They Call Me Fred 'Btfsplk'

Those of you not quite old enough to recognize the family name "Btfsplk" may want to look it up on the Internet, but the most famous Btfsplk--Joe--is remembered by many as the little guy in Al Capp's cartoons that walked around with a perpetual dark cloud over his head.

He is considered by many, to this day, to have been the greatest jinx that ever lived.

And though I don't believe we share any physical characteristics that might mark us as relatives, more than a few people have remarked that he and I must have sprung from the same gene pool.

One of the most amazing things about Joe Btfsplk, and me, is that though we seem to be carriers of the bad luck virus, the consequences of the disease rarely, if ever, afflict us personally. Instead, they land squarely on anyone within close proximity of us. In my own case, I offer the following, mostly-true scenarios.

I was riding up the Northern California coast with my friend Hank just in front of me on his GL1100 Gold Wing. The road was heavily-wooded on both sides, with a steep uphill on our right. In a flash, I noticed a rapid movement down the hill, which almost immediately transformed itself into a large, brown bear that came barreling out of the woods and onto the highway at just the right speed and angle of attack to coincide perfectly with Hank's right leg and the right front fairing of his bike. Naturally, bike and Hank went down hard to the left, and the bear performed a beautiful somersault, landing on all fours, still hell-bent-for-leather for the opposite side of the road, where he disappeared almost immediately into the underbrush before Hank even stopped tumbling. What was really odd, though, was that while Hank was still abrading himself against the road surface, his bike actually stood back up on its own and continued down the road. In fact, it even stayed right in the center of the lane, as if it had decided to complete the trip to Oregon without its pilot. I've since been told that the phenomenon is caused by something called "gyroscopic precession."

For a brief moment, I considered whether I should chase the bike or see to Hank's welfare. I guess I made the wrong decision at first, but my wife's good sense prevailed in the form of furious pummeling on my helmet and screaming. Hank was okay except for some minor cuts and bruises, and the bike eventually ran off the shoulder and landed in some brush about a hundred yards down the road, with only a crack in the fairing, stuffed with bristly brown hairs, to show for the mishap.

Chuck was also riding right in front of me, several years ago in Arizona, when an idiot in a pickup truck made a stupid and illegal turn across four lanes of traffic and a double-yellow line right in front of him. He was thrown from the bike and landed on his head, sending pieces of fiberglass and foam padding from his full-face helmet flying back against my bike. Thankfully, the helmet sustained the worst of the injuries, and Chuck was released from the hospital after only an overnight stay.

Debbie was riding--you guessed it--right in front of me, heading out of Denver for a ride into the Rocky Mountains. Suddenly there was a weird, bright flash of light that seemed to come from directly in front of her bike.Suddenly there was a weird, bright flash of light that seemed to come from directly in front of her bike. She swerved slightly as the light, which seemed to be blossoming, grew to shimmering ball surrounding her and the bike. A moment later, she had passed through the glow, and I hit it. It felt and sounded like riding through a sandstorm, and in a split-second it was gone, and Debbie was wobbling over to the shoulder of the road. As I pulled up behind her, I still had no idea what the heck had happened. As it turned out, neither did she, but a quick walk around to the front of her bike explained it all. The double-headlight lens was missing, as were the headlight bulbs and a goodly portion of the reflector, and residing in their place, nestled against the back of the housing, was a Titleist golf ball. We had been riding alongside a golf course, and evidently an errant drive had somehow connected perfectly with her headlights. No one hurt, but we couldn't ride after dark that evening, and a new headlight assembly cost her about $450.

On this next one, my friend Charlie was actually riding behind me...I swear.

We were riding up through Central California, and got stuck for a few minutes behind a large dump truck. After only a few seconds of riding behind him, I knew exactly what kind of load the truck driver was hauling. Manure has a distinctive and unmistakable odor. Naturally, at the first available opportunity, I cranked the throttle and passed him up. Charlie and I were in contact through helmet headsets with CB radios, and within less than a minute I radioed him that it was clear for him to come around. Oddly, he didn't appear in my rearview, and didn't reply on the CB, either. I called again, and waited a few more seconds.

Suddenly my radio crackled to life, followed by a stream of curses unlike any I'd ever heard before. Charlie was a soft-spoken kind of guy, who hardly ever cursed, so for a moment I thought the truck driver had a CB also, and was giving us hell for some unknown reason. Then I realized that despite the volume and content of the still-continuing stream of purple invective, it was indeed Charlie's voice I was hearing.

