Trackday Diaries: Snitches and the Boiled Frog

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
trackday diaries snitches and the boiled frog

“How do you like the Camry SE?” I asked.

“Oh,” the fellow replied, in a thick South Asian accident, “it is very nice, I do prefer it to the LE that I had before, you are much more connected to the road. I am driving at least four thousand miles a month with Uber, and it is very reliable.”

“Grounded to the ground,” I suggested.

“Yes, that is exactly right. Well, here we are. Thank you!”

“No, thank you!” I replied, and I meant it, because this particular driver was not only nice, he was quick. The drive from my hotel to the Las Vegas Eaglerider had taken about half as long as it normally does. I stumbled out into the daylight and walked through the smoked-glass front door into the showroom. It was empty save for a few ladders and one construction-type dude doing precisely nothing in a corner.

You idiot, I realized, you gave him the wrong Eaglerider. The old one. About this time last year, my friends at the Las Vegas Depot moved four miles down the street. Furious with myself, I checked my phone to see what I’d requested. Damn it. The mistake wasn’t mine. I’d asked for the correct Eaglerider. He’d taken me to the wrong one, presumably out of habit. I turned around and ran back out the door. The white Camry SE was a quarter-mile down the road. Gone, man.

In the 12 minutes before my next Uber arrived, this one a Nissan Versa Note driven by a sullen young man in feminine cat glasses who seemed to be triggered merely by the fact of my horsehide-jacketed, shaggy-faced existence, I considered whether or not to snitch on the driver who had taken me to the wrong destination. Long-time readers of my work here at TTAC know I’m absolutely loath to give anything but a five-star review to Uber drivers. The capitalist in me recognizes that only through careful and diligent use of the rating system can I ensure that only the most perfect and soulless cogs float to the top of the industrial acid bath that is the Uber gig-economy experience, thus ensuring I’m carried from nightclub to nightclub in perfect comfort like the Roman aristocracy in a nation-state full of tattooed slaves. The human being in me wants to grind out a handwritten note of apology every time I use another human being like a draft animal that’s just one injury away from the glue factory.

In the case of my Camry SE driver, I’d been absolutely thrilled by the condition of the car, his care behind the wheel, his cheerful demeanor, and his commitment to getting me where I needed to go. On the other hand, he’d ignored his app and driven me to the wrong place on a day where I didn’t have a lot of time to spare. Nominally speaking, this was a vacation weekend. In practice, it was a forced march behind my wife and brother as they competed to have the most “steps” in endless death marches from one side of the Vegas Strip to the other. At some point, I’d stress fractured one of my toes, most likely racing Bark up an endless set of concrete stairs near the Bellagio.

There was also the minor but quite annoying fact I’d paid $13 to be delivered, Shadrach-like, into the fiery furnace of an empty Vegas parking lot. So I contacted Uber and reported that I’d been taken to the wrong place. A helpful customer service bot explained that I had, in fact, been delivered to the place where the ride stopped. I couldn’t figure out if the bot was an actual Indian or merely a bit of code that had been programmed by an Indian. Eventually human beings will fall out of the loop entirely. Customer service bots will be programmed by other customer service bots in a von Neumann progression of increasingly incomprehensible non-response responses. That’s the future.

I was not discouraged, because I’ve been programming since the assembler days. I stepped the botperson through a series of calculated one-sentence responses, patiently black-boxing my way to a refund which arrived shortly after Versa-tile Boy dropped me off at the proper Eaglerider. There was chaos. My preferred bike, the Indian Roadmaster, was not available. They had a Gold Wing. I asked for something that was not a Gold Wing, but I said that I’d take the Wing if that was all they had. The very nice lady behind the counter said she could rustle up a Harley for me.

While I waited for the rustling, two middle-aged fat dads in Harley shirts started causing a ruckus. I can say “middle-aged fat dad” because I’m one myself, you see. Except I have my hair and I’m over six-feet tall, which applied to neither of these guys. They were in a tizzy because they’d reserved motorcycles with infotainment systems and they were being given motorcycles without infotainment systems.

