Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not Worth Scootin' To - Volume I - Issue I

I was out just touring the local shopping centers this morning for no good reason except to roll around a bit before the scattered or isolated thunderstorms start popping up. As usual I was thinking of things I could park the scooter in front of to have something to write about here, and I happened to find two of them right next door to each other.

Now I'm a loyal shopper. When services are great and I get a good bang for my buck I go back to a business again and again. Likewise, when I don't like an establishment the only time you'll see me setting a foot in its doors is if I have a gift card for the place in my pocket. That's generally the case when it comes to the trendy restaurants built near the malls. They're over priced, nothing special, and they won't take reservations because they figure they're going to fill the tables anyway. The wait kids are entirely too bubbly and excited in trying to get you to plunk down $7 for some exotic drink and shrink back with visible disappointment if you don't want an appetizer up front or dessert later. And the manager comes around way too late to ask, "How's everything here?" when the food and the service are both mediocre to lousy.

One such joint that I don't like in particular is the Outback Steakhouse. They don't have lunch hours. Seemingly they'd rather not bother lowering their prices to serve lunch sized portions. I remember getting a steak there that was more gristle than meat, and let's not forget those annoying commercials with the horribly fake Australian accent that grates on us. One thing I have to hand it to them for, though - getting us to spend $6 on a stinking onion that the rest of the trendy, overpriced places all try to copy now.

Right beside our Outback here is another restaurant at the bottom of my personal food chain - Olive Garden. "When you're here, you're family?" I don't know. I haven't eaten a meal with family yet where I've gotten a bill at the end, so their insincere slogan doesn't quite cut it.

In terms of what you get for what you pay, they've got to be the worst of the chain restaurants. Let's see. About 25¢ worth of salad, another quarter's worth of bread, maybe 30¢ worth of noodles and perhaps 75¢ worth of meat or shrimp and what's the price on that? No restaurant can jack up the price as much as the Italian sort with dirt cheap noodles of some sort forming the basis of just about every meal and Olive Garden serves up those ridiculous prices in spades for nothing special at all. Unlimited salad and bread sticks? Woo hoo! That's right up there with unlimited tap water. Like the Outback, though, Olive Garden makes a pretty enough backdrop for the scooter.

I got back from my morning ride in plenty of time to have a huge salad for lunch that didn't cost me $8 and with time to spare to eat it at the table on the deck before the pea sized hail started falling from one of those thunderstorms I'd been expecting.

Cheap. It's what's for dinner!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Last Pics from "Thunder"

(The link to the 2011 rally is here.)

After the big flood in Johnstown in the late 1800s the Cambria Iron Company developed a new community for its top dogs high above the flood plain, atop the mountain that forms one of Johnstown's valley walls. From that peak in Westmont one can see all of Johnstown laid out below. We drove up to Westmont on Sunday afternoon hoping to see the town as full of bikes as it had been on Friday afternoon. The view was disappointing in terms of bikes although as breathtaking as always. Most of the bikers had already taken off, but a number of vendors remained.

We rode the Neon down on the inclined plane that links Westmont to Johnstown below. I'd ridden the plane before, but not with the car and it was totally cool taking the car from top to bottom.

Once back in Johnstown we walked around and visited some of the vendors' tents and checked out some of the bikes that were still there.

This Gold Wing was phenomenally air brushed with various scenes from the Bible.

I can't imagine how the guy who rides the red low rider keeps his pipes off the ground over a bump.

This trike was just amazing to look at. I'm surprised that things like this are still street legal. I wonder how they draw up a title for a cycle that's customized so much.

And here I am saying goodbye to Thunder in the Valley 2009 in Johnstown. Maybe some year I'll visit on a bike instead of in a car!

Photo by Susan

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thunder in the Valley Pictures

(The link to the 2011 rally is here.)

