Monday, June 27, 2011

Thunder in the Valley – Johnstown, PA - 2011

Although I missed it last year, I was able to attend the Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania last week.  I was there once again with the Neon rather than on a bike, but prudence and circumstances dictated that I do it that way.  Besides, I am not one of those guys who would park his bike on the street and then go off to find hands to shake and make new friends.  I'd probably park my bike, just stand by it for a few hours, grab a little food, and then leave wondering what all the hype was about.  Trust me, it's better for me to take the car, park it on the fourth deck of a garage, and enjoy the rally in my own way.

It's kind of funny, but the older I get the less bikers look like the stereotype of the biker that I carried around in my head for much of my life.  These guys look like me.  Fifty something in many cases and about as threatening looking as the CPAs they very well might be under the leather vests.

For those who are familiar with a church carnival or bazaar, the rally had the feel of one of them minus the wooden wheels with nails running along the circumference to make that distinct buzzing noise when they are spun as wheels of chance.  The greasy french fry smell is there, along with the scent of cotton candy and snow cone to complete the picture.

This is how a tourist to the rally might dress to distinguish himself from the guys who really belong there - i.e. the dudes who rode in on their hogs.  And while said tourist might have a very good time, he's not part of that great camaraderie that seems evident in the circles of bikers that gather together to compare biking stories, their bikes, and what ever else they typically talk about at such gatherings.  Their friendliness is infectious and even if one is not directly interacting with them their pleasant banter makes the event enjoyable for all who pass by.

Once again a few scooters were represented at the rally.  This little Honda…

… and a bit bigger Burgman.

Downtown Johnstown was festooned with decorations appropriate for the rally.  Even the portable toilets took on a more pleasant than usual appearance.  Unfortunately, the decorating did nothing for the smell.

There were some unusually awesome bikes along with the many, many usual ones adapted to give each its own personality.  

There is always something spectacular about seeing a row of bikes all together. The bright colors, the highly polished chrome, and the doodads which personalize each machine present a visual package no less spectacular than a great fireworks display.  With the bikes however, the visual joy is not fleeting and remains for as long as one stands at the curb eyeballing an entire street full of motorcycles.

Of course, the hucksters were out in all their glory.  Like if I were at a motorcycle rally on the bike myself I'd give a rat's diseased behind about taking the time to compare my insurance policy with some other company's offering.  Frankly if they offered shots from a BB gun at the huge inflatable gecko perched atop the van behind this bike, I might have spent the day gunning at the ugly little thing.

I can assure you that most of the biker babes, whether with bikes of their own, or riding pillion did not look like this honey who had sampled a ride on a three wheeler.  In general I was very surprised at the number of trikes represented at the rally – more people ride them than I would expect.

This guy cracked me up.  I think it took a big man, very secure about his masculinity, to ride this contraption down the middle of town.  Sort of like somebody on a scooter!

I could post many of the ridiculously large, 200 some pictures I took but none of them would convey the actual experience of being in downtown Johnstown for Thunder in the Valley.  It was fun to be a part of the event even though I rode to it in my jalopy and interacted mostly with my own party.

Maybe someday I will do the rally on a motorcycle.  I'll be the one leaning up against a telephone pole somewhere nibbling quietly on his french fries.

(I was window shopping at the electronics store a few weeks ago and found Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software for half price.  It was something I had drooled over for a number of years, so I jumped on it.  Many posts here from now on will be dictated rather than typed, so please look the other way at the occasional mistakes that my proofreading might  not catch.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Choo Choo!

I was on my way to nowhere in particular this morning when I crossed the tracks halfway to town and only then heard the bells and horns on a diesel locomotive that was rolling slowly to the right-of-way that I'd just crossed over.  There was nobody else coming in either direction on the street so I did a quick U-turn, pulled up to the tracks, and reached for my camera holster like Deputy Dawg going for his trusty revolver.  I managed to squeeze off a few decent shots of the Luzerne and Susquehanna Railway engine moving a few cars over a nearby switch.

I chase trains much like I chased them as a little boy, running to the far end of Grandma's yard every time I heard one coming.  On a really lucky day Uncle Andy's dad, a trainman, would wave to me from a Lehigh Valley caboose as it crossed the small trestle over the creek behind the backyard.  Many dreams of my youth were tied up in the comings and goings of those trains, though I couldn't say how in words.  There was just something about the railroad that was bigger than life that carried me, in my day and night dreams, far from the confines of this valley to adventurous places of mystery and excitement and magic.

When the day in and day out running of the rat race threatens to cage me in, all it takes is the mournful cry of the plaintive augmented chord wailing from the horns atop a diesel cab to take me, at least for a blessed moment, to somewhere far away in my dreams.  Someone waits for me there, asking if I heard the horns.  The answer is apparent by the grin on my face and the wave of peace and belonging that washes over me.

