Saturday, June 28, 2008

Licensed Organ Donor

I am that much closer to enjoying the open road with nothing between me and Mother Nature but a sophisticated machine on two wheels. Sensing my limits, I enrolled in a basic rider course at the
local Harley Davidson dealership. I know what I know and riding a motorcycle isn’t one of those things. I have been riding a bicycle for a long time. I even spent a good amount of time commuting to work and school on a road bike. So I like to think that I have an idea of what people mean when they say that motorcyclists are invisible to most drivers. I often felt that way riding my bike. It never failed to surprise me when a car would pull out in front of me or cut in front of me just to brake hard and make a turn. And it’s not as if I was trying to be chic with my gear. My bike is red and I routinely wear either a white or yellow jersey. I guess that car drivers are looking for other 2000+ lb killing machines such as themselves. No really. When driving your car you look for threats or obstacles in your path. In a large vehicle, this means cars or trucks and other big things like signs, trees, and buildings. Sure we are taught in drivers education to watch the shoulders for cyclists and sidewalks for pedestrians and animals, but they don’t pose an immediate ‘threat’ to a car driver. They are more of a nuisance and you’ll get in trouble if you come in contact with one them. It is this type of limited vision that fuels national motorcycle awareness campaigns like ‘Start Seeing Motorcycles’.

So I took this class. The class was limited to 9 participants, which was a bonus. After formal introductions, including the token get to know you games, we were ushered out of our classroom into the dealership. Now, I have to mention that as a student in the class you are given a lanyard that says ‘Riders Edge Student’. This is your golden ticket. Sales people leave you alone and you are free to browse the merchandise and motorcycles unmolested. We were given the 99 cent tour. No area of the dealership was left undiscovered (except the finance department because who wants to talk about having to pay for this stuff, it is just cool and remember that). We had two evenings of classroom learning. Flash back to drivers education but everyone is middle aged and we are talking about motorcycles. Yeah, that part was kind of lame. We had to learn where the handlebars are and what they do (I’m not kidding). On Saturday, we spent 9 hours out on a driving range set up behind their warehouse. We were provided 500cc motorcycles made by Harley Davidson’s sport brand Buell. We learned everything from clutch control and emergency braking to counter steering and figure eights. The only thing missing was parallel parking. On Sunday, we did more of the same for 8 hours but at higher speeds and with exercises aimed at combining several skills. The only flaw with the range training was the environmental conditions. The very same Mother Nature that we were trying to get closer to was not nice to us. The days were clear and the sky was a deep blue. However, it was 115 degrees on Saturday and 113 degrees on Sunday. To anyone of you out there who cannot imagine this, neither could I. Normally when it is that hot outside, I make every effort to limit my time outside. Not only did I spend a combined 17 hours out in that heat but I had to wear boots, long pants, a full face helmet, long sleeves, and gloves. Not to mention that waiting for your turn sitting on the black seat of a radiating engine is not the most comfortable thing one can do.

I learned a lot, passed my written and driving tests, and would recommend the class to anyone looking to learn the rules of motorcycling. Not to be naïve, the class is not without its pitfalls. Two people crashed during our range exercises. One of those did not continue with the class. Of the 9, only 5 of us qualified for a motorcycle endorsement on our drivers license. 3 others passed the written test but not the driving portion and qualified for motorcycle permits. This allows them to ride a motorcycle during the day only for 6 months at which time they can attempt the driving test again at a local MVD. The statistics speak for themselves. If you take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation sanctioned skills course, your chances of being in an accident are reduced. And you qualify for a discount on your insurance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Sounds of Nature

Our senses are intricately connected in a way that science cannot explain. One example of this is the sensations that we perceive through all of our senses although perhaps only one particular sense was stimulated. For example, when you hear the sound of rain what comes to mind? That's just it, something comes to mind. Upon just hearing the sound of rain through our ears, we can almost see the dark sky with its varying shades of gray extending to the horizons. You can feel the moisture in the air as the hairs on your arm raise in anticipation of the next lightning strike. Your skin is slightly moist and cool. The smell of rain is most refreshing. It smells like life. Now, what if I show you a picture of a pristine beach with its transparent blue waters, bleached white sandy beaches, and tropical shade trees? You could probably feel the sun warming your skin and the fine grains of sand between your toes. The smell of the salty ocean air fills your lungs, and the sound of the wind through palm fronds reminds you of why the beach is the ideological perfect getaway.

This reinforces the belief that deep relaxation works. In some forms of guided deep relaxation, you focus your consciousness on different body parts to elevate their relaxed state. Often times, the facilitator will have you close your eyes and picture yourself of a beach focusing on those sensations that I mentioned. All the time trying to fool your senses into feeling something that they really are not. The mind is a powerful machine. Getting back to my original thought, certain images, sounds, smells, and textures trigger sensations in our other senses. I am sure that everyone could recognize the cologne or perfume of their significant other if confronted with the choice. The same goes for looking at old year books. Try going through your high school yearbooks without feeling something. Whether it be a heart flutter at the sight of your old crush or a rise in blood pressure from seeing the dick in your freshman Geometry class.

