Smile Politely

Loud fast rules

A key issue in the Sustainability Movement is exurban sprawl. Wide dispersal of people in an area leads to increased costs, environmental or monetary. It costs money to have a car. It costs more money to fill it with gas. And it costs everybody to build/maintain the road (and sewer line) to your subdivision. Same deal with communications and electrical lines. Everyone pays more if the pool of subscribers is spread out.

Sprawl may be a reaction to immigration. That’s what the social scientists have been saying for a long time. Whether you want to get away from the Irish, the Polish or (gasp!) black people; the point is that you want to get away.

I tend to think it’s not a racial or ethnic thing. Increased population density leads to increased aggression. Cultural differences may sharpen the focus of one’s underlying grievance, but it’s loss of control that bugs people.

When the neighborhood gets beyond their control, like-minded people form a new neighborhood where they can impose all the rules they like. For example:

  • no work vehicles parked in front of the house (you wouldn’t want outsiders to know that laborers live here)
  • no “for sale” signs in yards (you wouldn’t want outsiders to think that anyone might want to leave here)
  • no political yard signs
  • exterior paint colors from a pre-determined list, only
  • no herb gardens (too peasant/hippy)

Noise is one of the major reasons people have fled cities for suburbs. People equate “quiet life” with suburbia. A key factor then, in discouraging sprawl, is to make the infill as habitable as possible. That means giving everybody control over his patch. That means controlling noise pollution.

But even when an entire neighborhood of people gets it, even when everyone finally recognizes that they must abide their neighbors need for peace: some asshole on a Harley moves in.

Harley-Davidson manufactures motorcycles which produce a legal amount of sound. H-D is very proud of this sound. They even tried to trademark it. I shit you not.

The sound is not necessary to the operation of the motorcycle. In fact, the “design choice is entirely vestigial from an engineering standpoint, but has been sustained because of the strong connection between the distinctive sound and the Harley-Davidson brand.”

Look at the cached version of this Fairfax, VA Harley dealer’s website. You may see a difference between that and the one Patriot Harley-Davidson now presents to the world. If you’re having trouble finding it, here are the missing words:

Maybe you just want that awesome earth-quaking, window-rattling exhaust that sets off car alarms as you ride on by. Want to make men dive out of the way and women grab their children and head inside and lock the doors? We can help with that too! Drop us an email at or call us at 703.352.5400.

The earthquake derives from “straight pipes” which basically means that the muffler has been removed. Also the catalytic converter. In fact, anything that might make toxic noise and gaseous emissions less assholey to the outside world.

If you don’t love Harley-Davidson, you don’t love America. It’s as simple as that.

When your product = Americanism, you make money. If your product is controversial, it’s imperative that you wrap it in the flag. (Or the Bible. Jesus can make anything okay, even child rape, evidently.)

It’s like the Rovian tactic of attacking the enemy for his strength. Harley doesn’t want to seem anti-social, so it promotes its anti-social behavior as the ultimate pro-social behavior: a selfless act, for the good of the country. To that end, Harley authorizes dealerships named “Patriot.” It sponsors a “Ride of the Patriots,” presumably in the hope that you’ll confuse carrying a rifle into Baghdad with rumbling your chopper into downtown Bement.

Here’s the video of the 2008 Ride of the Patriots. See if you can find the portion in which a republican form of government is guaranteed, or where your privileges and immunities are preserved.

What is the meaning of “patriotism?” I have studied this question for seven years. Since 9/11, the word has more often been used in a light I regard as negative. See how “FDNY” became “bow down, peasant, I’m a goddamned HERO!” See how the “Patriot Act” diminished all those uniquely American liberties I’d always bundled under the catch-all term “freedom.”

Is patriot synonymous with “anti-social dick?” The motorcycle lobby claims (frequently) that only 1% of riders create all the bad perceptions about motorcycles.

I disagree.

In fact, the one-percenters are probably less disruptive of every day peace and quiet than the weekend warriors. Hell’s Angels, Bandidos, Outlaws and Governor Jesse Ventura’s old outfit, the Mongols, keep a lower profile than that fatty who rides around town on the 1000cc, 120 dB chrome-covered phallic extension. Those gangs… sorry, “clubs” operate lucrative drug and prostitution rackets. They don’t need extra attention from law enforcement.

