Posted by: silverback | 2015/02/22

remain calm

People like to freak out, At least, that’s my perception. We get so wrapped up in our first-world problems that we so often forget that life is about love and happiness, and that it’s our choice to exist in that space – not at all dependent on external factors. Stuff doesn’t make us happy. Circumstances don’t make us happy. We find happiness, in the form of peace or serenity, or gratitude, simply in staying present. For most of us, there is nothing wrong in this moment. If you’re able to read this, for instance, a) you’re alive, b) you have electricity and internet service c) you have time for luxurious things like surfing said internet. I’d say life is pretty fucking good.

Last night, my soon-to-be fiance and I were heading to the big party. We rode our bikes, because the annual party is called “Bike Love.” There was some nervousness, because she knew I was planning something, and there was some discombobulation, because we were trying to get the three rambunctious boys all set with the terrified babysitter. We rode all the way across town before realizing we’d left all our identification, money, and even the tickets to the party at the house.

“Oh FUCK!”

My thoughts ran crazy for a few minutes. I had set up with the party organizer a very small window in which I could grab the mic and make my grand proposal. I didn’t have tickets to even get in the door, and there was no way I had time to make the round trip back across town to get those tickets. We had no money and no ID. My honey was frantically calling a friend who we thought might be inside to see if we could borrow a vehicle when it occurred to me that it was all going to be alright.

People knew us. We decided to try the door first. A parable in itself.

And to make a short story even shorter, the girl working the door knew us. I explained that I had bought tickets, but then forgot them. But the organizer of the party (name-drop) was expecting me, so could we please just run in and find him? She told us to go talk the the second door-person/hostess, who promptly just gave us wristbands as if we had actually possessed tickets. In less than thirty seconds, our friend showed up and told us she had started a tab and that we should just put our drinks on that.

The rest of the night went without a single hitch. It was perfect, in fact. I had managed to remember the one piece of paper on which I had made a few notes so that I could try to keep my unrehearsed proposal somewhat coherent. And she said “YES,” so it was an unmitigated success as far as anybody was concerned.

In short, there was never a problem to begin with.


Part Two finds me headed the slopes today to snowboard with my son. I had bought some vouchers via a groupon-esque deal, and had printed two of them out to use today. When we arrived at the resort, short on time to begin with, and only after having stopped to rent his boots and board, I realized I had left those tickets in my overnight bag on the floor of my bedroom.

SON OF A BITCH.

I really can’t afford to buy full price lift tickets, but we’re here, and I’d been promising the trip all week. So we get in line.

(Pay attention, because this is how shit happens for me). As I’m waiting my turn in line, some stupid little college-student bitch (easy – just my internal judge initially sizing up the situation) slips into line ahead of me. “Really?!” I exclaim only to myself, as I sneer at the back of her head. Then she goes to the window with her phone and says “I found the vouchers in my email…”

WHAM! Bolt of lighting. I tell the boy to stand right there, and immediately bolt for my phone, which I’d left in the car. I hustle back up to the window just as I locate the email with the voucher numbers…

In short, there was never a problem to begin with. I needed that little girl to step into line ahead of me (since she’d apparently already been there) to show me the way through my situation.

In Part Two of Part Two, I reached into my jacket pocket a couple hours later to find my phone and check the time, only to find the soft lining of my jacket pocket…and nothing else.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? I’ve lost my phone!

It could almost be anywhere. I tell the boy I’ll meet him at the bottom, but I’ve got to go back and retrace my steps down the last couple runs I did, and look around the one place I fell down, ironically trying to demonstrate to my son how to control his edge so he wouldn’t keep falling down.

The next thirty minutes were a little frantic, as I searched the slope and asked the lift operators and visually scoured under the lift as I rode up…

Then I decided there wasn’t really anything I could do today, and I’d rather enjoy the time on the slopes with my awesome kid than worry about the demanding piece of technology that seems determined to make me work for it. I have insurance on it, but even if I didn’t, and couldn’t get an early upgrade, I had almost decided to just get a “dumb” flip-phone for a few months and take a little vacation from the device. Sounds heavenly.

I enjoyed the rest of the day, and we even caught the very last run on the very last lift of the day. When we finished our run, I asked the ski patrol guy if anybody had turned in a phone and he said no, but that there was a lost and found in the Lodge. I had walked about ten steps toward the lodge when I heard, “Hey! Hey man! Red jacket!”

As I’d walked away from the Ski Patrol towards the Lodge, a teenage boy had come to the same Ski Patrol guy trying to turn in a phone he’d found on the slope.

WOW.

I thanked the kid profusely, and told him that he was an awesome human being. Then I got a little overwhelmed by all the good shit in the past twenty-four hours, and shook the young man’s hand and again told him just how righteous a dude he was, and then I told his mom the same thing. She knew it already.

Yet again, there was never a problem to begin with.


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I firmly believe that things work out EXACTLY as they’re supposed to. If I believe that the only thing I have is this moment, and the only time I can be happy, or at peace, or content, is RIGHT NOW, then all moments leading up to this one have been perfect, and this moment sets the stage for every future moment to be just as perfect.

Sometimes I make bad decisions, sure. But I’d wager most of those bad decisions are based on false information from my past that I’m holding on to, or fears of an imaginary future that hasn’t even happened yet. So as a result of those bad decisions I get to learn a lesson, sometimes more than once.

What’s become crystal clear to me in the past few years is that most of the time, if I just resist the urge to freak out, and instead let the Universe come back around to bring me what I need (or even sometimes the things I merely want), that usually…

there was never a problem to begin with.

Posted by: silverback | 2015/02/03

partisanship

I maintain my assertion that the Universe seeks nothing so much as equilibrium. I think it’s a cosmic joke that keeps us in check.

As Groundhog Day has come and gone, I posted a silly meme on my Facebook wall that struck me as funny:groundhog

Of course, a few friends “liked” it, and a couple took issue. I find it absurd that “Climate Deniers” are even a thing. Even if I had done zero research, had zero knowledge of scientific things, I would have to imagine, in a common-sense way, that since humans (that’s us) of the industrial age (since, say, 1900) have extracted about 70% of the world’s total resources, that we must’ve had some sort of massive negative impact on the planet.

I have friends that routinely post the doomsday predictions. My tendency is to believe that we’re going to fuck ourselves right out of a place to live.

