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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, there 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 

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