Friday, September 12, 2008

Adventure Touring, 1981-style

In 1980, the very year that (according to Wikipedia, anyway) BMW introduced its first R80G/S model, we (significant other, her daughter, and I) rode out to Utah and spent a week kicking around the Canyonlands in a rented Jeep--well, actually an International Scout with a balky carburetor. It was fun, and over the winter I got the idea that it would be even more fun to ride around these canyons on a dirt bike. A sensible person, of course, would have bought a proper dirt bike, thrown it on a trailer behind the car, and been properly prepared for off-roading.

Not being a sensible person, I decided I wanted to ride there, ride the canyons, and ride back. So I procured a "non-current" 1979 Yamaha XT500. This was a pretty decent 500cc single with about six inches of suspension at both ends--hardly a great dirt bike, but not too bad for the day. I then outfitted it for touring by adding a five-gallon, translucent plastic gas tank (a friend of mine always threatened to slip some plastic goldfish into the tank), luggage rack and saddlebags made from stuff I scrounged at Ace Hardware and K-Mart, and the piece-de-resistance: a big, soft touring bucket seat built on the stock dirt bike pan. With that, and the experience that I acquired houring out of a couple spring enduros (on a real dirt bike), I headed west...

To get more practice riding this bigger, heavier bike off pavement, I took as many dirt and gravel roads as I could across Colorado: for instance, down the front range on a road that eventually became Phantom Canyon road into Canon City, and across the Continental Divide via Cottonwood Pass (picture at right).

Even now, I think those K-mart suitcase saddlebags are just too trailer-park-cool for words. Notice also the sophisticated 1981-style off-road riding gear: Levi jacket, jeans, sneakers without socks. The philosophy behind the last of these was that if it rained, my feet would get wet... but they'd dry out pretty quickly if I didn't have socks on. As for protection in the event of a crash... well, let's just steal a phrase from Gene Kranz and say "crashing is not an option."

I was feeling pretty good when I came down from Cottonwood Pass. I was feeling even better when I stopped for gas in Montrose and overheard people complaining about the high cost and low availability of lodging. I, of course, planned to head up the fire roads to a campsite about halfway to Naturita. Which I did, just in time to pitch my tent and watch a series of heavy rainstorms go through. No worries, I was safe inside a tent, and tomorrow would be a sunny and pleasant day...

Which it was, except... the night's rain had turned a section of the next road into a sea of clay mud, that sticky stuff that wraps around your tires and jams between the wheel and swingarm: I cleaned the stuff out, rode ten more feet and found the bike stopped again. Yuck. Since this was open range country, in short order I had an audience of cattle, all chewing their cuds and watching with what I assume is bovine interest as I scraped the mud out.

The only way to get going, it turned out, was to dump the clutch, spin the rear wheel like mad to fling the mud off, and slither/slip/fishtail down this twisty mountain dirt road until, after a few miles that seemed like a lot more, I got to the end of the mud stretch.

Had I been sensible, I would have stopped in Naturita and cleaned the mud off the bike at the coin-op car wash. But we've already established that I'm not sensible, so it should come as no surprise that I kept going, into Utah, past one of the stranger road signs I've seen: "THIS IS NOT US 163", and onto the four-wheel-drive roads. There, on a steep downhill, I put my foot onto the rear brake and found... nothing. The mud had dried into a hard lump of ceramic that jammed the brake rod.

So much for "crashing is not an option." Luckily, I injured nothing but my pride, and soon was on my way. After a few more adventures, most notably getting lost when the trail passed across a long stretch of featureless, unmarked bare rock, I made it into Moab and found a motel room.

At this point I should describe the navigation technologies of the day: I was traveling on BLM land, which means no officiall-marked roads. No GPS, of course. What I had was a map, published by a local company, listing trails and roads and giving approximate distances between landmarks. When I say "approximate," I mean "inaccurate," because the guy had measured distances using the odometer in his Jeep, and apparently he spun the wheels a lot because I always found myself going fewer miles between landmarks than he did (even though the Yamaha's odometer usually went up by 10.3 miles for every 10 miles I traveled on the Interstate). Complicating things further, this was active mineral exploration territory, so mining companies were often bulldozing new roads that didn't appear on the maps. Fun, fun, fun.

Once I reached Moab, I did a little side trip to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, and took a quick spin around Arches National Park. Pictures to come, when I scan those 27-year-old prints.

From there, I headed down to the Needles section of Canyonlands, on a combination of dirt tracks. I quickly found my navigational aid: there was a weekly tour that followed this route in a Toyota Land Cruiser, which had very distinctive (Japanese?) tires. As long as I could find the Land Cruiser tracks in the occasional patch of sand, I knew I was on the right path. When I get the scanner working, I'll add some pictures of places like Chicken Corners and the natural bridge a thousand feet above the Colorado River canyon...

So here we have the guy well-equipped for desert touring. Yeah, right. It did occur to me that this was a somewhat risky proposition, going out into the desert by myself, with limited off-road skills, poor maps and only a day or so worth of water. But I was only 27, and as we all know, people under 30 are indestructible, right?

And, in all fairness, I did survive to write this, 27 years later. Had some problems in Canyonlands National Park, but got home... almost, anyway... the XT's much abused chain broke about 40 miles from home. But that's another story.

The Unauthorized "Scott Free" Technique for Changing Buell Isolators

A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR: I looked at the hit-counter on this site (yes, I'm watching you), and found that fully a third of the visits to my vast and sprawling website are from people seeking advice on changing Buell isolators. While this is flattering (and a bit disturbing--are there that many bad isolators in the world?), it's also frustrating, as the purpose of this site is to aid in marketing my not-exactly-best-selling novel. So do me a favor, folks--after you've replaced those rubber biscuits and gone for a little test ride, c'mon back, click the link to the right and at least have a look at The Last Protector. Read a sample chapter or two. Maybe even buy a copy. Heck, buy four or five copies--after all, if you follow this advice and replace your own isolators, you'll save a pretty penny in shop labor. You can afford a book.

I thank you. My publisher thanks you. My bartender really thanks you.

And now, without further ado, the Unauthorized Repair Technique:

Tube-frame Buells use what are more or less the same rubber biscuit "isolators" as the Harley touring bikes (no surprise there; Erik Buell is said to have invented the system). And, from time to time, these isolators wear out. The symptom I noticed was a lot of vibration through the footpegs, especially when the bike was heavily loaded (i.e., with gear for the week-long trip to Deals Gap I was about to depart on) and hitting any kind of a dip in the road. And when they start failing, riding is not an option--these things are chunks of rubber and metal that are glued together and support the weight of the bike and rider in a shear mode. When they start coming apart, there ain't nothing keeping your ass off the pavement. The photo at right shows just how far my right-side isolator had gone by the time I discovered it was failing. The end plate (which nestles into the frame) had separated from the rubber over close to half the isolator's circumference. Not at all a good thing. I had to replace these puppies right now. Here's how I did it.

On some bikes (the Harleys, the S2 and earlier models, and the X1 Lightning), the rear isolators are held in place by a bolt-on plate that lines them up and squeezes them into position. On these bikes, replacing the suckers is easy. But on some models--S1 Lightning, S3/S3T Thunderbolt, and M2 Cyclone), the isolators are slipped into recesses in the frame before the engine and swingarm block are lifted in from below. That is, there's no removable piece providing access.

The shop manual says you're supposed to remove the engine from the frame to change the rear isolators. Aiee! most customers say in response. So various imaginative people have come up with schemes to free the rubber biscuits without having to hang the frame from an engine hoist while strapping the motor to a floor lift (and by the way, disconnecting every oil hose and half the electrical wiring on the bike). We had some motivation here.