I have friends that post spiritual guides regularly. I consider myself a spiritual person, so I’m one of those people too, I suppose. I think our best results come from staying present, seeking to remain conscious, and trying to connect with each other and the planet and the Universe. I believe in the God of Quantum Physics, so my hope is that we figure that riddle out before it’s too late for our kids.

I have friends who are a little too zealous about their religions for my taste, but I respect their right to believe whatever the hell makes them feel better. I try not to judge some of those folks for quoting the Bible while being generally self-absorbed, greedy, or even downright shitty people. We’re all on our own respective paths, right?

What I’m sensing, as the years pass, is that more of us seem to be heading for the far ends of the scale.

It’s like the political system in America. Each party travels further to the left or the right to appeal to their base, shouting partisan taglines as if they were powerful talismans, able to ward off the evil intentions of the Koch Brothers or Obamacare. Only the Koch brothers are real villains, doing real sinister shit. And the Affordable Care Act, while well-intentioned, often feels a tad oppressive and somehow more beneficial to the insurance companies than the people at the end of the day.

For every person committing to renewable energy sources, there’s one buying shares in Keystone XL.

For every person adopting the practice of yoga because it makes us feel good, there’s another mindlessly buying cheap GMO crap for their family.

For every one of us who worships the woods and the clear water and the pristine back country that remains, there’s another that wants to open ANWAR for oil drilling so we can keep driving big trucks for a few more years.

For every one of us who believes less is more, consciously abrogating loads of material crap, there’s a crew building another shopping center where there used to be woods.

For every conscientious objector there’s a teenager gung-ho to get issued a gun to go waste some ragheads. Or a Jihadist zealot anxious to behead an innocent in the name of Muhammed.

It feels like madness at these extremes. Too much or not enough. Dogmatic themes, only with different Gods, different governments, different innocents.

As we seemingly split down the middle, it feels more and more every day like we take up residence at the very edges, as far away from each other and any sense of unity or common cause (you know, like the survival of the species, or the preservation of the only place we can live for the time being) as we can possibly get.

It’s a strange, disheartening disconnect. I often wonder, a bit hopelessly, what it’s going to take to shake us back down to the middle again. Is it even possible? Is it folly to seek neutrality? What’s the point of trying to stand on the fulcrum?

Well, no matter which way the seesaw falls, the middle stays up, right?

Posted by: silverback | 2015/01/27

darkness

As I sit here comfortable in my writing chair, those damn dogs are yapping again. Incessantly. My immediate neighbors keep a number of little yapping dogs penned up outside their house. In my head, they’re Pomeranians, or some such tiny dog. I can make out at least four distinct wailing barks, maybe six… The people probably keep them outside because they bark at the sound of the wind rustling the few remaining leaves left on barren winter branches. I’m sure their 60-inch HDTV is probably cranked up to deafening levels as well just to keep the plaintive howls from penetrating. It sucks for many reasons, not the least of which is the itching feeling I get behind my eyeballs when they all start barking frantically in unison.

I think occasionally that I should walk over there and knock on the door to ask them nicely to do something about their goddamn little yappy dogs disturbing my serenity, but I’m afraid to do that. I’m afraid of my darkness. I’m just not at all sure it would be a polite, neighborly exchange. I’m afraid that I might just snap and the words I’m thinking might be the ones that slip out, and then I end up with the weight of remorse and/or shame for my actions.

I had an uncomfortable little daydream about purposefully walking down there with a medium-gauge shotgun and laying waste to all the obnoxious little creatures one at a time…BANG! shick-shick BANG! shick-shick BANG! shick-shick BANG! And then looking calmly into the horrified eyes of those neighbors who had come running at the sound of the ruckus, daring them to speak a word of outrage. Shick-shick.

OF COURSE NOT! See – I love animals. I could never follow through with any kind of plan that would cause harm to a furry little mammal, no matter how piteous and exasperating. When I was about twelve, I once cried for thirty minutes after reading a fucking National Enquirer article about a bunch of rabbits that were maimed and/or killed in a movie shoot. And of course the stupid little yappy dogs are in no way responsible for their situation – it’s their shitty, oblivious, self-centered owners. And of course I couldn’t ever get away with shooting one or more real people…right?

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I’m generally a very tolerant person. I know I do mindless things that likely annoy the shit out of some people. But there’s quite often this very cruelly creative movie running in background, like that Michael Douglas movie where he just cracks one day and goes around LA with a shotgun, righting all the wrongs he can perceive. When I had my big goddamn truck, I can’t tell you how many times I fantasized about simply running people off the road. The thing weighed 7000 lbs and had 600 ft-lb of torque. I am a skilled driver. I’m pretty sure most of the time I would have carried on my way without physical harm, or really even much damage to my vehicle. How many times have you, say, been having heated words with somebody and just fantasized throat-punching them, in a Bruce Lee kind of way? My girlfriend is my actual hero because of an incident involving a mouthy homophobic tourist and a cocktail napkin, but she still wasn’t able to walk away without consequence.

I don’t think it makes me an awful person to have these semi-psychopathic fantasies. I also don’t think I’m so abnormal. I see all kinds of people wrestling with their own forms of darkness. I believe it’s all subconscious babble. Judgments we’ve made concerning how people around us ought to behave; beliefs we’ve adopted for no good reason other than our parents or authority figures in our early years told us what they thought was right; old hurts that we’ve buried out of shame or fear but maybe still feel we’re owed a vengeance – or at least an apology! Our brains are these mixed up gray sacs full of fact and fiction and conjecture, all competing for scraps of meaning. It’s a wonder sometimes that we’re able to maintain a coherent connection with the world in a way that even allows interpersonal relationships.

Sometimes the darkness slips out. We just get pushed to the edge by certain interactions with people who trigger us, or by stress, or by tragedy, or by fear. My son sees glimpses of mine after the fifth time I ask him nicely to not do that thing, and he does it the sixth time. “All of a sudden,” daddy becomes a very loud, scary man. I always feel terrible about losing my shit on this mere child, assaulting his ears with cusswords and harsh criticisms and threats of corporal punishment. He always crumbles, always with the same look of terrified surprise. So far, I’ve always gone back and calmly apologized for my slips, assuring him that my love for him is deeper than the momentary rage. I also practice mindful forgiveness – letting that moment go, because it’s over. No grudges, no guilt. And I usually admit that it’ll probably happen again if he continues the same negative behaviors. Parenting is no joke.

