Monday, March 31, 2008

What you need to know about motorcycle insurance

Since we're on the cusp of the motorcycle riding season, this is an opportune time to revisit a piece I wrote about the ins and outs of motorcycle insurance for Motorcycle Tour & Cruiser:

Ask the average motorcyclist to explain the inner workings of an engine or the relative merits of sport versus touring tires, and most of us can give a pretty good account of ourselves. But ask us to explain the details of our motorcycle insurance policies, and you’ll probably get a lot of stammering or blank stares.

We insure our motorcycles because most states require it as a condition for a license plate. We’d also like some financial backup in case we have a tip-over, crash, or the bike gets ripped off. But most of us don’t spend a lot of time shopping around for the best rates or reading the fine print in our policies. So, here’s a quick look at the kind of coverage the major insurance companies offer.

Liability -- Bodily Injury and Property Damage: This covers your legal liability for an accident where someone else is hurt or another’s property is damaged. You choose the upper limits of the coverage and pay accordingly. Your insurance company pays the medical bills and wage loss suffered by an injured person, the cost to replace or repair damaged property, and any other damages you are legally obligated to pay as the result of an accident.

Note that Bodily Injury may or may not apply to a passenger. Some companies break that out into a separate category of coverage, which you can accept or decline. If you’re a solo rider and never carry a passenger, you may be able to save a few dollars and forgo this coverage. A lot of riders mistakenly believe Bodily Injury coverage will take care of their own injuries. Not so.

Medical Payments: This is the coverage that takes care of your medical bills and is limited to a specific dollar amount. In some states, this coverage doesn’t kick in until any other medical insurance you have is exhausted. If you already have good health/medical coverage, you may choose to decline this option.

Comprehensive and Collision: This covers the cost of repairing or replacing your bike if it is damaged, regardless of who is at fault. Collision covers damage to your bike when you hit another vehicle or object. Comprehensive pays for damage from any source other than a collision, such as theft, vandalism, or fire.

You share in the cost by paying a deductible – the amount you must pay up front before the insurance kicks in and pays the rest. The lower the deductible, the higher the rate.

Custom Parts and Equipment: This takes up where Comprehensive and Collision leave off and covers items other than factory-standard equipment. Here, we’re talking about such items as saddlebags, custom paint, a custom exhaust system, chrome parts, headsets and intercom systems, a sidecar, trailer, and so on. Helmets and riding apparel are covered in varying degrees from company to company. While some of these items may be covered under your basic policy, standard coverage varies widely, so get the details. Again, you can get higher limits for a higher premium.

Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist: Uninsured Motorist coverage pays for medical bills, wage loss, and other damages that you would have received from the other person’s insurance company, had they been insured. Some companies break it down into Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury coverage and Uninsured Motorist Property Damage coverage.

Underinsured Bodily Injury coverage is designed to cover the gap between the other driver’s liability limits and the liability limit for Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury coverage you select. Again, the amount of coverage selected will affect the rate you pay.

What The Experts Have To Say
“Most consumers don’t know much about motorcycle insurance, and they don’t spend the time learning about it,” observed Ben Sheridan, general manager for motorcycle insurance with Progressive. “The price of motorcycle insurance really varies from company to company,” he said, “and it makes sense to talk to more than one insurance company and get more than one price.”

Sheridan suggests checking first with the company that insures your car. “But don’t stop there. Talk to companies that specialize in motorcycle insurance, too,” he said. “If your auto insurance company will insure a motorcycle, but they really don’t want to, that means they won’t have customized coverage and their adjusters don’t understand motorcycles,” said Sheridan.

What you’ll likely find, he said, is that your car insurance company only looks at a few factors in deciding what rate to charge – usually, basic things like your age and the engine displacement of your motorcycle. They may not make much distinction between a cruiser, a sport bike, a sport tourer, or a full-zoot touring machine as long as they all have similar displacement.

Peter Pelizza, chief operating officer for Dairyland Insurance, told me that specialty insurers like his company take a much closer look at bikes and riders. For instance, they have rates that reward safe riding and make the high-risk riders and machines pay accordingly. “If you need heart surgery, you go to a specialist. You don’t go to a G.P.,” Pelizza said.

He also explained that they constantly fine-tune rate structures to reflect what’s happening in the real world. For instance, Pelizza commented, between 5 and 6 percent of Dairyland’s Harley-Davidson claims involve “chain reaction” accidents – domino tipovers or riding group pile-ups – reflecting Harley riders’ penchant for traveling in tight groups. “It’s more prevalent than in any other class of bikes,” he said, and that’s the kind of data that goes into structuring rates and coverage for a Harley.

When doing your research, note that Markel and Progressive both offer on-line rate quotes at their web sites. This is a service we’re likely to see more of in the future.

Ask About DiscountsSpecialty insurers delve deeper into motorcycle statistics and actuarial data, than do companies that mainly insure homes and cars and don’t actively pursue motorcycle business. As a consequence, these main-line insurers often charge higher [motorcycle] rates and don’t offer discounts for special lower-risk classes of riders and bikes.

When you ask for a rate quote, be sure to ask what discounts the company offers. Many give discounts for passing the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s rider course. Others offer discounts to MSF instructors, to riders with clean driving records, and even for cruisers and touring bikes (as opposed to, say, sport bikes). You also can save with some companies if you have an audible anti-theft alarm on your bike.

Affiliation with certain clubs or associations also may entitle you to added benefits. Dairyland, for instance, offers a 10 percent discount for members of certain clubs, including the American Motorcyclist Association, BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, Christian Motorcyclist Association, Gold Wing Road Riders’ Association, Harley Owners’ Group and Women On Wheels. “Some companies use discounts as a marketing tool because people like to buy things on sale,” said Pelizza. “But realistically, our discounts are warranted based on data on the rider and the motorcycle.”

At least one company, Cycle-GARD, will give you a discount for having a current insurance policy somewhere else. Rick Filipponi, sales supervisor for Cycle-GARD, the motorcycle division of GEICO, said coming to Cycle-GARD having already had insurance elsewhere is evidence that the rider is a conscientious, responsible person.

