Friday, August 29, 2014

TMO: Ride review: Yamaha MT-09 (Yamaha FZ-09)

On the same day I rode up to Birmingham to test ride the Yamaha MT-07 I also got a chance to putt around on the larger-engined MT-09. Both bikes look the same and both have bland names (I am never quite sure why so many motorcycle companies fail to give their bikes actual names, rather than letter/number codes) but their essence is different.

Engine is what I mean by essence. Motorcycles, after all, are mostly engine. That's part of the appeal, I think. There's something so delightfully idiotic about it. Someone has taken an engine and done little more than strapped some wheels to it, and with that you are free to hurtle yourself down roads. It makes you feel a bit like Slim Pickens riding an A bomb. So, the real essence of any motorcycle -- what makes one motorcycle truly different from another -- is its engine.

The MT-09 has a three-cylinder engine, which is supposed to be the happy middle ground between the feels-like-you're-on-a-tractor pull of a twin (i.e., the type of set-up used by Harley-Davidson machines) and the feels-like-you're-driving-a-Toyota smoothness of an inline four (i.e., the type of set-up used on my Honda). It's supposed to be fun and fast. That's not what I found in the MT-09, though. Click the link below to read the post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A last hairah

Crikey, I have a big forehead.
I'm growing out my hair. It looks terrible at the moment but I'm hoping things will magically improve. Not that there's any historical evidence to suggest it will. I've grown my hair twice before, and in both cases it was generally agreed by all my friends and family to have been a bad idea.

But hope springs eternal. The idea was planted in my head a month or so ago when Jenn and I rode out to the Gower, a peninsula just to the west of Swansea that is listed as an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

It strikes me as so quintessentially British that there is such an official designation. And it is a designation that is so quintessentially British. Only the people of this soggy archipelago could turn a random phrase into another layer of bureaucracy. No doubt there exists, too, an official designation for A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit-Down. Surely it is possible (through a series of examinations, of course) to be awarded official He's a Bit Funny You Know status, which then makes one eligible for disability payments. 

All I can really tell you about Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) is that there are 46 of them in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I can't really explain what they are except to say they are kind of like the UK's national parks. But, see, explaining what the hell a national park is in Britain is equally challenging. And dude, I work for the national parks. 

Where was I? Oh, that's right. Hair. Jenn and I went swimming at the beach and I hadn't had a haircut in about a month, so I was beginning to look a little shaggy. The seawater managed to style my hair in such a way that, if I squinted and used a lot of imagination, made me think I looked kind of just a tiny bit like Matthew McConaughey.

And, really, that's a good enough reason to do just about anything. But also I suppose the idea of growing out my hair got into my head (see what I did there?) because I was thinking a lot about my then-upcoming 20-year high school reunion. Or rather, I was thinking about all the things one thinks about in connection to a 20-year high school reunion. Age and where I am in life and so on. Through this, some part of me decided I should grow my out hair again -- while I still have hair to grow.

A last hairah, if you will.

I'm not yet sure how long I want to grow it. At the very least, I'll take things this far, which is more or less how I was wearing my hair when I first moved to Wales 8 years ago. If I can be bothered, I might carry on to something like this, which is how I was rocking it just a few months before that. I'm not entirely sure how easy the latter would be when trying to stuff it into a motorcycle helmet, though. We'll see.

What's interesting to me about this sudden hair-growing business is that there seems to be an emotional reason for doing it, some subconscious statement I'm not sure I understand. As I say, I have grown out my hair twice before, and can now see a few patterns. Specifically, in all cases I have been exhausted with where I am. Not so much with where I am in my life, but where I am physically.

The first time I grew my hair long was during my final year living in San Diego. With the power of hindsight I can now say some decent things about America's Finest City but at the time I hated it. Hated it. Remember back in 1998 when Chris Jericho decided to list all the wrestling holds he knew? Similarly, I carried in my head a long list to explain why San Diego was one of the worst places one could ever have the misfortune of visiting.

Yes, it had beach and mountains and year-round agreeable weather, but it also had a whole lot of self-absorbed people who didn't give a damn about protecting those things, an untamed urban sprawl, and a corrupt local government that cared only about attracting tourism dollars but not about using those dollars to improve the lives of residents in any way. And if you were trying to get by on the salary of an associate producer at a local TV station you found yourself feeling very much like an indentured servant -- slipping ever deeper and more inescapably into debt.