I also believe that like most things in life, the darkness is necessary. We exist in the form of dualities – good/bad, right/wrong, positive/negative, up/down, light/dark. The Universe seeks nothing so much as equilibrium. Without one extreme, the other could not exist. So I think it’s important to acknowledge the existence of my darkness, to be familiar enough with it to understand the ways to keep it in check. But we do keep it in check, right? I guess we have to…

Posted by: silverback | 2015/01/05

evolve.

I’m not the same person I was yesterday. None of us are. I’d like to promote a bold idea: let’s let each other evolve. Let’s encourage it, celebrate it, believe enough in the potential of each other to leave the past behind us.

We all know difficult people. We all have relationships with a huge range of personalities. Some we judge instantly, others we judge based on our experiences over time. Some people we love, others we hate. Oftentimes, those feelings around a particular person are based on something that doesn’t exist any more. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that almost ALL of our daily relationships with whomever – boss, co-workers, friends, lovers, spouses – are based not on who that person is in the present moment, but in who we’ve come to imagine them to be.

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As I said, I’m NOT the same person I was yesterday, last month, last year. I make mistakes daily. I learn from those mistakes and adjust my behavior, my thought processes around my actions. I learn new things daily. If you tell me that something I do bothers you, my general response is to take that into consideration in our interactions from that moment on. I seek to empathize with you, and I change for the improvement of our relationship, so long as it’s reasonable to me that my actions could be causing you discomfort. So long as easing your discomfort isn’t directly causing me harm. It’s not in my nature to dismiss your feelings, because I have them too.

So many of our actions are unconscious – we don’t even know we’re doing it. Many of our learned behaviors are distilled from fears and prejudices that were instilled in us before we were even old enough to understand and discern. We just accepted, adopted, and believed those things from that point on. Many years later, we meet with enough contradicting evidence to begin parsing through those old belief systems and discarding the ones that no longer serve us, if we’re lucky and/or aware enough. But so often, we lapse and relapse again and again, until the new thoughts are powerful enough to supplant the old systems. When I judge you based on your unconscious speech and actions, then I’m making judgments against a person who’s not really you. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to be understood as you actually are? The person you believe yourself to be?

By the same token, I’d like to be more aware of those things I say and do unconsciously. You owe it to our relationship to be honest with me, to communicate your needs. I’d like for each of us to agree to extend the benefit of doubt. Generously. Charitably. Radically. Speak to me with love. Ask me what I mean. Don’t make assumptions about who I am based on the outside of me. Try to be willing to forgive me yesterday, and extend to me this day.

I’d like to reset daily. Pretend you’ve never met me. Take a moment each day to view your relationships anew, and make the decision to allow the people in your life a fresh start, as if yesterday never happened.

There’s also this idea that we manifest our own realities. If I’m expecting you to behave in a certain way, to say and do certain things based on the person I’ve judged you to be, then I’m not really giving you a chance to be who you are – I’m instead either gratified or disappointed, in a self-righteous way, by the way you’ve responded to my expectations. Once you’ve done what I expected, even if it’s not what I want you to do, then I get to maintain my certainty about my perception of you. If you happen to surprise me, I often chalk it up as a fluke, because it’s difficult to release others from our preconceived notions.

I believe change is the only constant. There’s always the underlying debate about whether or not people can actually change. I think we all change. Some of us have radical shifts based on a eureka moment, while others of us simply mellow with age. Sometimes we slip back into a person we once were, when surrounded by a certain group of people, such as our families or high school friends. Other times, we relate to another with such a certainty that we force him or her into the box we believe they should be in. When one person in the relationship is unyielding in this way, it makes it very difficult for the person actively trying to make a change. We talk of this in terms of “pressing buttons,” or “triggering.” If I’m trying to amend my relationship with you, but your demeanor remains constant towards me – if there’s no avenue for me to relate to you in a different way, then we’ll remain trapped in the same ruts we’ve always trodden.

I resolve today to live in the present. I resolve to give radical benefit of doubt to all the people in my life, to speak impeccably, and to suspend my assumptions about who I believe them to be.

Grant me the same, and watch me evolve.

 

Posted by: silverback | 2014/04/08

beckoning

My buddy Aaron called me a dickhead the other night. It’s not unusual, because I kinda am – not maliciously, but my sense of humor goes to dry, occasionally biting, wit. I just calls ’em as I sees ’em.

In this case, however, he was chastising me because I was riding “too fast.” He was lamenting that I wasn’t leaving anything on the table, going balls-out on the motard on early-season dirty roads. We had just returned to his driveway from a blistering hour on local roads, climaxed by both of us momentarily losing the front ends of our bikes in the same corner – nearly side-by-side. I couldn’t really figure out why I was the dickhead in this case – I wasn’t twisting his throttle. In the corner we both washed, he was actually in the lead!

I’ve been riding motos for 32 years, on the street for 27 of them. I have a whole lot of miles under my wheels, and a broad base of skills in other vehicles, on dirt bikes, and on the track. He’s been on street and track for only five years or so. I think this is where he judges me to be unreasonable – comparing his comfort level in relation to mine. When I pull on the helmet and set off down a curvy road, everything changes. The road just pulls me – I see the lines I want to take, and I sit atop this machine that was designed by men to do such-and-such a thing based on my inputs, and I use the skills I’ve developed to ride the line I see, using the machine as best I can to accomplish that. Most of the time I can moderate, but often enough, I become so focused on following that line that everything else fades into the blurs at the edges. When things are clicking, I just forget everything else. I exist in the moment – the very microsecond now where all the inputs and all the feedback and all the intangible information come to maintaining the knife-edge balance of forces that allow these bikes to do what they do.