From the 12th annual Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally in Johnstown, PA. Friday, June 26, 2009

The downtown was just filled with bikes of all shapes and sizes - most of 'em Harleys. It was truly cool to see so much chrome all in the same place outside of a dealership or a bike night at some roadhouse.

The only representation from Scooterland that I saw was this lonely Burgman parked all alone as if segregated from the horde.

The shot of Biker Billy and me that I mentioned yesterday. I did get one of his cookbooks and look foward to trying some of his "Cooks with Fire" recipes.

One of the Budweiser Clydesdales on display.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thunder in the Valley - Johnstown PA

(The link to the 2011 rally is here.)

So there I was for a good chunk of the day yesterday in Johnstown, PA for the annual motorcycle rally, with my Neon. It's three and a half hours from the house via the interstates - God knows how long by the backroads and byways. There's major tractor trailer traffic on 80 and 99 and having spent some time on 81 back near the Valley alongside and in front of the rigs I'm not going to subject myself to the hair raising experience of being passed by or followed by semis for a few hours to get anywhere.

It was, in a word, awesome to see so many bikes, about 99% of them Harleys, all lined up along the downtown curbs and being ridden all over the place. There are all sorts of vendors in center city and along the outskirts hawking bike related wares. I got a cool tee shirt, souvenir mug, and a Biker Billy cookbook along with some other odds and ends. Biker Billy is amazingly friendly and I got a picture with him that I'll dig out of the camera and post here when I get back to the house along with some of the other good photos that aren't only in my phone.
I'll be here for a few more days and might visit the rally again. You can check the new "What I'm Doing Now" gadget in the sidebar for updates on my weekend vacation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Middle of Nowhere

"Like the Indian went with the horse," was one of my dad's favorite descriptions of some of the local roads that seem to meander from one place to the next with no seeming logic to account for why they were put where they are. He was right, of course. Many of the roads that connect places like Shickshinny and Nescopeck were built along Indian trails. And the Indians, not to be given quite as much credit nor blame as dad seemed to think they deserved, built their horse paths along the trails animals made in getting from place to place through the woods and around the water. I was thinking just that as I took a leisurely ride yesterday evening to Nanticoke and then farther south through Glen Lyon to Mocanaqua. (The title of this post reflects Mocanaqua's obscurity. It has no website. Not even a Wikipedia entry. It does, however, have a dubious definition in the Urban Dictionary.)

These are the same railroad tracks that run directly behind my house some 20 miles away.

A long freight running at even 30 mph would beat me to this spot if I were to leave the house when it was rolling past and race down to Mocanaqua as fast as I could. All the stopping I'd have to do while running through the various municipalities along the way would put the train, like the trusty old tortoise, far ahead of me.

I remember being of pre-school age and having my mom's much younger brother tell me that he'd been to Mocanaqua with his buddies the evening before. I refused to believe that there was such a place with an odd name like that. Indeed, there is, though a slow blink while riding through and you just might miss the town entirely. I did a U turn right here after I snapped the trackside picture and then started to retrace my route back.

My phone rang while I was riding back and luckily I found a peaceful place to stop at a well kept cemetery. I got off the scooter and walked around as I was talking, and it didn't take me more than a few headstones to tell that I was in a Polish church cemetery. I learned to sing in Polish over 30 years ago when I was in a polka band and recognized the unique combinations of vowels and consanants in the surnames of those who were at rest there. I commented during my phone conversation that I saw a stone that was elaborately engraved at some distance and I made my way toward it as I continued talking. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that part of the engraving featured a motorcycle rider.

The inset in the upper left corner of the picture shows some of the detail on the stone. To the immediate left of the dog the rider is poised on his bike and behind him is a trophy on a shelf. I'm guessing he did some fancy riding in his time in addition to having served in the Army and having been a body builder which are also documented on the stone. I couldn't find an obituary online, but I became curious about his life and times after having visited his grave. Obviously he was well loved by whomever commissioned the headstone.

