Getting Back on the Bike

Twenty-plus years ago, I rode a motorcycle. I used it to commute, have fun and occasionally travel. The bike itself was a ’79 BMW R100/7, which was a combination project, time machine for many people I encountered (I remember when…), and semi-reliable way to get around. I sold it a few years after moving to North Carolina.

The pandemic got me thinking about riding again, as a means of getting out of the house for a few hours and visiting sites around the Piedmont I’ve been wanting to see and photograph. I’m old enough to know that riding a motorcycle is a perishable skill so I decided to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider class again. Finding a class nearby that wasn’t fully booked was a challenge, so I used that as an excuse to take the class at the BMW Rider Academy in Greer, SC. If you’re thinking about taking the MSF class and are anywhere near Greer, I can recommend it.

I rode a nearly new BMW G 310 R instead of the clapped out Honda from my first class. It’s a light, agile bike with a single cylinder engine, six-speed transmission, TFT instrument display, inverted forks, rear mono shock and ABS. It’s not ideal for a person six-plus feet tall, but it wasn’t uncomfortable to ride.

My bike for a couple of days.
No dials on this bike.

I mentioned that motorcycling skills are perishable? Mine were. The class starts with very basic skills – finding the clutch friction zone, balancing and manipulating the throttle before moving on to actual riding. Most of the exercises happen at relatively low speeds (under 30 mph), so spills (and a few classmates had them) aren’t serious. U-turns, figure-8s in a confined box, braking (and panic braking) in different situations, swerving and other fundamentals kept us busy for most of two days.

Another thing in favor of taking the MSF class at BMW: Fantastic food for lunch. I had baked cod the first day and pork chops the second. And no, the class isn’t any more expensive than taking it at a community college. Plus, BMW offers some financial perks for those who choose to follow up by purchasing a new BMW motorcycle.

The conclusion of day two is the skills test. Those who lack a motorcycle endorsement on their license can pass this in place of some states’ skills tests. We quickly went through five tests to assess our ability to control our motorcycles. Drop the bike, stall more than three times, or rack up 16 penalty points and you fail. I’m happy to say I didn’t stall or fall, and had plenty of points to spare.

What’s next? I need more practice, but I need a bike first. And I kind of miss having a BMW boxer, which was a lot of fun and easy to ride. Maybe I’ll look for something like this R nineT.

A Pandemic Journal Update for Our Print Subscribers

Pandemic Journal was born during the halcyon years when politicians didn’t mess with those of us who purchased ink by the barrel, and readers had to put pen to paper to tell us what was on their tiny minds. The Internet may have turned this all bass-ackwards, but believe it or not we still have readers who like to perambulate to the end of the driveway or post office to retrieve the words they’ll sit down to consume with a Scotch chaser.

Six of them, in fact. I know their names, each and every one of them, and I’ll be damned if they don’t keep re-upping their print subscriptions just to piss me off.

But times are changing and so is the manner in which each weekly copy of Pandemic Journal will be conveyed to these Luddite dead-enders.

You’ve probably heard that the US Post Office is evolving – similar to the way your neighborhood ice cream shop evolved into offering a subscription model where the only flavors are Shit and Death. We’ve gotten a memo outlining how the new order will affect subscription delivery, and for the six (or maybe five, because Ted has been knocking on death’s door for a while now) readers who like to stain their hands with ink, I’ll offer an update.

Beginning this week, each print issue of Pandemic Journal will be one page, full of four letter words, stuffed in the smallest envelope we can find. We will post these envelopes each Monday for delivery at some random date in the future. Or never.

The fine people at the USPS tell me that each issue will now follow this route, on the way to subscribers’ doors:

A man driving a red, white and blue truck will pointedly ignore your issues for a minimum of five business days. Those that don’t end up behind industrial shelving will eventually be shoved into bins, loaded on the truck and dropped off at a multipurpose processing center, where mail goes for sorting and chickens go to be parted out for McNuggets. A woman named Cheryl may take one or more of your issues home to read.

If the processing center doesn’t burn down due to the historical neglect of routine maintenance, chicken-slime coated issues will be placed in a briefcase and hand-carried to randomly selected fields, where contractors selected for being the lowest bidders will send (via hot air balloon, I think) our carefully crafted prose in the general direction of our subscribers.

Schoolchildren across the nation will eventually find these issues, emblazoned with a notice of reward for swift return, spread across balloon wreckage sites. We will receive these returned issues via FedEx.

Finally, a representative of Pandemic Journal will call each subscriber with a delivery confirmation.

We hope that our six print subscribers will appreciate this enhanced service. In order to support this improved delivery initiative, we will raise the print subscription price by a modest amount – roughly 948% per annum. You’re welcome.

Pandemic Journal Presents Our Newest Feature: Knowledge Without Limits

Dear reader, as the publisher of Pandemic Journal, America’s leading record of social commentary, I keep an ear to the ground for rumblings of change in how my fellow citizens digest their news. I’ve watched with no small amount of interest the growing trend of news and information whose genesis is whimsical ideas, magical thinking or misinterpretation of third-grade science. My immediate instinct was to monetize this nonsense.

