Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sojourn at Midcoast

ex carcer a dictate (from prison, a lesson)
Priscilla and I recently had occasion to visit the Maine State Prison Showroom in Thomaston. The Showroom houses various handicrafts made by Maine State Prison inmates and has been in existence nearly as long as the Prison itself. The handicrafts in question are predominantly woodworks varying from a “Round Tuit” to an “improved” version of the Shaker ladder back chair that folds cleverly into a step stool. 
I have been visiting Maine on vacation since I was a mere lad myself. My family always stopped at the Showroom to impress upon myself and siblings that was I not diligent in school and law abiding it could come to pass that I would be forced to make chunky furniture or thumb wrestling rings sized for giants. I would do this, I was told, under the tutelage of men who had never read an issue of Harper’s, the sort of men who might wear white as late as Columbus Day. Needless to say I was scared, mostly, straight. 
On this most recent visit I was troubled to see a great deal of Harley Davidson themed art within the Showroom. Most striking was a life sized depiction of David Mann’s “Neptune”. For those not in the know this painting, and the subsequent rendering in basswood and maple, depicts a triumphant Neptune astride a shovelhead Harley chopper. His pillion is an amply busted mermaid, Neptune clutches trident. 
In spite of his Greco-Roman origins Nepture is apparently a Nordic giant with a gym membership. Given the number of clues (mermaid, trident, and title of the work) Mann still decided to depict Neptune with a gangland style tattoo, his own name in gothic font arching over his navel. One simply recalls Magritte, sighs, and recites “Ceci n’est pas un pipe”. 
apparatus nomen est meus nomen (The Machine’s name is my name)
There were several other pieces of motorcycle “art” scattered throughout the display. Most of these depicted are various pre-Evolution Harlys. Many of the displays were either identified as pan, shovel, or knucklehead engines. These engines are considered “righteous.” Their lack of oil-tight seals presupposes mechanical aptitude. Images of skinned knuckles and dirt-encrusted nails spring to mind. These are “greaser” bikes, whose ownership precludes professional employ. These motors are emblematic of the loser, the persons at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. In choosing these motors one stands against “success.” 
Most brainwashing and hazing rituals begin by inducing a person to commit a terrible act, such as a crime. Said inductee is then given a series of coping mechanisms that allow the eventual rationalization of the act as being “worth it” because it allows inclusion into a select group. These coping mechanisms are the ritual behaviors of the “faithful” the Harley rider. 
  Typically, the faithful have a rich panoply of insignia and symbols to remind themselves of inclusion. These bikes represent “outlaw” values. They include such hypermasculine traits as domination of women, use of violence to solve problems, or the general disregard for any form of social norms or cultural values. 
In my estimation the heritage and tradition they refer to is a time before the repeal of Jim Crowe laws and before the women’s liberation movement. It is a period where white men ruled, at least in the limited canon of Harley literature.
Harley Davidson tacitly embraces motorcycle gang culture with its HOG chapters and their gang-like three panel patches. It’s convenient for Harley to commodify regressive values when their customer base, white men, is under siege. A shifting work and value system no longer values “traditional” male roles of domination (e.g., males as heads of households) or work (the exportation of skilled physical labor). 
Nazi symbols have always been associated with 1% gangs. Culturally, highly visible racism is most prevalent at the bottom of the social stratum. Current HD culture turns racism minimally socially palatable with the Prussian Cross. I suggest the Prussian Cross, (the West Coast Choppers logo) is a substitute swastika for those lacking the gall to display the true artifact.
The cross itself is derived from a family of encircled or rotating cross icons that are widely used to identify white racists within the US prison systems. As an example, the Klu Klux Clan is a clumsy translation of “circle cross family.In essence, the cross becomes a secret language that tacitly communicates racism and every cruiser catalog is filled with items recast as Prussian Crosses.
For purposes of disclosure, I am of Prussian descent. My grandfather, Vadislaw, immigrated to the United State from what was then Prussia. I am aware of the complex nature of symbols, and this symbol in particular. I am referencing this symbol within, only, the criminal subculture and the larger use of the symbol by the Harley community at large to communicate select values. 
a typicus prosperitas parumper frater (A symbol of prosperity for our brothers)
It’s impossible to imagine that the inmate is unaware, even if not liminally, of the array of values communicated by the pre Evolution, should we say creationist or intelligently designed (HA!) Harley. 
Another piece of art at the Thomaston Showroom was a wood burning of a bear riding a chopper under pennant bearing the motto “Maine.Choppers are difficult to ride and bears are poorly suited to controlling motorcycles. How like the inmate, then, is this Maine bear, his life out of control as Ursus americanus astride a stretched panhead? This, my brothers, is a cry for help. To aid, we must come. 
How much better to direct the inmates of the Maine State Prisons to create modern BMW motorcycle themed art? The stolid BMW motorcycle is invocative of reliability, financial security and upward social mobility. How much better to invoke the tidy shaft drive (when properly shimmed) of the non-Rotex BMW in comparison to the poorly machined cases of the “intelligently designed” Harley. 
What better service could we extend to the wayward than to offer our own mounts (except I own a Suzuki) as paragons of reliability? They might, then, turn to lives of incremental advance where after several decades they could apply for a credit application which might allow them to purchase a quality pre-owned BMW. 
Moreover we could swell our own ranks, in some distant future, with newly minted converts to the cause of European motorcycling (excluding English and Italian motorcycles). Consider my personal appeal to take these rapscallions to heart and consider the misspent lives, the impoverished and kitschy woodwork and mayhem and appeal to the Maine State Prison showroom when next you traverse Thomaston aboard your mighty K or R bike. 
Beemers, lend me your ears, and your motorcycle.
Please forgive my temerity in the broach of such a broad topic within a necessarily narrow framework. Indeed I have swung open many doors merely to gesture down the hallway. I am remiss by means of omission. In my meager defense I invoke the oft repeated aphorism “illic es tantum tot centipedes vos can duco sicco obvius silva” or “there are only so many centipedes you can count out in the woods.”