I was about 15 minutes from the tracks when I heard the distant whistle of a southbound train, but I didn't feel like adding another half hour to my trip to try to beat the engines back to Mocanaqua so I rolled again through Glen Lyon and then onto the road that would take me back through Nanticoke. I wanted a sip of the mess of diet soda that I had in a bottle on the back of the scooter (Mess in that it was a combination of at least three different diet sodas.) and stopped in a parking lot at the local community college. There I saw a MSP course in progress and paused to get this shot.

I'd been watching my shadow all evening as I rode and felt the same wonder and amazement I felt when I saw my own shadow on the cycle for the first time. Of all the shadows I might have thought I'd ever cast back when I spent a lot of time thinking about the rest of my life, that one of me on a motorcycle would have been among the very last. Riding the scooter continues to be something relatively out of character for me. I surprised just about everyone I know when I got the first one, including me.

I hope I still have some surprises left up my sleeve for myself. The good kind, of course!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Chair with Wings

That's what riding on the scooter feels like sometimes - like I'm in a magical chair that has wings. I don't know if it's the frame of mind I'm in sometimes that gives me that particular feeling, but when it hits I nearly giggle with boyish glee. When I was a kid my mom was the overprotective type who thought that anything wilder than the merry-go-round was too risky a ride at the amusement park. I couldn't wait till I could go to a park with a school group without her to get my first taste of a roller coaster. Now, all these years later, the scooter gives me a thrill not unlike being in the first seat of the coaster, especially on a hill when it feel like I'm soaring! Though I've never been in a plane yet, if they started making scooters that could fly I'd be one of the first in line to get one.

Now that I have the new, quick to set up tripod I'm seeing more pictures to be made than before. I was just turning around in this parking lot when the lines of the pipe railing on the ramp caught my eye in a pleasing way.

When it comes to composition I don't think I'll ever get it right. In theory I know that I'm rarely supposed to put the main feature in the center of a photo, and I'm supposed to consider that the eye tends to follow lines downward. Thus, there was probably a better place for me to position myself in this shot. I just don't know where that would be nor why.

I scoot past this fire truck often in my travels to and from running errands close to the house. It's been parked in front of the local junk yard for weeks now but I can't imagine that it's to be junked because it's in beautiful condition. It reminds me of the ladder trucks of my youth which had bigger than life looks about them and the cherry red finish is one of my favorite shades of red. God forbid that it's going to be added to the city's fleet and repainted with the awful whitewash that all the other municipal vehicles sport.

My very first shot of myself with the new tripod was exactly like this except with me standing to the left of the scooter. It was, on paper, the picture I planned to use here, but I had a look on my face as if I'd been constipated for days and was about to blow.

Looking suspiciously like some medieval torture device this wheel stands in a farmer's field in central Pennsylvania. I pass it each time I head west for one of my weekend get-aways. Any guesses as to what it's for? Other than for extracting confessions out of heretics I don't have a clue.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Death by Butt

When I dismounted the BV to gas it up yesterday I was horrified to see this on the saddle...

It wasn't so much that I'd dismembered (Yeah. That's a leg up top.) the little sucker and squashed him almost to death (He was still twitching a bit till I dispatched him with a flick and a boot stomp.) as it was the realization that if I'd aligned myself on the seat differently when I sat on him he might have jabbed the business end of his stinger through my pants right where a sharp, sudden pain might have caused some panicked scooter instability. All I could guess was that he landed on my pants while I was off the bike making a phone call before I headed to the gas station, and that he didn't have the sense to take off fast when he saw that he was about to be pressed against a hot piece of vinyl.

I solved the problem of not being able to set up a tripod fast enough by getting this one which has telescoping legs that don't require the opening and closing of latches. I can keep an old digital camera mounted to it all the time and carry the whole assembly in the crate on the back of the scooter.

Now you'll be able to see even more of me in my shots of the cycle here! (I knew you'd be thrilled!)

