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November QuickThrottle Column

Knowing that I was selling ths home in Seattle and moving to California and with all that entails, I figured I was pretty smart writing four months worth of columns back in July thus getting me to mid November before having to write another one. But I'm learning that unpacking and setting up a house takes probably three times as long as packing one up and moving. I'm going on almost three weeks since the furniture was delivered and I've just barely got the kitchen, bedroom, and some of the living room and my office in a semi-workable and liveable condition. I would have gone nuts trying to write during all that too -- which I why I've not written much here either, but there's more to come - as our President-Elect would say -- "believe me." (As an aside, Ayn Rand once said "If you have to tell someone to "believe you", should they really?")

Well this is the last one I wrote, and I now have to sit down (fortunately in my reasonably in-shape new office) and write another one for December. And so as I prepare to do that, it's time to post the November one...

So after a summer riding season in the Northwest what do you think of the condition of the roads here? Think they are bad? Is this a good place to drive? Guess what – it isn’t! According to the website carinsurance.com, Washington ranks as the tenth worst place to drive in the country – just ahead of New Jersey.  NEW JERSEY!!!  Oregon doesn’t place in the rankings of the ten worst or ten best, but Washington is near the bottom!  Now that’s something to be proud of right?

The rankings are based on the following factors: the percent of roads in poor or mediocre condition; the percent of bridges that are deemed structurally deficient; the estimated cost of car repair due to driving on bad roads; and the average price of gas, and the percent of that price paid as gas tax. Washington now has the second highest gas tax in the nation, right behind Pennsylvania, which ironically falls just ahead of Washington in the ranking of bad roads! Think there might be a connection there?  The two highest gas tax states are also two of the states that are the worst to drive in. How ironic is that?

Who’s on top you ask?  Our neighbor to the southeast and my home state of Utah ranks as being the best place to drive in the Country. Anyone who’s driven or ridden in that beautiful state can attest to that, as well as their wonderfully cheap gas!  After Utah its Minnesota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Vermont, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and North Carolina. Joining Washington, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania at the bottom of the dung heap are: Rhode Island, Michigan, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Oklahoma and California as dead last. As someone who spends half a year in California, I don’t get that – the roads I ride here are far far worse than those I ride in California.

And they keep getting worse here. In my own neighborhood the city has taken the only major North/South arterial which was once a four lane road with a 35mph speed limit, and for most of it has reduced it to two lanes, added bike lanes and a left turn lane, and reduced the speed limit to 30mph. It has increased travel times and ironically increased greenhouse gas emissions as a result of slower traffic idling longer.  In moving those lanes they didn’t repave, they just restriped – so guess what?  The divots and tracks and worn spots are now in the wrong spot. As a biker it’s nearly impossible to drive a straight line on this road and avoid any road damage. The city is set to do the next three mile stretch of this arterial this fall, and it has resulted in local residents making home-made signs opposing Mayor Murray and reducing the lanes on this stretch.
So do we just “chill out” as one of my readers wrote me to say I should do? “Gary, if you hate the roads so much here why don’t you just move, quit harping on it and chill out” they said a while back.  And hey, I hate writing about bad roads all the time about as much as I hate driving on them, I do.  Earlier this summer I hit one of those odd bumps in the pavement in Seattle where asphalt meets concrete and the Seattle DOT had done a very poor patch job that left a lip of about 2 inches of concrete above the pavement, and I bent a rim when I hit it. So yeah, I don’t think “chilling out” is a viable option.

The state is, in theory responsible for paying out damage claims caused by road damage such as chuckholes and uneven paving. Though judging from the statistics the chance of getting paid out is slim.  Last year in King County, there were only 14 payouts on 120 claims. That’s about 11% of claims being paid, and I’m surprised at how few claims there were too. Despite those less than Vegas odds of getting paid for the damage, I decided to file a claim with the state Department of Enterprise Services.  I filled out their form, sent them a description of what happened, a copy of the invoice for a new rim and tire, and photo of the bent rim and a photo of the pavement bump that caused it. It was mailed in mid July, and I’m not holding my breath for an answer.

But what if everyone who had pavement caused damage sent in a claim, no matter how small?  Would it wake them up a bit?  I don’t know, but the thought of an avalanche of claims and paperwork rolling across the offices in Olympia is a wonderful revenge scenario to think about. Would it do any good?  Probably not. The only thing that will change this is a change in the overall philosophy of what roads are for and why we have them. That means voting for politicians who aren’t anti roads and cars. Given the political climate in this state – well maybe it’s wishful thinking.

But to the reader who advised me to quit harping on the road situation here and either “chill out” or move or “shut up about it”, well, that’s not going to happen. I’ll continue to poke elected officials and policy makers and my readers to get involved and do something about this. Maybe one day it will happen. I’ll take my cue from the great Frederick Douglass, the brilliant African American statesman, civil rights advocate, and anti-slavery voice, who, shortly before he died in 1895 was asked what advice he’d give to a young man who wanted to change things.  He replied “Agitate, agitate, agitate.”

So if you have damage resulting from the most expensive and worst roads in the country, file a claim with the State Department of Enterprise Services at http://www.des.wa.gov/services/Risk/claims/Pages/standardTortClaims.aspx. And file and file and file. Keep filing. Agitate!  Agitate! Agitate!

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 


The first election I really remember as a kid was the Nixon/McGovern election of 1972. The neighborhood polling place was in my elementary school outside of Salt Lake City. They closed the gymnasium that day to set up the voting booths. On the stage they set up tables where election workers hand tabulated paper ballots all day long. Great big paper ballots that were folded and put into a ballot box.  We had a mock election in school using sample ballots as a way to teach kids about voting -- Nixon won easily, this was Utah after all.  I voted for McGovern just to be contrarian as was (and maybe still is) my nature. I remember my Mother coming up at lunch time to vote and chatting for a minute out on the playground. Years later when I could understand such thing she told me she skipped the Presidential part of the ballot that year as she couldn't stand either candidate. Until this year I didn't really get how she could do that. I've voted in every single election I could since I was able to vote. I've never not been able to find a candidate to support and feel good about voting for, even though I may not have agreed with everything they stood for. Until this year.
But I didn't skip voting the Presidential line this year, even though I detest Donald Trump, and I'm not at all a Hillary Clinton supporter. I know now what it feels like now to vote for the "lesser of two evils". It makes me sad -- almost ashamed in a way. Usually voting has been a very special almost sacred act for me. I was sad when Washington State converted to all mail-in ballots, as I loved going to the polling place on election day. When I moved to California I elected to get a mail in ballot although I could go to a polling place here. I loved standing in line with my fellow citizens in a church or school auditorium, signing the register, getting a ballot and going into a booth, making my selections and taking my ballot back and dropping it into a slot and getting my "I Voted" sticker. Knowing that I had exercised my right as an American citizen to choose my leaders. I always felt good about it -- even when my candidate lost.

