Uneasy Rider September 2017

Uneasy Rider: The Path to Righteousness Is a Motorcycle, a Map, and an Open Mind

I just returned from eleven days on the road in Big Vancy, CityBike’s mags ‘n’ motos-hauling Transit 250. The point of the trip was to go riding in Colorado with legendary adventurer and longtime CityBike columnist Doc Frazier, to spend some time away. Away from work, away from deadlines, away from the day-to-day. Just me and Angelica on the road together, breathing, riding, living. It didn’t quite work out that way, but I’ll definitely tell you more about the riding next month.

It was a phenomenal trip, but it was also impossible to ignore context and current events. The state of the nation has weighed heavily on my mind in recent months, and I don’t mean in the oversimplified “my side good, your side bad” way that seems to unavoidably shape public discourse today.

My punk rock roots go deep, deeper than my motorcycling roots even. I remember the lyrics of early punk music, concerned with racism, even Nazis, and the fear of nuclear war—a real fear back then. I remember thinking as I aged that those lyrics were becoming less relevant, that young punks coming up, learning of these old-timey punk bands via music streaming services wouldn’t understand the unbridled rage, the societal background, the vitality and meaning of this music. Racism didn’t disappear, to be sure, but it felt to me—to many—like we’d made significant progress, fought it back to some extent, so it was afraid to show its face, unhooded, in polite society. Nazis? Driven underground, barely a thing. Nuclear war? The stuff of comedy skits.

And yet, there I was in the van, pondering the surreality of  Neo-Nazis marching in the streets, racists unafraid of being caught on camera as if their hateful stupidity was just fine, and our President alternating between dog whistle approval of this base backwardness and apocalyptic posturing toward North Korea, a country that seems to be working diligently to join the “we can end the world with our nukes too” club.

I think a lot of our country’s problems can be solved by simply getting out of our comfort zones: urbanites traveling to the “flyover states” instead of just flying over them on the way to carefully curated experiential vacations, rural residents visiting cities now and then, instead of acting like “A Country Boy Can Survive” is a fact-based cautionary tale. Every time I’m on the road, I spin my gears on how the way we think about ourselves, our fellow Americans, is so inaccurate, so prejudiced. Yeah, we’re all very different—but almost all of us are pretty ok, too.

This latest shit… man, we got issues, issues that make DI’s “Falling Out” seem like a quaint nursery rhyme, and the Dead Kennedys’ “Gone With My Wind” a chilling prediction.

If you’re about to abandon reading this to compose an “I’m tired of politics, stick to motorcycling” email, let me tell you that there’s good news, topical to bikes even. If you’re still not on board, by all means, plant your head in the sand and write that oh-so-thoughtful email, as if ignoring the catch-all unpleasantry of “politics” is actually an intelligent plan. Motorräder Über Alles, bro.

If you’re still with me, here’s the good news: riding your motorcycle more will help solve America’s problems, at least the ones caused by us-versus-them divisiveness.

This is a real solution, not like the time I proposed a crowdfunding campaign to pay for me to ride to Southern California more frequently to solve the drought, back when it seemed the skies would only open up when I’d ride south of Gilroy.

Talk to any inclusive thought leader in one of the larger cities, and you’ll likely hear about how the dum-dums in the less woke parts of the countries don’t get it. Talk to any righteously indignant small-towner, and you’ll get the opposite of that story: them big city folk don’t understand how hard it is out here. Dumb it down to blue versus red states if you like, although that’s part of the problem and also inaccurate.

That’s the nice version: you’ll often get a more hostile, hateful take, the speaker secure in their position on the high road while clearly not recognizing their own ignorant hypocrisy, the plank in their own eye.

But those of us who’ve ridden or otherwise traveled beyond the comfortable, intellectually-reassuring Bay Area often tell similar stories of “nice people everywhere.” Almost without exception, I’m charmed and refreshed by my interactions with Americans of all stripes, every time I get out of The Bay.

If you’re preemptively firing up a rant about how that’s my white privilege speaking and I should check it, check yourself and ease off the kneejerk canned responses for a minute, because the constant downward lecturing from people who hand out accusations of mansplaining every time a male human opens his mouth is part of the problem, even if their supposedly-sensitive hearts are in the right place. And if you’re thinking, “Check out this special snowflake libtard hogwash,” you should also check yourself, because such Nugent-esque dismissals aren’t intelligent or even clever, they’re just an easy identifier of lazy, backward thinking, a red badge of intellectual courage lacking—also part of the problem.

Remember how I said most of us are pretty ok? The ones that aren’t are a pretty small percentage. Yes, you might encounter someone that doesn’t treat women as equals, or hates LGBTQXYZeveryotherletterapparently, and you might even discover a real live Racist in its natural habitat. You might run into someone who’s just having a bad day, and some people are just equal opportunity jerks. I didn’t say walking the walk would be easy, and some folks aren’t gonna be open to discussion.

But we were all born this way, whatever way that is, and I think you’ll mostly find good people with similar levels of unease when encountering The Other: new, different people. A good way to address that is for more Americans to see more of America and other Americans, to put in the work of interacting with each other more, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable or alienating.

Like I said, it’s a real solution, but it’s a small-steps solution, requiring a whole lot of us to start a-walking. Or riding, in this case. So get on your motorcycle and ride cross-country in the name of peace, love, and the American way!

This story originally appeared in our September 2017 issue, which you can read in all its high-res glory here.