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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 

White Center Night

There’s something about a warm summer night. One can go outside for a walk and enjoy the evening air without a jacket. Late at night the traffic dies down -- most people are in bed or headed that way. The night is quiet and still. Here and there pockets of light from streetlights and still open businesses light up the darkness along mostly quiet streets on the fringe of the city. More often than not, nights can be lonely as well. Think of the well-known painting by Edward Hopper “Nighthawks”. It captures that sentiment and mood exactly, and perhaps that’s why I love the painting so much. It’s how I often feel roaming or riding the streets late at night.
Ice cream is a weakness of mine, and there is nothing better than ice cream on a warm summer night. Sometimes when I’m in a roaming mood, or bored, or can't sleep, I’ll hop on my little bike Bandit and ride down to a local offbeat ice cream joint called Full Tilt, which has some amazingly unique and bizarre flavors. It’s in the neighborhood of White Center, which is the closest thing we have to a “hood” in this part of Seattle. To many people it can be kind of ratchet and seedy -- maybe even scary to some I suppose, but to me it’s just a neighborhood a little down on its luck, full of flavor and character and characters. It has “potential” and one day no doubt will be “discovered” and then infested by hipsters and gentrified.  But not yet.
16th Avenue SW is the commercial strip, if you can call it that. Sort of the “Main Street” of White Center, which jokingly refers to itself as “not so white, not so centered.” It’s Seattle nickname is Rat City -- not as many would say, because of the rodents or the trashy residents, but because during WWII it was home to a military Relocation And Training Center – RAT. This three or four block stretch is faced with a number of 1920s era two story brick buildings – empty and occupied commercial space on the ground floors and small apartments upstairs. Most of the upstairs seem to be vacant judging from the many dark windows, but a few are clearly occupied -- lights on, the smell of food cooking coming out the open windows which are propped open with a box fan.
In addition to Full Tilt and it’s unusual ice cream selections like "Fruity Pebbles", "Vegan Chocolate" and "Bourbon Peach", the other store fronts tend to be tattoo shops, a great pizza joint, an even better burger place, a couple of stores of an adult entertainment nature, a barbershop or two, a legal aid office, a boxing gym, a couple of pawn shops, quite a few bars, and one single lonely little recreational marijuana store.

When Washington legalized recreational marijuana a few years ago, the enabling act had strict locational requirements setting minimum distances from churches, schools and the like. Most of the ones in Seattle are therefore in industrial areas, but a handful are allowed in areas like this. The effect of legalizing pot has brought it pretty much into the main stream. The stores I've visited are all clean, well lit, tastefully decorated, with helpful staff and stocked with a wide variety of professionally packaged products. The effect of “legitimizing” it has brought it out from the seedy underbelly of the world and made it quite normal. One no longer has to buy a dime Ziploc baggie of weed from a toothless unkempt guy next to a dumpster behind a Quik-E-Mart.  It kinda takes the taboo feeling out of it.

Except here. This sketchy little weed store – no name or sign on it, just an “open” sign under a green fluorescent light – with security bars on it’s frosted windows, housed underneath some darkened un-occupied apartments, and two doors down from an “adult” business, harkens back to the old days of buying a once illegal substance. It just feels seedy and somewhat illicit, and in many ways, lonely and sad.
This is the modern equivalent in my mind of the Edward Hopper painting. A lonely, almost sad late-night clientele, in a dim building on a dark street under a solitary streetlamp, stopping by for a little dab before heading off down the road.

I found myself here the other night, sitting on Bandit, across the street from the weed store, eating a two-scoop bowl of Full-Tilt’s best (Thai Ice Tea and Cinnamon Toast Crunch). I was alone, but far from the only person on the street, even at 10:45 pm, just before the ice cream store closed. I had the smokers ducking out of the tavern down the block, and the vegan hippies stopping by the pizza place for a gluten free crust coconut milk cheese pie, not to mention the surprisingly numerous patrons of the weed store – most all of whom would fit the stereotype of someone who used to sell illicit MJ from similar darkened doorway, minus the green light and the “Open” sign. It was quiet on the street except for the occasional passing car and it's "thumpa thumpa" bass speakers, and in the distance from one of the second floor apartments came the sound of a woman perhaps imitating a cat in heat, I’m not sure, but she seemed to be enjoying whatever was going on.
The ice cream store closes, the street gets darker as their lights go off. A guy in a dark BMW drops off one of his "girls", looking almost like central casting’s version of a pimp and hooker, she leans in the drivers window,  her minimal covering leaving nothing to hide, before she then scampers upstairs into one of the apartments. A few minutes later a too cute young gay boy couple park and get out hand-in-hand, hoping for some ice cream but just missing the closing hour. They wander into the weed store instead and emerge a few minutes later, arms around each other’s waists, and one holding a small bag in his hand. They smile and I nod at them as a kindred spirit -- they get into their car and drive away. I finish the last of my ice cream, toss the cup into the overflowing trashcan and fire up Bandit and drive off into the dark night myself.