So, when R got accepted into a master's degree programme at the University of Minnesota, and we knew we'd be leaving San Diego, I pretty much clocked out. I grew my hair, I started wearing T-shirts to work, and I stopped making any effort to socialise. San Diego wasn't my place anymore. I was just killing time; for me, it was as if we were living in an airport.

I loved that St. Paul. Still do. But within three years I was growing my hair again. This time because we were moving to Wales. I hadn't fallen out of love with good ol' Pig's Eye, but had become infatuated with the idea of moving to Britain, of finally earning a college degree, of having a life that I imagined people might be jealous of at a high school reunion (a). So, again I clocked out of where I was, again I grew my hair, again I wore T-shirts to work.

Eight years later, there are no terribly solid plans for Jenn and I to leave Cardiff. But I have clocked out, nonetheless. I'm wearing T-shirts at work, I'm growing out my hair, and I find it hard to be social.

There are plans to leave. We've been telling ourselves and others that we want to move to St. Paul in 2019 (b) but that date is pretty far away. As I've said many times before, God hates plans. Five years (or, well, 4 years, 10 months and 7 days) is a too-long time to plan for reliably. We can work toward something, can have a goal in mind, but all kinds of things can happen in the next 1,772 days that could change things entirely. It is a leaving date too nebulous and too distant for me to have clocked out.

But I have, man. I am so tired of this city (c). Tired of this region. It wears on me. Objectively, I can see that South Wales isn't the worst place in the world. I mean, hey, I'd choose Cymru over Cambodia any time. But emotionally I am so defeated by it all. And I find myself in a mental state of just waiting to go. Like sitting in an airport, waiting to be allowed to board a plane.

Some part of my brain has flicked the switch on this place. I'm ready to leave. The next 1,772 days cannot pass quickly enough. To pass the time, I'll be growing my hair.


(a) It seemingly always comes back to high school reunions for me.

(b) I feel it would be poetic if we were to arrive on 4 July 2019, choosing Independence Day to mimic the scene in Avalon when the family patriarch arrives in America for the first time and thinks the fireworks are for him.

(c) See, from this point I had planned to write quite a bit about how displeased I am with every facet of South Wales, but that demands too much energy. There was a time when i could rant for hours, scream against this place with such vitriol it made me sick. But now I can't make myself care that much. I just want to go.

Friday, August 22, 2014

TMO: Woe to Victory, the unloved child of Polaris

I talk about Minnesota-based Polaris a lot on my motorcycle blog. The reason for this is in the descriptor, I suppose: Polaris is a company that's based in Minnesota. Even though I proudly tell everyone I'm a Texan, and that state still holds the title for the largest percentage of my life spent living in it (31.5 percent), I don't think it should come as a great surprise that I tend to carry a greater fondness toward Minnesota (in which 28.9 percent of my life has been spent). Minnesota is where my friends are. Minnesota is where I first kissed a girl; you can't help but feel affection toward a place that affords you to opportunity to fondle boobies.

Because I love Minnesota I tend to love Minnesota companies. Target, Aerostitch, Polaris and so on. And a reason to love Polaris especially is that it is the parent company for two of the United States' three major motorcycle brands: Victory and Indian. The third major brand, of course, is Harley-Davidson. From a financial standpoint, obviously, the order in which I've listed these companies should be reversed.

Digressing somewhat, for roughly half a century Harley-Davidson was the only major American motorcycle brand and I personally feel that led to a retardation of motorcycling in the United States, and perhaps, by extension, the rest of the world. But that's a subject for a future post.

The point of the post linked below is to ponder the future of Victory motorcycles, a company that came into being 16 years ago and has chugged along respectably -- very, very slowly gaining a reputation for itself against the Harley-Davidson behemoth. But since Polaris acquired the considerable brand equity that came in purchasing Indian it seems Victory has been falling to the wayside. Click below to read more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Well, if it's good enough for Jake the Snake...

It's he, it's he. It's DDP.
Jenn and I are training for a marathon. It will be the first long race I have run since the Cardiff Half Marathon debacle of 2007 –– an event so poorly organised it undermined my faith in Britons' ability to do anything on a large scale successfully.

