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February QuickThrottle Column

Midway through February in the desert, enjoying the sunshine and 80 degree days and an extended visit with my parents -- my pool is done, and softball is staring up...I know tough life, right?  Time to post the February column as I finish writing the March one -- if I can force myself inside to the office...
I’ve always taken great enjoyment in watching people engaged in the political process attempt to reconcile glaringly obvious policy ideas and conflicts.  One of my favorites was a few years ago at a legislative hearing in Olympia where there were dueling environmental groups trying to promote “carbon neutral” energy that doesn’t harm the environment somehow. Apparently everything harms the environment in some way.

You see we must go carbon neutral the environmentalists say, but the bird and wildlife folks don’t like wind and solar power because windmills are essentially a giant food-processor for birds -- pretty much chewing them up as they fly through them like a giant Cuisinart.  And they don’t like solar farms because the light reflecting off the mirrors blind birds and the heat radiating off them fries them like a microwave oven. And both forms put a “scar” on the face of the earth.  But they say we have to have “green power” and these sources aren’t the polluters like power plants, so they are good – sort of. But they do affect wildlife and views and on and on, so they are bad – sort of.  And hydro power isn’t good either because salmon can’t swim past dams so that’s out. Watching their brains try to make heads or tails of the logic in their argument and their conflict was amusing and I kept waiting for their little heads to explode like matter meeting anti-matter.

And guess what?  We have the same sort of debate going on now regarding the helmet law. No, not for motorcycles this time, but for bicycles, however the arguments for and against is pretty much the same for both bikes and motorcycles – freedom to ride, adults making choices, and good for the environment to encourage riding, vs safety and preventing injuries on the other.  But for bikes it seems helmets are bad for bike use – people don’t wanna wear them. And its great fun to watch and point out the hypocrisy of their arguments about bike helmets – which are “good” in some ways and “bad” in others.

You see it seems that one of the biggest reason Seattle, a town that’s uber cool towards bike riders, has failed to have a successful bike-share program like every other big city seems to have, is that damn requirement that bike riders, just like us motorcycle riders, are required to wear a helmet. That’s why the bike-share failed the thinking goes. Helmets.

The helmet law created a bit of a problem when you are trying to both encourage bike riding and operate a bike-share program where folks can, on a whim, rent a bike from a street stand for a quick trip about the neighborhood. It seems most folks don’t walk around with a bike helmet on their person just in case they want to, on a whim, rent a bike from an unstaffed kiosk for an hour or two. And to comply with the law you must provide them with one somehow.

“Pronto” the Seattle bike-rent/share program generated about $9,000 in revenue each moth but costs taxpayers $205,000 a month. The city is finally pulling the plug on this waste of money later this spring and one of the reasons cited for its failure is the helmet law. Pronto has a “free” helmet use bin as part of its component. Yeah, I’m sure that helps a lot. Everyone wants to use a grungy old helmet that someone else has had on their head. I know I do!  Its why we all love wearing those bowling shoes from a bowling alley.

Bike share works in hundreds of cities world-wide. I’ve used them in New York and Salt Lake City and London. Seattle is only one of five that requires a helmet. Other cities like Mexico City, Tel Aviv and Dallas scrapped their helmet laws in anticipation of their bike-share program. Most transportation experts agree that the helmet law is probably the major contributing factor in the failure of Seattle’s bike-share program. It’s wasn’t the thigh-killing hills, nor is it the worst traffic in the nation, nor the endless rain that keeps Seattle from having a successful bike-share rental program. No, it’s that damn helmet law!

My goodness what’s a city council to do?    I can just picture the arguments in the corridors of City Hall.

“But hey, we are SEATTLE!!!! Bikes are big here.”

“We spend tons of money on roads and lanes for them, we WANT people to bike here.”

“But no one will use our bike-share program because they have to have a helmet!”

“I know! Let’s get rid of the helmet law!!!!” 

“Oh wait, that would hurt people, wouldn’t it?” 

“But we must have a bike share program, we can’t be the only real city without one?”

“But people will get hurt if we get rid of the helmet law.” “But we have to have a bike share program!”  And on and on until matter meets anti-matter and their heads explode – or so we can hope.

But in the end, the helmet law for bikes will stay while the bike share will be going away. The nanny state can’t give that up. But you never know. Maybe a similar argument could scrap the motorcycle helmet law too.  We just need to find the perfect environmental-ish argument against them. One that is so duplicitous, so full of conflicts, that the matter and anti-matter components will cause the little brains of policy makers to explode and cancel each other out. Just what that argument might be I have no idea.  Yet.  But I wanna be at the hearing on that one for sure! It will be fun to watch.

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

Callin' My 'Slaw Man -- Needin' a Fix!

This past fall when on a trip to Las Vegas with Eric, we stumbled upon a small farmers market in a neighborhood off the strip called Summerlin. It's part of the old Howard Hughes landholdings and they put in a shiny new mall there last year. In one of the stands of the farmers market there was a guy selling home made pickled coleslaw. We of course stopped to sample some. Without a doubt it was the best damn concoction I've ever had. We each bought a jar -- me the "sweet" one, and Eric the "hot" one (the guy puts hot-sauce on everything -- it's an ethnic thing.) Eric's Dad "appropriated" the jar when he got home and hid it because he liked it so much. I've been dolling mine out in small half-cup portions as part of my Nutri-System diet, using it for one of the vegetable servings. But I'm running out. I needed more. I needed my fix!