Roadcrafter v. Darien Review

Vance had always been a post-apocalyptic kind of guy. His favorite movies were Escape From New York and Logan's Run. He didn't like his neighbors and they didn't like him. The unmown lawn, the jury rigged solar panels and propane tanks just didn't sit well in Northampton. Vance wasn't surprised to find his neighbor Sally dead on her doorstep or her husband Teddy slumped behind the wheel of his car. In fact, up and down the street he noticed several cars that appeared to be crashed into telephone poles, trees, and houses. It looked like the inevitable had happened. He was, at last, a post-apocalyptic guy in a post-apocalyptic world. Naturally, Vance hopped on his bike slipped into his Aerostich Roadcrafter and headed towards the supermarket.

Vance was surprised to see Barry at the supermarket when he arrived. Everywhere along the way it'd been the same - bodies, crashed cars just like he'd always imagined. "Why'd you set the Stop and Shop on fire, Barry?" Vance intoned. "I didn't, it was burning when I got here. Anyhow, there's a Shaw's supermarket over the mountain in Pittsfield," Barry said as he leaned against his bike in his Aerostich Darien.

The morning was starting to heat up now, and the fire wasn't helping things. Barry slipped off his jacket (the Darien is a two piece) while they considered the route to Pittsfield. Vance, still astride his mount, unzipped the Roadcrafter, and even though it slipped on and off easily it was still a bit too much to take off for this short amount of time.

Barry's jacket and pants were both thinner and better ventilated than the Roadcrafter, so he felt cooler. This didn't really bother Vance, since he could wear very light street clothing under his Roadcrafter. Just then Vance noticed a group of bikers, The Mean Monsters, a local 1% gang. Shots rang out.

Vance pulled his Smith and Wesson .40 and returned fire. The Roadcrafter had ample pockets for an even larger piece than his giant S&W. The close fit of the Roadcrafter allowed the heavy gun to be carried comfortably, close to the body. Vance was surprised to see Barry pull out a Walther .22 caliber handgun. He didn't think Barry was the sort to carry, but he was glad he did.

