Thursday, February 18, 2010

I was in Hillsborough County traffic court last night on the 6:00PM docket. My case was one of the last few called so I got to see several cases go before mine. One in particular stands out. I don't recall the names involved.

A man and his friend were seated behind me and to my left. One of them was called to the lecturn. His hearing was about a couple of tickets for infractions committed during an incident that had occurred in 2005. He had been stopped for speeding and at some point during the stop, chose to take his chances with running. Evidently there'd been a number of charges stemming from this incident, some of which he'd spent 28 months in prison for. This hearing was for the last two remaining citations. They were for driving on the wrong side of the road and crossing a median to do so. This man maintained that he did not, in fact, do these things. When given an opportunity to cross examine the citing officer he started out okay, but ultimately his anger got the better of him and he got loud and argumentative. His friend was having a lot of difficulty containing himself and ended up leaving the courtroom (maybe he realized that his emotions couldn't help his friend). The hearing officer did a reasonable job of keeping the defendant calm enough and the officer did an admirable job of not engaging too much in the argument. As the case proceeded, it became fairly clear that this guy was not convincing the court of his innocence and was being a rather poor character witness for himself in the process. Despite all of this the hearing officer checked with the arresting officer to see if he had any recommendations for sentencing. The arresting officer deferred to the court for its decision.

Our hero, recognizing that he's about to be sentenced, started running his mouth again about the fines for the speeding ticket, plus the jail time he'd already served and then the fines he had to pay for the DUI (which had not even come up until this point). Bringing up that he'd already been found guilty of DUI couldn't have done the veracity of his testimony any favors in the eyes of the court. The hearing officer, firmly but politely told the man to stop, that this was not helping his case at all. Despite all of the drama and thinly veiled anger with authority that this man demonstrated, the hearing officer chose to withhold adjudication on the offences that he was charged with. This would prevent these tickets from adding any additional time to the suspension of his license. Between fines and court costs, he was given an opportunity to close the door on that unpleasant chapter of his life for about $350. As he left the courtroom, it was abundantly clear that he was not seeing this as a positive outcome, and I found myself hoping that he'd alter his perspective on things. About twenty minutes went by between him leaving the courtroom and my case being dismissed. As I walked out there were five or six law enforcement vehicles from various agencies out front. A close look revealed that the man who'd just seen some mercy from the court was in the back of one of them. I don't know what he did to land back there, but it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to guess that he probably tried to engage the officer verbally and ended up under arrest.

I have conflicting feelings about what I saw last night. I don't know if it would have been possible to show this man what he was so clearly unable to see. To show him that his own actions put him where he was, to show him that despite his hostile attitude, the court really was making an effort to show him some leniency, to show him that he had a real opportunity to make a choice about what the future was going to be like. We all have the ability to decide what we're willing to accept for our own futures. Too few of us make a conscious decision to maintain better control of our destinies, but it really can be that simple. To decide that, to whatever extent you're capable, you will ensure that you don't put yourself into ridiculous circumstances, that you won't compromise your own integrity, or that you will hold yourself to a higher standard is a commitment that can be deliberately made. Whether or not this is process can be triggered by another person is unknown to me. I recall a specific night, in my teens, during which I decided that my life was not going to be out of control and that I was going to be a better person than I was that night. I was fortunate to have this epiphany at a young age and I've been successful in keeping that promise to myself.

We certainly don't have the ability to control every aspect of our lives. Assuming responsibility for how we wield the control that we do have, however, can make a huge difference in how we live our lives and where on the spectrum we might find ourselves on a "bad day". I sincerely hope that yesterday turns out to be a turning point for the man in the back of the cop car.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Riding a motorcycle the right (less wrong?) way - Part two

It's been nearly a month since our last installment and I'm actually preparing for another trip to the racetrack. We left off at the end of part one having identified a goal that would hopefully allow my brain to take in more information and maybe even be able to learn from it. Leading up to the trip I'd decided that I needed an easy way to evaluate my intensity level while riding. Joe suggested wiggling my elbows. At first blush this idea seems pretty ridiculous, but it turns out to be very effective. It's not possible to do this unless you're calm and loose.