The website listed on the jar was not functioning, and furthermore I was dismayed to find out that the mall had canceled the farmers market. However, I had the card of the guy making the stuff so I called him. Now his name isn't on the card, and he never told it to me in our conversations, which were all very short and abrupt, almost like I was bothering him -- the calls always abrupt, short, and just a "click" at the end, no "goodbye". Like buying an illicit product from a shady guy -- or so I've seen in TV shows, not that I'd ever done anything like that.  And not the best way to sell one's products, but maybe he doesn't have to be nice since his stuff is so good.  He said he could ship them (very expensive) or if I was passing through Las Vegas I could arrange to meet him and buy some. Since I would be passing through on my way back to my hometown Salt Lake this week I figured the latter would be the easiest.

I got to Las Vegas about 4pm and after I settled in the hotel and gave him a ring. Don't know his name -- guess I'll have to call him my "Slaw Man".  He was busy pickling up some mushrooms (I didn't ask what kind) and said he'd be a couple of hours, but we could meet after.  I said OK, and went to dinner. About 10p he called and said he was still cooking, and I told him it didn't matter I'd stay up, and he said OK. Long about 1145p he finally called and said to meet him at the corner of Rainbow Blvd. and Charleston -- which was somewhat close to both of us. So I got in the truck and drove that way.

Suburban Las Vegas is NOT the strip. There's very little traffic and no one on the street that late at night, so its dark and somewhat deserted, especially on a week night. Rainbow and Charleston are both major arterial streets but they were quiet. He told me he would be parked on the side of the "Rebel" gas station (complete with confederate flags), but when I got to the intersection there were two Rebel's on opposite corners. He never told me which one or what he was driving. One station was well lighted and clean, the other kinda dark and deserted. But the dark and deserted one was easier to get to without making turns so I pulled in and saw this old beat up Winnebago on the side.
I was a tad apprehensive, but I wanted -- needed-- my 'slaw!  It felt like I was buying some illegal substance, and I didn't know if I was gonna get rolled or not.  I could see the headline -- "Palm Springs Man Found Dead Behind Gas Station in Slaw Deal Gone Bad". I drove up, rolled down the window, and said "Hey, you the coleslaw guy -- got my stuff?" "Yeah, you Gary?  Got my money?"  "Yeah".  We both got out of the truck, he showed me a box with six jars of coleslaw. I reached for it, he said "how you paying?"  "Credit card ok or do you want cash?"  "I'll take  a card".  He got out his phone and the attachment for it and I handed him the card -- then signed his phone after he swiped the card.  He handed me my box and he said "later" and I said "thanks" and we drove away.

I'm a happy guy -- got my slaw! I'm telling you this stuff is like crack -- so good its worth going across town in the middle of the night and doing a transaction on side of a dark creepy gas station. Kinda like callin' the "weed man" in states where it's not legal. Whenever I'm in Vegas I'm calling my "slaw man".

"Got my 'slaw?" "Got my money"?  Its worth it.

Approaching Home From A New Direction

Since 1990, when I moved to Seattle from Phoenix, whenever I drove home to Salt Lake I came in from the North. And whenever I came in on the bike it was always from either the North, or the East -- only a couple of times did I come in from the South. The road down from the Northwest -- across the mountains of Washington, across the Columbia and into Oregon and down into Idaho and the vast empty quarters of the Intermountain West, is one that became second nature, always stopping for a night or two in Boise to visit family. And while it was familiar it was still new. I'd find ways to wander off and see how things had changed or find new things. My Mom would complain that I was the only one that could take a 4 hour drive from Boise and turn it into a 9 hour one. But I like to wander, explore, and see. There's a song by the old 1960s folk singer Tom Paxton called "Bound for the Mountains and the Sea", where he sings " when I think of where I've been, I just have to go again, just to see if everything is still the same." That always defined my drive to Salt Lake.

Well now that home is in the Coachella Valley of the Southern California Desert, my drive back to the hometown means I come in from the South. And although I was just in Salt Lake a month ago, that time I again approached from the Northwest coming down from Seattle. Now I'm back again, and this time I came in from the South. And it struck me on the drive in, this is "new".  Well new to me for the most part. I've driven just about every road out of Salt Lake City in every direction, but this will   be the new "route home" -- coming up from the South. I have a few ways to wander and I'm sure I will, but this time it was just a straight shot on what will most likely become the "normal" route -- the back roads across the empty Mojave to Las Vegas, then up Interstate 15 to Salt Lake.
This is a significant change for me. Imagine your daily commute suddenly changed to the opposite direction. The familiar becomes unfamiliar - for a while. The old landmarks that mark your progress aren't there, and over time you develop new ones to take their place. I'll miss my drive down from the Northwest -- my favorite landmarks and ghosts I've photographed.  I'll miss the little abandoned truck stop cafe in Bliss, Idaho, my homesteaders cabin in the middle of nowhere, and Beth at Mollie's Cafe in Snowville, Utah.  http://grgardner.livejournal.com/2015/12/25/  But I know I'll go back someday -- to see if things are still the same, as Tom Paxton sang.

