The Kitchen Counter Archives
January 3, 2009
It's that time of year again.
To look on the bright side of winter, I get about 3 months to
heal my body from the other 9 months of racing. I also get
some down time to restore my aging fleet of dirt bikes to
competition form. This winter is the first in 4 years that I
have all my worldly possessions under one roof, making it
much more comfortable to disassemble my KX250 down to
its frame. It's a lot more fun to do this in a 2-car garage
whose interior temperature only hits freezing when it's 7
below zero outside (and that's nothing a kerosene heater
can't take care of). No way do I miss that storage unit in the
So after 3 years of racing the KX250, it was time to clean and
inspect every component. Most of this had already been
done, leaving what my brother-in-law Brian described as a
"motorcycle in a box":
I don't normally put more than 3 seasons on a dirt bike, but
I've sworn off all major purchases until I no longer own real
estate in Chicago. That could be awhile, so I'm prepared to
go another year with the KX250. And why not? The bike has
been flawless (wood being knocked as I type this).
What's left is the complete engine resting comfortably on my
kitchen counter, slated for a thorough cleaning and inspection
this week. And why do that inside the garage, when my
kitchen counter is so convenient (and warm)? I'll tell you why:
it's a rented apartment. There is, however, a flipside to this
logic. Right now there's a guy in Chicago, renting a sweet
condo owned by yours truly, who may just be thinking the
January 22, 2009
There's a scene in an old Michael J. Fox movie called Doc
Hollywood where Dr. Benjamin Stone's damaged car is
repaired and the mechanic hands him the keys and some nuts
and bolts. "Always a few left over" the mechanic explains.
Same thing happens to me whenever I tear down my
motorcycles. The KX250 went from this to this to this, and
after was all done, I ended up with the above homeless nuts
and bolts. It's an unexplainable mechanical phenomenon.
February 9, 2009
and always enjoy its writing and photography. It's the ESPN
The Magazine of motocross - the depth of coverage generally
contained a story about Honey Lake Motocross, a world class
track near Milford, California. The article describes the nearly
unbelievable efforts required of the owners to comply with
local ordinances. Since 2001, the owners claim to have spent
approximately $275,000 in legal fees defending its right to
operate the track. Why?
Based on aerial maps, the Honey Lake property appears to be
within a half-mile of a few local neighbors, all of who were
initially on board with the construction of the new track and
actually provided letters of support during the permit process.
But a funny thing happened when the motorcycles arrived: the
neighbors began complaining. It wasn't the dust or the traffic
or the extra demand placed on the local ambulance service.
The noise was what turned supporters into foes.
Back in the good old days of dirt biking, personal injury
lawyers and environmentalists were common opponents of
off-road motorcycling. Today, Enemy #1 is the uncorked
four-stroke exhaust. If Bill Clinton was in office the last time
you visited a motocross track, prepare for some unfamiliar
sounds the next time you stop by. Gone are the high pitched
ring-ding-dings of two stroke engines. Instead, the low
braaap-brap of four stroke engines dominates. The decibel
output of these engines is often similar to that of two strokes,
but the quality of the sound is what causes problems. The low
pitch of a four stroke engine carries further - a nice thing if
you're piloting an oil tanker, but exactly what you don't want if
you're a motocross track owner.
One thing is certain about the advent of four strokes in
off-road motorcycling: they are killing our sport. Actually, that
isn't quite accurate. Four stroke exhaust systems, along with
riders who believe louder is faster, are killing our sport.
Nobody wants to hear dirt bikes from three miles away, but
that is a very real possibility if you strip out the internals of
your four stroke muffler. Not so with a two stroke - the sound
just won't carry that far.
I have raced behind four stroke bikes at hare scrambles that
were so loud my ears hurt, and that was with my helmet on.
Passing those guys is so very satisfying, but so is getting
passed by guys like Jeff Fredette on whisper-quiet four
strokes. They get it.
Too bad they're in the minority.
February 13, 2009
On the kitchen counter today is my direct economic benefit
from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
You are seeing what is commonly referred to as squat, zilch,
dick, nada, or that space between Chris Brown's ears.
There's your $787 billion stimulus in my world. But hey, at
least some houses will get weatherized.
