Chapter One from the Forthcoming Sequel to “Red, White & Blues”.

Chapter One:  1979

July 4th.  The last one of the decade.  Edie Clark is busy with food and children.  Her husband, John, is out in the garage with some of his brothers from the motorcycle club, the Souls of Liberty.  Stories and bottles of liquor, spare motorcycle parts, sweat, laughter.

It has been nearly two years since John’s brother, Pete, was murdered while working the late shift at a local gas station.  Two years without convictions or sentences.  Every day John calls the prosecutor.  Every day he is told to be patient; that they will get what they deserve.  It is all John can do not to attempt to take justice into his own hands.

Sandy Porter, the woman Pete Clark left behind to raise their now nearly ten-year old son, is sitting on a swing in her backyard.  She is drunk.  She holds a cigarette, nearly burnt down to the filter and stares off into oblivion.

“Come on, Mom,” Jimmy says, taking the cigarette from her fingers.  “Aren’t we gonna go to Uncle John’s?”

Sandy sighs.  There are so many reasons why she doesn’t want to go there this year.  Two of them are men.  Men that used and then discarded her and they will be there, staring at her, telling stories about her.

For seven months, she had an intense affair with Lucas Blackhorse.  He and Julie Hartford, his girlfriend and Sandy’s best friend, had moved in after Pete’s death initially to help with the mortgage and taking care of Jimmy.  After six months of living under the same roof, Sandy took more than just monetary help from Lucas.  She was so vulnerable and he was perceptive, selfish.  One cold night, an extra glass of wine, a sympathetic touch.

Two months passed before Julie realized what was going on.  Rage fueled by bitterness and betrayal lead to Julie moving back to her old apartment in Pacific Grove and taking her six-year old daughter, Pandora, with her.  She and Sandy’s relationship has never been the same.  In the aftermath, Lucas and Sandy’s relationship began breaking down.  Five months later, Lucas left.

December 1978.  Enter Kevin Miller, the one-eyed biker.  He and Sandy hoped to weather the holidays in a drunken, lustful haze.  For two months, they staved off depression and a real fear of being so lonely over Christmas that they simply wouldn’t make it alone.  They shared some good times, but it was clear early on that Sandy would never be able to fit into the biker lifestyle.  Too headstrong, opinionated, stubborn.  Besides, Kevin’s devotion to his club and motorcycle left her alone much of the time, so the relationship really did nothing to put her fears to rest.

The worst was yet to come for Sandy.  In January, Lucas contacted Julie.  He wanted her back.  She refused and he left the next day for Wisconsin, intending to spend the summer-maybe longer-with his mother and relatives back on the old reservation.  By March, Kevin had gone and Sandy was alone again.  Julie called Lucas; he could return if he married her.  In April, there was an informal ceremony in San Francisco.

This is why Sandy does not want to go to the Clarks’ 4th of July party.

“Mommy?”

Sandy is shaken from her thoughts.  She follows her son back into the house.  He pulls a tub of store-bought macaroni salad from the fridge, setting it on the kitchen table next to a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes. Sandy packs it all into a paper grocery bag.

“Okay, honey,” she says.  “Go and get a jacket.   It’ll be cold later.”

Mike Blackhorse packs his family into the Jeep that he bought his wife, Sarah.  With the two children growing, he thought it better than the Volkswagen Bug that Sarah had been driving them around in.  Free, now almost nine, and his six-year old sister, Eve, climb in the back.  Eve holds a Tupperware container filled with cut-up vegetables; Free balances a bowl of dip on his lap.  Sarah has a cake up front.  Mike starts the car and they are off.

In February of 1978, Mike purchased the vacant lot next to his auto repair shop and hired two more mechanics, Greg and Paul.  Mike’s old mentor, Ernie Mueller, came down from San Francisco and literally wept at the site of Mike’s shop and his success.  It was one of Mike’s proudest moments. The two men had a picture taken in front of the shop that was now hanging in the office.

At the Clarks’, more club brothers have arrived. The driveway is crowded with choppers; chrome glistens in the sun, burning oil fills the air.  Morgan Stewart is in his sixth year as President; John is still the Sergeant at Arms.  VP Big Al Riley had begun to have heart issues, so Salem Lund was elected Vice President.  His co-ownership of Full Throttle Customs and the Swizzle Stick with Morgan and his general intelligence made him the natural choice. His old position of Road Captain went to Justis Jones. Dewey Leightner is still Treasurer but Melvin Robideaux is now Secretary as Clayton “Spider” Carvell had been imprisoned for possession of an illegal firearm and a small amount of methamphetamine.  In his absence, the club looks after his wife, Sam, and two very young children, two- year old Travis and one- year old Casey.