I'd planned to ride Saturday and Sunday and was prepared to pay cash and ride Monday too. Another good, if somewhat crash prone, friend Aaron would be accompanying me for the weekend. For this particular trip, on Saturday the track was run clockwise which is opposite the normal direction. I'd only done a couple of lead-follow laps in this direction prior to this track day so the track was almost completely unfamiliar to me in that configuration, making it even easier to avoid falling into old habits. The lack of a well rehearsed line combined with several decreasing radius corners, forced me to keep a sane, safe pace that allowed me to remain calm. By the end of the day I was noticing that in addition to getting quicker, I was better able to process the visual information that the track was presenting to me. I was able to recognize earlier in each corner if my speed and/or line needed adjustment. As these adjustments were made I had spare brain cycles to alter the entry plan for the next lap and would more often than not remember it when I arrived at the corner again. Some of this can likely be attributed to the natural learning curve for what was effectively a new track, but it felt good regardless. By the end of the day it seemed that I'd made some progress and achieved the goal of remaining calm and loose.

Sunday saw the return of the familiar counter-clockwise track layout. It also brought the surprise arrival of Steve and Joe (yes that guy from part one). The goals remained the same, "stay calm, stay loose". Through the morning I was successful at remaining calm, I was noticing more and more 'stuff' as the day progressed. It felt completely natural to start associating these recognizable things with actions that I was taking on the bike, next thing I know, I'm developing a mental list of markers and associated actions (sounds kinda like Joe's mental checklist, doesn't it). As the day went on and I got more and more comfortable on the bike I started looking at other bikes again. I felt my focus moving away from staying calm and moving towards chase mode again. As soon as I recognized this, I decided that I needed a distraction. I proceded to act as if I had no brakes. This is a somewhat well known excercise that helps develop a better sense of speed, more trust in the front end, and ultimately leads to faster corner entry, higher mid corner speeds and earlier application of throttle on corner exit. By not using the brakes I had to go slower on the straights in order to enter corners at a speed that would also allow me to exit on the pavement, this took the chase right out of the equation while still giving my mind plenty of entertainment. I finished the day feeling good. I'd stayed calm for most of the day, was able to recognize and then correct myself when I wasn't, had a good time and best of all, I didn't test any of my equipment's crash worthiness.

It's back to the track this weekend where I hope to continue along the same path. I'm also feeling that with all this newfound calmness and spare brain cycles, maybe I can teach myself a new trick. The really fast guys use the front and rear brakes. I typically dare not touch the rear brake pedal, but why not give it a shot? If I'm staying calm and cautious the worst I'll do is learn something, right?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Riding a motorcycle the right (less wrong?) way - Part one

This will be a multipart story

So I've been riding motorcycles in one way or another since I was about thirteen. I really do have a great time, and once in a while I convince myself that I'm getting to be pretty good at it. That's about the time I learn some small piece of information that again convinces me that I've got it all wrong.

The most recent revelation of my two-wheeled ineptitude came as such things frequently do, in the midst of a conversation with someone that I reluctantly acknowledge is better at this than I am. I've chased Joe on one motorcycle or another for about six years now. We started on 250cc two stroke dirtbikes, moved on to streetbikes, and eventually made our way to an asphalt racetrack. Early on, things looked good for me. I was able to jump out front and hang on just well enough to make my ego feel pretty good. Joe was somewhere behind me, making and crossing off mental checklists. I was having the time of my life, too much adrenaline flowing to think of anything other than getting in front of the next bike. Fast forward a couple years and Joe is routinely whooping up on me and my attempts to keep up are resulting in more and more personal safety equipment tests.

Riding gear is expensive, and after you've walked away from a few crashes, some nastier than others, you kinda start to think that maybe continuing to play these odds isn't such a great idea. So I swallowed whatever pride I still hung onto and had a talk (actually several, I'm sure, but for the sake of the story we'll pretend that I only need to be told such things once instead of dozens of times) with my friend.

It turns out that at similar lap times, we're having significantly different experiences inside our respective helmets. Once I get within 1.5 seconds of my personal best lap time at the track, things are pretty intense. It's best characterized as the kind of effort that superheroes are portrayed to be exerting when doing things like reversing the spin of the earth. Complete tunnel vision, no coherent thoughts to speak of, just an unbridled push to go harder, faster, NOW! At the same lap time, Joe is crossing items off his mental checklist. He has markers for everything, little variations in surface color mark braking, turn in, apex, throttle on, and shift points for every corner on the track. He's knows if he's on a fast lap based on where in relation to some mark he ends up going for an upshift. While I've been white-knuckling around this place for the last 3 years, he's been studying every inch of the racing line. Joe's speed is smooth and relatively effortless compared with the frenetic display of ever leaning horizon that my brain attempts to consume while navigating my approximation of a racing line.

