Saturday, August 27, 2011

Patriot -- More Fully Defined

One of the words that I use when defining myself is Patriot.  To me this is not the same as being nationalistic or blindly loyal.  It means that I align myself with the values and beliefs that created this nation and continue to make great.  I've read the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.  Thanks to my father, I keep copies of these documents on my desk at work to remind me of what we are all about.

Several months ago, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was planning to attend and disrupt a service member’s funeral here in Michigan.  This group has taken it upon themselves stretch of permissions granted by the First Amendment to mean that insulting others beliefs is not only permissible but their life's work.  Whereas I don't agree with that position, I do think that if they are allowed to do that I am allowed speak against the WBC.  That was when I found out about the Patriot Guard Riders  (PGR).  The PGR was planning on forming a wall between the WBC and the funeral to prevent the WBC from disrupting it.  I considered that worthwhile. 

The PGR Mission Statement:

The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security. If you share this respect, please join us.

We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn't matter where you’re from or what your income is; you don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect.

Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives:
  1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
  2. Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.

To those of you who are currently serving and fighting for the freedoms of others, at home and abroad, please know that we are backing you.  We honor and support you with every mission we carry out, and we are praying for a safe return home for all.

I became a member of the PGR and started to receive e-mail regarding their missions.  Many of these missions were funerals for service members, but they also greeted returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan and also where there is say goodbye service members deploying.  The problem for me was that many of these events were either short notice or during the week when I found difficult to take a day off to attend.  Then I got the notice earlier this week about a dedication ceremony for a Blue Star Memorial in Union City.  Not only was it on a Saturday, it was only about 18 miles away.  I found my first PGR mission.

Note:  I realize that there are many ongoing arguments and apparently lawsuits about the ownership, control, and philosophy of the Patriot Guard Riders between state and national level organizations.  I am not here to address any of those issues; my reference to the PGR is directly related to the local members I have met and its noblest intentions: public support of our military.

I arrived a little early, but of course, people were already at the rally point.  I was warmly greeted and in several instances given the hug of a long-lost brother.  Most of the men and women who were there were veterans like myself a majority of them had served in Vietnam.  I was one of three first time riders.  Before too long we left the rally point and traveled to a small park were the actual ceremony was going to be held.

From the moment we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the ladies of the Garden Club, who were organizing the event, as well as several local politicians and dignitaries.  I think I must've been thanked at least a dozen times, and at that point, all I had done was to show up.  We were given our flags for the ceremony and formed up behind the podium.  You can usually tell someone who has been in the military at some point in their life by looking for something known as bearing.  Bearing is another way of saying "the way you carry yourself"; people who have served have a particular way of carrying themselves.  Even though I and most of my fellow PGRs had been out of the military long time, our presence on the line showed a great deal of military bearing and respect.
It has been several years since I took part in a ceremony that was rooted in pure patriotism such as this one.  All of the speakers transcended politics and spoke from the heart about veterans and their gratitude for their service.  There was the playing of the National Anthem, everyone saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and a benediction.  All of this took place without protest or demand for some special accommodation.  I was truly in the midst of fellow patriots.

Our role was simple, we were an honor guard and we stood there.   However, we were also serving as a living example of the veterans who were being honored by the Blue Star Memorial that was being dedicated on the day.  Almost every speaker of the dais thanked the PGR at some point.  My purpose there was to honor other veterans and I was finding myself being honored. 
The history of the Blue Star Memorial and how a small Garden Club in New Jersey started this 67 years ago is worth reading.  A very simple idea to honor the veterans of World War II that has now gained new traction.  At some point, take a moment and check it out for yourself here.  

The service itself was not very long and in the closing prayer, the minister mentioned that she hoped at some point that the Memorial would serve not as a reminder of men who served in a war but of men who had brought about peace.  After it was over, we found ourselves called back for photos in front of the Memorial that had just been dedicated.

I remarked to one of the fellow PGRs that I had served in Gulf I and was a Cold War Veteran (by the way, we won) but that I had never been thanked as much during that entire period as I was during the few hours we were there.  That is very true.  I guess there's something to be said for the patriotism that can be found in a small-town. 

