On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the IJMS, the Voice inside my helmet remembers …

Lisa Garber

“You should have known,” mumbles the Voice. It was a fair comment. Sitting in the simmering San Antonio heat, waiting for the shuttle to take me to my hotel, I thought of the man who had referred me to this place and this conference. The smooth talking Texan was my dissertation chair: a professor, poet, Jungian psychologist and a motorcycle rider. I guess I should have known.

I was a newly minted Ph.D. and was presenting a synopsis of my doctorial dissertation, “Women Who Ride: the Psyche of the Female Motorcyclist” for the first time. It was the big deal and I was nervous. “More like totaled,” observes my constant companion, the Voice inside my helmet.

Embarking on the hotel shuttle, a very studious looking, pale, man with an unusual hat and a journal in his lap sat across from me. He was infectiously smiling. “I bet he is going to the conference,” surmised the Voice. Obedient as usual, I quizzed the stranger about his destination. “See I told you,” whispered the Voice. “What is your area of interest,” I asked innocently, not really knowing what else to say. “I am the worlds leading authority on Quaker science fiction,” he reported humbly. “Oh for God’s sake,” wailed the Voice. Attempting to look unshaken, I nodded and made the usual polite inquires about his unique obsession. Exiting the shuttle, I thought, “Yes, I should have known these are going to be some interesting people.”

We were in the Alamo, or a few blocks from that infamous site. The motorcycle culture subset of the American Pop Culture conference where I was to present, was exiled to a frosty room miles away from the hotel’s large atria down a long artic hall. I spent the next several days in my hotel room rehearsing my debut, staying warm and observing the confluence of academic interests. I had caught a cold or something by the time I delivered my 20-minute opus and was not able to even guess how it might have been received. “They were polite,” offers the Voice. “Don’t remind me,” I counter.

Our cadre of academic oddballs, turned out to be mostly motorcycle riding professors who had begun to study their own phenomena and passions. Our leader was an unlikely Native American, former Marine who had studied the border culture of El Paso Texas, and Mexico from the perspective of Motorcycle riders and their affiliations. “You knew him before,” reminds the Voice. Yes it was a strange coincidence of history, life and geography that he and I had been in the same place at the same time, crossed paths and, now, reconnected in the Alamo.

Despite my own evaluation of my performance at the San Antonio conference I decided to return the following year, the next and then on. The regular cast of characters became more familiar, even as new presenters swelled our ranks. As each year passed, the meeting room for our “Motorcycle culture,” presentations was pushed further from the hub of the conference, as the enthusiastic crowd of motorcycle riding academics increased. There was a frivolous but plausible rumor that our “Motorcycle culture,” group was being banished to the hinterlands of the conference because of the organizers own associations with motorcycles and loud, biker looking people. “It was Siberia,” observes the Voice. “Your leather jacket wasn’t warm enough.” “Frozen and banished,” I add. It was another odd reminder of our exclusion from a group of academic iconoclasts.

“There were people there studying gravestones, characters in Grateful dead songs and fat culture,” whines the Voice. “I know, I know,” I soothe. “Motorcycles, however, always seem to cathect the shadow,” I remind the Voice. “Oh you like that,” concludes the Voice. There was no point in arguing.

I will leave it to others to reveal the conspiratorial imaginings, which eventually resulted in the Motorcycle culture contingent leaving the Mother ship of the Pop culture conference. Not feeling entirely welcome nor appreciated was certainly part of it.

The Voice and I had now become somewhat familiar and friendly with the exciting out-liers of the academic motorcycling family. We had traveled to Boston, San Antonio twice, Atlanta, New Orleans, Saint Louis, San Francisco and San Diego to explore, study and comment on the motorcycle and its ethos.

It was in San Diego that I first learned about the possibility of becoming a separate entity. In 2005, I drove from Los Angeles to San Diego to attend another pop culture extravaganza. “It was the year of the butterfly,” reminds the Voice. I had written a pretty good paper on the motorcycle’s relationship to fear and was reasonably convinced that my contribution to the conference was worthy. If memory serves, it was another loud year. A local motorcycle dealer and shop owner got into a rather lengthy and spirited verbal brawl with other attendees over helmets and who “real” bikers were. “They were really yelling,” cites the Voice. Emotions were at a high pitch that night, no doubt. “Nobody won that one,” reminds the Voice. “Yeah, I guess academics aren’t supposed to do stuff like that,” I sigh. Things had calmed down by the next day, when I was to present my paper after lunch.