Alex Lund, Salem’s twin brother, is now an unlikely part of this scene.  Since starting his own legal practice and moving to Carmel, the twins had resumed their close relationship, spending a lot of time together.  Alex has also become the club’s go-to attorney, except for any cases that involve his brother.  Those he gives to his newly acquired partner, Frank Abbott.

Now Salem arrives, Sadie in tow.  She is carrying their eleven- month old daughter, Rowan.  After discovering that she was pregnant, Sadie and Salem had married. To please his parents, there had been a wedding at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, much to the amusement of his club brothers.  Clearly, the ties that he had to his parents were still strong, despite all the grief that he continued to inflict upon them.  A more fitting party was held the following weekend at the Souls’ clubhouse before the newlyweds took off for a honeymoon in Sweden, where Salem’s younger sister had returned after her own marriage.

Sandy and Jimmy come through the back gate.  Edie gently lowers her three and a half- year old daughter, Jessica, down to the grass and goes over to help with Sandy’s bag.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says, embracing Sandy.  “How are you?”

“Great,” Sandy replies, but flashes a look to Edie that means she is anything but.

“Is Pandora gonna be here?” Jimmy asks.

“I think so, but why don’t you go and play with your cousins for now?”  Edie steers the boy in the direction of her two sons, Warren, six, and Shane, five.

Sandy follows Edie over to one of the picnic tables.  “I assume that means Lucas and Julie are coming?”

“They’re invited,” Edie says, uncovering the macaroni salad.

Sandy sighs.  “Well, I guess I can’t avoid them forever.  I’d like to, though!”

Free and Eve Blackhorse come over and set the vegetables and dip down on the table.

“Where’s Jimmy?” Free asks.

Edie points him to the front yard.  He goes off running with Eve trailing behind him.  They nearly trip their parents on their way back out the gate.

“Stay around here!” Mike shouts.

Sarah sets her cake down with the other desserts while Mike goes off to grab a beer from one of the many coolers.

“Happy 4th!” Sarah says.

Sandy nods.  “Yep!  I’m gonna go put this wine in the fridge.”

“How’s she doin’?” Sarah asks Edie.

“Not great, but she’ll be fine.  She’s got to get back on her feet.  I think it’s a good sign that she came!”

“Yeah, it ain’t gonna be easy seein’ Lucas and Julie,” Sarah admits.  “I could just kill him for doin’ what he did.”

Morgan Stewart spots Mike at the cooler and walks over.  He opens the lid and pulls out an icy bottle.

“How are ya, Blackhorse?”

“Great!  You?”

“Never better!”

Morgan pops the top off his beer with a pocketknife and drinks down half the contents.  “That’s good shit!  Gotta keep Ol’ Smiley grinnin’!”

He turns to watch Kim Daniels walk over to Sarah and Edie.  True to his word, he still hasn’t married her.  His two sons have joined him this 4th of July.  Lane is now twelve and has grown sullener with each passing year.  Invariably, it is Morgan’s fault that the boy is the way he is.  The four hundred miles between he and Valerie is no barrier for blame.  Being raised in San Francisco by his mother, Victoria, seven-year-old Max seems to be faring better.

“Oh, God!” Edie says as Kevin Miller enters the backyard. “Here comes trouble.”

Sandy is still inside.  Kevin strides over to Morgan and Mike, claps his president on the back and then grabs a beer.  He is unconcerned about seeing Sandy and does not understand the awkwardness it will bring her.  Hell, he was never looking to settle down and if that’s what she thought, it was her fault, not his.  Still, when he sees her come out of the kitchen and stop short, his face flushes.  Gathering herself, she walks past him and back toward Sarah and Edie.

“Hey, girl,” Kevin says and grabs her arm.

Sandy stares him down, her body tense.

“Calm down,” he says, and then loosens his grip.  “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Sandy laughs.  “Yeah,” she says and walks off.

Morgan shakes his head.  “Let it go, brother.”