I consider myself a Patriot not because of my willingness to put on a uniform to defend the ideals that I believe in -- but also a willingness to assume a new role of giving of my time to ensure that other patriots feel properly honored.  I am proud to say that I am a member of the Patriot Guard Riders and that the PGR is there to ensure that those who serve are recognized, honored, and thanked.    They are true patriots.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Back To The Homeland, Back To The Birthplace -- Marysville, Ohio

On my way home from my grandson's birthday party, I stopped in Marysville to take a quick look at the Honda plant.  This is where my bike was created back in 1999.  They do not make motorcycles there anymore, once they were done with the Valkyrie the plant was transitioned into car manufacturing.

After I took a few pictures of my bike at its birthplace, I hit the Highway heading west again and stopped at the next little town to grab some lunch.  After parking my bike in front of the Waffle House, a company that should be paying me for all these mentions in my blog, I cut the engine and got get off my bike.  As I did, an elderly woman came out of the diner and then gave my bike a rather stern look and frowned.  I braced myself waiting to hear something derogatory about motorcycles.

"Do you know why that bike runs so good?"  She asked staring at me with piercing eyes.

"No M'am" I said not sure where this was going.

"Because it is a Honda." She said forcefully “Do you know why that 1999 Valkyrie Interstate still looks so beautiful?"

I was impressed, I don't think I ever met a woman in her 70s who knew anything about motorcycles – – let alone enough to recognize both year and model just by looking at it. 

"No M'am" I said again.

"Because, we built it right here and we did a damn good job."  She said this and didn't bother to wait on my response or reaction – – she just continued on to her car.

"Thank you" I said to her as she walked by, she gave me a small wave with her hand but did not stop.

Now, that is pride in where you were from and what they do there.  Made me smile all the way home.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road? Perhaps...

There I was, cruising eastbound on US 33 somewhere in Ohio.  My mind was wandering as it often does when I ride,  I can remember that I was figuring out what to do with the piece of gum that I had in my mouth that had lost its flavor.  I needed a method to spit the gum out, with my helmet on, in a way that I could be reasonably sure that the gum would not immediately fly back into the helmet. 

This section of US 33 was agricultural.  On either side of this two lane, Blue Highway were cornfields that were about shoulder area high.  It was kind of like riding in a Hot Wheels track made of green plastic.  Suddenly, in front of me, motion caught my eye.  A small white figure broke from the cornfield on the right side of the road and started across the road at high speed.  It took me a minute to realize that it was a chicken not some other kind of beast.  He chicken did not even look around but with his wings flapping madly he ran full force across the road and then disappeared into the cornfield on the opposite side road.  As I turned my head and stared at the spot where children had disappeared into the cornfield; it occurred to me that I had never literally seen a chicken cross the road in real life.  About that time, my peripheral vision caught motion on the road.

I looked down just in time to see my front wheel run over a rather large snake (5 feet or so).    Not even a second later, I heard the squish as the rear wheel ran over it. I looked in the rearview mirror and the snake was not moving at all.  It had been an interesting few moments. 

Then, I started to smile as I realized that somehow I became part of a chicken joke.  So…

Perhaps the chicken was being chased by the snake and ran across the road hoping that a vehicle would run over snake and prevent the chicken from being eaten.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because he did not want to be a snake's dinner – not funny but accurate

Perhaps the chicken and the snake were having a race and the chicken ran across the road in front of the snake because the snake was winning. 

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because he was cheating to win the race – better but still not there

Perhaps snake had seen one too many Road Runner Cartoon and he thought he was Wile E. Coyote and what I saw was the last few moments of an Acme plan gone horribly wrong.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because that's what the Road Runner would do to get away from the Coyote – I actually kinda like this one, but then I saw the real world version.

Perhaps the chicken was messing the snake and set him up to get run over.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because he was the chicken's evil twin – I like this one

Perhaps it is time we give up on chicken jokes and spin it a little bit. 

Why did the snake cross the road?  Because he didn't see the dude on the Valkyrie until it was way too late – Hmm, not as funny as when it is a joke about a chicken but I can hear this being told in Steven Wright’s voice.

If all else fails.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Zombies

The way I see it, even if the chicken wasn't running from the snake – – the snake eventually would've found the chicken as it wandered around the cornfield.  To my way of thinking, the chicken owes me at least a Thank You card for saving it. 

As far as the snake goes… the chicken and I may have been participants in the joke, but the snake was totally committed - - sorry dude.   


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Well, It Ain't The Cover of the Rolling Stone

You are forewarned that this entry has nothing to do with motorcycles.  It does have to do with sex, drugs, and rock & roll.  Okay, not rock & roll per se, more like the blues but that doesn't roll off the tongue as well.