Oh, and of course you may not be doing this because the isolators have died; you may simply want to replace a worn drive belt (especially if your belt was set up too tight by the selling dealer, which many tube frame Buell belts were). That's what led me to develop this scheme. Word to the wise: if you're going to go to the effort (even the significantly reduced effort under my scheme) to remove the isolators, you might as well replace all the stuff that's replaceable here. In other words, if the only thing "bad" appears to be the belt, replace the isolators at the same time; if the isolators look bad and the belt looks OK, replace the belt anyway. There's nothing worse than having to rip the bike apart a year later because a belt or an isolator that looked OK the last time you had the bike apart is now going south on you. How did I learn this? Because I replaced the belt at 40,000 miles and didn't replace the isolators while I had things apart, of course...

Also, keep in mind that I'm not a Buell employee, and Buell didn't approve of this procedure (or even look at it, far as I know). It worked for me, and it was a lot easier than the procedure found in the manual--but remember that 30 years ago some aircraft mechanics were saying the same thing about using a fork lift to remove/install the engines on a DC-10, and we all know how that turned out. I make no warranty that this procedure will work for you. Be careful out there...

So, with that in mind, let's get started:

Step 1. Get the bike up in the air and remove the back wheel, hugger and belt guards. Make sure you have plenty of room to move around beneath its nether regions.

Step 2. Put a jack (preferably one with wheels) under the transmission to support its weight, and then remove the two big allen bolts that hold the isolators to the swingarm block. These are 1/2" head allens. If you don't have an allen socket of that size, Lafayette has a cheap substitute: buy a 2" long by 1/2" "coupler nut" and stick it into a (six point) 1/2" socket. Voila! An Allen substitute! Be careful removing the bolts; you don't want to mess up the threads. In particular, make sure you've got the jack adjusted so that the bolts aren't snagging on the isolator base plates as you take 'em out. It's surprisingly easy to monge the threads.

Step 3. Assemble the spreader tool shown below (Note--click on any of these pictures to expand it). The center piece of the tool is about six inches of 3/8" threaded rod from the hardware store. The pieces on it, from left to right, are a 3" piece of stout tubing (I used a leftover Harley Sportster turn-signal stalk, thereby keeping the whole thing an "Authentic Harley Special Tool"), a regular 3/8 nut, a jammed-together pair of 3/8" nuts (one of them's a locknut; it's inside the wrench and the two are held together with Loctite. In the best of all possible worlds, the central nut would be welded to the threaded rod), half of a 9/16" box wrench, and the other turn signal stalk.


This is what it'll look like when it's assembled and ready to go:


Step 4. Slither up under the rear end of the bike, taking a 1/2" and 9/16" wrench and the tool you just fabricated with you. Remove the 9/16" bolt that fastens the turnbuckle to the swingarm carrier (this allows the engine and transmission to move side to side in the frame). Then remove the 1/2" bolt that holds the battery ground strap to the swingarm carrier. You'll find the hole goes all the way through the boss on the swingarm carrier, and it's tapped all the way through. So re-install the bolt from the left side, so that about 1/4" of it sticks out the right side of the boss. This provides a pin for the left end of the special tool to align on.

Step 5. Brace the cut-down 9/16" wrench part of the tool against the top of the swingarm carrier, and turn the nuts (fingers should be adequate) until the other end of the tool is pressed up firmly against the inside of the frame just above the right isolator. See the picture below:


Step 6. Then, as the picture above also shows, put a big long wrench on the first nut (the one that presses up against the turn signal stalk on the left end of the tool) and turn this nut to spread the tool out and shift the engine/trans/swingarm carrier to the left. This is not actually spreading the frame; it's just compressing the left isolator. You will need to apply a lot of torque, which is why I put a long lever (a jack handle, actually) on the wrench. The cut-down wrench that's a part of the tool keeps the threaded rod from turning. Keep turning the wrench and extending the tool until you can pop out the right isolator, as seen below:



Notice how you've shifted the engine/trans/swingarm carrier about a quarter inch to the left--you can see this in the misalignment between the adjustment turnbuckle and the hole in the boss on the swingarm carrier. This picture also clearly shows how the cut-down 9/16" wrench is braced against the top of the swingarm carrier to keep the lock nut (and the threaded rod) from turning.

Step 7. Turn the nuts on the tool the other way (the cut-down box wrench part will flip around and brace itself against the swingarm), until you can remove the tool.

Step 8. Give the swingarm a yank to the right, and the left isolator will drop out. Now that you've got both isolators out of the way, this is a real good time to run a thread-chaser tap down the holes in the swingarm pivot. Remember that these pieces are assembled with heavy-duty red Loctite at the factory, so there's going to be some residue in there that could make it hard to get the bolts started when you re-assemble this piece. So clean those threads up now!

Step 9. Slip the new left isolator into place. Make sure it's aligned properly (see your Buell service manual). Reinstall the special tool, and repeat step 5 until you've compressed the (new) left isolator enough to slip the new right isolator into place. Make sure the belt's in the right place before you install the new isolator; the last thing you want to do is button up the job and discover the belt's dropped out! (Matter of fact, given that you've got the isolators off, inspect the belt closely--if it's even remotely near needing replacement, slip in a new one now. You'll thank yourself later!)

Step 10. Repeat step 7 and remove the special tool. You'll probably find the threads on the threaded rod are a bit monged up by now, so you may need an extra wrench to keep the rod from turning in strange ways.

Step 11. CAREFULLY start the allen bolts through the isolators and into the swingarm pivot. This can be tricky. You may have to fiddle with the jack a bit to align things properly. Be patient; you don't want to mess up the threads. The last time I did this, I found that the passage of time (and previous removal/replacement of the bolts when I did a belt replacement two years ago) had messed the threads up slightly. A quick cleanup with a 1/2" SAE fine tap solved the problem, and everything went together nicely. Don't forget the Loctite! Once both bolts are started, and you've again checked that the isolators are in the correct alignment, tighten the piss out of the bolts, to whatever monstrous amount of torque the manual specifies (about four grunts, if I recall correctly).

Step 12. Re-install the turnbuckle to the swingarm carrier. You may need to give the swingarm a little shove one way or the other to get things lined up. Re-install the ground strap (remember it bolts to the right side of the boss). Re-install belt guards, hugger, and back wheel. Lower the bike, give everything one last check, and you're ready to go.

ONE MORE THING: If you do this, post a comment and let me know how it worked for you! Thanks!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Deleted Song: Buried Alive!

Okay, I admit it--I'm from Chicago, and a fan of the White Sox, and I was looking for a way to work in a sort of Easter egg joke for other Sox fans. What could be better than a reference to Bill Veeck's ill-fated "Disco Demolition Night" promotion? Hence, the brief disco revival in Chapter Eight, which led to the discussion about the lengths people would go to in order to register their dislike of such music. Then, after a few beers, my friend Vic and I came up with this mildly gruesome parody of a popular disco song (you can figure out which one).

It was fun to write, and fun to read, but I eventually took it out because it seemed to make a scene that was already pretty silly just a bit too silly.

Go ahead and sing it. You know you want to.

"How the heck did you know this dance?" Nalia demanded.

"Mister Saughblade is a fan of disco," Jape said. "Can't understand why."

Scrornuck shrugged. "It's the beat--you either love it or you hate it."

"And I don't love it," Jape said. "I'm not quite as bad as those guys in my world who exploded a bomb in a sports stadium to show how much they hated disco, but I'm close."

