In 1975, an astute friend of mine made the observation that the United States of America had stupidly built an entire transportation system around a resource they don’t control. It all seemed amusing enough during an era when the governments of oil-producing countries loved the river of valuable dollars that flowed across the oceans to fund their lavish lifestyles. However, the chickens are now coming home to roost, as those same dollars have lost much of their value on the world currency markets, and those rivers are beginning to look like trickling streams. Worse, the warehouses in which they store the huge bales of American currency they’ve accumulated over the decades now look like they might be better used to store a huge collection of Beanie Babies.
The solution they have chosen to pursue is to charge more for the oil and build bigger warehouses. The majority of Americans have been looking around, blinking as though waking from a long slumber, wondering why it suddenly costs them $150 to fill up their SUV. Most don’t have any alternative. It would be nice if they could just leave that thing in the garage 3 days a week and take some form of safe, clean, efficient and affordable public transportation to work, but surprise! For most of us, there’s no public transportation system at all. And of course, the cost to rapidly build a nationwide public transportation system of any kind would be ruinous and politically impossible.
Some are angry. Some are angry and stupid, demanding to know why we don’t immediately nuke Iran and seize their oil fields.
To solve this problem for myself, I have been thinking of buying a motorcycle, which will get 3 times the gas mileage of my car. I have an 11-mile commute to work, none of which involves highway driving, and I live in Florida, which has a year-round motorcycle climate. This seems like a simple, rational response to a crisis that may get much worse before it gets better. There are just two small obstacles to overcome.
The first obstacle is that I’ve never owned or driven a motorcycle. So I don’t know if it’s a simple skill to learn, or if I’ll be a danger on the road. But there’s a motorcycle safety course I can take that will teach me the things I need to know. I also don’t know very much about motorcycles, so I’ve been doing some research. It seems as though in the USA, motorcycling has been developed and marketed as a lifestyle, not as transportation.
Bikes sold to guys my age are designed as cruisers for long distance weekend rides. They’re big, heavy and bloated with storage compartments and comfort accessories. Many are chromed or tricked out as status symbols, whose only purpose is to impress other guys. One company called Boss Hoss makes motorcycles with automotive V-8 engines. They get 18 miles per gallon. I dare you to make an argument that this bike is anything but a testicle substitute.
Bikes sold to imbecilic 19-year olds are called “sport bikes,” designed to achieve lethal velocities and perform wheelies on the Interstate. One salesman showed me a motorcycle made by Kawasaki that can go 240 miles per hour “right out of the box.” They don’t have a helmet law in Florida, but they should, because it makes it easy to carry the head of a dead sport biker to the ambulance.
There are a few bikes designed for simple commuting, but nothing like the assortment available in Europe or Asia.
The second obstacle is my wife, who assumes that if I buy a motorcycle, I will die. There’s no argument I can make that will shake this belief. However, I’ve been slowly wearing her down, and once gas hits $5 a gallon, I think she’ll see the light. In other words, my life can be bought for the right price.
What I didn’t expect was a third obstacle, and it showed up on HBO the other night. It was a documentary called Coma, which followed the lives of four people who awakened from comas. One had fallen from a balcony, two had been involved in automobile accidents, and one had been assaulted. Unlike actors in movies, these people faced enormous hurdles to recovery. All had brain injuries of one sort or another. One was in a Persistent Vegetative State, unable to speak, recognize his family, react to stimuli or control his limbs and bodily functions. One suffered a stroke and was left deaf and partially paralyzed. Another suffered profound physical disabilities and reverted to emotional infancy. The last one, barely conscious, succumbed to his injuries, lapsed back into a coma and was removed from life support.
The stories were compelling, but heartbreaking. All I could think about was the inherent instability of motorcycles. Suddenly, nuking Iran doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.