No, it’s the increased interest among regular Joes (or Joe Bobs) that’s made this an issue in towns everywhere. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points out that ridership skyrocketed lately. They can tell, because of all the death.

And if you thought you might “get away from it all” on the weekend, good luck. National parks are now hubs for Harleys.

Noise activist Judy Ellis of Tampa persuaded ClearChannel to donate billboard space for an anti-noise campaign. It didn’t wipe out noise entirely, of course. But she takes her revenge against perpetrators in small, satisfying doses:

I think it helps to be a gray-haired old lady … At a light I roll my window and give them a big grin; immediately anticipating a compliment on their expensive machine or goofy attire, they reduce the rum-rums on the bike and smile back. Which is when I either hold up my thumb and forefinger about an inch apart in a gesture no man could possibly misunderstand, or say, with a big smile, ‘My goodness, you must have a really small penis!’ And then I laugh and drive away.”

If you don’t buy the notion that rumbling through the neighborhood makes you a better American, here’s argument #2 for rattling your windows: Loud pipes save lives. (See above)

That’s the argument from people who believe they have a right to ride a motorcycle. You can’t see them, so you will hear them. (Helmets and bright colors might improve safety, too. But that’s not cool see?) They believe their right to life supercedes your right to a life worth living. But they’ll take it a step further; their right to ride supercedes your right to a life worth living.

They’re wrong.

I have some advice for these men. It will fit nicely with their ethos: If you want to sleep with a woman, and you don’t know whether she’ll agree to it (in fact, if you don’t know her at all) it’s safest to tie her hands to the bedstead. Otherwise, she might scratch your eyes out.

That’s a dramatic analogy, designed to grab attention. A more common analog in the world of noise pollution is the person who keeps a barking dog to scare away burglars. They believe they can inflict one kind of injury on others to prevent an injury against themselves. (It doesn’t work. Burglars love constant barkers.)

Is battery by chronic noise better or worse than being sideswiped, and possibly killed? Well, it depends on one’s perspective, doesn’t it?

For those of us who don’t insist on riding, it’s a lose-lose proposition. I might demand you sacrifice your liberties in the case of a national emergency. But why would I ask you to give up your rights so I can ride around on a chrome-plated plaything? Put another way: Would you rather I hit you in the face with a sock full of marbles, or hold a burning candle to your toes? Your appropriate response would be: Why am I asking you to choose between varieties of injury? Is it necessary for me to injure you?

Riding a motorcycle is unnecessary to the propagation of the species. It’s not necessary at all. If you can’t do it without violating the rights of others, you can’t do it. Period.

Federal law regulates motorcycle noise. Well, in theory it does. In reality, no law regulates it.

In Massachusetts last month, the town of Hingham failed to pass a bylaw to deter motorcycle noise because the city attorney thought it would be illegal. In fact, such deterrence is required.

The local CBS affiliate did a story about the motorcycle problem, in which the chief of police said “yes, it’s illegal” and “no, we don’t enforce it.” Watch it for yourself. There’s a really beefy Harley dealer with a very tiny penis who says 60–70% of Harley buyers alter their exhaust as soon as they buy a bike.

The Hingham bylaw would have been superfluous, of course. It’s basically a restatement of the EPA regulation. So if it had passed, the city of Hingham would have had two human rights laws to ignore, instead of one.

How do these people keep their jobs? Knowing the law is not a requirement for city attorneys. Being able to google the law, prior to making public statements, should be.

When I met with the mayor last year to address noise issues, I asked about motorcycles. She told me Urbana’s city attorney rides one, so nothing would likely be done. I am not making this up.

On the bright side, I don’t live in Manhattan Beach, CA where the entire city government rumbles through town on hogs and choppers.

Americans have lots of regulations on automobiles. Mandatory seat belt laws, baseline side-impact standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy. We expect the government is demanding a safety threshold.

We rely on it.

Regulations on motorcycles affect the bikes that leave the factory. After the bike leaves the factory, it has to be upgraded before it can menace an entire village. The laws designed to protect you are willingly subverted, for money. There’s a big market, and they have a big lobby in Washington and the state capitals. The Massachusetts Organization put out a statement trumpeting its victory over the residents of Hingham.

Profit trumps safety and environmental concerns, see.

Now that’s patriotism.

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