This is life on the fringe of the city. 

July QuickThrottle Column

Posting my July column now. I've been so busy with other projects since getting back from the desert I've not written anything else, although I've started to. Have had a lot on my mind and been wanting to write, but no time and when I do have time the muse isn't cooperating. One day... This month's column is more on the absurdity that is Seattle these days.
How do we measure success? I suppose there are a number of factors depending on exactly what it is we are measuring and that we defining as “success”. A surgeon measures the success of a heart surgery if the patient is better off than before. A singer measures success in the number of records sold. Someone trying to save money measures success in how many dollars are in the bank at the end of the month. A successful motorcycle ride is, well, virtually any ride is a success in my book. And we all measure personal successes in various ways.

But did you know the city of Seattle measures the “success” of a road in how few cars it carries. Yeah, that’s right. A successful road in Seattle is one that carries fewer single occupant vehicles than before. And yet the city says “there’s no war on cars”.  Uh huh. How else do you explain the yardstick they are choosing to measure success?  How few cars drive on it? I mean it is a road. This is like measuring the success of a construction company by how few buildings they built.

This line of thinking is taking hold in all along the West Coast cities – but no more so than Seattle. It explains why the license renewal for my Angus is now nearly $250. Because I live within the city limits of Seattle, I pay $105 of that fee directly for transit, and $25 more for “highway improvements, transit, and other needs”. I’d predict that none of that actually goes for highways. It does say that $30 of that fee goes to fund “road construction and maintenance”.  $30 out of nearly $250.  Wow. We know where the priority for roads is don’t we?

But even that $30 should be enough, with the gas tax revenue included, to keep our streets smooth and paved and able to function as intended – to move as many vehicles around freely as possible. That is the function of a road. Good roads don’t need to cost a lot of money either. Truly they don’t if we chose to spend it on roads. Actual roads.  If we did we’d get a bang for our buck.

In Washington state 1% of all dollars spent goes towards “art”. Those are the salmon sculptures we see along the roads sometimes, or the designs and paint in sound barriers or the art in transit stations and bus stops. Personally I’d rather have another mile of pavement or a fewer chuckholes than a sculpture of a salmon hanging off a bridge.

Nationally more than 20% of the federal gas tax underwrites non-highway projects like bike paths and transit. Only about 5% of people actually ride transit on average – higher in big cities like New York and Chicago where the density permits and demands it. But we are spending 20% of the dollars for less than 5% of the users.  And believe it or not, I support transit – it takes some cars off the road giving me more room. But we have to be realistic in our spending.  Portland has over a hundred miles of light rail.  Seattle has 20. Seattle’s is 5 times more expensive than Portland’s because Seattle has to elevate or tunnel its project, whereas Portland is at grade level. Portland gets a bigger bang for their buck.

In addition federal law requires paying “prevailing wage” on all federally funded road projects, thus adding more than 20% to the cost of building a road – assuming we even build a road anymore. That means that in low cost areas we are paying wages that are paid in high-cost areas. If Congress would use the gas tax as intended – for roads, and allow local contractors to pay local wages, we could fully repair our infrastructure and not have to raise the gas tax on the federal level.

Locally we could do the same thing, but sadly that isn’t going to happen. Not as long as the city continues to measure a successful road as one that doesn’t carry cars. We will continue to get a half-hearted attempt to patch a few potholes, but we won’t get any increase in capacity, we will get a decrease. More bike lanes, slower speed limits, more “road diets”.  I think the biggest adjustment for me coming back from a winter in the desert and in Southern California is that the roads there actually carry traffic. Vehicles move. Even the much-hated LA freeway system actually moves traffic – sometimes very slowly, but the volumes it carries are staggering. The problem in Seattle and Portland is that the volume has increased but the capacity hasn’t. And the answer here isn’t put in more capacity, its make less roads, more transit. And those of us who use the roads are paying for roads, and we aren’t getting roads. That’s not a measurement of success in my book -- it’s a measurement of failure.


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

June QuickThrottle Column

Got Angus back the other day, and a nice weekend coming up so I'm looking forward to getting out for a ride. It's taking some time to get used to the horrific traffic and swarms of Priuses here in Seattle, which makes my June column rather relevant. Still unpacking and getting organized after being in the desert for 5 months, but one of the first tasks was to write my July column, which means it's time to post the June one.

The day this issue comes out, June 1st, is the day I start my drive back to the Pacific Northwest from my winter home in Palm Springs. Once again I’ll be trading in sand and sunshine and palm trees and heat, for cool and moss and green and water. “Green” in more than just the color of the flora and fauna too. Seattle and the entire Northwest take great pleasure and pride in being very “green” from an environmental standpoint, unlike here in the desert where other than wind and solar power, the area seems to ignore environmental trends. After all Seattle is the land of the Prius – or is that Prii, I’m not sure. Have you noticed that you can’t really pluralize the electric vehicles?  Really.  What is the plural of Prius? And if you have several of Nissan’s all electric vehicles, the “Leaf”, do you have “Leaves”?  But I digress.