GEICO took some heat several years ago when the company refused to insure drivers or riders who used radar detectors. “We don’t ask that question any longer,” Filipponi said, conceding, “We were a bit more conservative then.” Noting that radar detectors are illegal in GEICO’s home state of Virginia, Filipponi advised, “Don’t expect us to cover a radar detector if it’s stolen.”

Sheridan noted that most riders under-insure their accessories. “A company like Progressive will cover the first $1,000 of your custom parts and equipment as part of your premium,” he said. “Beyond that, you have to tell us if you’ve got another $2,000-$3,000 worth of accessories. We find very few folks are doing that. Some say, ‘That’s just me playing around,’ and don’t want to pay for the extra insurance. They need to think about covering what they have and getting a price for it.”

Filipponi said Cycle-GARD will cover up to $500 in accessories under their basic rates. While Pelizza reported Dairyland’s primary program covers $3,000 worth of special (non-OEM equipment), including protective riding suits and helmets.

Some companies recognize there are riders in northern states who winterize their bikes and don’t ride during the cold weather months. They offer lower rates that take into account his abbreviated riding year and lower exposure to risk. If you put your bike up for the winter, call your insurance agent and ask about suspending part of your usual coverage until spring. Often, such a change can be made the same day for an immediate savings.

Bob Pearl, product manager with Northland, said his company structures its “snow belt” rates on the presumption of a 10-month riding season, rather than offering a “lay-up” program.

“We factor that (down-time) into our rate calculation and we base the rate on ten months, but carry other two months for free,” he said, adding this make it possible to enjoy a rate that recognizes your latitude, but accommodates the urge to go for a ride on that rare warm day in January.]

Note that companies occasionally may check your driving/riding record if they have reason to believe you’re a high-risk customer. “We will, in some cases, pull a motor vehicle report to verify a driving record,” Sheridan said. “We’ll do that after the insurance policy has already been started. If there is a change, then the price of the insurance will chance.”

“There are some situations where a single speeding ticket can change the rate. In other cases, it will take two to change it.” Riders with bad driving records will, of course, end up paying higher rates. He added, “Some companies will look at your driving record and cancel you, but we don’t. Our philosophy is to minimize the number of cancellations.”

Of the insurance experts interviewed, all agree it’s important to choose an insurance company that’s financially secure. You also should look for one that offers claim service outside of normal business hours and on weekends and holidays.

And, in case you’re wondering, Pelizza and Pearl were the only insurance exec I spoke with who ride. Pelizza has a ’97 Harley-Davidson Softail in his garage with 14,000 miles on the meter and Pearl is a dedicated dirt rider who hopes to get his two teenagers into the sport this year.

Here are some of the major insurance companies that offer specialty coverage for motorcyclists.



Markel Insurance Co.



This story was published about 10 years ago, so some of the company-specific information may have changed, but the concepts haven't.

Freakin' storms again

Hearing the rumble of thunder, I clicked on The Weather Channel's website and found this way-too-familiar map.
You'd think those of us in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan could catch a break.
Oh, well. Time to shut down the computers and go have a beer.

Welcome, Friends and Strangers!

I added a visitor widget to the blog about 24 hours ago because I was curious to see where my visitors were coming from. The results have been rather surprising.
Here's a list of places where blog hits have originated:
Valencia, Spain
United Kingdom
Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Lancaster, Calif.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Bellmore, N.Y.
Des Moines, Iowa
Lafayette, Ind.
Pasadena, Calif.
Barcelona, Spain
Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ind.
San Francisco, Calif.
Killeen, Texas
Denton, Texas

Some are finding me while searching for a particular topic or image on Google, but a lot of them are linking directly.
I can guess who a few of them are – like my son Steve in Las Vegas, and Pixielyn in Lancaster, Calif., but most are welcome strangers.
The widget is Feedjit and you can read all about it and get it free for your own site at And won't worry about anonymity or tracking. All Feedjit does is report where you are (actually, it's not perfect – I has me in Paragould, Ark., when I'm really closer to Brookland, Ark.) and whether you found me via a search engine or another site or just came here directly.

What passes for TV news writing

This was on the website of the local TV station (I'll not name them in an effort to minimize the embarrassment) this morning. If you want some real fun, try diagramming these sentences:

JONESBORO, AR - A Jonesboro man is dead from stab wounds after an ambulance staff finds the man lying on the ground overnight.

It happened at 3000 Fairview Drive where police were flagged down by ambulance personnel after finding a man whose identity is not being released right now.

The man had suffered mortal stabbing wounds.

Two people inside of the residents at the mentioned address are being questioned but police still say no arrests have been made.

"The victim was transported to the hospital, was pronounced dead by the doctors. There was 2 people present at the house and we have them at the police department for questioning at this time." said Lt. Nathan Oliver of the criminal division of Jonesboro Police Department.

We'll have more on this story throughout the day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

How to get really, really high on a motorcycle

Now that the riding season is about to start in earnest here, this seems like a good time to post this piece I wrote for Motorcycle Tour & Cruiser Magazine several years ago.