The awesomeness that was the 2012 Olympic Games in London helped eliminate that feeling somewhat (I still don't really trust the Welsh) but I'll admit the fact this marathon is in Dublin was something of a selling point for me. Though, truthfully, my enthusiasm is more to do with the marathon being in Dublin than its not being in Britain. I love that city and many of the people in it.

How Jenn and I got to the point of signing up for the marathon is a meandering and erratic story that begins more or less on New Year's Day, when Jenn and I suddenly realised that in the month and a half previous we had not gone a single day without drinking. We hadn't become alcoholics, just terribly unhealthy. And it was making Jenn feel awful. So, we went off booze for the month of January. She did some sort of 90-day fitness challenge, some time passed and, voilà, marathon. Because that's the obvious progression, yo.

Within that aforementioned passage of time I've been doing my own little things to try to keep fit. First I got into a habit of running down to an "outdoor gym" in Cardiff Bay, where I do pull ups, push ups and other bodyweight exercises in the lonely morning cold –– feeling as if I were Jean Claude van Damme preparing for one. last. mission. But enthusiasm for such a thing wanes easily in a rainy-cold country, so I also got into DDP Yoga.

DDP Yoga sounds like it should be pornographic but, in fact, DDP stands for Diamond Dallas Page –– a professional wrestler whose career peaked in the late 90s. Page was never at the top of my list of favourites (from that era of WCW I preferred Chris Jericho, La Parka and Eddie Guerrero) but I always admired him somewhat because he was so damned enthusiastic.

Truth is a malleable thing in the world of professional wrestling but the version of it most people agree on is that Page, who had gotten into wrestling considerably later in life than most, managed to stay in fighting shape because of yoga. When his wrestling career started to fizzle, he (respectably) chose to move on and teamed up with a dude who calls himself The Yoga Doc and looks like he was the inspiration for Todd Quinlan from "Scrubs." The two of them wrote a yoga book for dudes, then developed what is now DDP Yoga. As best I can tell, DDP Yoga is a more yelly, more energetic version of regular yoga, but without any pseudo-religious aspect.

So, instead of sitting there chanting, "Ommm",and trying to connect with the universe, you flex like Hulk Hogan and shout "Bang!" a lot.

As I say, Page has always been admirably enthusiastic, but because he is a wrestler, and wrestlers are really just glorified carny folk, I had long ignored his yoga DVDs. This despite the fact I was pretty sure I should be doing some sort of yoga/stretchy thing because working out and running often leave me racked with pain. Indeed, that is generally the story of my physical fitness efforts: do something for a while, develop pain in shoulder or back that won't go away, try to work through the pain until it becomes incapacitating, be forced to stop for several weeks, get angry at my sloth, start new physical fitness thing, repeat.

But then Page saved Jake "The Snake" Roberts' life with yoga. Roberts is perhaps most notable for having invented one of the coolest wrestling moves ever: the DDT. When I was a boy, one of my friends would always insist on being Roberts when we'd wrestle. I was usually Kerry von Erich, Randy Savage or Terry Funk. My friend's brother was always Jim Cornette and would perpetually interfere in our matches by beating on us with a tennis racket.

Because of my many bouts with Jake the Snake's doppelgänger I developed a certain respect for the actual man, and always felt sad that Roberts seemed to have a one-way ticket on the train to An Alcohol-And-Drugs-Induced Death That Anyone Could Have Predicted Decades Before It Happened. But now, suddenly, Roberts is sober. Not just sober but lucid and lithe enough you can truly believe he's sober. He gives the credit for this transformation to Page and his exercise regime.

Dozens of other wrestlers –– some of whom are also erstwhile train wrecks and some of whom are just good looking dudes –– also sing the praises of DDP Yoga. And, I don't know, I guess the idea of it just sort of wormed its way into my head. It helps, too, I suppose, that I was back in the United States a few months ago visiting family members, two of whom –– my grandfather and his daughter, my mother –– are struggling with a lot of physical pain at the moment. I thought of my future and wanted to develop ways to work with the cards that genetics will deal.

As of right now I've been doing DDP Yoga for six weeks. I've not experienced any sort of amazing transformation but, then, I wasn't expecting any. I was already healthy, already at the weight I want to be. But I have noticed that my marathon training hurts a lot less than I'd have expected it to. I don't do the old thing of hobbling around like C3-PO on my rest days and struggling to get going on runs.

