Choose Your Books Carefully

Books can make us do odd things.

There’s a passage in The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, I think, where the god Odin is in a nursing home. His thunder and lightning days are done, he’s old and tired. Odin doesn’t want to do anything but sleep, and his only passion is the crisp, cool, perfect white sheets on his hospital bed.

Once a day Odin gets out of bed for a short walk and ablution, then snuggles back down into his fresh linen.

Every time I read that book, I change my own sheets soon afterward. In fact, ever since I first read the passage, I spend a few minutes each night and each morning in bed, thinking about how blessed and grateful I am to be indoors, clean, dry, and comfortable between linen sheets. It is a powerful paragraph. Douglas Adams was an artist.

I was affected by 1984. It’s not a fun book to read – it’s thoroughly depressing. You can see parallels of 1984 in our modern world, and it’s frightening. Yet I think that Orwell took too grim of an interpretation of the world, because it’s not as bad as all that. Still, when I was reading it, I was as low as I’ve ever been. Checking out seemed like a reasonable idea. It wasn’t until I cleansed my palate afterwards, with a round of Terry Pratchett, that I realized how deeply the book had affected me, and swore to never touch it again.

This is a passage from The Toyota Way. I’ve bookmarked and copied down this snippet so that I’ll never lose it, because I love it so much.

(Link to the complete chapter)

“Since so much of the success of Lexus depended on achieving these breakthrough performance objectives for the engine, and since this depended so heavily on production engineering, Suzuki presented a number of strict requirements to the engine production engineers, whose response was largely discouraging. Their first reaction was that you cannot make parts that are more precise than the tolerances of the precision instruments you’re using to make them. At the time, Toyota had the most precise instruments in the world for machining engine parts (e.g., high-precision machine tools for machining castings into crankshafts, pistons, etc.). And so Suzuki said, “Oh, OK, I see your point.” But backing away from these breakthrough performance objects would mean the end of his “dream car.” So he turned to his superiors for help and was able to get them formed into a Flagship Quality Committee (The “FQ Committee”).”

This is a chapter in the breathtaking story of Ichiro Suzuki, who, given the “most precise instruments in the world”, insisted that even more precise instruments be manufactured for the first production Lexus.

“At the time, Toyota had the most precise instruments in the world”. That line resonated with me. Such assurance, such lack of pretense, no debate. Just “Toyota has the best machinery in the world.” I would say those words to myself last year when I washed cars, and then I would wash faster, dry more thoroughly, replace the cars more perfectly aligned in their parking spots, and run faster to the next car.

In November I parked in front of the Bruce Hutchinson Library and checked my messages. “Have you ever read a book called ‘The Perfect Vehicle‘?” asked Corey Bergerud, apropos of nothing. (I’ve written about the Bergerud boys before. I’m not close to any of them, but there are dozens on the Island and I haven’t yet met one I didn’t love. A blog post for another day.)

“No,” I texted back. “Good thing I’m at the library.”

Bruce Hutchinson didn’t have it in stock, but the librarian looked it up and directed me to the Central branch, where I checked it out. Over Christmas I read about a woman who, realizing that she loved her boyfriend’s bike more than the boyfriend, dumped him and bought a Moto Guzzi. She rode to rallies in the States, went to track days, took long camping trips with her biker bros and toured Germany, hosted on short notice by the European Moto Guzzi rider’s club.

I can’t afford an Italian bike, but it’s no coincidence that there was a new Kawasaki in my driveway in January.

Ninja

No one ever does anything new. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and walk in the footsteps of the masters who have gone ahead of us. To read about their struggles is to be inspired, and to forgive yourself for you own shortcomings.

A good way to be inspired to write is to read the biography of Ray Bradbury. He would sit and write 2000 words per day, then take some beautiful woman out to a carnival in the evening. Upon sight of the fun house mirrors, he’d abandon his date and run back to his typewriter to write a story about an oddly shaped man who went to the funhouse to feel normal.

If you need to practice music, try the biography of Stewart Copeland. He threw his drumsticks down after the final Police gig and spent the next 20 years having children, pursuing a polo vendetta against the Crown Prince of England, and writing dubious musicals.

When he picked the sticks up again for the Police reunion tour, he was so rusty and out of shape that Sting would insultingly keep time on his hi-hat. Weeks of steady practice brought him back into fighting condition.

And if you, for some reason, need to build a railroad, there’s always Atlas Shrugged. I’m 1/4 through it – once I finish it I’ll let you know what else you can be inspired to do while being outraged at socialists (because being outraged at socialists goes without saying when you read Ayn Rand).

Pick your books carefully. They’ll change your mind, and your mind will change the world.

I’m secretly a race car driver

The morning I turned 16 I waited by the front door for my dad to take me to the license office.

