Thursday, July 20, 2006

Are motorcycles dangerous?

Are motorcycles dangerous?

My nephew asked me that a few days back. He said he and his sisters are suddenly “fascinated” by motorcycles. Part of it, he said, is the prospect of saving on transportation costs, part is the undeniable allure of that high-performance, exciting way to get around. But his father discourages it, saying motorcycles are dangerous.

I can identify. My fascination with motorcycles started at an even younger age. My dad bought a Suzuki 80cc “scrambler” when I was probably 9 or 10, then upgraded to a 120cc. I loved riding passenger; I can still remember looking down and seeing the ground whizzing by, directly under foot… that was a new sensation! And my friends’ dads… Dan’s dad had motocross bikes – big 360cc Husqvarnas and such. Ralph’s dad had a SWEET 650cc Triumph; I used to stand in his garage and admire that thing, chrome gleaming in the shadows.

My favorite pastime was hanging out at Herb Uhl’s motorcycle shop out on State Street. He had Suzukis, plus European dirt bikes – Bultaco, Maico, Montesa, CZ, Husqvarna. Then Carl’s opened next door. He sold Kawasakis, and Bonanza minibikes. I don’t know what the guy was thinking – he actually occasionally let us ride his “demo” minibike out on a little test circuit set up out back. (I s’pose it paid off; years later I bought a Kawasaki KH500 from him.) Across town on Vista, “Dirty” Al Russell had his Yamaha shop. Buzz Chaney sold Triumphs, down on Main Street. They all knew me. Motorcycles have been in my blood since early on, and I started riding around 12 years old. (Essentially all of my riding was off-road until I was 17 or so. That off-road riding was invaluable in giving me a set of motorcycle handling skills.)

First, let me address the cost of owning and operating a motorcycle, as compared with a car.

I’d guess you (typically) won’t save a huge amount of money, per mile, using a motorcycle. Unless you own the motorcycle free and clear, you’ll have monthly payments. (An entry-level motorcycle will cost as much as a decent used car. Of course, it all depends on how much motorcycle you need… but the more “alluring” ones come with fairly substantial price tags.) Same thing with gas. A mileage-champ motorcycle might get 60 or more MPG… but the “alluring” motorcycles get less than that. Compare with an economy car that might get 35-40MPG, in which you can transport 3 of your friends. Motorcycles have to be maintained, just like cars. (Many of the “alluring” ones are as complex as any car, with 5 or 6 valves per cylinder, liquid cooling, fuel injection, etc. … but everything miniaturized. Unless you’re an accomplished mechanic, you’ll be frustrated to maintain such a beast yourself.) And stuff wears out… chains, tires, etc. You’ll find that motorcycle tires are way more spendy than car tires. There are other cost factors to consider – insurance, parking, etc.

(Keep in mind I’m mostly addressing the “alluring” type motorcycles. If you’re shopping for a motorcycle/scooter-type vehicle strictly for economical transportation, you can get one that costs less to buy, does much better on fuel mileage, is relatively low-maintenance, and for which tires don’t cost $200 apiece. But it’s not the kind of motorcycle you see in the movies, passing cars at 200mph with a Tom Cruise look-alike laying on the tank, or rumbling through the urban jungle with Schwarzenneger at the controls.)

Also when considering cost of owning and operating… do you see a motorcycle being your only transportation, or will it supplement an “enclosed” vehicle? Will you want to ride your motorcycle when it’s 100 degrees out? Or 10 degrees? If you get snow or ice, what will you do? Are you uncomfortable if the temperature isn’t 70-75 degrees?

If it’s your second (or third, or fourth) vehicle, you’ll be paying to own and operate the other vehicle(s), too. They all need to have the oil changed, insurance, parking, etc.

I’m not trying to discourage my reader from buying a motorcycle… but please be realistic.

Now… back to the original question.

Are motorcycles dangerous?


Everything is dangerous. Driving a car. Shoveling snow out of the driveway. Mowing the lawn. Taking a bath. (Hundreds of people die every year when they slip in the bathtub.)