Fearing he had somehow gone off the road and cracked up his bike, I pulled over to let the still-following truck go by, then pulled a U-turn and went looking for my friend. As soon as I turned around, though, I noticed that the lane we had been traveling in was muddy-looking, and covered with brown debris that even from several feet away smelled very badly. At that same moment I spotted Charlie on the shoulder, looking as if both he and his bright red motorcycle had been treated to a new coat of dark brown paint.

To hear him tell the story later, he was suddenly, and without warning, buried in an avalanche of wet cow feces (it had been raining all morning).

Without going into too much detail, it should be obvious to you by now that just after I passed the truck, something gave way on his tailgate and it opened, just as Charlie had pulled up close behind to launch himself around. To hear him tell the story later, he was suddenly, and without warning, buried in an avalanche of wet cow feces (it had been raining all morning). Totally deaf and blind, he had nevertheless been able to keep his cool and pull his bike to a controlled stop on the shoulder, after quickly wiping about a pound of crap--literally--off his faceshield with a gloved hand. I'd like to say I helped him get cleaned up enough to ride to the next town, but in truth, I think it took me a full 20 "You see, a fair number of people are always saying they'd like to ride with me, and I just want them to know the risks involved in such a foolhardy venture."minutes just to stop laughing. Charlie was the kind of guy that pulled out a sprayer and a rag at every rest stop, to remove any tiny bug splatters from his always-pristine mount, and to see him and the bike sitting there, dripping giant globs of runny crap, was just too much for me to take.

I made him follow well behind me to the next town, where we found a truck stop with a wash facility. I paid the guy at the truck wash $10 to hose down Charlie, while still sitting on his bike. Then we got a motel room next to a laundromat, and spent the evening washing everything he was wearing, including his boots--twice. The next day he threw the helmet away and bought a new one. I don't blame him.

Believe it or not, these are just a few of the incidents I could tell you about. I suppose if you ride long enough and far enough, you're bound to see a lot of strange things happen to people - especially other riders who are with you. That includes collisions with rabbits, skunks, coyotes and seagulls, and once when a hungry rottweiller decided to eat a friend's motorcycle seat for lunch. And as weird as that sounds, it doesn't hold a candle to the time when a friend and I were stopped by the side of the road in the Everglades, taking pictures, when an alligator literally "attacked" my friend's bike, grabbing the front tire in his jaws and slowly dragging the bike into the water. What can you really do in a situation like that? We tried throwing rocks and sticks at him, but he just ignored us until, I guess, he got tired or decided the bike just wasn't really worth all the effort and abandoned it, half under water.

For five years in a row I have sponsored the Thursday Charity Poker Run at Americade in Lake George, New York. It has rained on all five runs, including two years when the roads on the poker route were totally washed out, and another when high winds toppled trees across one of the roads, forcing the riders to make a 50-mile detour. The last organized ride I planned out of the Honda Hoot in Knoxville, Tennessee ran into what the local TV station reported as "the heaviest one-day rainstorm in the recorded history of the state." So far this year I have pre-planned five different group rides in Connecticut. The morning of the first one, it started to snow about an hour before we were to depart. The next three in a row were visited with torrential rains, including localized flash floods. The last one, just last week, had over 70 riders lined up to go when, just 10 minutes from departure time, a freakin' hurricane made a sudden left turn from its course off the coast and landed square on top of us!

Anyway, this column is to serve as a sort of blanket legal disclaimer--the kind they make you read and sign before they let you take part in a track day or bike games, absolving the organizer of responsibility for anything that happens to you.

You see, a fair number of people are always saying they'd like to ride with me, and I just want them to know the risks involved in such a foolhardy venture.

Sure, you're all welcome to ride with me anytime, and any place. Just remember, though, that if you end up by the side of the road buried in manure, or your bike becomes an entré for a half-blind alligator, it isn't my fault.

From Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia

Joe Btfsplk, the world's worst jinx, in this excerpt from the March 20, 1947 strip:


Joe Btfsplk is a character in the comic strip Li'l Abner. He is well-meaning, but is the world's worst jinx, bringing bad luck to all those around him. A small dark cloud hovers over his head, to symbolize his bad luck.

In addition to the obvious comic effect, Li'l Abner cartoonist Al Capp often used Joe Btfsplk as a deus ex machina to produce miraculous rescues or to effect plot twists. [edit]


"How else would you pronounce it?" --Al Capp

According to Capp, btfsplk is a rude sound. During a public lecture by Al Capp, he demonstrated this phatic sound by closing his lips, leaving his tongue sticking out, and then blowing out air, which is also called a 'razzberry' or Bronx cheer.

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