Want to get high? I mean really high. Higher than you’ve ever been on a motorcycle or in a car or anything else besides an airliner.
Then chart a course to Colorado. But be warned: this is no ride for wimps.
I’m talking about Mount Evans and the highest paved road in North America.
At 14,264 feet above sea level, Mount Evans is 154 feet higher than better-known Pike’s Peak. On most days, it can be easily seen from Denver, some 30 miles to the east.
You get there by taking the Exit 240 south from I-70 at Idaho Springs and heading up the Chicago Creek canyon into the mountains on Colo. 103.
Fourteen miles from the Interstate, you’ll round a curve and be treated to a gorgeous view of Echo Lake, where anglers try their luck in the chilly waters and hikers stop to picnic and admire the lake and mighty Mount Evans beyond.
The Echo Lake Lodge overlooks the lake and is a great place for a break and to psych yourself up for what’s to come. The lodge dates from the 1920s. It no longer accepts overnight guests, but is a pleasant place for a snack and souvenirs.
If you just rode in from the flatlands, you may feel a little light-headed as you climb the front steps of the lodge. That’s because Echo Lake is more than two miles high – 10,600 feet to be precise. Suck all the oxygen from the air that you can get, because there’s precious little where you’re going next.
Just beyond the lodge parking lot is the turnoff for Colo. 5, a 12-mile miracle of highway engineering that snakes its way to the rarefied heights of Mount Evans. It’s winter most of the year at the summit of Mount Evans, so the road is only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Talk of an auto road up Mount Evans began in 1910 and the Colorado Division of Agriculture commissioned the road in 1915. Construction of a dirt and gravel road started in 1917. It took a decade to build because savage weather conditions limited work to the summer months. The road was paved in the 1930s.
The Crest House restaurant and gift shop was built at the summit in the 1940s and was billed as the highest store in the world. It served visitors until 1979 when a spark during the filling of a propane tank triggered a fire that gutted the building before the fire engines could race the 26 miles from Idaho Springs.
The drive up Mount Evans used to be free, but a fee was instituted a couple of years ago to help pay for road maintenance and the new facilities at the Mount Goliath Nature Center a short distance up the road. The fee is $3 for motorcycles ($10 for four-wheelers) and buys you a daily entrance pass that’s good for three consecutive days.
The first few miles are nothing special, the same kind of ascending road through pines and aspens you’ll see on the way up from I-70.
Presently, you’ll come to the Mount Goliath nature area. The most significant feature here is a stand of bristlecone pines, among the oldest living things on earth. At 11,540 feet, this stand of bristlecones has been around an estimated 1,600 years.
The road veers right, then left then right again and you’ll find yourself above the treeline in a barren zone of alpine tundra where fragile flowers thrive despite six-month winter blasts and intense solar radiation.
Once beyond the trees, you can see for miles. Echo Lake lies down and to the right and you suddenly notice there are no guardrails. Get used to it. Some people consider the Mount Evans highway the scariest road in North America because of this little omission.
By this time, you’ll begin to experience what mountain climbers call “exposure” – being in a place where you can see a long way out and a long way down. Mount Evans has the most extreme exposure I’ve ever experienced. If you’re afraid of heights, you’re in for the white-knuckle ride of your life from here on.
Suddenly, you’ll realize you’re headed for a sharp left turn. With the mountain on your left, the view ahead is nothing but sky. You may instinctively angle over closer to the centerline to put a little more distance between your bike and the edge of the road.
But if you creep over to the right a bit, you’ll realize it looks worse than it is. The terrain slopes steeply down to the right, but it’s not a sheer drop-off.
That comes later.
If you’re on a normally aspirated bike and you haven’t adjusted your carburetors, your engine may run a little ragged – well, maybe a lot ragged – since before Echo Lake. You may want to focus some attention on keeping the revs up. Try not to be distracted by the smell of burning brakes trailing in the wake of cars coming down from the summit.
By now, the vistas will be breathtaking. You can see the grand peaks of the Rockies arrayed all around you, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the road.
You may notice it’s getting cooler, too. Temperatures drop 3-5 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained. If you were comfortably warm back in Idaho Springs, that warmth will be just a memory by this point. Be warned that the weather can change quickly in this high-altitude alien world and it can snow in the middle of summer.
As you approach Summit Lake and mile marker 9, keep a sharp eye out for woolly white mountain goats. They’re a common sight along the roadway, picking their way up and down impossibly sheer cliffs. You may also catch sight of a yellow-bellied marmot, a roly-poly little groundhog-like animal whose shrill alarm call won him the name “whistle pig.” I’ve also seen pikas here – little animals the size of a ground squirrel who dart across the road.
Summit Lake, which is frozen most of the year, is where the ride gets, shall we say, interesting.
Summit Lake is at 12,800 feet. If you were flying an airplane, the FAA would want you on oxygen after a half-hour at this altitude.
The road up from Summit Lake looks straightforward enough: turn left at the end of the lake and ascend a steep ramp-like stretch with the shoulder of the mountain on your right. Folks coming down are on the outside here, getting a good dose of exposure. After a long uphill straightway, the road curves to the right, eventually leading to an abrupt and very steep switchback to the right. Now, you’ll be on the outside and will notice there’s no centerline anymore and the pavement looks a little narrower and – Jeez, Louise! – look at that drop-off to the right! No! Don’t look at that drop-off! Just keep your eyes on the road! Just keep thinking, “Never mind the scenery. I’m still on the ground and this is just a road.”
Yeah, but what a road!
The switchbacks come more frequently now as the road zig-zags up the sheer face of the mountain. You may find yourself relaxing on the inside lane on the zigs and squeezing deep grooves in your handgrips on the zags, climbing ever higher.
For me, the scariest point comes at mile marker 12 – a steep, violently sharp switchback to the left. The approach is Exposure City with nothing but sky beyond the crumbling edge of the pavement. This is where I have to fight the temptation to creep into the downhill lane. Every time I’ve ridden this road, I’ve met a four-wheeler booming around this particular corner and filling the oncoming lane.
A few more thrilling switchbacks and the end of the road is in view. You’ll catch sight of the ruined Crest House and beyond it the domed observatory operated by the University of Denver. There’s also a restroom, if you still have need of one.
Someone thoughtfully allocated parking space for motorcycles in the paved lot. It’s at the far end on the right near the gift shop ruins. Ease into a parking spot, drop your sidestand and shut off your engine. Then congratulate yourself on the ride and try to breathe. The parking lot is at 14,130 feet. If you were a pilot at this altitude, the FAA would require you to be on oxygen constantly.
With that thought in mind, you can explore the area around the summit and take the obligatory photos. It’s said that on a clear day you can see an area five times the size of Switzerland from the summit of Mount Evans. The panoramic view is amazing. To the east is Denver and the plains of eastern Colorado stretching out beyond. Pike’s Peak spikes the southeastern horizon. The vast valley of South Park stretches out to the southwest and the mighty peaks of the Continental Divide stand to the west.
If you’re already adapted to high altitude, or if you brought a tank of oxygen, you can hike the quarter-mile trail that leads the last 130 feet to the peak.
If not, you can sit in the parking lot and contemplate the ride down.

