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.
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.