Friday, January 28, 2011


2nd in a series

“WALT LONGMIRE” series author Craig Johnson, in the middle of a presentation for writers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, pulled from his shirt pocket a tiny spiral bound notebook and stated: “Best fifty-nine cents an author can ever invest.”

I was pleased. I’d been carrying these for years and continue to find relics in various places about the house including sock drawers, bookshelves, liquor cabinets and the garden shed. More keep turning up and in them are found strokes of the pen that have, until now, not seen the light of day. They may provide proof that tenth item down is grounded in truth.

THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN ROAD has no idea what prompted many of these thoughts, but if any one of these should evolve into a Country and Western song, the Church expects a cut.

  • Not having to answer the bell has turned out to be more difficult than having to answer the bell.
  • You’re always halfway to somewhere.
  • Internet access does not a learned man make.
  • He felt himself slipping into a self-imposed isolation. Self imposed and irreversible.
  • Every woman deserves to be some heart-broken guy’s Ilsa Lund.
  • My ninth grade English teacher never bothered to tell me I couldn’t write.
  • God is not responsible for your bad calls.
  • If I had to start my life over, I’d start it over with you.
  • Nursileze (n) a language spoken by nurses that no one else can understand. Twins and others in professions likewise have secret languages.
  • The “delete” key can be your best friend.
  • Never place yourself higher on a pedestal than you’re willing to get knocked off from.
  • Don’t draw what you see. Draw what you think you see. It’s the same with history. History is not what happened. It’s what people think happened. History is not written on the front page. It is written on the Letters to the Editor page.
  • An alternate route is a countermelody to the Interstate.
  • The problem with round tables is that they don’t often square up.
  • “A faint night breeze pushes the soft plume of smoke down slope through the stand of firs and off over toward Smith Camp.”
  • Yes. There are voices.
  • Roadside Forest Service signs are not dangerous, nor are they good eating. Makes me wonder why drunkards, gun nuts and various other innocents shoot them up.
  • It’s not “like flying.” It’s like riding a motorcycle.
  • The perfect cinnamon roll is elusive; the perfect day is not.
  • Up until about a week ago, I thought “Tunisia” had something to do with an inability to recall a melody.

And, perhaps, the best (and truest) of the bunch:

  • Everything that happens in life relates, in one way or another, to a scene in Casablanca.

NOTE: To see the previous listing, click on the label “notebooks” below. (Not sure why you’d want to do that, however.)

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


AS A LITTLE MAN of five or eight,
I could lay on my back
across the sticky, vinyl seat of the station wagon
and watch an upside down world race by;
or simply stare at the fabric ceiling
of the old Ford.

I can still view the upside down world,
yet failing to understand,
for I no longer am able to lay on my back across the back seat
– too big to fit –
I simply prefer to stare at the ceiling.

© 2008
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, January 23, 2011



MY SIMPLE GOAL was to revisit the old site of Helltown in Butte Creek Canyon east of Chico. Decades had passed since my last visit to the little cemetery of six graves up that way; and nearly a whole lifetime had passed since Dad introduced it to me back in the early 60s. I liked the spot because, as a nine-year-old, I could now get away with saying “Hell,” but only in the proper context. My idea was to scout the area so I could share it with a following generation of grandchildren – Gracie, Abby and Mia. Perhaps, one of them would catch the magic and fifty years from now share it with some subsequent generation. Not to do this risks little pockets of history – and the lessons attached thereto – being lost for all time.

This first really temperate January day prompted me to grind the BMW to life and head north. Heated grips kept pliable all but the middle fingers on either hand and a cup of coffee at the Cornucopia in Oroville was all that was needed to thaw them out.

BUTTE CREEK’S COVERED BRIDGE was built in 1894. It served as a crossing until the early 70s when the south end (out of this shot) was destroyed by a young man (unlicensed) who barreled down the Honey Run from Paradise and crashed into the bridge in his dad's pick-up. Coincidentally, the kid was a neighbor through the orchards in back of our house.