My god, I thought, it’s not enough to simply amplify the ravings of people whose idea of scholarly accomplishment is skimming Facebook Groups while sitting on the crapper. There’s a greater opportunity, and that is to manufacture knowledge.

That’s why I immediately fired my hotshot team of editors, tore down the walls of our office to create a bullpen, and populated it with an army of writers whose only credentials are cocksure confidence and an attraction to the mildly plausible. I have fueled these drones with black market hydroxychloroquine and am paying them by the eyeball to saturate American culture with knowledge about every subject under the sun.

There is almost no beat we don’t cover. Astrophysics and celebrity marriages are the province of writers 86-133 (in this brave new world of information, bylines no longer matter); 22-76 will tell you everything you want to know about NASCAR, cat food and venomous insects. The breadth of our coverage is almost as wide as the world itself. The only subject beyond our grasp is vaccinations, as Jenny McCarthy and Charlie Sheen have this covered and have explicitly warned us to back off. However, we share one thing in common: Editorial standards that require only that enough people believe us to pay the bills.

So get ready, America. We’re turning up the news to eleven!

Chincoteague Island, Pandemic Style

The family and I have been traveling to Chincoteague Island, on Virginia’s eastern shore, for several years. It takes us about seven hours to drive there but it’s convenient for Beth’s sister, who typically joins us. We picked it as our pandemic vacation retreat for a few reasons:

  1. Socially distanced beachgoing isn’t too difficult. The beaches – an island away on Assateague – don’t see the kind of crowds we get on the NC and SC coasts. Plus, because the beach at Assateague Island is a National Seashore, there aren’t any condos and houses crowding the waterfront.
  2. Fresh seafood is bountiful and good. There’s no reason to go out.
  3. It’s cheap. House rentals can be surprisingly affordable.
  4. The eastern shore has good places to explore.
Island Theater

A few highlights and lowlights from our week on Chincoteague Island. I’m going to rate each of the businesses mentioned from one star (lousy) to three (good job!) based on how well people were behaving themselves, distance and mask-wise.

It was hellishly hot. Too hot to go to the beach hot. Too hot to go running before dawn or after dusk hot. Yeah, that hot. Only one day did the temperature dip to the point where we were tempted to go back to the beach, following a brief trip early in the week after which we returned worn out and savaged by sand flies. We gave into temptation and had a great time – temps were in the low 80s and the ocean felt nice and cool. We swam and swam some more. It was glorious.

Swimming

Janes Island State Park is a jewel. It sits on the Tangier Bay side of Maryland and has one of the most beautiful campgrounds I’ve seen in a state park. Yeah, it’s seven hours away but I’ll drive seven hours to camp there, do some fishing, and go kayaking on the canals and bay.

Janes Island State Park

We explored a small park on the Atlantic side of the eastern shore, as well as Deal’s Island, which answers the question, Who’s ready to sell their house due to rising water? (Answer: Every other person, it seemed) Rising seas at Tangier Bay threaten local communities, including Tangier Island, and on Deal’s Island this was on full display.

Deals Island Deals Island

Eat & Drink on Chincoteague Island

I mentioned seafood, right? Gary Howard Seafood*** and Ricky’s** were our go-to places to get fresh seafood. We had tuna steaks, shrimp and scallops from the former, and a giant pile of local oysters from the latter. We tried to shop at SeaBest Seafood*** but the owner got wound up and shouty when I said the word “ceviche” while scoping out some fish. We got the hell out of there.

There’s a small market*** on Maddox Avenue (the main drag). I didn’t get the name, but if you look on Google Maps for the Banana Hammock you’ll find the location. Apparently, frozen bananas are less appealing than a great selection of seafood, meat, and produce. I bought some pork chops and the ingredients for killer gazpacho. We shopped there several times and the owners treated us right.

Chincoteague Island has a newish brewery and it’s good. Black Narrows*** brews some tasty beers. I’ll vouch for their Sit a Spell IPA and Salts tart oyster wheat (that’s right). They offer crowlers to go, as well as indoor and outdoor seating. I didn’t take advantage of this, but they deliver.

Beach vacations demand ice cream and Mr. Whippy*** is my place. Chocolate, vanilla or a swirl are the only choices and that’s the way it should be. The family likes Island Creamery*** and it’s good, too, if you prefer your ice cream fancy.

Amarin Coffee*** serves, you guessed it, coffee. The beans are from Vietnam and you can order a perfect Vietnamese coffee. The only thing bad about them is that they don’t have an outpost in Greensboro.

Lilly’s Little Mexico*** is in a food truck park on Maddox. If you are in a hurry you might want to go elsewhere. If you are patient and like good food, it’s a great option. And if you’re with someone who loves BBQ and COVID-19, you can send them across the way to Woody’s*, where the owner’s not a fan of masks. Plenty of people were waiting a half-hour plus to get their orders from Lilly’s, while I saw two customers at Woody’s.

