Lead image: Sara Ray Art

I think one of the tenets of the American Middle Class is that we all want our kids to have a better life than we did, but now that my son has one I’m pretty jealous. He has a really cute, charming and even intelligent girlfriend who goes to the U. of Santa Barbara, like 120 miles up the California coast from us. When I was growing up in the midwest, Santa Barbara was a soap opera, 1500 miles removed from me literally and about 10 million miles figuratively. To go visit little Chelsea this afternoon, my son’s transpo options include a brand new BMW S1000R, my swell-beyond-its-$5K price tag old Jaguar XJ6, or the Amtrak Surfliner – with club car and free wi-fi. I love trains.

To visit my cute, nice, charming, intelligent GF (if I’d had one, the theoretical equivalent would’ve been in Lawrence, Kansas) at his age, my options included a rustbucket `75 Nova with the inline-Six, LPC (leather personnel carriers), or thumb.

I talked him into the train even though he really wanted to take the BMW. Motorcycles are dangerous. He’s already a good and careful rider at 23, but I worry about him in that nasty old LA traffic. With all the random death around lately, I wonder if there’s a way to just turn the worry off. A better idea seems to be to encourage your loved ones to just grab all the gusto they can, Schlitz-commercial style, and hope for the best.

The MO crew was at a track day last Friday at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, about to pull onto the track to do some four-bike formation flying for the videographer, when we couldn’t find Sean Alexander. Where did he go? Riding back toward our pit, we found a big group of people trying to resuscitate a guy who’d fallen over in the parking lot, with Sean, who’s had medical training, right in the middle taking charge. The ambulance that every decent track day provider has standing by was right there immediately, too, and they got the guy out of his leathers, onto the gurney, and on his way to the hospital pronto.

What happened to him, I asked Sean, seizure maybe? No. Apparently he’d just pulled in off the track and was texting in the seat of his pickup. When he stood back up, maybe he stood up too fast in the heat (it was 100 degrees), passed out, and struck his forehead on the pavement.

I assumed he’d be fine, in spite of Sean giving him a 2% chance, just because it’s inconceivable you could be riding a motorcycle around a racetrack one minute and dead the next from falling down in the pits. He died on the way to the hospital. Melvin Salvador was his name, a 39-year old ex-Marine Iraq vet with a wife, two kids and two well-loved dogs he’d brought to the track with him. An hour before, I’d nodded and waved to him and them sitting under his EZ-Up, on my way to the bathroom.

Sorry, pup, Daddy’s not coming back.

That deal definitely put a damper on the rest of the day, but we pulled out of it because we were riding super naked bikes around Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, which sort of requires your undivided attention, and because well, hey, that could never happen to me. Well, of course it could but you delude yourself it won’t because it hasn’t yet. Here is one good take-away from Sean: If you’re ever feeling faint, just sit down wherever you are. Don’t be embarrassed if it’s in the middle of a crowded sidewalk.

When you think about all the silly terrible things that happen to people off their motorcycles, it almost makes me think I’m safer on mine than off it. There went Nicky Hayden last May, who survived what, 30 years of racing motorcycles at the highest level with barely a scratch? Taken out by a car while riding his bicycle. Bicycles are the devil, really. A few years ago, a competitive mountain biker pedalling through Whiting Ranch, here in beautiful Orange County, was killed by a mountain lion. My friend Downhill Danny, a super-competitive action sports guy, turned his head to look back for a friend while riding his mountain bike, hit a rock wrong, and has been a quadriplegic for the last decade.

Are other sports safer? A quick Googling uncovers:

Dick Wertheim was an American tennis linesman who suffered a fatal injury on 10 September 1983, during a match at the 1983 US Open. Stefan Edberg sent an errant serve directly into his groin. Wertheim had been sitting in a chair and officiating at the center line when the blow knocked him backward. He fell out of the chair and onto the hardcourt surface, striking his head.

Jeremy Brenno, 16, of Gloversville, New York, was killed on a golf course when, frustrated by missing a shot, he purposely struck a bench with a 3-wood golf club. The shaft broke, bounced back at him, and pierced his heart (1994).