It was rebuilt thereafter but the county had installed a more stable concrete structure up stream. Now the bridge stands as the only remaining three-tiered covered bridge in the United States. I believe that means that the bridge has three different roof elevations.

Currently, the bridge is open for foot traffic only and fenced at the south end. The site is used for weddings and picnics and glances backward into a simpler past.

THE OLD CENTERVILLE SCHOOLHOUSE is the centerpiece of the Lois Colman Museum. Four miles further up Centerville Road, the museum is totally administered by volunteers. The refurbished schoolhouse, gaily painted yellow, also harkens back to times when children walked seven miles to school (up hill both ways) and teachers adhered to extremely conservative rules for their personal behavior.

A cinderblock building has been constructed nearby where artifacts from the canyon’s early mining and farming are on display. Behind the Centerville School is an old PG&E ditch, a remnant from when water provided power, first to miners then to farms in the Butte Creek Canyon. Children were reminded to stay clear of the ditch because water could be released without prior notice. Late in the school's life – or so the story goes – one didn't...

Walking the grounds, I returned to my bike to find an area resident parked in the road ogling it from his vintage Chrysler big-car. “How old’s that one?” is how the conversation began. It ended with an admonishment that the Helltown site was behind a locked gate and that it was in opinion of several locals that there might be illicit medicinal herbs being propagated in the area. “Wouldn’t want you to stumble into anything…”

THE ROAD TO HELLTOWN may not be paved with good intentions. Indeed it is blocked just a few yards south of the creek. I saw fewer "Do Not Pass" signs at Checkpoint Charley in 1979 before the wall came down. The historic Helltown cemetery is north of the creek and inaccessible by those who wish to see a few tomorrows. Helltown, as a destination, therefore is a bust. Perhaps “busts” are common aspects of off-the-grid life in the remote reaches of Butte Creek Canyon. I dismounted the motorcycle but decided against snapping any photographs of the pastureland down sloping toward the creek. The multiple "No Trespassing" signs and the collection of derelict automobiles and tin and plywood shanties was a foreboding far cry from my memories of fifty years prior.

IF ONE HAS TO SPEND ETERNITY somewhere, the Centerville Cemetery might be the place. Only canyon landowners and their immediate kin may be interred here. A plaque at the main entrance lists early-day miners who were buried in unmarked graves. Markers from as early as 1870 up and through those lost in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf are present.

A classic white fence keeps those who have passed on from wandering out into traffic along the Centerville Road. Behind it, the oaks are huge. The Vinca Minor proliferates. The air clear and cool. Nice place for a picnic or a very long nap.

Time and elements break down the oldest of the markers. I remember one of about this age over at the Helltown Cemetery back when you could safely get up there. The stone was cracked in half and laying on the ground with grasses climbing through the fissure. Engraved under the deceased's name was "Lost on the steamer Golden Gate." Hell of a romantic way to be remembered.

A newer stone indicates that the wife buried here, and the husband who will follow, had a deep appreciation for the beautiful environment in which they lived. And a sense of humor that we should all enjoy.

THE FIRST EXTENSIVE RIDE of 2011 brought me to this view of the Butte Creek Canyon. Looking westward down the stream course that irrigated the area farms and runs under the historic Covered Bridge, I resolve that I must take the grandkids up here for a little look back at history - even if we can't make it to Helltown.


The Lois Colman Museum -

McGie, Joseph F.  History of Butte County 1840-1919 and History of Butte County 1820-1980, Butte County Office of Education © 1982

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Helltown, CA Cemetery - circa 1975.  Courtesy Patricia Boek

Friday, January 14, 2011


[February 2005] ONCE BEFORE I’d stopped in Garberville. I’d parked the blue Beemer a few slots north of the corner where the Eel River Café is situated. It was July and I was overheated in my leathers. Just a quick bite to eat: breakfast and then on my way to wherever.

