” to Malcom Young, but they did more than that. They inserted AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” into their set last while an image of Malcom Young was displayed bigger-than-life on the screen behind the stage.

I never saw AC/DC after Bon Scott died. While I fully acknowledge what Brian Johnson brought to the bad, and I recognize the iconic hits that were created with his vocals as just that - real, classic, rock - I was just too connected to Bon Scott as the voice of AC/DC. I could not let that go. A lot of rock stars - my heroes - have passed in the many years since I came of age. Some died due to their own excesses, their hubris; others, like Malcom Young, died due to more natural causes, even if those causes came at an unnaturally young age. There have been many, far too many to name, but Bon Scott hit me like none other until just recently when Tom Petty died of cardiac arrest, also young at 66 years old. However, I did see AC/DC twice in 1979 and I remember it like it was yesterday. Every one of AC/DC’s early albums, up to and including the first two Brian Johnson albums, are on my iPod, always on whatever playlist I have going.

Guns N’ Roses were never what so many other bands were (or are) to me. I wasn’t too concerned about missing the show. It just didn’t really matter to me, especially since the last concert I saw was at the same venue - and that was none other than Tom Petty just a couple of weeks before he died. I like GNR, I liked them enough to see them in their heyday, but my expectations last night were not high. I was blown away. They were tight, the musicianship was better than it was 30 years ago and Axl Rose, whose excesses are (or were) the stuff of legend, belted out his lyrics like a man half his age. All told, the band played a three-and-a-half-hour set - straight through without a break. And, to be clear, with three original members (Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagen), this is Guns N’ Roses, despite additional or new personnel. Too many “classic” touring bands have just one or no original members. I was impressed, and after all the performances I’ve seen this year, that is saying something.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

It's Been Real, It's Been Nice, But it Hasn't Been Real Nice

My 17-year love/hate relationship with AT&T is almost over. I just ported the last phone left on that account over to Verizon; now the number that I've had for more than 10 years is back online. All that is left is a lonely iPad Mini, and it will be disconnected in a week when this current billing cycle comes to an end. Of course, AT&T had a lovely parting gift for me - more of the incompetence I have come to expect from them. But the truth is the wheels were already in motion, this decision was made months ago. This is just the end of the end.

However, from a customer service, technical competence/incompetence perspective, Verizon's performance has not been stellar. In fact, it has been - in just three months - a microcosm of AT&T's. I am not impressed. I didn't move because I figured they would embrace my business or my money with any more enthusiasm than AT&T did. I moved my service because of physics. The technology that CDMA networks use (Verizon, Sprint, Xfinity, etc.) has a larger cellular footprint than GSM networks (AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) do. For AT&T to have the same coverage as Verizon, they would have to have more towers, more cellular sites. In urban areas, it's not an issue. In rural areas, it is. Guess where I ride my bike - a lot?

My history with AT&T predates this particular entity which is now called AT&T. The last piece of the once mighty AT&T that still bore the name was AT&T Wireless, a competitor of Cingular. Cingular was a joint venture of two of the "Baby Bells," SBC and Bell South. Both of those two companies, once only regional phone companies after AT&T's break-up, were swallowing up smaller local systems and expanding. SBC was the parent company of both Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell - each with its own new-at-the-time GSM cell service. SBC finally bought Bell South and then AT&T wireless, thus owning the AT&T name. It also ended what was left of the original AT&T.

The coagulation of the CDMA networks was similar, but since I was not working with them as a dealer, my knowledge is less extensive. Dealer? Yes, I activated my own Pac Bell Wireless account way back sometime in 1999 or 2000 - my "comp code" was SA-151. The company I worked for, Cellcom International, was a chain of Pac Bell Wireless/Nevada Bell Wireless turned Cingular stores in the Reno/Tahoe/Truckee area. I ran the Truckee store. When I started, text messaging was a brand-new thing, but the GSM technology in Europe was way ahead of the Johnny-come-lately United States. However, because of that, I was able to find some of their software and adapted it for our benefit. We were doing things with our phones that no one else in the US was doing. It was a geek fest to be sure, but it was one of the best, most fun jobs I ever had. My boss and the owner were über-cool and allowed me the freedom to fuck around with the phones in ways that produced some of what we take for granted now - things like custom ring-tones and screen images.

Verizon is what Cellular One, GTE Mobilnet and others became. They were based on the new-at-the-time CDMA technology developed by Qualcom. While it was GSM that most of the rest of the world adopted, CDMA has a serious foothold in the US - and it has some advantages (and some disadvantages) when compared to GSM. GSM is, in fact, the world standard, but the CDMA market in the US is huge and it’s not going anywhere. It’s also not compatible with GSM - the two technologies don’t “talk” to each other. Some phones have both technologies built in. For instance, all Apple iPhones from the 7-series up are built in two versions. A GSM only version like the one sold through AT&T - it is Apple’s “world phone” because it works on all GSM networks worldwide. They build many more of it than they do the CDMA version that is for the US only. However, that version also works with GSM networks. In simpler terms, a Verizon iPhone will work with an AT&T SIM chip, but an AT&T iPhone will not work with a Verizon SIM chip. Trust me, I learned that the expensive way.

All of this history doesn’t change the fact that way back when I was selling phones, it wasn’t really the phone or the tech I was selling. I was selling service. When my customers had an issue, they knew they could come to me to solve it. And I always did. When GSM was new in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, the coverage was not as good as the competition, all of whom could access the old analog cellular system. We could not, we were digital only and while that gave us a serious technological advantage, we had a major infrastructure disadvantage. Yet I blew away my quota (usually double what was expected) every month. It wasn’t the phones or the system that I was selling. I was selling service and, unfortunately, the bigger these companies get, the less they care about us.