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Digging Up Roots

Although I am an adopted child, I’ve never really felt like one -- that I didn't belong to my family. And my family’s history is, in my mind, my history too. Although in a technical sense this may not be true, in a legal and emotional sense it is. I have always enjoyed exploring my roots, not out of a need or sense to “find” me, but because of my appreciation of history and my connection to it. Even little things like learning my paternal grandfather who spent a few years of the depression working for the Union Pacific Railroad as a signal electrician, was once posted at Kelso, CA – living in the depot dorms that are now restored as part of the exhibit at the Mojave Preserve visitor center. I'd always loved that building from the first time I saw it, and found it incredibly cool and fun long before I learned about the connection with my grandfather, it now has a personal connection that I feel whenever I visit it.
Growing up Mormon doesn’t hurt either. The Mormon church puts a great emphasis on family genealogy and knowing one’s ancestral history. The church has the world’s best genealogical resources on earth, and on paper I can trace my family back for many generations on both sides. Thus those of us who grow up in the church know a lot more of our family history than most folks do. And we Mormons (and ex ones too) often don’t have nice simple family trees either. With the early church’s practice of polygamy, those of us with early Mormon ancestors have what amounts to a family bush or hedge rather than a “tree”.

But unlike my mother’s side of the family, who’s personal history I know quite a bit about, I really know very little about my father’s family. For whatever reason, my dad was not one to talk about his family history, nor did we spend a lot of time growing up with members of his family who could tell me about it. And while I have the biography and journal of my great great grandfather, one Archibald Gardner, who was among the pioneers settling Utah and who had numerous wives and kids and who’s name is affixed to things all over the Salt Lake valley, I know very little of my own father, or his father, or my great grandfather. On my mother’s side I know a lot of both my mother's and my grandmother’s personal story – where they was born, raised, lived.  And I was close with her mother and several of my grandma’s brothers and sisters – people who would be my great grandmother and great uncles and aunts, and even some of their siblings who are alive today.  I’ve even written about them before on several occasions.

But on my father’s side, other than his younger brother -- my uncle Paul -- and his kids who are my cousins and with whom we spent time with growing up -- we really never knew any of his other siblings or my other cousins. My father’s maternal grandmother was alive when I was younger and I vaguely remember her, and I remember his father, my grandfather, and his second wife—my dad’s mother passed before I was born. But that’s really about it.

Like I said, I know all about my maternal grandmother’s early life, as well as my mother’s. I’ve heard their stories, first and second hand, and visited many of the places in their history. Not so much my father’s. Dad just never really spoke of his childhood, or his family. I do know that my dad was born in Nephi, Utah, but that’s about all I know. Whenever we’d travel through Nephi, Dad would never stop and show us or tell us about where he grew up, and he never had any pictures from those days. Mom was born in Clifton, Idaho, and we’d go there often when I was a kid and I know where she grew up, where her grandmother’s house was, where she went to school, the canal she swam in, the fields they farmed and on and on and I have a number of photos of her as a child in Clifton.

This past summer, she and I even visited and documented all the houses she lived in after they moved to Salt Lake City.  I never got the chance to do that with dad before he died, and I’m not sure he would have done it if I’d asked. In revisiting her history with mom this summer I got curious as to dad’s early history. When I was in Salt Lake in August I went to the church’s genealogical library to see if I could find any records of where they lived in Nephi so I could stop by and see since Nephi is on my route to and from the desert.

I found a copy of the 1930 US Census, which was taken just before my father was born that summer, and it showed my grandfather Eldred, and his wife Florence my grandmother, and their daughter Margaret – my aunt -- along with Florence’s brother and his wife, who would have been my Dad’s uncle and aunt -- living at 129 S.100 E, in Nephi.
I took a copy of that handwritten census page from the 1930 US Census, and then stopped by the address on my way back to the desert this past September.  Unfortunately, there was no 129 S. 100 E. There isn’t even a vacant lot there.  I was stumped, so when I got home and I enlarged the PDF of the census page, the 129 is likely 124, and there was and is a house at 124 that dates from at least 1930.

I had my cousins ask their Dad, my uncle Paul, what he remembered, and he said that he grew up at another address on 300 N.  So, this past week on my way to Mom’s for the holiday’s, and having to stop in Nephi to mail a package at the 1930s vintage post office on Main Street anyway, I went over to that address.
According to my Uncle Paul, this house at 54 E. 300 N. (above) belonged to his grandmother – my great grandmother – Florence Inscore. I barely remember my Grandma Inscore and visiting her at a home on Hudson Ave. in Salt Lake City when I was a child. But I have no idea how she came to be at this address in Nephi or any of her history.
Next door at 70 E. 300 N. is this smaller square house, which according to my uncle Paul, was apparently built out of railroad ties by my grandfather Eldred Gardner in about 1930. That would have been the house my father lived in until he was 13, when they moved to Oak Ridge, TN so my grandfather could work on the nuclear project during WWII.
This house, at 124 S. 100 E. is a couple of blocks from where Great Grandma Inscore lived on 100 North and where my Grandfather built the house next door. The census shows my grandparents and aunt living there on April 19, 1930. My grandmother would have been pregnant with my father at that time – he was born a couple of months later, on July 27, 1930. My cousins say that the family lived at this address while grandpa built the small house, which would have been completed in 1930 or 1931. I'm guessing, from the position of the house and the location it was built on his mother-in-law’s land as it is just next to their home. Grandma Inscore's house is rather fine and grand for Nephi, and I understand her family was somewhat well-to-do. But you see I don’t know – and I don't know if anyone living knows.

It is amazing to me that all of these houses are still standing and in good shape. It’s probably not surprising since Nephi is a small farming community, and hasn’t grown (and more likely has shrunk) since then.

I’m sad that my Dad never spoke of those years. For whatever reason he didn’t. And I’m sorry I never asked him about it. Perhaps he never felt a connection to Nephi, or perhaps he was embarrassed to come from there, or maybe he just didn’t care to remember his personal history. But even though he probably didn’t, I do, in a small way, feel connected to Nephi, just as I feel connected to Clifton. It’s part of my roots and I wish I knew more.

The New Road Home

For many years, my road home at Christmas has been south from the Pacific Northwest. Even after I moved to the desert last year, because I went back to Seattle before Christmas, my road home was the familiar trek across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Northern Utah. It was pretty routine, with a route that only varied slightly. There was always a one or two day stop in Boise, Idaho to visit family there and drop off Christmas gifts. Then there was the familiar bump in the road on I-84 when I crossed from Idaho into Utah just before Snowville, a bump that told me I was “home”.