Just like the route down from the Northwest, this new road runs through a vast and empty land, starkly beautiful in it's own way. I love this part of the country and I always will. But approaching from the South brings up different navigational challenges too -- it's not quite "auto pilot" yet.  And unfortunately there isn't a good "half way" stop to spend the night or visit  relatives. I still need to figure out the best places to stop and stretch or gas up, get a bite, or what side roads to wander. And I'm sure I will. It's a lot closer to "home" now -- the drive not as long. As I age, and my parents age, the trip will become a little more frequent -- and no doubt, a little more familiar. But, I'm still a wander and I'll still be driven to see what I've already seen on this road home -- just to see if it's still the same.

Going Down Rabbit Holes

You know how sometimes you get almost obsessed with trying to figure something out, or investigate something, or learn something new and you just keep digging and digging on the Internet this just leads you in all kinds of fascinating directions which in turn eats up a ton of time?  I've call that "going down a rabbit hole."  This happens semi-frequently -- mostly trying to find out things that my friend Dave and I have stumbled upon, like old railway lines and historic buildings and the like. Usually Dave or I will find something about an old abandoned mine and start doing some research and the next thing you know we've gone down a rabbit hole for a few hours and found out all kinds of cool stuff -- well cool to us anyway.

Moving to a new city has made me curious about it's origins and history.  Desert Hot Springs, also known as DHS, is North of Palm Springs on the other side of the Coachella Valley. It's a distinct city that doesn't blend in with the rest of the valley and the string of cities on the South side of the valley of which Palm Springs is the main one. I like it out here. So in my spare time I've done some reading and looking things up, particularly the numerous hot-spring spas and their history.  DHS is the "Spa City" they say, and the town has many of them -- quite a few abandoned and derelct ones that I want to learn about and explore.   I've not found much about theym yet I'm afraid. However Eric and I were at Barnes and Noble's this past weekend and I came across a book put out by the Desert Hot Springs Historical Society about the history of the town so I bought it.
I've been reading it and I've already got a nice list of places to visit on a bike wander one day soon -- some abandoned Dude Ranches and other places that I find cool. And in reading about the history of one of them -- the B-Bar-H Ranch -- I come to find out that the original developer of this old 1930s Dude Ranch (which was just a few miles from my house) was, according to the DHS Historical Society Book, also the owner of a sewing machine company that  -- quoting here -- "was second only to Singer."  Now we've all heard of Singer Sewing Machines right? OK. The other major sewing machine company of that era was the "White Sewing Machine Company."

What does all this have to do with anything you ask?   Well this past Christmas while I was home, my Mother asked me if I'd like her antique sewing machine. No, I don't sew -- I can barely sew on a button on a shirt with a needle and thread. But this is an old treadle machine that dates from the turn of the century, and is really cool looking with family history. It was her grandmothers and my mother learned to sew on it when she was a girl in the 1940s in Clifton, Idaho. It's a classic black machine, made by the "White Sewing Machine Company" (the #2 company) and it has gorgeous intricate gold pin striping, a cast-iron treadle and flywheel all in an oak cabinet -- and it still works!  It's a great conversation piece, and a wonderful gorgeous example of early American industrial design (unlike machines today) and I had a nice spot in my antique filled living room for it. I was happy to take it out of her storage room.
In fact my whole house here is turning into a trip back in time with some interesting turn of the centruy antiques -- much different than the ski lodge the Seattle place was it seems.  In addition to some cool pieces I've collected over the years -- advertising signs and the like, I bought an old oak roll-top desk that's now my bar, and found an old chamber pot that is now a dried flower arrangement, I got a bunch of old books on display in an antique lawyer book case, and with my huge antique office desk I needed a classic desk lamp and old ash-tray stand among other things for that room, but I digress.

Back to the sewing machine though. So when I'm reading about the history of my new town over lunch sitting in the warm sun that is the main reason for moving here, and I read that the guy who owned this classic old Dude Ranch a few miles from my house was the magnate of the #2 sewing machine company, I thought to myself "what a cool connection!" My old "White" machine has ironically sort of come home. This guy owned the company that made this machine some 100 years ago also started a vacation ranch that influenced the early development of the town I now live in. Its kind of a "come full circle" moment in a way.  But in the next paragraph it says he was the owner of the "Free Sewing Machine Company", not White.  Well so much for my unique little story eh?   So I start digging around online.  Don't google "Free Sewing Machine", all sorts of scams come up and links to things other than the "Free Sewing Machine Company" -- I learned that lesson. Adding "antique" and "Company" to the search bar brings up a bunch of links and I learned more about old sewing machines than I needed to, but whatever I looked up it still seemed that "White" was indeed the second largest manufacturer, not Free.  So much for the historical accuracy in the DHS Historical Society book.

Minutia I know, but it spoiled what I thought was going to be an interesting tidbit to use in stories when I people ask about this antique in my living room. Too bad.  It was a cool story.  I just hope the other little rabbit holes I've been going down researching my town are a little more accurate. We'll see.