Some Tips for Riding the Highest Paved Road in North America

Keep the speed down to 20-25 mph. This is no road for racing.
Keep an eye on changing weather conditions. Daytime temperatures are usually 60 degrees or lower and wind and clouds can drop the temperature quickly. Lightning is particularly dangerous in the mountains. In a thunderstorm, try to get back below the treeline or take refuge in a vehicle.
Ultraviolet radiation is 40 percent stronger at this elevation than at sea level. Wear sunglasses and cover exposed areas with a sunscreen with a rating of 15 or higher.
Be alert to altitude sickness. If you start to get a headache and feel nauseous, move to a lower elevation and drink lots of water to ease the symptoms.
Save your brakes on the downhill ride by using engine braking.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The sweet smell of an Ebay deal

I've been using KL Homme by Karl Lagerfeld for the last 10 years or so. Maria was never crazy about it and I had the feeling it was time for a change.
Our friend Lauri suggested Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, which has fragrance notes that include lemon, orange, lavender, sage, cedar, and tobacco. I was killing time in Little Rock on Monday while Maria attended a newspaper seminar when I got her email, so I went to a nearby Dillard's and sniffed a sampler of the stuff.
But also pricey. A 4.2 ounce bottle is $55 at Dillard's.
So I came home and got the same quantity on Ebay for $28.50. That was on Tuesday afternoon and my purchase showed up in my mailbox today.
I like it and Maria says she likes it, so the mission is accomplished.

Holy Crap

I like Netflix because they have an enormous variety of movies in stock and because, if you turn them around quickly, you can get a lot of movies for your monthly membership fee.
But (We saw that coming, didn't we?) they apparently don't want us to see Leni Reifenstahl's 1926 film "The Holy Mountain."
Here's how one reviewer described it on

If you have never experienced the 1920s German genre of the mountain film, there is no better introduction than this. In fact it may be the only one you need unless you truly love the genre as most of the films are carbon copies of each other. What gives this film added interest is the debut of Leni Riefenstahl as a performer (and occasional director). Riefenstahl began her career as a dancer in the Isadora Duncan mold until a knee injury ended her career. Nevertheless she does a fair amount of dancing in this film especially in the beginning. While it may look somewhat silly today and Riefenstahl is far from the prototype of today's dancers, it is an excellent example of what Duncan's free form dancing was like and some of it is remarkably effective. Director Arnold Fanck wrote the screenplay in three days after being given a photo of Riefenstahl by co-star Louis Trenker and so began her brilliant and highly controversial career. The story (standard for this kind of film) is the classic love triangle with a lot of German mysticism about Man and Nature thrown in to give it "depth." The real star of the film is the stunning cinematography by Hans Schneeberger (how appropriate) and Sepp Allgeier. There are incredible shots of breathtaking beauty of mountain crags and vistas taken in what seem like impossible positions for a cameraman. The actors were really there and labored under the harsh conditions as recalled by Riefenstahl in a clip from a documentary which is also included (although professional climbers were used in the more harrowing sequences). I found myself engrossed by the obvious sincerity of the film despite the shallowness of the storyline. The print is in fairly good shape with the proper tinting restored which enhances the mountain scenes. The new musical score by Aljoscha Zimmerman strikes just the right balance between Classical and New Age depending on what the story requires. While certainly not a film that will appeal to everyone, it is worth seeing for the astonishing photography and for the young Riefenstahl who is radiant in her film debut.

The trouble started about four weeks ago when the red Netflix envelope arrived containing what I expected was The Holy Mountain. The white Tyvek DVD sleeve described synopsized the 1926 classic. But the disc inside was a completely different The Holy Mountain.
It was a bizarre surrealistic 1973 cult film of the same name by director Alejandro Jodorowski:
Here's what another reviewer wrote:

I watched this film with the Jodorowsky subtitled commentary track running and some of the stuff he says is absolutely hilarious, I mean there's no way even Andy Kaufman could have thought of this stuff.
"I want to change the world with film. I want to change the way people think." this one was pure gold. Is he sincerely that burned out and naive? Watching his films is like giving a camera to the homeless, toothless guy who rants and raves about Jesus having a UFO stashed in a garbage can behind a Dairy Queen in some remote Arizona town.
Art is entirely subjective, so with that in mind, this is the most hilarious attempt at surreal "art"; at trying to get the audience to open up to "another state of consciousness", (more gold from the burn out.)
And come on, how is this thing even remotely offensive? (I don't know, maybe it's because I'm an atheist) Oh man, THERE'S FLAMING JESUS POO!!!!! because it symbolizes this, and symbolizes that, and this symoblizes a monkey with a hippo in a pool and some black chick with whacky zany tattoos.
Please, nothing symbolizes anything, because nothing means anything.
Jodorowsky is a hack, plain and simple; get your spiritual garbage out of my universe, hippy.

So you can see the Jodorowsky film isn't exactly what we wanted. I went to the Netflix site and found the closest thing to getting a message to Netflix was to click a button indicating they sent the wrong movie. Then I put a Post-It note onto the DVD sleeve explaining their mistake and sent it back to Netflix in Salt Lake City. A few days later, the replacement arrrived from the Nexflix shipping facility in Houston. Again it was Jodorowski in a Riefenstahl sleeve.
I phoned Netflix and explained to the woman who answered what had happened. She vowed they would get it right.
Today's mail brought yet a third copy of The Holy Mountain - the Riefenstahl version this time.
But the disk is cracked and unplayable.
See what I mean?

