A twofer week, because I have been such a NTM slacker. I don’t know if any of you ever find yourself in this situation. Doing NTMs, actually just trying new things, meeting new people, seeing new stuff; it makes me happy. So the last several months I’ve had lots of stuff going on that has been tough. And you’d think that it would make me want to do more new things, if for no other reason than a distraction from other not-so-fun-parts-of-life stuff. But for some reason, I did the opposite. I don’t mean to imply that this is the first, or even the 100th, and probably not the last time, I’ll behave in a way that doesn’t make sense. I have missed doing NTMs and recently I’ve felt like getting back in the groove of doing, and writing about, NTMs. I could not do either one of the NTMs I’m writing about this week on a Monday, because, well, they weren’t available on Mondays. Such is life.
These two NTMs have something in common – after completing them I am now licensed to do something new. One of the licenses, I doubt I’ll ever take advantage of – the other – I already have – and I love it – and I expect to continue it. Another benefit to having these both written up together is to save my mom some time. This way she can use one of her favorite catch phrases “BE CAREFUL. YOU ARE THE ONLY SON I HAVE.” just once. 😉
LICENSED TO KILL (or shoot your eye out)
A few months ago, I awoke to check out my daily Living Social email, and what should I find, but the opportunity to take back from Big Brother what has rightfully belonged to every American since the Bill of Rights was ratified by The Commonwealth of Virginia on December 15, 1791. I can reclaim a sliver of that right for myself, for the low, low price of $65 – can you say bargain??? “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” 2nd Amendment, U.S. Constitution. Interesting fact – in the version passed by Congress, the word “arms” is not capitalized. In the version sent to the States for ratification, the word appears as “Arms”. I’ll use the capitalized version here – if we are going to talk about guns, let’s talk about the kind that are deserving of being capitalized – not some peashooter. And a related interesting fact – even back then, Congress could not get things right – bunch of bananaheads.
Anyway, for those of you who have been living on another planet, allow me to provide a little background. Texans seem to have some sort of reputation as gun-toting, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, wild-wild-west, types. We’ve certainly got a few of those types running around, and you can still see the occasional rifle hanging in the back window of a pickup truck as you drive around. Maybe people here are more likely than the average American to own a gun, but we aren’t all walking around with our six-shooters strapped to our hip, just waiting to draw on the bad guy. In my nearly 38 years, almost all of which have been spent in Texas – the last 6 of which have been spent very near downtown (and exploring in some other questionable neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night) of the 4th biggest city in the country, I’ve never once been involved in a shootout, had a gun pulled on me, pulled a gun on anyone, or seen anyone get shot. One night in high school, I almost saw a friend of mine get shot by his older brother, but that was an honest mistake that involved (i) recently stolen taxidermy (not by me), (ii) Olympia (the beer that literally wishes you “good luck” on the can), (iii) the Burger King on 82nd street, (iv) a “borrowed” garage door opener, (v) some very late night/early morning shenanigans, and (vi) the most comfortable black leather chair the world has ever known – not necessarily in that order. I still miss that chair. Anyway, it all worked out fine in the end – as it always does.
The first gun I ever owned was a gift from my parents for my birthday in the 5th grade. I only got to get it out when my dad or another adult was around for the first year or so. But I’ve continuously owned guns since that time, and still do. And am very lucky that I always had adults around that made sure I knew how to handle guns safely and to take them very, very seriously. Guns aren’t the problem – stupid (or desperate) people are the problem – actually, stupid (or desperate) people WITH guns are a big problem.
A few years back, Texas passed a law making it legal to carry a concealed weapon as long as you got licensed (Concealed Handgun License or “CHL” for short) to do so. You have to take a 10 hour course (classroom and shooting range), submit fingerprints, they run a background check (no CHL if you have a felony conviction), etc. It’s actually sort of a pain to do it. But, if you complete the course, and jump through all the hoops, you get a little Driver’s License sized card that licenses you to carry a concealed weapon. Unlike current Texas driver’s licenses, the CHL has your hair color. Mine is listed as “BAL.” Awesome.
I have one concern about my CHL. It has a picture of me with what is now a rather prominant beard. A friend and I had lunch the other day, and I had not seen her in awhile. She said she was glad another friend had mentioned the beard to her or it might have caught her off guard. She said she liked the beard, but mentioned that it was “significant”. Hmmm? Anyway, my concern is that if I was to be accused of a crime, the picture of me on my CHL is one of the most recent pictures the police would be able to get their hands on – and if they put this picture on TV or in the Post Office, anyone who sees it is going to absolutely say “oh, that dude is G.U.I.L.T.Y.” Guess I better stay out of trouble or stay hidden.
