Alliterative incidents in the life of Brian



The bike feels neglected. The bike needs attention. The bike deserves a wash. These ideas bombard me while I munch cold cereal for breakfast. Maybe these feelings bind me to the bike in a brotherly bond. Maybe they remind me to not let the name BMW presume perfection or even maintenance-free use. I bought the bike new and still approach each ride with a look-over. Some days I surprise the bike with an unannounced inspection or even lift the seat to inspect that the private bits are in order.

Bothering me today is the side stand. By design the bike leans nearly enough to fall, and now it leans far enough to do triangle pose — if not quite half moon. I hold the bike upright to inspect the boo-boo. The stand wobbles perpendicular to its rotational axis almost as if something is bent or worn. A diagram in the repair manual shows a series of metal parts that fashion an intricate pivoting action. Not just a hunk of steel pinned to the bike, the engineering is strong in its complexity — enough to support the bike’s hefty weight at an angle, yet presumably weak enough to fail before damaging the frame.

It’s almost as if a bushing in the barrel is botched and causing the assembly to wiggle out of specification. Without having a new bike for comparison, I rely heavily on memory, and the stand just doesn’t move like it once moved. And for a machine touted to live hundreds of thousands of miles, ten thousand is too few miles for something like a side stand to break.

I call Westside Motosports to file a warranty claim. Service Manager Josh doesn’t promise coverage; he claims we won’t know BMW’s acceptance of “premature wear” until after we order the parts. Fortunately, the bike also needs new brake lines under a recall. He orders the ridiculously expensive replacement bushings alongside the ridiculously expensive brake lines, with expedited shipping for both, and at no initial cost to me. Josh sends me home in wait for the parts and on final word from BMW.


I know the time is right when I can no longer remember the last wash. And on the cold morning after realizing same, I ride to the nearest station to give the bike the attention it deserves. Any of the stalls will do; they’re all empty. The whole place looks functional but at the same time eerily deserted. I choose one nearest the coin machine and away from the chilly wind.

At the coin machine, I trade my smallest bill for forty quarters. I walk the few steps back to find myself in the eyes of a rugged man standing behind my bike — in the same stall that was empty moments ago. Yelling over no particular abundance of noise, he asks if I’m a cop. Motorcycle officers ride tricked out BMW road touring bikes in Spokane. Not only clearly marked as police by their uniforms, cops ride bikes that are most certainly not licensed in Alaska. This very obvious clue to the truth does nothing to stave his want of an answer.

The man looks dirty and speaks with a very rustic voice. He stands shifting from foot to foot in worn clothes, padded quite thoroughly with layers enough to survive the cold. Even at this distance, I see detail in the man. Wiry hair escapes the bounds of his cap and flares in every direction. Soiled jacket cuffs, swaths of dirt from thigh to knee, tattered gloves — everything about the man suggests a life on the street.

No, I’m not a cop. I keep the bike between us for need of protection, though each of us is lumpy enough in layers — me in my riding gear, he in his complete wardrobe — that swift movement by either would send any bystander into hysterics. He takes a few moments to accept my answer, still in plain view of the Alaska license plate.

Not surprisingly, once convinced I’m not a cop, he asks if I have any change. Not extra change. Not spare change. Just change. The same change he watched me pull from the coin machine a minute ago. The forty quarters in my hand, change. The ten dollars in change, change, that he dares me to deny having, change. I’m sure his neglect of my license plate is no reason to think he doesn’t notice the money in my hand. Street people have an uncanny sense for money and opportunity.

Yes, I have change. Next, he says he wants to buy a beer. Excellent. I ask how much a beer costs and give him a dollar to that end. He accepts the money and waddles back to a hiding hole behind the vacuum pumps. Here, in none other than Spokane, Washington, I can’t help but feel like I’ve just paid my very first safety bribe — a burden I expected to avoid until Mexico at the earliest.

Not two days later, Josh from Westside Motosports calls with good news. BMW approved the warranty repair, and my parts have arrived.



Sometime between the night after the Halloween party and two mornings beyond, someone burgled Ryan’s garage and bounded off into the woods with a pretty hefty bounty. The thief bungled his exit and left the side door open to our attention. And so on the morning after, while standing in the open doorway, I watch as Ryan points to a number of empty shelves and places on the floor that once held tools, camping gear, and several bicycles — bicycles that were chained together. We both agree there was just too much stuff for one person to remove quietly. Considering the Halloween party that welcomed many strangers into his home, Ryan is without as to the burglars’ identities.

Disturbed grass leading from the garage to the rear gate points us in the direction of escape. Later in the afternoon, four of us climb the hill behind the house and look to the woods for clues. Had a homeless person tipped off thieves, we may find traces of Ryan’s stuff hidden in the trees, beneath a tarp, or spread about the hiking trails behind the house. Yet after a meaningful encounter with said resident homeless man and a quick search about his accommodations, we return home empty handed and with reduced hope for recovery.