Chuck E. Cheese's Outback Steakhouse

OK, call me a cranky old man.
I just like to enjoy a good meal in a restaurant with a minimum of annonyance and distraction.
Maria brought home a gift certificate for the local Outback Steakhouse yesterday and we decided to use it immediately.
Like many other restaurants in this "dry" county, Outback Steakhouse has two sections - one for the general non-drinking public and the other designated as a "private club" in which you pay a $5 annual membership fee and can have all of the beer, wine and liquor you can stand.
Since I enjoy a beer with my dinner, we opted for the club side, noticing that it was probably three or four times the size of the "public" part of the restaurant. It was a 20-25-minute wait for a table on the club side, while the wait was considerably shorter on the public side.
But I'm glad to wait longer if it means I don't have to dine with people who are OK with laws restricting my right to a beer with my dinner.
Shortly after being seated, we noticed the local "Balloon Lady" making funny hats, animals and other shapes from her pouch of balloons. She was working the big family tables across the aisle from us and her specialty seemed to be long balloon swords to put into the hands of young boys.
A few minutes later one family cleared out and were replaced by another group with four young boys. In short order, she outfitted each with a balloon sabre and guess what happened.
The boys started dueling with each other from their seats, flailing away wildly.
Now, I expect that kind of crap at Chuck E. Cheese's where the basic premise is to let kids run amok. But it's not what I care to see when I'm dropping $50+ on a couple of dinners.
What the hell are they thinking, letting the Balloon Lady crank up the chaos?
To her great credit, one of the moms quickly confiscated the balloon swords, and order was restored.
So the Balloon Lady moved to the next table where she fashioned bizarre headpiece for a teenage boy who was celebrating his birthday with his family. That's when I shot this picture with my cell phone camera.
As far as the food went, Maria's steak was excellent. The three steamed lobster tails I ordered tasted like they had been too long out of the ocean and what should have been drawn butter was just melted butter, or maybe even margarine.
And both of my beers were only slightly below room temperature. I took the waiter up on his offer of a frosty mug, but he came back from the bar empty handed, explaining that all of the mugs just came out of the dishwasher and were still hot.

A challenge!!!!!

Maria and I challenge our friends/readers to scroll down to the "Preferences" blog post and enter their own preferences in the comments section.
And thanks to Shaylan for being the first!
Now, go do it.
(The picture of the dogs is just there to get your attention.)

Friday, March 28, 2008


For those of us lucky enough to have memories of the 1950s, the name “Doreen” has a special significance. My friend Doreen is Doreen Tracey of the original Mickey Mouse Club.
Doreen has spent her entire life in the entertainment industry.
She was born April 13, 1943 to Sid and Bessie Tracey. The Traceys were vaudevillians entertaining the troops in England and Doreen was born in London.
The family returned to the States when she was four and moved to Hollywood, where Sid and vaudeville friend Ben Blue opened a place called Slappy Maxie on Wilshire Blvd.
In a move that would shape his young daughter's life, Sid also opened the Rainbow Dance Studio.
Growing up as a normal American little girl, Doreen had the advantage of an extended show business “family.” Her “Uncle Ben” Blue was a prominent fixture in her life and she lived with him for a time when her mother was hospitalized with tuberculosis and her father struggled to keep his business afloat. Jimmy Durante seized upon her childhood name of “Do-Do” and delighted in embarrassing her by announcing, “Look who's here – it's Sid's little DoDo bird!”
Growing up as an only child, her best buddy was her cat, Sylvester.
Doreen was answering the phone at the Rainbow Studios that fateful day when the call came from Lee Travers at Walt Disney Studios in early 1955 announcing the search for talented kids for the pilot of the Mickey Mouse Club.
She sang “Cross Over the Bridge” in a Little Bo-Peep costume for the initial audition in March.
One of the original Mouseketeers, Doreen remained with the show through its entire run.
After the Mickey Mouse Club ended, Doreen went to John Burroughs High School in Burbank where she fell in love with Robert Washburn. The two eloped to Tijuana and, a short time later, Doreen found herself pregnant with a son, Bradley Allen Washburn. The marriage was short-lived and Doreen soon became a single mother.
During the 1960s, she performed with the Andressi Brothers in Las Vegas and elsewhere and appeared on episodes of My Three Sons, Donna Reed and Day in Court.
She also toured Alaska and Vietnam with the USO. Her recollections of Vietnam landed her a job as a consultant on the film "Apocalypse Now!" where she contributed elements of the surfing-under-fire sequence.
Doreen fell out of grace with Walt Disney Studios in the mid-1970s when she did two nude photo layouts for Gallery magazine.
This photo is from the first of those photo shoots.
That's when I first made her acquaintance. About the same time as the first Gallery layout, writer Jerry Bowles published a where-are-they-now book about the Mouseketeers called Forever Hold Your Banner High. A press kit turned up on my desk at The Indianapolis News one day with a mail-back postcard to request phone interviews with Doreen and/or Jerry Bowles. I checked both boxes and, about a week later, found myself chatting with Doreen. We hit it off and have kept in touch ever since.
Since the Gallery flap, Doreen and the studios have been reconciled and she participated in a 40th anniversary special on the Mickey Mouse Club.
Doreen still lives in Burbank, a short distance from Burroughs High School and the Disney studios. Her son works in the equestrian industry.

Fire in the hole!

The Home Depot deals just keep coming!
We've been hankering for an outdoor fireplace/fire pit since we moved in, but either didn't like what we saw in the stores or didn't want to pay the asking price for what we did like.
Until this week.
Home Depot's sale insert in Thursday's newspaper touted the Hampton Bay Benedetto outdoor fireplace for a mere $99. The Home Depot website lists it for $299, so a $200 discount seemed like a decent deal. The insert said there was a limited number of them in stock and when we got there at noon yesterday they had two in boxes and one display model. We snarfed one of the two boxed units, jammed it into the back of the Subaru Forester and Maria brought it home when he came home from work last evening.
We worked on the assembly process for a couple of hours last night and I finished it up after lunch today. Looks good and, since it's sprinkling off and on today, I have it under its rain cover.
This crappy photo is from the Home Depot website. It looks a bit nicer in person.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ho ho, Lolo

As the days grow longer and warmer, the siren call of the road grows louder and more distinct.
I haven't done a good, long road trip since the summer of 2004 when I did about a 2,000-mile ride that started with the BMW MOA rally in Spokane, Wash., and took me down the coast through Big Sur and back.
Yes, I rode to the 'MOA rally in Burlington, Vt., two years ago, but that was a quick out-and-back trip that was done in less than a week.
So it's my fervent hope that I can block out time this summer for a reasonably long ride. The 'MOA is in Gillette, Wyo. in July, so that may be a good start.
This photo is from July, 1998 when the 'MOA rally was in Missoula, Mont. I think it was on the Saturday of the four-day rally and some friends and I were stopped at the summit of Lolo Pass, west of Missoula. We'd left after breakfast and the air was still brisk as we rode up the pass. We paused to shed a layer of clothes before plunging into the next 77 delightful miles.

