Why Pay Day Takes So Long to Come. Zeno’s Paradox. My 41 Year Old BMW Hits the Road.

There’s a philosophical reason why payday always seems so incredibly far away. To disrespectfully borrow from the Greek philosopher Zeno it would go something like this. Today is Monday and payday is Friday. For me to get to Friday I have to get half way there, say Wednesday. And for me to get to Wednesday I have to get half way there, say Tuesday. Maybe you see where this is going. For me to get to Tuesday, I have to get half way there, which is about 4 pm today. Then there’s half way to that, and half way to that. In other words, there’s an infinite number of half “times” I have to reach before payday. May not be scientifically true but it certainly explains psychologically why payday always feels as if it will never come!
It’s Monday morning and as usual it looks like payday will never come. I’ve got to go to work. I stare mournfully at the back tire on the Road King (AKA Big Red). I have almost 9000 miles on that tire and there’s an angel hair’s width of tread still on her. I’ve needed a new one since El Paso, Texas, almost 2 months ago. Harley whitewalls aren’t cheap. About $300 installed. There’s 4 days until pay day when I can get it replaced. I like to pay cash. And it’s the same 4 days on which I have to make the 100 mile round trip to Dalton, where I work.

SSCN0010

R60/5 with the toaster gas tank

I was out in the garage staring at Big Red’s back tire, shaking my head when the Old Knight, the 1973 BMW R60/5, whispered to me to let her out of the cage. She could do the run up to Dalton she promised. I tilted my head and stared at her. I had been riding her around town for the last year and she’s done alright. She’s had a few problems but nothing you couldn’t work through or around when you ride her. The thing is that she’s 41 years old. She has four speeds, a 599cc engine (Big Red has five and most new bikes six) and doesn’t have a windscreen. She has Mikuni carbs on her which work far better than the custom Bing ones. (“Why do they call Bing carburetors Bing? Because that’s the sound they make hitting the trash can.”). Why not give the Old Knight a try?
There’s nowhere to stash the coffee thermos and no saddlebags so I just “bungeed” my laptop bag to the seat and took off. She handled beautifully as she always does. Engine’s quiet and she just thumps along. The acceleration’s not fast but it is consistent. After a while I relaxed and just enjoyed crossing the rivers and watching the mist rising in the hills and mountains.
But then I hit Interstate 75 for my last 20 miles. Cars and trucks whizzed by as the bike slowly gained speed. She was straining, but happy and still had more throttle left when I got her to 80 mph.That’s when the problem with the tachometer needle started. These old BMW’s are notorious for having bad speedometer/tachometer units. For the last month my rpm gauge has acted like a metronome with its needle flipping right and left. Now it started going wild. For a while it ran all the way to the right and stuck in the red zone like I was redlining it. It remained stuck there all day Monday.
On Tuesday the rpm gauge tip finally broke off and the base of the needle began spinning around like a fan or like the newspapers hot off the press in those old movies. Slightly mesmerizing if you stared at it, so I just didn’t. Besides, who needs an rpm gauge? My Harley didn’t have one.
On Wednesday a loud whirling sound, related to the engine speed, started coming out of the headlight unit, where, of course, the speedometer/tachometer is located. On the way home the speedometer needle started bouncing around like it had the hiccups. One moment it showed I was going 40mph and the next moment 80. It finally settled down and stopped, showing me riding at a cool 120 mph.
Thursday morning, one more day to go,and the Old Knight put her brave face on again. Who can resist the pleading grin from that shiny chrome toaster tank? I strapped on my laptop bag, cranked her up and rode her down the driveway and out to the main road. That’s when the clutch started slipping. I managed to turn her around and ride back up to the house but the clutch kept slipping and she couldn’t make it up the driveway. I parked her on the street, grabbed my backpack and sped out on Big Red, fearing I was going to be late for class. I was there 2 minutes early.
When I got home, after parking Big Red, I went down to tinker with the BMW. I got her started, took her for a spin and then managed to ride her back up the driveway to the garage. There she sits, proud but with a slightly burnished ego.
Friday, I drove Big Red down to the Harley dealer and had a new tire put on the rear.

The next repair work will be on the Old Knight, next pay day, of course that’s if it ever comes.

Monty Python and Zen Motorcycle Repair Shops

I’m pleased to say that Jeff finally got his bike back from the repair shop. Since we’re leaving in two days the delay was putting an unneeded and unexpected burden on our moods; his mainly. It got me thinking about my experiences with repair shops and whether there was any use exploring the problem from a Zen perspective.

We’ve all asked the question: “When will this be ready?”