If it weren't right up there with pirating music I'd paste in the Yahoo weather symbol for "Mostly Sunny" which is on tap for tomorrow. Instead this view of the BV peeking out from under the deck, all eager and ready to roll out under sunny skies in the morning. Here's hoping it'll be perfect scooter weather in your backyard as well!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sharing the Road

It seemed to me 25 years ago when I was a C.B. enthusiast with a base station at home and a mobile set in the car that truckers were a much nicer breed than today's road jockeys seem to be. They were friendly on the radio back then, and their driving habits seemed to be reflective of a kinder, gentler age. I can't stand sharing the road with truckers now. They typically don't respond to "Breaker 1-9" in spite of the costly antennae strapped onto their mirrors and they drive with little consideration for the "four wheelers" as they call us with disdain. Twenty-five years ago I might have ventured onto the interstates with my scooter, but not now and big trucks are the primary reason for why I won't.

Oh, how I love following one of these beasts down a wet road!

Now before you jump down to the comments section to tell me that your mom is a trucker, to remind me that without trucks and truckers we'd be hard pressed to get our commodities as easily as we do, or to chastise me for stereotyping, I acknowledge that I'm not giving everybody who drives a truck (And, yes, it's "drives a truck," not "drives truck," as truckers and their families call it.) a fair shake. When it's I in an argument versus some nameless, faceless guy or gal hauling a load, I win. At least here. It's my blog.

The habit of theirs that fills me with unparalleled road rage is when one of them just has to start passing another on a grade and then stays in the passing lane at a sub-standard speed for miles without having the decency to drop back and over when he realizes that he doesn't have the requisite gerbil power to complete the pass. Fed-Ex drivers are the absolute worst at this out here on I-80 near Mile Run and Jersey Shore. Another seeming habit is their racing to be first into the open lane when another is closed only to slow down ridiculously going up the invariable hill that seems to be a necessity in every construction zone.

Of course it doesn't help that my neighbor across the street drives a tractor trailer, parks his tractor, Hummer, and Escalade on the street to take up the space of a few Greyhound buses, and fires up his rig at any hour of the night to idle it for up to a half an hour before leaving. "I'm just going to work," is his typical defense against complaints. Yeah. I should bring a schoolyard full of kids here to have recess in my yard while he's sleeping during the day.

I think there ought to be a law that every trailer full of stuff that needs to travel more than about 50 miles has to move by rail leaving the tractor trailer assembly for local deliveries only. That or build a separate set of roads for truckers that they can pay for and use exclusively.

I wish I could see this sign at every interstate entrance!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rainy Weekend Banter

I was putting away my ties a few days ago. During the school year I typically take a new one from my closet and then toss it onto the growing mound of them on my dresser when I change into my play clothes at the end of the work day. Buried under the pile was the very first toy I ever had - Bow Wow. I don't know if he was there waiting for me when I came home from the hospital all of three days old, but I do know that he was the very first toy ever bought for me. He's been with me all my life and if they put him in my casket it'll be a fitting gesture of finality on the ride of my life.

When I found Bow Wow under the tie pile, my thoughts drifted to how my toys have changed through the years. I criticize today's kids for not being able to entertain themselves without pricey things, but I'm not a whole lot better.

With tomorrow being Fathers' Day Bow Wow makes an appropriate appearance here. I don't remember the circumstances at all but old Bow Wow lost an arm somewhere through his 51 years. My mom's an expert seamstress, but for some reason it was my daddy who whip stitched his arm back onto his body. I can only imagine that my mom was out somewhere when the unthinkable happened and that my dad had to fix him to appease me. That would be my dad!

Downtown Wilkes-Barre is prone to occasional but significant flooding and according to today's paper the earthen dike with which all of her residents were very familiar cut off the city from the river for the past quarter century. Yesterday the fruits of years' worth of labor were made manifest when the ribbon was cut on the new River Commons featuring two huge portals that now open River Street to the Susquehanna itself and the amphitheater and walking paths that were constructed along the eastern bank. In the event of potential flooding there are doors that roll out to close the gateways through the dike. I posed the BV at the foot of one of the ramps that lead up to the top of the dike itself. The rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse can be seen at the very top of the path.