As I was slamming through my cardio workout this morning at the gym, watching CNN on the TV, they cut to a shot of Mike Pence going to cast his vote. He walked from his home, the Indiana Governors Mansion, across the street to a school. The poll worker asked him what precinct, and, like many of us, he didn't know.  They looked him up and sent him to a table where he signed in and got a ballot and voted, just like the rest of us do (or did).  He's no different than anyone else, even though he's the Vice-Presidential candidate. They showed Clinton and Trump doing the same thing.

Watching these folks go through the task -- along with the poll workers helping them and the machinery that makes it all possible I started to feel emotional. This country is truly amazing and blessed beyond measure. We are so fortunate to have the system we have and the ability to exercise our right and responsibility of self government -- so few people have that opportunity the way we do. Two hundred years ago the Founders of this country were quite radical for the time -- believing and developing a system where honorable people can choose their leaders, and in the end respect the results. We may not always like the results, but we honor them and respect them. I do hope I can do that come this time tomorrow. But after watching that segment, showing Mr. Pence voting, seeing the poll workers, the lines of voters waiting behind him to do the same thing, and despite disagreeing with everything he campaigned on and despising his running mate, despite not being happy with my own choice and wishing I could have voted for someone else, I no longer felt ashamed or even sad for exercising my right and responsibility.  Yes I had to choose the lesser of two evils -- but I can be proud of my choice and more important, I can be thankful and proud that I was able to do so. And stragely enough it took Mike Pence to remind me of that.
And come tomorrow we will all have to figure out what to do. Regardless of the outcome, I'm afraid the next few years are going to be rather unpleasant. It's been said that in order to truly change what's wrong, you have to hit bottom. Maybe this is the bottom. Maybe the next few years we can figure out how to come together and work on the things that we all agree on. We used to be able to do that. When I got into politics as a lobbyist years ago we did and I truly enjoyed my work. By the time I retired at the end of 2013 we had ceased doing that and I hated what I did. It's one of the reasons I left. I hope after all this is over maybe we can once again.

October QuickThrottle Column

Although my official legal residence will now be California, I will still be writing for QuickThrottle Northwest about the biker world in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and will be spending the summers up there as well. Because of the move and all it entails I wrote this month's column a few months ago so I wouldn't have to be dealing with writing while on the road and and living out of suitcases and house hunting.  This month I do a little soul searching and self reflection on my impatient tendencies, and how they have been exacerbated by the horrific traffic in Seattle and Portland -- something I'm not missing here in the desert at all!
I freely admit it. I’m an impatient S.O.B. I don’t know why but I am. I hate waiting for anything, be it in a line at Starbucks for a coffee, or a movie theater for a ticket, or to checkout at the grocery store. Waiting is most definitely not my strong suit. It’s why I use every means at my disposal to avoid waiting for anything. I pre-order coffee using my Starbucks App so my drink is waiting when I get there. I buy movie tickets online, and even my ferry tickets when I’m riding across the sound. I love being able to ride up to the front of the line without stopping when getting on a state ferry. When I used to have clients and a home in Canada I got a Nexus pass to keep from having to stop and wait at the border. I have TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry to avoid security lines at the airport. I simply loath waiting in lines.

And I know my impatience and resulting frustration isn’t good for me. For a long time I was on high blood-pressure meds, but thankfully do to some significant health improvements and weight loss I don’t need them anymore. But my blood pressure was and is certainly aggravated by my impatient tendencies. I suppose I could be more like my Buddhist friends and just chill out and not let it get to me, but so far I’ve not been very successful at it. But usually I’m good at just resigning to my situation and sucking it up when I can’t do anything about it, (except bitch and moan to the conseternation of my friends within earshot) but give me a chance to do something about it – maybe even something foolish and there is a good chance I will!

But now my impatient tendencies are affecting me on the motorcycle, and I don’t like it. I’m finding myself taking more chances and doing some illegal or questionably legal things to get through this hellish traffic.  Back twenty-five years ago when I first moved to my home in West Seattle I could make the quick trip into downtown Seattle in fifteen to twenty minutes. Now days it takes forty to fifty minutes or longer.  I used to work in Redmond, and twenty years ago that drive was 30 minutes.  Now when I go to my dentist there I often joke that I should go over the night before and get a hotel room since the last two times it’s taken me two hours or more. It took me nearly six hours to drive to Portland a few weeks ago! Some of it is from increased volume yes, but most of it is from poor road planning and efforts to force – yes I said force – people into transit because if they make driving so miserable people will take transit.  You know long it’s been since we’ve built any new lanes of highways in this area? I don’t, but it’s not been in the 26 years I’ve lived here.

In the past I was – and maybe I still am – a little skeptical about lane splitting while on a bike, especially in fast moving traffic. But I’ve been done it in slow moving traffic – illegal as it may when I’m desperate to get somewhere. I know I’m not supposed to but if I didn’t I would have missed several doctors’ appointments. You’d think that a drive of 8 miles from one side of Seattle to the other shouldn’t take more than an hour. This isn’t Manhattan after all. In two instances I gave myself an hour to get from home to an appointment in the middle of the day. In both cases if I hadn’t done some things like lane splitting at intersections and passing where I shouldn’t, or traveling in a bus or bike lane for a few feet, treating stop signs like “yield” signs when its clear I can, and in one case cutting through a parking lot, I would have been significantly late for both appointments.  And yes I do see the irony of risky behavior in order to get to a health provider appointment.

There is no excuse for my behavior, and I know it was illegal – I know it was dangerous. But my point is that I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m seeing other bikers take such risks, and even cars doing it. The traffic in Seattle has gotten so bad that people – myself included – are choosing to risk a ticket or worse to get through it. And while there is no excuse, there is a direct cause and effect from the bad traffic. I don’t know how to fix it. In myself I know I need to learn to just accept what is going on here and deal with it.  I suppose it would be easier if the causes for the traffic insanity weren’t so relatively simple to fix. Add some lanes, time the lights, get rid of bike and bus lanes that are highly underutilized would go a long way.

No amount of “nanny-state” nagging and lecturing about global warming and “driving nice” will change people’s minds on this either. It’s clear that the powers that be in the northwest have decreed that they don’t care about traffic, and they will not do anything to improve it save spend more for transit in the name of a greater societal good. We will not see any improvement in traffic flow with increased road capacity or smoother pavement here ever. And it’s going to get worse. I’ve come to accept that. Nothing short of a revolution, as Bernie Sanders would say, will change this. And like Bernie learned – it’s not going to happen unfortunately.