Herman Hoglebogle

Longtime friend and fellow Newsie Skip Hess sent me the obit of Jim Abrams this week. Jim worked on the copy desk of The Indianapolis News in the late '60s and early '70s. The obit mentioned that at various times Jim edited the Blue Streak (the paper's final edition Mon-Fri) and wrote the People in the News and the Herman Hoglebogle column.
Herman Hoglebogle was a cartoon character created by the late Tom Johnson and he was the face of The News when it came to complaining about chuckholes in streets and other such civic disgraces. We had a life-size plywood cutout of Herman, his face was featured on green Herman Hoglebogle buttons and he was the face of The Indianapolis News' Green Safety Flag program under which Indianapolis schools that had a clean safety record could fly the green banner from their flagpole.
One summer evening around 1969 or '70, David Rohn, Bob Basler and I kidnapped the Herman cutout and took him to my place for a night of drunken revelry. Here he is with a can of Budweiser taped to his mitt. That's me on the right, Rohn (who went on to a career as an editorial writer at The News) on the left, and Basler (who writes the Oddly Enough blog for Reuters) on the floor. If you look closely, you can see Rohn is lighting Herman's cigarette.


The price of gold has been flirting with the $1,000/ounce mark - about $944/ounce today - and it has us eyeing some of the gold objects we don't have any particular attachment to.
Like my Delphi High School class ring and some other jewelry items.

My last wedding album

Now that I'm caught up on my Ebay packing and shipping, I'm back to work on the wedding album that should have been done seven months ago.
Maria and I shot a wedding on my birthday - July 14. Shortly after that, our lives were plunged into the chaos of relocation from Indiana to Arkansas, house hunting, moving, house selling, waiting for Lowe's to get the carpet right so we could set up our home office and on and on. So here it is, almost April and I'm finally nearing completion on the album.
The bride and her family have been extraordinarily gracious and patient, but I'm horribly embarrassed that it's taken so long to get this far.
I'm using MyPublisher to create a 100-page leather-bound album. MyPublisher is, in my judgment, still the premiere online photobook publisher. We've done several albums with them and have never been disappointed with the results.
Here are a couple of two-page spreads of the work in progress. Notice that with two shooters - one out front and the other behind the minister - you get better coverage of the kiss and other ceremony details.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring in the Mid-South

The temperature is a sunny 72 degrees and we had a pleasant lunch on the deck at BA (dunno what it stands for) Burrito on Southwest Drive. They have their own MySpace page:, but give no clue to the "BA."
I doubt if it was this nice on the deck at Creekside in Crawfordsville today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The "ultimate" digital camera for adventure travel

A friend who's planning a motorcycle trip to Alaska this summer emailed to ask for my recommendation for the "ultimate" digital camera for such an adventure. Here's my response:

If you're looking for a point-and-shoot, rather than a bulky SLR, I'm impressed with the Olympus Stylus 790SW and even more so with the Olympus Stylus 1030SW.
A young woman who is a bicycling fanatic living in Alaska has been using a 790 for a few months now and her blog is a good showcase for what the 790 will do.
Both cameras are over-engineered in terms of their ability to stand up to abuse. The 790 can take a drop from 5 feet, survive down to 10 feet underwater and function as cold as 14 degrees. The 1030 is even more robust, droppable from 6.6 feet, submersible down to 33 feet, freezeproof to 14 degrees and crushproof up to 220 pounds. Both have image stabilization. The 790 takes 7.1 megapixel images and the 1030 is a 10.1 megapixel camera.
The 790 lists for $299.99 but I found it as cheap as $232 on The 1030's MSRP is $399.99, but you can get it as cheap as $365.99 on
Considering the occasion, I'd spend the extra bucks and get the 1030.
Oh, yeah. They also shoot movies.


We all have our preferences when it comes to the everyday things in life, something that occurred to me this morning when I replaced the toilet paper roll in the master bathroom.
So here are some of mine:

Toilet paper orientation: over
Eggs: over light
Coffee: dark(est) roast with 2 packs of Sweet & Low and a touch of hazelnut Coffeemate
Shaving lather: shaving soap, mug and brush
Steak: medium well
Grits: no thanks
Jelly for toast: strawberry
Beer: the darker the better (Spaten Optimator is my fave)
Coke or Pepsi: Coke (Zero)
Smoking or non: non-smoking
Table or booth: booth
Blondes or brunettes: brunettes
Mac or PC: PC
Zune or iPod: iPod
Early or late-riser: early - 6 a.m. or earlier
Part in hair: on the right
XM or Sirius: XM
Windows version: XP SP2
MySpace or Facebook: Facebook
iTunes or MP3 store:
Fast food: Wendy's
Credit or debit: credit
Side of the bed: left (as viewed from the foot)
Cable or satellite: cable
Shower gel or soap: gel
Lease or buy cars: buy
Barack or Hillary: John McCain
Tax Cut or TurboTax: Tax Cut
Ballpoint or rollerball: rollerball
Fiction or non-fiction: non-fiction


Waiting for the Brookland Postoffice to reopen after lunch so I can ship 9 Ebay sales.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Arkansas high-rise

Indiana BMW motorcycle rider friend Dave Bernhardt sends this photo of a redneck high-rise apartment complex.

Happy Easter

Safe-cracking by email

We drove to Tyronza, Ark., yesterday to visit the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum for a quilt exhibition and a dose of local history.
The museum's exhibits include a safe from the Burdette Plantation, a cotton plantation in the area. It was donated to the museum but, since the combination had been lost and there were still presumably plantation records and who knows what else inside the safe, the Burdette heirs retained ownership of the contents.
There have been several heavy handed attempts over the years to force the safe open, resulting in the loss of the latch handle and deformation of the combination wheel.
I took a particular interest in it because I noticed it was made by the Schwab Safe Co. of Lafayette, Ind. I grew up in Delphi, 18 miles from Lafayette, and my late father had a Schwab safe in his insurance agency.
Realizing that Schwab is still in business, I fired off an email this morning to their tech support people asking if they could help the museum folks open the safe. I figured there's an outside chance they still have the combination somewhere in their records, or at least might have some suggestions. For all I know, this has already been tried, but as an expatriate Hoosier, I felt compelled to help.
I'll let you know if anything comes of it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Richter Scales video

This probably only makes sense to geeks and dot-com people, so I guess that's who I am. Anyway, I thought it was funny and clever as hell.