If you are ever in Texas, (i) you may never want to leave and (ii) you may notice signs in bars, schools, etc. that mention that a certain place makes more than 51% of its income from alcohol sales. The reason for that sign is that even if you are licensed to carry a concealed weapon, you can’t legally do so in a place that makes more than 51% of its income from alcohol sales. I think we can all agree that this is probably a good idea – even if it is unconstitutional.
I almost didn’t go get my CHL – do you have any idea how much fun I can have in 10 hours? That’s a lot of time for me to give up. And, I don’t really have any desire to carry a gun in my waistband. The fact is – if I thought I needed to carry a gun to feel safe in my neighborhood, I’d move. And if a buddy says to me “hey, let’s go over to so and so bar tonight – you might want to carry your gun.” My immediate response is not to go grab my gun – it’s to say “I think I’ll just go to Flying Saucer” and find a new buddy. I can’t really even think of a time in my life, even in some pretty sketchy neighborhoods, where I’ve thought “I really wish I had a hidden gun somewhere on me.” I am a pretty good shot – I hit what I aim at – but I still feel like using my noggin gives me a better chance of getting out of a shady situation than a gun does.
That being said, I was interested to see what the class was like and to see what types of folks were taking the class. Let me just get this out there – I am mortified that some of my fellow students may be walking around carrying guns now and you should be too. I’d be astounded if one of my fellow students didn’t accidentally shoot themselves or a loved one or someone who was walking up their front door to deliver a package. My instructor had some good points and some bad points. She was one of the more disorganized people I have ever seen, and she was trying really hard to sound street smart and tough, but she sort of just came across as silly sometimes. I am far more afraid of one of my classmates injuring me with their gun accidentally than I am of someone with malicious intent hurting me. 95% of these people shouldn’t even be allowed to carry a dull pocketknife.
The class was nuts. For starters, we met upstairs at a barbecue restaurant at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Do any of you know what they do in the mornings at barbecue restaurants? They slow cook or smoke the meat they are going to sell for lunch and dinner. Do any of you know where warm air (like what comes off of smoking or cooking meat or burning wood) goes? Up (stairs). Do any of you know what someone might smell like after sitting for 4 hours on a Saturday morning in a room that is overcrowded (about 75 people) and full of mesquite smoke? Well, if you had seen me anytime within a week after that day, you would know what someone smells like after just such a situation. I was like a walking brisket. Every time I hung around someone they developed a hunger for barbecue. Dogs followed me. A homeless guy I’ve said hello to for a year asked where I worked for the first time ever. A friend suggested maybe I carry around pickles, onions and jalapenos to complete the ensemble. I wanted pecan pie all the time. PETA started protesting me. It was ridiculous.
The course is supposed to be about the laws related to carrying a concealed handgun. That part was about 1.5 hours of the 5 classroom hours – and the instructor did a good job with that part. Then, she made the most horrible mistake possible. She opened the floor for questions. Let me just run a few of them down for you:
“Can you shoot someone who is in your garage taking something but who isn’t trying to get in your house?”
“Will you show us how to load our guns?”
“What is a semi-automatic? Is that what they use in movies?”
“What is the penalty if you shoot someone intending to just injure them but then they die?”
“Can we go down and get lunch while people are asking questions?” (OK, this one was my question.)
“How do we get to the shooting range from here?”
“What if we have our gun concealed but it falls out of our pocket in public?”
“If someone has a gun, do you have to wait for them to point it at you before you can shoot them?”
“What if you accidentally leave your gun where your kid can get to it and they shoot someone?”
“Can you shoot someone if they are just walking up to you car to ask you a question?” And the follow-up “What if they are really big and scary looking?”
“How do we get to the shooting range from here?”
“Have you ever shot anyone?”
“If you have your gun concealed and a cop stops you and is about to frisk you should you tell him you have a weapon or try to keep it hidden?”
“What about courthouses? Can we sneak our guns in there?”
“Wouldn’t it be safer to just have your little pistol loose in your purse instead of in a holster or case – so you could draw faster?” And, yes, the lady actually used the word “draw” – I laughed.
“If you have your CHL can you carry a rifle legally as long as it is hidden inside an overcoat or”…wait for it, wait for it…”your overalls?”
And once more, for good measure and because it was such a crowd favorite, for the third time:
“How do we get to the shooting range?”
This was possibly the most painful experience of my life. The instructor did her best to convince people that the last thing they should ever want to do is shoot someone. She tried to pound into their heads that pulling a gun should be something you do if you or your kids or your spouse are literally ABOUT TO DIE and no other time! Not about to lose your toolbox from the garage, not about to be insulted, not recently cutoff in traffic, and not to scare someone flirting with your girlfriend. She tried – but the questions kept coming and I don’t think lots of people got it. It’s like they just really don’t understand how serious this is. Bananaheads. The class was probably 50% under 25 year olds, a few couples taking it together, lots of guys my age and up, and maybe 5-10 women quite a bit older than me. By far – mostly white people.
