“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
I’ve lost my mind many times on a motorcycle. And so have you.
There were the milder times when I was just riding with friends. You’ve done this, don’t lie: the guy in front of you passes a slow-moving car on a twisty stretch of road, and you don’t want to be left behind, so you make a risky pass to keep up, the kind of pass you would not tell your mom or significant other about, but it was still in the gray area between smart and stupid.
Another kind of crazy, more extreme, is when that red mist soaks our brains while racing or during a trackday, or if we’re really listening to our lizard brains, on a street or trail ride. “I’m not letting that [fill in please: backmarker/chick/Harley guy/squid/scooter/new guy from Ride Apart] get in front of me!” You start hyperventilating, pushing past what’s comfortable, spraying snot on your visor and taking chances you wouldn’t take after chasing one margarita with another margarita.
Most of the time, you get away with it. Sometimes, you don’t. Was it your fault? Sure. Does it happen to everybody? You bet!
One early morning a couple of years ago, I was riding across the San Mateo bridge on the way to instructing at an MSF range. It was pouring down rain and I was riding a bike we called “Frankenstrada,” a cool-looking but harrowing-to-ride victim of my friends Mark and Jessie’s beer-fuelled late-night modification sessions. Working tailights were outside their engineering capabilities, as were decent headlights. Not a big deal on a sunny Sunday morning, but an issue on a dark and rainy oh-dark-thirty ride across a bridge.
A dude in an Acura buzzed past me at a 30 mph speed differential, passing me by what seemed like inches. Predictably, I went into Lost Damn Mind (LDM) mode and roared after him – suddenly the rain, low visibility and high winds didn’t seem so harrowing. After giving him chase (he tried to escape to avoid a confrontation, which sent my LDM index past 10), I caught up to him in a residential neighborhood. He lowered his window to receive a great amount of verbal abuse. I think I called him a fat f-ck a dozen times. You’d think I’d show more creativity.
Like a Chihuahua* in an Aerostich, I just wouldn’t back down or let it go. He pulled into a grocery store parking lot, and I got off my bike and he got out of his car. I yelled at him for a few more minutes until he punched me in the face, knocking me backwards over my much-abused Ducati, sending me and motorcycle down in a heap.
I self-righteously called 911, which led to a short, unsatisfying interview with a slightly bored officer from the San Mateo police department. Apparently, you can punch somebody in the face if they’re being an asshole, because much like kindergarten teachers, cops don’t care who started it. It’s not like he or she will get bonus pay for cracking the case of which middle-aged dipshit started a fight. If one party wants to press charges for battery, everybody goes to jail.
Not my proudest moment, and if Acura guy is reading this, I am sorry for my behavior and calling you fat, and I want to thank you for punching me in the face. I firmly believe that guys like me need to be periodically punched in the face, if only to be reminded of our place in the world. I was so ashamed of this incident (yes, I do feel shame, which may surprise regular readers of my column) I didn’t tell anybody what actually happened for a good long time, though I did vaguely refer to getting punched in the face because it has a weird way of discouraging further questions.
It’s been a couple of years since my face-punching, and now there’s a coast-to-coast trend of middle-aged people yelling and then punching each other in the face. Please note I am the elder statesman of yelling and getting my face punched, the Brooklyn hipster who was totally into that before anyone, man, so I know what’s going on.
Our country is out of its damn collective mind, is what’s going on.
I’m not going to go into detail. There will be plenty of comments below blaming one side, and maybe some more blaming the other, but what is quite clear is the United States of America is in LDM mode. And I’m not blaming – or judging – anyone for the hysteria and stupidity we’ve seen in the past year, because as a motorcyclist, I’ve been there way more times than I like to admit. I’ll bet you’ve been on that choo-choo to Crazytown more than once as well. So let’s sit back and watch as the rest of the country continues to lose its mind in slow motion, because we know it’ll pass – hopefully sooner rather than later.
And then we’ll be ready for the next ride.
Gabe Ets-Hokin was cheerful whipping boy for the mayor of Crazytown from 2005 to 2007. He now manages public relations for the Happy Time Piña Colada company.
*Seriously, who first wrote the word “Chihuahua” in English? An actual Chihuahua? Who puts three H’s into a nine-letter word?