Happy birthday, Dad

My father, who died in November, 1997, would have been 98 years old today.

Ruthie's spring haircut

Ruthie is home from her beauty appointment at Petco and seems to be pleased with how she looks and smells.
She rode home with her head out of the car window - something she's never done before - and rolled around in the back yard.
Pete noticed the change right away and followed her around, sniffing curiously and eyeing her suspiciously.

AsSense makes $ense

If you're new to my blog or haven't visited for awhile, you'll notice I now have advertising. I signed up for Google's AdSense program and I recommend it to anyone who wants to monetize their blog or website.
(BTW, I just noticed that the spellcheck feature on Blogger recognizes neither "blog" nor "Blogger" nor "spellcheck." How weird is that?)
Anyway, when you sign up for AdSense and create an account with them, you get some HTML code to embed in your site. That makes it possible for AdSense to insert small ad links that are presumably related to the content of your most recent posts. You get paid surprisingly well whenever a visitor to your blog or site clicks on one of these links whether that click results in a purchase or not. Once your account accumulates more than $100, Google AdSense starts paying out. You can have them do a direct deposit to your bank account or put it into your Paypal account.
Consequently, I've come to regard the advertisers who have links here as my sponsors. So I would be very grateful if you would support my sponsors and see what they have to offer.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Park Avenue

This is one of my favorite images of the West. It's a spot in Arches National Park called Park Avenue and I shot it on a photo safari Maria and I did a few years ago. We got there late in the day and had the benefit of the beginning of the golden light of late afternoon. I used a polarizing filter to darken the sky and crank up the color saturation.
I think I'm about ready to do some traveling.

Whatever became of Jim White?

This is Jim White, an ATO Fraternity brother of mine. The photo was taken in the spring of 1967 on the cusp of the Summer of Love. The scene was a "be-in" in Dunn Meadow on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington.
Jim was a math major and graduated from Indiana State University with a 4.0 gpa, or close to it. A few months later he took off for San Francisco with another friend of ours. I would have gone with them, were I not newly married with my first son on the way and the beginnings of a career in newspapers.
Whitey, as we called him, was a trusting, adventurous soul who was made for the 1960s. He would take any pill anyone would offer him, just to see what it did. After a year or two in California, he took up with a traveling commune called The Family. When he returned to Indiana, it was with a copy of Ankh, a nudist magazine with a lavish layout about The Family. And there was Whitey in several photos, in the altogether with his arms around one or two or more similarly naked young women. I thought it was very cool at the time. Come to think of it, I still think it's cool.
I lost track of Jim for several years until one night he called to say he was back in town. It was the winter of 1986-87 and I was living in an apartment in Carmel. He had come home for Christmas with his father, who lived in the same apartment complex.
Whitey, it turned out, had been living on the beach - homeless - in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He had no particular plans, other than to get back to his spot on the beach. He would have been 42 or so at the time. That was more than 20 years ago and I haven't heard from him since. I have no idea what became of him or whether he's still alive.
In the circus of life, Whitey was a trapeze artist who worked without a net. I'm not sure what I am. Maybe one of the guys who puts up the tent or shovels elephant shit. I have a feeling that Whitey has had more adventures than I, but I wonder how many of them he can remember.

flickr image dump

I finally got around to doing something with the flickr account I signed up for long long ago.
The free account is limited to 200 images, so I've got a mix of motorcycling, family and HDR stuff there. Feel free to check it out here.

Hauling ass around the yard

Pete loves to pester Ruthie until she chases him all over the yard. It's clear that both dogs thoroughly enjoy the game.
Ruthie has a hair appointment tomorrow morning to get her spring buzzcut. So this will serve as the "before" shot.

New links!

You 'll notice that I've added substantially to my list of Cool Blogs & Other Stuff over there on the right side of the page.

Here's some of what's new:

Box of Slides and Swapatorium are cool sites featuring photographic images and other stuff that turns up at auctions.

Epodunk is a very handy site to get information on practially every population center in the U.S.

Recent Central U.S. Earthquakes is where I go to scare myself

Up In Alaska is the blog of a young woman who is a bicycling fanatic in Alaska

Wal-Mart Associates' Journal is a forum for Wal-Mart employees and often has hilarious stories about customer behavior

And John Chow Dot Com is the blog of John Chow, who has turned his blog into a spectacular source of income. He started with AdSense in September 2006 and made $352.94 that first month. He made a fulltime job of researching online moneymaking possibililties involving advertising and kept adding to his site. Last month (February, 2008) he made $29,643.01. He's written a book on how to monetize your blog and you can get it for free in pdf form from his website. He is a world class authority on how to make your online presence work for you.

Just playing

They look fierce, but Pete and Ruthie are just playing and enjoying a warm sunny morning.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Medical emergency

Maria's son is en route to the Crawfordsville hospital ER because he and/or his girlfriend think he may have appendicitis.
Stay tuned for more drama.
After several hours of tests and waiting, the doctors determined it's a virus, not appendicitis. So we can all relax.

Hello, Spring

According to an online ephemeris, Spring begins at 5:58 a.m. tomorrow, GMT. Corrected to local Arkansas time, that's 12:58 a.m. tomorrow. Not a moment too soon.

A little feedback, please

I've added some ads to the blog - at least Blogger says they're there. I can see them if I use Safari or Firefox, but they aren't showing up when I use Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7, which is the most commonly used browser.
Please take a moment to click the Comment thing and let me know if you can see them and what browser you're using.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rough weather

Tornado warnings, sirens and torrential rain. There were funnel cloud sightings all over the place and a lot of north central Arkansas got flooded, but we did fine. Or fahn, as the locals say it.

Maria's K75S

This was last Tuesday, when I just had to take the bike out to keep the battery up.