We’ve been hitting some dirt roads. I love dirt roads – I can get the same thrill at a marginally lower speed, I think because the bike slides around – the magnitude of forces acting on the bike are lower because there’s less available traction. The bike works the same, though – and that’s a hard thing to wrap one’s head around. So many riders tense up and ride stiff (which is exactly the opposite of what we should do) when traction is limited. To really enjoy riding dirt roads, you gotta loosen up and play. The brakes work, just not as well – spend some time experimenting with how hard you can apply the brakes before the tires start sliding. Acceleration works the same – apply throttle, weight shifts rearward, and the bike accelerates. If you apply too much throttle, though, the rear will start to spin – but it’s manageable just by changing your input. When leaned over a little, if the rear begins to spin, the bike will rotate because you’ve compromised the friction component that was causing your change in direction. So with more experience comes more confidence, knowing how much drift ought to come with a certain throttle input. It’s a matter of not only instinctively knowing the appropriate inputs, but also knowing the traits of your own machine – to an extent.

Aaron has been cautious on the dirt – he does not appreciate not being hooked up, tractionwise. As I watch, I see very tentative braking, then a very cautious tip-in to an artificially reduced lean angle, and very hesitant application of throttle. Granted, his dirt riding experience is extremely limited – most of his riding has been on clean, dry streets or racetracks. His excuse, though, was that his modern, stiffly suspended, tuned-fuel-injection Husqvarna motard is less suited for dirt than my old, soft, enduro-conversion KTM. And I believed him up until this past weekend, when I convinced him to let me have a go on a dirt road familiar to me.

I hopped on this wonder of modern machinery and headed down the gravel road, expecting this thing to be a handful of ill-handling, fire-breathing, rear-swapping terror. Into the first corner, brakes to threshold – ooh, nice fork action! really good feedback. Then flip it into the corner, dirt bike style, with a straight inside arm, outside elbow bent, weight atop the seat, expecting a big push – oh wow that thing just turned! Finish the corner with a little throttle, bracing myself for the inevitable swap – I’ll be damned, this rear suspension really is amazing!

Whereupon the dirt road just started pulling me forward. Everything behind my helmet disappeared – the line showed itself, and the bike did exactly what I asked it to do. Pretty quickly – within a matter of two or three more corners – I was riding that bike as if it were my own, drifting it off every corner with a heavy whisper of throttle, leaving a dark trail of roost between upshifts, then heavy brakes into blipped downshifts and just enough rear brake to set it sideways on approach, bang it on its side thru the apex, and back on the throttle to maintain a graceful arc to corner exit, stand it up, shift, repeat…

A couple miles later, I came out of my speed-induced haze and thought to myself, “Wow. This thing is really good! Which means in comparison, Aaron is probably not having near as good a time on my heavy, ill-handling (in comparison) old beast. I guess I’ll stop here and wait for him to trade back.”

I have to admit, I waited long enough that I started to get nervous he may have dropped it. But then he came around the corner and rolled up shaking his head.

Posted by: silverback | 2013/02/05

crazy good luck

So I’ve been enjoying my new (to me) KTM 640 LC4 Enduro. I picked the bike up about six weeks ago, and we’ve been learning about each other. I love the BIG thumper’s power delivery. I love that it’ll spin up the rear tire at 943 RPM (or some other absurdly low number of revs) coming off the slimy midwinter corners. I love that I can usually go faster on the gravel forest service roads around here than on their paved counterparts.

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It’s not my first go-round with the Austrian marque. I had a 300cc two-stroke dirt-specific machine for several years. KTM does some strange, funky things, but usually they build a very powerful, uniquely capable piece of machinery. This big 640 is no exception. It will cruise comfortably at 65-70 mph, has no problems overtaking while going uphill with a passenger, is actually capable of carrying a passenger, and handles off-road conditions with aplomb. I’ve been having an absolute blast destroying some of the local roads-less-traveled over the past six weeks.

The bike has some negative points, too – a weirdo right-side drive, and it vibrates. Hard. It is lovingly referred to by some aficionados as a “paint shaker.” There’s a sweet spot in the rev range, but most of the time a big bore single-cylinder bike is going to vibrate much more than any other configuration. The seller told me I should put threadlocker on every fastener when I serviced the machine, and I have been. I haven’t serviced every component yet, though.

So I was out ripping around the nether regions of the border counties this afternoon. I’ve already written that I enjoy getting out on the bike solo – just me and the bike and the roads. This time I was doing it on a very capable dual-sport machine. It occurred to me early in the ride that I might oughta call or text somebody and let them know I was heading out on my own, but I don’t really like to stop much, and I forgot to do it when I stopped for gas. Also, on a ride like this, I never really know where I’m going – in exploring, I often take unplanned turns down all manner of roads and cart-paths. So whatever – I was out riding around on briny post-snowstorm roads, and thought I’d probably not push it too hard anyway.

About an hour & a half out, I was making a run through our best-kept secret, known to many of us as “the road that shall not be named.” It’s a magnificent piece of asphalt, riddled with 2nd gear corners and techy transitions around blind corners. The KTM was feeling good, I was having way too much fun getting all supermoto and putting it just a little slideways off the slower corners, when I came around a corner and saw a stunning wall of icicles hanging next to the road. I checked my 6 and pulled off the road to get a picture or two.

(I guess I don’t really mind stopping that much, after all.)

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After snapping a handful of cool ice shots, I hopped back on the bike and took off down the road. Perhaps 200 yards on, the road went left, so I touched the front brake to check my speed for the corner. Nothing happened – no feel at the lever, no reduction in speed. Oh shit.

This has happened on the track after a big tank slapper or wheel change, so I didn’t really panic at first, but rather pumped the front brake a couple times to get the pads back in contact with the disc. Still nothing. OH FUCK. 

I banged a couple downshifts and applied more rear brake. The midwinter slime bit back, and the rear tire began to skid. So I stood it up as I slid off the asphalt, onto a grassy shoulder.

A drop-off was approaching alarmingly fast, so rather than end up down in somebody’s cow pasture I went ahead and threw the bike on the ground. Nearly simultaneously, I started cussing.

What the FUCK?! How come the brake stopped working? Had I somehow gotten ice on my rotor, or something else stupid from parking the bike in a pile of snow to take pictures? I checked the front caliper as the bike lay on its side and found, to my utter shock, that the brake pads were gone. 

It was inexplicable. I knew they had been there when I took pictures not 200 yards up the damn road. I had nearly dropped the bike when the front tire locked up in a patch of leftover snow on the shoulder. I dusted myself off, picked up the bike, and rode it (undamaged by the fall) back up to the icicle wall, parking it in nearly the same spot. I began looking for brake pads. As near as I could surmise, the retaining pin must have vibrated loose and fallen out – perhaps a little ways back up the road. The pads could easily have been held in place by rotational friction of the disc, as long as I was riding with some speed & using them frequently. But then I had stopped.