I paused just there to sit on the front porch for a few minutes to watch the gentle rain and recalled doing the same with my Grandpa so many times when I was of preschool age. I don't think a day has gone by since he died when I was in the sixth grade that I haven't thought of him in some way and felt a loss in not having him here with me.  He would have had all the answers for me.  He was the wisest man I ever knew, and the quietest.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe I need to spend a little more time acquainting myself with a contemplative silence.  Or with blasting train horns.  Each draws my heart to the past.  Each compels me to walk boldly into  my future.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

School's Out for the Summer!

I sit here in my classroom, the only sounds being those of the guys erecting the scaffolding on the church across the street and the quiet hiss of the small fan under my desk.  My big kids have been gone, graduated, done for the past week, and the kids down the hall are contained in their excitement as they wait for the same sound as I - that of the final bell which will bring to a close the 2010-2011 academic year.

It's a different ending to a year in that one of my best work friends will enter retirement in the 35 minutes or so that we have to go.  Although it's never easy, I've gotten accustomed to saying goodbye to the kids as they graduate, knowing even that some of them I'll likely never see again.  Bidding that final farewell to a respected and beloved colleage, though, isn't something that's happened enough times for me to have gotten used to it.  There's a sadness in me in knowing that when I get here in August to set things up she won't be around, and that when I hear that first bell which will begin the next school year she won't be here any more.  Her replacement might be a great person, but it will take me some time to warm up - until familiarity builds and mutual respect is earned.

This empty room almost feels haunted, as if the sprits of the kids who've passed through here remain.  They're not tangible presences, but I feel them around me nonetheless in the memories they gave to me in sharing their lives with me this past year.  I can look up and remember where each of them sat, and as my gaze moves from one desk to another, so do my thoughts in recounting the many memorable moments that happened here.  They were a lively class, full of ambition, and zeal.  They loved each other, and me, and no matter how lousy a morning any one of us had awakened to, getting here and being together somehow eased the burden.  This is the last career I'd ever imagined, as a child, that I'd make my own, and although an occasional daydream pictures me doing something that would have earned me a lot more money through the years, there's not another thing that I can imagine myself doing now that would give me the same fulfillment I feel in doing this.

Outside these windows the sun is shining, beckoning me to come outside and play.  I will!  Not long from now I'll mount my trusty steed, Piaggio, and the breeze on my face will feel totally different than it did when I arrived this morning.  It will be that unique sense of freedom itself blowing under my helmet and through my shirtsleeves, and I'll want to shout "Yippie!" to everyone I pass as I make the ride back to the house to change into play clothes.  

And though I yearn for the freedom that is now only minutes away, I know that in only a few weeks I'll feel the need to be back here.  I know full well that in July I'll be here long before I need to - that I'll come up to this very room to sit at this desk and just soak up what I can of the spirits which linger.  Likewise I know that when I finally need to return in late August for that first bell, they'll nearly have to drag me up here kicking and screaming because I won't want to give up the freedom.  It's the enigma of doing something you love doing, but loving doing nothing nearly as much.

Goodbye, school.  Helloooooooo, summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lean On, Me!

The comma in the subject of this post takes it beyond a seeming quote from a Bill Withers song and makes it an important note to self. For the past week or so I've made a huge adjustment to my riding style because of something posted by a fellow blogger, and to him I'm truly grateful for the suggestion.

It was at The Great Motorcycle Pizza Tour where our gracious host, Lucky, penned the following:

Minimize Your Chicken Strips - In day to day riding, it's best to have a margin of safety, so you shouldn't be riding at the limits of your bike or ability. On the other hand, it is important to know how to handle your bike at extreme angles. You should be able to ride better than you usually need to so you can handle unusual circumstances. So find a safe place and wear down the edges of your tires now and then. It's fun.

Reading that was a eureka moment for me because before I'd even finished reading it I came to realize something that had been lacking in my riding style since I started scootering four years ago. I remembered leaving the lot of Team Effort Cycle in May of 2007 with my little Piaggio Fly 50 and hearing the salesman reminding me, "Don't lean too far until you're comfortable with it!" And I realized when I read Lucky's advice that I'd never moved beyond that "don't lean" mindset. For four years, even after the upgrade to the BV 250, I'd been slowing way too much when going into turns and corners, and watching the cars behind me crawling up my rear end as I was nearing intersections at which I needed to change course. I'd never gotten comfortable with leaning adequately because I'd never really tried it, and so I braked more than I needed to at every turn.

Practicing my turns with more lean and heeding the lesson from the cycle safety course that taught that the bike will go where the eye leads it has made a remarkable difference! You can teach an old dog new tricks - even when you're the dog!

Thanks, Lucky! I hope you find that ultimate pizza someday!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Three Years of This

The anniversary of Scootin' da Valley passed quietly yesterday without fanfare nor celebration. It was a busy day with seeing my daughter off to California and attending a birthday party for a cousin, but even if it hadn't been there'd have been no horn blowing nor confetti throwing on this account. Except for a single precious soul, nobody in my "real life" knows about this blog at all. Only last week my younger daughter confessed that she and her older sister make fun of me in text messages when I'm in the same room with them. I won't be giving them any additional fodder to get them through the dry spells by letting them think that I fancy myself a writer of some sort. Neither would I want family, friends, nor acquaintances reading into any of the things I put here and thinking they've figured me out to any degree because they'd be bound to be wrong.