I’ll forever remember the day Dad crashed his motorcycle. (It’s etched into my brain, very much like the circumstances when the news came over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy had been shot, or that day in 2001 when the planes flew into the Twin Towers.)

It was a beautiful summer day – perfect conditions for a nice motorcycle ride. The family had been at a Little League baseball game at Camel’s Back Park, and we were headed for home.

Mom, as usual, was piloting a station wagon full of kids. Dad was following, a half-block behind, on the Suzuki 120.

Mom went through an intersection. Dad followed.

I don’t know whose fault it was; it really doesn’t matter. A car entered the intersection from a side street, after Mom had gone through. Dad swerved the motorcycle to avoid a collision. It went down, and he and the motorcycle slid along the pavement. (I was in the backward-facing seat in Mom’s car, and watched it unfold.)

Dad scraped up his ankle pretty good, and gouged his shin. He was bloodied, but not seriously injured, thank goodness. The motorcycle was essentially unscathed. He righted it, and rode it home. He parked it, and if he ever got on it again, I don’t remember. Obviously his opinion of the risk-vs.-benefit ratio had changed in a split second.

After that, I don’t remember him coming right out and verbally discouraging me from my abiding interest in motorcycles. But I remember him bringing home a pair of eyeglasses that a motorcyclist had been wearing when he fatally collided with a farm truck. One of the temple pieces was jammed clear through a wooden board. On another occasion, he took me to the hospital to see a guy who had crashed his motorcycle and was lying comatose, and on life support. I respected Dad’s viewpoint, and considered the high stakes. But the lure of the chrome and twist-grip throttle held me fast. (Dad kept the Suzuki, and I’m sure I put many more miles on it – off-road miles – in the ensuing few years, than he had ever ridden it.)

How dangerous is riding a motorcycle?

Statistically… per mile traveled, you are approximately 16 times more likely to die in an accident when riding a motorcycle, than when driving an enclosed motor vehicle. And 3 times as likely to be injured. It’s common sense… you are VERY exposed and vulnerable on that 2-wheeled contraption. You need to avoid accidents at all costs, because if you’re in an accident, you almost certainly will be either injured or killed. By comparison, the majority of auto-accident victims get out their smashed car and walk away.

Can you avoid dying in a motorcycle accident?

Motorcyclists like to blame accidents on “the other guy.” And there’s no denying – drivers frequently have a hard time seeing, or recognizing, motorcycles on the road.

My strategy is simple. When I’m riding, I like to imagine that I’m invisible, and that nobody can see me. That way, I’m never totally surprised when somebody doesn’t see me.

BUT – it’s not always the other guy’s fault. In fact, it’s safe to say that in most accidents involving a motorcycle, the motorcycle driver is at least partly to blame. Consider:

45% of all motorcycle fatalities are SINGLE-VEHICLE accidents. (You’d think ALL of those accidents could be avoided.)
In 41% of all fatal motorcycle accidents, the motorcycle driver was speeding.
In 31%, the motorcycle driver was intoxicated.
In 18%, the motorcycle driver did not have a valid operator’s license.
(All of those numbers are from NHTSA 1998, but they probably haven’t changed substantially.)

This is significant – 46% of all motorcycle fatalities involve riders not wearing helmets. Head injury is a leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents.

There’s a good chance that NONE of the 2284 motorcyclists who died and 49,000 who were injured (1998) expected it to happen, on the fateful day. Unfortunately, many of them made conscious decisions to increase the risk of riding by speeding, impairing themselves, riding helmetless, etc. Motorcycling is dangerous enough under the best of circumstances; why compound the risk?

My advice for somebody who is considering riding a motorcycle for transportation and/or pleasure:

GET A BIKE! Bicycles, for day-in, day-out local transportation, are SO MUCH more “fascinating” than motorcycles! “Bikers” (the motorcycle type) like to call cars “cages,” implying that you lose some freedom by using a car rather than a motorcycle. But realistically, what do you gain if you ride a motorcycle? You’re stuck in the same traffic jams on the same crummy roads. You’re subject to the same laws. You’re still looking for a parking spot. You’re still a slave to the insurance company, Big Oil, etc. From the viewpoint of the bicycle saddle, motorcycles are pretty restrictive, as well.