January QuickThrottle Column

I started writing this monthly column in Quick Throttle Northwest a little over six years ago -- more than 75 columns. I'm amazed I've lasted that long and that my publisher and readers haven't grown tired of me. In all that time they have used the same header and photo -- with the picture of me glowering down at the reader like the Wizard of Oz glowered down at Dorothy, but without the flames coming off my head.  Well in honor of the new year and of my years writing every month as well as my relocating to sunny climes with a more sunny outlook on life (try not to laugh at that), we decided to revamp the column with a new photo.  A somewhat more "smiling" me sitting on Angus in a field of flowers. So as I unwind from the holidays and the contractors are digging out the hole for the pool in my backyard, and I start writing my February column -- while my former colleagues all head back to the opening of the Washington State Legislature in a massive snow storm in Olympia, I'll post the January column, which goes into my struggles to become a Californian....
Well here we are again, the start of brand new year. We toss out last year’s calendar and start with a brand new blank one. A little over six years ago I started writing this column for Quick Throttle. The idea was to cover political and policy ideas affecting riders in the Northwest as well as talk about the joys of riding and being part of this amazing community.  Now, nearly 75 columns later I’m still here.  Well most of the time I’m here, and so we figured it was time to give this column a new look.

As many of you know I retired from the political and lobbying world at the end of 2013 and have been spending the winter months in Palm Springs and the rest of the year in Seattle.  My official legal home has until now been Washington. But that has changed, and as of this new year I’m officially a newbie “Californian.”  I’ll be doing the reverse “snowbird” thing – spending most of the year in the desert and escaping to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest in the summer when it’s 125 degrees here, and visiting often too. But don’t worry, I’ll still be the grumpy curmudgeon, freely offering up news and advice about politics and riding in Washington and the Northwest, I’m not going away.

So why the change in residency? One reason is it’s also gotten damn expensive in Seattle, as you all know, and there is no sign of that changing. Here’s a great case in point: I surprised the clerk at the DMV here in California when I went to register the vehicles and she told me the total for my registration and plates and I said “Are you sure?” and she said “yes, we are a bit more expensive than other states, people are often shocked.” I laughed and told her to turn over the old Washington registration she had in her hands for my Hummer and look at that total. Her eyes about popped out of her head and she said “wow”. My California registration for my truck was about 1/3 of what I paid in Washington, with better roads and less traffic.

But it’s not all sunshine when it comes to becoming an official resident of the Golden State.  I had to take the written exam for both vehicles and motorcycles in order to get a new drivers license. So like I good citizen I picked up a copy of the handbook for both vehicles and motorcycles and took them home and read them – twice.  I took the practice tests in the back and passed and then made my appointment for the test (a cool feature here by the way so you don’t have to wait hours in a waiting room).

You know these tests. I swear they are designed to get you to fail by asking tricky questions where all the answers are partially right, and only one is more partially right than the others. The system instantly tells you if you got a question wrong. You are allowed three wrong answers and the fourth kicks you out with a FAIL! and a big red “X” like on a game show only without the loud buzzer.

I got a perfect score of 30 out of 30 on the driver license part, and so it was on to the motorcycle test. I figured I’d ace this since I did so well on the other one. I’ve been riding since before I could drive, and I consider myself a damn good rider. I’ve taken the advanced riders course several times. I taught group riding skills for HOG. I think I know what I’m doing. Well, not according to the folks at California DMV. Apparently I don’t know squat!  I missed four questions and I wasn’t even half-way done!  Shocked I went to the counter and the clerk asked if I wanted an immediate retest. One is allowed three attempts at the test before failing. Since my Washington one expired in less than a month I had to pass and soon. My pride got the best of me and I said “Yes!” and immediately went back in and failed yet again!  How could this be?  I passed the drivers test flawlessly and here I can’t pass the damn motorcycle part?

I mean really?  I failed!  Twice! Me! The clerk said you have one more chance and I said, I’ll reschedule and left with my tail between my legs.  For a week I would read the manual cover to cover each night before bed. Hell I practically memorized it.  A week later I go back and get the same clerk. “Last try,” she said with a smile. Gee thanks for the pressure I thought. I went in. I carefully and methodically thought out each question and possible reply. I nervously chose my answer and each time before I submitted the answer I genuflected, prayed and crossed my fingers, and I’m an agnostic! Things were going along fine but then I missed two in a row. I was starting to panic. Then I get to this question:

“The best way to avoid injury while riding is: A) ride in a fast straight line. B) Ride defensively using the SEE method. C) Be aware of the road and traffic conditions and adjust riding speed accordingly. D) Wear a helmet.”

The more logical answer to me was B: “Ride defensively using the SEE method.” But nooooooo according to the State of California, best way to avoid injury while riding is “D) Wear a helmet.” I got the big red “X” on my screen.  That was my third miss.  If I missed one more I failed and couldn’t retest for 60 days and would have an expired Washington license in my pocket. The cuss words floating in the air above my head in my cartoon thought bubble were many.  I plodded on and three questions later I get a “Congratulations You Have Passed” notice.