And if you are thinking I’m joking I’m not – at least about the number of electric and hybrid vehicles in the Northwest. According to a Seattle Times article about Prius ownership, the Department of Licensing estimates that 5% of all vehicles in the PNW, double the national average, are hybrids and most of them are Priuses or however we are going to pluralize the annoying little cars.  The Urban Dictionary defines the Prius as “the most liberal car ever”. As the Times says, “the distinctively styled sedan has become a kind of green status symbol, an example of conspicuous conservation.” And have you noticed that most of the drivers tend to have a bit of a “holier than thou” mindset too as they silently roll along.

But believe it or not, despite the fact that Priussess proliferate to the point they are like swarms of mosquitos, especially in Seattle and Portland, it is NOT the most popular car. Take the number of Priusoids and double it and you’ll have the number of Subaru Foresters (see you can pluralize that one it’s not electric or a hybrid.)  That must make the Subaru the “official” car of the Northwest I suppose, although for some reason those swarms of Priusers seem to stick out more and thus seem more prolific I suppose.

Which got me to thinking.  If the Prius and the Forester are the iconic cars of the Northwest, what is the equivalent in the motorcycle world? Well Harley’s Street Glide is the number one seller in the motorcycle world, followed by the Ultra Classic (i.e. Geezer Glide).  My salesmen buddies at the dealers confirm that, although they say they sell a lot of Sportsters too. When I’m out riding I see more Ultras it seems than anything, but then again I do take longer trips. Walk into a showroom and you’ll see more Street Glides on the floor than anything most of the time because it is Harley’s number one seller. But what bike really is number one in Washington?

I had my friends at the Department of Licensing run some numbers for me as my inquiring mind was trying to figure this all out. I asked them for the make and model breakdown statewide for motorcycles. They can’t do model designations apparently, although looking at my registration it does have model listed.

And to no surprise, the highest number of registered motorcycles in Washington are Harley Davidson’s -- by a rather substantial margin too. According to DOL there are 214,511 motorcycles registered in Washington as of year-end.  Of that, 67,694, over one third of all motorcycles, are Harley-Davidsons. One in three motorcycles on the road in Washington is a Harley. That’s an astounding 23,000 bikes more than the second most popular maker, Honda at 44,886.  That itself is nearly double the number three make, Yamaha with 28,903.

Going further down the list, number four is Suzuki at 22,133, followed by Kawasaki at 20,506, BMW at 9,582, KTM at 4,847, Triumph at 4,740, Ducati at 3,628. Interestingly DOL counts Vespa’s as a motorcycle, as they hold down the number 10 spot.  The remaining manufacturers, such as Buell, Indian, and Victory round out the bottom of the list.

The Times article on Prius/Subaru numbers said that the “outdoorsy Subaru represents Seattle’s free-spirited inner child” while the “earth friendly Prius” is the responsible adult. Using that analogy then would Harley’s Street Glide be the “inner child”?  It does seem to be the most popular bike amongst people in my age bracket who are undergoing midlife crises and take up motorcycling. That’s also why you’ll find plenty of used Street Glides with exceptionally low mileage on them in the pre-owned marketplace once the midlife crisis passes. Does the Geezer errrr, Ultra Classic then represent the “responsible adult”?  The serious biker who goes out touring and enjoying the road?  Maybe so.

Then where does that leave those of us who like our stripped down naked old school bikes with minimal saddle-bags and no fancy cruise control or “infotainment” system? Those of us who tour the world on our Dyna or even a Sportster, who have to stop for gas every 120 miles, who still freeze our buns and hands off on cold mornings without our heated seats and grips, and who says  “I’m not lost, I’m just somewhere I’ve not been before” and grabs a paper map rather than cuss out the GPS.

I guess we would be the rebel child then. Not the “free spirited” one, not the “responsible adult”, but the one who doesn’t give a rats ass and rides for the sheer unmitigated joy of flying over the road with a motor between our legs and the roar of the exhaust in our ears. But hey, does it really matter in the end. We are all riders, and we all enjoy the feeling of freedom that comes only on a bike, be it a Harley or a BMW -- I’m not sure about a Vespa though, and certainly no one ever claims to drive a Prius for the joy of being on the road.  And even more important, unlike the Prius, you can pluralize whatever you ride easily.

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

Someone's Always Sayin' Goodbye...

The wonderful Canadian folk singer Anne Murray sang that song back in 1982. I remember it well. I was working at KZAN in Ogden, Utah at the time -- a country formatted station. I've always loved that song.  "...and someone stands there, with tears in their eyes. It's the same old scene, time after time, that's the trouble with all mankind.  Someone's always sayin' goodbye."   The person with tears in their eyes was me today, as I said goodbye to a dear friend of mine who is off to start a new life with a new partner in a new city.

I met Quincy Tyson about 12 years ago. He'd just moved to Seattle, and we started chatting online and I offered to take him for a motorcycle ride, and he accepted. Since then he's been one of my dearest friends in Washington, and we've seen each other through ups and downs, illnesses and scares,  jobs and boyfriends and broken down vehicles, and dog sat each others dogs, and worked on political campaigns together. But most of all he's been a great motorcycle riding buddy.