I was really excited about the $15,000 home buyer's tax
credit (the one that didn't make it into the final stimulus bill)
but not for the reason you might suppose. Sure, I'm in the
process of buying a house right now and I'd have an extra
$15,000 in my pocket after I file my taxes next year. That
would be pretty cool. But I honestly don't care about the
$15,000. Way more concerning is the much larger-sized
equity in my condo. I can't get my hands on that equity
because it's been so tough to sell the dang thing. Had the
tax credit remained in the stimulus bill, I would have dropped
the condo price by $15,000 because I'd get it back in the
form of a tax credit on the purchase of my next house. The
person who buys my condo would get a more reasonable
price and might do the same thing I did - sell their existing
home for a lower price - or if they're buying for the first time,
they've now got $15,000 more to spend on the kind of stuff
that keeps people employed. How is that not a win-win for
everyone (or for me, at least)?
Yeah, I know, the win-win thing breaks down when you're like
me and decide to buy a new house. There's nobody moving
out of a newly constructed home and buying another house
somewhere else. But once again, we're talking about how this
affects me, got it?
But alas, I will do no stimulizing. Until that damn condo sells,
I ain't buying anything I don't need for survival (except
The federal government spends $787 billion, I get what's on
my kitchen counter.
March 1, 2009
Since I graduated from high school nearly 20 years ago, the
longest I've lived in any one spot is 3.5 years. Do the math -
it's a lot of moving. With exactly one month remaining on my
apartment lease, I'm nearly ready to pack my stuff for the
10th time since I left home after college.
Interesting reminders of the past always turn up with each
move. Here we have my student ID from the University of
Illinois (1989); an old Illinois driver's license renewed in 1999
(while I was actually a resident of Missouri); a safe driver
recognition from George Ryan (then just a relatively benign
Secretary of State); and a collection of business cards
spanning my career from 1993-2008.
Gotta run to Home Depot...used up all my packing tape.
March 1, 2009
In my younger years, I was a regular recreational basketball
player in various moderately unorganized, call-you-own-foul
games. Then came dirt biking and hoops took a back seat to
mud, sweat and gears.
However, this year I was volunteered to play in a Wednesday
night basketball league sponsored in part by a bank owned by
the same holding company as my employer. One of my
co-workers sized me up as old and thin and decided that was
good enough for a spot on the State Bank team in the
Freeport 30 & Over basketball league, a/k/a Hoops for Old
Guys Trying to Relive Past Glory. I was told to show up at the
King Community Campus at 6:15 last Wednesday, which I did
with a belly full of Quizno's sandwich.
The first sign that this was somewhat semi-serious basketball
came when I pulled up the league's website. The fact that the
league actually had a website was enough to scare me. Next
came my arrival at the gym, where guys with zebra suits were
standing around a scorers table. Referees? Yikes, this was as
real, like my 8th grade basketball team (starting #2 guard,
baby - Stockland Shorthorns Class of '85).
Then there were the matching t-shirts, stacked in a pile next to
our bench. I pulled out the smallest shirt then available - 2XL -
and glanced across the court. A guy with a video camera and a
tripod was set up in the stands, filming our every missed layup.
tripod was set up in the stands, filming our every missed layup.
An announcer noted that the games would be broadcast on
Comcast's local public access channel. Say what?
Our team was made up of a group of league veterans, who
showed me why it's helpful to actually play the game a little bit
before the first night of basketball. Within 20 minutes I had a
silver-dollar-sized blister on my left foot and a heart rate of
about 340. With only 7 guys on our team showing up to play, I
got plenty of court time. Mercifully, the 20-minute halves were
on a countdown clock that didn't stop running until two minutes
were left in each half.
Although the other team, organized by the Freeport mayor, had
several more players, we eventually wore them down and pulled
away in the second half. One game, one win...eight games to
go. As of today, I think my legs are almost usable again. Almost.
March 19, 2009
The real cost of trophies is no longer measured in dollars and
cents and visits to the doctor. It's now measured in terms of
recovery time. Four days removed from my first race of the
year, I am still feeling the effects. The only visible evidence of
my Sunday at Prophetstown, Illinois was a thumb blister and a
couple of light bruises where I rubbed a low hanging tree
branch. I was not tired during the race, nor did I make any
uncharacteristic errors on the course. In other words, it was
just another race.
But when 3.5 months go by between rides, my body has a
certain way of voicing its objections. It waits about 24 hours,
then screams something to the effect of "You are an idiot for
not riding during the off-season and now you must pay."
To further prove that dirt biking is a full body workout, just
about every muscle throbbed by Monday night. Legs, lower
back, arms, shoulders, all in unison. Despite rockin' my 25-lb
dumbbells and incline bench all winter, as well as occasional
stationary rides on my bicycle trainer, there is no substitute for
the real thing.
So tonight, I am nearly able to lie comfortably on the couch in
full-on March Madness euphoria. Next winter, I will invest in ice
studs and hand warmers.