I almost fainted from relief.  And it doesn’t matter in the end what I missed and why. I know I’m a good rider, and I have the license in my wallet to make it all legal.  But oh good Lord I hope I don’t have to take that test ever again.  And to my friends in ABATE, who I’ve occasionally managed to tick off over the years, I have an idea for a bill in California for your CA chapter to get working on.  It has to do with the motorcycle license test and a certain question…

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

Rollin' Home

A long road trip to the hometowns and the love and warmth of family and old friends never seems to last long enough. This past weekend the last task of this trip -- a long loop up from the desert to Portland then Seattle, then down to Boise and Salt Lake -- was accomplished, hanging up some 24 of my prints at the Rio Grande Cafe gallery in the historic old train station in downtown SLC. This is my second year having a show here the month of January -- in a space that means a lot to me personally. This old station was one of my haunts as a teenager, watching the comings and goings of the old Rio Grande Zephyr, and eating in what was the Rio Grande Coffee Shop where my photographs now hang. After that it was time to think about heading home. Wednesday seemed to be a good day to go -- traffic would be light and the weather more or less good.
But by Tuesday the weather forecasters on Salt Lake's TV stations were all predicting a dire storm to blow in on Wednesday.  My Mother, in her Motherly wisdom, said I should "think about leaving" on Tuesday to beat the storm. But I wasn't ready to leave Salt Lake just yet, and I know me and my truck's capabilities, so I declined. Waking up Wednesday morning I'd anticipated an inch or two of new snow, but instead it was 45 degrees and a warm southerly wind was blowing in and had pushed out the pollution trapped by the inversion. So much for the uber excited weather forecasters on TV.

It's a long drive back to the desert from Salt Lake -- generally broken up into two chunks with an overnight in St. George, Utah or Las Vegas. This time I had company, as Eric had decided to fly up after Christmas and drive back with me. Mom tried to keep a dry eye as we left, but as usual she couldn't quite, and she and Ron waved goodbye from the garage as we backed down her driveway and headed towards the Interstate.

The ramp says I-15 South - Las Vegas and we curved up on to the highway and headed due South. The wind was blowing against us and it kept the temperatures above freezing and no sign of a storm all the way down past Provo and Nephi and into the vast empty lands of the Great Basin.

After a couple of hours riding the super slab we needed a stretch and a break so we pulled off in Beaver, about half-way down Utah. This is a town who's billboard on the highway coming in says "Beaver -- Home of the Best Water In Utah" apparently having won some water Academy Award. Beaver has some of my favorite road ghosts and so I had to stop and again photograph them, hoping for another award winning shot or two given the gray and somewhat ominous clouds in the sky.

It's apparent Ron appears to still be gone from "Ron's Chevrolet" on Main Street in Beaver. The ceiling is now caving in, there are cobwebs that are big enough to capture small children inside, and that old Motorcycle is still in the window, some 6 years after I first photographed this place (on the left from 2010), naming the piece "Ron's Gone".
Just down the road from Ron's on Main Street -- the old US-91 -- in Beaver is Arshel's Cafe. I'd passed this place many times before but never gone in, but it was a little after noon and Eric said he could eat. We had our choice between Arshel's and the "Bambi Cafe", and he chose Arshel's. It seemed a little too pink at first glance to me, but it was full of ranch hands and the like sitting inside, all wearing insulated cammo colored gear. One was apparently driving a Prius which they had tried to make a little "sporty" by painting a racing stripe down it, but it was still a Prius and a bit jarring for one of them to be driving while eating in a pink cafe with lacy curtains, but who am I to judge.

Our waitress, an older woman with once blonde hair, said "take a seat anywhere I'll be with you in a minute." She brought over menus, and glasses of "Beaver Water" and pointed out the soup was chicken noodle - "homemade" she added. I settled on that and a BLT minus the mayo, while Eric had a tuna melt.
For some reason Eric and I reminded her of the movie "Hell or High Water" -- I think it was me ordering my BLT without mayo, as she started imitating the waitress in the movie by saying "tell me what you WON'T be having", and laughing about it as she took our order. Later after we'd finished she asked about desert and said, "you will both be having pie" another line from the movie. She brought us peanut-butter chocolate pie and I'm glad she did.

We ambled back out into the not-so-cold parking lot and continued south along Beaver's main drag to two other ghosts that I like to stop at on my way through. At the far south end of town, just before the road curves back and rejoins I-15, off in a field is a charming red-brick building that was either a school house or a home at one time, I'm not sure, and it sits right across from an abandoned 1950s era motel, built around a man-made pond, called the "Sleepy Lagoon". The motel and it's sign are difficult to photograph given the light and the overgrowth, but I pulled off the highway and got out of the truck while Eric waited inside.
Directly across the street from the Sleepy Lagoon, in the middle of a field, is the school house or a home. Generally there are cows milling about or the light has been wrong. In years past the roof has been intact, but this year it's caving in, indicating there isn't much time left for this charming building.
Back in the truck the food from Arshel's had taken it's toll on Eric who had come down with a case of the "itis" and was dozing in the passenger seat while I pursued my artistic endeavors, getting muddy and a bit moody wandering in the snow -- chasing my ghosts of the road while a mangy mutt and some cows chased me. I still don't have a great shot of either of these relics of the highway, but one day I will.
So I settled back in the cab, did my best to not wake Eric while doing a U-turn on the empty road and then headed back to the freeway, rolling southward through the vast empty lands of the Mountain West, headed towards Cedar City, St. George, Las Vegas and then home to the desert -- like a horse heading back to the barn, their warmer temperatures and sunny skies calling me home.

At Least Its Not Rock Springs...