Unfortunately, just after I’d settled in with the local paper, while awaiting my sausage and eggs, a gentleman, older than myself, spots my leather jacket across the seat opposite me in the booth, slides it over and sits down.

“That your Beemer out there?”

“Yeah,” I said, with the pride one who owns a BMW cultivates.

The man began to regale me with his biking adventures. Trip to Alaska on a Honda. Now he owns Suzukis. Dirt bikes. Where have I just been? He’d been somewhere better. In the industry. Sells oil additives for motorcycles. How’re the eggs? Improves mileage and engine life. Why’d you get the Beemer? Broken ankle, once. Back to Alaska…

I decided not to eat at the Eel River Café again.

TODAY WAS A FARTHEST-THING-FROM-JULY February Saturday. Having just stayed at a far below basic motel in Shelter Cove some 25 windy miles distant and to the west, I found myself again in Garberville.

Powering down to about fifteen miles per hour, there is a café on the right. But closed. To the left, the Eel River. Further on a block or two, a restaurant associated with a motel. I nose my new RT into an on-street parking place but can’t get comfortable that, parked there, the bike would be stable. Astride the saddle, I peer through the window. Dishwater coffee is being served to the lone patron. The place is grey and tired, possessing that used-to-be-modern look.

I’ve got to find a better place to park or a better place to eat. Muscling the bike back onto the street, I fire her up and head further south. But only a short distance. Main Street is cut off by the new freeway. New about 35 years ago. A traffic round-about sits at the end of Main and I must edge right to find myself, 180 degrees later, in a lane that goes no place but back north.

Two blocks. To the Eel River Café. Again.

“I’LL BET YOU WANT COFFEE.” The voice was far too young to express that type of waitressing experience. Or waitressing confidence. What if I didn’t want coffee? Too young for such waitressing warmth this foggy morning. Or welcome, for that matter.

“Oh, man,” I replied.

She took that as a “Yes.”

The chill of the last twenty-five miles began to melt.

“Menus at the end of the table.”

I knew this from before.

I sat in the same booth. The one closest to the door. Facing the street. My jacket lay where I’d laid it before. I’d chosen this booth because there are old photos of Garberville Police motors on the wall. Harleys and maybe an old, old Curtiss.

Today, I thought I’d like a view of the street, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because all of the other booths were occupied.

The honey voiced young waitress had not been there a year and a half before. This I would have remembered.

“Bacon and eggs, please.”

“I can do that.”

“Rye toast, if you have it.”

“I can do that, too.”

Someone else was “doing that,” but there was something warm and comely about this young woman’s response to my order that made me glad the road had forced me back here. I could feel it in my fingertips. Hell, I could feel my fingertips!

“More coffee?” she asked.

“Can you do that?”

“Sure can.”

My server possessed an innocent Audrey Hepburn-as-Holly Golightly aire. Flitting – or flirting – from booth to table to booth again, doing that for all her customers. She had, perhaps, reached the age of my daughter. Just a kid. Black pants. Not slacks, but not jeans. And a black tee shirt with a white Highway 101 logo screened onto it, covering something with longer sleeves – I don’t know – maybe plain, maybe prettier. Dark hair experimentally streaked with blonde. And a pleasant school-girl smile to match her pleasant school-girl voice.

A brief if I could just subtract thirty years thought flickered.

MY CELL PHONE WORKED HERE. Between ordering and eating, I called home and was greeted with a terse: “Boy are you ever grounded.” It seems that Verizon’s “nationwide coverage” doesn’t include Shelter Cove, California, where I had spent the previous night, as well as a lot of other places I tend to ride on that motorcycle. And the pay phone outside the motel had been disemboweled, so a concerned spouse had no way of knowing whether I had lived or missed a turn somewhere.

“If I’da died, the authorities would have, no doubt, contacted you by now.”

The eggs came just as the phone call ended.

“Ever’thin’ taste okay?” Music?