My trek through the downtown during the early morning hours before the oddities of humanity who give Public Square its flavor were up and about brought me to this colorful scene painted on the side of a brick building.

I vowed to figure out a way to set the camera up quickly to include me in many of my shots of the scooter, but in spite of some hearty brainstorming I haven't worked up a good prototype yet. I carry a full tripod on the back of the BV, but setting it up and then posing myself is conspicuous and I don't like appearing in public as "the geek who's taking pictures of himself on his scooter." I adapted an old walkie-talkie antenna with a weighted base and a quarter inch screw mount, but there's too much swaying and leaning to one side at the top to make it viable. I'll keep thinking.

I spied this QLink tethered to a hitching post. I don't know if it's legal, but none of Wilkes-Barre's finest had slapped a ticket on it yet when I was passing by. (Okay, I confess. When I got back to the house with the original picture I was mortified to discover that I had a finger covering most of the shot. I had to go back to snap it again. The botched original was a consequence of my haste in not wanting to be "that dorky guy on a scooter taking a picture of another scooter" - a corollary of "the geek who's taking pictures of himself on his scooter.")

That was all early yesterday when we had a much too brief respite from the rains. Mid week looks promising so far, but I'm not holding my breath. I'll ride when I can and keep trying to think pleasant thoughts till the gloom and associated precipitation lift.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


It seems like only yesterday that I checked into Wolf's Eyes to find R.G. touting the greatness of Meguiar's Plastx. Oh! Wait! That's 'cause it was just yesterday. An evening run to Wally World made me the proud owner of a bottle of the wonder juice, and alongside it, also by Meguiar, something I've wanted for a long time - a kit to get the cataracts off the headlights of my Neon. Hey! Guess what? Plastx is the key item in the box, along with a buffing wheel for the electric drill and a buffing cloth. The jury's back and I love the stuff! Here's the cloudy headlight and the one I buffed with Plastx.

I used the Plastx on the windshield of the scooter, the backs of the mirrors, over the headlight and taillight covers, on the visor of my full helmet and on the dome of the half helmet. All are remarkably shiny now! I wish I'd heard of the stuff a lot sooner.

My coin bag was getting quite hefty and now that I have the luxury of much free time I ran the whole pile of change through the sorting machine. I could have gone to the grocery store and used the coin machine, but I'm not giving up some percent of my hoarded change nor trading it all in for groceries. Besides, playing with all the coins and the little machine at home gives me a bit of an Ebeneezer Scrooge feeling, but in a good way. In about a half hour's time I'd wrapped my full squirreled away stash - $56.50! Any excuse to get out on the scooter, right? Off to the bank I went to trade in the coins for "real money."

On the way I caught the short line engine out doing some work, or maybe pausing to give the engineer and conductor a lunch break.

After the bank run, I skipped across the river and remembered that I wanted to pose the BV in front of this miniature golf castle.

I miss the days when an evening of mini golf or a drive-in movie were things of magic that lasted well into adulthood for me. I feel sorry for today's kids with their personal DVD players, Wii's, Ipods, and similar contrivances that make going out to have some fun a thing of the past. I enjoyed going places to see a show, to play a game of something, to hear live music and the going there was half of the fun. Now you just pop into a different room, flip a switch, and there's your movie, your game, and your tunes. Blah!

Since I started the "hypno-diet" I've been lunching on salads and holding myself off on having lunch till noon each day. I'll toss just about anything into the bowl. There was a small tub of salsa on the kitchen counter this morning, and into the mix it went along with a few chunks of leftover chicken and some jalapeno slices. A tablespoon or so of blue cheese dressing and an equal portion of Wishbone French dressing, and my taste buds were in heaven. I've been eating more slowly too, and savoring each bite.

