Day: August 1, 2005

Born to be wild

For some time now, Gwen has been planning to sell her car and replace it with a scooter (probably a Stella). But to even test-drive a scooter larger than 50 cc, you need to have a motorcycle-operator’s license. Since I’d want to be able to ride her scooter (even if, as she plans to, she puts pink flames on it), I’d need to be licensed as well. So this past weekend we took a motorcycle safety course.

That was interesting.

Gwen chose this place because they offer training on scooters, which she thought would be more relevant. In this case, perhaps not. It turns out the scooters they had were 50-cc automatics, and she’s planning on getting a 150-cc manual. So after the first couple of exercises, we asked to be switched to the bikes everyone else was riding (Kawasaki Eliminators–an intimidating name for a laid-back 125-cc bike–stripped of their turning signals and mirrors), and the instructors agreed. Gwen, the diminutive thing that she is, was put off by the size of even small motorcycles, but quickly decided that was the lesser of two evils, and once she was on it, she was comfortable enough with it–but she still plans on getting a scooter.

I think this was only the second time since college that I’ve had any type of formal instruction, and it was very different from the normal academic environment. The big difference is that we were all being treated like adults: we were being moved along quickly and we were expected to “get it”–to not need to be told every little thing. The instructors were telling us we needed to go faster a lot more frequently than they were telling us we needed to go slower. Although it’s not really possible to ingrain good habits in a weekend-long course, that’s really what they were trying to do–they wanted us to have the reflexes to do the right thing in real-world situations, rather than (or really, in addition to) showing that we intellectually understood a set of instructions. There’s a lot of stuff that’s equivalent to learning how to pat your head and rub your belly, and you really don’t nail that in two days.

It was interesting how my experience as a cyclist helped and hindered me on a motorcycle. For the most part, I think I had an advantage in terms of handling, but for low-speed maneuvers (especially the “U-turn box”) handling is sufficiently different that my instincts didn’t do me any good. Where cycling was really interfering was on the controls: On a bicycle, your left hand controls your front brake and front derailleur, your right the rear brake and rear derailleur. On a motorcycle, your left hand controls the clutch, your right hand the front brake, and hey, you’ve got to use your feet–left foot shifts, right foot works the rear brake. I’m accustomed to setting my right foot down at stops (my left foot is my good foot), but when you’re coming to a stop, you need your foot on the brake, so I was doing a little left-foot down, then left-foot up and right-foot down dance.

At the end of the course, we all underwent an evaluation that, if we passed, would allow us to dispense with taking the practical exam at DPS, get us lower insurance rates, and (perversely) allow us to disregard the helmet law. Now that we’re been conscientious enough to take a class to learn how to ride safely, we can be reckless. We all passed.

Helpful Hint

Here’s a helpful hint: If you like making smoothies, and have an Osterizer blender (this may work with other brands too), get yourself a quart mason jar–some brands of pasta sauce use these for packaging. The threading on the jar fits the carafe-base perfectly. You can fill the jar with your smoothie fixings, screw on the base, smoothify, and drink from the same jar. Save yourself washing that big, awkward carafe. Life is good.

Land of the Dead

Yes, I’m catching up on a backlog of movie-blogging, why do you ask?

I always like a good zombie movie, and I liked Land of the Dead. As always, George Romero works in some social commentary along with his cerbrophagous fun-fest, in this case, about class conflict. What more do you need to know? It’s a zombie movie.

Murderball

Although we had to go without my friend Drew, who sounded appalled at the very idea of it, we saw Murderball the other night, a documentary about the sport of quad-rugby. This is one of those documentaries that gives you a window into a world you had no idea existed.

The movie followed the American quad-rugby team, which had built up an almost unbeaten track record, for about a year and a half, through international competition in 2003 and at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The guys are all a bunch of characters. Joe Soares, a former member of the U.S. team who decided to take his trophies up to Canada and become their coach when he got cut, comes off like a towering asshole despite his seated posture. He also looks uncannily like Mussolini. Mark Zupan (of Austin!) seems like a custom-designed ambassador for the sport–heavily tattooed, prickly personality, passionate about what he’s doing. The other guys seem much more laid back, but all of them completely obliterate any impression you might have that guys in wheelchairs want or need to be coddled.

Mysterious Skin

Saw Mysterious Skin recently. Tough movie to watch, but good. I was always under the impression that Gregg Araki’s movies tended to be a little more lightweight, but this was some heavy shit, about young men who had been molested as boys, and how they had grown up. When I see a movie like this (or, say, Bad Education), I wonder how they handle the child actors in these portrayals of shocking acts. It was also interesting to watch, with the part of my brain that maintains detachment, how the scenes were filmed to almost, but not quite, depict the children doing something that children shouldn’t be doing.

There seemed to be something autobiographical behind the story, which makes it all the more sad.

March of the Penguins

Saw March of the Penguins recently. I was vaguely aware of the arduous incubation process for emperor penguins, but this was both educational and absorbing. I didn’t realize how arduous it is, and how much the odds are stacked against successful reproduction.

The narration toned down the harshness–the death–for the benefit of the peanut gallery, but the viewers get the idea.

Also interesting to contemplate was the making of the documentary. How the hell do you sit around in -60° weather, through the monthslong night, to film a bunch of penguins without A) your equipment breaking; B) losing any toes; or C) going insane?