Jose Luis Ochoa, 35, died after being stabbed in the leg at an illegal cockfight in Tulare County, California, by one of the birds that had a knife-like spur strapped to its leg (2011).

David Grundman was killed near Lake Pleasant, Arizona, U.S., while shooting at cacti with his shotgun. After he fired several shots at a 26-foot tall Saguaro Cactus from extremely close range, a four-foot limb of the cactus detached and fell on him, crushing him (1982).

Speaking of shooting: Concerts and nightclubs – pretty much all social gatherings – are suddenly better things to avoid than ever. The death toll at this week’s Las Vegas shooting stands at 59 as I write this, breaking the record of 50 killed by Omar Mateen last year in a Miami nightclub. And the statistics say you’re really not so safe in your own house, especially if there are guns in it: See Marvin Gaye, et al. Then there’s fire, like the Station Nightclub one that killed 100, and the Ghost Ship one in Oakland last year.

The list goes on and on. Life is probably less dangerous than ever, but it really doesn’t seem that way. I was happy to drop my kid at the Amtrak station, but trains aren’t exactly immune from calamity, either. An Amtrak crash in Chatsworth, California, nine years ago killed 25 passengers. (The engineer was texting and missed a signal.)

What’s my point? I really have no idea, but look! One thousand words is a legitimate Whatever column! If your parents were like mine: No motorcycles while you live under this roof!, maybe you have some good fodder here to convince them otherwise, and maybe that’s important now since I read the other day that living with parents is the most common situation for people aged 18 to 34. Sad. You need a motorcycle escape if you’re living with the folks.

They are dangerous, but motorcycles also teach us how to minimize risk and live better lives if we’re smart. Wear a helmet. Practice constant situational awareness. Keep your wits about you and be prepared to low crawl. Maybe most importantly: Enjoy your life. And rest in peace, Mel Salvador.

  • Starmag

    Don’t fear the Reaper. In the mean time, More cowbell !

  • Old MOron

    Considering all that’s happened, I can see why you wanted Ryan on the train.
    Rest in peace, Mel Salvador.

  • Alan G

    christopher walken cowbell

  • Goose

    I just had a death in my immediate family. Not as sudden as Mr. Salvador but still pretty jarring.

    Well said Mr. Burns.

  • Gabriel Owens

    It was going really good till the end. I was expecting some kind of transcendent profundity that only an old MO guru could espouse. The gun just kinda ran dry. But all in all. Very good read.

    R.i.p Mr. Salvador. At least you died doing what you loved.

    • The end of the story was fitting, given the nature of our existence. Sometimes it just stops.

      • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

        all too true,Sean! i rode from the time i was 11(’56 Cushman Eagle)in ’64,now i AM 64 and i am going to take it up again,probably cross country(mostly on the highway) because if i don’t do it now i probably never will

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Good for you!

      • Gabriel Owens

        Their. Thats what I was seeking.

      • BDan75

        See The Sopranos, last episode.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    I convinced my wife it was acceptable for me to ride a motorcycle (she married me during a brief intermission in my riding and was surprised when I wanted to resume), by telling her the true story of a woman in her family wagon cruising solo along the 101 minding her own business, when a CalTrans flatbed parked on a service slip broke free and rolled into traffic, pinning her in car against the center divider, at which her car burst into flames; and that was the bad, very final end to her ordinary day. I explained that since you can be killed while doing something so safely ordinary and boring, then I should be excused for taking a bit more risk and having some fun. The ploy worked.

    There isn’t anyplace you can go these days without some risk; heck we carry risk within us, witness Tom Petty (is it too soon to point out the irony of his band’s name?). Might as well grab that gusto while we can.

    Good, thoughtful ‘Whatever!’, John

    • SerSamsquamsh

      When People say “Riding is dangerous!” I say, “Sure. Why do you think driving is safe at all? You can’t be trapped in a burning motorcycle.”

      Health, happiness and a good death.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        Motorcycles usually throw you off. If you are wearing proper gear, you will survive in most cases, unless a car hits you.

        • SerSamsquamsh

          Directly into oncoming traffic in my case. I think some of the “crash barriers” along roadsides are designed specifically to kill cyclists.

