In April of 1998, the two things I was most passionate about—whiskey and my motorcycle—produced an unfortunate, if predictable, collision.
I had just left a concert at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, after a long day of partying—drinks and barbecue at my friend Todd’s before the show, several more drinks at the show. I decided a feast of Taco Bell would be the perfect ending on this long, bourbon-soaked day.
I got on my bike and rode a block up 13th Street (the main drag for Boulder’s “Hill” section). I took a left on College avenue and stopped at the light at Broadway, before taking a right onto Broadway and riding south toward Taco Bell.
I guess I only thought I came to a stop at the light, because a few seconds after turning onto Broadway, bright, unmistakable, blue-and-red lights lit up my backside.
In that moment, I saw two options:
Pay the consequences. Pull over and get a DUI. In Boulder this meant plea-bargaining down to a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) because it was my first offense, taking alcohol education classes, doing 24 hours of community service and shelling out around $1500. I knew these consequences because I was the last of my peers to get one.
Escape. Grab the clutch, downshift and get the hell away from Johnny Law. No cops, no court, no money, no classes, no community service, no consequences.
With roughly a mile of straight and clear road in front of me, a motorcycle that could hit 60 in under 4 seconds and ample whiskey coursing through my blood, the decision seemed clear.
Eighteen years-old. I had just spent three months sitting in my folks’ basement continuously high, working out, watching TV, in near-complete isolation, interacting only with parents and pot-dealer. Bleakness prevailed. I thought learning how to play my dad’s old guitar might help. I just needed $30 for a book so I could learn some chords. I asked my dad for money. He said no. I broke down crying like a baby. It had nothing to do with the guitar book. I needed help. I realized I had never asked for help before. I asked for help. I got help.
Twenty-three. I was in Munich, Germany, debauching my way through Europe after two years spent more or less continuously drunk. All my waking hours were dominated by drinking. My mornings—if I could get up in the morning—were pervaded by hangover-induced physical violence. My early afternoons were spent in regret and physical recovery. My late afternoons/early evenings were spent thinking about how getting a drink might not be a bad idea. My nights were spent drinking, repeating cycle. By Munich, I couldn’t handle it anymore. My body was shutting down. The myth of drinking to have a good time was being demythologized sip-by-sip. I couldn’t go on. I stopped. I asked for help. I went home. I got help. I got well.
Twenty-six. I finally broke up with my ten-year-senior, ex-stripper, adolescent-child-toting girlfriend after five unsuccessful tries. I couldn’t seem to do anything right, even break up. I was bouncing from job-to-job. I had no purpose in life, no direction. I was desperate. I needed help. I asked for help. I got help. I found direction.
Thirty-two. I was in a very unsatisfying relationship with a satisfactory woman. She was the picture of who I thought I should be with: pretty, successful, spiritual, worldly, etc. And I was totally fucking miserable. I had spent two years trying to make a connection. I moved in with her. She was under the impression that we were going to get married. I knew better. The weight of my lie was like an anvil bearing down on my chest. I distrusted everything I said. I went to bed early and got up late. One night, we had a fight—the same fight we always had. I saw the opening to get honest. I was honest. The relationship ended. I moved out within an hour. I had to rebuild my life in an instant. I asked for help. I got it.
At an event I host, a programmer named Amit Pitaru gave a talk about designing the best motorcycle to travel through South America. He said that when asked, most people said they would want the most reliable motorcycle they could find. The prospect of getting caught in the middle of Nowhere, South America is not an enticing proposition.
But he described the worst thing that can happen on a trip to see South America on motorcycle: not breaking down. When you break down, you have to ask for help. You get to know the locals. You create bonds through your interactions that would have never been possible zipping by on a problem-free bike. You might witness a beautiful sunset fixing your clutch. You might meet a great family or friend fixing a flat.
He went on to say that on your never-break-down-bike, you zip past little towns never interacting with anyone you don’t pay to help you (restaurant, hotel and gas station attendants mostly). You attract thieves because your fancy bike probably makes you look like an easy target. You move through the country efficiently, but detached. You have no problems, but you have no meaningful experiences either.
Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli, was the coolest person to never live. Nothing affected him. He was handy. He knew how to fight. He rode a motorcycle. Men wanted to be him. Women wanted to be with him.
Most of my life, on the other hand, has been decidedly un-Fonzie-like. I have historically been hypersensitive, copping quick resentments and easily falling into depressive states. I have been pretty inept with tools for most of my life. I didn’t (and don’t) know how to fight. I owned a motorcycle, but it was crashed in a very un-Fonziesque manner. I have had trouble earning the admiration of men. I have had greater difficulty getting the attention of women.
This lack of inherent Fonzieness didn’t extinguish my ambition to be like the Fonz. To be cool has been a principle aim for much of my life, often at the extreme detriment to my happiness.
The trouble with being cool is it has made me inflexible. Cool is an ideology—i.e. a way of behaving driven by an idea. In my case, the idea that Fonzie knew the answer. And when you’re an ideologue, you have trouble stepping out of that idea. Acting within the ideology of cool, I couldn’t be a dork or a whiner or whatever a situation might dictate, even when to do so would save my life. Continue reading “Advanced Fonzametrics”