So, I was thinking about this idea that certain senses cause a chain reaction of sensations based on familiarity with things. Specifically, I was thinking about the sounds that you hear outside. I connect the sound of the river with camping, the highway with work, and so forth. I thought about Phoenix, where I currently live. What is the 'sound' of Phoenix? I tried to think of a defining sound that would be identifiable by any other resident of the area. I couldn't come up with anything. Then last night I went for a late run. As I was finishing and walking the last couple of blocks back to our house, I turned off my iPod and listened. Nothing, just the hum of an air conditioner. But it never went away. I then tried to hear the air conditioner and it was everywhere. Nearly every house had their air conditioner running. The hum was slightly annoying and yet not entirely, like white noise. This must be the sound of Phoenix! As we are in full swing of summer, with 112+ days and nights that cool to the mid-80s the sound is with us. I guess that in the's the sound of life.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Unexpectedly Awesome

This week, I was in New Mexico again. But this time I was down south in Las Cruces. For those of you not familiar with the area, Las Cruces is the first sizable town in New Mexico when traveling west on I-10 from El Paso. It is home to the New Mexico State Aggies. Myself and a few other coworkers decided to take in a little of the local attractions while in town. We first visited a farmers market. To much disappointment, the market did not have many participants and therefore made for an outing similar to that of a visit to the local flea market, but with New Mexican fleas. I was not impressed and not very enthusiastic about trying something else.

Those local to the area endorsed a visit to the White Sands National Monument just over an hour away. The monument is located adjacent to the military's missile test facility. We were also advised that the highway leading to the monument is closed twice a week for a few hours for testing. My interest was definitely piqued by now with the chance at witnessing a missile test, even if from afar. So after work on Tuesday, our band of six headed for the White Sands. Unfortunately, we did not see any activity at the missile test range, but we were stopped by border patrol agents ensuring that all in our party were American citizens. The illusion of security is omnipresent. We made it just in time for the 7 o'clock sunset ranger guided tour.

The experience was surreal. At one point, we were driving along the highway in the middle of your typical New Mexican landscape. There was brown openness covered in brush and dotted with the occasional power line. You can see the Organ Mountains in the distance, famous for their unusual profile that resembles a pipe organ. All of a sudden you begin to see snow drifts! No they aren't snow drifts, but they are so white. What else could be that white? Believe it or not gypsum sand is that white. Yes, it is the same gypsum that is used in drywall or gypsum board as it is sometimes called. It is super fine and highly alkaline. The sands are the remnants of a prehistoric lake bed. Needless to say, I was impressed. The dunes are perfect for jumping. The sand compacts well due to its small particle size and partial solubility. So you are able to run right up to the edge and jump off. The sand on the leeward side is soft and comforts your fall. We had so much fun that myself and one other individual went back last night. We hiked further into the dunes. The further you go the more desolate the landscape becomes. Signs of live are few and far between. It feels like another planet. The contours in the ground caused by wind and rain, the sand's contrast against the intensely blue sky, and the lack of vegetation is alien to most. If you get the chance to visit. I highly recommend it. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised, but be sure to bring plenty of water and maybe a sled.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Just Poor Decision Making

I work in the banking industry. Consequently, I hear and see things that happen to people, financially speaking of course. There is a lot of money in finance. You want something that you either can't afford to buy outright, or don't want to sink a sizable portion of your assets into one investment. So you leverage. You make a minimal capital contribution (down payment) and finance the rest over a reasonable period of time. All the while paying your banker the opportunity cost of lending you the money (interest). This is how things are normally done. It is not a secret or mystery. It is also known that you cannot get something for nothing. A prudent banker will require that you establish an equity position (as evidenced by non-refundable earnest money or a down payment) before financing the acquisition of some asset. For houses this has historically been 20%.

This all changed when real estate began heating up over the past 10 years or so. Competition was steep among banks and finance companies. This caused bankers to reduce and eventually get rid of the equity requirement that had been there in the past to protect them. To further the problem, bankers decided that owning a home was not only the American Dream but also a right of which everyone should partake. So what happened? Well, it got easier to get a loan. Not only did you not have to put any money into buying the house but you didn't have to have a good history of repaying debts or verifiable income to make those payments. So we have a lot of people in houses that don't belong there. I hate to say it, but it is true.

Recent news tells me that even the big and powerful of Hollywood are caught up in the crisis. Ed McMahon has defaulted on $4.8 million in mortgage loans on his $5.6 million dollar Beverly Hills estate. He is over $600 thousand dollars behind. Now granted, he suffered a broken neck in 2007 and had two subsequent surgeries in early 2008. However...this is no excuse. Mr. McMahon turned 85 earlier this year. I am not saying that he should not or can not have a mortgage due to his proximity to expiration. I am simply saying that he should have planned better. In the 1990s, Ed McMahon was worth an excess of $200 million mostly in real estate holdings particularly in Malibu, California. Somehow, that is gone now. He may lose his home to foreclosure. Is it his fault, his accountants, or mortgage brokers? I am not sure. But one thing is for was just poor decision making.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gone are the days...

A friend and I were talking the other day about nothing in particular. It's funny how that happens. And when you are done talking you don't even remember what it was that you said. The conversation may have been meaningless or perhaps not. But now consciously thinking about that conversation, I am intrigued by its carelessness. It didn't matter what we talked about or for how long we lingered on subjects that were trivial in nature. There were no decisions to be made, no points to deliberate, no conclusions to reach. We were free. Free to speak of anything, everything, or nothing. I often find myself caught up in the realism that seems to be adulthood. Responsibility consumes my, job, finances, and other practical issues. I don't spend enough time just shootin' the breeze with my wife or close friends.

When I was in middle and even high school it seems like all I did was waste time. I would often spend hours in my room...alone, listening to music and drawing or making jewelry. Yes, that used to be a hobby of mine and I enjoyed it. My friends and I would spend full days hangin' out. We would pick up pizzas from the local pie shop and play Nintendo all night long. I even remember sneaking out into the backyard of one of my friends' house to take a leak. As flushing the toilet would alert his parents that we were still awake.

Those were the days. I think that we all need to waste more time enjoying ourselves and talking about nothing. For that is how relationships are made and kept. People always say that it is good to 'take time to smell the roses'. What I think they actually mean is that we should take time from being adults to enjoy the careless bliss that is being a kid and enjoying things that may not be important.