“Better ’n okay,” I smiled.

The view through the condensation on the window was only interesting the moment that an overweight lady walked by with three dogs: two miniature dashounds on leashes – each going another direction – and a Bassett Heinz 57 cross pulling off in a third. Other than that comedy, Main Street was quiet and cloaked in fog that hadn’t been present over at the coast.

Every time a patron opened the door to the Eel River Café, the building inhaled a little of the moist, chilled air. And I shivered and questioned the reasonability of my sitting by this constantly opening and closing door.

Until more coffee miraculously poured into my cup.

“Thanks,” I said warmly.

“Yeah.” A cool “Yeah.”

I looked up. The coffee was dispensed by an old-enough-to-be-the young-waitress’-mother who had probably more than once heard kindly, or cooing, or warm – or worse – remarks from some graying codger on a motorcycle leveled at someone other than herself.

Like, perhaps, her daughter?

I finished quietly. Tipped well. And left, wondering, down the road a piece, if the young lady had ever befriended a stray cat.

© 2005
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, January 13, 2011


We are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

- President Obama
January 12, 2011

Google Images
“THERE IS JUST ONE TEACHER standing in front of 150 Kindergartners with one binder and a pencil. The kids stand a recite what the teacher says. It’s all lecture.” Retired Tuolumne County teacher Geanie Eaton talks about her recent trip to Tanzania. She and a few colleagues had been helicoptered in to a remote village to assist local teachers. “A binder with lessons and a single pencil.”

In place of a holiday letter detailing the history of her family, in her Christmas card, Mrs. Eaton sent a request for school supplies along with a brief summary of her work with teachers in this impoverished nation. “The only hope any of these people have rests with whatever education they can receive.”

I’d worked for Geanie Eaton when I served as the principal at Sullivan Creek School near Sonora, California.  Years later, I was employed as a district level administrator for an up-scale school district in the Sacramento area. I knew my most recent district had pallets of outdated textbooks, culled library books, teacher resources no longer aligned with California standards, pocket charts, globes that were 97% still correct and mathematics materials that allow students to play with numbers in order to better understand them.

“Mathematic manipulatives,” she cried putting her hands on both cheeks as Tim and I unloaded a packed U-haul trailer. “Oh! When I go back this summer, I’ll get to teach the teachers how to use manipulatives. This is wonderful.” She explained: "There is a ratio of one teacher to 150 Kindergartners and one teacher to about 100 first graders. While the teacher speaks, the children simply stand and listen. If a child is helping or asked to demonstrate, the others just stand.”

Google Images
AFTER TIM AND I UNLOADED over four tons of donated materials onto the concrete floor of her barn, she invited us to look at pictures from her trip in 2010. [Photos attached to this post come from Hope for the Nations and other sources, as Geanie did not have copies available for us. The attached pictures are not reflective of the rural school Mrs. Eaton visited.]

Hope for the Nations
She shared a picture of her on the dirt floor of a classroom with dozens of primary students building structures. “The teacher was beside herself when I got on the floor, but ‘this is how children learn,’ I told her.”

Another picture: “The school is built of mud bricks. Bricks of mud. No straw. Just mud. When it rains…” She paused. “The coops for the chickens are more substantial.”

Yet another: a teacher in front of countless children lecturing in English. “In Tanzania, the children have to know English as well as Swahili. They have to know English by the end of the sixth grade or they can’t go further in school.”

(c) CIA.  Yes, that CIA
Mrs. Eaton is campaigning to purchase and ship a 40-foot cargo container filled with school supplies and textbooks. She is looking for donations of materials and monetary donations to cover the anticipated $20,000.00 expenses. Her goal is to return in the summer months to train local teachers on the use of the books and equipment.

Perhaps the most memorable photo was of a 5’3” Mrs. Eaton along with another missionary standing next to one of the village teachers. With the three adults stood a handsome older teen. “He was most cordial,” Geanie reported. “And he only said one thing - but it was in perfect English: ‘It would be good to have materials.’ He had the biggest smile.”