But this year -- my first full year of living in the desert after uprooting from Seattle -- I went home for Christmas on a different road. It’s a road I’ve traveled many times before – but not home for the holidays which conveys another set of emotions. Coming down from the Northwest if it wasn’t rainy and cold it was snowy and cold, setting the stage for the holiday season. Coming up from the south one doesn’t hit snow until the second day afteer getting well into Utah. The first full day of driving is across the high Mojave Desert of Southern California, into Nevada, and Southern Utah, where the temperature remained in the 70s, the sun shines, and the vegetation is sparse. And like the route in from the north, the drive covers vast empty spaces – across a landscape where very few people live and work, and where most travelers grumble about how “boring” it is and how long it takes to get across. Not me. I love the great empty, and I find it starkness quite beautiful.
Like the road home from the Northwest, I’ve driven this road many times – most recently a few weeks ago on a run to Las Vegas. It’s quite familiar, I know every dip and bump, every climb, every pass, and all my familiar landmarks. The abandoned microwave tower at Sheep’s Pass, the salt mines and the old Roy’s Motel along Route 66 in Amboy, and coming up to the former Union Pacific Depot in Kelso -- now the Visitor Center for the Mojave National Preserve, where I stop for the first time since leaving the house. I visit with the rangers and look over the depot, and hope a train goes by. My Grandfather once worked here when he worked for the Union Pacific as a signal maintainer during the depression when this was a major rail center, and my Mom recalls him telling her he was in Kelso, so aside from it being a cool place it's got a bit of a family connection as well.
Time passes quickly – almost too quickly. Before long it’s up and over the Cima Grade, passing a train I wished I could watch rumble past the depot back in Kelso, then on past the abandoned store at Cima and through the “forest” of Joshua Trees and then onto I-15 at the California/Nevada line, all the while being able to count the cars I pass on one hand. It's why I like this back road through the empty land.
But suddenly there are people. Lots and lots of people. All streaming towards the casinos of Las Vegas, all pouring up 1-15 from SoCal, and for those who can’t wait to gamble there are the casinos built right on the state line at Primm, Nevada. A few years ago, just outside of Las Vegas an “artist” created one of those massive outdoor “art” projects called Seven Magic Mountains. It consists of a number of boulders piled on each other and painted neon bright colors. It is a sudden burst of color in the muted hues of the desert. I’ve wanted to stop and look at it every time I've passed, but again this trip failed to exit in time, so had to drive past it and double back. The place is crawling with folks taking pictures, so it takes some time to frame it so there aren't people taking selfies in every shot, or guys shooting their "wannabe model" girlfriends posing like Madonna is singing Vogue in the background. It makes what could be a very interesting art installation a tacky tourist stop for the Las Vegas crowd and that's unfortunate.
Then it’s back onto the freeway and into Las Vegas where it’s stop and go traffic all along the freeway through town, even at 3pm in the afternoon. It takes nearly an hour to get through the city. Once safely on the north side the road climbs up towards the appropriately named Apex before heading across more empty desert towards Mesquite and into Arizona. The sun goes down and it’s dark by the time I enter the Virgin River Gorge and start the climb into Utah, and crossing the state line from Arizona into Utah there is no “bump” to tell me I’m home, just a sign saying, “Welcome to Utah – Life Elevated”  which is almost lost among the lights of St. George. St. George is like Boise – the half way point on my journey home. But I don’t have any relatives to visit here, so it’s a quiet night by myself in a Holiday Inn Express.
The next day the sun is shining on the red rocks of St. George and the climb into Utah continues – headed North, passing Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons, gaining elevation, and finally seeing snow just outside of Cedar City.  I texted Mom as I was leaving St. George, and she said “good, you’ll be home by lunchtime” and I replied “or thereabouts”, to which she just said “yes, knowing you...” She knows my propensity is to wander, to explore, to stop and take photos. She used to say when I’d leave Boise headed south, “you are the only person I know who can take a ‘normal’ four-hour drive and make it a ten hour one.”
But for some reason, this time I’m not in the mood to wander. I have no idea why. I’m not in a hurry to get home either, but the desire to stop frequently and often wasn’t there for some reason. I’ll pay for that with stiff legs the for next few days, but I just was comfortable in the cab of my big truck,  enjoying the emply land, the mountains, the long flat valleys dotted with cattle, and playing CD’s and eating sandwiches I’d packed the day before. The road just rolled away under my feet and I didn’t stop once, even for gas, until I got to Nephi, Utah.Since I wasn’t going to go through Boise, and my sister wasn’t going to make it to Salt Lake City this year, I needed to mail their gifts, so I had an errand to do in addition to getting gas and stretching. Nephi – the county seat of Juab County, Utah is also where my father was born and raised. It’s a small farming community named by the early Mormon pioneers -- like many other towns in Utah -- after one of the main characters in the Book of Mormon. The ancient post office sits on Main Street, on what was once US-91. The town, now bypassed by I-15 which circles to the east, has pretty much dried up as a result. Main Street is filled with abandoned two and three story turn of the century vintage buildings, with a few café’s and stores still open, along with the stately Juab County courthouse, and a wonderful vintage post office built in 1931, the year after my father was born there.
I wandered in with my package and unlike any other post office in a big city, there was no line at all today. The clerk weighed and sent my package on its way to Boise and we chatted for a minute.  I told her she was lucky to get to work in this classic old building, and I was glad to see the Postal Service hadn’t closed it up and moved to something a bit more suited to its present operation and less costly to heat than this neo-classical Romanesque edifice.  She agreed and said the folks in Nephi “are proud of their post office” and wouldn’t stand for it. I'm happy. “Merry Christmas” she said, and I replied back as I strolled out of a building I imagine my father visited a few times as a kid mailing letters for his folks a time or two.Then it's back on I-15 headed north, inching closer to my own hometown, although I feel very much at home anywhere in Utah it seems. And while I’ve not lived here for almost 35 years – since 1983 – I don’t think I’ve ever really left. I know these roads like the back of my hand. But much has changed and it’s almost unrecognizable in many places, it’s grown so much. The traffic starts just before Provo now and lasts almost to Mom’s house in the middle of Salt Lake – at 3pm on a Friday. The stretch of highway between Provo and Salt Lake that I drove nearly every day all the time I was in college at BYU is now 10 lanes wide and full of cars. I used to drive through miles of farm land that is now all covered with office parks for tech companies.

Around Point of the Mountain and the entire Salt Lake Valley sprawls out before me, the valley ringed by the mountains that embrace me as well as the city. I’m home. I feel it in my heart. It’s Christmas. What’s not to be happy about?  I drive into Mom’s driveway and while it’s not the house I grew up in, it’s still home. She’s happy, and a litle surprised to see me so soon. She’s got soup on the stove and rolls in the oven and once again I’m back. In my head I hear John Denver singing “Hey it’s good to be back home again…” In the days ahead family and friends will gather, we’ll eat her great food, tell stories, reminisce, catch up, and enjoy the love we have for one another. Once again we are all together. It won't always be like this, we are all getting older. But for now, it's time to enjoy it all -- to soak it all in, capturing it, and holding it our hearts for the time down the road when we can't.

And while it feels a little different coming home from this direction, no matter what I'm home and glad to be here. For the foreseable future this will be the road home and I'll be here until its time to head back to my own home in the desert -- heading back south across the vast empty spaces of the West, to the sunshine and warm winds of the Coachella Valley.
 

