Saturday, August 28, 2010

AAA Saves the Day

I'm a member of the American Automobile Association, and so far, I have not had to call on them for my vehicles. But, one of the cool features of AAA membership is that they cover you even if you are a passenger in someone else's vehicle.

Last night, we celebrated my girlfriend Anna's son's 11th birthday with a trip to Dave & Buster's in Providence, R.I. Located in the Providence Place Mall, D & B's combines a restaurant with a game arcade. Anna drove her vehicle, since I had my van and couldn't carry three people. After a fun evening, we were driving back to West Warwick on Interstate 95 when we heard a bang and her Oldsmobile SUV began to wobble. A rear tire blew out, and she pulled off to the side of the highway. (Her Oldsmobile was missing a spare tire.)

Anna avoids driving to the city, as she tends to get lost easily. "I've broken down on the way back from Providence so many times, I hate it." But I called AAA on my cell phone, and in less than 30 minutes, two flatbed trucks had arrived. One truck took her vehicle to a tire shop, and the other truck took the three of us home.

"Imagine how ugly it would have been if you wouldn't have been there," Anna said later. "Me and Ricky would have had to walk home."

I was impressed with AAA's service and the friendliness of the tow truck drivers. For the record, however, they do not tow motorcycles, the driver said.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Remarkable Ride

Neither my girlfriend nor I have taken a ride on my Harley (a/k/a Annabelle) in quite some time. In fact, Annabelle was getting dusty sitting in my garage, although that has as much to do with the fact I've been working with drywall as the length of time its been sitting idle. Anyway, all of us were overdue to hit the road.

Anna suggested that we go for a ride after she got home from work Wednesday, so when she pulled into her parking lot, the bike and I were waiting for her.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked.

"Anywhere you take me, baby," Anna replied.

We endured heavy rush-hour traffic in West Warwick before we got to Route 117 in Coventry, where I could settle into a nice, steady, therapeutic 45 m.p.h. cruise. Then we headed north on Route 102, where we navigated several uneven patches of new pavement; I guess the state couldn't afford to repave the whole road. Next, I went east on Route 6. I briefly pulled over near the Scituate/Johnston town line to ask Anna if she wanted to return home the quick way (go south on Interstate 95), or the long way (go through the east bay towns of Rhode Island (Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Middletown and Newport). She chose the long way.

Since it was after 7 p.m. by this time, the highway ride through Providence was actually pleasant due to relatively light traffic. I enjoyed the sweepers on Route 6 before it joined the 6/10 Connector, and the recently-completed highway project in Providence made getting from Interstate 95 to 195 a breeze.

By the time we made a pit stop at the Dunkin Donuts on Route 114 in Barrington, it was dusk. I had worn my clear goggles, since it was cloudy. Despite the cloud cover, though, we were still treated to a beautiful sunset. As I glanced at my rearview mirror, I saw the setting sun causing the clouds to glow orange. We stopped near the beginning of the East Bay Bike Path to watch the sunset over Bristol Harbor. Time seemed to stand still and worries faded away as we marveled at God's glory reflected in nature.

We continued along Route 114, crossing the Mt. Hope Bridge, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the road was newly repaved. I remembered that there was a KFC coming up, and I suddenly had a craving for one of their chicken pot pies, so we stopped for a late dinner.

Now, there were several things about our visit to the KFC in Middletown, R.I. that were remarkable. In medical terminology, the word "remarkable" is used to describe things that are out of the ordinary. Anna, who is a medical assistant, had told me that just yesterday, and for some reason, I felt compelled to mention that in my blog.

First, although it was 8 p.m., this KFC was nearly as busy as lunchtime - I'm only slightly exaggerating.

Second, they were out of several things, including my chicken pot pie. I settled on chicken strips, but I must have gotten the last ones, since I heard the kid behind the counter tell the customers after me that they would have to wait several minutes for them to cook (or heat up? lol) more strips.

Third, Anna had an even more frustrating time ordering. They had no more chicken breasts, and wanted to substitute ONE wing or ONE drumstick. Anna practically had to argue with them to convince them that two wings or drumsticks is a fair swap for a breast. Too funny.

After leaving KFC, we encountered road construction and rough pavement on Route 114 in Middletown, but it was smooth sailing over the Newport and Jamestown bridges, which I usually don't ride over at night.

Back to medical terminology: Unremarkable means the opposite of remarkable; that is, nothing out of the ordinary or usual. For instance, all the road construction we encountered was (for Rhode Island) unremarkable. And, you could say, the sunset, although stunning, was unremarkable, because God routinely blesses us with beautiful sunsets.