The police report will probably serve only for filing an insurance claim. Without active help from the police, Ryan will likely be left to search Craigslist and local pawn shops to recover his property.




Ben and Brian work in different departments of the same local agency, and they’re currently in competition to decorate their offices for a party. Ryan is known for his bombastic balloon art. He ties knots in latex like philanderers tie in the hearts of their lovers. Brian smartly recruited Ryan to sculpt a balloon fish, and Ben’s quite peeved with this potentially unfair advantage. The bitter feud is enough to suggest a prize is on the line, or at the very least ego points. With a bit of fussing by Ryan and Brian, a googly eyed, technicolor, bulbous heap of imaginary gills and fins has quite literally ballooned into a fish before my eyes. Without applying a strict set of rules, I’d say the fish looks of the puffer variety.


This is my first opportunity to peer into Ryan’s eclectic hobby and to witness the inspiration for his children’s book, “The Grand Adventures of Carson the Balloonatic!” Ryan payed his way through college dazzling children as a magician and balloon entertainer. Thereafter, he endeavored to realize this keen connection with youth and worked tirelessly to help children in need. And his efforts yielded several award winning youth and children’s programs.

Ryan’s talents, adoration for life, and complete selflessness combine in ways that leave me speechless. He volunteers in Spokane to help homeless youth. He travels the Pacific Northwest in support of AIDS prevention and sex education. He speaks and presents at numerous conferences, receives much recognition, and is quite properly known as a creative, caring, and professional entrepreneur. Ryan even spent seven days living in a house made entirely of balloons to support Habitat for Humanity — a grandiose display of tenacity that netted him a world record. His bodacious balloon sculptures receive international praise, and he holds patent to a toy that he promises will bring hours of fun to people of all ages. Of course, Ryan wears all these hats while also being a generous host to me and sharing his time with a very lucky bunch of friends.

I watch as Brian marks eyes on the fish while Ryan adjusts its various parts. It’s quite huge now, commanding as much space of the room as the couch. I barely see Ryan on the other side, but I do see Ben in the corner fuming over Brian’s clever advantage. As underhanded as he may think this is, Ben shouldn’t be too concerned. The fish still has to get to their office, and I don’t even see it fitting through the front door much less in the back of Brian’s car.


Washington is wine country. Leaving the state without even a taste is blasphemous. On a rainy day near the end of my stay in Spokane, I ride alongside the Spokane River out of town and climb the hill to Arbor Crest vineyard. On the outside, I’m greeted by a modest estate in the crux of a remodel. Inside, the very beautiful Valentina tends the tasting bar and welcomes me to Arbor Crest.

In complete riding gear, dripping wet from rain, with helmet and tank bag in tow, I look anything but the part of a gentleman wine connoisseur. If the gaggle of ladies already sipping wine weren’t so pissed, they may very well have sent me crooked looks. But pissed as they are, their attention is with each other and the bottles in front of them.

A little money goes a long way at Arbor Crest. Valentina takes me on a five dollar tour of reds and whites, describes the different flavors of the Columbia and Yakima valleys. Too ignorant to articulate specific flavors, I smile and at least appreciate differences in dryness and sweetness. Valentina tells her story of immigrating to the United States from Eastern Europe. She speaks with a very slight accent and looks young to be so well versed in wine. Between bites of crackers and sips of water, I speak of my own adventure and why I’m dressed from head to toe like a neon marshmallow.


Before leaving the vineyard, I walk about the grounds to savor a last bit of Washington scenery. In actuality, I walk to burn the buzz I savored in the tasting room! A light rain leaves tiny drops of water on colorful trees. Elaborate rows of grapevines twist continuously into each other and drape over the rolling land. In the distance, Spokane’s railway bustles with activity and sends its noise far across the valley. Spokane River snakes in and out of view. Where bridges don’t cross, patches of red, yellow, and green sprout up from its banks.

Once sufficiently absorbed with the scenery and less absorbed with wine, I grab my gear from inside the parlor. I thank Valentina for a wonderful visit, and then head home for my last night in Spokane.





Bye Bye Brian

I wake early with Brian to say goodbye. He’s up for work at a terrible hour and can’t see me off later. By mid morning I’m packed and ready to leave. Ryan managed to fit the balloon sculpture through the front door and into his car. It not only made it to Brian’s office, but it arrived without a pop. When he returns, I thank him profusely for his hospitality. Spokane gave me wonderful memories, and if the people I meet on my journey are anything like my friends in Spokane, I will be in good hands.

I feel a familiar excitement as I roll out onto the street. In the distance, a new state awaits, and I feel the wonderful thrill of the unknown flowing through my body!



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