"A bomb?" Nalia said. "That's terrible."

"I'll say," Scrornuck agreed, "the home team had to forfeit the game." He started strolling across the square, still dancing a bit and singing in a soft falsetto:

"Well, you can tell by the way I'm startin' to rot

Been down in the ground since seven o'clock

I'm not as cold as you might think

But hold your nose, 'cause I'm startin' to stink.

And it's all right, it's OK, gonna feed some worms today

What you smell, what you see, gettin' green and spidery...

I can tell what you're supposin'

I know that I'm decomposin'

Buried alive--buried alive!

Ah--ah--ah--ah--buried aliiiiiiiveeee...."

"Well, that was wholesome," Jape said with a sour look.

"Glad you liked it," Scrornuck replied. "Should I do the number about the knights on Broadway?"

"Please don't." Jape made a face.

"Okay," Scrornuck said with a grin, "I never really believed that stuff about dancing through Manhattan in suits of armor anyway."

Deleted Character: Schaughnessy

When I first wrote the flashbacks set in Scrornuck's home land, I included a character named Schaughnessy as his best friend. I wasn't sure where this might go, but giving Scrornuck a friend to chat with in the scenes seemed like it had some potential.

We first meet him in the first flashback, when Scrornuck's digging potatoes out of the mud. Oh, and yes, the potatoes were an anachronism; in the real world potatoes didn't make it to the Old World till after Columbus sailed. I mentioned them intentionally, to drop a hint about Scrornuck's universe not being the same one we live in. Alas, all mention of potatoes disappeared in the editing.

Scrornuck mumbled vague curses as he knelt in the sticky mud of the south field, digging with a crude wooden shovel in search of the early potato crop. After two weeks of steady rain, the field was a swamp; he'd dig far enough into the mud to see the tubers, only to have the hole collapse, leaving him back where he started.

Though spring wouldn't officially begin until the equinox celebration several weeks hence, the sun shone bright and warm, causing Scrornuck to toss his woolen kilt and linen shirt over the low branches of a nearby tree; he labored in the mud with only a scrap of towel around his waist for modesty. Not that he expected company; nobody in their right mind would visit this bog on such a pleasant afternoon. This was a day for relaxing in the meadow, with song, drink and one of the young ladies from the village. But winter had been tough, and there was food to be dug from this muck.

"Ho, Saughblade!" A lusty voice rolled across the field as Scrornuck's pit collapsed yet again. He looked up to see his friend Schaughnessy hurrying through the ankle-deep mud. Like most of the village's young men, Schaughnessy stood several inches shorter than Scrornuck, but made up for it by being stockier than the lanky redhead. "They want you in the village," he panted, "They say it's important."

"Raiders?"

"Not likely--if it were, I daresay there's many in the village they'd call up before us."

No doubt, Scrornuck thought, for while he and his friend fantasized about picking up the sword and fighting great battles, in reality the two young men were farmers with little or no opportunity for lives any different from the ones their fathers had lived, raising potatoes and felling trees.

"We have a visitor," Schaughnessy said, "He dresses strangely, and they can't--"

"--understand a word he says," Scrornuck finished. "It's the Gift they want, isn't it?"

Schaughnessy nodded.

"Let's be going, then." Scrornuck turned to the tree where his plaid and shirt hung. "The churchmen can't decide if my gift is a blessing from God or a curse from the Devil--"

"What's it matter? If you can understand what the stranger is saying, and the Chief's pleased with it, there'll be food and drink all around tonight."

Scrornuck smiled and nodded. "That there'll be, and I'll be sure to have my share." Reaching the tree, he casually unwrapped the towel from his waist and stood naked, wiping the mud from his bare feet.

"Someday," Schaughnessy warned, "one of the fine young ladies from the village is going to walk by."

"Hah! No self-respecting lady would come near this mudhole." Scrornuck hung the muddy towel over a low branch and slipped his feet into a pair of low boots. "Besides, if one did happen down here, she might just like what she sees."

Schaughnessy laughed out loud. "Is that how you plan to find your mate, Scrornuck? Do a public strip-show and hope the right girl will see you?"

Scrornuck laughed along, though inwardly he was troubled. He'd turned seventeen over the winter, the age at which young men and young ladies started to pair off for life, and so far, he'd had very, very little luck. "If it works--" he said with a shrug. He slipped into his long, mostly-white linen shirt, and began the lengthy task of folding, pleating, and wrapping his kilt, finally securing it around his waist with a broad leather belt. "Let's be going; the sooner we find out what this stranger has to say, the sooner we eat!"


He makes his second appearance at the Spring Equinox festival, when the Knight in Green shows up:

The afternoon was splendid, a perfect day for the spring equinox festival. The sun shone, the air was warm, the food rich and flavorful, the singing and pipe music seductive, the drink strong and abundant. Best of all, the young ladies of the village had been most friendly indeed since Scrornuck routed the Eastern raiders with his beautiful silver sword. Life is good, he reflected as he sipped another brew, casually reclining on the grass alongside a particularly attentive young lady.

A large, older man elbowed his way through the crowd and stood to Scrornuck's right. "You, young Saughblade, come. The Chief desires your presence."

"Can't you see I'm busy?" Scrornuck threw his arm around the young lady. "Tell the old man to come back later."

"The Chief desires your presence now. I was told to bring you back, and that I shall do, whether you wish it or not."

Scrornuck set down his drink and let his left hand drift to the grip of his sword. "Do you think you can?"

The older man's eyes followed Scrornuck's hand, and his face whitened noticeably. Scrornuck smiled inwardly. Everybody knew what he'd done to the Eastern slave-takers with that sword. "You would not--"

"No, I would not, as much as I might want to." He waved his arm dismissively. "Tell him I'll be along just as soon as I finish my drink." The older man decided that was good enough, and slowly backed away.

"You're going to get in trouble if you keep ignoring the Chief's commands," Scrornuck's friend Schaughnessy warned. He'd been sitting on the grass a few feet away, sipping his own drink, listening to the music and flirting with a young lady of his own.

Scrornuck waved his free hand dismissively. "Ah, what can that old man do? He's just in a bad mood 'cause he had to do that thing with the horse again."

"The mare was not exactly cooperative, was she?" Both of the girls giggled at Schaughnessy's remark. The ancient spring ritual, a holdover from the land's pagan past, was a great amusement for those who did not have to participate.

"Is she ever?" Scrornuck finished his drink. Pulling his arm from around the young lady, he got slowly to his feet. "Duty calls, I suppose. I shall be back as soon as I can."

"Don't be too long," she said, smiling at Schaughnessy. "A few more drinks, and your friend might start looking good."


But when Scrornuck returns home after his first set of adventures, Schaughnessy's nowhere to be seen. That was the first clue that he really didn't have much purpose other than to feed Scrornuck the occasional straight line and provide a little color to the flashbacks. I eventually decided that as pleasant as the character was, he didn't really add anything to the story; his occasional straight lines could be handed off to other people. So I found myself facing a decision: either give Schaughnessy something useful to do--that is, make him a fully-rounded character with a real part in the story--or cut him out. Given that I was still struggling to hold down the length of the book, which was approaching 400 pages in that draft, I decided on the latter.

Still, I kinda like the guy; in some ways he seemed like he could have developed into a good foil for Scrornuck. Maybe I'll yet find a way to use him in a story somewhere.

Deleted Scene: The Giant Japanese Robot

I suspect that I gave up any chance of having The Last Protector filmed as an anime when I deleted this scene...