On This Day...

Today is my 56th birthday. This morning I got up and rather than go to the gym like I normally do, I set out on my “non-gym day” walk. It’s just shy of five miles, up the hills to the highest water tank in town and the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park above my house. It was sunny, perfectly clear, and about 60 degrees. It’s a great time to think, to enjoy the beauty of the land around me, and experience the joy of living. Birthdays are not really a big deal for me, almost just another day, except for the outpouring of love and greetings from friends and family far and near. Greetings that all of us tend to skip over saying the rest of the year as if we can only say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you” or “Have a great day” just once a year, and that's a shame.  It’s nice to hear from folks, it really is, and I’m grateful for so many friends and loved ones in my life.

On December 11, 1961, in General Rose Memorial Hospital in Denver, Colorado, someone gave birth to me. I do not know who that person was. I was adopted 12 days later by my mother and father in Salt Lake City, Utah. George and Carol Gardner are, to all the world legally, and more importantly, in my mind and heart, my parents. They loved me and raised me and made me the man I am today. I really never think of myself as “adopted”, it was not a stigma or something to be ashamed of, or in my case, even curious about. Many adoptees wonder why their parents gave them up, and who they are, and search for them like it's a quest for the Holy Grail. I really never have. George and Carol – Dad and Mom – they are the ones who are my parents, they are the ones I’m connected to, who’s spirit is infused in me, even though they didn’t biologically create me.

But for some strange reason this morning, unlike any other birthday morning, I got to wondering about my birth mother. On this day 56 years ago she gave birth to me. I’m sure that it’s something she remembers to this day -- especially this day -- if she is still living. On this day, of all days, she surely must remember the physical pain of childbirth, and the mental heartbreak of having to give that child up. It had to take tremendous courage and strength on her part to do so. And perhaps today she wonders what became of me. Maybe she even cries, I don't know.

Back in 2013, the wonderful actress Judi Dench stared in a movie named “Philomena” about a young Irish-Catholic girl who at 15 finds herself pregnant and is sent to a convent to give birth. The nuns then “sell” her baby to be adopted by an American couple. The movie opens with her crying on what was her son’s 50th birthday, and her saying a prayer and lighting a candle for him. The movie then chronicles her search for her son. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what a wonderful heart wrenching story it is, and if you haven’t, well do yourself a favor and rent/borrow/stream it at your next opportunity.

So somewhere out there is my equivalent of Judi Dench – Philomena. Something I never really thought about until I’d seen the movie, and I can’t help but wonder what she thinks on this day every year. Perhaps its because I’d seen a clip of Ms. Dench last night that this thought popped up while I was walking today. And while I have no strong desire to reconnect or develop a relationship with this unknown lady (and to be fair, the unknown man who had something to do with it too), I would, if given the chance, say how profoundly grateful I am for her courage and strength to give me up to my parents so that I could have the wonderful life I’ve been so fortunate to live these past 56 years, and that I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

I’m not one to deal in “unknowns” and “what ifs”. I don’t waste time and wonder what my life would have been like had she not given me up and raised me herself -- it would have been what it was. But on this day, if she’s wondering if I’ve had a good life, and if I’m happy, the answer to that is emphatically yes! In no small part it’s because she had the courage to give me up for adoption some 56 years ago.  For that I’m very grateful. And as Judi Dench as Queen Victoria said, in the clip from Victoria and Abdul that I saw last night “Happy Birthday to me!”

December QuickThrottle Column

I really never have understood why police officers and their union tend to band together regardless of how bad an actor they may have in their ranks. Last summer a clearly rogue police officer with multiple complaints against him for road rage, lost it with a biker who was fortunate enough to film him with a helmet cam. And despite this, and despite a personal apology from the King County Sheriff, the officer has yet to be disciplined and remains on paid leave. We clearly need more civilian oversight of the police, and that is the topic of my last column this year in QuickThrottle. (BTW, I've gotten a few comments from readers about my new column photo -- it's not too bad on this month's header...)
No one likes having to interact with the police. Either you are dealing with something bad that has happened to you like a robbery, or you are being stopped for something you may have done. Neither is fun. Getting pulled over while driving is always a nerve-wracking experience just by the simple nature of what is taking place.  You are being stopped by a police officer for violating a law. You look back, see the lights flashing, you wonder “what have I done?” and start to pull over to the side of the road. A rather intimidating person then walks up and starts to question you while you nervously hand over your driver’s license, insurance information and vehicle registration. You try to smile through your nervousness. You have a sinking feeling. You might be lucky and just get a lecture or a warning, or you might get slapped with a huge fine depending on the mood of the officer and the nature of the violation. And that’s when the officer is going by the book and doing what he was trained and what we pay him to do. We’ve all been there -- some of us more than others.

But imagine being in a similar situation only with a rogue officer who is clearly out of control, is not acting according to established protocol, and all while you are sitting on your motorcycle in traffic. This is what happened to a rider by the name of Alex Randall in the Seattle area this summer.  Fortunately for all of us, he was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his helmet that filmed the entire encounter, then uploaded it to You Tube where it went viral and was broadcast widely on both local and national media.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s the URL:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSNb6NPoCy0

The “officer” (and I use that term loosely as he is in no way acting as a true officer would) has been identified as a King County Sheriff detective named Richard Rowe. He has worked for the King County Sheriff’s office for 19 years, and is currently assigned to the Woodinville Police Department which is staffed by the KCSO. King County Sheriff John Urquhart, who lost his seat in last month’s election, was so disturbed by the video that he personally called Randall and apologized, and promptly placed Rowe on “Administrative Leave” while the incident is investigated.

It’s now four months later – so where do things stand now? Unfortunately still in limbo. Nothing has happened, except that the King County Prosecutor has declined to press criminal charges. I’ve not yet heard back from the King County Prosecutors office as to why that determination was made. The administrative investigation being conducted by the Sheriff’s office is still ongoing, and a final determination of any disciplinary action against Rowe is still weeks away (as of press time in mid November) and may even be left up to the new incoming Sheriff.
Meanwhile, Rowe is still on administrative leave, drawing a paycheck for the last four months, sitting at home, while the King County Sheriff’s office continues the investigation. Turns out however that Rowe has had three other complaints filed against him for similar conduct in the past and, guess what?  Yep, he was never disciplined. Here we have an obviously unsuitable officer that is allowed to continue on the force.  Surprise! There’s that “thin blue line” again, bolstered by the wall of police officer unions. If I were a police officer or union official I’d be mad as hell, just as the Sheriff was, that someone like Rowe continues to be employed, represented by my union, and smearing the reputation of the department and the vast majority of officers who are upstanding if not heroic in their jobs.

