Great Escape

This week's UPI column, a couple of days late

So There I was...

Looking for a way through.

I was motorcycling down a major arterial in my neighborhood. It was a sunny, dry, morning and traffic was light. Stopped at the next side street on my right was our local letter carrier. His name is Gerry. He is a friend of mine. I always smile when I see him in his postal truck. He is a good man and a good presence in our neighborhood. He knows me, and my bikes. As I came up on him I smiled – I had my visor up. He was looking right at me. I thought we made eye contact. I nodded my head (can’t always wave on a bike). Then, just as I approached the street, he pulled out – right in front of me – making a left turn onto the big street. I had one nanosecond to decide what to do before I hit the side of his truck.

When you are in motorcycle safety school (and no one should ride without this experience) they drum into you head that you must always be scanning the road ahead for potential dangers and potential solutions to those dangers.

The advantages of the bike over the cage (your car) are maneuverability and quicker acceleration/deceleration. We can go, stop and turn faster than you can. This is a simple fact of physics; much less mass, nearly equal power. This saves our live – a lot.

One of our major disadvantages is visibility. We are smaller and your brain is accustomed to notice cars and trucks, and often you just don’t see us, even when you see us. This endangers our lives – a lot.

After alcohol and excess speed – both completely avoidable – the number one cause of motorcycle deaths is a car making a turn into your immediate path. This is unavoidable. But it is manageable. You make a mental discipline of presuming that you are either invisible, or that if visible, that the vehicle ahead will attempt to intentionally kill you. Making this presumption, you plan you way of escape. There is always a way of escape, usually more than one. You ride your bike in a manner that makes escape possible at any time. Then you get to live.

On the day of my near postal collision, I had four choices; none of them really good.
1-Swerve left – in front of his path. He might stop at the last second and I could scoot in front of him. I rejected this, as it is folly to bank on his seeing me, when he clearly had not seen me to this point.

2- Swerve right – and try and go behind him as he continued his left turn. This might work if he moved quickly enough, but it presumed that he would not see me at the last second and hit his brakes. In my experience they almost always see you at some point and slamming on the brakes is always the natural response. I rejected this because it bet my safety on his response. I like to keep my safety in my own hands when ever possible.

3- Try and make the right hand turn. Move onto the street that he was leaving. This could work if I did not have too much speed going into the turn. It would require lots of lean for my cruiser-style bike. If you fail, you go down into a slide, but that is preferable to hitting a large object directly. People survive slides. I was wearing good leathers.

4- Attempt the very fast emergency stop. If you are not going too fast this often works. But if you lock up your brakes you slide, often into the object you are trying to avoid. Going under a truck is not recommended.

There was not actually time to think through these options. These options had to be wired into my sinews and nerve endings.

I attempted a combo of three and four. He did see me at the last moment and he did slam on his brakes, coming to a stop completely blocking the road in front of me. I turned to the right, leaned, and put the bike into a controlled sideways slide. I stood up, foot on my back brake and hand on the front brake. I was prepared to attempt to leave the bike if she went under the truck. I sacrificed a lot of good tire tread. And I stopped, facing to the right, parallel to the truck, right at Gerry’s driver side window. I stood the bike upright. I had managed not to soil myself.

Gerry looked down at me and said “Expletive, Peg, expletive I ‘m sorry. I did not expletive see you! Expletive!”

I looked up and said. “Expletive Gerry! Good thing I saw you! You almost expletive killed me! That would have sucked!”

Gerry: “No Expletive!”

We were blocking traffic in two directions. He moved his truck across the street. I moved the bike to the side street. We both stayed put until we recovered. We did both recover.

This is yet another set of motorcycle truths that easily move into the spiritual realm. Don’t travel so fast that you don’t have time to deal with emergencies. Scan your horizon for trouble, but do it with a calm, relaxed, open attitude – fear and panic are not your friends. Always look for the way of escape – it is always there.

The Apostle Paul talks to the folks in Corinth about this. He says:
{italic}“There is not a situation that will test you that is not natural and common. God is faithful and fair. You will not be tested you above your skill level. With the test there always comes a way of escape.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (paraphrase mine) {/itaic}

The word I have translated as test is often translated temptation, but test or trial is also a fair use of the Greek. So is assay, like checking the level of a precious metal. This passage is often preached narrowly as being about temptation to sin. And the ‘take away’ is – You have no excuse for sin, there is always a way out. This is fair, but limited exegesis.