“What?  I don’t want any bad feelings and weepy chicks ruining my day, that’s all.”  Kevin downs his beer.  “Besides, it ain’t your business.”

“I know,” Morgan says, and walks off to find another distraction.

Kevin reaches into the cooler for another beer.  “You know that broad pretty well,” he says to Mike.

“Yep.”

“Well, you know what I’m talking about, right?”

“Not sure.”  Mike does not want to get involved in this.  At all.

“Fuck it!” Kevin says, and then he, too, walks off.

It is dusk by the time Lucas and Julie show up and she marches straight over to Sandy.

“Look, we need to talk,” she says.

Sandy finishes off her glass of wine.  “Alright.  Let’s go inside.”  She refills her glass and offers one to Julie. They sit down at the kitchen table.

“It’s been three months since Lucas and I got married,” Julie starts.  “Please, can’t we put the shit behind us?”

Sandy runs her finger around the base of her glass.  “He hurt me, Julie.”

“He hurt me, too!  So did you, but I can’t go on like this.  We’ve been friends for too long to let a man get between us.”

“So you’ve forgiven me?”

“Yes.”

“What about him?  Have you forgiven him?”

“I don’t know.  No, I guess not fully.  Not yet.”  Julie sighs.  “The truth is I guess if it really came down to it, I’d rather have you than him.”

Sandy smiles.  “That’s funny.”

“Why?”

“That’s how I feel, too.  I just don’t know if I’m ready to see him again.”

“You don’t have to.  Besides, I don’t think he wants to see you, either.  He knows he’s an asshole!”

Julie gets up from her chair and goes around to Sandy, hugging her from behind.  “I love you!  I’ve missed having you in my life!”

Sandy can feel hot tears rolling down her cheeks.  “Me too,” she sputters.

Mike has found his way to the garage.  Under a huge Souls of Liberty flag, a game of darts is going on in one corner, a game of pool in another and lots of drinking and laughing in between.

“Hey, Mikey!”  John says.  His eyes are red slits and he sways slightly on his stool.

It always amazes Mike how much alcohol these guys could put away, but then he remembers when he had just returned from Vietnam and how much he was drinking himself.  These guys were doing it in happiness for the most part; he had been doing it in despair.

“Come on in,” Morgan says, raising a beer bottle.  Pretty wasted himself, he throws an arm around Mike’s shoulders.  “How’s your bike runnin’ these days?”

“Pretty good.  I keep it up even though I don’t ride it too much, ya know!”

“Hey!”  Morgan says conspiratorially.  He points his beer bottle in Mike’s face.  “You know what?  We both have a brother who spent time with Sandy…and didn’t survive!  Is she a man eater or what?”

Mike smiles, but is not sure where this is going.  These guys were so unpredictable when they were drunk.

“Yah, I guess we do,” he says.

Morgan nods.  “You know what else?”  He leads Mike down the driveway, his arm still around his shoulders.  “You ever think about joining a club?  Our club?  We could use a guy like you.  You keep your bike running, you’re responsible, you were in Nam.  I bet you can fight.  You get along with all of us…”

Mike is taken aback.  He has thought about it, but only in fantasy terms.  Only when he sees them ride through town in a pack, wishing he were going wherever they were off to.  To be a member of the Souls of Liberty would take so much of his time.  Time that he simply didn’t have.

“Morgan, I appreciate it.  Really!  I’m…honored that you would ask me, but I just don’t think I could find the time.”

Morgan nods.  “Yeah, well, you think about it, okay?“  He lets his arm slip from Mike’s shoulders.  “It’s a good club.  I think you could use us.”

“I know what you mean,” Mike says.  “I do.”

“I know you do.  Think about it, alright?”

Mike remembers the morning when he confessed his absolute worst secrets from Vietnam to Morgan.  Aside from Pete, who took the knowledge to his grave, he was the only other human being in Mike’s world who knew what he had done.  He knows exactly what Morgan means.  And they both know that Mike will decline the offer.

San Clemente is a sleepy, Southern California beach town.  Haven Hartford has made it his home.  He and his girlfriend, Seta Kapoor, had tied the knot after being together for two years and now have a five-month old daughter, Drisana.  After spending the better part of his time working on new paintings, Haven had an extremely successful run of shows at galleries in Laguna Beach where he sold all of his work.  As the money came in, he began to think more and more about opening up his own art store and studio in San Clemente, a town where he had become very comfortable.

