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Archive for December, 2009

December 26th, 2009 - Happy Holidays

“Are you on your honeymoon?” someone asked. While honeymoon doesn’t quite describe my situation, it’s honest to say that I have been a lazy writer. The transition from a free roaming lion to a domesticated cat is perhaps not the case here but not far from reality either. It’s like day and night comparing my careless life to what is becoming a more meaningful and sophisticated journey of its own.

I have gone from meet-the-parents to the emotional rollercoaster of dealing with the last minute syndromes. I have learned things that I never knew existed. To this day I had no idea that there were such things as blackheads and whiteheads and that women hold the only permanent cure to these abominations. I have been startled with a contraption that looked like a needle-threader to innocent eyes but turned to be a secret society torturing tool to pave the uneven skin by removing the undesirable colored heads.

I have felt the tension building up as the departure date is getting closer and nothing seems to go smoothly until the last second. It has been hard for both of us to cope with the uncertainty of the upcoming years or the tendency to pick  fights for the smallest things that would not matter under any other circumstance. All that aside, we plow through with conviction and determination, no matter what the next obstacle will be.

Cynthia has been working hard to meet these unsaid expectations and I am astounded at her fortitude every day. She is becoming an undeniable part of my life which scares me even more than the torture tool, but there is no measurement for the joy and happiness she brings to my life. She will fill you in on the latest news… Merry Christmas everyone.

-Chris Sorbi

Early mornings are not my thing. But this past weekend found me up before daylight two mornings in a row in pursuit of a lifelong dream. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, I attended the Basic Rider Course in Hesperia, CA under the excellent tutelage of Andy, Casey and Tom, the course instructors. I say excellent because I am not the quickest learner (understatement) and my renowned klutziness makes Bambi on ice look Kristi Yamaguchi. But somehow these amazing men managed to remain chipper despite the early cold mornings and having me as a pupil! They had boundless patience, explained the directions in clear terms, and were never at a loss for a smile or a word of encouragement.

Chris was very kind to accompany me to Hesperia so that I wouldn’t have to make the trip alone and to provide moral support, as well as to take some pictures and video of the class.  We ended up finding a last-minute couch-surfing place to crash in Hesperia with a college history professor named Jim Comer. We enjoyed visiting with this intelligent, kind and modern-day Renaissance man who served us pine-twig tea and a dessert from an ancient Carthaginian recipe.

Day one started with classroom instruction from Tom. After reviewing the entire handbook in the classroom and a delicious breakfast which was Tom’s treat to the class, the morning ended with a written test. I was struggling to remember some of the details and while I knew about 40 of the answers, I wasn’t exactly sure about the remaining 10. Biting my nails, I handed my test in to be reviewed and went to the restroom. When I returned, Chris shook his head and told me that I didn’t pass and that I was the only one who didn’t pass. My heart sank. He had told me that it wasn’t an option to fail. I sat dejected, kicking myself internally for failing, when finally he told me that I did pass. The poor guy apparently just wanted to mess with me and joke around but at that moment, I didn’t find the humor in his joke.

The afternoon of day one started with a basic overview of the bike. There were 11 students taking the course. The only other girl in the class, Jamie, told me that her husband told her that when he took the class, the 3 girls in the class failed. We were both quite nervous about passing to say the least. We bonded over Gatorade and set out to master the basics. The hours flew by as we went from one exercise to another. By the end of the day I was sore and mentally exhausted but thrilled to be learning how to ride.

Chris and I went to Starbucks after the class to meet up with Jesus Granados, a new friend from the Hooligan Crusiers motorcycle forum who kindly rode in from about an hour away to meet with us and give us some information about traveling in Mexico. He also sent us numerous emails with valuable links and resources for our travels. We really appreciate his time and willingness to connect and help us out. Hopefully we can find a chance to go on a ride together before we leave the States.