          • Gruf Rude

            Armco barriers are bad news and the cable barriers along I-25 around here are not much better. Of course, delimiter posts are plenty tough enough to kill you if you sail into one at 50MPH or so . . . There’s probably a reason that you are 35 times as likely to be killed on a motorcycle as in an auto.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Riding motorcycles makes you more alert and aware of your surroundings and keeps your brain active. No motorcyclists with Alzheimer’s.

    • Gruf Rude

      Having lost a mother to Alzheimer’s, I’ll agree: No motorcyclist who rides after the onset survives . . .

  • Craig Hoffman

    I handle injury claims, had a case one time that involved an accidental death at a golf course. The decedent was a passenger in a golf cart driven by my insured, and stepped out as the cart was coming to a stop. He slipped on the cart path, fell backwards and hit is head, causing death from a depressed skull fracture. We are a lot less durable than we think. One wrong hit to the head and it is lights out.

    The trick seems to be to recognize our fragility, but not let that recognition paralyze us into becoming couch dwelling safety Nazis, as that is not living.

    As for me, I will continue to haul ass between the trees on my dirt bike. Been doing it for 40 years, that does not mean something can’t go wrong tomorrow, but it does mean that at least so far I have stayed focused and safely within my limits, and I have lived. Oh ya, I have lived. 🙂

    Great article JB!

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Everyone should be required to wear helmets, whether riding a motorcycle or not. Many of these head injury deaths could have been avoided.

      • Paul Risberg

        We are all wearing helmets, two in fact. the first line of defense is the skull, the second the skin on it. I always wear an additional helmet on any kind of motorcycle, almost always when skiing, and usually when on a bicycle, and never in a bar. I draw the line at a bar, sorry, Sayyed.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          When you are walking out of the bar is when you need the helmet.

  • John B.

    On average, we live longer and more healthy lives than our ancestors, which is wonderful. I do not believe, however, discovering carnal knowledge in a late model 7-Series BMW is any better than discovering it in a 1973 Ford LTD station wagon; not that I would know. Moreover, I’m firmly convinced smartphones have destroyed romance as we (tail-end) baby boomers know it.

    I’m grateful to have lived long enough to get my children into (quasi) adulthood, and view everything from here on out as bonus time. I spend zero time worrying about homicidal maniacs, errant golf club shanks, and/or vindictive razor-clad cocks.

    Motorcycling does not allow one to be ambivalent about life. While riding, you either do what it takes to stay alive, or you die. This life affirming choice is very healthy; especially for those of us who have already passed many of life’s milestones. When on my motorcycle, especially in the middle of nowhere, I am keenly aware of just how much I want to live, and that’s awesome.

    • dbwindhorst

      Not to mention, Golf Club Shanks is a good band/blues/hip-hop name.

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    i know what the author means about bicycles.My feeling about motorcycles is kind of Darwin-or to paraphrase,there are old bikers,and bold bikers,but no old,bold bikers! this isn’t quite true,of course,no truism ever is,but situational awareness is something i have to a greater degree on a motorcycle than anything else,including driving a cage

    • dbwindhorst

      I’ve been riding motorcycles for 50 years, and have also done a few hundred-K miles on bicycles (and, now, recumbent trikes) that includes a decade of racing. Have incurred waaaay more injury, both in number and severity, while pedaling — most due to the inability to escape belligerent/clueless dogs.

      • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

        i hear you! we have a little park in town with a duck pond,on the way down to the pond i hit a spot in the road with tree roots growing under the pavement and hit the binders(on my 10 speed i forgot to mention) and did a triple endo! road rash all down my back nary a scratch on the Huffy!

  • blansky

    You live til you die. Worrying about it is futile.

    I’m glad I never had kids because it’s a life constantly lived in fear. I’m sure lots of upside, but that nagging fear non the less.

    • Paul Risberg

      not to burden you at this point, but kids are like stars in the sky, literally. Unknowable and mysterious, ever present, built from your guts. It’s pretty cool. Maybe I should have been afraid, but it was always so fleeting, overpowered by the joy.