Still the nervous presenter, the following morning, I sat in the hallway outside the conference room steadying myself for my presentation, I was aware of a table of regulars whispering conspiratorially behind me. The sun broached the rooftop of the courtyard in front of us and light began to pour into the inevitably chilly hall. As they called people over to speak with them, I heard the rumblings of new life.

After my presentation late in the afternoon, I readied to drive home, satisfied with my contribution and the interest it received. My then fiancé was staying at my house and wrangling the cats. I hoped to see him before he took off to Santa Barbara the following day, which was Easter. “Associations with rebirth and regeneration, not withstanding,” sniggers the Voice. “You are impossible,” I hiss.

The afternoon of my departure was buoyant. My relief after having presented my material coupled with an unidentifiable something in the air made the crawling beast of traffic in front of me insignificant. As I sat in the car edging toward Hollywood, one golden-orange butterfly after another began to sail over the hood of my car. The growing field of orange wings first rose in the up-drafts broaching the freeway and then descended to careen towards the ocean. Drifting on powerful wings, the orange-gold phantoms wafted mysteriously in front of my windshield and disappeared into a turbulence of light. Turning to my right I observed clouds becoming storms of the same butterfly moving from East to West across the ribbon of the 405. “You were awed,” reminds the Voice. The pillowey clouds of butterflies filtered through consciousness like an unfamiliar drug. The butterfly migration lasted for the length of my trip and by report, another several days. I spent the 100-mile return trip, dodging butterflies and marveling at the magnitude of this event. In my mind, it was that day that the IJMS was born.

It took another two years for the break fully from the Popular Culture organization to be finalized. The IJMS journal was launched and the conference ensued. The initiatory conference was hosted in Colorado Springs, Colorado, an admirable destination for any academic-biker. We were still a large, noisy group of thoughtful motorcycle enthusiasts who had detailed fascinations related to motorcycles and were both happy and relieved to share them with like-minded others.

The Voice inside my motorcycle helmet had been asserting itself since the 1980’s. It is my wisecracking other, the balance when I flame too hot or ride too fast. It is my philosopher-pal and stealth observer of myself and the myriad of riders and drivers that inhabit our world. The movement preceding and resulting in the birth of the IJMS, catalyzed the Voice; no longer willing to be my unknown partner the Voice demanded airtime in my presentations. “You cannot keep taking credit for everything, we are partners,” chided the Voice. Choosing not to be the subject of the next harangue, I conceded to the Voice as I almost always have. It was better to give the Voice the audience it was due, than endure its whine. This dialogue has continued in the same vein ever since.

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  1. Dear Lisa (Garber) in USA, > from Bernd (Tesch) in Germany

    – thank you for your long article. This contains the opposite what we engineers would write: Brevity is the soul of wit (I hope this is a correct google-translation).
    – If your Ph.D. had come out as a book, please store it yourself in http://www.teschipedia.de (12.000 Motorycle-TRAVEL-Books and others) under “Sonstige-Motorrad-Bücher” for the world-community. Above the database is standing the sentence: Enter a new book.
    BaiBeiByeBerndTesch, Expert for Motorcycle-World-travellers

  2. Brevity indeed is most desirable. I am so impressed with your vocabulary. Please remember there are good impressions and bad impressions.

  3. Thoughtful, nuanced and eloquent. I love it. I’ve been painfully absent from IJMS but a new life with more space has enabled return. Lisa’s offering is a good start.

  4. I was wondering if 2020 could pass without Lisa’s ‘voice in my helmet’ and – voilà! Here it is this annual exchange, this double voice, meditative, anecdotal, acutely self-aware, at times witty, biting and always sincere. This year it/they wander – a valuable memory of time past – evoking something of the back history of IJMS in the unfolding present. One sees in all this that Lisa never travels alone and is always in excellent company.

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