Maybe we can convince the legislature to allow for limited lane splitting in some cases – like at intersections or when traffic is stopped completely or allow motorcycles to travel in bus lanes, but I’m not hopeful. So for now, I’ll give myself 90 minutes to get anywhere in town and just chill at a Starbucks and read a book on my Kindle if the Gods smile on me and I get there early. I’ll try to schedule appointments in a tiny window from 11a to 1p when the traffic isn’t as stopped up as a baby with colic. When I go to Redmond to see my dentist I’ll book a hotel and go over around 9pm the night before and sleep in for a 10am appointment.  I’ll do my best to just relax and let it go – although in 54 years I’ve not had much luck with that. Maybe I’ll even learn to become a Buddhist and adopt some Buddhist ways.   Except for the vegetarian thing.  I know I can’t do that.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net or www.grgardner.com, and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com
So the house is sold -- officially got the notice that the title had transferred yesterday. My realtor and dear friend Ritchard sent me a note saying "congratulations", to which I replied: "Thanks for everything — and I’m happy it all turned out.. but my heart is broken, I’ve been crying all day, and I absolutely hate this…. it’s the right thing to do but somehow congrats doesn’t seem the appropriate thing to say and I’m far from celebrating." He said: "A big hug, then. You'll figure it all out. You will be very missed and always loved." I've been getting a lot of texts and emails from friends with similar thoughts and it's made the drive south that much more difficult. I pretty much had cried myself out by the time I got to Olympia the other day, and now I'm not entirely sure what it is I'm feeling. Tired -- very tired, lost, confused, bored, lonely. Especially lonely.

This trip is unlike any other I've taken. I love the road -- and I love traveling alone, especially on the bike. I don't feel lonely when I travel alone. But I don't think I've ever felt more alone and lonely than on this trip. I think that it's because whenever I've traveled there's always been a place to go to and a place to come back to. This time there isn't either of those. It's not a ramble on the bike where I'm out for a few weeks and head back home, nor is it my winter in the desert -- going to a specific place that is familiar and somewhat home and knowing I'll be going back "home" in a few months. The Hummer is loaded to the gills and even the passenger seat is filled so I couldn't have anyone along even if I wanted to. I'm not going "home", I have no home. Quite literally I have no home.  Nothing in Seattle, nothing in the desert.  Nor do I have a place to go "to". Yes, I'm headed to a friends home in the desert where I'll stay while I'm looking for my own house, but it's not "home". I need to find a house and make it "home" and that will take some time.
So I'm adrift it seems like. Slowly headed south on I-5, in the right lane at 65 mph -- the maximum speed I can safely tow Angus and Bandit who are riding behind me on a trailer. The trip is taking much longer than usual for that reason. The majority of my belongings are in a warehouse in Seattle waiting for me to call for delivery, and everything else, clothes, computer, and daily needs are crammed into the Hummer with me. I wonder if the early pioneers headed west felt this way -- knowing where they were going roughly, with all their wordly goods loaded in a covered wagon, but not knowing where "home" would be, worried about what it would be like there, and could they make it "home"?

This slower drive allows me plenty of time to think things like that. It seems that's all I'm doing. Staring down the road, thinking, wondering, worrying. I know I should feel excited about the prospects of building something in a new place, but I'm not. The hard reason for this change is solely financial. Living off savings, unable to draw my retirement for a few more years, and paying $35,000 a year (and going up with insane property taxes) for a home I'm in 6 months a year just doesn't make financial sense. Selling it at a peak time and buying in the desert with the profits and thus having no mortgage is the wise thing to do -- the adult thing to do. But it doesn't feel good.

The act of leaving behind a place I loved, a "home", and 27 years of friends is hard -- very hard. So as I crawl along I-5 I remember, I tear up, I cry some more and then I move on.  I pass a place that brings back memories and they hurt. I drive on.
At last I make it across Oregon and into California. I wanted to take a picture of the "Welcome to California" sign but couldn't get a shot while driving and pulling a trailer. But I got the next best thing. Three miles past the state line was the "Agricultural Inspection Station". I can't believe CA still does this, but they do.  Every car lines up and passes an inspector who says "Do you have any fresh fruit?" I resist making some silly remark to the cute young inspector along the lines of "yes -- ME! (wink wink)" I say no and he waves me on. Is this at all effective at stopping something?  What if the TSA did this "do you have a bomb or a gun"?  "No"  and they wave you on. They had these things when I was a kid and we went to Disneyland from Salt Lake driving down old US-91 and my mom had to turn over some grapes. Grapes that were likely grown in CA and exported to Utah, but were now unsafe. The whole thing is just silly. It's one of the few things that's made me laugh today.

Two more days and I'll be in the desert. Two more days of drifting down California. It's a long long state. The mile marker at the border starts at 783 and ends at 0 on the Mexican border. But it's "home", or will be. I guess I'm now a Californian.

The Parting Glass

I've been listening to a song by a wonderful Scottish folksinger named Archie Fisher called "Parting Glass". It's different than the traditional Irish song by the same name. The opening line goes like this: "The fire is out, and the moon is down, the parting glass is dry and done. And I must go and leave this town, before the rising of the sun."  Those words were going through my mind as I turned and looked back one last time at my home on Fauntleroy Park, looking through the hallway towards the empty dining room, past the fireplace and out towards the forest in the back, before turning off the light, then closing and locking the door one last time on the last day of Summer 2016.
I'd wandered through the empty rooms after cleaning and making sure I'd not left anything behind. Remembering and reflecting on the last almost twenty years. My ex husband Tony and I bought the house in 1997 and it had been a wonderful home. I've lived in this house longer than any other home I've ever lived in my entire life.

When it's empty of artwork and furniture it's almost sad. It's hollow. It echos. It kind of makes it a little easier to leave it. A little. It is no longer "my" home.
One last time I go out on the balcony and look back into "my" forest and listen to the quiet that was so special here, and breathe deep the fresh air of the woods with their damp "woodsy" smell. The night before I left a family of raccoons came scampering up by the garage, purring like they do -- their eyes glowing in the dark, but I could make out their shapes. They stopped and stared for a bit as if to say goodbye before turning and waddling off.
Seattle will no longer be home. I will be back -- next summer if not sooner, spending a few months here -- the opposite of what I've been doing spending the winters in the desert. I'll be living in the desert and visiting Seattle, rather than living in Seattle and visiting the desert. But Seattle, after 27 years, will not longer be home.  Home will be California. I will make it home, just as I made Seattle home.

This past Sunday I had a bit of a going away party, and many of my closest friends stopped by for a visit. It was grand to see everyone and there were lots of hugs and tears. I will miss my friends very much -- and of course everyone plans on visiting and I hope they do, but we all know it's not the same. As I said, Seattle will no longer be "home", and I won't be "coming home" when the winter is over, and that makes a big difference. But just maybe, as it is with the symbiotic relationship that seems to exist between Seattle and Palm Springs, down the road many of my friends will retire there as well. I'm just getting there earlier -- the result of being able (or forced into) retirement earlier than most.

