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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"You're Eyes Can Deceive You; Don't Trust Them"

Cochise Head Peak, on the SW New Mexico border.   Look carefully.  See the face?

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Blanket condemnations are rarely useful. They are the root of prejudice and can be the conveyance by which bad feelings are transmitted widely. The ironic thing is that most times such condemnations are based on emotion and very little on objective fact. This is especially true of the public’s view of the motorcycling community.

It is thus with amusement that I read articles claiming how a rider’s legal choice to not wear a helmet limits the rights of the public at large. Journalists will throw a few carefully selected statistical findings into the article to give their conclusions an air of legitimacy and then fire that cannon into the air.

Now, I’m not a journalist. If you were to give a title to what I do for a living, I guess the closest description would be “research geek.” I’ve done this long enough to know that research has a very real and very dangerous trap. You can dig deep enough to substantiate a pre-conceived notion, or you can dig even deeper to find the truth. The trick is knowing which is which.

I don’t know why it is that the non-riding public seems to assume that every biker is a destitute with no job and no medical insurance. All the properly documented surveys that I’ve seen, especially in the last few years, indicate that riders are in their 40’s and 50’s; they’re married with families and good jobs. Simple logic should conclude that anyone who can drop 25 large on a new Harley has to have a comfortable cash flow.

In fairness, however, I guess it’s the riding community’s predilection to dress down that’s probably responsible for that erroneous conclusion. I, for one, am befuddled why someone who spends Monday through Friday in a shirt and tie and carefully crafted hair finds it necessary to devolve into weather-beaten leathers, unshaven face, and the obligatory doo-rag in order to ride a motorcycle. So, in a manner of speaking, the low opinion the public has of us is partly our fault.

But let’s get down to facts. The assumption about injured riders becoming a burden to society is a misnomer that grew out of selectively published data from a study done at an emergency room of a hospital in Seattle, Washington. Reporters cite data that seems to demonstrate that a high percentage of motorcyclists who arrived for treatment were without medical insurance. What journalists fail to tell you is that percentage of uninsured riders was actually lower than the number of uninsured non-riders cases that arrived in that hospital’s E.R. By the true, accurate measure, riders would seem to be the far more responsible class.

I have said numerous times that I think riding without a helmet is pushing the envelope of random chance. I always wear one, regardless of how long or how short a ride I take. There are way too many hazards connected with riding, such as taking a hard-shelled June Bug in the forehead at 70 miles per hour. I've had to endure strikes from all manner of debris, from rocks and hailstones to a partially-eaten ice cream cone. You don't have to hit the pavement to experience trauma. But the civil libertarian in me has a great amount of respect for the rights of individuals to make their own choices, even when those choices may cross some personal viewpoint of mine.

If we really want to make the roads safer, than there’s many other things that need to be addressed. Cell phones, even hands free devices distract the driver from the task at hand. Personally, I can recall at least a dozen incidents over the last two years when my life was put in jeopardy from a cell phone user who was, oh by the way, also driving a vehicle. Drivers pull out in front of you constantly, not taking the time to really "see" what's coming down the road. People, especially the younger among us still treat the roads and highways as their own personal Darlington Speedway, racing around at ridiculous speeds, cutting in and out of traffic. The wife of a friend of mine barely survived such an incident on the Parkway in Pittsburgh when a teenager behind the wheel of a pickup traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour clipped the rear bumper, sending her tiny car airborne. The car glanced off a tree and rolled five times before coming to rest. Seatbelt, airbags, and the surprisingly rugged design of her Suzuki car saved her life.

And of course, the curse of Demon Rum. Even after all the publicity given to the dangers of driving drunk, or even buzzed, alcohol-related deaths still account for half the total fatalities on America’s roads and highways. Personally, I think that anyone with three drunk driving convictions should never again be allowed behind the wheel of any motorized conveyance whether as owner, renter, leaser, or borrower. Licensure in any form is a privilege granted to someone who proves they possess the maturity and responsibility to function in that role.

Now, I know there are an equal share of numbskulls on bikes. After all, there are warped boards in every pile of lumber. But for the most part, riders are just like you, sharing the road and just trying to get home.

We, as a nation, have fallen into the disturbing trap of always accepting the easy answer. We refuse to exercise our intellect; skepticism has fallen by the wayside, especially when it comes to questioning the sources of statements we tend to agree with. We become so anxious to find emotional communion with others of like mind, that we forget the lesson of Hitler and how easy it is to be misled by comfortable words.

Riders have always known that motorcycling is an allegory of life itself. You can spend your life comfortable and safe, but the only way we grow is by taking chances, stretching beyond our expectations and discovering the true extent of our abilities.

After all, a life lived without risk is really no life at all.
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