The next day started with another beautiful sunrise, something that the high desert seems to have no lack of. After warming up the bikes we started going through more drills and exercises to teach us how to stop, swerve, go around curves, go over obstacles, stop in curves and change lanes. My nemesis was the “box,” a drill which involved doing a modified figure eight within the confines of a rectangle shape. I felt like I was riding a bull backwards for as much as I was able to get the bike to do what I wanted it to within that box. Thankfully, throughout the whole morning, Casey and Andy kept giving me helpful feedback and direction. Without fail, they were patient, kind, and good-humored.  Chris saved the day by bringing me breakfast so that I could get some sustenance during the breaks. Before I knew it the drill/practice time was up and we had to take our tests. One by one the entire class went through each exercise while Casey and Andy took notes on their clipboards. We gathered together for the moment of truth and cheered to discover that the entire class passed. So it’s official. I can ride a motorcycle. Well, not really. I still have to pass the written test at the DMV to get my endorsement. And I have miles to go in practice before I am fully competent as a rider.  But I’m on my way!

With 5 million graduates and counting, this is another testament to the efforts of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and its great team of people who care about and value rider safety and shine through with their knowledge, patience, and dedication to making the roads safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

~Cynthia Q

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December 15th, 2009 - The End of the One-Man Band

I resolved the towing issue although not to my satisfaction. Instead of leaving the bike for eight days in their repair shop, I opted for a one-time cash settlement of $350 for the damages. This doesn’t even come close to the actual cost but I had no desire to stick around and try my luck with the bureaucracy of our justice system. I fixed the bike in Bakersfield and aside from the paint damage, it is up and running again.

Up to now, this expedition has evolved on so many different levels and I am excited to announce a very special change. As you already read in my previous posts, a series of events and setbacks have kept me in Bakersfield and during this time I met Cynthia. Cynthia is a passionate social worker and award-winning photographer whom I relate to on many issues. This was not an easy decision to make for either one of us, but after much consideration and internal debate, I am honored to introduce you to Cynthia as she will be joining the Transcontinental Humanitarian Expedition. Please welcome her to the world of tarmac and rubber.      –Chris Sorbi

My name is Cynthia, and I am about to take a leap. I am not the ardent adventurer that Chris is. While motorcycles intrigue me, I’ve never so much as ridden one alone aside from a couple of short zips down a quiet country road. Yet, I am about to join an expedition that involves leaving behind all of my creature comforts and head off into the unknown on one.

What would induce a social worker with a stable and rewarding job to leave the security and safety of her day-to-day life? The truth is that I have been dreaming about doing something that allows me to combine my passion for helping people with my passion for photography. The heart of this expedition, which is to raise funds and awareness for starvation, is what compels me to make that leap.  I am excited about the unique opportunity that this expedition affords me to have a greater platform to impact change and to make a difference in a tangible way.

Of course, there are certain risks and challenges involved with an undertaking of this sort, particularly as a female. For one, my hyper-active imagination and penchant for reading news about tourist trips gone wrong don’t help my peace of mind in setting out into the great unknown. I am easily scared. I feel vulnerable not knowing where exactly I’ll be laying my head and what sort of two or four-legged creatures will be outside my tent at night. Not having my soft bed or a warm shower every day I can deal with. But the cold and I are not the best of friends, and I loathe the thought of times of being bone-cold and tired with no relief from the cold. I freely admit to being jealous of the male species’ plumbing as I know that I can’t count on finding an actual restroom in the middle of nowhere whenever nature calls. But the drive and the passion for the cause outweigh these minor hardships.

Along with the massive amount of preparation that has to be done to get myself ready to join this journey in short order, there are technical issues to be addressed. In order to maximize my chances of success in enduring life on the road, we have planned intensive training to bring me up to speed. Courtesy of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, I will be taking the Basic Rider and Dirt Bike courses in the following week. I will also undergo additional hands-on training under the tutelage of Andrew Pogany in Monterey, California. While this preparation phase will be intense and challenging, I am determined to make the best of it so that I can be ready.

Hasta la proxima! Chau!

-Cynthia Q.

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December 6th, 2009 - Bike Assault and Battery

Have you ever wanted to castrate a man with a dull spread knife?

