Lead photo (above): The flower of North American motojournalism ponders the fate of the world in the Munich Hofbrauhaus.
Not many weeks go by without at least one person telling me and my compadres we have the greatest job in the world. I mostly agree, but there are a few caveats. Even the most exciting career has its share of drudgery (and drudges) that can drag you down over the years, and most of those careers compensate the sufferer more than “motorcycle journalism” (keep a straight face) does.
Maybe my problem is I feel like I don’t suffer enough? As a backsliding Catholic, deep inside I feel like I deserve more penance, like I should’ve gone into a line of work that gave something back to the world. I mean, we motojournalists do give something back, but it’s not really of much use to the oppressed and downtrodden, is it? Lately, I don’t afflict the comfortable nearly as much as I comfort the affluent, helping them make sure they don’t buy the wrong $20K motorcycle. Why didn’t I become a real journalist, exposing the use of asbestos in Chinese baby formula or blowing the lid off Obama’s White House electricity bill? The man runs the air conditioning all the time!
Then again, you could look at it from the Hippocratic Oath side: At least we’re doing no harm, far as we know – unlike so many of the idiots who run the world. (Dick Cheney likely would’ve made a fine cable company executive, in which case a lot of dead people might still be alive.) We usually try to promote safe motorcycling, but God knows people are going to ride the things with or without our encouragement.
How did I fail so successfully upward? I blame the Educational System. I always liked to read, and I think a lot of us were exposed to The Great Gatsby at too early an age and wound up being underachievers as a result. What? You can work your way to the top, have great parties every night in your huge mansion and still be unhappy over some crazy dame, then wind up getting plugged in your own pool? Then why bother?
In the late ’70s, the best reading material was coming out of Vietnam, including Michael Herr’s Dispatches, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, etc. Naturally I wound up joining the Army, a pretty unfashionable thing to do five years after the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam. But any excitement would be better than the none at all I was having at the time, and I already knew exactly how to deal with the military because I’d already read Catch-22. There couldn’t have been a better manual for the Army or for life, as far as I’m concerned. The only difference is that real life is a little more absurd than Joseph Heller’s masterwork, and contemporary real-life characters combine more malevolence with their incompetence.
What got me on this tangent was watching PBS Newshour the other evening, with some veteran foreign correspondent reporting from the Middle East while rockets flew past in the background and buildings exploded. Business as usual. The reporter must’ve been about my age, mid-50s, but with a thousand-yard stare and bags under his eyes that made him look old beyond his years and got me thinking: That guy must’ve started out covering wars about the same time Phil Schilling handed me the keys to an FZR400 at Cycle magazine. But all that guy’s witnessed is 25 years of death and destruction, broken promises and treachery – and a large part of those 25 years must’ve been spent in hellholes where you can’t even get a decent California roll.
I’ve seen my share of broken promises and treachery in this business, too, but not nearly as many blown-up bodies. Most of what I’ve been exposed to is the opposite of destruction – the progress made in the two-wheeled world by some of the brightest engineers and designers in the world, the celebration of life that is riding around on their newest babies in some of the most beautiful parts of the planet. Our Middle-East correspondent has seen the same thing in a far more sinister way; the rockets and bullets have gotten way more accurate over the years. Does he wish he’d been a carnie or vacuum cleaner salesman or motojournalist – or does he think peace might yet prevail?
Usually when the nightly Middle-East violence segment is airing, which it has done every night since they invented the cathode-ray tube, I take the opportunity to throw the supper dishes in the trash or stroll out on the front porch in case the new blondie down the street is walking her dog. Lately I wonder if they’d quit fighting if we turned the cameras away?
When you get to be my age, all clichés make perfect sense, including “life’s too short.” It’s an ongoing tragedy, and I’m partially to blame since I do pay taxes and like my gasoline. I decided a while ago the real problem is that most people just like to fight. Personally, four years in the Army and 15 of marriage taught me I prefer a cheap Shiraz and a good book, maybe a little Mozart. I’ve paid my debt to society. (Should it come down to a scrap between Hamas and my ex, my money is on my ex.)
I did pay it forward at least once though, when I waved a sweet and impressionable kid away from the advertising business, where I found myself mired for a while in between “motojournalist” jobs (just the word “motojournalist” makes me giggle). She was earnest and stressed and had never read Catch-22. Run for your life, I counseled her, do something with your life you’ll be proud of later. Now, she’s a public defender, and e-mailed me that after winning her latest case last week, the jurors told her that being part of the trial, and finding her client not guilty, made them proud to be Americans and restored their faith in the judicial system. I have gotten some fan mail that’s really warmed my cockles, but I’ll never get that kind of job satisfaction. I am so proud.
As for those of you who want to follow in my footsteps in the motojurnalism business (!), let me just counsel you that you’ll never get here like she got there – through hard work, perseverance and brainpower. Oh no. What you want is plenty of good reading material and lowered expectations (except when it comes to motorcycles). A giant chunk of luck falling in your lap helps tremendously.
Okay, thanks for hearing me out. I think maybe I do have the best job in the world, especially now that I’m back working for MO. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it feels like time for a ride down to the beach. El Nino is here. The water’s nice and warm.