I got an early start out of Seattle Tuesday morning, headed over the Cascades and into Oregon then down into Boise, Idaho. Well at least that was the plan. Seattle's atrocious traffic took some time to navigate through at 730am but once I got onto I-90 eastbound traffic was clear. The skies were cloudy and it was cold and the roads somewhat slushy in spots, especially over Snoqualmie Pass, but the weather was fine. There were more than a few cars who'd spun off the road, some fairly recently, but those of us who grew up in this weather know how to drive in it -- and that bridges and shadow spots are usually slick, and you don't brake when going over them, you just lift your foot off the gas. Apparently a lot of folks don't and they go sliding off into the ditch.
The sun came out near Yakima and stayed out all down the valley towards Richland and the Tri-Cities. Typical winter driving in this part of the country and I was comfortable in my big truck with its captain chairs and heated seats and a home-made CD of road songs to set the mood and keep me company.  My best friend Dave is always reminding me of how jealous he is of me being out on the road. Sometimes it's not so pleasant and is a chore, but today it wasn't. I was happy to be on the road, headed to see family and friends, driving down a road I knew well and in relatively nice weather. The road often feels like home, and it was today, as I sang along with Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere", and started feeling wistful with Mary Fahl's "Going Home:" "I know in my bones I've been here before. The ground feels the same though the land's been torn. There's a long way to go, the stars tell me so, on this road that will take me home. Love waits for me around the bend, leads me endlessly on..."

Crossing over the Columbia River into Oregon in the early afternoon however the highway information sign informs me that the road is closed east of Pendleton. I call the road information line and learn that a storm has I-84 closed for nearly 90 miles at Pendleton because of a storm over the summit of the Blue Mountains. The only other feasible route would be US-395 South from Pendleton to John Day and then East on US-20. This route is very very isolated, and while nice on the bike in good weather, in a winter storm -- even in the Hummer -- maybe not so good. But I check it anyway, and the storm has it shut down too, with no estimated time for reopening of either route.

Fortunately the Holiday Inn Express in Pendleton is one I've stayed at many times before and they have a room and I book it and cancel my reservation in Boise for the night. The closer I get to Pendleton the more trucks are parked along the side of the road and the frontage road too is a semi-truck parking lot as they sit and wait out the storm.
It's only 230p in the afternoon, and Boise is only 190 miles away, but here I sit. At least it's not Rock Springs I tell myself, thinking back to a few years ago when I was stuck by a storm while heading west on Angus one spring. That storm kept me trapped for two days with nothing to do. And while both towns are along the Union Pacific, and both in the high plains where the wind blows cold, and both are towns where folks wait out freeway closures, I figure this will be just a one night affair and Pendleton has more to offer than Rock Springs did at least. I settled into my room, called my sister and cousin and told them I wasn't going to make it to our planned get-togethers in Boise, and promptly had a nap since there was nothing on TV.

Small towns in this part of the West are usually, to me anyway, fun to explore and just look around. Even when I'm passing through I often take the main route through town rather than stick to the Interstate just to see what's there. Pendleton is no exception, though it's not really "small" it's not a big city either -- more like a very large small town. The Union Pacific mainline from Utah and Wyoming up to the Northwest goes through the center of town which sits at the bottom of a gully with the Umatilla River running through it while the Interstate skirts the town on the bluffs to the South. The trains roar through town, past the grain elevators and small main street with it's two-story buildings, and the large rodeo grounds just outside of town.

One thing these small towns still have are classic old neon signs, and I love walking around at night looking at them. It was cold -- in the high 20s, and there was virtually no one on the streets, but the neon glowed warm. These older signs are long gone from the big cities, but out here in the small towns of the west, where businesses have lasted for generations, the old neon still glows and it makes me think of the days before the Interstates -- when people drove the old highway (in this case US-30 and US-395) or rode passenger trains like Union Pacific's "City fo Portland" that stopped briefly then hustled down the tracks to Chicago or Portland. There hasn't been a passenger train through here in more than 20 years now, and US-30 is part of I-84 up on the ridge.
But the Fraternal Order of Eagle's lodge #28 still meets here, and people still grab a drink at Hamely's, or at the Shamrock. When they die their final arrangements are most likely taken care of at Burns Mortuary, just like they have for generations.
The streets are quiet and dark -- and it's barely 7pm on the shortest day of the year. The sidewalks are icy in spots, and it's cold and brisk outside. Feeling a bit hungry I start looking for a place for a bowl of soup and something else -- not wanting to eat too much since I haven't had really any exercise today. Off the main street I find a scene out of an Edward Hopper painting -- a small lunch-counter diner that appears to have been here for a hundred years, and in fact the sign on the building says it's been here for close to that. It's called the Rainbow Cafe.
This is my kind of place. Quiet, kind of lonely, but with a piping hot bowl of a very good vegetable soup. I have the place pretty much to myself except for a couple of cowboys playing pool, a couple in a booth and another sitting at the bar, along  with the waitress who's watching a football game on the TV and chatting occasionally with this snow-bound traveler who's holed up for the night.
It's a shame that the truckers and other travelers waiting it out up along the Interstate and it's frontage roads don't venture down the hill into town and pack the Denny's and Shari's out by the freeway. They aren't going to get vegetable soup like I got there, enjoy glow of the neon in the old town, or listen to the sound of the passing freight train as it rumbles through this dark on it's way to the coast. But then again I'm glad they don't venture too far off the Interstate. I don't like to share places like this with folks who won't appreciate it.  People who's goal is to get down the road as quick as they can, or who won't take the risk of eating in an unknown place that doesn't have a name they recognize. It lets me enjoy the quiet and appreciate the past.