It’s going to be hard to ignore this incident I hope – it was captured on video for all to see. Mr. Randall is fortunate that he recorded the encounter, otherwise he’d have no proof. I’m seeing a lot of riders wearing these cameras now. I own a couple and have made some nice fun videos, but don’t want to wear one on top of my helmet all the time, but maybe we all should. At least until it’s mandated that all police officers wear body cameras. It’s unfortunate that it appears body cams are going to be a sad necessity to prove cases like this – both for the citizens making a valid complaint and for the officer who’s wrongly accused.

Down the road what is also needed is more civilian oversight of the police force. Limited oversight of officer misconduct complaints in the King County Sheriff’s office are handled by the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), which reports to the King County Council. In King County it works like this: when someone makes a complaint against an officer, it is the Internal Investigation Unit that first classifies the complaint in one of three categories, but only the most serious one results in an investigation and disciplinary action, the other two do not. However, it is the officer’s compatriots who make those decisions, both classification and conducting the investigation. There is not an independent outside body involved at all.  Perhaps that needs to change.

One way to fix some of these problems would be to put some civilian oversight on the complaint process and investigation. Legislation to do just that – to allow the OLEO to have more involvement and oversight in the process passed the King County Council, but since then has been tied up in collective bargaining with the union representing officers. Our riding groups and their representatives were successful a few years ago with legislation on the state level prohibiting profiling of bikers by police. Maybe they should get involved in getting more civilian oversight of our police forces as well.


Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 
We are very fortunate – indeed blessed – here in the Western US to have a number of wonderful National Parks and Monuments. I grew up tromping around Arches and Bryce Canyon in Utah as a child, and my home here in California is literally walking distance from the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park. I often walk up to the edge of the town to a marker that delineates the park boundary although access to the park itself is about 20 miles away. The corner of the park near me and the portion on the mountains near my house that I look at from my back yard is in the back-country part of Joshua Tree.

But that doesn’t stop me from going hiking and camping in the park and taking visitors and friends up through the main section of Joshua Tree when I can.  As often as I’ve driven through it or hiked its trails, I still always marvel at the wonderful rock formations and the forests of Joshua Trees for which the park is named (actually it’s a variant of the Yucca plant and not technically a “tree”). The Joshua Tree was named by early Mormon settlers who thought the upright arms looked like the biblical prophet Joshua.
My somewhat frequent posts on visits to Joshua Tree however prompted a former colleague and friend (and Civil War expert) from my days wandering the Washington State Capitol to ask me to chase a ghost for him in the park – quite literally.

It seems that the legendary guitarist and songwriter Gram Parsons – who played with such great bands as The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, who toured with The Rolling Stones, and sang duets with one of my all-time favorite singers, Emmylou Harris, was rather enamored with Joshua Tree Park, and he died of a drug overdose at the Joshua Tree Inn just outside the park. To fulfill his last wish, he was partially cremated by friends in the park where he wanted his ashes scattered. And so, this past weekend my guy Eric and I decided to head up to Joshua Tree on a cloudy Sunday afternoon to chase the ghost of Gram Parsons and his story and see what we could find.

Just outside of the park entrance is the Joshua Tree Inn. It’s a wonderful small motel that does a good business – both because of its location and charm, and because of music fans paying tribute to Parsons. It even advertises itself as the “Home of Gram Parson’s Spirit”.

He died in Room 8 of the Inn. According to the manager who was kind enough to let us wander the property, there is nothing left inside the room from the day he died some 44 years ago – September 9, 1973 – except for a mirror on the wall. Fans can reserve that room specifically if they wish, and many do, as it's not available to walk up guests -- it was occupied the day we were there.
Outside of the room is a guitar shaped memorial, where fans leave mementos and comments and occasionally light candles.
When he was found unresponsive in his room, he was taken to the nearby High Desert Hospital where he was pronounced dead. His family wanted a funeral in Louisiana where he was from, but his manager and friends wanted to fulfill his last wish of being cremated and ashes scattered in Joshua Tree National Park. So, impersonating funeral home workers and driving a friends vintage hearse, they managed to convinced Western Airlines in Los Angeles International Airport to release the body which was waiting to be flown to New Orleans to them. They drove it up to the park, and in the middle of the night, doused the open casket with five gallons of gas and tossed in a match.

The giant fireball was noticed by nearby campers who called the police and park rangers who gave chase.  The culprits ran -- in the hearse, and evaded police because, as they later said, "the police had the handicap of being sober."  They were later arrested -- Gram’s manager and his accomplice friend – not for stealing the body, but for stealing the casket and destroying it, and fined $750 dollars for creating a nuisance. At least, as Arlo Gutherie would sing in Alice's Restaurant, they didn't have to "pick up the garbage" as well -- that being what was left after the fire was put out.

The story is that he was cremated at Cap Rock in the park – a large pile of boulders with one that looks like a “cap” on top of it. Now days it’s a popular climbing rock with a picnic area at the base.
However, the actual cremation – or partial cremation as the body wasn’t completely consumed and about 35 pounds of him was left once the fire was extinguished – took place in an open field a few hundred yards away from the rock.  The National Park Service doesn’t advertise what happened here, and rangers are given the option of telling the tale or not when asked. It’s not listed on any of the park maps or brochures.  A cement slab was put in by Gram’s fans shortly after the cremation, but the park service removed it and it now resides at the Joshua Tree Inn outside Room 8 and serves as the base for the guitar memorial.
Yet all the same, fans of the late musician build memorials in a little cove on Cap Rock’s base that people have mistakenly assumed is where the body was burned. They leave small crosses in the rocks, CD cases, carve things in the stone, and sometime even leave a bottle of Jack Daniels. And campers in the nearby Hidden Valley campground have said they’ve seen a mysterious fire in a field sometimes at night, and the Joshua Tree Inn is said to house his spirit and music sometimes can be heard from room 8.But to me, Joshua Tree is magical not because of the ghost of Gram Parsons, or his music – but because of the wonderful trees and rock formations that are forever protected because of this National Park designation. At night, there are more stars than you’ve ever seen, and during the day, on quiet ones especially when it isn’t inundated by tourists, the desert here is wonderful, and I love walking among the boulders and rocks, looking at the fantastic Joshua Trees that grow only in this area, and enjoying sitting on a ledge staring out at the desert solitude.

November QuickThrottle Column

Seven years ago this month I wrote my first Road Signs column for QuickThrottle magazine. It's been a wonderful experience and I'm flattered and  honored that the publisher, Mike Dalgaard has let me spout off and annoy the readers of the magazine for these many years. This month however marks a transition -- Mike sold the magazine and we have a new publisher. Welcome to Michael Cupp who takes over with this issue. He says that things will not change, (except for my column photo -- they requested something "with my shirt buttoned") and to keep doing what I'm doing. So I will... And here is my column for November...a look at the changing demographics of the sport....
Everywhere around it seems there are signs reminding me of my advancing age, especially when I watch TV. I turn 56 later this year and I realize I’m still on the “not so old” side of the equation, especially among the riding community. But nonetheless, I’m getting to the point where I’m closer to the eligibility ages for Medicare and Reverse Mortgages than I used to be, but thankfully not old enough yet to make the “walk-in-tub” and “stair-lift” demographic. Hopefully that will be another twenty years or so.