This isn't the first time that I've witnessed him carefully select a curriculum for himself and through disciplined study and execution march towards an enviable level of proficiency (he's pretty damned good with a guitar too) and it probably won't be the last. So I decided to go back to kindergarten and try to do it right this time. After much discussion (we're playing down how much, remember?) and a bit of thought I decided that the important thing that Joe's method gives him that mine doesn't is calm. He has all of his markers by virtue of leaving himself sufficient brain cycles to acquire them. The plan was simple, remain calm.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is this thing on?

Been more than a year. I guess I'm not much of a blogger. Things are pretty different this year. I work for a different company with a very different culture (I'm not sure I'm compatible, but options are somewhat limited these days, no?) I've added an aquarium to post pictures of and may even do that in the future. I returned to Jennings GP last month after a long break, maybe I'll write some about that trip too as it was rather interesting (to me anyway).

Last couple of weekends with Christy and the kids have been pretty cool. Two Saturdays ago, I took them all to a motocross racing school at Dade City MX track. It was a bit of a rough start but once loosened up everyone did really well. I was especially impressed with the improvement in Christy's form on the bike. Cailan showed some real bravery in riding the MX track, she didn't want to at first, but I talked her into trying it for one lap, after which she could park her bike under a tree if she didn't like it. She did three laps before pulling in with a big grin on her face. Colin was very ambitious and ended up somewhat disappointed that he didn't do any jumping. I was very proud of what he accomplished while there. We look forward to heading back after the weather cools down a bit.

Speaking of cooling down, on Christy's suggestion we took them ice skating at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon last Sunday. Again the kids showed impressive form after overcoming a bit of initial wobbliness. Cailan was up for everything and when the time came went straight for the limbo line. She knocked the stick down on her first try. I cleared it, but then immediately wiped out aggravating an old shoulder injury. When they got tired or had a particularly rough fall, the kids would park in the penalty box for a few minutes until they were ready for more. During one of their breaks I saw Christy and chased her down. Right as I caught up to her she did a belly flop directly in front of me, as I dodged, swerved and jumped, her skate caught my shin a bit. She got some bruises I got a cut, we all laughed.

Overall things are better for me than they are for a lot of people. There's a lot of uncertainty and concern, particularly over financial matters, in our country these days. I don't have a lot of faith in the things that our country's leadership is doing in the name of trying to make things better. Generally speaking, it seems that trying to spend your way out of a debt problem is not just likely to fail, but destined to make things a whole lot worse before it does. I'm always cautious of people that claim something must be done right away, in my experience those people are trying to get something established before some other piece of information is discovered. That seems to be happening more often than not in government lately. It feels like we move from one hotspot to the next in these weekly news cycles where something will be talked up with much fuss made about it in advance of a decision to spend a ridiculous amount of money we don't really have on it. Then it's off to the next hot topic. When the week of frenzy is unsuccessful in gaining the necessary support for massive spending, then it is put back in the queue for another attempt in a couple of weeks. Those who are thoughful and outspoken are drowned out by the loud and vitriolic partisan arguments, until they've just grown too weary to try being heard anymore. The machine is running amok, and I'm increasingly of the opinion that the best course of action for the time being is to ignore it as much as possible, be available and good to your people (family, friends, etc.). After all, they only have power because a large enough group of people believe they do.

Hrm, this ended up going all over the place. Oh well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Adventures in commuting

As is the norm in our morning routine, I take the kids to their daycare on my way to work. Today was no exception. We pull out of the driveway and are off. A squeaky belt under the hood reminds me that the car is wanting a bit of attention. About a mile from the house at a traffic light, the belt gets much more persistent. I rev the motor a couple times as this usually placates the beast. The noise stops. A bunch of dummy lights in the instrument cluster light up and when the light turns green I notice the need for much more effort to make my right turn. That belt drove the alternator and the power steering pump. With nothing really to be done about it at that point, I press on and drops the kids off at daycare.