Hope for the Nations More than a rescue operation, Hope for the Nations (HFTN) works in partnership with local communities and organizations in over 20 countries to provide orphans and vulnerable children with caring homes, health care and education in their communities. Local micro-enterprises and community development projects help to support and finance these efforts. Hope for the Nations makes a difference by starting the process of change: “Today’s Orphans; Tomorrow’s Leaders”


Contributions in support of Mrs. Eaton’s work in Tanzania with Hope for the Nations may be made through the Sierra Bible Church in Sonora, California. SBC’s contact information is readily available on the web.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Part 3 of what, thankfully, is only a three-part series.

THERE ARE STRAIGHT-A CITIZENS among us who read exceedingly well but may not be particularly literate. An individual can read Huckleberry Finn and report exactly what happened. But if the reading does not impact the individual’s perception of poverty or racism or faith or friendship, a strong argument could be made that the reader missed the large part of Sam Clemens’s message.

Can’t we test for this? The principal issue with objective tests to judge reading is the tests’ inability to measure more than yes/no or simple recall and prediction answers. The true test of literacy comes not from recounting what the document says, but revealing what the document does. How does the work inform one’s understanding? How does it move one to action? How does it fit within all of the sources of influence – written and otherwise – to guide one’s decisions, and ultimately one’s life choices? The full impact of the literature may occur decades after the reading of the book.

(c) Time Magazine, 2005
Why do stuff that can’t be easily tested? When we engage in deeper thought, when we access some Bloom-like hierarchy in response to what we’ve read, we more fully benefit from the literature contained therein. With an ever increasing set of information and entertainment options – television, movies on demand, the Internet, text messaging, twittering – and a collective decrease in our patience at “getting to the bottom line,” it is understandable that we don’t access those higher level cognitive skills some circumstances – like voting – demand.

But we do so at our own peril. The amazing experiment that is this country’s democracy was arrived at through passionate disagreement, long oratorical debate, reasoned discourse, and finally compromise for a greater good. The disagreement, debate and compromise involved some of the most well read people of the day: our Founding Fathers. When we allow ourselves to evolve away from the skills and thought processes that provided the foundation for our country, we can do no better than to send representatives to Washington who also lack those skills. Today, we may be seeing the result.

NOW WHAT? Support literacy by practicing it. Here are a few ideas:
  • Be well read.
  • Read often.
  • Read good stuff and “trash.”
  • Understand that a written work must pass editorial scrutiny for accuracy, story line and marketability. Many other information sources only need to be marketable. (Sometimes they only need to be salacious or juicy.)
  • Engage in a conversation with the author, even if it only looks like you’re talking to yourself.
  • Balance what the author is saying with the truths you have established throughout your life. See if those truths budge a little bit.
  • Upon completing the reading of a book or novel – especially a really good one – take a day or two and reflect on it. (I found myself doing this recently with Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain, and then Kiyo Sato’s memoir Kiyo’s Story. I was amazed at how the stories continued to unfold after I’d finished the books; how my appreciation deepened and how the circumstances of each altered my point of view about love and patience, loyalty and patriotism.)
  • Chat with others – particularly your kids – about what you valued in the work you just read.

For the upcoming generation?
  • Let your kids catch you reading.
  • Provide children with lots of material across many genres and topics.
  • Know that one measure of a good juvenile reader is how much time they spend reading. The answer to the question “Does your child read for pleasure?” is more important than “Is your child learning reading skills?” The former will precede the latter.
  • Engage children in discussion about what they’ve read; engage them in questions that demand a bit deeper thought.
  • Limit to some extent (sorry, this one is negative) incessant exposure to entertainment that offers only immediate gratification.
  • Read together.

IN THE FIRST ENTRY OF THIS SERIES, a question was posed: “If you could pick just one major issue confronting America today, and you were to dedicate 100% of your efforts to its resolution, what would be the issue?”