But like I said, in the motorcycle community I’m still a bit of a “youngster”, or so I’m constantly reminded. Looking over a number of marketing and demographic studies, it seems that more than half of the motorcycle riding community is age fifty and older, and nearly half of that group is age 60 and older. So is it any wonder that Harley-Davidson’s giant cruiser bikes are nicknamed “Geezer Glides”?  Revisiting my HOG chapter friends, it seems the older they get, the bigger the bikes get. But not me, I still seem to be a bit of an anomaly riding a bagged-out plain Dyna and a Nightster as my main rides. I’m not sure I ever will go the route of the full-fledged half a car with all the creature comforts locomotive sized bike – or if I do I will be dragged kicking and screaming.

But what does our aging demographic hold for the future of the sport? The Motorcycle Industry Council reports that bike sales last year were half as many as a decade ago when they were at their peak. Yeah, we had a major recession in that time, but car sales have rebounded while bike sales have not.  Bikes for most folks are a discretionary purchase. For some of us they aren’t – it’s a lifeblood – we have to have a bike. Like the Harley motto – we live to ride. But for most people it’s a luxury, and not for when we are young and just starting out in life, even if we grew up riding. Bike manufacturers targeted that older market, and pretty much won us over. But that generational timebomb of geezers on glides doesn’t bode well for the future of the sport or the industry. Younger riders are not flocking to riding classes or to motorcycle dealers. Is it time to sell that chunk of Harley stock that’s sitting in my IRA I wonder?

I’m not selling. Not just yet anyway. Harley’s been around since 1903. They know what they are doing. Have you noticed the trend in Harley’s marketing these days? It’s pretty much all geared towards younger riders on smaller bikes. Giant baggers are out as the major focus of marketing, and smaller, blacked out Dynas and Sportsters and Softtails are in. The Sturgis demographic is getting less of the marketing dollars and the Coachella demographic is getting more. For those of you in the Sturgis generation who don’t winter in Palm Springs, Coachella is the three-weekend giant music festival in the desert each winter that attracts virtually every millennial in the United States to come party --  and for those of us who winter in the desert to flee.

Harley’s entry into this market, which came out in 2010, is the Street 500 and Street 700. And just like Cadillac changed its marketing and styling and even bragged “this isn’t your Grandma’s Caddy”, these little Harley’s are a far cry from the Geezer Glide. They even come in cheaper than the old “entry level” Harley, the venerable Sportster. I had a chance to ride a Street 500 this winter when I dropped a friend off at the Harley riding school. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a hell of a lot of fun to ride and a great bike – even a bit more zippy than my beloved Nightster. The other major manufacturers all came up with similar new models aimed squarely at the urban millennial generation too.

So why am I not seeing more of these bikes on the road? These are perfect rides for those herds of Amazonians wandering around downtown Seattle these days, and would be ideal for zipping up to their overpriced small apartment on Capitol Hill after work, and then out and around Mt. Rainier on the weekend. Sales stats for smaller bikes, with engines 600ccs or less increased nearly 12 percent in the past couple of years, while the giant bikes increased only 7 percent. They sell well in Europe, where small motorcycles and scooters are what most young people drive every day as opposed to cars. Car ownership in Europe is less than in the US – it’s prohibitively expensive over there, and public transportation abounds – two things lacking in the US. Although we are rapidly approaching the sky-high costs of Europe, especially in Seattle with those damn Sound Transit fees. I’ve said it before, if policy makers are serious about reducing car miles traveled, they should encourage motorcycles and scooters. It fits the “green” thinking and the lifestyle of the millennial, who if they adopted in droves, would make a serious dent in traffic congestion. But that’s another story for another day.

It remains to be seen if these new little rides will lure new riders to replace us old geezers as we slow down and stop buying our glides. I hope it does. We need new riders to breathe new life into this sport. Lets just hope there are still roads for them to ride on and explore when they do. Maybe multi-day cross country excursions on big rigs, or what my Harley sales friend Vik calls “Harleybagos”, are over, and quick day trips are going to be in. It fits the millennial lifestyle perfectly.

Meanwhile I’ll be watching for the vendor lineup for the Coachella next year. If Harley’s smart they’ll bring their Sturgis tent to the desert this Spring. About the same time I’ll be loading up the Dyna and riding off somewhere to escape the crowds and traffic those weekends. If they do that – start marketing to the Coachella crowd like they do the Sturgis crowd -- I’ll know the future generation of our beloved sport is safe and secure and not to sell the Harley stock in my IRA.

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

Riding The Crest

The Crest -- also known as Angeles Crest Highway -- also known as CA-2 -- or as my riding and writing buddy Dwight calls it, "Paradise", is a wonderful windy, twisty, exceedingly scenic and damn fun road that runs for 67 miles along the crest of the San Gabriel mountains north-east of Los Angeles, from roughly Pasadena up to the town of Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest, just below Cajon Pass.  I've not ridden The Crest in a a few years, and to celebrate and inaugurate the entrance into the biker world of my friend Henry, who got his riding endorsement a year ago and bought his baby Ruby -- a Harley-Davidson Softtail Slim -- a short time after, I figured that Dwight and I should take Henry on his first major ride, and what a better road for three Southern Californians than Angeles Crest.

Now we'd planned to do this way back in June -- I'd even reserved a hotel room in Pasadena for the night and planned to ride down the day before, meet up with Henry and Dwight who live in the LA area, and ride back up.  I left the desert that morning, got to Wrightwood only to find that the highway was closed just west of there because of a sink hole and thus you couldn't ride the full 60 miles between Wrightwood and Pasadena.  So at the venerable Grizzly Cafe I texted both of them and canceled our ride the next day and we agreed to reschedule when the highway opened, and I consoled myself with a bowl of Meatball Soup which is one of their specialites before riding back to the desert.

The Crest is a little used (except by bikers) road -- its the kind of road you wonder why they even put it in -- it doesn't really "go" anywhere or get people from A to B, it's a maintenance nightmare carved out the mountains, and there are no towns along the way. But it's damn pretty and a hell of a lot of fun, and that's the most valid purpose of all.  But being that kind of road, it's not high on CalTrans priorities list for fixing, and it took the entire summer to get it done.  When it finally opened after I got back from my August recess in Utah, we scheduled a ride.

And this wouldn't be an overnighter for me this time, I'd just grit my teeth and ride down the freeway that morning to meet them. I got up early and headed out of the desert and into the hell that are Southern California Freeways.  It took me two hours to get to the little coffee shop at the foot of the Crest we'd arranged to meet at.  I texted both Henry and Dwight that morning to confirm things, and told them to watch for each other in case I wasn't there in time.  Henry got there first, I strolled in and after two hours and 110 miles and of course needed to use the restroom before anything else which ammused the barista as I waved to Henry and did a "gotta pee gotta pee gotta pee" chant like a Harley motor sounds like.  When I got back we hugged and chatted while we waited for Dwight who showed up shortly after.

