John Burns: Monday Malfeasance

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Sorry, I got all wrapped up contemplating the world's problems and forgotto write up my Unasked for Opinion regarding Mini's FJR1300 Yamaha. It's alovely machine, and as the staff short-ass (5'7") I wanted to express hownice it is to get on a powerful touring beast like it and be able to put
Jim Hatch Illustrationboth feet on the ground. Every other bike of its ilk has me on my toes inparking lots and things, which can be a drag with loaded saddlebags andpassenger. The FJR, conversely, is a veritable high-horsepower asphalttoboggan--low and swoopy.Like Mini says, it seems like a sixth gear wouldbein order, but the thing runs so smooth you soon get used to 4500 rpm at80ish--anengine speed from which, in TOP COG--the FJR accelerates like a ZX-12 orsomething--maybe a bit harder even. In freeway traffic, this is both goodandbad--the bad being that it causes me to lose patience more than most bikeswith my fellowtravellers. Whose funeral are we driving to people?! Ooops--we're doing100 again. As to the weight issue, 620 pounds is what Eric's certifiedtruck scale around the corner says, and Eric claims it's accurate towithin ten pounds. (The FJR's a little too big to go on our inhousescales.) I don't believe Eric. Yamaha's claim of 522 pounds dry sounds asthough it might be close to the mark, actually. Fuel, oil, coolant andother fluids could easily add 50 pounds--so a wet weight of 570 or soseems about right. Feels about right. Anywho, it's a very nice sportytouring bike. We have seen the new Honda ST1300 and will get a chance toride it toward the end of themonth.

Back to the problems of the world then. Aftermy sport-utitlity-vehicle purge of a few weeks ago...

many MO readersregistered in with the view that dammit, it's a free country and I'lldrive whatever I damn well please because I'm Amurican. And Free. Whichgotme curious along the lines of, how free exactly are we anyway,relative to the rest of the civilized world? Because frankly I'm feeling alittle Overpoliced of late, personally. I get a speeding ticket aboutevery18 months, usually after dark when the road is wide open and I'm doingabout80 in a 65. Wifey was driving the five or six blocks to fetch groceriesjust yesterday, when one of a squadron of motor officers popped out andtagged her for not wearing her seatbelt. I used to ride my boy to school--four blocks of suburbanbliss--on the handlebars of my beach cruiser bicycle (with a helmet even),until we pedalled past another motor officer lurking in the shadows with aradar gun a few months ago.

"Come over here," the guy growled, and I thought it was going to be one ofthose tender cop moments where he scares the kid for a minute and thenlets him play with the siren, thereby engendering in my son a lifelongrespect for the gruff-yet-tenderhearted law-enforcement officer andPepsi--but the guywas serious.

"That's ridiculously dangerous," he tells me.

I thought of saying something like, speaking of ridiculous, have youlooked at yourself lately in the jodphurs? But I didn't, because thisofficerwas actually hacked off and threatening to write me a ticket, which Icould only assume would be a Moving Violation. I have plenty already. Itold the man-cub to get back on the bike after we'd turned the corner,but he was traumatized by then. Ever since, we drive to school nearlyeveryday, duking it out with the Expedition and Suburban-mounted mommies. (Twolittle kids were killed in a nearby town, several weeks ago, when one suchmommy accidentally jammed on the gas instead of the brake in the schoollot.)

I used to be ashamed to admit I got a DUI a few years ago, until GeorgeBush got elected. Unfortunately, I wasn't drunk (that's what they allsay), but I refused to take the test because I can be stupid that way. Letme advise you: that is the wrong thing to do in California. After I got mylicense back, a year later, I'm still drivingwith the knowledge that if I'm stopped with any measurable amount ofalcohol in my system at all (for only one more month, cross yourfingers!), it'sDUI #2, and at that point you really may as well just take your ownlife. Sorry, the whole drinking/driving thing is a whole 'nothercolumn. I'm personally of the opinion that lousy, inattentive drivingtakes more lives than drunk driving (and drunken lousy, inattentivedriving is the worst)--but nobody addresses the other half of thatequation at all. (I'm beginning to suspect it may simply be lessprofitable toset up check points for lousy driving on Saturday nights on busythoroughfares?)

My point is, I think we're a little overzealous when it comes to punishingpeople for what used to beminor infractions, and you can't drivetwo miles in this town without seeing billboards torecruit new police officers. The recruiting posters are all over theprison buses,too, which I see with alarming frequency. Naturally, I'm a union man, butit's a littlefrightening that one of the most powerful unions in California has becometheprison guards.

Search up things like "incarceration" and "prison population" on theinternet, and the results are also interesting. Apparently, we arethrowing alot more people in jail in the U.S. than we used to; in fact, we'vesurpassedRussia, the former Evil Empire, and are now leading the league when itcomes toclapping people in irons, and not by a small margin: 690 of every 100,000Americans are incarcerated. I compared our driving habits to those ofSpain, so I'll compareour prison population to that country's backward, Socialist regimealso: 114of every 100,000 Spaniards are locked up, according to theWorld Prison Brief. You can view many more interesting statistics at www.prisonsucks.com, if you're interested, including the one that says 13.4percent of black male Americans aged 25 to 29 are in prison--anincarceration rate that makes South Africa during the deepest Apartheiddayslook like Club Med.

I don't pretend to know why this is so (actually I do, but I'll keep thatto myself). All I'm saying is that, from theevidence I stumbled across (and I didn't see much that said the U.S. needstoput more people in jail) calling ourselves "Land of the Free" is a finepieceof doublespeak.

What's this got to do with motorcycles? Beats me, you brought it up. Iwould venture to guess, however,t hat it probably grows increasinglydifficult to enjoy any leisure pursuit in a country filled with that manydisgruntled customers. Prisoners do get released, and not very often toreenter society as happy, productive members. Something else to ignore aswe roll along, happily ensconced, down the road of life in our hugeSUVs. I see armor-plated Expeditions, with gun ports, being the Next BigThing.

--John Burns

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Brent Avis
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