Before you read this, I have to tell you that I have never been a fan of Rolling Stone magazine.  When I was in high school, my friends tried to get me to read some of its reviews but I never could understand why they wanted to dissect the music to talk about it.  It just isn't how I think about music.  I'm proud to say that to date I've never paid for a single copy of Rolling Stone.  With that in mind, you are going to get the kind of talk about music that I think is appropriate – and for much less than the Rolling Stone cover price.

A few weeks ago, Amy Winehouse was found dead.  I was not surprised when she joined Club 27, and even though the cause of her death has not been determined, I feel confident that it will end up in some way being caused by substance abuse.  After she died, there was much talk on TV about her music and the depth of it.  Since I'd only ever heard one song, Rehab, I thought that I should take a listen to what else she was about.

I got her Back to Black and Frank albums, and also found several bootleg live performances on the internet and gave them a listen.  Part of what I found enjoyable about her music is the choice of songs.  Both albums featured songs that were original as well as some covers.

The first thing that strikes you about Amy Winehouse's music is her voice.  It has some of the same qualities that Nina Simone and other torch singers of that era possess.  An emptiness that seems to float on top of great passion.  Amy's voice has a smoky quality that never seems to have any effect on her range or the clear quality of her singing.  It is unique and I appreciate that uniqueness not only for the voice but also for what she has chosen to sing.

I like the song Rehab for the music that it is, simple and fun.  It is also one of only two songs I know of that have repeated "No's" in the lyrics.  The other song also deals with substance abuse, Ringo Starr's No-No Song, but in that, the singer has already completed rehab.   

I do like the fact that Amy recorded some songs that show dark humor and biting commentary.  To my way of thinking, Rehab is meant to be a fun song.  However, Amy's song Fuck Me Pumps is actually a better and much deeper song with dark humor.  It never received any airplay, to my knowledge, but given the title, I can see why not.  The song deals with a 30 something woman who was still hanging out at the bar looking for Mr. Right but settling for one night stands.  The song is almost cruel and mean.  It uses snide commentary but if you've ever met or seen one of those types of women, there is also great truth there.

As I mentioned before, Amy did several covers of other torch songs and ballads.  Her cover of Cupid is excellent. She took a very basic bubblegum song and turned it into something totally her own and at the same time kept it uplifting and fun.  I Heard It Through the Grapevine, a soulful duet with Paul Weller-- recording I heard was live and you could almost smell the stale beer and see the smoky haze.  Awesome.

Also,  Amy’s covers of To Know Him Is to Love Him, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and Someone to Watch Over Me are each a work of art in their own right.  Not only has she captured the deeper meaning of each of the songs in her own unique style, but also because of the way, she attacks them she has created a perfect trio of songs that were made for dim candlelight and terrific sex.  Warning: since all three together come to just a little over 10 minutes -- you will need to pair them with something else.
Where Amy's voice, style, and personal passion really shine is when she is singing the blues.  Back to Black, one of the title tracks, is what torch songs are supposed to be.  He was fooling around with someone else, treats her like crap, and then dumps her to go back to his woman – in the end she finds herself seeking the numbness of going back to black.  There is much discussion online about what is meant by this – – Was it drugs?  Was it just depression?  Was it loneliness?  My response to all of that is:  Who cares? – – here is a woman in deep pain who is seeking an escape.  I feel like Amy's voice through the whole song should echo because it sounds so empty and alone -- so full of pain it is impossible not listen.

So much the opposite of your typical torch song: In My Bed.  An ex-boyfriend she still sleeps with must be hinting that he wants to get back together.  All she wants is to sleep with him.  So many great lines in the song "Oh it's you again, listen this isn't a reunion", ""the only time I hold your hand is to get the angle right", and "want the same thing where we lay, otherwise minds a different way".  What terrific writing – the lyrics could stand alone as poetry.

Of course, Amy tells it the way she sees it in Stronger Than Me.  Her older man doesn't act manly enough for her; she says exactly how she feels about it.  For a little variety, her song Hey Little Rich Girl has a light reggae feel that there is no mistaking the distinctiveness of her voice in the duet with Zalon and Ade.

The bottom line of all of this is that I have enjoyed everything of hers that I've heard.  Amy Winehouse has a unique voice that makes you want to listen to what the lyrics are saying -- she has a way of twisting the blues on its head.  To me the blues is not only about the music itself but also about the lyrics.  Amy had a great way with lyrics.

When I was done listening to all the music and listening to such an abundance of talent that is no longer with us, I was left with only one comment: Damn, Amy. Why?