Earlier this month while I was in Colorado on a vacation, one of my dearest friends, Garland Jarmon (whom I actually met on this site 8 years ago) stopped by my house to take in my mail. My leaving is very hard on him particularly, and he wrote this poem and took this photo.
I stand here in your darkening room - the sun is setting.
To my left I hear the chirping of birds through the window, through the wood.
To my right the ticking of the clock; ever counting the passage of time - without fail.

It must be 6:45pm - the lamp ahead of me clicks on.
Perhaps this is not the end. Perhaps something of yesteryear will return, will last, will be remembered.

The clock still ticks, "No, all things 'ventually fade, my dear friend. Nothing lasts forever."
"Will love last forever," I quip?
"Yes, that will," the clock replies, "but soon, not even here. Soon, even that will move on from this place."

Memories are here. Laughter. Anger. Ecstasy. Service. Joy. Tears. Heartbreak. Friends and family are all here.
"Everything will fade, one day" the clock ticks - tocks - ticks - tocks...

That soul/sole light reminds me, "Remember this place."
"Remember this place."
I stand here in your darkening room - the sun is setting. :'(

It's hard to let things go sometimes -- especially something as wonderful as a home in the woods, and a city that, for the most part, I love and that has been very good to me. But time, as Garland noted, marches on. And although I traveled a lot, and for many years lived part of the year in Olympia for work, this house at 9445 37th Ave SW was my "home" and even though I would leave, as Auntie Mame would say about #3 Beekman Place, "It's always so loyal, it just sits here and waits for me to come back."  No more though, a new family will make it home and I will no longer be coming back. Things change. I have to let go, and so I do -- and I drive South to the desert and a life there. "Long is the road and many is the mile, before I'll rest my soul again." It's a long drive to my new home in the desert. Towing the bikes behind me on a trailer I can't travel as fast as I would, and I wonder if I want to.  My friend Louis says I should -- hurry and put Seattle behind me. I'm not sure I want to.  I'm officially "homeless" in that I don't have a place in the desert yet, but I'm working on it. I expect to be there sometime next week. I'm going to take my time and visit friends as I head South.

I've always been a wanderer, and here I go again a wanderin' again. I don't have a place to live in Palm Springs yet -- but that's not a problem, I'm sure I'll find something. I do feel like my time in Seattle is done and it's time to move on, but still I'm sad. "...and when I'm done with wandering, I will sit beside the road and weep. For all the songs I did not sing, and promises I did not keep."

The Only "Openly Hispanic Legislator"

The process of leaving one's home of 26+ years is always a daunting job. The task of packing up the home means that you will, quite literally, touch virtually every single object you own! But I think the toughest thing is leaving long-time friends behind. And while I've been wintering in Palm Springs for the last three years -- spending only half a year in Seattle, this town has, until now, been home. It's where most of my closest and dearest long time friends reside. When I retired I didn't see them as much, but they -- and I -- still resided here. But when one decides to relocate, in many ways its a "goodbye". And I've been saying a lot of goodbyes this summer, and more so as my move date rapidly approaches.

Today it was a final lunch at a favorite restaurant with a dear friend. I first met Margarita Prentice within a few weeks of moving to Washington in 1990. I was the newly hired Director of Government Affairs for the Washington Credit Union League, and she was a newly elected member of the state House of Representatives after serving a partial term as an appointed legislator. Because she served on the Financial Institutions Committee, I went to a fundraiser for her with a check from the Credit Union PAC.

There I found a short little Mexican lady who reminded me very much of my former boyfriend Ruben's mother. She was a nurse by trade and a big believer in credit unions. When she found out I had just moved from Phoenix she told me she was from there and we talked about Arizona and credit unions and my work teaching ESL as a volunteer in Arizona. That lead to me being "volunteered" by her to help out on a lot of things, and we became very close. She attended an early Human Rights Campaign Fund/Privacy Fund dinner -- at the time I was the treasurer of that PAC. The biggest laugh of the evening came when she introduced herself as the state's "Only openly Hispanic legislator", to a crowd of openly gay political contributors. The only other Latino in the legislature didn't admit his ethnicity as she did. She was always a stalwart supporter of same-sex issues as well. To this day she still asks how my former husband Tony is doing and makes sure to tell me send him her love.

Margarita represented the 11th district of Washington -- at the time it was Renton and part of West Seattle. In 1991 she ran for the vacant Senate seat in that district and won. It was a tough primary but she carried the day and I worked on her campaign. This photo is from 1992 with the other members of the 11th District -- Representative Velma Veloria who replaced Margarita and Representative June Leonard, Senator Prentice, and me -- sans facial hair and much younger.
At the time the Senate was under Republican control, and she was assigned to the Financial Institutions Committee where she continued to champion credit unions. That was also the year I left the Credit Union League and started my own firm, which also represented the largest credit unions in the state among other clients. Our friendship gave me an open door with Senator Prentice and our friendship grew because of it. Two years later when the Democrats took the majority in the Senate, they named Senator Prentice chairwoman of the Financial Institutions Committee. Being one of the only Democratic affiliated lobbyists who represented financial institutions, I remember very well the look of panic on the faces of the banking lobbyists when they learned that a very liberal, staunch credit union supporter was given the chairmanship of their committee. I of course thought it was the best thing in the world.

In the 24 years she served as a legislator she accomplished more than many long serving members, and rose in power and influence over time, eventually becoming chair of the Ways and Means committee responsible for the state budget, and even Senate President Pro-Tem her final year. Her complete legislative bio is here http://www.historylink.org/File/9502 if you want to learn more details on that, but this post is about our friendship more than her legislative accomplishments, and there are far too many stories to tell in this short post.

As her power and influence rose so did mine, and as the years went by I had unprecedented access to the Senate wings and the members of that body who adored her as much as I do. I owe a lot of my lobbying success to our friendship. She had only token opposition in most of her campaigns, and after 1992 it was really just me and her doing the bare minimum -- raising money, putting out yard signs, placing a few adds and maybe a mailer or two. And we did spend a lot of time together -- both in Seattle when out of session and in Olympia when in session. She had some health scares -- including a session in a wheel chair because of a broken ankle, and I enjoyed being her chauffer, both pushing the wheel chair and thus keeping other lobbyists whom she did not want to visit with away, and taking her to and from events in my Hummer.  Getting her in and out of that giant truck always was a chore -- she is short enough to just about walk under it -- but we managed, and she loved the big rig and the fact that it so irritated many of the "greenie" types that live in Seattle. We once drove up to a fundraiser for the Governor in it, and all eyes turned when this monster truck showed up with the Priuses and Subarus and this short little lady hopped out.

When her husband passed away in 2003 I was a pallbearer and my Hummer was second in line behind the limo she and her family rode in and the hearse. After the graveside service she asked if I'd take her son and the other younger nephews for a ride in it and we went bouncing around the back part of the cemetery on the left over dirt piles from graves. We didn't think anyone noticed but when we got to the reception after -- a little later than we planned -- I said "sorry we got delayed" and she smiled at me and said "yeah, we all saw how you were "delayed", thanks for entertaining the kids."

