Well, what shall I write about this month? I am kind of a left-wing liberal, so naturally I want the free and/or easy stuff, the low-hanging fruit… you know what was freer and easier when I got to California in 1988? Time. There was lots more of it then. It was kind of a settled matter that the magazine I worked for would come out monthly, so you knew what you had to do and you did it and the pages got filled. Looking back upon it from today’s 24/7 (ok, it’s more 24/5 or /6 here at MO), it was a remarkably stress-free and pleasantly paced existence most of the time, though we of course complained constantly how overworked and underpaid we were. Come to think of it, there were more than a few late nights when we were on deadline – a thing that really doesn’t happen anymore now that every day is a deadline – but not really a hard deadline since there are no longer any actual presses to stop.

We need to get back to Sedona one of these days.

Oh, the places we’d go when nearly every month involved a three or four-day road test! Sliding down Slide Rock Park in Sedona, Arizona; all the cool places in Utah including Kanab, all up and down California, ducking in and out of Yosemite as needed, Highway 1 up to Monterey, zipping from Eastern Sierra to west coast via I-80 alongside the Central Pacific RR tracks manifest destiny first saw fit to throw over those mountains… if this job involved pushing shopping carts to all those places, it would still be almost as fun. It would just take longer.

Which returns me to point: We had a lot more time then, but we needed every bit of it. Riding a Ducati 750 Paso across Kansas when the national speed limit was 55 mph was an exercise in frustration, and if you thought taking Highway 50, thus avoiding Interstate 70, would be the tricky way to go, you’d be mistaken. I believe the first ticket I got was for 62 in Emporia; then I got another one for I think 63 the next day in Garden City. Attempting to appease the second arresting copper with humor (“I already paid my Kansas speeding tax yesterday, officer.”) only resulted in my having to follow his car to the courthouse, where the Judge insisted I pay my fine in cash. I think it was like $75. There’s nothing humorous about a California smartass on a red Ducati with New Jersey plates.

You again.

It had already been a tough drive when I used to go from Denver to Kansas City in my Chevy Vega wagon, which had to stop for oil more often than gas along that string-straight flat 600-mile route. On a Ducati Paso, it was even worse torture. No motorcycle had cruise control in the early ’90s. If your attention wandered for a few seconds on that featureless prairie, you were doing 80, and it seemed to wander just before every billboard with a traffic cop behind it. I longed for my Army-issue Dodge pickup with the 340 V-8, which could travel at a surprising rate on the German autobahns a few years before.

It wasn’t just Kansas, either (though come to think of it, I didn’t get tickets on the Paso in any of the other states I passed through on the way from Ducati’s NJ HQ to SoCal). All 48 of them were that way (except Montana). Traffic tickets were the toughest occupational hazard we motojournalists faced at a time when the superbike wars were well and truly heating up, thanks to FZR1000s, GSX-R1100s, Kawasaki ZX-11s, etc. I remember defending myself in court one time, explaining to the judge how, as a professional rider, the fact that the GSX-R1100’s front wheel was in the air by no means meant “reckless driving” – more like very skillful driving! That one wound up being two points, exhibition of speed.

I haven’t had a speeding ticket in years now, knock on wood, and not for lack of trying, either. Cruising between 80 and 90 now seems to be the norm. The rest of society’s norms are all right out the window, but I’m down with that as long as I can drive/ride at a reasonable pace without constant fear of being rousted by some authority figure in a ridiculous hat.

This is how low you can go.

When you do get a ticket now, there’s the miracle of online traffic school, where you can wipe the record clean with an hour or two of button-punching from your couch. In the ’90s, it was an entire Saturday suffering through comedians talentless enough to have to teach traffic school.

I think you could only get rid of one ticket per year that way, though, and the others you just had to pay and pay – and hope to keep your points total below four, which was license suspension and loss of employment in my line. If your employer found out, anyway. People were sometimes motivated not to see lights flashing in their mirrors.

Another great user-upper of time was work itself. When I started, it was on an electric (luxury!) typewriter with a piece of carbon paper wedged between two sheets of paper. Two copies! One would get passed up the chain for the Editor to give back to you so you could retype a fresh pair of copies after he’d had his way with it with his pencil. There was a lot of motivation to spell things right and to think about what you were writing for a few seconds before you wrote it. There was a big payoff in organizing one’s thoughts before putting pinhead to paper. You might spend a few days writing a column like this one.

The H2R of typewriters.

Now, I make about 20 typos per sentence and fix what Google Docs underlines in red, and I think you can guess how many days this column is going to take me. Now, the MO staff all word processes and uploads our documents to the cloud, where we can all pick each others’ work apart in real-time, fix mistakes instantly, adjust as needed – and the words are magically ready to insert into MO. Scatter in a few photos and charts, hit PUBLISH, hello world. Done. No trees are killed. There’s no need for us to be in the same place every day.

Information gathering used to take a long time, too. Now, if I want to know the rake and trail or weight of a bike we tested five years ago, I type it into my google search box and have that knowledge tidbit in seconds. Back then, I’d have to go look in the metal Road Test Index box on Robin’s desk, sexually harass her verbally for five or ten minutes (she gave as good as she got, believe me), then it was off into the stacks to find the issue of the magazine that contained that info nugget. Back to my desk, write a few sentences – then remember I also wanted the wheelbase. What issue was that in again? I, I can’t remember… back to Robin’s desk again. Thankfully, the rise of Google hasn’t made ignorance any less popular as a debating tool.

Back in the day, if I wanted, for instance, a photo of a pair of boots for a product review, I had to fill out a form to schedule a time in the Photo Lab, where I’d drop off the boots to be shot by a Professional Photographer. Professional Photographers all love to talk, for some reason, so count on an hour there. A few days later, a manila envelope would show up in my mail slot with proofs (a bunch of photos on one 8 x 10 sheet) of the boots shot from various angles. I’d circle the ones I liked with a grease pencil… no scratch that, I’d seize the opportunity to go flirt with the Art Director to see which boot photos she liked! Then a half-hour later, I’d put the circled proofs back in the manila envelope to send back to the photo lab so they could make 8 x 10 glossies to put in the magazine layout. Now, I just put on the boots and point my phone at my feet. Simulated click! Or even easier, go to the manufacturer’s website and grab a photo.

The whole boot thing, of course, never happened until the whole editorial staff had had a few long meetings to decide whose product would fit in the two pages we had available that month for Products – my boots or Tyrone’s gloves or how about that Swarup deal? Does it really work?

We’ll investigate! And now, the Managing Editor would like to say a few words about commas…

I was going to wrap up with how much I love this modern efficient world, and wondering if it’ll appear archaic in another 30 years, or if the human race has finally maxed out, and we’re about to start rolling back downhill? I know motorcycles can’t get much better from where they are now. But I really don’t have time to ponder any of that, as my iPhone suddenly has refused to power up, and so it’s off to the Apple Store, and here’s an 88-page Powerpoint presentation re: the new Triumph Tiger 1200 I need to familiarize myself with before we make a video of that bike tomorrow. And just in time, look at that word count! Good luck, and keep your motherboard dry.