There's a point in the story that required me to find a way of getting Scrornuck safely back to earth from an altitude of a mile or two in the air (this is just one of the many problems writers of action/adventure stories face). Inspired by fifties-vintage proposals to propel interplanetary space ships by exploding small nuclear bombs behind them, I decided to have Jape do something similar, breaking Scrornuck's fall by firing a number of small (but increasingly larger) explosive devices directly beneath him. To foreshadow this rescue, I wrote a flashback recalling an earlier adventure, when Scrornuck bailed out of a giant Japanese flying robot a few miles above Tokyo. Why a giant Japanese robot? Why not? I think my daughter was watching a lot of giant-robot anime at the time. The scene was a ball to write, though to this day I have no idea of the story leading up to it---just who was Yamaguchto, and why were he and Scrornuck duking it out in the sky over Tokyo in the first place?

Trouble was, the scene just didn't fit--the other flashbacks tell their own story, and the Japanese robot bit seemed to break up their flow. It seemed the only place I could put this scene without messing up the other flashbacks was so close to the place where Jape actually rescued Scrornuck in this manner that there really wasn't any "foreshadowing."

And then, as the main story evolved, I found an entirely different way to get Scrornuck down from altitude, a way that fit better with the rest of the tale. So, with no place to go and no real reason to stay, the scene got clipped. All that remains is an offhand remark about giant Japanese robots.

I suspect Scrornuck's happy I cut the scene--explosive braking would be a hell of a rough ride, and he gets beat up enough already.

The flashback takes place as Scrornuck, Jape and Nalia are crossing the prairie in a hundred-year-old earthmoving machine...


The earthmover rolled along at a comfortable twelve miles an hour, following the line of concrete towers that led around the southern flank of the mountain and across the prairies to the east. The big machine cruised through grasses and wildflowers that were as tall as a man, feeling strangely like a ship sailing across a golden sea. "Yep," Scrornuck said to Jape, "more fun that a giant robot!"

"What giant robot?" Nalia asked.

"The terror of Tokyo!" he replied.

"We worked on a world where the people had built these big, powered suits of armor," Jape explained, searching the softscroll for a picture. "Ah, here." He showed her a picture: Scrornuck stood next to a powered suit that was perhaps forty feet high and nearly as wide, in the general shape of a man, but with strange protrusions from the shoulders and elbows. "The pilot would strap himself into the suit, and it would follow his movements--run, jump, fight, and so forth."

"I had one that could fly," Scrornuck added.

"And you bailed out of it two miles up in the air--" Jape interjected.

"I was about to ram it into the bad guy," Scrornuck protested, downshifting to deal with a slight upgrade, "I sure wasn't going to stay inside it!"

"Two miles up in the air," Jape said again, "without a parachute. Tell me, did you even think about how you were going to get down?"

Scrornuck shrugged, to the extent that he could while gripping the steering wheel with both hands. "I figured I'd think of something on the way down--"

"Is this guy crazy or what?" Jape said, laughing heartily. "He takes a flying leap from two miles up and figures he'll think of something on the way down!"

"Well," she said, a bit uncertainly, "he's still with us. He must have thought of something."

Scrornuck shook his head as he punched the throttle and upshifted again. "Nope, it was Jape figured out how to catch me. Sort of, anyway..."

"Got you now, you bastard," Scrornuck muttered as he squeezed the firing button. Yamaguchto's battle-suit, a sixty-foot-tall flying robot, was dead center in the crosshairs. No way he was going to get away again.

Nothing happened. Scrornuck's battle-suit had run out of ammunition. "Shit," he said through gritted teeth. Three miles up, in the bright summer sky above Tokyo, there was little he could do but ram the warlord before he slipped away yet again. He pulled his robot into a steep climb and pushed its speed to the max, keeping Yamaguchto centered in his sights.

An instant before the impact he yanked hard on the ejector-switch. With a sudden, ear-popping whoosh, the robot shot him clear as the two immense fighting machines collided. Scrornuck's robot broadsided Yamaguchto's, breaking it in half at mid-chest. With a deafening roar, the two machines disappeared in a ball of fire.

Scrornuck's robot had been in a full-speed climb when he ejected, and for a few more seconds he sailed upward, viewing the explosion from above. His satisfied smile turned to a frown as he saw something dropping away from the fireball. A few seconds later a white parachute opened. Yamaguchto, it seemed, had ejected a split second before the collision as well, and was floating safely down toward the ground. Scrornuck's job still wasn't done.

Howling an ancient Celtic battle-cry, he swooped through the sky, sticking out his arms and legs to control his free-fall, aiming at the white mushroom of Yamaguchto's parachute. He hit the canopy dead-center, deflating it, tangling himself in the silk, fighting to find his enemy in the snarl of cords. He got his hands on something for just an instant, then it squirmed away. Pulling out his sword, he hacked his way through the tangle, only to see Yamaguchto again dropping away beneath him. A few seconds later, a second white canopy blossomed.

"Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit," Scrornuck muttered. Again stretching out his arms and legs, shifting a bit here and a bit there, he guided his fall more carefully, aiming not for the parachute but for his enemy dangling beneath it. For just an instant as he swooped past, Scrornuck's sword flicked out, its sparkling blade stretching hungrily. He heard just the hint of a scream, and then he was past the warlord, falling toward the city below.

Scrornuck rolled over, falling back-first to get a look at his handiwork. Ol' Red had sliced Yamaguchto in half, just above the navel. Entrails dangled and blood dribbled from the half-man who still hung from the parachute, and Scrornuck stared up with grim satisfaction. Yamaguchto had been clever and resourceful, always seeming to have another henchman, another fighting machine, another parachute. Not this time.

With Yamaguchto disposed of, Scrornuck turned his attention to his own situation. He was, by now, only a thousand or so feet up, falling quickly, and unlike his enemy, he had no parachute and no ideas. Things did not look good.

Whump! Something hit him in the back, hard. Not the ground, for he was still alive, and still falling. He tried to turn his head, just in time to get hit by a second blow to the back, harder than the first.

By the fourth blow slammed into his back, he'd figured out what was happeining. Jape, on the ground below, was firing concussion grenades, carefully timed to explode just below him, breaking his fall, slowing him down. He smiled, admiring the audacity of the plan. But as the upper stories of the buildings flashed by, he saw that he was still falling way, way too fast. It would take something like a four-nostril Dragon Sneeze to stop him before he hit the ground...

As the thought crossed his mind, a blinding light surrounded him, fire seemed to tear at him from all sides, and...

"That's when I passed out," Scrornuck finished. "It was a pretty hard landing--I broke four ribs and an arm, and I was laid up for almost two weeks."

"You got a vacation," Jape said, "two weeks of soaking in the hot tub, stuffing your face and drinking beer. What are you complaining about?"

Scrornuck grinned as he recalled the days spent on an island resort, relaxing, soaking, eating and drinking. "Who said I'm complaining?"

Deleted Scene: The Artificial Canyon

This is a much longer version of a scene that still exists in the book. The three have stopped for lunch at a sandstone canyon that's closely patterned after a real place in Starved Rock State Park, near Utica, IL (see my page of Starved Rock pictures). In fact, it might actually be that place, just several hundred miles from home (note, however, that in our universe, swimming and cliff-jumping are prohibited in the park).