In October of 1978, The Art Haven opened downtown and the Hartfords moved to a two-bedroom apartment near the San Clemente Pier.  Haven began offering art classes on Thursday evenings and was so over-booked that he had to place tables out on the sidewalk.  Life has finally fallen into place for him.

When Pandora, his daughter with Julie, comes down for the summers, he takes her surfing with him.  The little girl amazed her father and friends with her innate skill. With determination, fierce brown eyes fixed on the waves, Pandora seemed older than her mere four years.  Haven had no doubts that this girl was something very special.  Despite his excitement and pride, he couldn’t shake another feeling that seemed almost like fear.  Seta, too, saw something unexplainable in the child, a maturity that seemed overbearing in a sense.

In San Francisco, Maura Weston is managing the bookstore, Moonstone Books.  She and her son, Toby, now twelve, live in a small house near Golden Gate Park.  Louise Powell still owns and oversees the operations of the bookstore, but has given up many of the daily duties to Maura, concentrating on her tarot card readings instead.

The apartment above the store has been sitting vacant for some time now, and Maura is on her way to meet a new prospective tenant.  As she walks toward the store, she can just make out a man standing near the stairs that led up to the one-bedroom apartment.

“Hello!” Maura says, extending a hand.  “I’m a little out of breath!”

“Hi,” the man extends his hand.  “I’m Asher Levin.”

Maura takes his hand.  “Maura Weston.  Come on up.”

The man follows her up the stairs and then waits on the landing while she opens the door.

“It may be a bit musty,” Maura says.  “I’m afraid I haven’t been very diligent about opening the windows up here.”

Asher Levin laughs, closes the door behind them.  “It’s a one bedroom?”

“Yes.  It’s great for one person…or a couple.  Would it just be you or…?”

“Yes, just me.  Oh!  And my pet cat, if that’s alright.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”  Maura pulls the curtains back in the kitchen and opens the window.  “What do you do for a living, Mr. Levin, if I may ask?”

“Of course!  I’m a teacher over at City College on Phelan, but I’m also studying to get my PhD in Psychology. I’d like to teach at one of the universities.”

“Well!  Impressive!  That’s wonderful!  What do you currently teach?”

“General Psychology.  It’s interesting, but not really enough for me.”

Asher peeks into the bedroom.  “May I?” he asks, and then proceeds into the small room.

“Of course!”  Maura says.  “There’s an attached bathroom back there as well!”

“I like it,” he says, returning.  “What do we do about that?”

“Great!  I just have some paperwork here…”

Maura watches as he fills out the application.  His writing is neat, small.  His hair is black and curly; he has a well-kempt beard and moustache.  He wears round glasses.  He somewhat reminds her of Cat Stevens.

As they head out of the apartment, Maura explains the hours and operations of the bookstore below.  Asher listens politely before heading back to his car, a well-worn red Karman Ghia.

“See you next week, then!”  Maura calls.  “Oh!  What’s your cat’s name?”

“Freud!  What else?”

Louise Powell has been engaged to photographer Avery Booth for one month now.  Micheaux, Louise’s nine-year old son, has taken a deep liking to Avery, which has made things easier on everyone, especially Louise.  Knowing how much the boy had loved his father, Cain, she feared that he would never allow another man to be as a father to him.  However, Mikey was only five when Cain was shot and killed on duty while working for the Oakland Police Department, and although he remembers his father well enough, he had still been young enough to be able to accept someone else.

Louise is relieved when she hears that the apartment has been rented.  She hopes that he will stay for some time as the added income really helps.  Avery’s photography business did very well (as did the bookstore), but extra money always came in handy, especially with a growing boy in the house.

Louise had hoped to move to Monterey, especially after Pete Clark’s murder, but the bookstore and Avery’s photography didn’t make it plausible.  Instead, they rented a large, four-bedroom apartment on Fulton St. that was within walking distance of Moonstone.  There was plenty of time to plan for their future.

What is ABATE?

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ABATE is an acronym that originally stood for “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments”, but has since taken on several different but similar meanings: “American Bikers Against Totalitarian Enactments”, “American Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education”, “American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education”, “American Bikers Aimed Towards Education” and “American Bikers Advocating Training & Education”.