But besides that…
- Educate yourself about the risk involved, and decide if you are willing to accept that risk.
- Educate yourself about how that risk can be minimized, and make up your mind to do everything possible to protect yourself.
- Take the STARS Beginning Rider Course. It thoroughly covers the risks, and how to minimize those risks. Some folks take the course and decide that motorcycling is NOT for them. It’s great to know that, before you’ve plunked down $5000 or $10,000 or more for a motorcycle.
- If you take up the pastime, get as much experience as you can without venturing into heavy traffic. Be familiar with your machine… its capabilities and limitations. Keep it in tip-top mechanical condition. Take advantage of training opportunities. Always wear a helmet, and ideally, high-top shoes and other protective gear. Ride legally, assertively and defensively. Don’t let ANYTHING distract you from your riding, and don’t let anything or anybody take you by surprise… your life depends on it. Bon voyage!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

SEGWAY - coming to a Greenbelt near you!

The Boise Parks Department has announced their approval of the use of "Segway Human Transporters" by disabled folks on the Greenbelt.

I don't know if that will have any impact; I've never seen a Segway in real-life, in Boise or elsewhere. There must be one, and it's operator must've requested permission, I s'pose.

Segway riders will join pedestrians, pedestrians with dogs, cyclists, cyclists with dogs, cyclists with cell phones, roller skaters, roller bladers, and skateboarders in the usage mix.

They will also join MOTORIZED traffic - parks golf carts, "security/volunteer" golf carts, the occasional police team on motorcycles, etc. (Does anybody else have a problem with all that motorized traffic? Although some of it is necessary and justified, it's as though somebody in a high place doesn't understand the attraction of the Greenbelt. I believe a lot of people enjoy getting AWAY from motorized traffic, and that's why they gravitate to the Greenbelt. Why not have physically-fit volunteer patrols... people who can navigate on foot, or on a bicycle? I just think it sends the wrong message when the Greenbelt is clearly posted "No Motor Vehicles," and yet it's occupied by a wide assortment of bureaucratic motor vehicles, leaving just the common folk without motors. (And besides... is it legal or illegal for people with various motorized bicycles, skateboards, scooters, carts, etc., to operate those vehicles on the Greenbelt?)

The Greenbelt is a diverse mix of transportation modes and speeds. On nice summer weekends when traffic gets heavy, it can become a "heady" experience to try to navigate through the mix. (Add in the people who stop and stand, bovine-like, on the Greenbelt, and the motorized traffic... you better be paying attention, for your own safety.)

(I'm attaching a series of photos of Dubya trying out a Segway. He didn't get it down the first time, apparently. I'd rather see him riding his bike on the Greenbelt, than a Segway anyway!)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's on the (Public) Library Shelf?

40 years ago, when I was but a lad, I went and saw the brand-new movie “Fahrenheit 451,” based on a Ray Bradbury novel of the same name. It was a disturbing look at a future society in which books had been banned, because they encouraged independent thinking. People were encouraged to “nark” on their neighbors who were illegally harboring books. Rather than put out fires, the “firemen” had the duty of torching huge piles of confiscated books.

Jump forward 40 years. Has the book-holocaust begun? You’d think so, based on the Idaho Statesman editorial (July 11, 2006).

They are applauding the Nampa Library Board for standing their ground and keeping such books as The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex on the shelves. (Supposedly on the high shelves, out of the reach of curious kids. Yeah… right.)

In the movie, entire books were committed to memory by lovers of literature, so that they wouldn’t be lost. (You can burn a book, but not a mind.)

Do you s’pose somebody volunteered to memorize The Joy of Gay Sex?

“Banning books is ultimately more dangerous than even a shocking book's content,” the Statesman warns. “It is one of those actions for which the overused phrase ‘slippery slope’ is wholly appropriate.”

Is removing a book from a library’s collection tantamount to a ban, or do I observe a lot of unnecessary hand-wringing?

Australia is a rather progressive, freedom-loving country. They just banned two books, Defense of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan, which encourage Islamics to become suicide bombers. Are those books available at the Nampa Public Library, if I can reach the high shelf? Shouldn’t they be?