About 5 years ago he was working as a private limo driver and he happened to get a fare from the then owner of Downtown Harley-Davidson, one Terry Stallcop. Terry and I had become friends, he read my columns, I bought my bikes from his dealership. This chance encounter lead to Quincy being able to charm his way into a riding class and to learn to ride. And I would let him practice on my little bike Bandit.
One day we went for a nice evening scoot, taking the ferry across the water to Port Orchard and riding down to Bellfair and a biker bar. On the menu at that bar is the BABB -- "Big Ass Biker Burger".  Quincy, who is so skinny that if he turned sideways would fall through a crack in the floor, decided he wanted it.  The burger came -- it was as big as he was, but with his hummingbird metabolism, he was able to eat it.
So as we were leaving the tavern, Quincy is eying Angus, and so I said, "you wanna try a bigger bike?" and somewhat hesitantly at first, he rode Angus back to the house.  By the time we got to my place he said he wasn't giving him back. He'd fallen in love with it.  So much so that a few weeks later he somehow again charmed Downtown Harley into selling him the exact same bike, only a newer model and with a slightly bigger engine than mine -- something he never let me forget. He named her "Edna".  That's right Edna. Now what biker in his right mind names his bike Edna? Quincy did.  And despite that name, we still rode many miles together. Because he lived in an apartment with no parking I let him keep Edna in my big garage/shop, and he'd come over and get her whenever he wanted to ride.
We even had a chance to be in a Harley fashion show for Downtown Harley Davidson one summer.  We'd ride often as we could, schedules permitting -- particularly in the summer when we'd head out to Cumberland in East King County and the City Hall Saloon for the infamous biker Taco Thursdays. It's a big thing every week, several hundred bikers converge on this bar far out in the country for $1 tacos and live music.  Quincy would usually scarf down an even dozen. A DOZEN. And yet he stays so skinny!
We'd get a group of rider friends together -- usually Quincy and Me and sometimes Crazy Tim, Peter, Garland, and when he could, Vince Edd. We'd hit Taco Thursday every few weeks or so all summer, especially if Quincy, who was now a tour bus driver, wasn't off on a wine tour in Eastern Washington, where he'd drive the tour and bring back more wine than he knew what to do with. Well he knew what to do with it, drink it of course, and he became quite the wine aficionado.  Moving to Memphis he's going to miss his Washington wines for sure.

Two years ago Garland had to unfortunately give up riding, and then Vince decided to say goodbye and move to the San Francisco Bay area last year, and our little biker gang shrank, but I got more room in my garage as both Vince and Garland kept their bikes at my place. Quincy and I were there to say goodbye to Vince as he left. Yet another one who said goodbye... Somone's always saying goodbye.
And now with Quincy leaving, there's just me and Peter in our little gang. He and I were co-miserating about that at Quincy's goodbye dinner on Friday -- but we'll still head out to Cumberland, the two of us, and drink a toast to the friends who have left us, and we'll miss them.

A year or so ago Quincy met a wonderful guy named Michael, and they are very happy.  Michael's job transferred him to Memphis and the newly graduated with a Master's degree from the University of Cincinnati, Quincy, decided to head there with him. Michael is learning to ride too, so Quincy and Edna will have someone to explore the roads of Tennessee. A dozen or so of Quincy's friends held a farewell dinner on Friday night and we all laughed and drank the evening away remembering the good times, and taking the obligatory selfies.
On Sunday Quincy and Michael came by to pick up Edna in a trailer as they head down the road to Memphis. This wasn't easy as Quincy had forgotten the keys and the forks were locked in a left-turn position. It took four of us to pretty much carry an immobile bike up into a trailer, but we did.

As he strapped Edna to the trailer, in my head I'm hearing Anne Murray once again. Someone's leavin' and someone's left behind. Well I don't know how things got that way. But every place you look these days, somebody's always sayin' goodbye. I've had a lot of goodbyes this past year it seems. Friends, relationships, locations -- they died, they moved on, I moved on, but someone, something, some place is left behind. And these days it seems like everyone's always saying goodbye. I swore I wouldn't tear up but I did as I hugged them both. Then I waved as they drove out of my driveway and turned up hill and off towards Memphis and a new life in a new city.
Turning back into my garage there sat Bandit, all by himself. Edna was gone for good, and Angus is still yet to be delivered after being shipped back from Palm Springs. I threw a leg over and fired him up for the first time in five months.  After a few sputters he started to purr and, like I always do when I'm sad, I strapped on my helmet and headed off down towards the ocean.  This time, once again, there was no light from a following biker in my rear view mirror. I've lost another riding buddy. But the road down towards  Alki Beach was clear and as always, the open road calls me on, and the wind dries the tears, and the highway heals the heart.

Godspeed my friend Quincy. Ride Safe.