Those Hummer rides were actually featured in an "attack" ad that was ran against her in her final campaign in 2008. Her token Democrat opponent in the primary was a young buck who though he knew it all and could tie her to a "powerful lobbyist." One campaign mailer said ""Prentice often gets around the state capital in a yellow Hummer driven by Gary Gardner a powerful lobbyist for MoneyTree and other financial interests".  It was one of my proudest moments in my lobbying career -- and hers.  She pulled no punches and often told everyone that "Gary is my best friend."  I was touched and very humbled by that.

But by the same token, we often disagreed on policy and issues, and I didn't, contrary to popular belief, always get my way. She took great pleasure in beating me at the legislative game on some issues, and when people would say "Gary always gets his way" she'd start ticking off all the times I didn't. In the end I think I lost more than I won, and I'd tell potential clients who wanted to hire me to try and get her to change her mind on something that if I knew she was strongly opposed to what they wanted they would be wasting their money.

She retired at the end of 2012, and I lasted one more year and retired at the end of 2013. During those final couple of sessions we'd have dinner once or twice a week -- usually at a down-home Mexican place where she'd practice her spanish, or at Sizzler where she loved using her senior discount. Most lobbyists colleagues were aghast that we'd go to such dives when they all took legislators to the two or three fancy places in Olympia. But I was the one squiring the Chairwoman of the most powerful committee in the Senate to dinner twice a week or more -- even if it was just Sizzler.

Back in Seattle we had a favorite place that we'd go to once or twice a month just to visit and gossip and talk politics and family. It was the clubhouse restaurant at Foster Golf Course down the hill from her home in Renton. We were such regulars there that they'd be concerned if we didn't come in after a few weeks. We held many a fundraiser for her and other candidates there as well. It was -- and is still "our place".  She'd call or I'd call and say "lunch?"  the other would say "Billy's" and one of us would give a time and we'd be there. Lunch would often last for two hours or so.

Today was the last of those lunches -- for a while. I interrupted my packing for a final lunch with my Senator. She always could get me to drop whatever I was doing at the drop of a hat. Our friendship is that strong.
We sat out on the patio on a glorious Seattle afternoon, and I wore my "Tuck Frump" shirt just for her which she got a big kick out of. Funny my beard gets grayer -- her hair doesn't. It's as black now as it was when we first met. We talked about politics as usual, and about family and the weather and how much we both detest Seattle these days. We talked about Phoenix and the desert and her love of Frank Sinatra and old movies and her little dachsund who is very protective of her and hates me. We laughed over old stories -- we have enough to fill a book, and maybe one day we will. The owners came by to say they were worried they hadn't seen us in a while. It was hard to tell them I was moving. I picked up the check one last time as a good lobbyist always does, and hated to see the afternoon end, but the boxes and packing tape were calling me.

I hate goodbye's, I really do. I hope it's not, but we all know how things change when one is away for a long time. I much prefer "see you down the road". She hugged me and said she loved me, and I did the same. My eyes got watery as I watched her drive away. "It's not goodbye" I said to myself, and mouthed to her "See you next summer."

Our friendship will last -- we'll talk and email, but its gonna be a while before we have another lunch on the patio at Billy's or she giggles as she gives people the finger who give us one in my Hummer because it's not "green".  Margarita is much like my grandmother, who I eulogized and wondered how such a big spirit got into such a tiny body. I don't know how such tiny women have such a big influence and presence, and my life in the desert will be very empty without her.

September QuickThrottle Column

Taking a break from packing up my life and getting ready for the movers to come pick it up next Tuesday, I'll post my September column from QuickThrottle. Taking a look at the effects of legalization of weed in Washington and Oregon. With any luck I'll be all packed up in a few days and have a couple of days with friends to say goodbye to my home for the last 26 years.
I think one of the best sensory experiences while riding is that of smell. There is nothing quite so wonderful as the smell of riding through a forest and breathing in the fresh air, especially after a light rain. And then there is the smell of a fresh mown hay field out in the country on a summer’s day, or the salt water of the ocean along US-101 down the coast. Even the odor of a motorcycle engine is unique and to many of us as sweet as a flower. I don’t even mind riding past a dairy barn – sometimes.

And lately, unique I suppose to Washington and Oregon, I’ve been smelling something else as I’m riding along. Something we used to smell discretely (and not so discretely depending on our age and our circle of friends), but that I smell quite often now. It’s the smell of weed.  Marijuana. Pot. Have you noticed it?

I’m serious! It’s a rare day that I go out on the bike that I don’t catch a whiff of someone smoking weed as I’m riding along. It’s become more and more evident after the legalization of recreational marijuana in the Northwest it seems. People here are no longer hiding their use of cannabis. Not that they should either – I fully supported the legalization of marijuana. That being said, I have to ask should we worry about the amount of pot being smoked while people are driving or am I just imagining what I’m smelling?

During the debate over marijuana legalization there was a lot of talk about how it would or could impact driving, and how do we measure whether or not someone is impaired.  There are decades of studies for alcohol use and impaired driving, but none really on cannabis use. The Washington Institute for Public Policy won’t release their first Legislative mandated study on the effect of legalization until the fall of 2017, and it will look at increases in traffic accidents and deaths among other things.

The standard for measuring marijuana intoxication in Washington is 5-nanograms of THC per-milliliter of blood – no THC at all if you are under 18 years old. Some marijuana users say the standard under the new law is too low, and unfairly criminalizes people who use medical marijuana. But studies from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggest the standard may be too high to capture drivers impaired by marijuana. The debate will rage on for sometime I expect as the effects of the new law are studied, and we won’t see any formal reports or studies until next fall. But there has been an uptick in highway deaths reported in Washington in which someone had THC in their system from 139 in 2008 to 183 in 2015. But the findings have been inconsistent in determining any direct link between driving while under the influence of marijuana and an increased risk of crashing.
Common sense says too much pot will influence and impair the operation of a motorcycle or car just as too much alcohol does. Some groups have a zero tolerance for use of any intoxicating substances while riding. In my days as Lead Road Captain for Seattle HOG (Harley Owners Group) we had such a policy when it came to alcohol and in our pre-ride meetings we’d reinforce that. Since legalization, Seattle HOG has changed their pre-ride notice to say “the use of impairing substances which includes, but is not limited to, alcohol, and prescription or other recreational drugs that may adversely affect one’s judgment or ability to safely operate a motorcycle is prohibited.”

But what about those operating the cars and trucks we are riding among?  What about all that weed I’m smelling out on the road? Should we worry? The places where it is legal to smoke or consume marijuana in Washington is actually rather limited, but it seems many folks are ignoring this. It’s even more restrictive than drinking or smoking tobacco. You cannot smoke or consume cannabis: in public; in view of the general public; at the store where you bought it, hotels, restaurants; bars and clubs; stadiums; concert venues, or all federal land. Smoking while operating a car or even riding in a car is prohibited.  So why am I smelling it so much?