On one of my last days in Los Angeles, I parked my bike on a street under a sign that read “tow-away zone from 4-7”. I was thinking of moving it the whole time but one thing led to another and by the time I got around to it, it was 4:30 and the bike was gone.

I called the city and they said that bike was impounded and they gave me the towing company’s address to go and get it. Since this motorcycle is my only transportation, I called a cab and got there 45 minutes later in the rush-hour traffic of L.A.

I walked inside a mall size towing company called Keystone Towing where my motorcycle was supposed to be stored. I was already angry and blaming myself for the stupid parking zone violation, but that’s just one side of the story. They told me that the towing fee was $217 plus an $80 citation to the Los Angeles police department.

I told the clerk to show me the bike so I can inspect it and see that everything is ok before I would pay the charges. He walked me through the storage lot and when I got to the bike, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The tank was ripped off the frame and hanging from the two bolts under the seat. The cable lock was wrapped up around my rear wheel from them pulling the bike. The forks were bent with a slight arch in them, the seat was bent back and ripped, and finally, the gas tank rubber bushings and a 10mm bolt sitting under the bike.

As calm as I could be (which is probably not what you imagine the word calm would mean), I asked for the manger to come over. The operations manager walked out and I told him I don’t care how it happened, just tell me loud and clear what you are going to do about it and tell me now.

With utmost insolence and unprofessional disrespect, he countered with “how do we know it wasn’t like this when it got here?” At this point I wanted to demolish his face right then and there but I stepped away and called 911 to send out a police officer.

While I was waiting, the manager went on with taking pictures and telling me that I have two options: A) pay the fee for the bike and get it out of there or, B) they would charge me an additional $45 every day for storage if I choose not to pay the fee now. The cops got there and they refused to make a damage report on the grounds that this was a civil dispute and not criminal, and if I have a problem with it, I can go to court and request a hearing.

Since I’m constantly traveling, have nowhere to stay in the city, nor have the time or patience to pursue a law suit against a city-contracted towing company, so knowing all that, I said to the manager “you know what; just give me something…, drop the towing fees and I’ll be on my way.” After a long conversation, he said that $100 of the towing fee goes to L.A county and they can’t wave that and all he can do is to give me a discount, and for that, I had to sign a waiver that I am OK with everything and will not sue the company!

As I assessed my options to settle the damages given my travel situation, I told him to let me try to crank the bike so I can see if it even runs, and that there might be other damages that I can’t see in the dark warehouse with a flash light. If it at least moves, I can make my decision then.

Not only was this guy rude and arrogant from the start, this time he said: “Take it or leave it. I won’t let you see the bike until you pay for it or get out because we are closing right now.”

At this point I paid the full amount so I retain the right to sue them when I get the bike out. They ran my bank card and then, they wanted me to sign a paper saying that “I have received the above vehicle in satisfactory condition”. I told them “Hell no. I’m not signing that. I already paid for your ‘service’ and I want my bike NOW.” They said if you don’t sign the paper, you will not get your bike.

So I called 911 again and asked for yet another visit from the police which took 45 minutes. With police intervention, a segment was added to the paper that the bike is in a damaged state and I listed all the damages I could see, made two copies and I finally got the bike out of there.

I bent the tank back down but it’s only holding on with the back bolts, the paint is chipped and cracked on the tank(this tank was in immaculate shape, see the older pictures on my website) and the seat is bent and ripped and it won’t stay on without moving to left and right.

I am seriously thinking about suing the United Roads Towing Co. and its division the Keystone Towing. Maybe the damage is not worth the trouble, but it is a matter of principle. Paying the traffic fine is one thing which I don’t have a problem with as it was my own fault, but getting raped by the city and their contracted towing company is something else.

I am grateful to Dana Onel for hosting me at her place in Sherman Oaks and like to thank all those who called, emailed and offered their help to get me back on the road. Wrong doing of one company does not alter my perception of the good people of California and in particular Los Angeles.

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