About Me

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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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Worst Ride

Wall cloud...on steroids. Picture from NOAA

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

The weather here lately in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania has been a bit of a mixed bag. The geography of the mountains and the proximity of the Great Lakes (Erie in particular) normally generates a fairly wet climate. It's rare, even in the driest part of summer, that we go more than three days without precipitation.

Now, this can make for a frustrating time for motorcyclists. Nobody likes to ride in the rain, but neither do we like to see our machines idle in the garage. Consequently, bikers in this area (at least the more dedicated ones) will bite the bullet from time to time, don the rain gear and hit the road. I've done this on several occasions, sparking some interesting reactions from my colleagues. A few understand the passion, tending to nod knowingly with respect. Most, however, just shake their heads scornfully. This has made for some interesting elevator rides, especially when I step in, still dripping from my ride in.

Once in a while, I get the question, usually from folks motivated to determine exactly how mentally bent and crazy I actually am:

"What's the worst ride you've ever taken?"

Friday, June 26, 2009

What??? You Bought ANOTHER Motorcycle???

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

My passion for motorcycles has been well-documented on this blog and through the pages of the Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat. Through many posts and columns, I've tried to verbalize the emotions that this activity has stirred in me through the years.

(A partial list, for those who care in indulge...)
"Eternity and the Road"
"Let's Be Careful Out There"
"The Journey"
"Why Do We Ride?"
"Males, Middle Age, and Motorcycles"
"Thinking About a Motorcycle?"
"Deals Gap"
"The Honda PC800 Pacific Coast"
"Snow Day"
"Saying Goodbye..."
"My Lake Superior Adventure"
"A Wild West Ride on a Wyatt Earp Pilgrimage"
"Bikes and Big Ben"

In May, I had an accident on a bike I had owned about a month. While the injuries were painful, they weren't serious enough to dissuade me from buying another one, a purchase completed June 25th.

The reaction among my family and co-workers was universal dismay. Suddenly, I found that all the sympathy and concern accumulated during my recovery evaporated into an orgy of head-shaking befuddlement. One colleague, who had sent me flowers after the accident, declared, "You only get one bunch of flowers from me, kiddo!"

Intellectually, I can well understand their reaction. After all, why would any reasonable human being go back to an activity or situation that resulted in pain and injury?

R.I.P, M. Jackson

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Like many others, I was brought up short by the news yesterday that Michael Jackson had died. The suddenness of his passing was surprising, leading me to initially suspect that the bulletin was false, especially since it was passed to the public, not by his family or staff, but by some unnamed internet source. But, within minutes, the news was confirmed.

Tributes began flowing in almost immediately. It seemed that people from all walks of life were touched by his death.

It is almost impossible to overstate Michael Jackson's impact on the music business. Early on, he gained fame as the lead singer for the Jackson Five, the group of singing brothers formed by his hard-driving father. Later on, he went out on his own with his first solo album "Against the Wall." But it was the mega-hit album "Thriller" that elevated him to mythic status. "Thriller" remains today the biggest seller in the history of popular music.

But it wasn't just his music. He was an incredible dancer, astonishing all who watched with his grace and inventiveness. He didn't just use existing moves; he created a whole new genre, patterns which, at times, seemed to make him weightless.

He was also an entreprenuer. I still remember the day it was announced that he had bought the entire Beatles library, before the Fab Four themselves apparently knew it was on the market.

As he grew older, he began to change. His personality turned a corner and wandered off in an unsettling direction. He had repeated plastic surgeries, attempting to re-shape his face into a mirror of his idol, Diana Ross. For a while, he slept in a hyperbaric chamber. And then there were the allegations of child abuse. He was acquitted by a Los Angeles jury of those charges, but as usually happens, even the declaration of innocence failed to remove the shroud of suspicion. It is perhaps a statement of our societal attitude toward that particular crime. For many, the accusation itself was enough to convict him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Eternity and The Road

Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I’ve been a motorcyclist for almost 18 years. I still remember with great clarity the first ride I took on my ’82 Suzuki GS550T. I was nervous and not very smooth, but the sensation of gliding down the road, the wind blowing past my head, the sky open and glorious above, seized my soul with a powerful embrace, a grip that hasn’t loosened in almost two decades.

Most of the miles that lie in my past were expended on commuting. For some odd reason, we’ve always lived at least 30 miles away from wherever I’ve worked. I’m not sure why that has happened, but it did provide the opportunity to turn a mundane act into a little adventure every day. Looking at my fuel logs, I estimate that I’ve put down in excess of 280,000 miles in that span.

Of course, there were the weekend rides, undertaken after I was freed from my chore list. Also, I took a lot of short trips, less than 500 miles, each time stretching the envelope of my experience. Twice, I embarked on even longer trips, a 6-day jaunt to Lake Superior, and the other a 9-day trek through the U.S. southwest, easily one of the most important times of my entire life.