My best guess is that most folks assume it’s OK to use pot wherever one can smoke or drink (and remember you can’t drink in a car). Remember it’s not. Another reason I smell it so much is because in Seattle especially, the police, by ordinance, are required to make marijuana use enforcement the very last priority. In other words they can’t enforce the law.

All that being said, I still strongly support the legalization of cannabis. It’s amazing how it’s turned into a billion dollar business in just a year or so. The level of professional products and packaging, marketing, and retail outlets is impressive. It’s not something you buy in a sandwich bag from a grungy guy behind a dumpster anymore.  The state is making millions in needed revenue, and there are thousands of new jobs.  That’s all good.

Just remember, please, as you wouldn’t drink and drive, please don’t toke and drive or have a brownie or cookie or chocolate or whatever and drive – or ride. That old rule “puff, puff, pass” isn’t a rule of the road.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

A singer-songwriter by the name of Townes VanZandt once sang ˆthere's no stronger wind than the one that blows down a lonesome railroad line, no prettier sight than looking back at a town you left behind.." These days there's no more lonesome railroad line than the original mainline through the Rocky Mountains, the storied Tennessee Pass line of the the old Denver & Rio Grande Western. The original line was constructed as a narrow-gauge line in 1881, and standard gauged in 1890, and was the main route, albeit rather circuitous, between Denver and Salt Lake City until 1934 when the Rio Grande built a connection between the Tennessee Pass line and the main line of the Denver and Salt Lake RR through Moffat Tunnel.

The massive railroad mergers of the 1990s saw the Rio Grande merge with the Southern Pacific and then the Southern Pacific merged with the Union Pacific and then suddenly the Tennessee Pass line was redundant.  The Union Pacific ran the last train over the line in 1997, nearly 20 years go. Since then the line has been "embargoed", that is the tracks are still there, but they are not in service. This year my best friend Dave and I decided the strong wind that propels us to wander and explore the abandoned mines and railroads of the West, would blow us to Colorado as we needed to see the Tennessee Pass line before it vanished forever, for who knows how long the Union Pacific will keep it, or if they will file to abandon it permanently.
We started our morning in Salida, Colorado at the foot of the grade up the valley of the Arkansas River. The tracks heading generally Northeast up into the mountains, the rails brown with rust, weeds growing between the ties, and the signals dark and silent. For 115 years this line carried freight and passengers into the West, and now for nearly 20, they have been quietly waiting to be brought back to life. We followed the line up US Highway 24 towards Leadville and the pass, as it wound through farms and along the river and high mountain valleys surounded by 14,000 foot peaks -- every several miles signal masts still standing, staring blankly down the tracks, their electrical components stripped and stolen by copper wire thieves over the years.
The climb up to the summit of Tennessee Pass is more than 40 miles from Salida, the tracks crossing the Arkansas river on bridges still lettered for the Rio Grande which disappeared into the Southern Pacific back in 1988, and sometimes the sage and wild fox gloves would grow to near tree sized between the ties, and up over the signals.
At the top of the pass, the railroad tunneled underneath the mountain, and there is a small yard with a wye for turning helper locomotives that were attached to trains to help push them up the 3% grade on the West side of the pass. The tunnel had gates that lowered in the winter to keep snow from drifting in, and the tracks, rusted and unused that haven't seen a train in nearly 2 decades mean that generations of chipmunks don't need to worry about getting squashed.The tunnel, lined in concrete, and like all blank canvases attracts spray paint artists. And even though it's miles from anywhere, it is now covered with graffiti -- and is substantially cooler than the bright sunshine outside. It runs under the highway crossing which sits at 10,424 feet above sea level. The light at the end of the short tunnel is the daylight on the other side, not the headlight of an approaching train these days.The line dropped down the West side of the pass, heading down towards the Colorado River and into Utah. The grade is nearly 3% here -- exceptionally steep for a railway, with the tracks curving their way down the mountain and along the headwaters of the Eagle River and towards the town of Minturn at the bottom of the grade. The railroad following the river, and the highway which came much later, clinging to clifs and soaring over canyons on high bridges.
In Minturn there was another small yard, and a place where the train crews rested in a dormitory motel. The area still posted as property of the Denver and Rio Grande Western RR. The road across the yard tracks has been paved over by the town, although the crossing arms and flashing signals still stand waiting to warn motorists if a train is approaching.
Whether this amazing feat of railroad engineering through some of the most glorious scenery in Colorado reopens remains to be seen. When Southern Pacific merged with Rio Grande it became a major line for traffic from the San Francisco Bay area towards Kansas City and Chicago via Pueblo, Colorado. But the connection to the east at Pueblo -- the old Missouri Pacific -- now too part of the giant Union Pacific, has been abandoned and torn up, so even if trains do run over Tennessee Pass once gain, there is no place for them to go except north to Denver, and this steep line is a much longer way to get from Salt Lake to Denver than the current line. The state of Colorado has identified it as a key rail line in case the current and more direct route Moffat Line through Moffat Tunnel ever closes, the tunnel has issues, or becomes too busy, so they oppose abandoning it. But time, weather, and disuse, not to mention metal thieves and vandals will continue to take their toll on the tracks. But I suspect, just like the wonderful line over Snoqualmie Pass back home in Washington, it will one day be torn up and allowed to revert back to nature or become a hiking/biking trail.  I never saw the old Milwaukee line over Snoqualmie Pass with tracks. At least I can say I did with the Rio Grande.

Some twenty miles past Minturn, at the unremarked spot called "Dotsero" - so named as it is the "dot zero" point on the survey of the Colorado River which started where the Eagle joined the Colorado -- the Tennessee Pass line then joins the present Denver to Salt Lake mainline. Although now owned by the Union Pacific, it will forever in my mind be the Rio Grande.

And ironically at Dotsero where the track from Tennessee Pass curves to join the main line to Salt Lake the signal still glows red, unlike all the other signals on the line -- facing up a track that hasn't seen at train since 1997.  I suppose just in case a long lost ghost train comes winding downgrade from Tennessee Pass along the most lonesome railroad line in the world.

Two Shorts Don't Equal One Long

I think this is the first year in a long time that I haven't -- and likely wont -- get to take a long multi-day motorcycle ride. I shipped Angus back from Palm Springs at the end of the winter because I didn't have time to fly back down and ride him home, and I'm not riding to my Mother's birthday in Utah like I usually do in August. The magazine and I skipped Sturgis this year too. Now with the pending move in a month, it means I'm not going to get a long multi day trip this year unless its later in the fall. But I've got to buy a house and get it set up etc, so chances are pretty slim.