All of the issues posed are critical. And all can be answered by anyone because, like belly buttons, everybody seems to have an opinion. But if our country is to have a secure and prosperous future, the literate among us will likely provide the best solutions.

The good news is that we can all be literate.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, January 7, 2011


Part 2 of what appears to be a three-part series.

READING IS THE FOUNDATION of literacy, along with comprehension. Reading and reading comprehension are, in a sense, tangible. A yes-no answer indicates whether the passage was read. However, when we read simply to find out how to answer a question, the act of reading becomes a mere utility, much like plugging in the iron prior to pressing some shirts.

However, a pressed shirt does not a gentleman make. Literacy is not quite so tangible. Literacy involves many more facets than supplying the correct response to a two-dimensional comprehension question on a fill-in-the-bubble test. Literacy requires what Benjamin Bloom would identify as “Higher Level Thinking” skills. Revised by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001), the hierarchy includes:
  • Remembering - Recognizing, listing, describing, identifying, retrieving, naming, locating, finding
  • Understanding - Interpreting, summarizing, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying
  • Applying - Implementing, carrying out, using, executing
  • Analyzing - Comparing, organizing, deconstructing, attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating
  • Evaluating - Checking, hypothesizing, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing, detecting, monitoring
  • Creating - designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making

IN OUR DAILY LIVES, we are constantly asked to make decisions based upon that which we can remember and move up and down through the taxonomy as required by circumstance: How to get to the store, what to buy once we get there, how to choose from the wide variety of products available, why a product might be more beneficial (either in terms of cost or nutritive quality) than a rival, and what to do with the product or how to prepare the product once we arrive home. In real-world experiences, we climb through Bloom’s hierarchy on a regular basis.

In our academic or work lives, we are not as readily challenged to think or act beyond the “remembering” or “understanding” levels. We remember how to brew coffee and do so. We may read the morning paper but rarely will converse with it. (Truth be told, my wife would prefer it if I “conversed” with the paper just a little bit less each morning.) We follow the same route to work each day. We arrive at our jobs and function within the defined parameters afforded to us. We may plan a long weekend or a vacation now and then. We may or may not write a will or a living trust depending on how ready we are to examine some hard truths attached thereto.

Those who choose to spend at least a little of their time in the realm of literature may find themselves:
  • Understanding the text through conversation with the author, another reader or through introspection;
  • Applying what is revealed to their daily lives and thought, or simply further the arc of the story;
  • Analyzing what has been revealed through the lens of other written works or their own experiences;
  • Evaluating the match between the author’s tenets and the reader’s perception of the truth; and
  • Creating something or acting in a particular manner based upon a new universe of reason or possibility.

All of which may seem like glorified academia until life presents a circumstance that is new, unexpected, particularly joyous or particularly tragic. Take this sad national example:

Google Images
After years of relatively stable domestic circumstance, in 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. This unthinkable event plunged the 46-year-old democracy into a crisis unlike any it had ever faced. While the average citizen may have wondered, “What’s next?” the government was catapulted onto Bloom’s highest rung. It had to do more than simply follow the succession process outlined in their constitution; it had to create stability in the minds of the citizenry where stability had crumbled.

SO WHAT? As citizens – in roles that transcend our academic or vocational lives – we are frequently presented with questions that require higher levels of thinking than how to brew that coffee or what to prepare for dinner. While thankfully not as cataclysmic as the loss of a popularly elected leader, they include:
  • Who shall represent me? How are the candidate’s values and ethics similar or different from my own?
  • What government services are essential to me? What services are essential to others?
  • Is the initiative upon which I am to decide a good thing or a bad thing?
  • And what about taxes? How much is too much and what am I willing to give up in order to pay less?

When these questions arise, our responses can come from sound bites and 30-second impressions and the last thing someone said to us on the topic. Or those bits of information and opinion can be sieved through questions of our own, discussions with others and reason requiring application of the higher-level cognitive skills that the true answers demand.