He was surprised, because I hadn’t told him we were going. It never occurred to me that there could be anything in the world more important than me getting my driving licence on the morning of my 16th birthday.

Anxious years followed as I tried to hide the heat of my desire to take the wheel of every car I encountered. If they knew how badly I wanted it they would look at me oddly, and they already looked at me oddly. No one trusts a teenager who tends to stare into space and leave her wallet in the refrigerator.

I volunteered to haul wood one afternoon for a chance to drive the tractor. A trip to the next town to thrift shop, for a chance to drive on the highway. I can’t express my hatred of thrift shopping without obscenity, so I won’t.

There was a conversation with a coworker – a young man who had ridden his motorcycle from California. He’s an MMA fighter now, then he was a clerk at Safeway. 2 weeks later we took a 90 dollar cab ride to some obscure suburb to pick up my new motorcycle so he could drive it home for me.

   ninja

That first night, he showed me how to work the clutch and shifter, then I drove it straight into the nearest brick wall. Sometimes love hurts. It hurt again a few months later when I laid the bike down at Cattle Point, parked the wreck in my parking spot and didn’t look at it for three more days, when I noticed I had left my gloves on the gas tank.

The thought of not riding didn’t occur to me. I bought a Silverwing. The seller proudly showed off his wife’s baby bump as he handed me the keys. I had no interest in babies. The Silverwing had a stereo. It played Johnny Cash loud enough to make people roll up their windows.

silverwing

I dated a young man long enough to borrow his mother’s car and take the final road test for my license, then took a job at a German auto dealership, where all I had to do was move beautiful cars around the lot all day.

On such a day, I took one car to the glass shop and met another young man, who followed me back to work, then home. He took me on a date to a racetrack, where I rode in his friends car as it moved at high speed, sideways, all around the course. I had to leave early, so he gave me his car keys. No funny looks, just trust. Bring it back tomorrow, he said. I can catch a ride home.

ae86

We drove to Vancouver, Mill Bay, Shawnigan, North Saanich, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Seattle, Hope, Abbotsford, buying horrible cheap wrecks of cars to drive them into the ground. Sometimes none of the cheap wrecks worked, so we took my third motorcycle, an unreliable 300cc Kawasaki. I remember driving two-up over the Malahat in January with snow on the ground, passed by large trucks as my carburetor struggled with the low air pressure, but I don’t remember being cold.

KZ305 CSR
Some weekends we rose at 5:30am to get the race car started and go to the racetrack. He drove; I sometimes drove and rode in every car that would take me.

The young man left the country, but somehow I still get invited to the racetrack. I’m not sure if the racers accept me on my own, or only as the plus-one of their absent friend. But as long as it lasts, I go, and ride in every car I can. Mind the cash box, or volunteer to wrench for a chance to drive a beater in a hill climb.

These boys spend all their money and time on cars. I question my dedication sometimes – I don’t own a car, have not gone into debt for the sake of racing, I’m not even sure what a coilover is. But racing seems to be the focus of my life.

I still have to hide it. If the universe figured out how badly I want to drive in the hill climb, it would find a way to cheat me out of it. Don’t tell anyone.

van

How to Stay Warm on a Motorbike for Cheap

I’ve had my bike insured and running since January, and damn if today wasn’t the first decent weather we’ve had in all that time.

Step 1:

Gloves. If you’re a responsible adult, get some that have nice, plush lining, carbon knuckles, leather shells with no perforations. Gauntlets that go all the way up to your elbow. Velcro fasteners. Spend $200.

If you’re an irresponsible adult, like me, who can’t keep track of a pair of gloves for more than one year, get whatever you can for 40 bucks and hope for the best. When you start to feel pain in your fingertips, turn back. When the pain goes away, pull over at once and thaw out.

Step 2:

Jacket… and another jacket underneath.

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That’s a textile jacket with a lining, and a leather jacket underneath.

And a hoodie under that, and a thermal tee under that, and a tshirt as well. And just to be safe, stuff some newspapers down the front to block the zipper draft. And wear a tshirt around your neck, scarf style. Or even just a scarf. But tshirts seem to be easier to wrap around your face, bandit style, to keep your chin nice and warm.

Step 3:

Long johns. I got a super fancy pair of merino ones long ago. Best thing in the world. Wear them under your usual pants, then wear Carhartts over that. Take the Carhartts off before you go into a place of business, those things are disgraceful.

Step 4:

Boots. The higher top the better. I dunno, I’ve just been wearing these, and they seem to work ok. At least, my feet aren’t any colder than the rest of me.

Air Force BootsYou can get them by joining Air Cadets, then keeping your issued uniform after you quit. Or, the army surplus store.

Step 5:

Just stay inside for god’s sake, this is ridiculous.