But in the mean time I've taken a couple of long all-day trips around the state to kind of say goodbye to some favorite places and to escape while the realtors took over the house for open houses and stuff.  The weather has been glorious and I've enjoyed the rides -- but nothing quite equals a multi-day trip. Two or three short trips don't equal a long one.

I've sort of been compiling a list of great burger joints to visit on kind of a farewell burger tour this year -- a post I'll finish before I leave. This past Saturday was the last free Saturday I'll have before the moving vans come on September 20th, and wanting to ride Yakima Canyon one more time before I leave, as well as hit up some favorite spots, I took the day to make a nice 320 mile loop around the central Cascades. Although it's barely mid August the leaves are starting to change already on the passes, even though this was also the hottest day of the year so far.

Unfortunately, and even though it was a Saturday, Seattle's soul crushing traffic made my trip from home to Issaquah -- a whopping 18 miles -- take over an hour in stop-and-go surface street and freeway traffic. It didn't open up until I started up Snoqualmie Pass just east of Issaquah. THIS I will not miss when I leave.  But once I hit the open road, despite it being I-90, my blood pressure dropped and I got to enjoy the feeling of wind on my bare arms as I rode up the pass in a sleeveless t-shirt. It was warm, but not terribly hot. I-90 is not the greatest road in the world -- rough in many spots and noisy, and so I bailed off at the earliest opportunity and headed up to the small town of Roslyn, some 80 miles from Seattle.
Roslyn was an old coal mining town back at the turn of the century. (As an aside do we get to still call the 1890-1900 period "turn of the century" because technically we are in a new century now?....hmmm.) Roslyn's claim to fame however was that it was the exterior setting for the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska in the 1990's TV series "Northern Exposure". Despite the show being off the air now for more than 20 years, poor little Roslyn still clings to it's fifteen minutes of fame and tries to capitalize on it, and believe it or not people still flock to it for that reason, like they do to North Bend, WA, the site of another 1990's TV show "Twin Peaks", and out to Forks, WA, home of the vampires and werewolves in the gawdawful "Twilight" movies.

I hadn't been back to Roslyn in some years -- it was a regular stop in the 1990s whenever people would visit after I first moved here as they all wanted to see the town from the show. It hasn't changed much -- my two favorite spots are still there, Roslyn Cafe and the Brick Tavern.
I hopped back on Angus and rode down a few miles to the next town along the way, Cle Elum. This is an old railroad town on the Northern Pacific, but the few trains on what is now BNSF's secondary main across the Cascades don't stop at all. The best thing about Cle Elum though is Owen's Meats -- who's slogan is "You Can't Beat Our Meat", or "The Candy Store for the Carnivore". It's as old as the hills and is the traditional butcher shop with an old wood floor worn down soft, sawdust, and the smell fo spices. The jerky is a staple on any long motorcycle trip so I buy a pound although I'll only eat a few sticks and give the rest to friends.

Just outside of Cle Elum is a great old burger stand -- but I just rode on past Twin Pines as I was headed for Miner's in Yakima and I can't eat that much. The road here is the reminant of the old US-10 which was the main highway before I-90 was built. It ambles along the Yakima River between Cle Elum and Ellensburg, following the old Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road rail lines -- the Milwaukee now an epic rail- trail. There are lots of floaters on the river today cooling off in the near 100 degree temps, floating lazily down the Yakima on tubes and rafts, laughing and splashing and waving at the lone biker riding by on the sparsely traveled WA-10. This is also "Trump Country", with a plethora of Donald Trump signs along the way. If I had my pistol I'd likely shoot at them as I ride along, but I only imagine doing it today.
In Ellensburg I turned South on WA-821 otherwise known as Canyon Road, and at one time was US-97. This is one of my favorite motorcycle roads in the state. Its winds along the deep Yakima River canyon, keeping pace with the river and the railway on the opposite bank. It's 25 miles has hardly any straight sections at all, with long sweeping curves that are a blast to ride -- usually. The through route between Ellensburg and Yakima is I-82 which climbs up and over the bluff on a more direct route, so only a few sightseers, rafters on the river, and motorcycle riders tend to take this road.  However I got caught behind a caravan of four motorhomes each towing a car and none of them pulling over as required to let folks pass, pretty much making the trip down the canyon not as fun as it could be on those sweeping curves. I was hopping mad. I wished I'd had Superman's laser eyes so I could melt their damn rolling shoeboxes but even if I could the air and land was so dry that we'd have an epic wildfire for sure. I tried my best to just enjoy the road, but looking at the back end of a motorhome kind of ruins it.