Driving Up The Coast

Being out on the road as much as I am, I've spent many a night in a small town who's sidewalks rolled up precisely at 7pm and there's no entertainment save for a dive bar at best or whatever is on the TV back in the motel. Often finding food can be a hit or miss affair in places like that. My usual tactic, regardless of the town, is to ask the hotel front desk clerk if they could eat anywhere in town where would it be? And if they answer with anything other than a national chain (you'd be surprised how often the answer is "Applebee's" or "Cracker Barrel") I generally take their advice.  Except one time when I asked a clerk at a hotel in Thompson, Georgia where he would eat, and in his deep southern drawl sounding a lot like the actor Leslie Jordan, replied "Augusta".  I asked "Where's that?" He pointed out at the Interstate and said "50 miles that way".  The desk clerk in the bustling town of Medford, Oregon last night didn't reply with "Eugene" which is the next town up the road.  When I asked my standard question he suggested a local brew pub, which sounded like just the ticket. So after changing clothes my buddy Devin and I headed up there, and were very sad to see it had closed for the evening (it was only 730pm on Sunday night).

After driving around town for a bit, the only local option we could find in the immediate vicinity was a Chinese place. Chinese in a small town can be hit or miss for sure. One of the best I've ever been to was in of all places Aberdeen, Scotland. Go figure. We decided to give this one a shot -- and why not, it just had to be good. I mean it was called the "China Hut" for one thing, and you can't go wrong with any place named "Hut". And they also proudly declared they had American Food and Cocktails on their sign!  And there were a whopping two cars outside!  It was sure to be the best in town.
The menu was interesting, with a standard range of Chinese dishes, and a lot of American things too like hamburgers and steaks and fried chicken. I ordered some dumplings and General Tsao's chicken. The dumplings came with a nice tangy sauce. that was a tad red... and I mean RED! The restaurant and the food and particularly the sauce reminded me of the small town in the classic comedic movie "Waiting for Guffman".  If you've seen it you will remember  the local travel agent, played by Fred Willard, who despite his job, has never actually left the town at all, proudly declares at their local Chinese restaurant, "this is the real deal -- you can't get sauce this red in China". And indeed we couldn't.  And when the main course came -- complete with a fork, no chopsticks, well we knew we'd landed in the right place!  Yes, truly a culinary delight in the town of Medford.  How we ended up in Medford on a Sunday night is another thing entirely.
I've had company on my trek back up to Seattle from Palm Springs, and its not just the Hummerbear on the dashboard. My old friend Devin flew in from New Jersey to ride up with me, having been some seven years since he was last on the west coast. I was sad to leave the desert as I mentioned, and the first few miles were difficult driving -- the wind through the pass pushing me back East for one, and the tears for another. But I got past them both and am looking less and less in the rear-view mirror and more to what lies ahead.
I picked up Devin at LAX the next morning and we set out for Hollywood. He's never been to LA and that's the one place he said he wanted to see before we headed up the coast. So we did the usual -- went past some movie studios, down Sunset Blvd, past Rodeo Drive, and to Grauman's Chinese Theater to see the footprints. And we walked down the "Walk of Fame" and looked over the stars -- ones we all knew and many we'd not heard of and quite a few that I'm sure are now "forgotten".  But I did happen upon the star for the one and only Gloria Swanson, i.e. the great Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. -- now lost amongst the forgotten folks of yesteryear -- rather appropriate I guess.  Given that I found that star, and we'd stopped by the Paramount Studios Gate, it was a sign then that I had to walk up the hill to another Sunset Blvd. movie icon -- the apartment building where Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, lived before moving in with Norma to that great big old mansion out on the 10000 block of Sunset.  I imagine today those apartments are far from the run down cheap ones that a struggling screenwriter in the 1950s would have rented.
After that we headed out on the Hollywood Freeway, aka US-101 and up the coast, out past Ventura and up through Carpenteria and Santa Barbara and into Pismo Beach for the first night on the coast. It was a glorious sunset out on the pier, watching the surfers for a while before walking up the street and grabbing a bite to eat.
The next morning we headed further North, sticking to the 101, up through San Luis Obispo and Salinas before going through Santa Cruz and into San Jose. The next day Devin wanted to head into the city and explore some of San Francisco, especially the Castro neighborhood. So we hopped on BART rather than drive the loaded down Hummer into San Francisco and attempt to find parking and all. It was a very nice day in the city and towards the end as the sun went down and the neon on the old Castro theater came on, it got rather chilly to say the least as San Francisco can be this time of year. So we headed back to the hotel to get an early start on the road Sunday, taking a vintage 1940s PCC street car back to the BART station.

The Golden Gate was shrouded in fog as we left the city on Sunday and headed up the long drive towards Mt. Shasta and into Oregon. But as soon as we left the bay area it warmed up and stayed unseasonably and record breaking hot the rest of the day, to the point that it felt like I was headed back to Palm Springs rather than away from it. It was 95 degrees in Mt. Shasta, CA at 3pm, and was still in the 90s at 8pm when we pulled into the China Hut in Medford.

