Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

26 September 2018

A Ne'er-Do-Well Pilot/Motorcyclist Son

I come from a big Irish-Catholic family. We grew up in New York City. My parents had six kids. I'm somewhere in the middle. I've got an older brother and sister, plus a younger brother and two younger sisters. For better or worse, we're not a particularly close family. Most of us still live dispersed in New York State if not the City itself except for my oldest brother, Bill. My younger brother Patrick and I both live in Florida: He in the Miami area; me in Pensacola – about as far from each other as you can be in Florida.

As I said, we kids are not close. Years go by without seeing each other – or even communicating very much. The reasons for this are complex and not completely understood by this reporter. I hate to use the expression, but it is what it is. Facebook has helped that, but only slightly.

And yet this past weekend I was back up in New York as we all gathered together again. It occurred to me that the last time all six of us were under the same roof was back in 1998 on the occasion of my father's funeral. This time it was my mom's. (She was 94, and it was not unexpected.)

It was interesting to see my brothers and sisters again. We've all aged considerably as you'd expect, but yet we all look pretty much the same. Nobody's gone bald, although some of us (me included) have revealing holes in the hair on the back of our heads. All of my sibs are inexplicably as thin as starving supermodels. I, on the other hand, look like the “before” picture in a Weight-Watchers ad. My younger brother Pat looks and sounds so much like dad that it's spooky. I kept doing a double-take. The rest of us are a mix.

We got together a couple of times after the service. Naturally there was a lot of reminiscing: some good, some sad. My memory is so awful. It's fortunate that your brothers and sisters can fill in holes in your own recollections. I feel sorry for those who come from small families. It was also funny (to me, anyway) that a lot of my memories centered around the kind of cars we had at the time. ”Ohhhhh yeah, I remember now! That was when we had our second Volkswagen Bus.” And so on.

It was a sad occasion, obviously, but I was happy with a number of things:

One, although I refer to (and think of!) us as such, none of us are kids anymore. The eldest being 69 and the youngest is 57. Thank God we are all still in fairly good health. None of have turned into stereotypical grumpy old people. I didn't hear any bitching and moaning or anyone being crabby about anything. It was refreshing and gratifying.

Secondly, it's amazing to me to rediscover how naturally funny my brothers and sisters are. I thought I was “the funny one” in the family. Not so! Compared to my sibs I am a virtual sourpuss. They are hilarious, each with a keen sense of humor that must be genetic come to think of it.  I don't mean to imply that we were yucking and whooping it up on the weekend of mom's funeral. We were not. But neither were we morose and disconsolate. That is not the Irish way!

Finally, we all got along really well. You know that in any big family there's bound to be a certain amount of...tension or perhaps animosities among the siblings.  Mine is no exception.  But on this weekend nobody brought up any drama from the past. If there was any it was kept below the surface.

In a bar after the service (like I said we are Irish after all), one of my older sister's adult daughters asked me, ”Now that your mom is gone, do you think you and your brothers and sisters will become closer?” It was an interesting question and it kind of caught me off-guard. For I don't really know. Maybe. We'll see.

On Monday morning as the Delta MD-88 climbed out and away from Albany, headed back south, I reflected on the events of the past two days, as you're required to do when taking an airline trip. It was, all things considered a nice weekend. We all love our family, of course. But beyond that, I like my brothers and sisters too. I admire them. They're all highly intelligent, funny, well-adjusted people who grew up without drug or alcohol problems, and who have never seen the inside of a jail cell (to my knowledge anyway). My parents (may they rest in peace) can be proud that they raised five wonderful children.

...And one ne'er-do-well pilot/motorcyclist bum.

19 September 2018

On Motorcycling

I've always owned motorcycles. Back in early 2016 I bought yet another Harley-Davidson Sportster (my third). This last one is a 1996 model which unfortunately had been sitting around unused for a long time. Outside. It looked great in the pictures, but the pictures were not current. Still, it was ride-able (at least to get it home), but...ugh...it was more of a challenge to get up and running than I'd hoped. I spent more than a year sourcing just the right parts to make it “mine.” Word of advice: Never buy a bike that's been sitting around for more than, oh, six months. I thought I'd gotten a good deal on this thing. I was wrong.

In the meantime while I was fussing and fighting with my Sportster, my friend Terry also bought a Sportster. He'd previously had one of those “dual-sport” bikes, one that you could ride on a dirt road as well as paved streets. Great bike! The trouble was that it was, well, tall. You just about needed a ladder to get on the thing. Younger riders are more limber and have the agility to swing their leg way up and over the saddle just to mount up; but 60-something year-old guys like Terry and I do not. End result: Terry did not ride the bike much.

Since he's heard me prattle on and on (and on), extolling the virtues of the Harley Sportster, he kind of casually started looking at them. And sure enough, he found one that was a really good deal over in Tallahassee, a three-hour drive to our east.

Sportsters come in two different engine sizes: 883cc and 1200cc. Externally they are identical; you cannot tell them apart.  There is no denying that the 883 has plenty of power. Back when the bike/engine combination was introduced in 1957! the Sportster was the original “super-bike.” That was then. Performance standards have changed a little with the advent of much more powerful machines. However the 883 Sportster has not changed much since its heyday. It is now considered weak and slow. Kind of like me.

However, the bigger, 1200cc engine makes the bike into something of a hotrod, and that's what most guys go for. Among the Harley cognoscenti, the smaller engine is the subject of almost universal disdain for its comparative lack of power and “oomph.” Even the stupid salesmen at the Harley dealer insinuate that the 883 is a great “starter bike,” or worse, a “girl's bike.” (Of course, they'd rather sell you a $20,000+ Super Glide than a $9,000 Sportster.) When I tell them that I'm on my third Sportster they look at me funny.

I ride alone, and I'm not inclined (anymore) to drag-racing other riders from stoplight to stoplight. So the 883 is perfectly fine for me. Would I like the extra power of the 1200? Sure, but the 883 has a significant gas mileage advantage over its bigger brother, which should be no surprise. And when your gas tank only holds 2.2 gallons, as mine does, gas mileage becomes uber-important.

The bike Terry and I went to look at in Tallahassee was a 1200, all done up in black and chrome. In pictures it looked great. In person, it really is beautiful, even I have to admit. The bike needed a little work, but it was well worth the agreed-upon price. We loaded it into the back of Terry's pickup truck and beat feet for Pensacola.

So now Terry and I both had Sportsters, and we wanted to do some riding! The one little problem was that mine wasn't exactly running. It took a while – longer than I'd anticipated. I wanted this Sportster to be “just so.” This meant undoing some of the work that the previous owner had done. People always think that the personal customizations/modifications they perform on their motorcycles add value. They do not. Often the next owner (ergo, me) has to come along and spend money replacing those parts. Which is why I got this bike so cheaply. (Not cheaply enough, it turned out.)

Anyway, my bike is finally done. It runs fine and drives great. It's ready for some nice road trips, for which Terry has been patiently waiting. Thankfully, there is plenty of riding season left – one of the advantages of living down south.

Here's Terry with his 2009 Sportster.  Not sure why the picture came out so lousy, but it's a gorgeous bike in person!

And here's my latest acquisition.  I know, it looks a lot like my last Sportster. But no, this one is completely different - it's got spoke wheels!