I think, maybe, the yoga is also helping make my chest and abs look a little better. Enough, at least, that I intend to keep doing it. I am able to tell you all this only because I've been doing it for a while. I've gotten used to the silliness –– having Page shout: "Come on, I can't hear you at home!"

When I first started, though, I found it terribly embarrassing. Almost intolerably so. Firstly because it is yoga, and secondly because it is yoga as delivered by a cheesy ex-wrestler. The first time I did a workout I had to draw the blinds to prevent people seeing me through the window. I'm a little less embarrassed now but I think I'd still rather be caught pooping.

I am this way with exercise; I don't like for anyone to see me doing it. Though, I'm not entirely sure why. I guess because I don't look amazing. I'm not the best ever. I don't have the body of Rick Rude and never will. Of course, he died at the age of 40, so perhaps I don't want the body of Rick Rude. But you get my point.

Meanwhile, the drawback to training for a marathon and doing yoga three or four times a week and cycling 6 miles a day (my commute to work) and whatever else I do is that I am hungry all the time. I mean all the time, y'all. This is despite the fact that I am also generally eating all the time. I eat a meal or snack at 6:30, 8:30, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 15:00, 17:00, 19:00, and 21:00. Yet still I tend to wake up in the night with hunger pain and am struggling to keep weight on.

Ostensibly I do all this stuff to enrich my life, to make myself healthier and live longer. But sometimes I wonder: What sort of life is this? 

Friday, August 15, 2014

What country is Ferguson in?

I'm glad to see that the mood in Ferguson, Missouri, seems to be improving. Though, I find it frustrating and troubling that it took so long and such upper-level intervention (i.e., the state governor and the president of the United States) to do the totally obvious thing of, you know, speaking with protesters about their grievances.

Generally, if people are protesting something it is because they feel their voices are not being heard. So, the way to calm them down is not necessarily to march a load of storm troopers at them, choke them with tear gas, and tell them to shut up and go home. I thought most of us already knew this. I find it distressing that an entire police force in America didn't know it. 

But extending forward, beyond the specific issues of Ferguson, the thing that frustrates me most about this embarrassing episode is that it effectively vindicates the batshit crazies.

You know all those people who shoot up schools and movie theatres and workplaces in America? The reason they are armed to the teeth is that a number of other people have worked very, very hard to protect (and, in my opinion, misinterpret) their right to own such hardcore weaponry. Each time one of these mass shootings takes place, however, the rather obvious question comes up: "What American actually needs these kinds of firearms?"

After all, you don't hunt deer with a TEC-9. And, arguably, a good ol' fashioned shotgun is a more effective tool in protecting yourself against intruders because the scattering nature of buckshot takes some of the pressure out of having to aim properly. Machine guns and semi-automatic handguns are really only good for a military-style assault.

Publicly, the gun nuts will talk around these points and try to hold to a philosophical argument about the nature of freedom. We're free, they say, and we shouldn't give away freedoms just because something bad happened. Because bad things always happen, and eventually you'll find yourself completely without freedom.

But pull a gun crazy aside, into a private conversation, and he or she will often say that one of the reasons it's important to interpret the Second Amendment as broadly as they do is so they have the means to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. That's certainly the view of Cliven Bundy and the whole sovereign citizen movement. Those dudes are ready, yo. Ready to stand their ground against the unmarked helicopters and faceless jackbooters that haunt their dreams.

I used to live in the American West, so I've encountered a number of these dudes, or, at least, dudes who sympathise with them (it is almost always dudes, by the way). And when they would tell me they needed high-powered rifles so they could defend themselves against a an evil police state my reaction was usually along the lines of: "What? You are a paranoid nutcase. We live in America, man. We live in a functioning democracy. It's not some strange, terrible dystopia where you need to protect yourself against everyone, especially your protectors."

I mean, really, those guys are crazy, right? 


Scenes from Ferguson, Missouri, offer vindication to every batshit crazy, confirming their belief that the government has detached from its purpose and turned against its citizens for reasons unknown. Because, honestly, where's the reason behind responding to unarmed protesters the way Ferguson has done? 