After a long, slow walk back and forth, I had recovered both pads, but the pin was nowhere to be found. The proverbial needle in a haystack. You can’t really understand hopelessness until you’re miles back in a rural county on a little-traveled road trying to fix a mechanical problem with no tools and some of the parts gone for good.

2013-02-05 14.25.39I returned to the bike, pondering my options. It was quite difficult to push the caliper pistons back (recall I had frantically pumped the front brake a few times), but I was able to wedge one pad in, then pry with the other while pushing and levering awkwardly on the caliper. But what on Earth am I going to use to take the place of the missing pin? There were numerous little sticks and twigs along the side of the road, but wood does not have great tensile or shear strength, plus it degrades quickly with heat and/or vibration. I looked for a random piece of baling wire, like that may have fallen off a passing farm truck. No luck. Then I spotted it – the Bud Light can, freshly deposited atop the snow, glowing an improbable electric blue  in the afternoon sun.

I thought if I could get the can cut apart, I could possibly roll a pin the right diameter, strong enough to withstand the vibration and abrasion. Perhaps I could even bend the ends to keep it in place. Metal is always better than twigs for such things.

Needing a sharp thing to slice the can, I searched my surroundings and finally found, in the rocks behind the icicle wall, a piece of shale plenty sharp enough to cut through the thin aluminum. I was engaged in some full-on MacGyver shit at this point.

It came out pretty much exactly as I envisioned, after a few minutes of rolling the can & test-fitting the pin until it was a nice, snug fit. Once it was pushed through the caliper and both pads, I used the piece of rock one more time to bend the ends down. I had to ensure my rig would remain in place. I geared back up and began the thirty mile ride back to the house. After a few minutes, I began to gain some confidence that this abomination would get me home.

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As I rode, I thought about all the bad shit that could have happened in this situation, but didn’t because of my ridiculous luck. I was not coming in hot to a 2nd gear corner off a fifth gear straight, like the corner right before the icicle wall. I was not approaching a sheer rock wall (like the icicle wall) when the brakes failed. Thank the Universe and all things good I didn’t have my favorite passenger on the back of the bike to add inertia or get really hurt when I had to throw it on the ground! There was a nice, wide, grassy spot to lay the bike down in, not a rocky drop into a cold creekbed. I had just stopped, so I not only knew about where the brake pads had to be, but was able to actually find them in fairly short order – they had not tumbled into a pile of snow, hidden until spring. It’s more than astounding the number of things that didn’t conspire to horribly kill me or somebody I love, or destroy the bike and strand me in the middle of nowhere with fatal injuries.

I generally have terrible luck when it comes to craps, or poker, or pretty much any other gamble for material things. Raffles. Cake walks. I once lost fifty dollars  at a nickel-dime-quarter poker game. But I walk away from things like this far too often to ignore my fortune. I obviously have crazy good luck, at least at not dying.

Oh, and I will never talk shit about Bud Light again.

Posted by: silverback | 2013/01/18

20 Pro Motorcycle Roadracing Tips

(The following has been reposted in its entirety from a 2006 article on the Motorcyclist Magazine website)

What’s the proper way to ride a motorcycle? Ask a dozen riders and you’ll get a dozen answers. Not even the experts can agree. Take something as simple as steering: Forget that whole push-right-to-go-left deal. Keith Code gave us the Power Pivot, Reg Pridmore preaches body steering and Freddie Spencer stresses trail-braking to change direction. Totally contradictory techniques, yet they all work. Who are we to disagree?

The thing about riding a motorcycle is there is no one proper way–there are lots of ways. And you never stop learning. Take what you hear or read or see or are taught, think about it, give it a go, and if it works, make it your own. Then share it with your friends.

As a journalist, racer and track-day instructor, I’ve been doing just that for more than two decades now. Drawing from that experience, I’ve compiled 20 tips that, for one reason or another, have stuck in my craw for lo these many years. Most I got straight from the source, a few I read in books or magazines, but all are nuggets of information that have served me well. I hope they do the same for you.

1. Keith Code
LEARN TO THINK FOR YOURSELF

Say what you will about the guru, Keith Code wrote the book on high-performance motorcycle riding and it’s called A Twist of the Wrist. Twenty-three years after it was first published, it’s still tops on my list. I took Code’s California Superbike School twice in 1984 and ’85, and at first found his teaching style frustrating. Asked the best line through a corner, he turned the question back to me: “I don’t know. There are lots of correct lines. They change depending on what bike you’re riding, the condition of your tires, etc. What line do you think is correct?” What I thought was I’d better learn to think for myself.

2. Wes Cooley
KEEP YOUR CHEST ON THE TANK

The second time I took the California Superbike School, Wes Cooley was a guest instructor. I was impressed by how tidy he was on the bike–always tucked in behind the windscreen without any limbs sticking out in the breeze. Later, he told the class a funny story: “One day I came in from practice and my dad told me I needed to stay tucked in. I told him I had, so he tied a shoelace from my zipper to the ignition key. When I came back in after the next session, my leathers were unzipped to my waist.” Keeping your chest on the tank not only improves your bike’s aerodynamics, it lowers the center of gravity and gives the front tire a better bite.

Lessons Learned John Kocinski

John Kocinski
Spanish Gran Prix, 1990

3. John Kocinski
TRUST YOUR TIRES

Everyone frets about cold tires, especially when they’re fresh from the molds. Not John Kocinski. In the years before John Boy won the 1990 250cc world championship, I covered the AMA 250cc Grand Prix series for Cycle News, and can recall him routinely going to the starting grid on unscrubbed slicks. “That’s OK, I’ll just push the front a couple of times on the warm-up lap and they’ll be fine,” I once heard him tell Dunlop’s Jim Allen. This was years before tire-warmers were invented, incidentally. Kocinski’s competitors were quick to point out he got the good Dunlops straight from the GPs, but it wasn’t his tires that won him three consecutive titles, it was his confidence.