I've known Henry for about 10 years or so now -- he moved to SoCal a few years ago, and drives a bus for Metro Transit.  He wanted to learn to ride forever, and after some pushing from me and pointing him to Harley's riding program where ex-service members like him get in for free, he took the class and caught the bug big time. Dwight, who's pen name is Foster Kinn, I met a couple of years ago after I read his book "Freedom's Rush --Tales from the Biker and the Beast" and talking to him about my still being written book of biker tales "Ghosts of the Road". We've gone riding a few times in California and when I lived in Washington. Since then Dwight has written his second book -- "Freedom's Rush II -- More Tales From The Biker and the Beast", while I still haven't finished mine. But I get to play a small role in his second book of tales which has stories from his rides in Washington, and I was honored to write one of the blurbs for the back cover as well.  Dwight is also adept at making wonderful biker "meme's" which are those little photos with captions that folks post on Facebook all the time, like this one which shows one of the roads that branches off The Crest winding its way back down to the sea.
We had a drink and plotted a bit, and after I gassed up we headed up CA-2 and into the mountains.  Dwight and The Beast took the lead dog position, Henry and Ruby were in the middle, and me and Angus brought up the rear.  This way I could keep an eye on Henry and make sure he was OK, and Dwight who knows The Crest like the back of his hand could plot the course.

Now if God had ever made a perfect day for riding and to make up for closing The Crest all summer this was it. It was warm, dry, clear -- and the prior evening's Santa Ana winds blew all the smog and smoke out of LA and you could actually see Los Angeles from above, and the road snaking back down.  And you could see the ocean.  And you could see Catalina Island way out at sea. And you could see three bikers with endless smiles on their faces because it was the perfect day for a ride and we were on the perfect road for  a perfect ride. It  is, as Dwight said at our first stop where we gazed out over the LA basin towards the west; "why I ride a motorcycle -- it's so damn fun!"

Henry was beyond words and having more fun than he could stand, and me -- well I was loving every minute of the road and the bike and my friends, on a perfect day with perfect weather.  And we'd just barely started.

We climbed back on our rides and pulled out onto the highway -- headed up, and up, and up.  Twisting and turning and curving the entire way. I don't think there is a single spot along the entire length that there is a straight enough section for a passing lane.  And we had the road to ourselves for the most part -- I was stunned at how few cars, and even fellow riders there were.
We had planned on taking the side road up to the Mt. Wilson Observatory but when we got there CalFire had closed the road because of a fire the previous week and I'm guessing there were still some hot-spots and they didn't want to risk re-igniting it with people and vehicles passing by. That's too bad because with the lack of smog today the view back down into the LA basin would have been incredible. But no matter, we were still out in the sunshine and riding The Crest so who cares. Once past Mt. Wilson and the turn off down Tujunga Canyon, there is really nothing except a couple of small ski hills (too small to be "resorts") and forest service campgrounds, and a great biker bar called Newcomb's Ranch the rest of the way to Wrightwood.

This old road really is indescribable in many aspects -- it's just about one of the most perfect motorcycle roads I've ever been on, and the views down into the LA Basin to the south or Antelope Valley and the Mojave desert to the north are amazing.  We pulled into Newcomb's Ranch, but it too was closed, with no explanation. One other biker was resting on a picnic table, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. I was dissappointed as I had hoped to pick up a CA-2 sticker for Angus's windshield. But it didn't matter as we were out riding The Crest on the most perfect day ever.
We rested a bit in the shade, Dwight and I swapping stories, and Henry just soaking it all in -- stoking the fever he was feeling to get out and explore the road like Dwight and I had already done. All of us just enjoying the sollitude of the road, wind in his face, the mountain air and the roar of the bikes.  Dwight has ridden in all 50 states -- me just the lower 48, but with the countless miles under our feet and the biker adventures we'd had, we kept Henry entertained. Newcomb's is about half-way to Wrightwood, so we saddled back up and kept on riding and climbing, eventually topping out at 7901 feet (that's a nice precise measurement), at Dawson Saddle, where we posed Henry and Ruby for their first High-Point picture.

The rest of the ride was downhill -- but only in a geographic sense. The road and the views were as breathtakingly gorgeous as they had been all the way up, the air fresh and clean with a hint of pine needles as we worked out way west and down into the small town of Wrightwood which pretty much marks the end of the road, as CA-2 ends a few miles past where it meets CA-138 just below Cajon Pass. There's just about nothing sadder than coming to the end of a great ride, but we were looking forward to a late lunch at the Grizzly Cafe -- the first place I'd met Dwight and ridden The Crest two years ago and probably the best place to eat in Wrightwood.  Like Bikers everywhere we "Live To Ride, and we Ride To Eat."  We'd worked up an appetite the past 67 miles of twisty turny jaw dropping pretty road, and we wandered into the Grizzly and sat down.
So over burgers, fries, soup, and apple pie we relived our ride, plotted new rides, told tales of rides, and jobs, and writing and riding, and toasted Henry's first anniversary as a rider, as he'd passed the test for his license exactly a year ago. Dwight chided me for not having finished the book yet -- to which I replied, "well I just lost a year uprooting my life and moving it to California so you'll forgive me." He laughed, but I do need to get back to it and I will, most likely after the first of the year. The muse is a fickle thing we both agreed -- sometimes you can write, and sometimes you can't.  So even with time, the muse might be busy taking her own ride somewhere or sunning herself by my pool, and not want to sit with me in front of a keyboard. But it's still all in my head and it will get put down on paper eventually. But until I do, in the mean time do yourself a favor and get Dwight's, aka Foster Kinn's books --  published by Hugo House and available there or on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G1XDP2A/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

It was still early enough in the afternoon and light enough that Henry and Dwight could head back down The Crest from whence we came to get home before dark. I was jealous as I had to head back to the desert which is the opposite direction, and I would have to ride only a few more miles on CA-2 before I'd have to turn down Cajon Pass and get on the dreaded I-15.  Dwight gave Henry his two books to inspire him more, and we made plans for a spring ride in the desert and the two of them headed back west on The Crest, and I turned east towards  home.

It was a bit strange being back alone after a day of riding with friends. I kept looking for Henry and Dwight ahead of me and seeing only the empty road. But me and Angus are used to riding alone and its not bad.  I turned down CA-138 and dropped into Cajon Pass, decided to skip I-15 and take a segment of Old US-66 -- The Mother Road -- as it winds up the canyon, stopping to watch a few trains before turning and heading back up the pass and into the desert the back way through Apple Valley and down another favorite road -- if not for the desert scenery then just for the name: "Old Woman Springs Road".  Dwight and Henry beat me back, and Henry had already texted "home safe -- like a pro! LOL" before I made it to my house.  I told him he road like "an old timer and Ruby suits him". He agreed, and Dwight texted and said "He doesn't ride like a newbie at all".  So Henry's earned his leather vest for sure.