I was trying to establish a sense of just how ambitious the people who built the "Grand Taupeaquaah" project were--they thought nothing of building mountains, tinkering with the weather, and moving a canyon from Illinois to Kansas just to provide a swimming-hole along a trail. So why did the scene get clipped? As the story developed, it seemed there were more than enough wonders for Scrornuck and his friends to visit, so the point was already made. Still, I liked the setting, and this particular lunch seemed like a good place for a little expository dialogue about traveling between time streams, so it didn't go away entirely. I still chuckle at the vision of Scrornuck digging like a dog into the gravel on the bottom of the "spring," and hope you do too.

The Clever Kilt Trick that opens this scene is known to all bagpipers, and is used regularly by those who travel to their gigs (especially parades, where there's never any privacy) by motorcycle. Don't try this trick with pants!

They found a lovely spot for lunch, at the head of a narrow canyon about halfway up the northern slopes of the mountain. The sandstone walls were festooned with bright-green ferns, and the brook had carved a cascade, three round punchbowls, each about ten feet across, separated by small waterfalls that made a cheerful burbling. They'd stopped at a wide spot alongside the upper punchbowl, a shelf of smooth, clean stone just big enough to set their gear down and spread out a picnic of sausage, bread, cheese and of course a couple beers.

"Mother nature's own whirlpool bath," Scrornuck said, sticking a finger into the cool, gently swirling water. "Not quite as nice as the hot tub at the inn, but not bad, not bad at all." He pulled his boots off and dipped a toe in the water. "Yeah, real nice," he said, digging in the pack for his swimsuit. "I think it's time for a soak." He loosened his belt a little, and his kilt slid down until it was resting precariously on his hips.

"You're going to change right here?" Nalia asked, making a show of holding her hand over her eyes--but carefully spreading her fingers so she could watch.

"Yep," he replied, "right here." With a quick motion he slid his swimsuit up under his kilt, pulled its drawstring, and let the kilt unwrap. "Ta-daa! Try doing that with a pair of pants!"

"Wish I could change that quickly," she remarked as he dropped into the water with a satisfied sigh.

"Every now and then I think there may actually be advantages to wearing those things," Jape agreed, pulling his own swimsuit from the pack and stepping behind a boulder to make a discreet change. When he returned a minute or two later, Nalia ducked behind the boulder to make a similar change. In short order the three were soaking contentedly, enjoying a tasty picnic lunch and sipping ice-cold beers.

"Eek!" Nalia jumped as a little blue fish nipped at her toe. "What's that?"

Scrornuck winked at Jape. "Khansous piranha, maybe?"

Jape stared into the water and deadpanned, "They're the worst kind--I've heard a school of them can strip a man to his bones in minutes."

As Nalia shrieked and tried to scramble out of the pool, Scrornuck burst out laughing. "Relax," he gasped, "that's just a harmless little bluegill."

"There's no such thing as piranha?"

"Not within five thousand miles of here," Jape said. He and Scrornuck were still grinning and chuckling when she shoved their heads under the water.

A little later, between bites and sips of the delicious lunch, Jape carefully inspected the sandstone edge of the punchbowl. "This is interesting," he said. "This kind of rock isn't native to Khansous."

"Yeah, right," Nalia replied. "Like people pick up mountains and move them."

Scrornuck leaned back, watching the trees above swaying gently against the perfect blue sky, idly letting his gaze work its way up and down the cliffs above. Suddenly, seeing something almost too good to be true, he jumped from the pool and clambered up the sandstone, pulling himself up on handholds and footholds too small for Jape or Nalia to see. "What the heck are you doing?" Nalia shouted.

"I don't think I want to know," Jape stage-whispered, making a show of covering his eyes.

"Woo-hoo!" Scrornuck jumped from the high cliff and landed in the exact center of the lower punchbowl, making an enormous splash and a deep boom that echoed up and down the narrow canyon. "Perfect landing!" he shouted exuberantly, standing up in water that was now little more than waist-deep.

Jape's face appeared above the edge of the small waterfall with a disapproving look. "You know," he said dryly, "if you injure yourself doing this, I'm going to make sure I use the first aid stuff that really hurts."

"You mean there's a kind that doesn't hurt?" Scrornuck shouted back, laughing. "Besides, have I ever hurt myself doing this?"

"You don't really want me to answer that."

"No, maybe not." He climbed up the waterfall to join Jape and Nalia, again grabbing hand- and footholds that neither of them could see. "Come on," he said, reaching for Nalia's hand.

There was a path, of sorts--a narrow ledge in the rock, sometimes only a few inches wide, but passable, and in a few moments Scrornuck and Nalia had reached the top. They both looked down at the canyon below. The deep part of the punchbowl couldn't have been more than about eight feet across, so it would take careful aim to hit it. "Now don't be scared--" he began.

"Scared?" she cut him off. "This is nothing--heck, when I was a kid we used to jump off the high cliff south of town into the Rio Taupeaquaah. There was one little spot that was twelve feet deep, all around it was real shallow. You had to aim just right to hit it. This doesn't look any harder than that."

"Okay," he said, wrapping an arm around her waist, "one, two--hey, what's that?" They both practically tumbled from the cliff as something caught his eye. "Look here," he said, scratching at the stone beneath his feet. In a few seconds he had uncovered a fine, straight line in the stone.

"So it's cracked," she said, looking closely at the line. "What's the big deal?"

"Look how straight it is," he insisted, "this is no crack, it's a cut." He got down on his knees and started digging away at the earth that covered the stone a few feet from the cliff edge. As he dug, he exposed what looked like a series of numbers carved into the rock--and a foot or so further back, the stone simply ended, at what looked like a clean cut. Behind it was only gravel and debris.

"I don't get it," she said. "What's with the numbers?"

"Jape's right," Scrornuck replied, a little astonished at what he was about to say. "This canyon isn't from here. Somebody found it somewhere else, cut it up, and rebuilt it here. Wow..."

"You've got to be kidding," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Nobody can move a whole canyon."

"Nope, I'm not," he insisted. He grabbed a pebble and scraped away at the fine line that separated the two numbered stone sections, eventually bringing up some sticky glop. "See this," he said, "Glue. Jape should know about this." He cupped his hands before his mouth and shouted, "Hey, boss! C'mon up and have a look at this!" Jape, floating in the pool, smiled and waved back, but stayed where he was. "Crap," Scrornuck said, "he can't hear us. We'll have to go down there and ask him."

"Well," she said, stepping back to the edge of the cliff, "looks like there's only one way down." She wrapped her arms around his waist. "Come on, let's go--and no distractions this time!"

"Sounds good to me." They jumped, hitting the deep spot perfectly, with a whump that echoed up the valley.

"Well," Jape said sternly as Scrornuck and Nalia pulled themselves up over the ledge into the upper pool, "it looks like I have two crazy people to deal with." He reached into the pack and pulled out a towel. "What were you shouting about, anyway?"

"You were right," Scrornuck said, "they moved this canyon from somewhere else. We found seams and numbers on the stone up there."

"Ah, the canyon's been transplanted," Jape observed, just a touch of wonder in his voice. "I said this stone wasn't native to Khansous. I guess the UniFlag folks wanted a natural-looking canyon here, a place for people to cool off after a long walk, so they just grabbed one from somewhere else and moved it. Remember, this is a pleasure world."

"If it's not from Khansous," she wondered, "where's it from?"

"Judging by the stone, I'd say it came from the Illinois River valley, about six hundred miles northeast of here." He scraped his finger across the stone, leaving a slight scratch. "Saint Peter sandstone--soft stuff, wears into nice canyons like this one."

"Wow," she breathed, "they just picked it up and moved it?"

"I said they thought big." He paused for a moment, thinking and looking about. "Now that I think of it, I wonder where all this water comes from. It doesn't rain that much here--"

"When we were up on the cliff I noticed a pool just a little further upstream," Scrornuck said, "like a spring."