The idea for ABATE was conceived in 1972 by Lou Kimzey, editor of the biker magazine Easyriders. Lou, as well as many others, was beginning to feel the heat from state and federal lawmakers who sought to put pressure on the biker world by enacting restrictions focused mainly on motorcycle modification. Choppers, motorcycles that have been stripped down to their bare essentials and enhanced with sky-high sissy bars and grossly extended forks, were deemed unsafe by the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) and thus began the relentless pressure that chopper enthusiasts still face today.

As Kimzey was calling for unification in the biker world to fight these restrictions and laws, others were forming similar groups such as the MMA or Modified Motorcycle Organization and other biker rights groups. These sprung up all over the country and in 1974, Easyriders began to offer charters as well as publish contact information so that others could get involved and organized.

Here in California, as early 1966 mandatory helmet legislation was in place, but at the time, the only groups who publicly opposed it were the motorcycle clubs such the Hells Angels who even staged a good, old fashioned 1960’s style sit in on the state capitol lawn (so it is rumored). Clearly, there was a need for organization and a voice to legitimize the biker world.

Over the years, ABATE has faced much criticism. Because of its roots in the outlaw motorcycle world, it has been often looked upon as a group of unruly upstarts who buck the system under the guise of individual freedom. Often times, the charters meet up at local taverns to organize, discuss and make plans, which make it appear as if they advocate reckless behavior over safety. Many have publicly criticized the organization only to be met with a swift rebuttal that oftentimes harkens back to our Founding Fathers and how they did much of their own planning in America’s taverns to fight for individual freedoms and fight oppressive tyranny.

Despite the nay-sayers, ABATE has been extremely successful in organizing bikers all over the country. Their list of accomplishments, made mostly through perseverance and insistent involvement in local and state politics, is impressive. It includes such things as ensuring that high performance sport bike riders receive full coverage insurance; opening the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes to motorcycles and defeating laws against lane-splitting. ABATE has also been extremely supportive of the CMSP (California Motorcycle Safety Program); the promotion of May as Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month and making the Purple Heart license plates available to motorcyclists. Local charters are also involved in charities and food drives that provide food to needy families and individuals at holiday time.

Currently, the organization has thirty charters here in California with two in Orange County. If you would like to get involved in preserving biker rights, opposing or supporting specific legislation or getting involved in charity work, contact Steve Howe (Local #8) at santabeard@yahoo.com.

Just My Thoughts on PTSD- Always Look Forward

A very insightful, honest and heartfelt look at PTSD, a subject that I deal with extensively in my novel, “Red, White & Blues”, and will continue to address in the sequel.

TwoTireTirade

PTSD

There are a higher percentage of deaths from suicide among Combat Veterans as compared to the general population in America. According to research, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may be a fundamental cause of this increased suicide rate. My experience with PTSD stems from a tour in Iraq more than a decade ago. PTSD is real and has tangible and damaging side effects. It manifests its self among us in different ways and levels of severity. PTSD may be an outcome of any traumatic event from a car accident, to witnessing a crime, to being attacked by a dog, to being a victim of sexual abuse. Anyone can suffer from PTSD; the ailment has no social, economic, religious, gender or racial biases. Anyone is open to its dark shadows.
My thoughts below have no scientific merit nor are based upon research or psychoanalysis. They are just my ramblings that I felt…

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Why Ride a Motorcycle?

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I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog, but I remember when taking the MSF riding course many years ago the instructor asked the class this very question. Several tentative hands shot up and gave answers like fuel economy, parking advantages and other practical reasons. The instructor nodded his head, “Yes, yes, those are all good reasons,” he said. “But what about for fun?”

While some people may arguably start out riding a motorcycle because of the benefits it provides economically, practically and environmentally, those people I feel are few and far between. Most people have a desire to ride a motorcycle for more esoteric reasons. After all, using a motorcycle for transportation isn’t a necessity it is a passion in most cases.

Riding (as opposed to driving) requires absolute concentration and awareness. It is demanding both physically and mentally and challenging as well. You must become super aware of your surroundings, of other vehicles on the road. You must pay attention to weather and road conditions. You must know your motorcycle intimately; its power, maneuverability and limitations as well as your own. On a motorcycle, you must practice “present moment living”.