And me and Angus, well here we are back in the desert, chomping at the bit to head out again. I've only done a two big rides this year -- and it makes me sad. But there's always next year, and there's always The Crest when I need a quick get away.

October QuickThrottle Column

Bikers love to blame people in cars for causing injuries to riders -- but in reality most accidents are caused by riders doing stupid things, and not by cars not seeing us, contrary to popular belief. I tackle this in the column this month, which my publisher, in his usual short style, said: "Very good. Lots of 'in your face' valid points. Little does of annoyance and some sarcasm. Let all the whiners stew over this and stop blaming cagers for their friends getting hurt or killed!  Mike"

So you be the judge...
Why are we killing ourselves? Seriously, why? Solo motorcycle crashes – those where the rider is the only one involved in the crash are up. Way up.  In 2015, there were 73 motorcycle fatalities and 402 serious injuries to riders on the roads in Washington, up from 69 deaths and 361 serious injuries in 2014. But more alarming is that 75% of those fatalities and injuries were the fault of riders, and slightly more than half were solo riders! In other words, the crash didn’t involve another vehicle. We only make up 4% of the vehicles on the road, but 15% of the fatalities. We are literally killing and injuring ourselves!

Which is why I’m not as alarmed as many riders are about the increased summertime scrutiny of riders by the Washington State Patrol looking for impaired or dangerous motorcycle riders. No, this isn’t “motorcycle profiling”, it’s “idiot” profiling. “Profiling”, that is stopping a rider merely for being a rider or wearing motorcycle club apparel is illegal, thanks to the efforts of many of the motorcycle clubs and groups in Washington a few years ago. Cops are pretty much too busy to just do that anyway.  However, their primary job is to insure safety on the highway and this summer the State Patrol emphasized watching for dangerous and impaired riders. Riding should only be slightly more hazardous than riding in a vehicle, yet it isn’t, and while drivers in cars carry some of the blame, most of the blame falls squarely on us riders. We are doing the stupid things to get ourselves killed.

Take for instance “lane splitting”. I know this is hotly debated in the riding community, and now being a nearly full-time California resident – the only state where it isn’t prohibited by law – I can tell you first hand there are a lot of idiots out there lane splitting at high speeds when they don’t need to. We had a fatality early in the summer in the desert where a rider going 70mph up I-10 lane splitting when traffic was going 40mph, and he ricocheted off four cars before flying off his bike, hitting a fifth car and splattering himself like a bug on a windshield. There is a place for limited slower speed lane splitting, but not like this.

And there is no place for lane splitting in Washington at all. It’s illegal. I saw more lane splitting this summer in Washington than I ever have before, and given the emails here at the magazine, it isn’t Californians who have moved to the Northwest doing it. For some reason, more than a few riders for some reason believe it’s now legal in Washington to lane-split.

Perhaps we all need to go back to high school civics class or listen to that old “School House Rock” video “I’m Just A Bill”, which explains how a bill becomes law. So here’s a refresher. The legislature has two bodies – a House and a Senate, made up of elected officials. A bill must pass, that is be approved, by BOTH the House and the Senate and then be signed by the Governor (or President) to become law. If it passes just one or the other, or is vetoed by the Governor or President, it doesn’t become a law. It’s really very simple. Pass one, pass the other, be signed Everyone got that?

So, this past legislative session in Olympia – the one that lasted until July – there was a bill introduced to allow limited lane splitting at slow speeds. The bill was passed by the Senate, and it got a lot of coverage in the media and the motorcycle press. Yay – passed one chamber. First step done. But it wasn’t passed by the House, it never had a hearing let alone a vote. Boo. It didn’t go any further and so it didn’t become law. But for some reason, more than a few folks who have been cited by the WSP and who have written into the magazine here have complained they thought it had passed. It didn’t.  And if it did, it wouldn’t have applied to high-speed on the freeway at all. Maybe it will pass down the road – I hope it does. But it didn’t last year, it’s not legal, so just stop it!

And for God’s sake, stop harping on the State Patrol for doing emphasis patrols on dangerous riders. Cops I’ve spoken truly aren’t profiling riders just because you are riding a motorcycle. They aren’t looking to see if you are wearing “club apparel”, or even if your helmet is DOT or not. They are looking for riders who are driving like idiots, or who are impaired, who are driving recklessly, or riding too fast, are lane splitting, and following too closely or speeding, and/or are just plain being stupid, putting themselves and others on the highway at risk. If you get pulled over during one of these emphasis patrols it’s because you are behaving badly.


We’ve all seen these idiots, whether we are driving our cars or riding our bikes. Speeding, weaving, lane splitting, doing wheelies on the freeway. Granted it’s a small minority of riders, but they are the ones who get the attention and they are the ones who are getting hurt or killed by being reckless. But their actions affect all of us. Not just because they are fellow riders and maybe even loved ones and friends whom we don’t want to see injured or killed. But because their actions result in increased insurance costs for all of us – health and vehicle – as well as delayed traffic because of an accident, and space in an emergency room for other casualties. And more important, their actions influence policy makers, who love to look tough by “clamping down on those awful motorcycle riders who terrorize the roads.” That’s where anti-biker legislation comes from. If you think you’re doing a wheelie flying down SR-518 in Burien hurts only yourself if you crash, think again.

And besides, I don’t want to lose any more riding friends – or even potential friends. Yeah, I’m probably channeling my Mother at this point: “wear your helmet, don’t speed, and ride safe, wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident”, but as much as we want to blame the cars for our injuries and for killing us we are killing and hurting ourselves. We can’t control what drivers in cages do to us, but we certainly can control what we are doing to ourselves.

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

September QuickThrottle Column

Well, I'm back in the desert after spending six weeks in Utah with the family. It's good to be home, and it's starting to cool down!  YAY!  It's getting to be almost the middle of September already too, and I'm coming up on a year being gone from Seattle. Time has flown for sure.  Here is my September column in Quick Throttle -- this time looking at the exciting topic of highway funding in an era of declining gas tax revenue because of all the damn Priuseseses, Leaves and Teslassssss (as well as spandex wearing bicycle riders) and their ilk who don't pay any gas tax or pay very little.  Exactly how are we supposed to maintain roads when no one is paying gas tax? This column also marks the start of my EIGHTH year writing it.  Can't believe they've let me spout off this long!  Thanks Mike!

Summer means its road construction season and boy are they busy. The weather has been glorious this summer – so far – and so have the road construction projects. But the roads certainly aren’t getting any less crowded, and certainly they aren’t getting any easier to ride on. Chuckholes, uneven pavement, poor lane markings, and too many cars mean that when they do get around to repairing things, the repairs don’t last and the construction period often makes things worse. Such is the nature of road work in the Northwest (and everywhere for that matter – back down in California it’s not much better either.)