  • Glen

    I think it was orlando, not Miami…lest we forget

  • GreggJ

    Great article and outstanding artwork from Sara Ray!! I love that lead drawing!

    • Sayyed Bashir

      What red-blooded American biker wouldn’t? I couldn’t find it on her website.

      • Gruf Rude

        Not sure why skulls and Nazi-era German helmets and military symbols became American biker iconography. Anyone out there done any research on the link?
        Sayyed, the lead print, “Wheels of Fortune” is on her website: https://www.etsy.com/listing/57034524/wheels-of-fortune-11-x-17-print?ref=shop_home_active_24

        • GreggJ

          Good question! I’ve wondered about that too.

          Although I have a seen a lot WW II German type helmets on Bikers, the helmet in the drawing is technically a WWI era helmet

          However, no piece of military headgear more exemplifies a nation or an age than the Pickelhaube, or spiked helmet. … The original helmet design adopted by the state of Prussia in 1842 eventually became the standard headgear for the Imperial German Army from the mid-1800s through the outbreak of WWI.
          http://militaryhistorynow.com/2012/05/27/a-brief-history-of-german-army-helmets/

        • Sayyed Bashir

          The first bikers in the U.S. were the soldiers who returned from WW1 and 2 and couldn’t fit back into normal society. That’s why there is also a lot of imagery from WW2 warplanes because bikes were the nearest thing to flying an airplane. For example ‘the Hell’s Angels name was suggested by Arvid Olsen, an associate of the founders, who had served in the Flying Tigers’ “Hell’s Angels” squadron in China during World War II’ (Wikipedia).
          Thank you. I found the print after I posted the comment. It says it is shipped from the United States but the price is in £. Can’t find it on a U.S. website.

  • JMDGT

    It is easy to say live everyday like it is your last but it is not an easy thing to do. When I was young and lived in Houston back in the eighties I rode my bicycle a hundred miles a week in some of the busiest traffic on the planet. To compound things I also rode my old CB750 in that very same traffic. I never thought once about getting hurt or killed. Being older now I find that I ride and drive much more carefully than I did back then. Hardly a guarantee. Keep your heads up and your helmets on. Do the best you can. Treat everyone with kindness and respect.Tolerate no fools. Always stand up for yourself. No one knows how much time they have left. Make the best of what you have.

  • Jason M.

    We live. We die. Just have fun in the interim.
    And don’t have kids, they eat into your riding time.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Once they grow up, you have plenty of time.

      • Gee S

        …and if the gods are on your side, and you do everything absolutely right, then you can go riding with them.

        https://rollingphysicsproblem.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/joes/

        • Gruf Rude

          Indeed, I’ve had some great rides with my son. Then he became a father and sold his bikes . . .

        • Paul Risberg

          I would say, that riding and working on both street and dirt bikes with my son, 24, who we had the profound wisdom to give a PW80 when he was 11, is the absolute highlight of my life. Not to brag, but I have done a lot of cool shit, and nothing is even close.

  • Ajit Menon

    I tell my parents the same things whenever they try to dissuade me from going on a road trip 😀

  • sgray44444

    One thing is for sure: Nobody gets out alive!