The most acute sensation while riding a motorcycle is that of being in the scene. In a car, you are completely closed in and have many available distractions to pass the time: radio, cell phones, GPS devices, mini televisions, air conditioning, etc. You are in effect in an environment that mimics that of your home or office with all the comforts those provide. You are looking at the outside world from a closed off point of view, surrounded by thousands of pounds of metal, glass and rubber. Driving a car is, for the most part, unengaging.

While car drivers generally see other drivers as competitors, motorcycle riders see other riders as companions. There is a great camaraderie amongst motorcycle riders, a feeling of being part of a giant family or community. Rarely is there hostility between riders like you see with drivers. We’ve all seen the one or two fingered low wave that bikers give one another as opposed to the middle finger salute that drivers frequently share between themselves!

Motorcycle riding involves passion and a sense of freedom through intense oneness with the machine and one’s surroundings. Unlike cars, motorcycles provide riders with the thrill of risk-taking, adventure, escapism and individuality. On a motorcycle all of your senses become heightened. You smell everything from pine or eucalyptus trees to blooming jasmine and orange blossoms; burned fuel and oil; rain, sea or lake water and even skunks and roadkill. You can more acutely detect temperature drops or increases and can feel the wind rushing around you as the road flashes beneath you only inches from your feet.

In my novel and the upcoming sequel, I often use a motorcycle ride as a form of therapy for several of my characters. Because you must be fully engaged in what you and others are doing as well as your surroundings, motorcycle riding can help clear your head of the chatter that drives most of us crazy every day. If you do it right, you can achieve that Zen state of being in the Now.

Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted: The State of Social Media in 2016

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Rarely do I comment on current affairs.  I do not post political news nor do I superimpose my Facebook profile picture with the flag from the most current tragedy or triumph.  I do not “Like” a post so that Jesus will give me a million dollars or “Share” a post in order to show others that I support it in fear of having bad luck for the next seven years.

In 2016, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc, etc dominate how the population lets the world know what they believe, what is right and what is wrong, who deserves sympathy and who deserves scorn.  We judge, politicize, bully, bloviate and shame just as readily as we adore, uplift, empathize and educate.  No one bothers to fact-check anything; the truth  doesn’t seem necessary anymore in order to stand as fact.  Everyone has an opinion and those who flood the Internet with it and have their words spun around the world via social media seem to have little regard for how their op-ed is used.  Similarly, anyone is free to create both truth and acceptance of their opinion and then easily have that seized upon and touted as fact.  Free speech is something that I believe in wholeheartedly.  As a writer, I have to.  However, does the writer now need to take more responsibility for what they write as their opinion so as not to run the risk of it seeping into the collective consciousness as truth?  Does the reader not also bear the responsibility of educating themselves as to what is fact and what is opinion (not necessarily fiction)?

I am weary of being bombarded with the world’s opinions.  I am weary of seeing people mindlessly hitting that “share” button before checking the factual merits.  People have access to opinions, news, articles and posts about how they should live:  don’t eat red meat, don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat bread, take this supplement, use this facial cream, meditate, exercise, go outdoors, think positively, black lives matter, blue lives matter, love is the answer, stop animal abuse, build a wall, drink more water, go solar, stop using plastic, house the homeless, feed the children.  No one seems to have the motivation to look into anything before re-posting it as truth or worthy of merit.  Those of us who don’t hit that share button often enough or comment positively (or negatively-whatever the case my be) on any given subject run the risk of public shame and the accusation of apathy.

Caring about most things has now become personal for me as has how I live, eat, exercise, smoke, drink and fuck.  I have chosen to go the opposite direction than many of those in my social media sphere for several reasons:  1)  not everything is everyone’s business; 2)  posting something onto Facebook has never changed the mind of someone who believes differently from you; 3) opinions only matter to those that give them; 4)  posting, liking or sharing something has zero effect when compared to actually doing something about it; 5) “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”.

Here’s what I think people should do:  take everything with a grain of salt; do what you feel is right; take care of yourself and those within your tangible sphere of friends and family; treat people with respect, dignity and kindness; spend time in nature and with animals; mind your own business.

But that’s just my opinion.

 

Dying With Dignity: TheCase forAssisted Suicide

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If you’ve not seen the final episodes of the Netflix original series “Grace & Frankie”, then be forewarned:  this post has spoilers.

