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Southern Rail: Sticker shock

By Robert Filla

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It was the late 70’s and, after taking off six weeks to ride to a wedding in Maine, I figured the scooter could use some new shoes. So after replacing both tires, I took off for a test ride. But before I managed to get back to my Sunday afternoon of football, beer and tacos, I caught the attention of a local defender who called in a second squad car for backup. (Biking in Texas in the 70’s was a hell of a lot different than it is now.)

After the mandatory “License and registration” the next question would be, “Do you have a job?” (If you failed to notice, he didn’t ask for proof of insurance since vehicle coverage wasn’t mandatory at the time but the boys in blue might run you through the wringer if you told them you were unemployed—’cause then you were considered a vagrant and fair game; no lie.)

“Yes, sir, I’m working,” I replied. (Truth)

Looking over the Shovelhead he asked, “Where’s yer ’spection sticker?”

“I just got it back on the road, sir. Been down for a while and was just taking it out for spin to see if it would pass inspection.” (Lie)

He and the second officer got a real good chuckle off that and then, as he continued his casual investigation asked, “Runs good, does she?”

Like an idiot I instantly responded without thinking and proudly declared she had ran like a dream all the way to Cape Cod and Canada last month without a problem. (Busted)

They let me go with a warning and I went out the next day and got the damn thing inspected, all legal like. I continued to get the Shovel inspected every year afterwards for a really long time but…

It’s not like I’m some kinda anarchist, bucking Big Brother bureaucracy with some sorta agenda to topple the government by not getting my bike inspected. I simply think it’s foolish. In Texas, it’s not too difficult to buy a black market sticker. While a legal motorcycle inspection will run you $14.50, a stolen one bought from a street peddler can be as low as $25. Certain counties in Texas require autos to suffer through an emissions inspection that costs around 40 bucks. But unscrupulous inspection gophers will pull your oil-burner out of the bay, roll one in they know will pass, and fake the inspection. That will cost ya anywhere from $100 to $150. So it’s a game. One I never really wanted to play. I keep my bikes safe; only the best in brakes, tires and lighting. It’s my ass on the line and the last thing I want is to get scraped off the tarmac with a spatula. So I rolled the dice and ran an out-of-date sticker on the bike for almost 10 years without any hassle. And then last year, I decided to get legal again. I was heading to Sturgis and the last thing I needed was to get jacked up by some enthusiastic South Dakota cop and watch my bike be hauled off to a Black Hills impound yard—no reason for undue out-of-state drama.

This year I again had every intention of remaining law abiding and moral, trudging down to the local inspection depot and playing the game of outwitting the mechanic in charge of issuing that little 2” x 3” proof of safety. And as with any old motorcycle, explanations are required—no, turn signals were not OEM in 1967 (a stretch); although the pipes may sound a tad loud, the mufflers are actually stock (lie) and no, there was never a front brake light switch on any Harley with a mechanical drum (true). But… I hesitated. After all, I’d just run a bogus sticker for a decade without any hassle. And, I know what’s best for me, not some government agency. That is until Texas decided to shake up the motor vehicle inspection game…

Beginning next year on March 1, when you take a trip to your local wrench for that annual safety inspection, instead of a sticker you will receive a printout certifying that the vehicle passed. At that time you pay the mechanic only the amount the station is allowed by state law to keep. Then… you take that readout along with the remainder of the inspection fee (the part the state gets to keep. You didn’t really think this would be cheaper, did you?) and your proof of insurance down to the courthouse to get your license plate tag. Yep, no more inspection sticker—the printout is proof of passing. And if you don’t pass inspection, you can’t get your bike registered—period. (One can only imagine how this administrative nightmare will streamline the process.)

So in an effort to establish a relationship with a garage before this new mandate, I yielded and, armed with a head full of explanations and excuses, went down to the local inspection station and secured validation for another year. Assured and feeling just a little smug for maintaining my legality, two days later I was pulled over and issued a ticket. Seems that new inspection sticker wasn’t properly displayed and couldn’t be seen from the rear of the bike as required by Texas law. Another evildoer thwarted, another dollar in the state coffer—I don’t think I like being a model citizen.

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