Riding is about the freedom to escape, to wander down a road and get lost. But we must have roads to wander down in the first place, and roads take money. Part of the problem stems from too many cars on too few lanes of roadway. The northwest – at least the Puget Sound region, has drastically outgrown the road system, and as much as we’d like to, the combination of terrain, the political climate, and a lack of money will prevent any major congestion relief work, save for the rebuild of I-5 through Pierce County along Joint Base Lewis/McChord. Even the much-vaunted tunnel under Seattle won’t increase capacity, in fact it decreases it, but the combination of tolls and lack of downtown exits will I think smooth out through traffic some.

Face it. Politically, and in Western Washington particularly, expanding road capacity is viewed as downright evil. But we still must maintain what roads we’ve got, and while the political will may be there, the funds really aren’t. We can argue until the cows come home about whether the state and cities are spending their limited road construction dollars wisely (they aren’t), or whether they deserve more money or not (they do, if we want to be able to drive.)  But the reason we are even having this discussion is because the main source of funding for road construction is shrinking faster than an ice cube on a sidewalk on a hot summer day.

The major source of road construction and maintenance funding is the gas tax. In Washington, we are paying .49 cents per gallon in gas tax. That’s two bucks every time I fill up my Dyna, and a whopping $12 dollars every time I fill up my Hummer. In the land where the Prius, Leaf, and Tesla’s driven by enviro-elitists are kings, I’m overpaying for my share of the roads for sure. Electric cars, and hybrids don’t pay any gas tax, or at best a marginal amount compared to their share of the maintenance and construction costs of the roads they are driving on. Let alone bicycle riders who demand entire lanes but don’t pay a penny towards construction and maintenance for them. With the Prius the most popular car in Western Washington, that’s a lot of lost tax revenue.

Note I said lost revenue. It’s just that, lost. Although the “progressive” crowd won’t see it that way. But if they can say that choosing not to tax something, like say bottled water or soda pop is a “tax giveaway” (thus assuming all revenue belongs to the state first), then we can certainly use “lost revenue” to describe the amount of road funding that is not being paid by electric vehicle and hybrid drivers and bicycle riders. “Oh, but we are saving the environment so we should be rewarded” they say with a holier-than-though smirk as they drive on a road us riders and drivers of gasoline powered vehicles pay for.

There is another option though – one that will certainly put them into the camp of paying their fair share of the roads they are driving on. Changing the gas tax and moving to a “Road User Charge”.  Both Oregon and Washington are headed down paths of experimenting and seeing if this is a fairer way to collect the amount needed to keep the road infrastructure passable. In the past this was not an idea I took a liking to, but being back in Washington for the summer and surrounded by swarms of Priuses, or Prii or whatever we call multiples of those damn Toyotas, I’m beginning to think this might be a good idea. Maybe at least for those vehicles who don’t pay any gas tax.  And depending on what kind of a rate is set, it might be a good idea for motorcycle riders as well. After all we are most certainly overpaying for our share of the road given the amount of road real-estate a bike takes up, and the miniscule wear and tear a bike puts on the road. A license fee for bicycles would help a little as well, and only fair.

The state is a long way from figuring out any and imposing a program – like how much per mile, and are things like vehicle weight, engine size, number of wheels, etc. factored into the amount. Right now they are just trying to figure out how to measure it and whether it might even be a good way – or even a fairer way -- to replace a gas tax. But you can help if you are so inclined.

The state is seeking up to 2000 people to be involved in a pilot project test and to provide input in this process. It’s a good way for you to have your voice heard – whether the rates are fair and just, is the privacy of data collected a concern, and how will it be collected, and what things should be considered in all those areas. You can sign up to get more information and to perhaps be chosen for the pilot project by visiting the state’s special web site for this project:  https://waroadusagecharge.org.  They will be setting up the pilot project late in the fall of this year, and expect to start later this year.

If I were still a permanent resident of the Evergreen State I’d probably be taking part – and I’d bet not a lot of motorcyclists will be signing up. However, I’ll be headed back to the desert about the time all this gets rolling.  But I’ll be watching the results and how it evolves, because, like it or not, the days of the gas tax I’m sure are numbered. If we want to keep riding, we’ll have to figure out something, and we as riders, should have a seat at the table.

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 Gift To Myself

I usually make an effort to get to my hometown of Salt Lake City in the summer around my Mother’s birthday, August 28th.  In the past, I’ve stayed about a week, often on an extended motorcycle trip. This year though I decided to escape the hellish heat of the desert for the entire month of August, which for the most part, I have been spending here in Salt Lake, staying with my Mom and her husband Ron.

It’s been a wonderful month, and it’s winding down fast. Today is Mom's 82nd birthday, and she’s as young and as pretty as ever, and you would never guess her to be 82 years old. She really doesn’t ever want any presents – “more things to dust” she says. All she really wants is my time and maybe a card, and maybe we go to lunch or dinner.

Well we’ve spent a lot of time together this trip. Sometimes doing mundane things like going for a long four-mile exercise walk most mornings, visiting the local farmers market for produce, and just sitting on the couch talking. And we’ve done some wonderful things like explore her roots and her childhood – visiting the homes she lived in here in Salt Lake as a teenager, and her hometown of Clifton, Idaho.
We spent a night in Clifton at her cousin’s house – which used to belong to her Aunt Jane, the one-time general store proprietor and postmistress of the map-dot town of Clifton. We did our morning power walk all over this little farming village, walking down the main street of town, past where her childhood home once stood – an area that now is a field farmed by her cousin, but where a patch of flowers still blooms every spring near where their front door once stood, now surrounded by acres of alfalfa.
Then further down the highway towards where her Grandmother used to live – passing over the irrigation canal that they used to go swimming in as kids, reminiscing about her life as a little girl growing up in this small farm town. I loved hearing her stories and remembrances -- how she'd walk down to Grandma's House, now a whitewashed empty farm shed on the old property where her Grandpa settled back in the 1930s and where her Mother was raised.  When she'd walk down to her Grandma's house, Mom's job was to watch the fields for her Grandpa's tractor to turn at this tree on the far side across the valley from the old family farm and head back to the house and to let Grandma know so she could get his supper on the table.
We took a number of pictures, even driving up in the evening to the small cemetery overlooking the town – where her grandparents, aunts and uncles are all buried.  It’s a very peaceful and serene place. I think she’d like to rest up here one day, but she and Ron already have “file drawers” paid for in an above ground crypt here in a cemetery in Salt Lake. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more peaceful and serene cemetery with such a nice view.
We documented the Idaho trip as well as the early homes in Salt Lake with photos as Mom is reworking her journals into a life story. It was a very special privilege for me to help her with this. I think I learned more about her early life than I ever have in the past, and we shared more memories and stories of our own than I can remember on those long four mile morning walks that wear me out but don't seem to phase her despite her years.

So, her “gift”, if you will this year, was a trip to a new trendy ice-cream sandwich place after lunch at her favorite Mexican restaurant today. Not really much, but special nonetheless. But the more I think of it, I’ve realized that it was me who got the gift for her birthday, not her. The priceless gift of quality personal time with my Mom.  Thanks Mom, I couldn't have asked for a better gift on your birthday.