4. Danny Coe
ALWAYS UPSHIFT AFTER MISSING A GEAR

Back in the late ’80s, Danny Coe of Cycle magazine was a top AMA 250cc GP competitor and unofficial champion of the Moto-Journalist GPs. When during a GSX-R launch at Laguna Seca I mentioned I’d botched a downshift, he asked me what I did next. “Um, I downshifted again.” Wrong: Coe insisted you should always shift up after missing a shift, to ensure you’re not a gear lower than you intended. Better to be out of the powerband than to have the rear tire hopping up and down, trying to pass the front.

5. Jason Pridmore
HUG THE CURVES

In ’93 I rode for Kawasaki at the Willow Springs 24-Hour, and one of my teammates was Jason Pridmore. This was long before he established his STAR Motorcycle School, but he’d been instructing with his father’s CLASS organization and had become adept at identifying riders’ shortcomings. He followed me for a few laps during practice and afterward told me I needed to run tighter lines. Where I’d go through a corner with my knee on the white line, Jason would take it with his knee on or even over the curb. More often than not, the shortest path around a racetrack is the quickest.

6. Dale Quarterley
GIVE TO GET

During my six-year tenure as a race reporter for American Roadracing and Cycle News, there were two riders I could count on to give me a straight answer. One of those was Dale Quarterley. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, the New Englander was too big to ever have been considered for a factory ride, but at Mid-Ohio in 1993 he won an AMA Superbike national–the last privateer to do so. He was a guest instructor when I took the Penguin School at Loudon that year, and his pet phrase was “give to get”–that is, you’ve got to give up speed at the corner entrance to get it back at the end of the following straight. Rushing a corner entrance only ruins your drive at the exit.

7. Randy Renfrow
NEVER GIVE UP

I miss this guy. Randy Renfrow was one of the nicest guys in motorcycle racing, but also one of the most determined. Not even having a toe grafted on to replace a lost thumb could extinguish his competitive spirit. Racing with Ducati-mounted Dale Quarterley for the lead of a Pro Twins race at Heartland Park Topeka circa 1989, Renfrow lost the front end of his Common-wealth Honda RS750 and fell to the ground, yet somehow managed to pull himself back on board and continue on to victory. “Bikes don’t fall down, riders drag them down,” he told me afterward. Ironically, it wasn’t a crash that claimed Renfrow’s life; it was a freak fall down a flight of stairs while recovering from one.

Lessons Learned Kevin Schwantz

Kevin Schwantz
Dutch TT, 1992

8. Kevin Schwantz
LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING

Book of Duh, Chapter One, but Kevin Schwantz’s take is refreshing, especially for those of us whose height (or girth, or both) makes crawling under the paint difficult. Sure, the 1993 500cc world champion tucked in on the straights, but not as much as his rivals; he’d raise his head just enough to look over–or around–the windscreen. Like they taught you in Driver’s Ed, looking farther down the road gives you a big-picture view that effectively slows things down–an important consideration at triple-digit speeds.

9. Steve Crevier
RIDE PROUD

Jockey-sized multi-time Canadian Superbike Champion Steve Crevier started out racing lightweight 250s, and after moving up to heavier production bikes realized he needed to change his riding style. Sitting bolt upright in the saddle–or “riding proud,” as he called it–helped him maximize his leverage on the handlebars. As a track-day instructor, I’ve quoted Crevier countless times while trying to get new riders to focus on riding the motorcycle first and assuming the position later. When you start dragging hard parts, it’s time to hang off. Until then, ride proud.

10. Doug Polen
THE FAST LINE ISN’T ALWAYS OBVIOUS

For the past seven years I’ve instructed with The Track Club at Buttonwillow Raceway, thus I know the track like the back of my hand. But after taking part in one of Doug Polen’s One-on-One training sessions with radio communication, my idea of the right line was dramatically altered. B-Willow has two sections with three corners in a row, and everyone swoops back and forth across the track to negotiate them. Everyone except Polen: The former AMA and World Superbike champion stays hard on the gas way past the customary braking point for the first corner, trail-brakes straight up the inside of the second, hugs the apex and then gets a killer drive out of the third. Freddie Spencer has a term for this; he calls it “throwing out a corner.”

Lessons Learned Eddie Lawson Scott Russell

Eddie Lawson & Scott Russell
Daytona 200, 1993

11. Eddie Lawson
LEARN HOW YOUR SUSPENSION WORKS

When Eddie Lawson returned from the 500cc Grand Prix wars to ride a Vance & Hines Yamaha Superbike in the 1993 Daytona 200, he had to get a handle on an unfamiliar motorcycle without the benefit of prior testing. To do so, he spent his initial practice sessions exploring the full range of suspension and chassis adjustments before he even tried to go fast. The results were predictable: He won the race after an epic battle with Mr. Daytona, Scott Russell. And then went onto a modestly successful career in Indycar racing, where his methodical approach served him equally well.

12. Scott Russell
STEER WITH THE REAR

Once upon a time (1994), in a land far, far away (Malaysia), there was a press introduction for the then-new Kawasaki ZX-9R. It was hot–really hot–and the sketchy stock Bridge-stone tires gave me fits until I watched Scott Russell ride. Undaunted by the lack of traction (he’d experienced worse at the end of races), the reigning World Superbike champion set a blistering pace 4 seconds per lap quicker than the fastest journalist, and slewed sideways off the corners in complete control. How’d he do that? Simple: He weighted the inside footpeg to break the rear tire loose, then weighted the outside peg to get it to hook back up.

13. David Sadowski
BE YOUR OWN SLIPPER CLUTCH

Talk to anyone who raced with David Sadowski and they’ll more likely tell you about his balls than his brains. But as the 1990 Daytona 200 winner’s racing results and subsequent stint as a television commentator proved, Ski gave a lot of thought to his racing. One year at Daytona I was chatting with Doug Polen while waiting for the riders’ meeting to start, when up walks Sadowski with a newspaper. On the cover was a photo of Polen entering Turn 1 with his hand still visibly squeezing his Ducati’s clutch lever. The ensuing dialogue was enlightening as the two discussed the merits of trailing the clutch to the apex to modulate engine braking and thus prevent rear wheel hop. Nowadays we’ve got slipper clutches to do this for us, but it’s still a useful technique.