Look at that picture above. Click on it to make it bigger and take the time to examine it. I'm counting no less than seven faceless officers stomping toward a single individual. At least two of the officers have their weapons trained on the guy. One is brandishing a nightstick and has a pepper spray cannister. All of the officers have more body armour than the soldiers who invaded Iraq. All have weapons holsters on their thighs. The single individual, meanwhile, has long hair and a flowery man bag.

Who wouldn't think of arming themselves against this kind of thing? Hell, to be honest, I am surprised by the incredible restraint shown by the citizens of Ferguson. And I am enraged by its police, who have given people good reason to fear and distrust them.

On a somewhat related note, I wonder how those Open Carry boneheads who flaunt their "rights" by shopping at Target with a rifle over their shoulder would respond to the sight of dozens of black people doing the same thing...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The guy I wanted to be

"There's three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer." -- Robin Williams (as Parry in The Fisher King

One of the stories that holds strongly in the canon of childhood memories is of the time I got sent to the principal's office for wanting to be Robin Williams.

I was in first grade and our teacher was having us draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. We were drawing these pictures to then have them posted in the hallways of the school for an upcoming parent-teacher night. As almost always happened when given an assignment that required creativity, I found myself sitting at my desk, stumped, and staring at a blank piece of paper.

This isn't because I lacked creativity as a child but because I was egotistical and competitive; I wanted my idea to be better than anyone else's. I wanted the parents wandering the halls on parent-teacher night to look at my picture and think: "Lord, I wish this were my son. Instead, I produced an idiot who wants to grow up to be a cowboy."

One of my biggest challenges in this task was that I had no interest in growing up. My father was a newsman and I had already picked up that quite a lot of grown ups are dicks. Many others, I knew, were unhappy with how being a grown-up had turned out. Growing up meant going to work, and work was the thing that prevented my parents from taking me swimming all day. To some extent, I saw my parents having to work as the reason I had to go to school. I didn't like school; I didn't want to have to grow up; I didn't want to have to go to work.

Still, I sat there at my desk, forcing my 7-year-old brain to tackle the great and burning question of What I Want To Be. My initial thoughts were that I wanted to be Superman. Because, you know, Superman. He is the best. I love Superman. One of the great tragedies of the modern comic-book mindset is that seemingly no one understands Superman. In films and such they're always trying to make him edgy, or desperately relying on kryptonite to portray some element of weakness. The quintessence of Superman, what he is and should be allowed to be, is Better Than Everyone. Always.

And that was essentially why I liked him. Sure, he was strong and could fly and shoot lasers from his eyes and create wind storms with his breath (every time I blew out candles I imagined myself as Superman extinguishing a forest fire), but the thing to love about Superman is that he is really good at what he does. His only real flaw is the fact he doesn't exist.

Robin Williams, however, did. I had seen him on "Mork and Mindy" and Johnny Carson and some other things. At that age, there was, of course, quite a lot of his stuff I had not been permitted to see but somehow I was aware of his reputation -- that he was the guy no comic wanted to follow. That he was better than everyone else at what he did. He was frentic and funny and those were things I liked being. So, I told my teacher I wanted to be Robin Williams and asked for guidance on how to convey this in a drawing.

"You can't be Robin Williams," my teacher told me.

Well, yeah, obviously. I couldn't somehow inhabit his body and be Robin Williams, but "stand-up comic" wasn't a part of my vocabulary and "actor" seemed too broad and inaccurate -- television was littered with actors I had no interest in being like. My attempt at explaining what I meant was ignored and my teacher stood fast to her conviction that I could not be Robin Williams.

"He's a filthy person," she said. "Why not be something else? Like a fireman."

Firemen don't get to be guests on Johnny Carson. Besides, what's creative about being a fireman? I stuck to my guns and said I wanted to be Robin Williams.

So, I got marched down to the principal's office. Mr. Green. A strange, spindly man whose belt was too high up his waist and whose favourite joke/nugget of wisdom was to point out that a way of remembering how to correctly spell "principal" is to think of him as your "princey pal."

He stressed to me the importance of choosing something else to be when I grew up, so I could draw a picture of it and have it up on the wall like everyone else. Because I wouldn't want to upset my mama and daddy, now would I? I have never once referred to my parents as "mama" or "daddy," and something about those terms annoys the hell out of me, but I couln't help but concede to Mr. Green's logic. I went back to class and claimed I wanted to be a pilot, solely because I was good at drawing airplanes.