The Seattle Times reported record heat in Seattle yesterday and all this week.  We plan on getting to Seattle in a couple of days, giving my tenant time to move out of the house and clean. But it kinda feels like I brought Palm Springs back to Seattle with me with this heat.

Moving On

When you are young the time seems to pass slowly, and the days seem to be years. As you get older it passes quickly -- too quickly --  and the days seem to be hours.  It's hard for me to believe that my time in the desert this winter is coming to an end. It seems like just yesterday I got here, and now it's time to head back home to the Northwest. It really sank in today when the transport company came to pick up Angus to ship him back home. Normally I'd drive home and then fly back in a few weeks and ride him up the coast and home, but time and funds don't allow for that this year unfortunately. As a biker it feels weird to be passing up on a multi-day road trip, and it makes me a bit sad.
And truth be told I'm somewhat melancholy as my time here winds down this year. It feels in many ways like the ending of a good book. And I know I should be excited about starting a new book, and I guess I am -- yet I'm still feeling a bit blue.  My good friend Louis says "remember the good times, and look ahead, never look back", but then again Louis has always been a much more free-spirited guy than me. I tend to attach to places and people and feel sad when it's time to move on. You'd think being a roving biker who feels at home on the road that I'd not feel that way -- but I do.

And while this winter has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster as I've sorted things out, learned about myself and grown some, for the most part I had a wonderful season. I've made a lot of new friends and have some wonderful new people in my life. I had a part-time job just for the fun of it at Home Depot that I really enjoyed and will return to when I come back.
It was an experience going back into the workforce as a "worker-bee" rather than a boss, punching a time clock, and not being in charge, but I really enjoyed helping customers with projects and I met some great co-workers, and got a workout most days loading 90lb bags of cement and sheets of wallboard and lumber.

I experimented with printing my images using a new photo process, where images are "baked" at a high temperature onto sheets of metal, giving them an almost 3D look, and we've been showing them at the gallery here in Palm Springs as well as Portland, and have even sold a few.
And I've made a lot of new acquaintances this year as well, and got the chance to broaden my horizons when a couple of them asked me to go to LA and play a small part in a web-based TV series that they do. It started out as an innocent conversation in a bar about voice-over work, and a few weeks later I got a call asking if I'd be interested in this part. So I took a weekend and went to West Hollywood, feeling a lot like a fish out of water as that is not my element (the very young, hip, gay crowd, not the TV production business which I'm very familiar with), and played a fun role in a their web series called "Pregame".  You can check out Season One online -- Season Two comes out soon, and I'm in an episode in Season Three which comes out in the fall http://www.pregamewebseries.com My role was that of the client of a personal fitness trainer who is rebuffed in his affection and goes a bit crazy/stalkerish.  It was a blast to play, and the creators, the very talented John Boatner (far right/maroon hat)  and V.A. Patrick Slade (next to me)  have asked if I'll come back in Season 4.
Perhaps the highlight of the winter though was playing softball in the Palm Springs Gay Softball League. I had some apprehension going to the initial open tryouts, thinking back to my one disastrous little-league baseball season in elementary school. But I did surprisingly well playing at catcher.  And although the team I was mostly comprised of newbies such as myself and as such we had a bit of a Charlie Brown season, we finished strong and won our final regular season game and our first play-off game, giving us 4-16 record and coming in 5th place out of 7 teams in our division. I was really proud of our little Charlie Brown team, that got steadily better as the season went on, and I think will continue to improve and I'm looking forward to playing again next season.
Yet somehow I still feel that as I'm moving on, that I'm closing some doors, and driving off into the sunset. I know I'll be back, this place is starting to feel very much like home, and there are people who draw me back. But I also know when I return to the desert that I won't be staying in the same place I've stayed the last two years, and that's the chapter that's ending for the most part. It makes me a bit sad, giving up on what I thought I had here with Danny, but realizing I never really had it to begin with.  Still I'll miss living in his house and his two dogs Kiki and Sammy, as this place has felt like my winter home for two years. And I also know that I'm not the same person I was when I got here. I've grown a lot emotionally, gotten a better handle of who I am and my sense of self is starting to come back. I'm a much stronger person, I didn't cut and run when things got bad as I've done in the past, and I've learned to let go. That sense of self is something you lose when a relationship evolves, when things change, or you end your career -- especially as young as I did, all of which seemed to happen to me at once. But I'm also more grounded I think too these days -- at least more so than when I got here.

Next Thursday I'll be Seattle bound again, taking some time to wander up the coast in the Hummer with a long-time friend from NYC who's coming out to enjoy the road trip with me. But in the morning when I get up, head to the gym, and look out at Mt San Jacinto rising above the desert, I get a little melancholy knowing that my view will be changing for a while. I'm moving on. Onwards and upwards -- I hope, but moving on. Yes.  It's time.