14. Doug Chandler
SAVE A SLIDE

What do you do when the rear end starts coming around on the throttle? According to three-time AMA Superbike Champion Doug Chandler, the answer is: nothing. And he should know. With wins in all four disciplines of AMA Grand National dirt-track competition and Supermoto, he obviously knows how to slide a motor-cycle. According to him, when the rear tire starts sliding, the last thing you want to do is chop the throttle; instead, simply stop adding throttle until the tire hooks back up. A one-time Keith Code protg (he wrote the liner notes for A Twist of the Wrist 2), Chandler recently started a riding school (www.champ-racing.com) and one of his first graduates was his son, Jett.

Lessons Learned Kenny Roberts

Kenny Roberts
Dutch TT, 1979

15. Kenny Roberts
GO FAST IN THE FAST PARTS

Three-time 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts doesn’t believe in coasting–you’re either on the gas or on the brakes. The most important corner on any racetrack is the one that leads onto the longest (and thus fastest) straightaway, so Roberts would put a priority on getting that section right. Trying to go fast in slower corners is not only pointless, it’s risky, because you don’t have momentum on your side. If the front tire loses grip in a fast turn, you’ve got time to save it. If it lets go in a slow one, it’s game over.

16. David Aldana
CONSIDER THE FRONT BRAKE LEVER AND THROTTLE CONTROL AS ONE CONTROL

I’m not old enough to have raced with David Aldana, but there was a period in the ’90s when he did some testing for Roadracing World and I was fortunate to spend time with him. Bones (so nicknamed because of his infamous skeleton leathers) is nothing if not animated, and it was while he was regaling us with one of his zany racing tales that I detected a pattern in his hand-and-wrist motions. I mentioned this to him, and he replied that he considered the front brake lever and throttle as one control; you squeeze the lever as you close the throttle, and release it as you open it.

Freddie Spencer
British GP, 1987

17. Freddie Spencer
BRAKE WHERE YOU NEED TO, NOT WHERE YOU THINK YOU SHOULD

I’ve taken the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding School twice, at nine-year intervals. And while the curriculum has changed, the message remains the same: Be smooth. “Fast riders have slow hands,” Spencer says, and then puts you on the back of his Honda VFR to show you what he means. The three-time world champion doesn’t snatch at the brake lever; he squeezes it like the trigger of a gun, and releases it just as gently. Moreover, he uses braking pressure to get the bike to change direction, tightening his line as speed decreases. Freddie doesn’t rigidly adhere to brake markers, either; he’s more flexible, braking earlier or later and making adjustments mid-corner as necessary.

18. Marco Lucchinelli
USE THE REAR BRAKE

I took the Ducati Riding Experience racing course at Misano, Italy, a few years ago, and my instructor was 1981 500cc World Champion Marco Lucchinelli. Belying his nickname, Lucky spent time in prison on drug charges and frankly wasn’t riding like a man who had beaten racing greats with names such as Roberts and Rossi–or at least their dads. The only memorable advice he gave me was, “You should use the rear brake.” When I asked him why, he said, “Because there are two,” and then explained how using the rear brake to scrub off unwanted speed mid-corner is safer than adding more front brake pressure.

19. Barry Veneman
GIVE IT FULL STICK

How did a Dutch Supersport racer make this list? During the international Masterbike competition at Valencia, Spain, in 2005, I was talking to Barry Veneman and heard him condense the act of going fast into the simplest possible terms: “Choose lines that let you get to full throttle the soonest.” Bazza explained that before he was exposed to data acquisition in the 500cc GPs, he had no idea how little time he spent at full stick–typically less than 10 percent of a lap. So he started picking lines that let him pin the throttle as early as possible, making sure he felt it click against the stop.

20. Rickey Gadson
DON’T LAUNCH AT REDLINE

And so it ends–at the beginning. Watch the start of any roadrace and you’ll likely see 30 riders doing it wrong. I know–I was one of them. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Pro dragracer Rickey Gadson set me straight. Most roadracers hold their engines at or near redline and then dump the clutch, resulting in a wild wheelie, a squawking clutch or both. Rickey does it differently: He holds engine revs at peak torque, not peak horsepower, lets out the clutch quickly and then pins the throttle. His launches are unspectacular affairs, the only excitement the howl of the rear tire–and the killer 60-foot time he just laid down. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to race him for pinks! -MC

Posted by: silverback | 2013/01/14

(consider.)

Give the benefit of doubt to the government if you must, but only with a mind open to the possibility of the sinister.

Posted by: silverback | 2013/01/14

the art of riding in the rain

All apologies to Garth Stein, author of The Art Of Racing In The Rain (HarperCollins, 2009), which is a magical novel that touches on almost all of my favorite subjects – racing, dogs, spiritual growth, and dreams. I highly recommend it.

We were just gifted with an utterly astounding mid-January weekend with springlike temps in the 70’s! The entire motorcycle community was abuzz with near-electric excitement. We don’t get days like this, not in the middle of winter. So plans were made, tires were aired, shields were cleaned,  the fine layer of dust wiped off midwinter leathers. We were to meet around midday and head south, where the temps would be even warmer.

Since I don’t have a a functional street bike at the moment, I was on my girlfriend’s Suzuki GSXR600, which is a very capable bike. The only issue with this bike is that the front tire is of questionable age and compound, from a decidedly third-tier manufacturer (whose name rhymes with “ginko”). I have no first-hand experience with these tires, and this one has not given me any overt problems, but I can’t really put a whole lot of confidence in its performing well when pushed. So I will not push today. I will be smooth, and I will bring myself and the bike home in the same shape we are leaving.

We make our final meeting of the day and begin to roll along our intended route. Almost instantly, the mostly clear skies give way to mostly cloudy ones, and the mostly dry roads quickly became mostly damp. Apparently the weather that had moved on through up in the north part of the district was still lingering here. Well – too late to turn back now, the route is set and we’re rolling with only hand signals to discuss things. That’s one of the things I love about riding motorcycles – not much midstream horse-changing once the helmets are on. Gas stops allow for minor course corrections if the consensus allows.

I am among a very small minority that truly enjoys riding in damp-and-drying or even fully wet conditions. They require different approaches, but ultimately the same mindset. Many times on a dry, clean road, a rider can afford to let his attention wander a little bit. Particularly on a familiar road – riding in a group, at a reasonable pace, the experience is almost a meditation. I nearly automatically hit conservative brake markers, select the right gear, execute the apex within a few feet of where it ought to be, and carry on into the next corner. At seven-tenths or less, I do these things almost without thought – so much so that if I turn my attention to the fact that I’m doing them, they become less smooth. I’m sometimes startled by the sheer number of things my hands, feet, fingers, eyes, and body are doing just from years of developing these habits. When conditions get less consistent, though, I must become a bit more attentive while still letting these inputs happen unconsciously.

rossi-rain-indianapolis-motogp

Click here for a list of excellent riding tips from a number of Pros.