SeaStar*** is a reliable take-out sandwich shop. I’ve eaten many sandwiches there and have never had a bad one.

I don’t know how we missed this place during previous trips, but Beach Road Roundup*** has a hell of a breakfast. They have great food, and funny and cheerful service.

There is an outdoor tiki bar* in Chincoteague. We checked it out. I won’t name it but it’s the only tiki bar on the island and trust me, you can skip it unless you like mediocre, watered-down drinks.

Scorecard

Books read: 1

Movies watched: 0

Heat index: 108

Delmarva fox squirrel sightings: 0

Times I went running: In that heat? Are you kidding?

The Statue of a Doberman in My Front Yard is About My Beloved Pet’s Legacy and Not His Repeated Mauling of My Neighbor’s Grandmother

There are two facts that protestors in this otherwise quiet neighborhood choose to overlook: Firstly, when our family purchased our three bedroom/2.5 bath ranch in Siesta Acres, there was nothing in the HOA covenants to prevent us from breeding a series of increasingly unhinged and dangerous Dobermans. Secondly, the warning signs (“Walk Slowly and Do Not Turn Your Back on Our Dogs”) that we stapled to front doors on our street were not in jest.

We issued reasonable warnings about the consequences of checking one’s mail, going for a walk or climbing into a car without looking around first, but here we are. Besieged by a savage mob who mistake our love for our now-deceased pet with the memorialization of its habit of stalking and taking down – eventually for good – our neighbor’s 88 year-old Nana.

Yes, there is no doubt that Frank, our beloved dog, was responsible for the demise of Martha. She was old and didn’t put up much of a fight which tells us her time was running short, and though we paid our debt to society we still maintain that Frank was just doing what came naturally and was to his core a very, very good boy.

That’s why we erected a bronze statue of Frank in our front yard. The artist depicted him in his final moments, a powerful paw against Martha’s throat and a police officer drawing his service revolver. It was, to all of us who mourn Frank, a solemn reminder of his tragic end. We hoped that its placement, facing Martha’s grandson’s front door, would be a symbol of our shared grief.

I’ll admit I probably got that wrong.

Each morning the greatgrandkids left the house, sobbing most terribly. Serious sideeye and a restraining order told the rest of the tale.

But Frank’s memory deserves to live on and we refuse to remove his monument. Not even when all our neighbors have shunned us, the HOA has issued a notice of violations, and the local constabulary has said, “You’re on your own with this one, buddy.”

But if we have to stand alone, alone we will stand. Frank is part of our heritage, and easily-triggered survivors don’t get to write history. Unless the HOA makes good on its threat to fine us, Frank’s monument isn’t going anywhere.

A Statement from Officer B. Fife, President of the Mayberry Police Officers’ Benevolent Association

Listen up. You think your snickering and eye rolling is funny but let there be no doubt that I, Barney Fife, am the thin blue line between relaxing Sunday evenings on the porch with a glass of sweet tea, and total anarchy.

Make no mistake, the progressive policies of Sheriff Andy Taylor and Mayor Pike have led us to this day of reckoning. Ernest T. Bass throws rocks through innocent citizens’ windows and out-of-town lowlifes pass through town for a quick score, but Andy Taylor plays it calm and sends an unmistakable signal to any miscreant who lurks in the streets of Mayberry that he’s soft on crime. Just the other day he allowed an obviously sauced Otis Campbell to sleep one off in the jail, rather than charging him with public intoxication and exposing him to the full weight of the town’s legal apparatus.

I am committed to law and order, I will not let this stand, and I make the following demands:

First, give me back my bullet, Andy. Although I have never needed to draw my service weapon in the line of duty, I hope and pray that day will come. And if it does, I want to get off at least one shot.

Second, I want a formal apology from the citizens of Mayberry. Yes, I put you all in jail that one weekend. Face it – you deserved it and it’s time to stop yanking my chain. Enough already. Sometimes justice has a hair trigger.

Third, the tenuous nature of civil society demands that law enforcement be prepared for extraordinary circumstances. In our case, this preparation requires an Army surplus Sherman tank, complete with armor-piercing shells. Or don’t you care about the safety of your police force, Mayor Pike?

I await your answer. I’ll be at my desk, or chatting with Floyd the barber.

An Artifact from a Journey Years Ago

I developed a roll of Kodak TriX that had been in my Minox 35GT for several years. This was taken in 2015 along Lake Champlain during a two-day bike ride from Burlington, VT to Alburgh, VT and back.

Lake Champlain

Day one was a straight shot up the greenway out of Burlington, across the bike ferry to South Hero Island, then along the lake to the Ransom Bay Inn in Alburgh.

Day two included a lovely detour onto Isle la Motte. I rolled back into Burlington just as heavy rain began falling.