I still peruse maps from time to time, contemplating other journeys. Time is passing and I know that the physical ability to endure such trips will not be with me much longer. So while I ponder the future, I also allow myself to dream.

Simon Says: Understanding The Abrasive Mr. Cowell

Simon Cowell; Image from People Magazine

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

I’ve never been a fan of the talent shows that have proliferated across television. American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Britain’s Got Talent, and its Yankee spinoff, America’s Got Talent have all brought home to viewers the process of identifying and testing those with the talent to succeed in the entertainment business. I watched a couple of episodes of Idol before tuning out in disgust. While I understood the aim of the contest, the process, I felt was inordinately cruel to those who presented themselves and failed. It was hard to watch people whose dream had not only crumbled, but then had to endure the harsh words of the judges, in particular a seemingly contemptuous Englishman named Simon Cowell.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, June 21,2008
as "Thunder Becoming Landmark Event in Motorcycling"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 24, 2010
as "Pittsburgh Rides: Lets Get Ready to Thunder"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

If boxing announcer Michael Buffer were going to be in Johnstown, PA on the third weekend in June, he might just use this version of his trademark opening. The expression certainly catches the excitement and anticipation of this annual summer rite and what is rapidly becoming a landmark event in the world of motorcycling. The 2006 version Thunder In The Valley is expected to be the biggest ever, with event organizers anticipating that as many as 200,000 riders will somehow squeeze themselves into the Valley of the Little Conemaugh for four days of sun, fun, chrome, and iron.

200,000 people! Let me try to put that in perspective for you. Imagine if every living soul residing in Orlando, Florida came here for a visit. That’s the kind of numbers we’re talking about. Every hotel room within 40 miles is booked, and has been for a year. Area restaurants, bars, drug stores, gas stations, and retailers are gearing up for this version of the Johnstown Flood— a deluge not of water, but of customers and cash. And the associated sales and use taxes make for a very healthy payday for local city, boro, township, and county governments.

The most remarkable thing about this rally is the smoothly uneventful way it glides through the weekend. There are other places hosting rallies of this type that are compelled to put out a call for assistance to every badge-carrying agency who will listen to deploy uniformed officers in an often vain hope of keeping order and preventing riots. From what I have been able to find out, the local PDs have always handled this crowd with their own resources, not even calling on the State Police for assistance. Part of this is, of course, the efficient way the local gendarmes go about their business. Mainly, however, it is the characteristic of the Thunder faithful, a largely responsible, peaceful, and “adult” crowd whose primary preoccupation is to have a good time within the bounds of good taste and the law. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional “incidents.” You simply can’t put that many people together without at least some problems. But for a rally of this size, you couldn’t ask for a better-behaved crowd; unless you had the Quakers in for a weekend.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Biker Down!!!

In Pace Requiescat
Kawasaki Vulcan VN900LT

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Despite the picture that television and the movies paint, rarely does anyone sense any anticipatory moments before serious events occur. That’s certainly been the pattern in my life. One moment you’re sailing along, immersed in the mundane things that seem to carry us through the day. Then instantly, it all goes sideways. Usually it is some kind of accident that happens, whether in or out of a vehicle. The suddenness and violence by which the event is thrust upon us leaves us dazed and confused.

I’ve certainly had my share of these events in my life and even when recalling them in their lurid detail, I still find myself wondering why I couldn’t get that anticipatory tap on the shoulder.

It was a new motorcycle, well, new to me anyway. I had been bike-less for the better part of two years, as we sorted through some tight financial times. And it was a thing of beauty. Long, low, sleek, just the right amount of chrome, it joined the long line of dream chariots which have shared my garage over the past 17 years. I remember the day we closed the sale and I joyfully rode the bike home from the dealership – taking the long way, of course. The throttle responded to my hand and the bike leaped ahead down the highway, flitting among the sun-dappled shadows. Consciously, I held back. I had never owned a cruiser-type before and I had yet to learn is traits and balance points. Nevertheless, my spirit soared as I rode, the bike’s voice, that guttural roar echoed back from the rocks and trees and spread in my wake, like a noisy contrail. After a couple of hours, I returned home, backing the machine into the garage. Almost reluctantly, I shut the engine down. In the resulting silence, I contemplated with quiet joy a new relationship begun.

For about a month, I rode often on open roads at high speeds and inching along city streets in heavy traffic. I was getting comfortable with the bike, although I would still have an occasional awkward moment. As far as I was concerned, it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To My Shipmates: Remarks on the Occasion of a Reunion

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for some time. I think one of the most memorable events for anyone is that occasion when we have the opportunity to meet with people with whom we’ve shared a special and crucial part of our lives. This is especially true of those who have served the people of the United States as members of the armed forces. Service in the military is a life-changing event. Whether you wear the uniform for one hitch or an entire career, the discipline, the camaraderie, and sense of duty forever marks those who served.

The Navy took us across the globe and in the process, opening our eyes and forever altering our perspective. You can read volumes about other lands, and other cultures. But the personal perspective; the eyewitness experience dwarfs whatever knowledge you could glean from a text. It provides an education in reality no university could ever provide. After an experience like that, nothing looks the same; not even home.