"Let's go have a look," Jape said, starting up the canyon, "I'm curious."

A few minutes and a couple climbs up waterfalls later, they stood around a pool, perhaps ten feet across and a foot deep, filled with crystal-clear water. Sand and small stones danced on the bottom, lifted by the upwelling from the spring. "Want to dig a little?" Jape asked.

"Sure, why not?" Scrornuck said. He knelt in the pool and started furiously digging in the bottom, shoving sand and pebbles out of the way. Slowly, he exposed a circle of white plastic mesh, the screen covering the end of the pipe that carried water into the "spring."

"Would you look at that," Jape remarked.

"Can I stop now?" Scrornuck asked, panting. Jape nodded, and he collapsed face-first into the cool water. "Ahhh!"

"What is it?" Nalia wondered, watching the plastic screen disappear again beneath sand and pebbles.

"It's an artificial spring," Jape said, "they must have a well and a pump down there somewhere."

"And it's been running for a hundred years?"

He nodded. "They built things to last."

Fifteen Minutes of Fame as the "Kilted Harley Rider"

This is the story of my Fifteen Minutes of Fame (well, one of many brushes with fame, a few seconds at a time). A few weeks of national publicity, newspaper coverage, radio interviews... and all because of a kilt and a Harley. What's slightly disappointing is that I hadn't yet sold my book at the time, so all that fame went to waste...

So--the story: Joel Reese's article about men in kilts, "Whatever You Do, Don't Call it a Skirt," appeared in the "Suburban Living" section of the Daily Herald, a Chicago/Suburban newspaper, on May 7, 2002. Of course, you're not going to be able to read the article from that tiny picture in this entry (if you click on it, it'll get bigger, but still too small to read), so I've reproduced the text of the article at the end of this posting. I'd prefer to just link to it, but the Daily Herald wasn't putting its stuff online at the time.

But first, the story--the Utilikilts people called up and asked if I'd talk to a reporter. Sure, why not? The result was this full-page article. Cool.

A few weeks after the article appeared, I got a rather excited phone call from my brother-in-law, who told me that he'd heard Paul Harvey's show on the radio, and Mr. Harvey had wrapped up his broadcast with a comment about a guy named Dan Starr, from Saint Charles, Illinois, who rode his Harley while wearing a kilt. Paul described me as a six-foot, two-hundred-pound, long-haired, bearded biker, and finished by asking, "are you going to tell him he can't? I'm not... Good day!"

For the next few weeks, I fielded occasional phone calls from radio stations who wanted to talk to the kilt-wearing Harley guy, and eventually I did on-the-air interviews with stations in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon and Ontario. It was fun; I kibitzed about how the weather's got to be just right for a kilted ride, not too cool, and definitely not too many bugs out. Ever have a bee fly up your... sleeve?

It was also complete BS; at the time I hadn't ever actually ridden a motorcycle while wearing a kilt. So where did Paul Harvey get the idea that I did? From the Daily Herald article, which a bored editor had trimmed down to a short news release and tossed out on the ABC wires one slow Sunday night. The article said I wear kilts and ride a Harley (both of which were true, as was the description), and it seems Mr. Harvey took this to mean I did them at the same time. At first, I tried to explain that I didn't actually ride in a kilt, but eventually I realized it was a lot more fun to give them what they wanted to hear.

A few years later, on my way from a parade to a post-parade party (did I mention that I had learned to play the bagpipes and joined a pipe band by then?), I made Paul Harvey retroactively honest by riding about forty minutes and twenty miles while wearing my band kilt. This wasn't my plan--the party was only supposed to be a mile from the parade, but I had gotten my directions from a member of the Shriner motorcycle corps. Word to the wise: don't get directions from a guy who spends most of his time riding in circles and figure-eights!

I don't ride in kilts very often, and it's probably not a great idea from the standpoint of safety and potential embarrassment (em-bare-ass-ment?), but it is one of those things that's fun to do a few times a year. If I get everything adjusted just right (which I don't always manage, because I'm still not sure exactly what "just right" means), a kilt rides about the same as a pair of shorts. If not, it can have a mind of its own, uncooperative and a bit of an exhibitionist.

And now you know... "the rest of the story!"

Almost. There's a sequel... in the summer of '08, when I was looking for ways to promote my book, a friend fixed me up with another Daily Herald writer, and I got a small but still useful writeup in the paper. That one's online, and you can read it by clicking here.

And without further ado... the article that started it all...

The Article: Whatever you do...Don't Call It A Skirt

By Joel Reese,Daily Herald Staff Writer

Are men who wear kilts breaking down gender walls, or are they just trying to get comfortable?

Dan Starr motors around St. Charles on a massive Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

He wears a leather jacket and sports a full beard and shoulder-length hair.

To make the package complete, he boasts several tattoos, including three dragons, one snake and the Harley logo.

"Basically, my whole back is covered in ink," Starr says matter-of-factly.

Starr looks 100 percent biker dude - until you spot his pants, or lack thereof.

For the past two years, Starr has been shunning pants in favor of a kilt (which looks remarkably like a skirt - but don't even think of calling it that).

Starr is one of an increasing number of men who are sporting kilts, and he says he wears his for a simple reason: Because it feels good.

"The main thing is, it's so comfortable," insists the 48-year-old Starr, a married man with one daughter. "I'm not on any big crusade here."

Sorry, but that's simply not good enough. There must be more to it.

Some might say, for instance, that a kilt-wearing man - who's not Scottish and who swears he's not fulfilling some repressed desire to dress like a woman - is sticking an emphatic fist in the air for male independence.

"Wearing a kilt is an expression of your freedom," says fellow kilt devotee William Parry of Philadelphia. "If you don't assert your freedom, you don't have any freedom."

Or it might be that a kilt-wearer is making a highly charged political statement about the vast chasm between men and women.

"He might claim that he's not consciously engaging in a political act of gender disruption, but that's exactly what it is," says Kasia Marciniak, assistant professor of English and feminist studies at Ohio University. "Because it disrupts the normative mode of masculinity. It's a very provocative gesture."

Starr simply shakes his head ruefully at these thoughts.

"Can't it just be that the kilt is comfortable?" he asks.

In a word, no.

The few, the proud

Starr has been a kilt disciple for more than a year, purchasing several from the Seattle company, Utilikilt (www.utilikilts.com). Starr now owns four kilts and wears them as often as he can.

"I don't ride a motorcycle while wearing a kilt, for obvious reasons," he says - meaning he might inadvertently answer the oft-asked question about what lurks beneath the kilt (clothing-wise).

So except for when he rides, and on extremely cold days, Starr eschews the pants and goes for the kilt.

"When you think about it, pants are more appropriate for the female body than the male's," he says.

Kilt fanatic Parry echoes the anatomy argument in his online screed, "Bravehearts Against Trouser Tyranny."

A married lawyer with two daughters, the 60-year-old Parry writes that pants "confine, crowd, bind, chafe" and may cause rashes and decrease sperm counts.

The only reason kilts aren't more popular, Parry fumes in a telephone interview, is because "men have such a fragile facade of masculinity. They've gotten this idea that women wear skirts, and so if a man wears anything like a woman he'll be seen as weak. They don't have the courage to be a non-conformist."

But men who wear kilts aren't weak - "they're sexy," says Megan Haas, creative director of the Utilikilt company in Seattle. "What's sexier than a man who has the courage and attitude to truly not care what people think of him?"