Literate folks do the latter.  Our country deserves nothing less from its citizenry.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


OVER WHISKEY ONE NIGHT, the following was raised: “If you could pick just one major issue confronting America today, and you were to dedicate 100% of your efforts to its resolution, what would be the issue?”

Almost immediately, a list of concerns was aired:
  • The deficit we are leaving to our children;
  • The rise of corporate power in our democracy;
  • The intractable ways of our dysfunctional Congress;
  • The quagmires in both Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • The inability to confront climate change;
  • The social injustice of poverty;
  • The polarization of our populous brought about by the far right and the far left (but mostly by the far right, I must say, admitting my bias)…

A day or two mulling this question brought me to this singular conclusion: The major issue confronting America is our collective inattention to literacy.

When an author writes, he or she is engaged in an act of creativity. When a reader reads, he or she, too, is engaged in a creative act. The act involves making meaning from abstract symbols. It involves gathering data or information and drawing conclusions. It demands a tenacious examination of all of the elements present in order for a defensible solution to be proposed. (A lousy mystery is one where the writer throws in a fact or element right at the end to justify a conclusion. We’ve all read ‘em.) Literacy provides the foundation for making the abstract concrete; it affords us practice with questions for which we can devise answers.

WERE WE A MORE LITERATE SOCIETY, we would understand:
  • The value of money and influence (ours or the government’s) over time. We would recognize that there are limits to the good credit can do for us and that there are limits to the things we really need to have. We would embrace the consequences attached to debts we accrue.
  • “What’s good for General Motors is good for the US,” is credible only if the ethics driving the business balance what’s good for shareholders with what’s good for the country. We’d know that disconnects between the shareholder and the citizenry are natural and predictable because of that darned “love of money” oracle.
  • We vote for people to make policy on our behalf. We’d know that the implementation of autopilot initiatives and ballot box budgeting inhibit representatives’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities, while affording us opportunity to make policy the impacts of which we cannot fully conceptualize.
  • There are those who do not “hate our way of life” but are jealous of it; and that there are good people who fervently worship in a different manner. (We’d know this because we’d choose to read the Qur’an, rather than have somebody tell us what’s in it.)
  • It is easier to criticize the science than to actually do the science.
  • Assisting the poor to self-sufficiency doesn’t take away from us; it contributes to the betterment of all.
  • Nothing is absolute. There are aspects of life that can be done independently and for profit. And there are equally important societal functions that are done for all. Police and fire protection, education, the justice system and, perhaps, even health care (think: promote the general welfare) come to mind.

AUDI PARTEM ALTERAM: “hear the other side.” When literate, we “get” that the opponent’s point of view is not a threat, it is simply another point of view. When literate, we converse to answer common questions and solve common problems. When literate, we develop the tools necessary to address (dare I say?) all the major issues confronting America.

Societies lacking the logic, reason and thought commonly associated with literacy are mired in conflict, poverty, crime and ignorance. Security, safety and well-being suffer.

Preferring to not go there as a country, I'll put my efforts behind greater literacy for all.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, January 1, 2011


THE LAST TWO WEEKS OF DECEMBER, riders enter the icy basement of the touring season. Days are short. Temperatures dip below freezing and sometimes stay there. The motorcycle is mothballed into a dark crevice of the garage, oil drained, tank topped, battery on slow charge. Draped over the revered chrome and paint is a blanket or two – protection from the elements of the darkened shop. Atop the blanket are misplaced tools, waiting to be rehung or recabineted, or a derelict shop rag. Indeed, the mighty motorcycle, singular pride of the owner, has been demoted to little more that a storage shelf.

During these days, and about through the end of February, riders stay inside by the fire with a cup of coffee or a dram of something stronger. They pour over maps and guidebooks. Motorcycle periodicals are read forward, backward and forward again. Local dealers are visited by folks knowing it’s safe to look, even to touch, but unsafe to test ride in icy conditions. Polite salespeople make conversation resigned that this is the season of low commission.