May Quick Throttle Column

Well my time this winter in the desert is rapidly winding down. I plan on leaving to head back to Seattle three weeks from today on June 1. It's not been the best winter -- in fact it's been an emotionally rough ride on a nasty roller coaster -- but I've grown a lot, and have really been enjoying making new friends, working part-time at Home Depot, and playing softball, all of which will be tackled in a post later this month. This will be my last few weeks in this house, as next winter I won't be back here.  I'll be in Palm Springs yes, but not here, and I'm looking forward to getting back to Seattle and my friends and home there.  And since I just finished writing and sending off my June column for Quick Throttle, it's time to post the May one here.  It's a road story of sorts. When I first sent it to my publisher he said:  "All three black riders who read Quick Throttle will not be happy with you -- expect letters. But on the bright spot, at least you didn't piss off any of the other biker groups..."   And with that, I'll let you decide if this history of the road piece should piss anyone off...other than a couple of numbskulls in the Legislature. Oh, and so far, no letters...
The Washington Legislature has adjourned for the year and one of the critical pieces of legislation that passed was House Joint Memorial 4010 which addressed a most urgent matter that required immediate legislative action -- right up there with transportation funding and education. It seems that someone discovered that Washington SR-99 was, back in 1940 when it was US-99, christened the “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway”. You should recall from your High School History classes that Davis was the one and only president of the Confederate States of America. You know, the Civil War?

Naming highways is a long-standing tradition in this country – one of my favorites is the transcontinental US-6, which is named the “Grand Army Of The Republic” highway -- another Civil War reference. US-30 was once the Lincoln Highway.  US-1 down in the Florida Keys is known as the “Overseas Highway.” And of course California Highway 1 is known as the “Pacific Coast Highway,” and old US-66 is known, though not “officially” as “The Mother Road” after John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”  And apparently back in 1940 someone thought it was a good idea to name the old US-99 the “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.”

So the Legislature this year to address such a travesty of history in naming a highway after someone who lead the Confederacy, in it’s infinite wisdom, decided to rename what is now SR-99, the “William P Stewart” highway, after a black Civil War veteran from Snohomish County --although no one has called, and I can find no map references even in 1950s era maps to either US-99 or now SR-99 being referred to as the “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.”  It does strike me as odd that out here in the West we would christen a highway after the President of the Confederate States – I would have expected that somewhere in Mississippi or Georgia.  And at one time there were some markers to give notice and memorialize the Jefferson Davis Highway, in Blaine and Vancouver, WA, but they were taken down years ago. The Seattle Times said the old markers are now in a private park near Ridgefield, WA.  I guess I’ll have to ride there and check it out one day.

But as of the end of the Legislative Session, to address this evil violation of politically correct standards, and amend the wrong done in the first place by naming it after such a person, SR-99 is now henceforth and officially named the “William P. Stewart Highway.”  No word if they are planning any markers or memorials to Mr. Stewart or an explanation of who he is. In reality though Highway 99 is far more than the William Stewart Highway. There is so much more to its history than even being named after Jefferson Davis (and apperntly forgotten shortly after) and now renamed after someone else.  There is another story of this old road -- one that I’ve been contemplating here in my winter home of Palm Springs.

You see, I think I’ve figured out why most of Oregon and Washington’s “snowbirds” such as myself migrate to Palm Springs and the Desert Cities as opposed to other warm places like Phoenix.  It’s the history of US Highway 99 – or rather the old route of that highway.

In the pre-Interstate era, US-99 once ran from Blaine, Washington on the Canadian Border, all the way to Calexico, California on the Mexican Border.  It’s the main street through all the cities and towns along its former route – Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver. It was Aurora Ave. in Seattle, and the waterfront viaduct. In fact you can still see an old US-99 sign at the viaduct entrance on Columbia Street in downtown Seattle.
In Vancouver it crossed the river to Portland and headed on down South, splitting in Portland to US-99W and US-99E, which are today’s OR-99W and 99E through the Willamette Valley.  In California it was the main highway through the San Joaquin Valley, down past Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield. It went over the Grapevine and then down into LA and turned eastward to Glendale and up over San Gorgonio Pass and into Palm Springs. From there it went along the Western Shore of the Salton Sea and ended in Calexico on the border.  Once I-5 was finished the old highway was decommissioned and turned over to the states and left abandoned or its remnants as local or state highways.

I firmly believe this is the reason that when I go to Costco here in Palm Springs that the majority of license plates in the parking lot are from Washington and Oregon. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, when people started coming south in the winter, US-99 was the main road down from the Pacific Northwest.  It led to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. As generations of families vacationed and wintered to where US-99 brought them, the notion of Palm Springs became ingrained in the residents of the Northwest and passed down to family and friends over the generations, and now Palm Springs is the winter home for us mossbacks.

That my friends, is the real history of Highway 99. It’s history as a migratory route. The story isn't being named after the President of the Confederacy, or changed by the legislature in a fit of political correctness to a little known black soldier who fought for the Union. No, like US-66, the Mother Road of John Steinbeck that brought the dust-bowl Okies to California, and returning WWII soldiers on vacation to the West, Highway 99 brought the Pacific Northwest to the Desert.