Indeed, one local teen discovered that women flocked to him when he showed up in his kilt at a high school dance.

"A lot of the girls liked the kilt more than I thought they would," says Glenn Ricci, 17, of Palatine. "I got a real positive reaction from them."

Ricci says he gets the occasional ribbing from "jocks" and other fellow students when he wears his kilt, which is nearly every day.

"At first, I used to take offense to that," he says. "But their girlfriends actually came up to me and said, 'Don't worry about that. He's just jealous. He told me he liked it, and he didn't have the courage to wear something like that.'"

Ricci's experiences are fairly common, Haas says.

"I've had a lot of customers tell me they got lucky the first time they wore their kilts," Haas says.

And word of the kilt's aphrodisiac-ability is spreading, apparently.

Begun as a tiny lark at a Sunday Seattle street market two years ago, Utilikilt now inhabits a 3,300-square-foot warehouse/factory/store and sells five different models of kilts to customers all over the world.

The company has sold more than 5,000 kilts and sees nothing but upward growth ahead.

"Every month, we just sell more and more and more," says Danielle Villegas, Utilikilt's chief of operations, who adds that business has doubled in each of its first two years.

Kilt buyers include golfers in Milwaukee, firefighters in Vancouver, workers at a tractor factory in Wyoming and bar bouncers all across the country.

Interestingly, the most popular state for Utilikilt? Texas.

Why?

"Because in Texas, men are men and they realize kilts are the warrior's garment," Haas says. "They see the kilt and they say, 'That's my thing!' They're all over it."

The 'Braveheart' legacy

The kilts-are-masculine argument got a big boost in 1995, when Mel Gibson's bloody film "Braveheart" about the Scottish battle for freedom hit cineplexes.

"Before, rednecks might have whistled and yelled at me when they saw me," Parry says. "Now, they stick up their thumbs and yell, 'Braveheart!'"

Starr says he hasn't experienced the "Braveheart" legacy, since he's only worn a kilt for a little over a year.

But unlike Parry, Starr doesn't tout the kilt's role in the battle for male autonomy. The kilt is, he emphasizes, solely about comfort - there's no political motivation here.

"I guess I'm too old and too set in my ways to make a political statement," Starr says. "I don't know how me wearing a kilt would affect the school board elections, anyway."

Another kilt devotee says he wears his strictly for practical reasons: "The pockets float away from your body, so the contents don't get crushed," says Drew Dirschell, 30, of San Francisco. "You try carrying keys, wallet, pocket knife, lighter, cigars, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) and a cell phone comfortably in your jeans pocket."

As for blurring the thick line between the sexes, Starr insists the thought never crossed his mind.

"Breaking down gender walls? Give me a break," he says. "Does Sean Connery break down gender walls when he wears a kilt? I don't think so."

Others say wearing the kilt is, by definition, a political act.

"The skirt is culturally encoded as a feminine object," Ohio University's Marciniak says. "To wear this skirt, or kilt, points to the fragility of the boundaries between the realm of masculine and the realm of feminine. This obviously has political overtones - there's no question about it."

Haas, whose company's motto is "We Sell Freedom," agrees. "The kilt is a symbol. It's about comfort, but it's about something else, too. It's about courage, and having the attitude and the confidence to wear it. It's flirting with being socially rebellious."

The kilt is also still somewhat controversial: Last year, a Pennsylvania high school student was suspended for wearing a kilt to his junior prom.

Proud of his Scottish heritage, Matt McCarl, 18, of Stoneboro, Pa., ordered a Utilikilt just for the prom. At the dance, a Lakeview High School chaperone told him he couldn't participate in the Grand March because he wasn't wearing pants.

McCarl took this as an affront: "If I would've backed down, I would've let down all of my ancestors," he says.

So he marched anyway, and promptly received a one-day in-school suspension that would remain on his disciplinary record.

McCarl served his suspension, but the school was soon deluged with letters in his defense. The school eventually agreed to remove the suspension from his record.

"I guess I won, in a way," says McCarl, who wore a kilt to this year's prom.

McCarl says he wears the kilt to school at least once a week, and vouches for its romantic powers: "Oh, it'll get you the ladies," he says assuredly.

The disdain of Trekkies

While Starr insists the kilt is apolitical garb, he's kept a journal to note the more interesting reactions his attire has received.

His entry on Aug 5, 2001, for example, details an amusing interaction with some "Star Trek" aficionados at a sci-fi/comic convention.

At first, the Trekkies heaped praise upon Starr's kilt.

"They were like, 'That is so cool! Where can I get one?'" Starr recalls of his audience, many of whom were dressed like Klingons.

"Then I said, 'It's not a costume. It's what I wear normally.' And I got these really strange looks - and these were Trekkies, no less!"

Starr's diary also details an inadvertent crash-course in male/female relations.

On April 11, 2001, Starr wore the kilt out to lunch with some co-workers. There, a table of nearby women began asking him the age-old question about what he wears beneath his garb.

It was then he realized he was participating in a vicious double-standard.

"It's perfectly OK for a gaggle of women in a bar to speculate about what a guy might or might not be wearing underneath a kilt," he writes. "I suppose that if three guys speculated on what a woman was wearing beneath her dress, the results would be different."

But hold on a second. We know it might be a little salacious, but we can't help but wonder, too. We have to address this "what's under the kilt" issue.

Not to be too crude or anything, but - well, to paraphrase that old Brooke Shields' Calvin Klein ad: Does anything come between you and your kilt?

"Oh, nothing's worn," he says, before launching into a little kilt humor. "It's all in working order."

The Sidebar: How to Pull Off the Kilt Look

As with many clothes, there are a few rules one must observe before donning the kilt.

You've got to be a leg-man: "I won second place at a sexiest legs contest at a bar in Crystal Lake," boasts kilt-wearer Dan Starr of St. Charles.

Others say nice legs aren't that important.

"I don't generally think you need to have good legs," says kilt-wearer William Parry of Philadelphia. "That's an excuse, a cop-out. Men wear shorts regardless of their legs, and nobody cares. If you don't like the looks of your legs, wear some knee socks."

Loafers are a definite 'don't': The right footwear is essential to pulling off the look. If you're going for the full-blown Scottish look, you should go with knee socks and black patent leather shoes.

"The purists insist on polished black shoes with the kilt," J. Charles Thomspon writes in "So You're Going to Wear the Kilt!"

But, Thompson notes, "there is nothing dreadfully wrong with brown shoes or even suede."

If you're not trying to look like Sean Connery, the kilt looks best with heavy boots.

"We definitely promote these heavy, industrial boots - and clogs," Haas says.

Pack a pouch, young man: The true Scotsman look also dictates the appearance of the sporran, a pouch that a man wears on a long strap. Sporrans range from plain leather to hide-bound to those featuring the head of a small animal.

Feel free to bypass this, though - especially the small animal's head.

It's all about attitude: Perhaps most importantly, the kilt requires a certain demeanor. Not arrogance, necessarily - but definitely a self-assured disposition.

"Putting on a kilt requires a combination of legs and attitude," he says. "Some people are going to put this on and just look stupid."

As Haas notes, Utilikilt customers have a common courage.

"They don't have an ounce of trepidation when they buy their kilts," she says. "They could be bikers, they could be businessmen, they could be policemen. They say, 'This is cool, and I want it. I don't care what anybody thinks.' That's what you need to say."

Adds Parry: "It's helpful to be very self-confident. You shouldn't hide or skulk around. There's no reason to feel ashamed."

Under there, under where? Lastly, what to wear underneath the kilt.