After the Monsters went off looking for easier prey he asked Barry what gave. "Well, I stopped by Valley Sporting Goods this morning and threw a rock through their window. I looked at the guns and didn't know what to take. The lighter .22 just felt better in the Darien." Vance smiled thinking of his big gun but Barry knew that he'd deployed the lighter Walther faster and had gotten off more accurate shots due to less recoil. "In the end, it's not the size of the load, it's all about placement," thought Barry.

Both Barry and Vance wanted to get out of town. They motored fast through the wrecked cars. Vance was able to pull ahead since he felt confident in the more protective Roadcrafter. The Roadcrafter's overall shape is better suited to an aggressive street riding position than the Darien.

As they got onto the mountain the going got slower and the Darien began to shine. Barry enjoyed standing and hunting through the rocky terrain. The main road had been totally cut off by a huge pile up and Vance and Barry had to pick their way along forest roads and sometimes even trails. The Darien was better suited to standing and trail riding.

They decided to camp for the night; it was late and it was cool. Overall Barry was more comfortable in his suit making camp than Vance in his 'crafter. The two piece Darien was just easier to move around in and the padding was easily removed. Barry was pleased with the Darien for this application. He even managed to shoot a rabbit for dinner with his Walther, which Vance's .40 would have obliterated.

When it came time to sleep, there was no contest. The Roadcrafter has long been known as the Aerostich Motel. Vance awoke well rested. Barry had even zipped in the optional jacket liner, but the Darien was just less comfortable to sleep in.

In the morning they decided to find some gas. When the dirt roads became pavement again near Dalton they stopped at a trailer home that had two ATVs, a Suburban, a riding mower and three cars out front.

It was then that they were set upon by the Road Rashers, a Mean Monsters satellite club. Unfortunately they'd locked their guns in saddlebags, so it was fisticuffs. The Road Rashers attacked with their trademark sandpaper-covered hockey sticks. The Roadcrafter with it's superior padding definitely held up better and Vance was pleased. Barry's two piece Darien also allowed the rashers to get purchase on Barry and drag him around, potentially getting under the coat and hurting him. Still, overall, they were much better protected than the Rashers in their vests and chaps.

Barry and Vance had both had dated the same Aikido instructor, Linda, whose class they'd both taken. They used that knowledge, and some garden implements, to fight their way back to their bikes. Barry was a bit more beaten up, but OK. Vance hardly noticed it.

When they finally got to the Shaw's supermarket Barry and and Vance went in and filled up with Ramen Noodles and other awesome foodstuff. They drove their bikes right into the store, but Vance was able to pack a bit more into his Roadcrafter than Barry's Darien. That's when Shelly and Brenda appeared. Shelly said, "Wow, we have the same bikes as you guys. It looks like whatever happened just people with dual-purpose bikes and 1% gang members survived." "Thank god, that means no more K bikes at the Yankee Beemers breakfasts" Brenda stated simply.

Shelly was wearing Darien Light and had a .223 carbine rifle slung over her shoulder, and Brenda an Aerostich Transit with a crossbow. The blue Darien Light set off Shelly's fair hair that trailed below her HJC Symax II. The Transit accentuated Brenda's graceful form and dark locks. Both looked fetching and imposing.

So, pick your poison. The Roadcrafter is better at high speeds, better for carrying dense weight close to your body, makes a better sleeping bag and offers more protection. The Darien looks and acts more like a normal jacket and pants, is better for dual sport riding and fits looser and offers more freedom of action.

While the .22 lacks stopping power, it's easier and faster to use and potentially more versatile. The big Smith and Wesson may be slower, but one shot is all it ever takes when on target.

Barry thought Brenda's crossbow would be quiet and self contained - no looking for more ammo, just reuse the bolts. Vance thought Shelly and her carbine quite the pretty picture. The gun would still be useful in close quarters, due to it's short length, but deliver incredible stopping power.

Somehow, everyone knew, there amidst the spoiling milk and rotting meat (the power grid gave out that morning) that everything would be OK. Everyone had chosen their gear well; all of these were good choices and it spoke to the intelligence of the group. Though the electrics that ran the store may have been dead there was electricity enough between Barry and Brenda and also between Vance and Shelly. Their loaded bikes awaited, and they rolled out of the supermarket to a life that everyone knew would contain not only adventure riding, but romance as well.