  • John A. Stockman

    Always great stuff JB. My personal experiences have been related. I was fortunate to grow up in a family of accomplished riders and racers, going back to the board track days. I had an insidious condition brewing inside my genetic make-up (one where my immune system attacked the collagen component in my joint cartilage), and it presented itself around the age of 9; the same year I was able to get my first little dirt bike. I noticed at first I had trouble getting my legs apart enough to straddle the seat, not able to bend my knees to get on the ‘pegs. It progressed rapidly and by the age of 14, my spine and both hip joints had fused. No motorcycles were my future, in an entire family that rode their own bikes, grandpas, grandmas, great aunts/uncles, etc. 12 years of atrophying muscles, and joint range-of-motion down to about 10-15% of normal. I had a secret dream to somehow ride again, but doctors and other medical pros told me I was a total idiot, Didn’t I know motorcycles kill/maim people? Severely disabled and you want to do WHAT? In 1980, I found out about these total hip replacements. Doctors said it was an old person’s surgery, not for a 22 year old with all my issues. I only found a surgeon who would do these procedures because I did not tell them what my goal was. If I had wanted to play some ball sport, run a marathon or climb a mountain, they would’ve been falling over each other to help me. Ride a motorcycle? NOT WORTHY. Back then those procedures were 7-8 hours each. I endured 3 total hip surgeries in 3 years, as the first one failed, had to be re-done. I had a total of 6 hip replacements between 1980 and 1993, the final two because a cement-less implant was developed, which stopped the old cemented-in ones having to be re-done when the cement deteriorated. Oh, the incredibly painful and difficult physical therapy 3 times a week for years to get atrophied muscles working again. I got my first motorcycle in May 1983. I threw away those crutches I used for 12 years in a private ceremony because friends did not approve. My wonderful grandfather who taught me my ride craft and many other life/motorcycle lessons, and was very supportive of my dream, died of pancreatic cancer 2 months before I got that first bike. I could go on about how much being able to ride meant to me, but it improved every aspect of my life, self image, confidence, outlook on life in general. Logged 350,000+ miles on the street bikes I’ve owned, plus many more off road. Yes, I could’ve died, we all will. I can confidently say “motorcycling saved my life.” I have kept this all to myself for decades, but my niece encouraged me to relate it to others about 7 years ago. So apologies to those that are hearing about it once again. I have an amazing life thanks to motorcycles and those that ride them, which means many thanks to all of you!

    • john burns

      Amazing story, Mr S.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Wonderful story John. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the good health we have and the ability to do everything and enjoy life. You have come a long way and deserve every bit of happiness.

    • Craig Hoffman

      Can’t keep a real motorcycle rider down. What a wonderful story! Happy for you.

  • Joe Gresh

    Won’t happen to me, I’m gonna live forever.

    • Gruf Rude

      As long as the transition between ‘alive and riding’ and ‘dead and gone’ is sudden, it certainly won’t matter.

    • john burns

      Let’s start a club the He Men No Girls Aloud Live Forever Club.

  • SRMark

    I went in for ear surgery in 2005. Came home a few hours later, ate some soup, had a blood clot go to my LAD, wife drove me to hospital, doc open LAD and I swear I could have walked home at that moment. Fast forward 12 years. Riding dirt bikes with my brother and a few friends. Lost front end on off-camber, downhill rocky turn. Hit hip pretty hard. Few minutes later chest felt bad. Thought I had caught a handlebar in the ribs. Went to the check-in hut at Mountain Ridge ATV Park (near Flight 93 memorial). Lady there said I looked very pale and said he was calling an ambulance. I said that was ok with me and put my head down on the counter. Next lucid moment was in the hospital. Had sudden cardiac arrest brought on my multiple blood clots in LAD. MI is a plumbing problem and SCA is an electrical issue. I had both at the same time. Evidently I got to ride in a helicopter. Doc said I got some great care on the way to the trauma center. About 90% of folks who suffer sudden cardiac arrest die. Enjoy life! It can slip away quickly. And learn CPR. For you folks who learned how quite a while ago, get a refresher course. They do it differently now. And a donation to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation ain’t a bad thing to do either.

  • Michael Notarmaso

    I wanted to share my story, before I turned 42, I rode and built alot of custom motorcycles. At 42 I was in the best shape of my life, working riding and still riding, then neck and lower back issues hit me. I had to get a 4 level cervical fusion done and I had a collapsed L5 lower disc. My whole world collapsed , I lost my career as an HVAC tech and went into a suicidal depression, After 4 major surgeries I and lots of rehab my depression lifted. That was 15 years ago, as of 4 years ago I couldn’t ride 2 wheelers any more but I took a chance and bought a trike, life then got so much better. Now after building my new Goldwing trike, I’m reborn. My point is after worrying about all the things that happened my joy of riding and building brought me my revival. Now I could get killed crossing a street but now at least I have a smile on my face. Enjoy every day all of you because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Now I am 60 and loving life. Sorry for the long post.

  • michael folk

    we all fall down sooner or later you need to get up and carry on get over it .