A notorious tome from the Vietnam era is called The Anarchist Cookbook. It provides detailed instructions on the manufacture of explosives, drugs, telecommunications hacking devices, etc. Why isn’t it available at the Nampa Public Library? (Boise’s library has a copy, but you need to ask at the reference desk.)

Henry Ford – the famous American industrialist – had a series of essays published under the title, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. Mr. Ford obviously was a very smart man; why can’t we read his ideas at the Nampa Public Library? (Boise has 4 copies in storage.)

Wesley Swift had some interesting ideas. He preceded our own famous Idahoan, Richard Butler, leading the so-called “Church of Jesus Christ Christian.” Swift, whose father was a Methodist minister, believed that all non-Aryans are “mud people” and unlike white folks, do not have a life in the Great Beyond. He wrote numerous books, including The Blue Tunic Army of Christ, Give Not That Which Is Holy unto the Dogs, and Who Crucified Jesus Christ?. Those should probably be in Nampa’s “religious” collection, no?

So, what’s my point?

I’m betting that Nampa library director Karen Ganske makes decisions every day on what should and shouldn’t be available at the library. (If not, she’s overpaid and should be replaced by some of those illegal immigrants, who’ll check books in and put ‘em back on the shelves for $2 an hour.)

The Statesman editorial asks, “Should a library provide safe harbor for ideas — even those some patrons consider shocking or objectionable? Or should a library become a homogenized home only for the materials no one protests?”

While their craftily-worded inquiry tends to ennoble us and make us declare, “Of course we’ll choose freedom!,” perhaps the true answer should be closer to that homogenized, non-offensive collection, when taxpayer dollars are being spent to maintain the collection and the building. (You can’t really blame Nampa’s taxpayers for balking at purchasing The Joy of Gay Sex. Taxpayers also said “no” to using public money for “art” exhibitions featuring masochistic gay sex photos and crucifixes submerged in urine. The taxpayers are kinda fickle that way.)

There is no guarantee in the Constitution that you have the “freedom from being offended.” I’m not easily offended, except by people whose mission in life is to be offended by every possible thing, and complain loudly about how offended they are. “Political correctness” has done far more to stifle expression in the past 30 years than any library book ban. But I can't blame anyone for wanting to keep objectionable materials away from kids, or not wanting to use taxpayer dollars to purchase such materials.

Not having a book at a library is NOT the same as banning a book, and I’m sure the folks at the Statesman realize that. But making that distinction would take a lot of the wind out of their sails.

Perhaps the ACLU could open a little storefront library just up the street, where children and unkempt, shifty-looking men in overcoats can go and check out the stuff that’s deemed “too hot to handle” at the public library.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Idaho State Centennial - July 3, 1990

Yesterday was the 116th anniversary of Idaho statehood (July 3, 1890). The State Centennial, back in 1990, was particularly memorable for me. As I start out a blog titled "Idaho Spud," I s'pose it's appropriate to share my memoir of that day, as spent by my family and me.


July 3, 1990

Well, the day had finally arrived that we had anticipated for months, perhaps even years. The downtown streets had been scrubbed and the State Capitol festooned with banners and flags. July second had been uncharacteristically overcast and rainy, but THE day dawned bright and clear; perfect weather for a celebration of grand scale.

My employer, perhaps during a moment of weakness, declared that all employees would get the afternoon off, to join in the revelry. So, with a photocopy of the events of the day in hand, I descended upon my household.

"Hey, you guys! If we hurry, we can be there in time for the 'Parade of Antique Automobiles Carrying Dignitaries'!" I exclaimed, trying to muster enthusiasm among the troops. My children hesitated. Old cars? Dignitaries? But Dad, can't you see we're watching The Flintstones!?

I should have injected a "little white lie" about ice cream in my pitch. Hollie, age 9, Kellyn, 6, and Erik, 4, can move with surprising speed when there is ice cream at their destination. But otherwise, it is difficult to generate any momentum. Robin prodded the kids to put on their shoes and go to the "baf-roon," and hastily put the finishing touches on a picnic lunch. I changed out of my work clothes and put the camcorder in the car, and finally.. we were off.