At the base of the canyon I finally passed them and emerged out into the orchards around Selah -- and promptly got hit smack in the face by a yellow-jacket who doesn't die on impact but proceeds to sting me multiple times until I can brush it off my face. The remaining 10 miles into Yakima are a bit painful to say the least.  But ahead was Miner's -- a wonderful old burger joint with traditional fries and ice-cream shakes, and burgers the size of car tires -- and an ice pack for my face. This is a regular sized burger and a medium fry. It was my only meal of the day, along with a peach-pie milk shake, all eaten in their outside picnic grounds in the shade of some wonderful trees.
I did my best to avoid getting the "itis" from all that food and rested and digested and burped a bit before climbing back on Angus and heading West along US-12 and WA-410 up and over Chinook Pass. It started to cool off along the Naches river as the road wound higher up the pass towards Mt. Rainier. There are small fishing camps located along the highway, and one of my favorites is the old Elk Ridge Lodge outside the hamlet of Cliffdel. I had photographed it for my Ghosts of the Road series a few years back, but riding through this year it seems like it's been restored and reopened.  I was glad to see the neon sign brought back to life and it looks like a charming little property. Lets hope this ghost has come back to life.The road was quiet all the way up to the pass and down past Tipsoo Lake as the sun started to set, a few straggling hikers still walking around the short loop trail. Riding down WA-410 past Crystal Mountain and Greenwater and into Enumclaw it stays warm with ultra fresh smelling air and is wonderful with little to no traffic. The Mountain rises up to catch the last of the suns rays as I wound my way home through the traffic in Maple Valley and Renton, pulling into the garage 10 hours and 320 miles later.
Two days later I ride down to the Fauntleroy Ferry dock and head west across the Sound and ride over to the Olympic Peninsula to visit my friend Judy and her husband out in Sequim. Judy's my dental hygienist and I've known her for 25 years. You know when you find a good dentist you keep going to them, and a great one when you see them socially. I was fortunate that when I moved here in 1990 a co-worker recommended a dentist near the office in Redmond. That's how I found my dentist, Ron and his hygienist, Judy. And even though I left that company and started my own firm and my office was no longer in Redmond, I'd still go over a couple of times a year because they did such good work.  Judy and I clicked right off the bat and became good friends, laughing our way through my cleaning sessions (which are 3-4 times a year in my case), sharing photos and stories about family and friends and trips. I felt I knew her husband and watched her daughter grow up. We'd have to shut the door to her suite sometimes we'd be laughing so much folks would wonder what the heck was going on. And even though it was a teeth cleaning, I'd always look forward to going over and seeing her.
She and her husband bought a weekend place in the town of Sequim out on the Olympic Peninsula along the shore of the Strait of Juan De Fuca a few years ago and she's been inviting me out ever sense. When I returned from Palm Springs this year for my scheduled cleaning with her I got to the office and find out she'd retired a few weeks before I got home. I got in touch and we scheduled a visit out in Sequim where they live full time now, and she wouldn't have to have her fingers in my mouth the whole time.It was rather cool when I left -- so much so that I turned around after a few blocks and came back to the house for a leather jacket -- much different than the hottest day of the year two days before. The ferry dropped me off in Port Orchard and I rode out along WA-3 towards the Hood Canal Bridge and onto the Peninsula. There were some gray rain clouds gathering over the Olympics but by the time I got over the bridge and the 70 miles or so to their place the sun was out.  Sequim is in the rain shadow and gets just a fraction of the rain even Seattle gets.  This too is Trump Country as evidenced by yet another great burger joint, Fat Smitty's in Discovery Bay, and a number of home-made Trump signs along US-101. And no, I didn't stop for a burger here either. If I stopped at every great burger joint on my farewell to Washington burger tour I'd put on the 70 pounds I lost last year in no time. Besides I didn't want to sit under a "Trump" sign saying "Make America Great Again."  You see I already think America is pretty great now.
I rode up to Judy's place and we chatted for a couple of hours on her back patio with it's stunning view overlooking Protection Island and the Strait, nibbling on cheese and crackers and laughing up a storm as we always do, watching boats go by and seals in the water. Too soon it was time for me to head back, so I threw my leg over Angus and turned back towards Seattle. The sun started to go down and I chased my shadow down US-101 and then onto WA-104 and back over the  Hood Canal bridge. I made it just in time for the 825pm ferry as the sun dropped behind the Olympics.The boat was nearly empty as we glided east towards Seattle, and it was cool out on the deck. There's a lot I won't miss about Washington and Seattle -- chief among them the traffic and the politics.  But I will miss my secret quiet roads, the ferry boats, the water, my favorite burger joints, and most of all my friends. And I'll be back a few months each summer for sure, but my time as a Washington resident is rapidly coming to an end.

August QuickThrottle Column

Half way through August -- and the leaves are already changing I noticed. Summer went by fast. This month's column deals with the naming of vehicles. I know a lot of people do, but growing up we didn't do that and I kinda found it odd but I've also adopted it too, naming my bikes at least. So I thought it would be fun to look into what people name their vehciles and why...
When I was a kid growing up in Utah, my family never named any of our vehicles. It was always just “Mom’s car”, or “The Blazer” or “The Truck”. It wasn’t until I had grown and moved away until I even heard of people giving their vehicles a name like you would give a name to a child or a pet. And while I was and still am a car/motorcycle nut of sorts, and even though these machines take me wandering down the road that I dearly love, the machines themselves never seemed to me to really need a name. They were always just that, a machine.

To tell the truth, I always thought it was kind of silly to give an inanimate object like a machine a name. I wouldn’t name my blender or my table saw something, why would I name my vehicle?  But vehicles – be they motorcycles or cages – do have a personality, and like pets they sometimes take on or reflect the personality of their owners. They often feel like living, breathing things, and they are in a sense “alive” when we fire them up.  Gradually over the years I found myself referring to my own bikes this way. As a living semi-autonomous being, not just a machine or a collection of metal parts.

Ships have always had names. In the nautical universe, boats have traditionally been named after women and referred to as a “she”. This practice, going back to antiquity, most likely stems from a way to honor and remember the women sailors left on land when they went to sea, and that the ship cradled them like their mother did. And even after ships started being named after men, the vessel themselves are referred to as women; “The Abraham Lincoln – she’s a fine ship”.

And since a motorhome is somewhat analogous to a land based ship, I know quite a few people who have named their motorhomes. A close friend once named her beat up old homemade contraption of a motorhome “Rocinante” after the horse in Don Quixote because, like the horse, it was awkward, past its prime, and engaged in tasks past his capabilities.  Some would say sort of like me writing this column every month.

But a motorcycle or a car?  These are not ships that one in a way becomes married to and lives aboard. Nor are they living breathing entities like a pet or a horse. Or are they? Maybe that’s why I actually gave both my bikes names a few years back. They are the only machines I’ve named, and they are very much “alive”, and some would say I live aboard them and are married to them. But I’ve not named my truck – it’s still the truck. However the bikes on the other hand, well mine are named Angus and Bandit.

The names just sort of came to me too – I didn’t set out to name them or put a lot of thought into it, they sort of just popped into my head one day and they fit.  Angus because he’s short, stout, black, and powerful – like Angus cattle, and because I’m Scottish, it makes perfect sense.  Bandit because he’s quick and fast and runs like crazy, like a bandit would escaping the police. It fits both of them and seems natural.

So when it comes to naming bikes, and why we do it, I reached out to a couple of my riding buddies who also named their rides and asked why they did and what the meaning behind the name was. One said he named his bikes because he believes it creates a special bond between man and machine, and with that bond the bike becomes your “trusty steed” and your road protector. He says his bike is his best friend and thinks of all the laughter, joy, and unforgettable memories he’s had, and thus owes it “respect” and calling it just his “bike” or his “Harley” instead of something with meaning or heart would be disrespectful. His latest bike is named “Rose” because she changes colors like a rose petal can, and his old bike was named “Fancy Irene” after the Reba McEntire song and his grandmother. His mother’s bike is named “Rizzo” since he’s an old school rat bike and reminds her of the character from the musical “Grease”. Unlike ships bikes seem to be either male or female it seems.

Another friend named his bike Edna. For a 30-something guy this name was just a bit too “old” for me to figure out and I would always snicker at it. He said all his vehicles have names and they have all been female, and the name just “comes” to him, and doesn’t really have any personal meaning. Although he says he named a pair of troublesome busses that he drove for work  “Thelma and Louise” for that reason.

Maybe I’m being sexist, but my bikes are both male. I don’t see them as ladies at all. When one is in being repaired “he’s” in the shop. And if I’ve not gone out riding, I need to take “him” out for a ride. These two bikes are just not feminine in any way for me to give them female names. And perhaps I do it because they are like an extension of me and part of my family, and they, like people and pets, have a personality. Some would say even one that reflects their owner. Loud, fast, obnoxious, persnickety, troublesome, grouchy when cold or hungry, opinionated…

But I guess in the end, whether you name your bike or not, whether you consider it alive and a member of the family, or just a tool to get out on the road, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, as long as it calls you to the highway to get out and ride and you head off down the road to see what’s around the next bend.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com