However, a KFC running out of chicken, to me, is quite remarkable.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Becoming a Biker Chick

I haven't been riding or blogging much the last couple weeks due to a busy workload, so it's time to turn the spotlight on my girlfriend Anna, who, after having been a passenger on the back of my Harley the past several months, is learning how to ride a motorcycle.

She enrolled in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course, and scored 100 percent on the written test following an all-day classroom session last Saturday. This weekend, however, was the real test - the range portion of the course. I went with Anna yesterday to the range, at the far end of the parking lot at Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick, to meet the instructors and give her an idea what to expect, since I went through the same course about two years ago.

There were seven students the first day of the range; three of them were women. Anna was excited, but also a bit nervous because she thought she was the only person in her class who had never ridden a motorcycle. She was a bit relieved to discover that another woman, Jean, also had zero experience.

Some background is in order: When Anna was about 11 years old, she was riding a go
kart on a dirt road when she lost control and went down an embankment, then into a creek and hit a tree. A few years later, she rode a pony named Buck who (as his name implies) tried to buck her off as he headed back toward the barn. Now, fast forward to this weekend ....

Yesterday, the first day of the range, I watched while the MSF instructors, Dave and Tim, spent several minutes demonstrating the controls on
the bikes, 250 c.c. Honda Rebels or Nighthawks. Then the students "power walked" the motorcycles up the parking lot's slight incline to acquaint themselves with the bikes' friction zones. Eventually, I saw Anna ride with her feet on the pegs, and I was there to take a picture. When she turned the bike around at the far end of the parking lot, though, I saw the rear tire of her Honda Rebel smoke as the throttle revved wildly. At that point, I had to leave, but I worried about her the whole afternoon. When I talked to her later that afternoon, she told me she had dropped the bike twice. She said she was unsure what she did wrong, only that the motorcycle's engine would race and the bike would buck before she panicked and dropped it.

"It was like the motorcycle had a mind of its own," said Anna, who was not hurt. After the first time she dropped it, she wanted to sit out the rest of the exercise, but she said one of the instructors, Dave, told her, "Well, if you're scared, you should just go home."
Anna said she thought about it for a second and then told Dave, "Okay, I'll get back on the bike ... I'm not scared," but in reality, she was still frightened and even drove her car home slowly (usually, she has a lead foot while driving).

Anna went home discouraged, but decided to go back today for the second half of the range, since Dave would not be there. She was not optimistic about passing the riding tests, but she at least wanted to give it her best try. "Pray me up, folks," Anna wrote on her Facebook page this morning. "I get spooked and the bike bucks like Buck, a pony I used to know. I have to increase my speed today and know that I control the bike - it does not think on its own. I am a trooper to go back again today ... quitters never win, and winners never quit."

I stayed to watch the entire session today, and, as the students chatted before the session, several were very encouraging to Anna, saying she was improving. Anna was also greatly encouraged by a fourth woman, Flavia, who joined the class today to re-take the range portion of the course, which she had failed a couple weeks earlier. Flavia admitted she lost control of her motorcycle during practice and crashed into three parked bikes. "Don't give up!" she told Anna.

Tim the instructor, who, according to Anna, is easygoing and encouraging, was joined today by a different instructor, Anthony, who reminded Anna that she should not be so hard on herself after just one afternoon of riding. He asked Anna (who is a medical assistant) what she did for a living, and then said, "Do you think I would know how to give someone an E.K.G. tomorrow?"

Unlike yesterday, the instructors gave the students a couple of breaks. "I didn't drop it," Anna announced at the first break. Jean told Anna, "You're much calmer today than you were yesterday." From what I could see from afar, Anna was riding more smoothly than yesterday, although more slowly than most of the other students. By the second break, Anna and Flavia were gaining more confidence and were ready for the final tests.

"We're doin' it, girl!" Flavia said to Anna. "C'mon, we got this!" Around 4:45 p.m., I saw the students dismount their motorcycles, and as I walked toward them, I heard whooping and cheering. "We all passed!" Anna said. "I never thought I could do it!"

Anna scored an 85 on the range tests. With her MSF course certificate, plus a $26 fee, she can now go the registry of motor vehicles for her motorcycle learner's permit, which she must hold for a minimum of 30 days before obtaining a motorcycle endorsement on her driver's license.

As Anna jumped up and down with excitement, Jean said, "Anna's a biker chick!"

Anna responded, "It's official - I've got the certificate!"

Looking back, Anna was glad she didn't give up after a difficult first day. "Success comes after splat," she said. "I give God the glory ... but I had to do a little work. If God directs your path, then you are where you're supposed to be."

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way (Psalm 37:23, ESV)