We do not learn without opportunities to test and use our skills. But we do not need to fear God as an assayer. God is not trying to catch us being bad; God is a fair educator who is on our side. Giving us skills, the opportunities to use them, and a way to survive and thrive during the learning process. God made us, and knows that we have ‘the right stuff.’ God wants to use that stuff to whatever level we will take it.

With God there is always a chance to retake the test.

With motorcycles, inattention can take away the re-test.

So ride safe! Shiny side up, rubber side down!
Keep your eyes open and mind your escape route.


Sweet Home Chicago

No UPI this week or next

I am going home to Chicago to my brother's house.

His daughter Jessica will be waking up in the room that I woke up in for 18 years and she will walk the same route the five blocks and in the Kindergarten classroom door that I went into.

I want to go take the walk with her for a few days and see what kind of wisdom her five year old head has for me.

Here's Jessica on a rather forlorn April day in Chicago


Quaker not-so-plain dress

today's UPI column

So There I was...

Being born. It was a busy day for my mother and me. We were at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, right off of the Congress Expressway, which was six lanes in 1957, not the present eight, and not yet named for Mr. Eisenhower. It was snowing, which was not surprising as it was New Year’s Eve. My father was concerned for his beloved wife, excited about the prospect of his second child, and it would soon dawn on him that her two-week early arrival would give him the tax deduction for the entire previous year. Everything went well.

About 20 blocks due east at 325 West Jackson Boulevard, just off Upper Wacker Drive, a Mr. Jack Stern had a small but prestigious couture dress studio. He sold his dresses almost exclusively through Marshall Field’s designer dress section. The Holiday season was always a busy time. Even though he was in the middle of the Spring into Summer dresses, and planning for the 1958 fall season, his regular customers knew that they could come in for an emergency fitting or to ask for something special. That week a very special order was filled for a simple but elegant black dress. Rayon crepe, simple on top, three quarter length sleeves, fitted at the waist; it was flattering to the figure that was planning to wear it to the society funeral. Its subtle glory was the large satin bow just above the fluted, knee length hem.

The dress was delivered to the north shore address. I was delivered and taken in due time, west to the suburb of Oak Park, to an apartment above a bakery.

I know how I came to live in Salem, Oregon. After 18 years in Oak Park, I went to college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, married an Oregonian and followed him home. The Quaker thing came after that and was a bit of a surprise to me.

The dress has a more mysterious history. It was not worn often, but many couture dresses suffer that fate. But somehow it found its way west across the continent and eventually to a Goodwill Store in Salem, hanging on a rack with a tag that said $15. The prospect of an ignoble end as a Halloween costume was very real.

Quaker preachers do not wear vestments. Our worship attire is not usually distinguishable from the other members of the meeting. This is one of our testimonies. Those of us who facilitate weddings and memorial services dress appropriate to the level of festivity of the occasion. For my brothers in the ministry, a suit and tie is almost always sufficient. Female ministers have to be a bit more creative. You want to look appropriate, but not call attention to yourself. I like elegant, when I can pull it off.

Being a Quaker preacher is not usually a high-remuneration gig, at least not materially. I shop at Goodwill. And so it came to pass that a baby girl of a certain vintage and a couture dress of the same vintage found each other forty years later and several thousand miles away from the neighborhood where they both started.

Odd that this sort of a dress would end up attending Quaker weddings and memorials. But no more odd than my own journey.

I am more sentimental about some inanimate objects than I probably ought to be. I tend to anthropomorphize certain objects, like motorcycles. But I guess that I believe that the cosmos, animate and inanimate, is ordered in a way that the pull of a strong human pathway will sweep along other physical bodies like leaves on a wind-swept path.

Yesterday I was privileged to be a principal witness at a Beautiful Quaker Wedding in a grove of ancient Douglas fir. The dress felt right and meet and proper.

Mr. Jack’s dress and I have both had better endings than might have been.

We are grateful.