Brrrr It's Cold

I've been back in Seattle a few days and my eyes are watery. It's cold. Can it be that after only three months in the desert that I've become acclimatized to the warm temperature of the desert? I'm cold. I've been cold the entire time I've been here. So cold that it sometimes makes my eyes water. I arrived in Portland in the midst of a snow and ice storm and temperatures in the 20s that pretty much paralyzed the city (and me), and then I drove on up to Seattle where it has hovered in the high 30s and has been damp and windy. I always used to tease with my Mom and others who would complain they could never get warm in Seattle. I'd be puzzled as to why, but I think I know now what they felt like. It's why Starbucks is so big here -- you have to have something warm in your hands all the time. I've been spending my time visiting with friends, doing some shopping, and picking up some new prints for the Salt Lake Show from my photo processor here.

Sunday night I took the new light rail system into the city to see the holiday concert for the Seattle Men's Chorus at the beautiful downtown music venue, Benaroya Hall. This was always such a big part of my holiday season all  the years I lived here. My former husband Tony was a major presence in the chorus, starting out as a singer, and then becoming part of the comedy troup and serving as a section leader and on the board and ultimately as the principle choreographer. The Chorus is an amazing arts organization -- one of the largest in Seattle -- and the largest Gay Men's chorus in the country. Their holiday concerts are the biggest draw in Seattle next to the Nutcracker. My family would come up from Salt Lake for the show each year, we'd get a group of friends too and all of us would go to dinner and walk around enjoying the holiday lights and Christmas season in downtown Seattle before the show, and then we'd go out for desert after.
For all the years Tony and I were together SMC was a major part of my life. I made a lot of friends in the organization, and even accompanied them on tours of Europe and the Western U.S. where they performed in Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam and London, as well as small towns throughout the mountain west like Pocatello, Idaho, Billings, Butte and Bozeman, Montana and my hometown of Salt Lake City. And it's much more than a group of men singing, and it's definitely NOT the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There is much more to this organization.  To quote the artistic director: "The Chorus has cultivated a landscape in Seattle and all over that is made verdant by things that matter even more than music; community, activism, a sense of family, and, most importantly, the unbridled joy of being alive."

So going back to see the show was very emotional for me -- surprisingly so. It was wonderful to see so many friends, both audience members and singers, many of whom didn't know I had moved to the desert, hanging out in the lobby before and after the show, reconnecting with them, taking a ton of selfies and getting and giving lots of hugs. You get to be pretty close with people when you share a 6 person sleeping compartment on an overnight train across France, rush to a show carrying loads of props and costumes, hanging around backstage between concerts in a small town theater in Pocatello, Idaho, or feeding a dozen dancers who were reheasing in your living room.
The power and beauty of the music and the 200 plus voices was so strong that I was more often than not misty eyed or crying -- or maybe it was just cold in the concert hall. I was very moved by the music and my memories of friends and my time as a part of the chorus family. The long time director has retired and this was the first show for their new artistic director and it was quite different, but still amazingly beautiful. The finale featured a solo by one of my dearest friends Ritch (who was also my realtor when I moved and someone I've known and loved for nearly 20 years). It was an African American gospel song called "Jesus, What A Wonderful Child" and Ritch who grew up in a black baptist church was, as they say, "back at church," with the audience clapping along, and all the time I had tears running down my face.
It's been interesting being back here in Seattle-- even after only three months. It now feels like a place I used to live. I've had a great time visiting friends and seeing the show and all. But it's now somewhere I used to live, much like Phoenix is. I didn't go "home."  Now it's where I have a lot of friends still, and it's a very familiar place, but its also somewhat distant and strange -- a place I used to live.

And it's cold. So cold my eyes are watery all the time.  At least that's what I'll blame it on anyway -- these watery eyes. The cold.

On The Road Headed Home...err North.

It's a long road from the desert up to Seattle -- roughly 1200 miles. It's a road I've driven more than few times. For the last six or seven years I've always left Seattle at the holidays and headed South East towards Boise and then down to Salt Lake and then on to Palm Springs and the desert. Before I retired I'd return back up after New Years, and for the last three years I've spent the entire winter there after the holidays before heading back home in the Spring. I have some business in Portland and Seattle this week and so I figured I'd do the old holiday "loop" again, the long drive up California and into Oregon and Washington, but this time I'd be starting and ending in the desert rather than in the Northwest.

The most direct route from the desert, especially from the side of the Coachella Valley that I live in is to go North up into Yucca Valley, before turning Northwest towards Barstow and then across the Mojave desert and through the Tehachipi Mountains, down to Bakersfield and then up the Central Valley, on past Mt. Shasta and into Oregon.  There is a point shortly after Yucca Valley that the road takes a gradual turn and points itself Northwest. Whenever I left the desert in the years past this always was the point in the journey that it truly felt like I was headed "home".  My inner compass, the direction of the road, the light in the sky always said "homeward bound". This year, surprisingly, it didn't.
Oh I knew I was headed to the Northwest, but I wasn't headed "home". In years past this spot in the road was always both an exciting and bittersweet moment. The moment when I realized the vacation or the winter had ended and I was like a horse headed back to the barn. There was a bit of a sense of "urgency", in the drive or the ride back home.  I'd be sad to be leaving the sunshine and the friends of the desert, while at the same time, excited to be out on the open road, headed back to my home.