The hub of the event was doubtlessly the Capitol building, but there were activities, and throngs of celebrants, all along Capitol Boulevard. And the first event on OUR agenda, the old car parade, was scheduled to proceed along the Boulevard to the Capitol at 2:45. We got there at about 2:47.. surely the parade wasn't punctual; these things NEVER go on time. We parked in a motel lot - right by a sign which reads "Unauthorized cars will be towed," and Robin smeared the kids with sunscreen.

We waited five minutes, then ten. Finally I asked some people who had obviously been there for awhile (they had seats!) - they said, "Oh, the old cars came by a while ago!" And so.. we were suddenly in no big hurry any more.

We walked up the Boulevard toward the Capitol, about a mile away. Crowds were everywhere. In fact, I haven't seen so many people in downtown Boise since the new indoor suburban mall opened! Just like the good old days.

We detoured to the Convention Center and listened to Gib and the Kings of Swing. We observed the new Centennial Fountain in the center courtyard.. the spray looked cool and inviting. Everybody else seemed to be milling about, so we tried that for awhile, before once again moving toward the Capitol.

The Parade of Dignitaries had arrived ahead of us; the antique cars were lined up in front of the Capitol Building. An army band was playing Sousa marches, and a throng of pilgrims like ourselves waited for the blessed event.

The dignitaries and their spouses, dressed in period regalia, strutted down the Capitol steps as the master of ceremonies did the introductions. Current governor, former governor, former governor before him, trade representative from Taiwan, the Congressional delegation, Boise's mayor, Boise's former mayor, Chief of the Shoshones, businessman from North Idaho, Head Lawnmower Operator for the Parks Department - you get the idea. I got bored quickly, but the kids NEVER tire of endless streams of important people, so it was difficult to drag them away. When we finally DID leave the Capitol, we slowly made our way back to the car, observing the celebration en route.

The next stop was the Union Pacific Depot at the south end of Capitol Boulevard. A large crowd had gathered there to observe "Old 844," a '40's-era steam locomotive traveling across southern Idaho as part of the centennial celebration. Most of the folks were standing in line to go through the "rolling railroad museum," which supposedly contained, among other things, the original golden spike on loan from the Smithsonian. We decided against the 45-minute wait. The locomotive really was impressive- the driving wheels must have been eight feet in diameter! Big greasy wheels- Erik in particular was enthralled by the choo-choo train. And.. we weren't late for it, either - it lasted from 2pm on, so it would have been hard to get there too late.

We ate Robin's picnic lunch in the shade near the depot. In retrospect, that picnic lunch was arguably the most enjoyable single event of OUR family's centennial celebration. In any case, it was probably the only event that didn't involve a large crowd and a long wait. It was a warm day.. the lemonade was particularly enjoyable.

At 5:30 I announced, "Let's hurry - Mickey and Minnie will be on stage at the park band shell in a half hour!"

Hurrying is a physical impossibility for our family, with the exception of Christmas morning (or for ice cream, as mentioned earlier). We gave it our best effort, and pulled in at about 6:10. No Mickey or Minnie.. it was some banjo guys playing centennial pizza parlor music. So I asked the guy running the sound system. "Uh.. Mickey and Minnie? They already left." Oh, well.. we just about made it!

We DID make it to one other event - the fireworks! There was an Idaho State variety show staged at the BSU Stadium, featuring Indian dancers, Basque dancers, and the inevitable stream of politicians (after all, this IS an election year!) We avoided the variety show, but had good seats for the fireworks.

On your "normal" fourth of July, the local yokels do the fireworks. The normal pattern is: Firework No. 1 - ten second pause - Firework No. 2 - ten second pause - Firework No. 3 - ten second pause, and so on, for ten or fifteen minutes. But this year was special, so they hired the Grucci Family, who are world-renowned for their fabulous firework displays. I believe they are from either Japan, or Italy, or China.

It would be interesting to know how many people actually watched the fireworks. The stadium, which seats 25,000, was filled to capacity. And everywhere you looked in the surrounding area, people were seated on lawn chairs, coolers, blankets, or on the ground, waiting in anticipation. The streets were lined with motor homes, campers, and pickups as folks held "tailgate parties." The air was filled with the smells of the big holiday - barbecue smoke and the acrid smell of fireworks as families lit off their "safe and sane" fountains and cones while they waited.