And as such perhaps that is what should be memorialized.  California is marking its old major highways with signage acknowledging that fact, designating the remaining sections road as “Historic US-99”.  I’m glad to see someone – whether it was Washington DOT or another entity – has placed similar signage along Pacific Highway in Fife and elsewhere.  The old US highway system, in the pre-Interstate days is the real history and story of this highway. Thats what we should memorialize and remember.

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

Reincarnation?

Everyone needs that special friend. The one who listens to all your crap, lets you cry on their shoulder, and gives great non judgemental advice. One that is always there for you no matter what, through thick and thin, good and bad. Someone who's been through similar trials and tribulations and that you can learn from them. Someone who's friendship is so special, so strong, that it creates a bond that is often stronger than a marriage or even a blood relative. Such friendships are rare and special and wonderful.  I've been fortunate to have several of those in my 54 years on this earth.

The first one is my late friend Mike Bryant, who I wrote about several months ago.  http://grgardner.livejournal.com/96186.html You should go read that post before going much further here.  It's quite relevant to what I'm going to say. Go ahead, I'll wait.

In my 20s and 30s Mike was my closest friend and confidant. We liked a lot of the same things, we worked together, we traveled and explored together, and we were always there for each other -- when our relationships broke up, turned to each other.  When we had money problems, we helped each other out. We loved to go out to eat - at our regular haunts and at new places.When one of us was sick, the other one was there. He was like the older brother I never had. I loved him dearly.

Mike passed away in 1996. I've never really had a friend in the intervening 20 years like him until recently. Enter one Louis Furdge. Mike always joked that he would come back after he died as a Las Vegas Showgirl in the 1950s, however apparently he may have come back as a 38 year old black casino dealer from Mississippi who lives in Solveng, California.

I've known Louis for about five years now, we met on line and chatted a lot, and one time on a trip to Palm Springs we met up as he was living here at the time.  We didn't hit it off right away, more so on my side, and I didn't talk much after that, and I regret it very much. We reconnected when I got to the Desert in 2013 upon my "retirement" and if it hadn't been for Louis this past winter here in Palm Springs would have been almost more than I could bear. Louis has helped me in more ways than I can count, just being there to listen to me vent and cry and scream. He connected me with a great therapist here that has worked with me (and one Louis has seen as well), and together they helped me survive this year and grow and move on down the road stronger than I was before.

We've taken a couple of trips together the past few years when he has time off and can get away from work obligations or spending time with his boyfriend Jim, who thankfully understands our friendship and who somewhat grudgingly gives up some of his time with Louis so the two of us can have fun. We enjoy just palling around and seeing things, driving up the coast highway and eating way too much good food. For Jim to give him up like that I'm very grateful.

Strangely enough Louis has a great affinity for my Mom, and she for him. Mom had invited Louis to visit her and Ron so we took a quick trip up to Salt Lake City a few weeks ago. Mom cooked "Mormon food" for Louis, and Louis cooked "Southern" for my Mom and the two of them spent hours chatting. Never was there a more odd couple -- a 38 year old black gay man from Mississippi palling around with an 80 year old Mormon white lady from Idaho. The two of them met at one of my gallery shows here in Palm Springs a year or so ago and hit it off. They talk often on the phone, sometimes more than I talk to Mom -- to which Louis will remind me "your Mom hasn't heard from you in a while..." And when he and I talk he always asks "Hows my girl?" meaning my Mom who he calls the "Idaho Princess".
It was on that trip to Salt Lake City that I realized something, although it wasn't really clear right away. I've missed my friend Mike over the years, and longed for the kind of relationship he and I had. I realized that I had it once again in Salt Lake with Louis. And at a particularly appropriate place.

Mike and I loved an old fashioned hamburger joint in Sugar House called Millie's.  I took Louis there on our trip. I had told him about Mike when we were talking about friends and my early years in Salt Lake, and sent him the link posted above.  In doing that I re-read it myself and sitting at Millie's having a shake and eating french fries, I realized that Louis in many ways has become what Mike was 20 years later, right down to pigging out at Millie's -- twice on this trip alone!.  When this conclusion dawned on me I had to recreate a memory from 25 or more years ago.
A lot has changed over time -- Millie Burgers are now $3.19 not .99 cents. In this picture Mike would have been about the same age as Louis, perhaps a little older, while I've gotten older, more wrinkled, gray. Louis affectionately calls me a "Codger" sometimes, especially when I start worrying about money. But he and Mike are so much alike it's scary. Both love to laugh, to eat, and both cherish their close friends. Both have a zest for living life that I wish I had. Both are emotionally strong and able to help their friends cope with problems. Both are non judgmental and free with an ear and with great advice. And both of them mean more to me than I can ever say.

And while Mike was about 40 in that picture, Louis is about to turn 39 in a couple of days. And unfortunately we won't be in the same vicinity on his birthday, I'll be toasting him and wishing him well, and thanking God for sending such a wonderful friend into my life.  Happy Birthday my friend -- and many more down the road.