Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Biker Brotherhood

I know I'm opening myself up to serious charges of nerdiness here, but I've been a nerd pretty much all my life, so I'll just plow ahead.

Last year, horrified not only by global warming but by the fact that the oil crisis is the primary cause of our involvement in Iraq, I decided to get a scooter. I believe that the only way to defeat terrorism is to cut off what's important about them, and as soon as we go to electric cars, powered by wind, solar and methane collection, the entire Middle East will be just a sterile desert, and our planet can begin to heal itself. I researched different options, and bought a Genuine Buddy 125 (see photo). It gets 100 miles to the gallon, so I fill up about once a week, and the gas tank holds about 1.5 gallons, so I never spend more than $6 (usually more like $3.50). It also comes with a 2 year warranty and 1 year road-side assistance, which I've never needed, because it has run like a dream ever since I got it. People like to make fun of it, but today, I took it for my first time on the interstate, and clocked 74 miles per hour.

The added benefit I didn't expect was that I would become part of the brotherhood of bikers. If you haven't ridden a motorcycle or scooter before, you probably don't know about this brotherhood. I was surprised at first to see everyone on a bike wave at me as I passed them. The first time it happened, it was a group of Harleys, and I was sure I'd offended them in some way. I kept checking in my rear-view mirror to see if they were following me to beat me up. But it kept happening, and before long, I realized that scooters are also a part of the biker brotherhood. Every time I pass a bike, I get the trademark left-handed wave, sometimes varied as a point or a head nod, especially at stop lights. The only people I've ever passed who don't wave or nod are the people on the rocket bikes whose jackets and helmets match their cycles, usually in black and electric blue or canary yellow. But every Harley rider of every age (the old Hell's angel, the dissatisfied yuppie, the young rebel without a cause) solemnly recognizes my part in the brotherhood, as does every other bike rider out there. It's a completely different experience than you get in a car, which is so isolated. That may be connected to how different riding a bike on the highway is. You are always aware of your surroundings. Even when I listen to my iPod, I am keenly aware of the rhythm of the road, of where every car around me is, of which drivers are paying attention and which ones are not, of whether it looks like rain, or whether the wind picks up on a bridge. This hyper-awareness is something all bikers share, and the wave may be simply a tribute to that common understanding, that no matter the cool factor of the bike, we can admire each other and connect to each other through a common experience.

I've also noticed that my bike is probably the most consistent conversation starter I've ever had. It's typically middle-aged men who catch me in parking lots, to ask about what type of mileage it gets, to complain about oil prices, to reminisce about the days when gas was cheap, and to commiserate about wives who won't let them get the bike they've always dreamed of. There's a type of freedom that comes with the risks a bike entails, and that feedom is apparently quite attractive to men of a certain age. Today, I got in a conversation for about 45 minutes in a parking lot with a man who believes that oil should not cost above $65 a barrel (it passed $145 today), and that the entire gas crisis is a product of speculators - a few Ivy league graduates who have learned how to manipulate the situation. "America doesn't make anything," he fumed, "we just invent ways to get rich off of nothing. Nothing at all. Get rich off of people's fears, off of their stupidity, off of other people's work." Just the simple fact that I was riding a bike made me a confidant to this stranger, and a sort of icon of a way to stick it to the man. I didn't get into the fact that I can't really afford another car right now, and that I'd probably buy the Tesla Roadster if I were rich, rather than this scooter, because I didn't want to spoil his view of the situation. It helped him to have someone to blame, and it helped him to see a different way of approaching the situation, rather than just complaining. He asked me where I got the bike, and I told him, so maybe he'll go check it out. When I told him what part of town it was in (a pretty rough section), he laughed and asked if this is what all the drug dealers are driving now. I don't know, but I certainly am curious about the limo that is always in front of Ed's Seafood and Produce (click on street view on the link - it's even there on google maps!).

I'm rambling now, but while part of the decision to get the bike was a practical one, I'm also quite convinced that it's one minor way to start saving the planet. The number of scooters on the road has more than tripled since I bought mine last year, and I see one every time I ride now, as opposed to seeing one only every month or so when I first bought it. It's definitely tough to ride in the winter, or in the rain, but the weather here has been perfect recently, and I do love the sense of freedom it provides.

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