Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

Elliot Strong
by Elliot Strong
The Epic Tale of an Intern's Voyage from Seattle to Los Angeles
Elliot!Daydreaming commenced during a pleasant ride on an unseasonably warm day for December in Seattle. I had just returned from studying abroad in Costa Rica and was having a hard time coming to grips with the harsh reality of returning to life at the University of Washington for the remainder of a dreary winter and spring. What future goal could inspire me to get through the year and provide a glimmer of hope for the future on those days without sun and prospects of a relaxing ride? I needed to work towards a summer job that was at least as interesting as what I had just returned from- the bar had been set...

My riding buddy Alan and I were munching on burgers during a break and he was regaling me with his latest weight-loss theory. (I still think he should keep the pudge as it provides natural body armor for his numerous crashes.) Along the course of conversation, the topic came up of what we were planning for the summer and we thought about how cool it would be to work as interns for MO. "They must have crazy adventures all the time, "I postulated. "Yeah, and if I got the job, I could crash test all their gear!" Alan chimed in.

Well, it turns out that MO frowns on activities such as crashing. (Well, that's about the only activity that's not advocated or condoned, but they have to disapprove of something, right?) So Alan discouraged himself from applying to a job that he couldn?t follow the principal requirement of, but I continued on undaunted. I emailed my resume and cover letter to Minime in January and that sparked a flurry of correspondence that spanned months. What were my qualifications? What exactly was the semi-useless degree(s) that I was working on at the UW again? (Answer: History and Spanish double major.) Riding experience? IQ? Lack of IQ? And so on?

I had been hoping to get a concrete answer from Mini before I departed for a Spring Break jaunt to London, but that was not to be so. The first week of April, back from London and looking for trouble, I decided to actually (erp!) call a dot com. It was the best decision that I made in the whole process; a phone call is still a lot harder to ignore than an email. At this point, the MO staffers were probably already fed up with me, but I didn?t care. I really wanted the internship and I was on a quest for an answer and even if it was a thumbs-down, well, at least I would know for certain where I stood. John Burns was the friendly voice on the other end of the line and we chatted about the whole situation, my endearing qualities, how I could contribute to MO, then the conversation came around to the fact that I was in fact the new intern.

John suggested a visit to check things out to make sure that I really wanted to expend my time and effort in this endeavor for the summer. I caught an early flight out of Seattle on a Friday for the last weekend of May and speedily rented a Harley and shot out to the Mojave Desert to take in some bike testing, MO style, at the Streets of Willow Springs. From Seattle to the California desert in 6 hours- it was like a scene out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, minus the mind-altering drugs and bat attacks. But there was the whole MO crew; I recognized Calvin first off, punching away at his laptop and timing program trying to see how fast or slow John, Brent and the Aprilia guy were wobbling around the track. (A little secret- they were actually really fast and were showing up some racer boys. The R6 in particular seemed to take an affinity to kicking some over-confident poser butt.) The weekend was a great opportunity to see a couple of different facets of life at motorcycle.com and reinforced the idea in my mind that I really wanted to take this internship on for the summer.

It was difficult to return to a wet and dreary Seattle and finish up term finals and large research papers- but then thinking about sunny LA provided that extra motivation to finish up the quarter with a bang. Through a long chain of events and friends and acquaintances, an opportunity arose for me to volunteer as an engineer on a relief ship traveling from Seattle to LA in preparation for a run to Honduras. I had to think for all of two nanoseconds. Drive a Ryder truck full of my worldly possessions down a long and depressing 1200-mile stretch of Interstate 5? Or hitch a ride on a 180-foot ex-Coast Guard cutter/buoy tender? Yeah, I went with the ship option. You see, I love to travel, and sailing is such a great way to accomplish that. My 8+ days at sea was hard work but also a very peaceful and mind-clearing experience. There were hassles and bumps encountered on the way, mainly in the incarnations of the Coast Guard and gremlins in the propulsion system of the ship, but the experience was still very much worth the effort.