But this year it feels almost like a business trip. There isn't the sense of urgency, or the mixed emotions. Yes I'm looking forward to visiting friends for the holidays up in the Northwest, and I'm excited to see them after three months. But it's just a short visit -- a few days in Portland and then Seattle, before heading back to the Mountain West and my family. That too is "home" and always will be -- it's where I was born and raised and where I am compelled to go back like a salmon headed swims upstream to it's birthplace to spawn.

But I'm truly looking forward to returning to the desert in a few weeks. The desert is home now. I can feel it. And I'm sure there will be a spot in the road, likely somewhere south of Salt Lake City or more likely Provo -- I don't exactly know where yet -- that my inner compass and the direction of the road and the light and my head and heart will all tell me "you are homeward bound". I'm looking forward to finding that place.

December QuickThrottle Column

Another month has gone by -- but I'm about done living out of boxes and amongst paper and packing peanuts. The house is coming along nicely. Just finished writing my January column which will have a new look for the new year, so it's time to post the last one of 2016 -- a look at the election and it's aftermath...
Well it’s finally over, that interminably long and disgustingly lowbrow election campaign. And now its time to govern – both on the national and on the local levels. Lets see what all these new folks can do. Wait a minute, what “new folks?”  Yep, the Washington and Oregon State Governments barely change. Jay Inslee is still Governor of Washington, and is still clueless. Here’s a perfect case in point. The program manager for the Motorcycle Safety Program at the Department of Licensing DOESN’T RIDE A MOTORCYCLE!! Let that sink in for a second – I’ll get back to it. The Republicans continue – but by a single vote – to control the State Senate, while the Democrats, lead by Speaker Frank Chopp – the longest serving speaker in state history – controls the House with his iron fist.

In Congress, in the main Seattle district, an extremely liberal nut job woman who will occupy the seat and get nothing done but will get lots of press coverage for being outspoken replaces another extremely liberal nut job man who occupied the seat for 26 years and didn’t get anything done and got lots of press coverage. Otherwise the Congressional delegation from Washington didn’t change at all.

Oh, and there was a new President who got elected, by not wining a majority of the popular votes and complaining that the system was rigged. How’s that for irony? There’s some change afoot there for sure. And the US Congress remains in the hands of the Republicans – though by slightly smaller margins, and 98.2% of the incumbents running were re-elected.

What all this means for us as riders – or as citizens -- remains to be seen. What I tell friends who are panicking that no one person, be it a legislator or president can snap their fingers and abolish something or pass something, that’s the beauty of our system. It’s designed to keep radical things from happening. Our Founders were wise people in that regard. And we can’t predict outcomes, but we can predict what issues might come up, and here’s some of what I expect to see coming down the road for us as riders.

Like the proverbial dog that finally catches the garbage truck he’s been chasing and now has to figure out what to do with it, the incoming Trump administration has to do the same thing with the US Federal Government. For those of us who like to see an emphasis on roads and highways this maybe is some good news. The New York Times reports that Trump’s transition team member who is responsible for transportation issues is a person who was once the lobbyist for the National Asphalt Pavement Association, a trade group representing highway construction firms. Trump has campaigned on increasing highway spending and this reflects that – which could indicate some changing in thinking at DOT.  I expect as well to see less emphasis on the Environmental Protection Administration regarding after-market exhaust mods on both noise and carbon dioxide levels as well as “alternative fuels” that take their toll on small engines.

Back in the Pacific Northwest, one of the smart things the voters did was reject a carbon tax in Washington which would have vastly increased gas prices, while at the same time approving a ballot measure to massively fund Sound Transit in the Seattle region. Get ready to take it on the chin with increased vehicle license fees if you live in that area.

Meanwhile the states’ Motorcycle Safety Program is going down like a rider who hits a sand patch going around a curve behind a leaky oil truck.  We as riders pay for this program, and the state is letting it deteriorate. First by putting in place a program manager who doesn’t even ride, (who is at the moment on a temporary assignment and who’s job is now being overseen by someone from the firearms section of DOL.)  Its kind of like hiring a podiatrist to treat your ailing heart. Due to retirements and shuffling at the Department of Licensing, technical expertise is leaving and being replaced by bureaucrats who know little to nothing of riding and motorcycle safety. According to my buddy and former lobbying colleague Larry Walker of the Washington Road Riders Association, there is a lot of growing concern over the “declining technical expertise and transparency of the program” and it will be something WRRA will be making lawmakers aware of this coming session.

Lastly, our friends at ABATE will be advocating for a lane-split bill again this session. This is a big hurdle to overcome, despite mountains of data indicating that lane-sharing is beneficial to both riders and to traffic and isn’t unsafe when done properly and in the right conditions. I expect a high level of resistance to this bill  -- even among the riding community. My own thinking has evolved on this issue and while I oppose it at high speeds on freeways, it does make sense in congested areas at lower speeds. Drivers of vehicles hate it, and I’m sure the state patrol does too, but it’s something that needs to be considered.  Make your voice heard early in January at the annual Black Thursday motorcycle day at the capitol – this year it’s January 19th.

Now we all elected these folks – at least we should have. I have no patience for people who don’t vote, who don’t participate in the process who then complain about it. We now get to hold them, those that were elected, accountable for their actions that affect us. Your guy or gal may not have won, but we had our say and they all deserve a chance and we need to wish them good luck and hope for their success, whatever position they hold, be it state legislator, or the US President. I’ll be watching. I hope you are too.

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