Crunching numbers

We've been eating at home more and less in restaurants since we bought our gas grill about three weeks ago and guessed we were saving money.
Turns out we are.
Since we started grilling on Feb. 24, we've had a 38.9 percent ($8.10) reduction in average daily restaurant expenses. Our daily average for groceries has gone up by 20.1 percent ($2.91), so we're actually saving $5.19 a day.
This, of course, does not take into account the cost of the grill, propane used and electricity saved. It will be hard to make a propane/electricity comparison since our electric bill covers everything else in the house, including heating and cooling. But at $5/day the grill will have paid for itself by April 14. So unless the price of propane goes completely nuts, this will turn out to be pretty good for our cash flow.
Oh, yeah. There's also the savings in transportation costs - gas, oil, tires, etc. - by not running out to a restaurant every other night.
The downside is nights like last night when I overcooked the burgers. When I brought them in the first time, they were underdone. When they came in the second time, they weren't quite hockey pucks, but they were damned well done.

Going commercial

You'll notice a change in the layout this morning.
That's because I'm fiddling with the HTML code to include Google AdSense stuff. Yes, I'm adding advertising as a means of monetizing the old blog.
I've noticed the number of hits has risen sharply in the last few months and it occurred to me that by adding subject-related ads, I might make it possible for my readers to find stuff they'll be interested in and, at the same time, make this project start to pay for itself.
Until I get everything sorted out, though, the sidebar listings of recommended friends' sites and archival stuff may or may not appear where they're supposed to be, or may not appear at all.
Trust that I'm aware of it and I'm working on the problem.

Monday, March 17, 2008

No green for me today

This is St. Patrick's Day, but I just can't work up any enthusiasm for the occasion.
I haven't found much to admire in the Irish - particularly the IRA - since Aug. 27, 1979, when the Provisional Irish Republican Army blew him and his boat to smithereens.
Mountbatten was Prince Charles' great uncle and mentor and was a genuine World War II war hero and was the last Viceroy of India, overseeing the transition to independence of India and Pakistan.
His murder was an act of terrorism, plain and simple.

Alternative fuel

The rising gasoline prices have most of us thinking about alternative fuels and it called to mind this propane-fueled BMW motorcycle I saw at the 1990 BMW MOA National Rally in Rapid City, S.D.
I never got a chance to meet the owner and ask the obvious questions about fuel efficiency and availability and how hard it was to convert. As far as finding a cheaper fuel is concerned, I don't think propane would be any better than gasoline since propane costs have skyrocketed right along with oil in the last few years.
But it's an interesting experiment and begs the question of what happens if the bike goes down at speed and you mix a ruptured propane tank with a shower of sparks.
Then there's that clunky spraypaint pinstripe job on the gas tank...

Raphael in Amishland

I finally got around to listing my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume on Ebay yesterday. No bids yet, but I can't imagine this fabulous item going unsold. You can check it out here.
That's me in the costume in the Ebay listing, but the photo above is my stepson Austin in the costume at his cousin Isaac's 5th birthday party.
Isaac, his six brothers and sisters and his parents - and the dog too, I suppose - are Amish. Considering that the Ninja Turtles were popular in the 1980s and that Isaac and his family don't watch TV, all of the popular nuances of Raphael and his compadres were completely lost on the kid. Nevertheless, he seemed pleased and amused to see a big-ass masked turtle show up on his birthday and was even more pleased to discover it was Austin under that goofy suit.
Speaking of goofy suits, I'm reminded of Chris Biddlecombe, aka Cookie Monster, who used to show up at BMW motorcycle rallies in a Cookie Monster suit.
Here's a photo I shot of him in the camping area of the 1990 BMW Motorcycle Owners of America national rally in Rapid City, S.D. That's a BMW R100CS he's riding.
Cookie, as most of us know him, is a longtime member of the Indianapolis BMW Club, but lived the last several years in Huntsville, Ala. Local BMW rider Charlie Parsons told me over the weekend he had heard Cookie moved back to Indiana. I assume he still has the fuzzy blue suit, but I haven't seen it in years.
Tim Balough suggested recently that I pick up where Cookie left off and wear the Ninja Turtle suit at rallies. It's an intriguing thought, but the thing is just too bulky to carry on a bike in addition to my usual camping gear and other stuff. (I'm using a 30x18x18 box to ship it once the Ebay auction closes and there's no freaking way I'd lash something that big on the back of my bike.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The elephant in the room

Late last week before the more inflammatory sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright surfaced, the retiring pastor of Barack Obama's home church was being attacked for having the temerity to suggest that white people have an advantage over blacks in the United States.
I was struck by the absurdity of the outcry over Rev. Wright stating the obvious. We have apparently become so obsessed with political correctness that we have to express outrage and shock when someone publicly states an obvious, albeit uncomfortable, fact of political life.
The same kind of silly PC-driven logic obtained earlier in the week when former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro opined that Obama would not be a strong contender for his party's nomination for president were he white. Her remark was informed by her belief that she would never have been a VP nominee if she had been a man. And she is almost certainly right on both counts.
The fact - like it or not - is that race and gender are still factors in American politics. The media acknowledges this every time they break down the candidates' constituencies along gender and racial lines.
Wright unquestionably crossed the line when he started jabbering about the U.S.K.K.K. of A. and "God damn America," but in asserting that blacks are at a political and social advantage in America, all he did was name the elephant in the room. We all wish it were not so, and I like to think it is much less so today than when I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s. We're moving toward a fairer and more just society, but we're not quite there yet and we do everyone a disservice by pretending that we're reached that goal.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oooooo! A coveted Purple Star.

In my effort to turn clutter into cash and get more space in our garage for things that actually belong in a garage - like cars and motorcycles - I reached a milestone this week with Ebay.
My career feedback count topped the 500 mark, all of them positive, and Ebay emailed me a Purple Star certificate. How nice.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wonky software

My Windows Live Writer software - the program I usually use to write blog entries and post them - has gone wonky today and won't upload any posts that have images in them.

I'm using it to create this post, so it works fine with text.

I contacted their support people and, after submitting my description of the problem, was told, "Your Support Ticket Number: 1061535906,"

So this is my record of that exchange.

In the meantime, I'll just have to post pics from my phone or through the regular Blogger dashboard page.


Here I am with fellow Indianapolis BMW Club member Greg Miller at the Iowa Rally back in the 1990s.
And that's the guest of honor at the hog roast wearing my hat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why does he have a weasel on his head?


Democrat Pat Bauer, speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, sports one of the worst hairpieces ever seen in Indiana politics.

Too good not to share