“I DON’T RIDE A FUCKIN’ BIKE WITHOUT A RADIO!” one of them screamed, literally stamping his feet. I made sure my snort was audible. He looked at me and I made the jerk-off motion with my right hand. To his credit, he was in no way shamed or discouraged by this. “WE’RE RIDING ALL THE WAY TO THE HOOVER DAM!” he whined. For those of you who don’t motorcycle-tour Vegas very often, that’s 30 miles in each direction.

The kid behind the counter, who could have kicked both of these guy’s asses without breaking a sweat, was very apologetic. In the end, both fellows got a refund and they drove back to their hotel. They’d flown to Vegas so they could not ride to the Hoover Dam. Because there were no radios on the motorcycles. I’m not entirely sure Sonny Barger would have let them into the original Hell’s Angels, you know?

I’d planned on leaving the radio in whatever bike I got turned off in solidarity with my middle-aged brothers, but when the Ultra Classic Limited arrived, I was immediately charmed by the ease of Bluetooth pairing and I was blasting down Dean Martin Drive at ridiculous speeds before I knew it, singing along to John Mayer’s newest EP. It’s funny how small the “big Harley” is. Compared to the Wing or the Indian/Victory touring bikes, it might as well be a CB550. The wheelbase is short and it feels light on its feet.

In the two days that followed, I put just 116 miles on the Ultra, most of it on I-15. In the course of that short ride time, I had my lane forcibly stolen from me a total of seven times. According to my Fitbit, my heart rate reached 133 for a sustained period where I was trying to get down a rain-slicked freeway in a bit of a Vegas windstorm with Expeditions and Tahoes swerving randomly at me, the front brake chattering with ABS and the back tire spinning at the slightest provocation of throttle.

On the plane home, I reflected on how I hadn’t really been all that upset about having “cagers” nearly kill me multiple times in the space of four hours or so. The first time a car almost killed me on a bike, twenty-five years ago, I went home and thought seriously about selling my Ninja. Nowadays, I accept it as a casual consequence, something that is going to happen again and again. You could say that I’m like a frog in a pan of boiling water. Over the years, the situation for motorcycles on the road just keeps getting worse and more dangerous, but since it’s happening relatively slowly, I haven’t felt the need to give up bikes just yet. I’m very comfortable on the road despite what the cars do around me. Just like a boiled frog, sitting placidly in the pan while the bubbles form on the surface of the water around him. But mark my words: despite the comfort of it, we will both end up dead.

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  • Jeff Zekas Jeff Zekas on Apr 06, 2017

    Jack, you already know how I feel about bikes (in case you've forgotten, my oldest son, Josh, died on his Honda CBR1000, fifteen years ago, this April 20th). But, freedom is why we live in this bizarre nation of many opinioned folks. That said, it IS more dangerous nowadays, riding bikes in the urban areas. Back in high school (for me, 1970) I would ride the canyons above Los Angeles, and rarely see a car, in the early morning, or late at night. Nowadays, there is traffic 24/7. And it was not uncommon to see Steve McQueen racing his Austin Mini Cooper, down Sunset Blvd to the coast... or see a Porsche 911 racing a Mercedes 300SL gullwing at 6am near Deadman's Curve. Street racing has pretty much disappeared, except in a few places, and street bikes are an endangered species, as riders die out, either from old age, or from accidents.

  • Tbone33 Tbone33 on Apr 06, 2017

    1. The number of motorcycle fatalities has been about the same since 2005. That number is about double what it was in 1997. Of course new motorcycle sales were low in the 90's, and 2005 saw new bike sales that were 3-4x what they were in 1997. 2. Street bikes aren't an endangered species, at least in the U.S. They were in the 90s with 300,000 bikes sold per year. From '00 to '08 sales boomed, averaging somewhere around 850,000 per year. Since then the average is about 450,000 motorcycles sold per year.

  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.