Riding down the Garden State Parkway on New Year’s Day, I’m pondering all the changes that have transpired last year. Well, over the past few years. OK, if I really want to be honest, nothing in my life has ever stayed the same for very long. Just as I’m getting comfortable with a situation, wham! The rug is pulled out from under me. Or sometimes it’s more subtle, like the parable of boiling a frog. Did you know there was a series of experiments in the 19th century, with various scientists asserting that if a frog was placed in gradually heating water, it wouldn’t attempt to jump out to save its life? This theory was eventually disproved, but the metaphor is still used today as a warning against gradual changes… the slippery slope syndrome, so to speak. But I digress.
My point is, just as I settle into a situation and find my groove, things change. But what I was thinking about on this chilly New Year’s morning had more to do with motorcycles, and in particular, how various changes have affected my little slice of the motorcycle culture. As those of you who have been riding for a while probably remember, large rallies and events—and I mean large, with tens of thousands of people—were few and far between. Most of the time, it was just rides and parties put together by friends, or club members. Whoever showed up would toss a few bucks in the kitty to cover the cost of beer and burgers. Everybody knew everybody else, there were no big-name performers or other public figures—I mean, not unless you count someone like Mikey who would drop his bike three times before he managed to get up the hill as he left the party. He was famous for that.
But, as we all know, the only thing constant is change, a quote misattributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who actually said something more like, “Life is flux,” a key component of his doctrine that change is central to the universe. Heraclitus was born in 535 BC, so it’s pretty clear that the idea of constant change is not a new concept. So much as I loved all the parties and runs and such near where I live, those eventually changed, too. There wasn’t just one reason for the changes. Sometimes an event would grow so large that it couldn’t continue in its present form. We can probably thank social media for some of that. Other times, it was because of tragic occurrences, such Indian Larry’s death not long after his shop’s first Garage Monkey Block Party. If I remember correctly, that first party was invite-only. But eventually, Indian Larry Motorcycles opened up the party to anyone that wanted to show up—and show up they did. From all over the world. To this day, the block party is free to attend, although in recent years attendees could purchase VIP passes to get more perqs. It’s still one of my favorite events, where I get to meet up with people that I haven’t seen all year.
On the Jersey side of the Hudson, much the same thing happens, as I’m sure it does everywhere else. Maybe a small gathering of good friends has grown to the point that it’s no longer manageable and changes have been effected so that the event could continue, albeit in a new form. Or someone new comes into the fold, giving the event a new direction. As a result, there may be reactions from general grumbling all the way to boycotts and even friendships broken.
Of course there are many ways to handle change, and I was recently reminded of a self-help book written nearly 20 years ago by author Scott Johnson, M.D., for the business community (an oxymoron, perhaps?) called Who Moved My Cheese? One Christmas, this book was given to my fellow managers and I by our director when I was employed in my last job in the corporate world. Who Moved My Cheese? is an allegorical accounting of how different types of people deal with change, with the message, simplified here, that change happens, so be ready for it, adapt to it, and enjoy it.
We all very much liked our director and very much disliked the idea of the book, but we all read it just the same. What we didn’t like was the manipulative nature of the book; for instance, in my experience, “structural reorganization” is but a euphemism for cutting jobs. And we found the mice portrayed in Who Moved My Cheese? a distasteful metaphor for employees who are but rats in a maze. Aside from the criticism, the basic tenet of the book, and of life in general, is “change or die.”
I love adventure, doing new things, going to new places, meeting new people, learning new skills, so I can tell myself that I embrace change. But, for most of us, the reality is that we only welcome change if we’re the ones that initiate it, benefit from it, or, at the very least, agree with it. I can sit around and wring my hands and be a victim, like this is some disaster that’s been inflicted upon me, or I can adapt. Or I can leave all that behind and go my own way, which might actually be closer to the way things were; a return to my roots, if you will. This new year will most certainly reveal my chosen path.