We get to the shooting range (easily) and I get to go with the first group of 6 because the instructor asked the following question and I was able to raise my hand “who has shot a gun before, knows how to load and operate their gun, and knows how to put their target on the firing line?” Unfortunately, my group of 6, and the 6 that followed us, were the only ones who could raise their hands. There were literally people getting their guns out of a new box for the first time that day. This is not supposed to be an intro to gun safety or operation course. Several people told the firing range owner – “I need some bullets – whatever size will go in this.”
I finished my shooting and then had to sit, for another 3 hours, listening to the most ridiculous discussions about guns and laws I have ever heard. There were a few guys who I suppose identified me as gun enthusiast since I was in the first group. I am not a gun “enthusiast.” Whatever I am or am not, I sure don’t want to spend 3 hours on Saturday afternoon hearing about the gun collection of some guy wearing a confederate flag pin in his Skoal cap and complaining because “shooting ranges used to allow you to smoke.”
At one point, the instructor was so distraught at the ignorance of people that she was almost in tears and begged those of us who were done to spend some time showing others about their guns so they could be more ready to go when it was their turn on the range. Good lord, it was awful. Finally, at 6 p.m. we were turned loose and I bolted for the door hoping to God to get out of there before any of my classmates could accidentally shoot me.
LICENSED TO DRIVE
I bought a motorcycle. I like it. It goes fast.
I have a friend named Erica who may be sending me a disapproving email message before she even reads the rest of this NTM. She works for an insurance company and deals with medical claims related to motorcycle wrecks. She sees a lot of bad stuff and she cares about my well-being. I appreciate that, and I expect others may also suggest this is bad idea. They may be right. And I won’t argue with them about it. I also won’t get rid of my motorcycle. It’s enjoyable to me, and relaxing, and probably not much more dangerous than lots of other stuff I’ve done in my life – like (i) driving on I-10 or (ii) hanging out with my cousin Scott who is the most accident prone person ever or (iii) floating the river with a friend who honestly earned the nickname “head wound Tommy.” I do wear a helmet and always will.
The actual NTM was my first time to ever ride a motorcycle. I rode 3 wheelers and 4 wheelers as a kid some. And I started driving under the very relaxed tutelage of my grandfather around the age of 12, but I had never ever ridden on or driven a motorcycle. I thought it might be something I liked to try so I signed up for a motorcycle safety training class as a NTM. Most of the class is spent on a bike. I didn’t really think I would ever buy a motorcycle. I just thought it would be a fun way to spend a weekend learning to do something, being outside, etc.
There is a classroom portion on Friday night, then bright and early Saturday you are on a bike. An hour into the class, you are riding (slowly) but still, you are riding, turning, stopping, etc. It was a blast. You spend two days (and some additional classroom time) practicing skills and learning techniques, safety tips, helmet laws, etc. I loved every single minute of it. At the end, you have a skills test on the bike and a written test. I passed! I can’t suggest strongly enough that if you want to ride a motorcycle, you have to take a class – and I even more strongly suggest Awesome Cycles, where I took mine. They were great – very safety focussed, great teachers, reasonably priced, efficient – all around the experience was great!
So, the way it works is – if you’ve taken an accredited course like the one I took, then you can go down and get the motorcycle endorsement added to your driver’s license by just taking a written (computer) test. If you don’t take the course, then you have to actually do a driving skills test for the DPS to get your motorcycle endorsement. I headed down to the DMV the following week, and for the second time in as many months, I was posing for a picture. The lady taking my picture said “you can smile…not that it will matter” Another beard comment. Hmmm?
I still wasn’t serious about getting a bike. When it comes to buying new stuff, I am, shall we say, usually not interested. I want to spend my money on experiences, not stuff. And I already have a vehicle that runs great – 139,000 and never a lick of trouble (until yesterday) but still, she’s a good truck. Anyway, why would I need two vehicles? That silly. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. I kept finding myself wishing I had a friend with a bike I could borrow maybe.
And then I did what I usually do when it comes to experiences (and almost never do when it comes to acquiring things) – I asked myself “why not?” And having no good answer, I went to the dealership. The very best stuff comes along when I ask myself “why not?”. I met Michael (manager), Grace (salesperson and Red Raider) and Linda (finance manager) at Honda of Houston. Nicest folks you’d ever want to meet. Go see them! I looked at Harleys and I talked to lots of people who said really good things about Harleys. And they do look sharp. It just seemed like when I compared them to Hondas you were paying a lot for the name Harley – and it’s not my style really to pay for the name on something. Besides, I’m hoping to be riding fast enough no one can ever read the name. (not really mom and Erica – that was a joke). My investigation determined that Honda motorcycles are reliable like Honda cars – and I like Honda cars. So, Honda it is.
So, here is my new ride. It’s being delivered today! NTM is almost over – only 4 more. Perhaps my next blog project will be New Things From the Road. I like the sound of that.