Eating this way is somewhat like scootering - it's not so much about being there as it is about getting there. For so many years, I wolfed down my food, barely pausing to exchange conversation with my family and friends. I'm liking this slow ride at the table! I believe I'm enjoying food more than I ever did before by appreciating every bite instead of just taking it for granted in my rush to get the next forkful up to my maw. I wonder if I can get a table setting with the Piaggio logo?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wastin' Away in Diet Pepsiville

School got out on Friday morning and by noon I was well on my way out of town for a mini vacation to kick off the off season. This is my first day of summer vacation back here at the house and I'm bored already. I went out for a while on the scooter this morning to run a few errands, but the forecast of stray showers and thunderstorms seems likely to come true with how the sky looks, so here I sit at the computer basically vegetating and thinking about what I might write here.

Summer vacation felt great this morning, for
a few minutes before the boredom set in.

I suppose it's time to reveal what I did one week ago today. I went back to the psychologist who used hypnotherapy when I wanted to quit smoking five summers ago. I had my last cigarette ever on the porch of his office before my appointment, and about an hour later I emerged as a total non-smoker. I had no withdrawal. No cravings. I've not touched nor thought about having a cigarette since. Unfortunately, I gained WAY too much weight, apparently substituting food for the smokes. So, last week I went back to him and asked for another touch of the old black magic to help with losing weight.

My main problem was twofold when it came to eating. I overate at every meal. Somewhere along the line I came to believe that I wasn't full nor satisfied unless I ate much more than I needed to eat. The second part was that I snacked almost constantly in the evenings. I'd be finishing a bowl of ice cream and thinking about what kind of sandwich I was going to make afterward, and so it went all evening, every evening till I went to bed, and even then I looked for a last snack before hitting the sack.

Once again, just as with the cigarettes, I had an instant conversion! (Amen!) I've not been snacking at all, and I'm eating portions even smaller than average at meals. I'm a little afraid of what I might do now to feed my oral fixation. If I start chewing on logs or something I'll need to worry. Until then, I'll just enjoy watching the pounds melting away.

I was in Westmont, Pennsylvania for part of the weekend. It overlooks Johnstown, site of the world famous Johnstown Flood, and Westmont was built by former citizens of Johnstown who wanted to remain in the area, but to live above the flood plane. This photo looks down from Westmont onto Johnstown and I shot it for one reason in particular. To appeal to you to solve a huge mystery to me - one of those things that drives me crazy with wanting an answer but not knowing how to find one. (There are some things you just can't Google!) To the right of center in this shot, the mountain is scathed with the strip on which towers carry electric wires over the peak. I want to know how they build those towers on the sides of mountains with no obvious way of getting machinery into place to drill into the bedrock and then to assemble the towers. I've seen them on mountains much steeper and much taller than this one. If you know how they do that (And, please don't guess. I can do that on my own.) please let me know!

Speaking vaguely of heights, here's a job I saw being done on the Somerset County courthouse that I wouldn't do for any amount of love nor money. I'm cool with ascending ladders. It's getting back onto them at the top that freaks me out. I have no idea what these guys were doing up there, but I can guarantee that if I were to attempt to duplicate their task some changes of underwear would be in order.

There was a new bike to pose on at the bike shop I visited when I was out in Somerset a month or so ago. This was a bit more my size than the other had been, but not by much.

Finally, the scooter tie-in. One of the errands I ran this morning was to the supermarket around the corner. I was good and hungry when I went to get a steak to marinate for dinner and in the old days food shopping for me on an empty stomach would have been a budget disaster. I walked through the aisles as if I'd been wearing blinders. I got the steak, spuds, onions, and lettuce that were on the list and nothing more! I really should thank that shrink of mine. Maybe I'll have a nice big dinner and a good cigar in his honor!