In damp-to-dry conditions, the rider has to be intensely present & conscious of the surface. In full wet conditions, I must be intensely present & aware of the machine. In both cases, I need to be fully in the moment.

I enjoy the technical challenge of reading the pavement when patches of dry are beginning to pop through. I think adjusting one’s line to befit conditions is an under-emphasized skill. This is often important in rain as well, as there can be water pooled nearly anywhere – entry/braking zone, at the apex, or in the acceleration zone at the exit. By staying entirely present, and focused on the path of the bike, I’ll make slight adjustments  to where I’m placing the bike as I enter a corner, or on my path from one corner to the next. In drying conditions, obviously, I look for the drying spots – these are the places where, if possible and sensible (in the context of where I need to go), I’ll finish my heavy braking and make my turn inputs. If the dry spot is on corner exit, that’s the place I’ll try to get the bike picked up & more aggressively add throttle. I view it almost like rock-hopping across a creek. If I can logically connect the dry spots, I will. All my inputs are still smooth, I still leave a little room for error or for misjudging the available traction. Since usually the dry spots form where other vehicles are adding heat to the pavement from braking and turning, these spots usually make sense. Often however, they are merely products of sunny spots versus shaded or cooler, north-facing areas – one must remain in tune, intuitive to where he is in relation to his surroundings. Again, I must remain PRESENT. Because sometimes, rounding a right-hand uphill corner from sunshine into shadow under fairly heavy throttle, the road suddenly becomes fully wet.

Dani Pedrosa does not fret, in the wet.

Dani Pedrosa does not fret, in the wet.

Don’t panic. Hold what you’ve got. Slow hands. Freddie Spencer says “Fast riders have slower hands.” Nowhere is this more true than on fully wet pavement. Smooth inputs are crucial. Recently, I was instructing on a rainy day at a Sportbike Track Time trackday at Barber Motorsports Park. I had inexplicably missed the forecast for rain, so I was on track with full slick race tires in a downpour. At the crest of Turn Two, my bike, upon no input from me, began to swap ends. Since I had done nothing to start the movement, there were no corrective actions I could take. So I did nothing, save sharply inhale. In a very short amount of time, the bike caught traction and straightened itself out, allowing me to carry on. I also tell students when riding in the wet, to think about their front tire more, and to try not to make inputs that drastically change the load on the front at any point in the corner, but especially before the apex. Brake in a straight line, earlier is better. Trail off the brakes as I make my turn input, and then gently apply the throttle as I come off apex and get the bike stood up.

So back to that uphill right-hander into a shady wet midcorner…the bike is already turning, so the same rules apply. Be smooth. If I chop the throttle, startled by the sudden surface change, the sudden weight transfer will load the front tire. If I panic & try to stand the bike up quickly, not only am I likely to end up in the wrong lane, but I’m making a steering input, changing the load on the front. If I continue to add throttle as if the pavement were dry, I’m transferring weight off the front tire, also likely to spin the rear, which will set an unpleasant chain of reactions and overcorrections in motion. Steady. Slow hands. Finish the corner on the same line. Don’t add any more throttle – the bike is already accelerating a little. Ride the machine – if nothing has changed, make no further inputs. Read the surface now – look for the next place I need to be, my next braking point. Stay Present. Be Fully Aware. 

The thing about these challenging conditions to me is that the mindless meditation and habitual control inputs becomes overlaid by the scrim of right now.

Posted by: silverback | 2013/01/02

Brewing Storm (subtitle: The Conspiracy Piece)

Happy 2013, everybody!

Welcome to the Fiscal Cliff era, co-hosted by the new-new Feinstein Assault Weapons Bill, and presented by the further Enslavery of America’s working class, beholden to an oligarchy of power-mad douchebags. It’s become so prevalent and expected that we’re not even shocked anymore. What’s frustrating to me is the feeling of utter powerlessness. We have, over the past 236 years, managed to build an unwieldy, impossibly corrupt, overly bureaucratic, Rube-Goldberg device that, inexplicably, is still called “government.”

This government has built an unsustainable set of arcane laws and procedures that ultimately ensures zero progress. Our lawmakers spend so much time filibustering, making side deals, and scratching each others’ balls that no legislation of import ever gets passed unless a) it’s a dire emergency AND b) it’s been thoroughly diddled beforehand to make sure it includes all the perquisites each lawmaker has added along the way.

Here is a very good example of how legislation that was intended to get urgent relief to the victims of hurricane Sandy (October 2012) actually did neither.

A few months later as the Fiscal Cliff loomed, politicians were demonstrably more interested in posturing and inciting their respective bases by staunchly refusing to negotiate in any fashion, even to benefit the majority of Americans…but wait! The deal! The deal! In an amazing, urgent, last-minute backroom push by the Vice President and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, our public servants finally did essentially nothing. WHEW!!

The new old taxes

The math and more math 

The mounting debt

If you don’t feel like knowing all kinds of unpleasant, nightmarish, creeping reality, the short version is our lawmakers essentially inked a deal that on the surface might reduce our 15+ TRILLION dollar debt load by, at most, 600 billion dollars, or 1/25th of the mounting debt. Note that I said “mounting” debt, because we have to pay interest as a country on our debt, just like as citizens, right? If you check out this data you can see how since we’re paying nearly 100 billion per month in interest alone, there’s no way we can do anything to staunch the bleeding. Even curiouser, the US makes these interest payments to the Federal Reserve Bank, who is the party from whom the country gets ALL ITS LEGAL TENDER, and from whom it borrows money when it can’t pay its own bills, which is nearly always, at least lately. I’m sure the terms are more than generous, but just who is the Federal Reserve, anyway?

Here’s a nice nonanswer to that query, as well as some conflicting info, which, while sexier, is largely conjecture. Either way, there’s a whole lot of money moving around, and the taxpayers, particularly the 90% of us making under $150k a year, are shouldering the burden of paying the tab.

surely you’ve seen this by now…

Read More…

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