We were seated near Federal Way, about a half-mile south of the stadium. And we "oohed" and "aahed" along with thousands of spectators as the Grucci brothers maintained their reputation, which was earned at such prestigious and historic events as the Statue of Liberty 100th anniversary (1986), and the BYU "Stadium of Fire" (EVERY year!). The sky was filled with pyrotechnics for close to a half hour.

We were quite a distance from the stadium, and the car was parked even further away. But despite my meticulous planning, we waited 45 minutes to get into the traffic and headed for home. Where, after a brief "private safe-and-sane" firework display, we hit the sack.


July 4, 1990

The local Kiwanis Club serves a traditional pancake breakfast at Julia Davis Park every Fourth of July. They start at 2 or 3 am, and go 'til noon. After my morning bike ride, I was as hungry as the kids. We figured the best way to avoid a crowd would be to get there late, when everybody else had already been served. (Besides.. we get EVERYWHERE late, or so it seems!) So we went to the park at 11 a.m. or thereabouts.

The line was as short as it had been all day, I s'pose, but it was still about a half mile long! I suggested what I thought was a brilliant alternate plan. "I heard they're serving breakfast buffet out at the truck stop! Shall we go there instead?" The kids were wildly enthusiastic, and extremely hungry. Normally, they've had two meals and three snacks by 11. So our next stop was the truck stop.

It looked crowded. We seated ourselves, as instructed by the sign, and waited about 20 minutes for our waitress. It wasn't too bad, though.. there was country music blaring, and interesting people to observe while we waited. Finally our waitress arrived.

"All of us would like the breakfast buffet," I told her.

"Sorry, honey," she replied. "Breakfast buffet is over. Lunch buffet starts at 11 o'clock."

Back to the drawing board. A truck driver walked by with a big plate of ribs and mashed potatoes with gravy. "I'll have the lunch buffet," I said. Robin and the kids opted for breakfast food, and placed their order.

I went and got a plate of food, and the kids all watched with hungry eyes as I ate, and they waited. Poor Kellyn, in particular, looked like one of those starving kids on the African relief posters. She looked like she barely had enough strength left to hold her head up and watch me. I was thinking I should have suffered along with her! Finally their food arrived and they gobbled it hungrily.

From the truck stop, we drove out to the dog pound to pick up a farm dog. This questionable action might make some sense after an explanation.

All summer long, I have been deeply involved with the Simplot Centennial Float. My employer has spent a rumored $50,000 - I believe it - to build and operate a fabulous parade float commemorating the state's centennial. The float is state-of-the-art - it has running water, 53 live pine trees, a water wheel, a 14-foot-high mountain with waterfall, corn and potato plants, grass and flowers, livestock (calves and sheep), etc. And I have been riding on the float, portraying an old-time prospector. Kim Hilliard and Keith Harkless have been the lumberjack and farmer. The farmer has a glamorous farm-wife and two respectful, hard-working farm children.

We won the grand prize in the Nampa parade, and in the Pocatello parade. But the Boise parade - today's - was "The Big One," the main reason for the float's existence. And Mister Blackwell (not his real name, but that's what we call him - he's the "float fashion consultant") thought the farm should have a dog, just to make SURE we won the grand prize. Mr. Blackwell even suggested that I should have a bird riding on my shoulder, but that was voted down as totally unfeasible. Anyway, I got the job of locating a farm dog. The humane society was glad to give me a loaner for the day.

So, I took the kids in with me to pick out a dog. Robin gets depressed seeing all the sweet doggies and kitties, so she waited in the car. We walked up and down the kennels, looking for the ideal candidate. The din was unbelievable.. almost as noisy as our home was during the recent family wedding gathering.