The series, now going into its third season, has broken several barriers that still aren’t dealt with often enough in mainstream television.  In the first season we meet Grace (played by Jane Fonda) who is married to Robert (Martin Sheen) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) who is married to Robert’s law partner, Saul.  At a dinner where the two women assume their husbands will announce their retirement, they instead announce that they are in love with one another and wish to end their marriages in order to be together.  What’s striking about this isn’t that the men are gay, but that at the age of somewhere between 65-70 they have decided to throw away comfortable and reasonably happy existences in order to live their true lives.  What ensues is both hilarious and moving with all four leads carrying out their respective roles with humanity, humor, dignity, frailty, strength and love.  Along the way, the show deals with often-ignored subjects like sex and dating after 65, drug use, adopted children, marriage and friendship, family dynamics and more.

In the next-to-last episode of the second season, we are introduced to a dear friend of Grace and Frankie’s named Babe, who has returned home after a long absence.  Taking Frankie into her confidence, she confesses that her cancer has returned and that she has chosen to forgo treatment this time and essentially go out with a bang and not a whimper.  To the observer, Babe appears to be healthy and in excellent (and spunky) spirits.  The truth is that she does still feel good and that is why Babe has chosen to die before she deteriorates, while she is happy and fun and feeling good.  Although somewhat conflicted, Frankie eventually agrees to help Babe carry this out and part of the plan is to throw a big party for herself and her friends.  Grace, on the other hand, struggles morally with the issue until she, too, finally breaks down and shows up at the party near the very end to pay her respects to Babe in the way that she wanted, not the way Grace thought that things should be.

In another spoiler alert, I will confess that I deal with a very similar situation in the sequel to my first novel, “Red, White & Blues”.  I won’t name the character, but someone finds out that their cancer has returned and decides to forgo treatment for the very reasons that Babe does.  This character asks for support from their friends and gets it, although there are struggles both moral and practical.  A party is held where everyone in attendance is aware of the outcome.

In a world where death and dying are very nearly the most taboo subjects that we face, “Grace & Frankie” dealt with both in a sympathetic, loving and realistic way.  In Babe’s mind, death isn’t what scares her, it’s dying that does-illness, sickness, chemo, exhaustion, pain, false hope and loved ones that suffer as you deteriorate before their very eyes.  The same fears that face my character and why the case for assisted suicide or euthanasia is important and misunderstood.  Bravo to the show and the actors for the fresh and realistic portrayal of a subject that needs more discussion.

Lane-Splitting in California

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California is the only state where lane-splitting (or filtering) is legal.  By legal, I mean that it is permitted, but there are no official laws regarding the practice:

California law does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane, a practice often called “lane splitting,” “lane sharing” or “filtering.” (DMV.ca.gov)

Lane-slitting is when a motorcyclist rides between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction in order to avoid being rear-ended, which accounts for about a quarter of all accidents involving a motorcycle and car.

The debate between both motorcyclists and motorists who oppose the practice and those that support it has been ongoing for years now.  Studies and statistics aside, bikers have been slitting lanes in California for decades and most of those who share the road with them are likely not even aware of the ambiguity surrounding its legality.

A bill was put forth last year (AB 51) attempting to put guidelines on the practice, thus making it legal with certain restrictions.  AB 51 was authored by Assemblyman Dan Quirk (D-Hayward) and included guidelines such as speed limits while lane-splitting (motorcyclists could go no faster than 15 MPH above the moving traffic and no faster than 50 MPH overall).  A two-year study on lane-splitting by UC Berkeley concluded that riders who employed the practice were safer than those who sat in place in traffic, thus increasing their vulnerability to be hit from behind. AB51 has been put aside for now so supporters can have more time to work on the measure.

There are car drivers who intensely dislike lane-splitting and even some who go out of their way to inhibit it by blocking the motorcyclist’s way or, incredibly, opening car doors on them.  While this is not the norm, it is of note here because of the amount of tourists California has on the road at any given time.  Riders who rent motorcycles here in California should bear in mind that although the practice of lane-splitting is not new, it is still disliked by many local drivers who view it as an unsafe and unfair way for motorcyclists to avoid traffic.  In addition, there is also danger from out-of-state drivers who might not be aware of lane-splitting.

If you have questions or concerns about lane-splitting, be sure to talk to the guys at OC Motorcycle when you rent your bike and route your trip. Vigilance is the key when riding a motorcycle and if you are new to riding or not familiar with California driving and traffic patterns, lane-splitting should be avoided.