Thursday, July 31, 2008


Back in the early part of this past spring I attended a meeting of the local chapter of A.B.A.T.E. - "Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education" - in order to get a few lawn signs that warn motorists to be watchful for motorcycles. I'd hoped to get there early to grab a few signs and leave, but unfortunately I didn't arrive until their meeting had already started. I walked into a room too full of blue cigarette smoke, denim, and colorful tattoos, and I quietly took a seat in the back.

The topic of heated discussion was politics - namely politicians who seem to favor or disfavor biker legislation - and as I sat down a big lummox of a man had the floor. He was denigrating one of our local state representatives who for many years had been a music teacher in one of the local school districts. The slob who was speaking spoke in a tone of voice that made me cringe as he quite literally made fun of the legislator to the general amusement of most of the folks in attendance. He called him a "former school teacher" with a tenor and timbre that one might reserve for describing a serial ax murderer, and he further poked fun at the man's Polish heritage by calling him a kind of "N-word" used here in the valley to put down persons of Slavic descent. And there I sat, a teacher with a Slavic background, wondering what it was about my heritage and chosen profession that somehow invited the scorn and ridicule of bikers. Indeed, the state representative hadn't done a thing that was anti-biker. The guy was simply making fun of him for being a freshman representative in Harrisburg. It's somewhat ironic that the "T" and "E" in A.B.A.T.E. mean "Toward Education" when at their meeting a man who had chosen education as his career was put down for it.

At the end of the meeting the president asked if there was anybody new in the crowd. Two guys put their hands up. I just sat there, and it was good that I kept mine down and my mouth shut. She asked each of the guys in turn, "What did you think of our meeting?" I shudder to think of what I might have said if she'd asked me because I know I'd not have been able to run from that room fast enough to save my sorry butt if I'd given an honest answer. If the folks there represented a fair cross section of bikers, just keep calling me a scooterist and I'll take my wallet off its chain.

I saw this sign at the park yesterday...

...and thought about how incensed I'd have been if I had seen it some years ago. I used to be a militant smoker who didn't much care if my smoking bothered anybody. I insisted that outdoors smoke couldn't be an annoyance because the sky's just too big for a little puff of smoke not to dissipate instantly. Now when I walk out of a store and have to make my way through the cloud of tar and nicotine and burning particulates coughed up by the smokers who hang out by the doors I can gag. After years of trying the gum and the patch on and off unsuccessfully I became a true quitter after one hypnosis session with Dr. Jeff Fremont. I walked out of his office as if I'd never smoked a day in my life, and I mention all of this because a few days ago I celebrated my fourth anniversary of being a non-smoker.

It was in 1991 that my dad bought a Dodge Dynasty. I was horrified in a morbid kind of way when I heard him say on the night he picked it up, "Well, this is the last car I'll ever buy." He would have been 59 then, only nine years older than I am now, and with that statement I heard my father seeming to throw in the towel on life in admitting his mortality and acknowledging his eventual demise. Now and then through the years I'd remember him saying that and my heart would sink, especially last year when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and through the long months during which he endured radiation and chemotherapy.

Dad's cancer is in remission for now and he seems as strong as ever. It was with a most joyful heart that I accompanied him to the car lot yesterday where he traded in that Dynasty. It wasn't the last car he'd buy after all, and I couldn't be happier!

Dad climbing out of the Dynasty for the last time before trading it in.


Marc said...

Unfortunately, you'll find ignorant people in any group setting.

Glad to hear that you were able to quit smoking & that your Dad's cancer is in remission. Was your Dad a smoker and did that have a bearing in your ability to quit?

And hey, what did your Dad end up buying?

Joe said...

I watched my wife's mom die to esophageal cancer and kept right on smoking for many more years, idiot that I am. My dad wasn't diagnosed until last year around this time and I'd already been off the cigs for three years then. Now I'm worried that I didn't quit soon enough.

Dad got himself a Stratus to replace the Dynasty. He seems thrilled with it. No matter how old us guys get, there's always something thrilling about getting a new car - or bike!