Pulling out of the parking lot it's about 7:30. I assume that the parts stores aren't open yet, and point the Subaru towards work. Whip out the cell phone and find Goog411 in my contacts list, place the call. AutoZone near my work is open and has my belt in stock. They're still 18 miles away, in morning rush hour this seems pretty far to go with no alternator. He advises me to pull into the nearest AutoZone or even his competitor Advance Auto Parts if I must and replace the belt. Atypically of me, I actually hear and heed the voice of reason.

Continuing down the road I double check that I'm not running any unnecessary electrical components, radio off,fan off, headlights off, dome light switch in off position just in case. Back to the cell phone, this time it's Google Maps. Where is the nearest AutoZone? Behind me. So much for the voice of reason. Where is the nearest Advance Auto Parts? Looks to be about 10 miles up the road. I'm getting paranoid about the battery and take a chance, I pull into a garage. They don't have my belt in stock. Battery has enough juice to restart the car so I motor on. I sweet talk the car another 4 miles down the road and I see the AutoZone sign. I literally start singing AutoZone commercial songs to the car.

I go in, buy the belt and some disposable gloves, borrow a 12mm socket and ratchet. The socket cracks trying to loosen the belt tensioner. (Their loaner tools remind me of some of the first tools I bought as a teenager, junk.) I go back in, dig through their toolbox, find a 12mm combination wrench and head back out to the car. I can't get to the bolt heads and actually turn them with the wrench. I go back inside pull a 12mm socket off the wall and walk to the counter. I show the guy his busted POS 12mm socket and ask him to ring me up for the one I just pulled off the wall so I can finish up and go to work. Instead, he roots around in the toolbox for five minutes or so to prove to himself that there really isn't another 12mm socket in there. I finally buy the socket fix the belt and have an otherwise uneventful drive to work.

Not having a car payment is nice but I think that if I'm going to drive older cars I need to be more prepared for things like this. I'll buy another belt and toss it in the back with the spare tire. I might put together a crude toolkit of my own too.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Track report February 16th & 17th 2008

Another track weekend has come and gone. Aside from being a little sore we've all (bikes and humans) returned unscathed. Here's some pictures.

I had a really rough start. Around last Wednesday I'd started to get a bit of a sore throat, Thursday it had escalated to headaches and runny nose. On Friday I felt like it was tapering off and that by Saturday morning I'd be fine for sure. So Friday morning Joe and I loaded everything up, I slipped into my role as transporter, and we aimed the rig north. We got to the track and setup shop. My co-worker Luke arrived with his bike a little after we did, so we helped get him setup too, all the while I'm popping Ibuprofen and DayQuil when I can. After dinner on the way back to the track I knew I was in trouble. It was cold outside but I was shivering uncontrollably. When we got back to the track, Joe setup a bed for me. I was in double layered sweat pants, a long sleeve shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, wool ski socks, a sleeping bag and two heavy blankets on top of that. I felt like being sunburned in a hot shower, I got a little delirious for a few minutes and then mercifully passed out for a couple hours. I woke up drenched but human again, peeled of some layers and slept the rest of the night. By the second session on Saturday morning I was within one second of my fastest time ever on the track. I think that sometimes the line between determination, stupidity, and luck simply goes on vacation.

This event was put on by Rob Johns, a track friend of ours for a couple of years now. It was his first effort at organizing and hosting a track event. The organization is called Track Attack, his sticker now adorns the front right of both my, and Joe's track bikes. He didn't seem to think that hosting a track event was enough and had a fund raiser for the Red Flag Fund this weekend as well. There were raffles and auctions of donated gear. I won a highly useful kickstand replacement called "The Krutch" and some truly horrendous (on me at least) sunglasses. They had Sonny's BBQ bring in dinner Saturday night. Rob even managed to get some truly fast guys to come out and show the rest of us around the track a bit. There was a mock race on both Saturday and Sunday between some of the hot talent. We were allowed to stand behind the jersey barrier at the front straight and watch. They were just goofing around at a pace over 10 seconds a lap faster than what Joe and I typically run. It was really amazing to see up close. The cherry on top was a lead/follow session (track ride where speed is controlled by event staff) in the opposite direction of what the track is always run in. Safety concerns prevent running the track in reverse at speed, but I'm told that there are serious discussions among the powers that be about making the necessary safety modifications to allow for it.

Sunday night we had dinner at a Japanese Steakhouse called Mori in Valdosta with about eighteen other track addicts ( I bet you can't guess what the dinner conversation was about!). We crashed at the track, then packed up and drove home this morning. I'm wiped out, more than a little sore, but happy.