Robin Williams, Bill Cosby and Steve Martin have always been my holy trinity of comedy and storytelling. Unquestionably, the Cos has had the greatest influence on my own style, but no one would argue the fact that Williams is the better actor of the three. Put a pint in my hand and I will happily spend the next hour or so explaining to you, in excruciating detail, why Good Morning Vietnam is one of the best films ever made. Popeye is considerably better than people give it credit for being. Williams' role in Aladdin singlehandedly re-defined what we expect of a Disney film. The pathos is so well done in What Dreams May Come that I wept for a solid 40 minutes after seeing it. And if you haven't seen The Fisher King you are a damned, damned fool.

There were times when Williams missed the mark, but the truth is that humans often do. Babe Ruth is famous for hitting homeruns, but he also struck out a fair few times. Overall, Williams hit a lot of homeruns. A lot. In his acting, in his comedy, and in his ability to be a guy you wished you could be.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Motorcycle Obsession: Ride review: Yamaha MT-07 (Yamaha FZ-07)

One of my little daydreams is that one day I'll find a way to monetise all the blogging I do about motorcycles. Specifically, I'd really like for someone to pay me to ride bikes. 

Mostly because I just really like riding motorcycles. Also, getting a chance to test different models is something of a challenge for the layman. More often than not, it requires my going to a dealership and putting on a show of actually wanting to buy a given bike. I've found that having an American accent really helps in this situation because it usually means sales people don't have a pre-conceived notion about my financial status. So, I've never had someone reluctant to hand me the keys. As long as I sign the liability forms...

Such would be the benefit of being a moto-journalist: if I dropped a bike during a ride the cost of fixing it wouldn't be my responsibility. As a regular guy, though, I risk being on the unhappy end of the "You break it, you buy it" stick.

Still, I take that risk as often as time and good weather allow. As I say, I really like riding motorcycles. This is my thing right now. Though, one wonders how long I'll be able to keep it up because there are only so many motorcycle dealerships in South Wales. Eventually, they're going to get wise to the American guy who wants to test every bike and not buy any of them.

Thankfully, summer is the time of demo tours. Manufacturers who don't have bikes that sell themselves (a) trundle from one end of the country to the other with a fleet of bikes, promotional material, skinny girls, and stunt riders hoping to win a portion of your paycheck. Such was the case recently when I rode up to Birmingham to test a few Yamaha bikes. Here's the story of one of them:


(a) Manufacturers like Harley-Davidson don't tend to do demo tours because many people will buy their machines on reputation alone. When I went to test ride two Harleys last summer, the salesperson told me some people will buy the bikes without even sitting on them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Biker Friendly Pubs in the UK

I don't know why I hadn't quite processed this before, but, wow, I write a lot about motorcycles. One wonders how long I'll be able to sustain such an interest before I just get annoyed and burned out. I'm guessing the crash will time itself perfectly to align with a rise in success. This hobby will somehow find a way to turn a tidy profit and suddenly I'll think: "You know what? I'm sick of this." (a)

One of the first steps in finding such success, I'd reckon, is being asked to write posts/articles on other websites. That's not to say that I'd describe writing for the Express Insurance blog as hitting the big time, but it's a start and I was grateful to be asked.

The topic they asked me to write about was biker-friendly pubs in the UK, which sounds a simple enough assignment but actually left me asking all kinds of questions. Most of those questions swirl around one that motorcyclists deal with a lot, which is: Are motorcyclists a group?

It kind of feels like we are; that's why we all wave/nod (b) at each other. But then when you try to describe what that group is -- not the traits of a specific niche, but the overarching connecting thing -- it's not very easy.

Anyhoo, here's the article. If you can think of any sort of comment on it at all, I'd appreciate your leaving one at the bottom of the article, so the blog owners will want me as a guest writer again.


(a) Maybe not. One of the beauties of writing is that you're not stuck building the same house over and over again. New things come along, new ideas, new trends and that allows you to change.