To be certain, those of us who blog, especially over the course of multiple years, could be thought to be a pretentious lot, and particularly so when the comments left in response to our writings are few and far between. Pretense aside, though, I continue to write here in spite of the frugal feedback and nothing to jump up and down about in the statistics counter, which bolsters my belief that essentially I write here for myself. Somehow sending the old thoughts down to the fingertips and then out into cyberspace fulfills some vague need in me. When I started this venture in June of '08 I didn't believe I'd last this long, and while I'm glad I stuck it out, I couldn't begin to tell you why I am.

I ride a scooter. Although I enjoy reading the blogs of the real bikers, and often find gems of helpful advice (I have a quote from one of them on my desk at school.) and important safety tips in their writings, I don't have anything by way of enlightenment to return.

I don't change my own oil and swap out scooter parts. You'll never find here one of those tutorials complete with photos that demonstrate how to replace a whatsahoozit or the proper way to fix one's own bobamadinkler.

I'm mildly funny, once or twice, on a good day, and only to certain persons. I savor the writings of guys like Riepe (who's every bit as good as O'Rourke et al in The National Lampoon in the late '70's), but I could never make somebody nearly spit out a cigar or mouthful of Jack Daniels with anything I pen.

I take pictures and lots of them, and the lucky shots I show here, but they're like photos in a family album taken by mommies quickly firing off those growing up moments and not well composed and demonstrative of masterful technique like the photographs of one of my favorite blog writing and scooter riding heroes, Steve Williams.

A local blog writing group has a link to me, but even there I don't quite fit in. They're highly political and have writing agendas driven by local politics. I vote somewhat reluctantly and the only politician about whom I was ever fired up was Richard Nixon - when I was in the sixth grade. And look at what my support got him!

So, I flounder at best in my efforts here, trying to carve out a niche in corundum with a plastic butter knife, but that's okay. And I truly mean it. This is not a pathetic attempt to get anybody to comment, "There, there, Joe. We love your blog!" It's just more of the same soul searching that I do on the scooter that somehow extends into what I write here. And maybe that's the tie-in that makes this a scooter blog to me when I'm not specifically writing about the BV or my experiences on it - pondering that one essence of self. Riding the bike and writing something here give me the same introspective satisfaction and there's nobody to please but me!

Will I be here in three more years? Probably. Will this have evolved into some profound showcase of amazing ability? Heck no! It'll be what it always has been, and is - I just don't know quite what that IS yet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Riding not Writing

Yes, I'm riding like crazy, every chance I get - in between the days of scattered thunderstorms and isolated thunderstorms which seem to be alternating with days of partly cloudy and mostly cloudy. Of course none of them preclude the possibility of HOT which it has also been just about daily for the most part. I've been taking the BV to work most days - very nice starts to the mornings, and even though it's a little chilly then I've been riding in just short sleeves because I'm still hot from my shower when I hit the saddle.

I'm always on the lookout for photo ops, but either they've become more scarce, my eye has been off, or I've gotten more lazy in terms of dismounting to grab a Fuji moment. A scoot out to Dallas on Memorial Day got this pic of the bike next to a giant coffee cup. It suits me 'cause there's coffee flowing freely through me till about 1:30 PM most days. The only difference is that I run on generic rather than Dunkin'. A good cup of the latter is hard to beat, but unfortunately the price isn't.


It was perhaps a few years ago when I got a cool picture like the next one in front of a similarly decorated market in Duryea, Pa. When I saw this storefront in Nanticoke yesterday, (and I couldn't have missed it if I'd tried), I knew I had to get a snap. Luckily it was Sunday afternoon and the town square was mostly deserted, so the weird feeling of conspicuousness that I usually feel when I'm taking pictures of my own little scooter didn't bother me much.

Nanticoke's often the perfect choice when I don't want to ride too far but want to get at least a few good miles between my house and the terminus of my ride. One of my uncles grew up there, and it was where we based the polka band that I was in back in college, so it kind of feels a little bit like home itself there. The folks are friendly and the place itself always feels welcoming.

I doubled back for the next glimpse of life here in the valley and wondered how far from here a "PIGGY DINNER" would be understood for what it actually is - a ground beef, pork, and rice mixture wrapped in a cabbage leaf and slow cooked in sauerkraut or tomato sauce or both. (And I'd originally typed "ground beer" in that last sentence. Do I have summer vacation on the brain?)

And speaking of summer vacation it's still not till the middle of the month that it starts. I know, I shouldn't much complain because of all the people who are already unsympathetic toward teachers for anything, but I remember fondly a time when we started back in early September and got out in the first week of June. Now it seems to go by in the blink of an eye, but rest assured that I'll put some good miles on the Piaggio before it's over again.