The Navy life is a hard one. The days are long and arduous. The separations from loved ones are difficult and all-too frequent. While that kind of life is hard enough on the sailor, it is even more difficult for the wives and children left behind.

It is often said that the hardest job in the Navy is that of a Navy Wife. For them, the challenges of life must be faced alone, often for months at a time, from the mundane logistics of getting the kids where they need to be, to that long, terrifying—and lonely-night in the emergency room, the pressure is unrelenting. There is never a day off. Ladies, we are awed by your strength and dedication. And we also know that whatever we have accomplished in our lives, we could not have done it without your unfaltering faith and support. Being a Navy Wife requires a special kind of courage; and a love that knows no bounds.

Commencement Address: "Dare to Dream!"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Dr. Brouder, Dean Smith, Dean Randerson, Dean Burchard, Coach Burchard, Director Sheehan, Faculty, students, graduates, alumni, parents, families, and friends. It is an honor and a pleasure to share with you on one of the most important and life-altering days in the lives of the men and women who sit before you. In December of 2000, I, too, sat here, feeling the powerful emotions that all graduates feel on such a day, linked by the common desire for the commencement speaker to stand up, finish up, and sit down.

It may be helpful for you if I share a bit of my educational background. I got my first degree from Regent’s College in Albany, New York. I got my second degree from here, from Columbia College. The third degree I get from my wife on a frequent basis.

It is good to be back in Columbia and I am honored and humbled by the invitation to share this wonderful day with all of you.

I am an Intelligence Analyst, working in the counter-drug community. It is a difficult job, one that challenges me on a daily basis. I study organizations that consist of the most ruthless, amoral, and violent people in human history. I have reviewed volumes of material containing the tragic accounts of human destruction wrought by drug abuse; young lives cut tragically short, not only by the substances themselves, but also by the associated violence.

A few years ago, after a two-year dance with the devil known as crystal methamphetamine, a nephew of mine took his own life. The memory of T.J. is a constant companion; a daily source of inspiration for me. But it’s not just T.J. It’s also the millions of others who are enslaved by addiction, brutally exploited by drug traffickers and dealers, who are the new slave masters. But today, I can, for a time, set aside the grim nature of my work. Today, I can revel in the promise of the future; the promise of hope.

Earlier, I spent some time walking among these graduates. I saw many people with big smiles, glowing faces, and bright, twinkling eyes. I saw people who have decided to have a future, rather than surrendering to the situational prison of the past or the present. Their success should be a beacon for the rest of us. Each one of us has the ability to pursue success; all that is required is the courage to step up. So many of the problems that confront us as individuals, as a community, a culture, a country, could be solved if we would face the mirror, look ourselves dead in the eye and say, “My biggest problem is me; Me, I can fix.”

In a conversation between a DEA Special Agent and a member of the DAS, Colombia’s version of the FBI, the Colombian remarked, “In our lifetimes we only have a few chances to be a hero, but everyday we have a chance to NOT be a coward.”

Speech: "Freedom: America's Greatest Strength"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today. In recent years, we have all seen the negativity and outright hatred directed at our fair republic and perhaps, just perhaps we have felt a little lonely. Today, my spirit is buoyed, as I’m sure yours is, to discover that we are most emphatically NOT alone. Here, we have chosen to stand together; to stand together in our love of this great country; to stand together in our appreciation for the singular gifts of freedom; and to stand together in our unqualified support for those brave souls who have freely chosen to stand guard on the wall between tyranny and liberty.

The fact that we have the right to gather here and speak our minds and hearts is a positive affirmation that here in this land, the heartbeat of democracy beats and beats strongly.

The experiences that have shaped my life have been many and varied. As a child, I traveled extensively throughout this country. Through those journeys, I gained a deep appreciation not only for the awesome physical beauty of this land, but in the tremendous strength of will and character in her people. Later on in life, I spent ten years in uniform with the United States Navy. In that decade of service, my feet touched the soil of some 22 foreign countries. Unlike some others, I didn’t spend that time at the beaches or hotels. I spent the time walking the back roads and barrios of those far-flung places, talking to people and learning first-hand of their lives and their challenges. Through those experiences, I gained a new appreciation for America. For I have seen what happens in places where the people have no voice in government; where the politics of exclusion protected the powerful and victimized the weak.

Everywhere I went, I was always asked the same question: “What is it like to live in America?” I tried very hard to be realistic. It’s not as if I wasn’t proud of my country, but I felt it important that people understand the sometimes harsh realities of life, even in America. I talked about the problems that we had faced in the past and continue to face daily. I spoke of how expensive life in this country is and how hard it was for some of us to make ends meet. I also talked about the inherent opportunities that exist; that anyone with an idea, the desire to dream, and the willingness to work hard could succeed. But regardless of the bleakness of my portrayal, the reaction was universally the same: “I dream of someday living in America.”