For some obscure reason that would only make sense if I did a brain transplant with both a politician involved with Homeland Security and a Coast Guard lieutenant, the Coast Guard detained not only the ship before we entered LA harbor but the entire crew as well. Something about not giving proper notice of our arrival and the need for a safety inspection to be done. Well, perhaps I've read too many of John Burns? rants, but I felt this was not only a large nuisance but on the illegal side of constitutional law. Well, they found some obscure law stating that if a ship travels farther than 3 miles off the coast it must clear customs when it reenters a US port. Has this ever been enforced? Errr, not very much. Have you ever had to show your passport when entering Hawaii on vacation? I think not. In any case, the USCG dropped the issue after Customs showed little or no interest in pursuing it. But the Coast Guardians still wanted to do a safety inspection of the boat, so inspect they did. Did they find anything wrong? It was their ship 2 years ago- what did they expect to find? "Oh, all those fire pumps and life rafts weighed too much, we just sold them for scrap." I think not.

So that brought us one step closer to actually entering LA harbor. Then the main engines decided to quit. Or more precisely, they decided not to start up right when the pilot arrived- #(@#$* [email protected]! That left me working into the night and all next day exploring possible reasons that could have made the entire diesel-electric propulsion system decide to take a nice little vacation to Disneyland while the ship bobbed helplessly at anchor outside of the Long Beach breakwater. After much investigation, a mild amount of cursing directed in the general direction of the system, and a few prayers it was found that the culprit rested directly on a 20 year-old industrial control computer controlling the entire system. It had lost its memory stored on volatile memory chips due to a brief loss of DC power (the cause of this was never discovered), but fortunately, there was a backup of the program contained in an ancient 486 laptop onboard. After the two computers made friends and exchanged information, we were back in business- the main engines behaved themselves, came back from their brief but relaxing vacation and fired up.

Cirque du Soleil but with bikes.Finally inside of the breakwater, the ship was no longer subject to the whims of the Pacific Ocean swells. But I was not to step foot on dry land until the following day when I had to devise a way to transport my SV650 from its comfy resting place in the bow of the ship to safety on shore- all while we were still at anchor in the harbor. The resulting plan involved using the crane to lift the SV off the deck of the ship and placing it into the waiting skiff bobbing around below. I carefully guided it into its place on the bucking deck of the aluminum skiff and lashed it down successfully, but the harder part was going to be finding a place to unload the bike. We spotted a low embankment at an upscale fueling dock in the San Pedro marina and I kindly asked the attendant if I could unload my motorcycle onto his dock and I would come back for it ASAP. Obviously it's not every day that he sees a bunch of weirdo sailors in a small skiff trying to unload a motorcycle onto his dock, so I think he agreed out of shock and the sheer novelty of the situation. The whole operation actually went fairly smoothly; we lifted it out without a problem and I was able to store it there for a few hours while I got the rest of my gear to shore. There were a lot of very strange looks and a few evil eyes given to me from the owners of glimmering yachts as I motored up the ramp off the moorings and out the gate, nearly taking out an unsuspecting jogger in the process. I?ll bet that sharpened up her survival instincts for the week. One should be prepared for such instances- you never know when a rumbling, snarling V-twin motorcycle will suddenly jump out from behind a fence and try to catch you in its teeth.

Riding a motorcycle after being at sea for over a week is a strange and very liberating sensation; after traveling at a constant speed of about 11mph for that long, any speed above 20 feels like flying. I spent the rest of the weekend riding at a fast pace around the LA area, loving every minute of the sun and crazy drivers in Southern California.Los Angeles is a strange, hedonistic city compared to Seattle, but the experiences and adventures that I?ve been having here, even in the first week, have been great.

I?m looking forward to working at MO for the summer and learning a few things about the biz. I?ve loved motorcycles for years and this position holds great promise as standing out as an incredible experience in my college career. There are people who would kill for this job (or at least that are jealous of me)- try to excuse a moment of cheezyness on my part here, but I am thankful for every day that I can make it in and get some work done. Who knows where all of this is leading me in life, but I am enjoying the adventure and I try to enjoy every opportunity that comes along.

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Elliot Strong
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