Instead of getting a response like “tomorrow’ or “Monday” which I know is just a wild guess I’d rather just get a more honest Zen reply, like: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

We all meet a variety of skill level people everywhere we take our business. Motorcycle repair shops are just the same. There are some extremely competent people there and then sometimes, in the Monty Python tradition, you just wish you could yell: “Will every mechanic who is a mechanic punch a mechanic who isn’t a mechanic?”

I must say that overall I’ve had good karmic experiences at motorcycle shops. But then I haven’t had to use one in a long time. That’s because this is the first motorcycle I’ve owned in about 22 years. Before that I did ride a succession of bikes: Kawasaki 125, Honda 350, BMW R60/5 for years until I got the old “ultamato”. One day, staring at the BMW my wife at the time said to me.” Gene you’ve got a child on the way, it’s either us or the bike.”

I had sort of guessed this was coming. She’d hinted around about it. And, of course, you have to answer quickly because saying ‘I’m thinking about it’ would release a whole lot of pain on you that you don’t need.

“Of course”. I answered, already thinking that maybe I’ll put such an absurdly high price on it that no one will make an offer.

I reflected on the carefree days when the two of us would have great adventures riding all over the rolling hills and back roads. And you know that just offering to buy a side car, for some reason just won’t cut it.

Mothers-to-be are programmed to say these things. It’s instinctual. They know that our having a motorcycle will just interfere with our hunter and gatherer skills. Unless you are talking about hunting down and gathering more motorcycles.

Before I could get an advertisement in the paper I guy I know offered me money for the bike. In front of my wife. The worst place he could have done it!

So when I returned to riding motorcycles after the kids were grown I realized that, just like cars bikes had evolved technologically. Motorcycles also now have those check engine/ maintenance required lights that flicker on and off. The bike mechanics can plug your bike into a machine and it’ll whirl, groan, and then spin out some arcane number, both mystical and alchemical that may or may not give a clue to the problem. I’ve never seen one of these decoding machines work but I have seen the confused looks on the faces of mechanics. I remember hearing one exclaim: “Check the lean-angle sensor. Where the hell is that?”

In Zen motorcycle repair shops they probably get an answer more like: “Do not look outside. The answer is within.”

In the old days you’d stand there with the mechanic, he’d be wiping oil of his hands with a blue rag and he’d just say: “She done froze up on you.” That was the explanation for everything. We’d nod our heads in agreement and then shake them sadly in unison, staring at the bike.

I actually feel more comfortable when the check engine light is on. It’s reassuring. Most of the people I know ride with them on and, like me, get worried when the light goes off. “Okay, what’s wrong now? The light went out.”  If you’re like me you put a piece of black tape over the light so you won’t have to look at it all time. And if you’re like me you also angle your head to the side every now and then just to make sure it it’s still on.

You can tell a lot about the psychological makeup of a wife or girlfriend just by their reactions to the check engine light. Try this experiment: Next time you’re in a car and the light goes on or goes off what do she immediately say?

If she says: “what did I do?” it means she’s guilt prone, like me, and tends to take responsibility for her mistakes, along with the mistakes of others. Now that’s a way of being-in the-world you can work with.  There’s some self -reflective ability there, which, in moderation is good. If she looks at you and says: “What did you do or not do?’ you can tell that marriage counseling is likely to be ineffective with this person should you need it someday. You are going to get blamed for everything. These folks have an ability to see everyone else’s check engine lights, but their own. The Zen way of responding is just to smile, wonder at and appreciate the beauty of the disappearance of the check engine light.

I wish motorcycles would come with a check engine light, check light so I can be sure that my check engine light is always working. What if there’s a fault in the check engine light itself? . But then, having studied philosophy I know that my simple wish to have a check engine light, check light,  if followed, according to Zeno’s paradox would result in an infinite number of check engine light, check lights, each checking on each other. Motion itself would become impossible. Nobody wants that.

So how can we apply any of this to Zen motorcycle repair shops? Well it helps to teach us patience and to have compassion. Zen motorcycle repairmen have no more control over the future than we do. They are at the whim and mercy of their stock, the correctness of their inventory updates, the honesty of their suppliers and the talents and abilities of their staff, just like we are. The Buddhist idea of interconnectedness helps us see that we’re all in this together.

And while we watch them do their silly walks around the repair place, just like we do ours, we should relax, stay centered, breathe, and have gratitude.

After all, I know it’s in the Bible somewhere, maybe worded slightly differently, that we should deal with our own check engine lights first, before we point to those in others.

Makes good sense to me.