Erik is particularly "sensitive" to bad smells, and there were plenty of bad smells at the pound. He walked along, holding his nose. But then, Hollie shouted, "Dad, Erik is spitting up!" I looked.. she was right. He was walking along the sidewalk behind us, enthusiastically barfing up his recently-eaten breakfast as he went! And boy, wasn't that just the crowning touch?!! I asked Hollie to take him back to the car, but she was lost in the maze that makes up the kennel. So we ALL headed for the exit.

"Did you find one you liked?" the dog pound lady asked.

"Not yet," I replied, and explained that I had to return my child to the car.

Once Erik was back in the arms of a sympathetic mother, we renewed the search. "We have a nice sheep dog," the lady said. She was obviously growing impatient with our window shopping.

"We'll take it!" I was tired of looking, and sheep dog sounded good for our purposes.

The sheep dog was big, and enthusiastic. And after I loaded him in the car, I noticed that he smelled like .. a dog! Plus, he had about a week's accumulation of saliva dripping from the long hair under his chin; definitely a repulsive creature. If Erik had had anything in his stomach at the time, I'm confident he would have lost it!

Hollie loved the dog! Kellyn was a little more wary, and I can't really blame her. After all, they stood eye-to-eye.

The kids played with the dog in the back yard, and he took them for a walk (!) in the park, while I donned my prospector costume.

We drove down to parade headquarters, on University Drive in front of the BSU campus.

It wasn't hard to find the Simplot Float. The mountain on it is as big as many of the houses in that neighborhood!

Mister Blackwell took one look at the sheep dog, and said, "We can't use this dog! It's too 'contemporary'!" That caused a rumble of dissent among the crew, who were collectively tiring of Mister Blackwell and his impeccable eye for design. (And the stogie which he was constantly puffing on - part of his "image," I guess.) Somebody mumbled to me, "HE should have picked out the dog, if he had a particular type of dog in mind."

The farm kids loved the dog, as did the rest of the float people. So Mr. Blackwell reluctantly backed down, and agreed to let the sheep dog participate.

Not long after the dog controversy died down, the judges took their long look at the float, while we stood in our appointed places. The judges must have approved of the dog - they awarded the float TWO prizes, the GRAND Prize (!!) and the Sweepstakes Award. So the pressure was off. Our float definitely deserved the recognition, from what I observed. It looked almost out of place in what could have accurately been called the "Tournament of Crepe Paper" Parade! Nobody else even came close.

Shortly before the parade started, Jack Simplot (THE MAN himself!) put in his appearance! He was slated to ride in an old car, directly in front of his float. He shook hands all around, posed for pictures, inspected the float, and mingled with the "common people." What a guy he is! One of the most personable billionaires I know!

It was interesting to observe how Mr. Simplot drew politicians like a magnet. They were literally standing in line to shake his hand and introduce themselves. He seemed to take it all in stride.

Mister Blackwell had sternly admonished us NOT to wave at, or even acknowledge, the crowd. He wanted for us to all look as "authentic" as possible.. Kim inspecting trees for disease (?!), me panning for gold, and the Farm Family looking stoic. But once the award was in our hands, and the parade underway, we pretty much disregarded his wishes, me in particular. There's just something exciting about hollering out, and having a thousand or so people holler back! A rare experience! My fellow float riders congratulated me afterwards for my masterful job of "working the crowd." I ought to get into politics, or professional wrestling!

The parade was like none Boise has ever seen before! There were 260+ entries, and the route went straight up Capitol Boulevard. They say that 50,000 spectators lined the route, and I believe it. Our float was the 20th entry, and after going 'round, which took 2+ hours, there was still a long line of entries waiting to BEGIN the parade!

I poured the sheep dog a cool drink of water from my prospector canteen into my prospector gold pan, and then went back to the parade route to find my family. They had seen all the parade they needed, or wanted, to see. So we headed out. We returned the sheep dog, which made Hollie cry. (I think the other two kids were relieved to be rid of him.) We went home, and as soon as it was dark enough, we had our own fireworks display in the street out front of our home. They probably weren't as spectacular as the "Grucci" fireworks of the night before, but they were up close! And they were just for us!

And thus ended a memorable occasion in our life, and in the life of this great state of Idaho! Robin said it was one of the best July 4th celebrations she could remember. I hope my children are able to treasure up some memories that will last them a lifetime.