(c) Ducati SpA - USA
I HAD YET TO “CUT THINGS OFF” or “make things right” with the “other woman.” A shipping blanket covers my GSA and, while I think longingly of the open road on that great machine, I still can’t avoid thinking of the little Ducati, her fluid lines and accommodating – even inviting - pillion and how responsive and lithe she might feel in a series of twisting switchbacks or running free along a high straightaway in the forested high country. In idle times, I am serenaded by the throaty report of her Termi exhausts and recall how the Italians understand form, function, color and sound and how these elements always seem to add up to something exotic and sensual. Something out of reach to the likes of me.

Removing a shop rag and a couple of end wrenches from the blanketed BMW, I shake myself into sensibleness and realize I must end it. I must make it down to the Ducati dealer, confront the little GT1000 and tell her that it is never to be.

Driving to the dealer, I expect the 2008 to be off in a corner, a dark place out of the traffic pattern for the dealer. Last time I was down there, I really had to look for her.

“Ducati builds motorcycles for a different market,” the salesman had said. “The retro style on this bike may be what you and I want, but apparently, the Ducatisti are looking for something else.”

“Too bad for them,” I tell him.

“I can make you a deal,” he says.

(c) Ducati SpA - USA
Ducati has discontinued the so-called sport-classic line. The last of the 2009s were marketed as 2010s and most dealers aren’t ordering up examples for show rooms. Now, on the cusp of another new year, the inventory has dwindled and few – very few – new ones are left on dealer floors anywhere. Still, I expect the silver and gray ’08 to be off in a cold corner, much like my BMW at home, waiting for someone to introduce her to one of those byways in the spring.

It won’t be me, however. I’m cutting her off. I’m not going to straddle her broad, comfortable seat, or twist her eager throttle. I’m not going to pull her clutch and shift through her five or six gears. I’m not going to sit there and imagine the songs her exhausts might sing. I’m just going to tell the salesman that she and I need some time. Alone.

I OPEN THE DOOR to the dealership and am immediately recognized. Without rising from the sales desk to shake my hand, I am told, “She’s gone.”


“Yep, gone.” Now the salesman rises. “Last week.”

I want to walk over to the dark corner of the show room just to make sure.

“Trust me.”

I stop. “How much?”

“You really want to know?”


“Just under eighty-five hundred.”

“That, that bitch.”

“Wh- what?”

“She sold for two grand less than retail?”  I am incredulous.

He shakes his head: “Three grand.”

I slump into the chrome-legged customer chair at the sales desk, and hang my head, muttering.

After a time, the salesman says, rather pointedly, “You gonna buy something today?”

NORMALLY, despondency is cured by a couple of hours riding some back road. But today, the outside temperature is 38. A covering of tule fog tells me that 38 is all it will get to be. I sit in the cab of my pickup wondering about what might have been. Condensation fogs the windows. It takes nearly five minutes for the glass to clear and during that time I determine I’ll take the long way home.

Traveling east on Auburn Boulevard, I pass the usual businesses – the muffler shop, the pancake house, the topless “gentleman’s” club, the Triumph dealer.

The Triumph dealer!

I wheel in.

(c) TriumphUK
In the window - looking like an earthy, late-sixties counter-culture lass, one dressed in well-worn khaki and flannel, rugged, yet steeped in a mellowness perhaps the result of several cannabis-fueled summer evenings singing by a roaring Humboldt County beach campfire – an old-looking new Bonneville. The T-100 model. Nineteen inch front wheel. Pea-shooter pipes. Tank, a luscious cream over chocolate with hand-painted coach lines.

With both feet lightly planted on the showroom floor, I lift the bike off her sidestand, pull in the clutch and twist the throttle. I wonder what she’ll sing to me on the road.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press