(b) Here's some motorcycle geekery for you: One of my favourite aspects of motorcycling culture is that we tend to acknowledge each other on the road. In the United States, this is done via some sort of wave as we pass -- the cooler-looking the better. In the UK, however, we do little head nods. We do this because of the set-up of a motorcycle:
In the US, riding on the right side of the road, your left hand is closest to a passing rider. Conveniently, the left hand controls the clutch, which isn't something you use once you're moving at speed. So, it is perfectly safe to lift your left hand in salute of another rider.
In the UK, riding on the left side of the road, the hand closest to a passing rider is your right. Unfortunately, the right hand controls the throttle, which you need to keep control of at just about all times. So, lifting the right hand to salute another rider is challenging. Meanwhile, lifting the left hand in anything other than a full-on child-like wave would not be seen. So, UK riders nod their heads.
I am told that in some parts of Europe the custom is to kick out a foot as salute. I can't guess the reasoning for this.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Veinte años

That's right, y'all. I've always been this awesome.

My 20-year high school reunion is this weekend. The cliché of life makes me feel I should have something to profound to say about that, about the passage of time or some such thing. I'm not sure I do, though. I think this is primarily because I remember so little of high school.

Not because I was on drugs or anything; I just have a really bad memory. Or, well, no, that's not true. I have a limited-space memory -- only so much can fit in there. These days, my brain is being used primarily to store useless information about pro wrestling story lines, the technical aspects of various motorcycles I will never own, and some dying bits of the Welsh language. To make room, I have jettisoned most of my knowledge about life and experiences from 20 years ago.

Over the past few weeks, people from my high school have been posting to Facebook various embarrassing photos of themselves and others with captions about hair or awkward declarations that those days were the "best." Occasionally I get tagged in one of these photos, thereby allowing me to look back in admiring wonder at my incredible style foresight, having come up with Macklemore's haircut decades before he did.

Mostly, though, I tend to feel a sense of confusion. I'll look at pictures and not have any idea of the stories to which they are tied: Where was the picture taken? When, exactly? Who took the picture? What are we all doing? And so on.

The above picture, for instance. That's me, my best friend Paul, and Steph, a girl both of us dated at different points in our lives. We're at a restaurant; that much I can guess from the soda and chequered table cloth. TGI Friday's, perhaps? We used to go there a lot. 

I'm making that face because I've got hard candy in my mouth, a strange addiction I carried through high school for fear of bad breath. And because it struck me as quirky. That's what you do as a teenager: you find something no one else is doing it and own it as part of your personality simply because you're the only one doing it. The candy. The hair. The tendency to wear purple. The pen around my neck.

I always wore as a necklace a pen hooked to a bit of leather shoestring. You know, because I was a writer. I felt the need to communicate this visually. Had tattoos been within my personal aura of acceptability I probably would have had the word "Writer" emblazoned on my forearm. The necklace broke in my senior year when someone used it as a means of tackling me in a pick-up football game, so I'll place the picture as having been taken in my junior year. 

That makes sense. That was the year I was pretty hot for Steph. I'm willing to bet this pose was instigated by me -- not because I wanted to throw an arm around my best buddy but because I wanted to achieve cheap physical contact with Steph. If that's correct, I'd guess the picture was taken in spring 1993, during the height of my infatuation with her. And I'd suspect the photographer was my friend Sara -- primarily because she's the one who posted it to Facebook.

OK, well, perhaps I remember some things better than I thought. But all those are generalities. I can't tell you the story of this picture. I can't tell you anything about what any of the people in the photo were thinking/feeling at or around the time it was taken. Who's Paul looking at? Who else was there? Why were we there? I don't know.

So, I look at these pictures and feel confused. I feel a sense of amnesia, as if someone has shown me these and said, "Look, here's us when we were young." And I am left to nod befoggedly, feeling these pictures are not helping to fill in the gaps, but instead create new gaps. Silently thinking: "I recognise the faces but I don't know who any of these people are. Including the person who looks like me."

There is, too, a feeling of sadness. That is more a reflection of my present self and present circumstances.

I live today 5,000 miles away from where these pictures were taken. These pictures reinforce my feelings of disconnectedness, that others look at the silly-haired kid in the photo and think: "Well, I recognise the face but..."

I won't be at the high school reunion, of course. Check the cost of a flight from London to Minneapolis for a clear understanding as to why. Many of my old friends will be. And I suppose the appeal of the thing is that it is like Thanksgivings when all of us were in college: everyone rolling back into town at once. All these faces come back to collectively help piece together the tales of old pictures, to help you piece together who you are by reminding you who you were.

And I wonder if perhaps that's part of why I sometimes feel I can't figure out who I am. Because I'm so far away from anyone who can remember who I was.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Motorcycle Obsession: What I want: Indian Scout

On Sunday, Indian Motorcycles (which is owned by Minnesota-based company Polaris) unveiled the all new Indian Scout –– a motorcycle with a history stretching back to the 1920s –– and it was kind of a big deal.

At the moment, Indian (and its sister company, Victory) makes cruiser-style motorcycles. Most people who don't bury their heads in this kind of stuff would refer to this style as "Harley" bikes, which makes sense because Harley-Davidson produces the bulk of them.

The motorcycling world is quite niche, and within it are the even smaller, siller niche groups that align according to motorcycle style (and within those, ever smaller, siller niche groups that align according to brand, then according to specific models). My point is simply that I realise that when I say the Indian Scout is a big deal, it is within that stupid layered context and, really, has only slightly greater significance than if I were to sit here and tell you about the most famous Mormon country music performer ever. 

But to me it is a big deal. The Indian Scout looks like a fantastic bike and I am now fretting over how to build up the necessary funds to purchase one. As well as wondering where the hell I will put it. Anyhoo, here's a blog post about how awesome it is. It's worth clicking just for the pictures I found:

Friday, August 1, 2014

When nothing is written

Rather inauspiciously, this blog turned 10 years old back in May. I made no mention of it. I make little mention of anything these days (see previous post). Which is a shame, because it would be nice if this 10-year journal of my life offered a good documentation of those years. But too often great, formative epochs have come and gone almost silently. My friend Annie once said that happiness writes in white. True, but so, too, debilitating sadness. The former explains why I didn't write any long essays about getting married to Jenn, and the latter explains why so many of the horrors of my first year in Cardiff are unkown to most people.

Crikey, that's a bleak way to start. My point is simply, hey, this blog is a decade old. And, boo, I've not been at all times as faithful to it as I would have liked.

I started this blog because I thought I was on the cusp of being a super-famous author. I had that week started work on my novel, The Way Forward, and was writing a weekly column for a network of websites that covered news in dozens of cities across the United States. I felt pretty damned special.

When one of the columns I wrote resulted in my being a guest on a radio programme in Washington, DC, I realised I had nothing in particular to shill on the show, so I quickly slapped together this site.

"It'll be a good thing to have once I have a book to sell," I told myself.

I now have two books to sell (with a third on the way), but I'm not sure the existence of my blog has had any impact. Maybe it has. I'm not sure; the question of my blog's value is not really the direction I'm headed in this post. Really, I'm just trying to segue cleanly from one writing-related topic to another. But I seem to be out of practice in the Tao of Slick Transition.

Where I was headed was a sort of conjunction of two threads of thought -- thoughts on writing and thoughts on blogging -- and how this connects to the seeming abandonment of the whole 183 days project that I had going for a while.

The idea of said project was to set myself the goal of becoming a "professional author" within six months, and keeping daily track of my progress. Ostensibly, I have not abandoned this goal. I have decided that blogging every day about it, though, may be a bad idea. Firstly, it is boring. Boring for anyone who reads this, and even more boring for me. Because as a writer, or someone claiming to be a writer, I feel the need to try to add flourish to everything I produce. Even when that thing is supposed to be a quick, first-draft, diary-style note.

I can't allow myself to simply write, "Tried to write some stuff today. Didn't," day after day after day. Sure, that's the truth, but some stupid part of me wants the telling of that experience to be "fresh" every time. So, I started to get hung up about it and often ended up writing nothing.

Additionally, there's that Dean Ambrose voice in my head going: "Hey, brother. Let's preserve the magic, OK?"

(Ambrose is a professional wrestler and he once used that line on an interviewer who was asking too much about future WWE plot lines and story arcs.)

In other words, how wise is it to be talking about trying to "sell" a book whilst actually trying to "sell" said book? I'm not sure. It's probably better not to tell anyone whether I'm struggling. So, yeah, I'll just take all that anxiety, put it in a tiny box, and store it away where no one can see. Everything will be fine.

It's an anxiety, though, that has created a sort of writer's block over the past I-don't-know-how-long -- something I have only this week started to try to work myself out of. I am reading more, I have set little goals. We'll see how it goes. Can you tell I'm depressed?