Ahhh yes, the eternal debate.

Basically, the answer is, it's up to you.

"That's a personal choice," Haas says. "So people can wear whatever they want."

She adds, however, "We're selling air-conditioning, and the more air-conditioning the better."

(Quoted from the Daily Herald, May 7, 2002)

10/07 New Article on ProjectsAtWork Website

Let's Be Careful Out There is a sequel to Choosing Your Armor. The idea came to me while I was on a motorcycle trip to the infamous Deal's Gap "Dragon," a stretch of road on the NC/TN border that claims over 300 curves in 11 miles. While Choosing Your Armor looked at protective processes, tools, etc., in the context of a soldier's armor, this new piece addresses the big difference between the battlefield and the project: in the project world, most of the time you're not getting shot at; your "armor" is there to protect you from disasters that probably won't occur. This means that project work lacks the sense of urgency that goes with combat, and as a result we encounter the problem of persuading people to "armor-up" anyway. This is the problem we also face in persuading motorcycle riders to put on their protective gear (helmets, leathers, etc.), when it's fairly unlikely they'll actually crash and need the stuff.

A link to this article appears on the Project Management Articles page.

UNCOMPENSATED ENDORSEMENT: The "coverall riding suit" described in the "Protection Is Just a Bonus" section (and shown in the photo of me riding conservatively at Deals Gap) is an Aerostich Roadcrafter. I've had one for ten years, and while I've never crash-tested it, I've just about worn it out in about 80,000 miles of travel. You can find out more about this suit (and lots of other cool bike stuff) at the Aerostich web site.

Photo credit: the photo of me appearing to go fast was taken by the fine folks at killboy.com

WHAT ARE THESE GUYS DRINKING?

There are seven beers mentioned by name in The Last Protector (my editors found this amusing). And while these beers are fictional, they were no doubt inspired by beers I've actually discovered in the real world. So what might these real-world beers be?

It's not always easy to say. The beers in the book often combine attributes of multiple real-world brews. And as I visit more pubs and breweries, sometimes I find a beer that's a better fit than the one I thought was the beer mentioned in the book. So this is, at best, a temporary list. So be it. Here, in the order they appear in the book, are the beers of Taupeaquaah...

Heavy Duty Night Time Porter (page 1 in the print edition): A strong, dark porter with a bit of an attitude. Wait, make that a whole lot of attitude; we encounter this stuff in Syb's Tavern, which is described as a major-league dive of a bar. A place where "the lights were dim, not to create a romantic mood, but because the gas lamps had never been cleaned," and where "the ceiling creaked ominously every time somebody in the upstairs brothel shifted position" is also a place where the beer had better assault your tastebuds with extreme prejudice. So we're not looking for a subtle, sophisticated porter here, especially late on Saturday night; we're looking for a black beer with all the subtlety of a bar brawl.

My first and still favorite "real world equivalent" for this beer is the Pillaging Troll Porter from the Grumpy Troll pub in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin (a town that's also known for its Mustard Museum). Stan and I stumbled upon the Grumpy Troll four or five years ago, at the end of a rollicking ride along the twisty county roads of Wisconsin's Driftless Area. For sporting motorcycle rides, Mt. Horeb pretty much marks the end of the interesting stuff, and so it's a good place to stop and unwind over a big ol' burger and a pint. It's also a good turn-around point for a more relaxed all-day ride on the Harley, as it's about 140 miles from home. And my Grumpy Troll growler, wrapped in a layer of half-inch closed-cell insulation, fits just perfectly in the left saddlebag...

Not only does Pillaging Troll Porter have a great name (especially considering the circumstances surrounding Heavy Duty Night Time Porter in the book); it's got the intensity of flavor to back up the name. It thoroughly intimidates a Wisconsin bratwurst slathered in the mustards that are Mt. Horeb's other claim to fame. Good stuff. But... there's a problem with nominating Pillaging Troll Porter: it's not currently on the menu at the Grumpy Troll!

So alternatives must be considered. I'd love to nominate Kettle House Brewing Company's Olde Bongwater Hemp Porter just on the strength of its name. I ran into this stuff in '06, in Missoula, Montana, when I visited the Rhinoceros Bar (a place with fifty beers on tap) and asked for the darkest thing they had. It wasn't bad, and I wouldn't mind having a glass right now... but in all fairness, compared to Pillaging Troll, Olde Bongwater tasted a bit on the wimpy side. Almost like a light porter, if such a thing exists. And I'm quite certain Scrornuck wouldn't be impressed by a light version of porter. So, despite the wonderful name, Olde Bongwater must pass from consideration...

Well, perhaps one of the beers I sampled at the Porter House in Bray, Ireland will fill the bill. Strange thing, though: while the place is called the Porter House, the beer menu includes lagers, and ales, and stouts, but nothing called "porter." Well, I guess a stout can be considered a porter... and the stouts (they have three) were all pretty good, at least when I last stopped by on a business trip back in 2001 (that's me in the middle, holding a pint). The "Oyster Stout" ("not for vegetarians") was just plain a strange idea...

Okay. When I last updated this page, I said, "Further investigation may be in order this summer..." Well, I did investigate further, the day we had the big rainstorm and flood. I needed something to whet my whistle while filling sandbags, and so I made a treacherous beer run, dodging closed streets and overflowing storm sewers, and came back with a six-pack of Bell's Porter, from Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Good stuff, especially for a bottled beer. Maybe a trifle too smooth for Syb's Tavern, but definitely in the running. Clearly, I have to make a run up to someplace where it's available on tap and do further research.

Middleweight Pale Ale (page 3) and Saturday Night Lightweight Ale (page 5): Okay, in the context of the book, these are "girl's beer." But keep in mind that Nalia, the girl in question, has just kicked some serious ass in a bar fight, so we're still talking beers that are pretty tough. Only "girly" in the way that an all-black Harley with a little rose on the gas tank is "girly." You sure you want to mess with this lady?

I found a good match for the Middleweight Pale Ale that Nalia downs after kicking butts and losing her job at Syb's Tavern at the Potosi Brewery in Potosi, Wisconsin. Now, the Potosi Brewery is one of those back-from-the-dead stories: after making various beers for over a hundred years, at one point being Wisconsin's fifth-largest brewery, it then declined and shut down in 1972. For years it just stood empty, a minor landmark on my motorcycle trips up twisty Wisconsin Route 133 to the ferryboat at Cassville. Then, after some $7 million in renovation, the place re-opened as both a micro-brewery and National Brewery Museum. I haven't toured the museum yet (it's two full floors, and they remind you to please not drink the memorabilia), but I have visited the micro-brewery and partaken of its beers.

And kibitzed with the brewmaster--in the photo, it's me (on the left), Steve (the brewmaster) in the middle, and Stan on the right. At the time we were enjoying Snake Hollow IPA and Cave Ale, and making plans to come back the next day, when the Holiday Bock would be tapped (we did, and it was worth the visit).

Potosi's Snake Hollow India Pale Ale is a tasty, hoppy India pale-style brew, and I think it might have a touch more alcohol than regular beer (though still less than an Imperial IPA, like the "Maggie IPA" from Grumpy Troll). It's got a slightly red color and a lot of flavor, but it's still the kind of thing you could drink all night (as long as somebody's going to toss you in a wheelbarrow and take you home). At least I could. And while its name may not be quite as perfect a match for a girl who's tossed half a dozen big guys out in the street as Emmett's Victory Pale Ale, it ain't bad. Generally, places with names like "Snake Hollow" aren't for wimps.

As for Saturday Night Lightweight Ale, I found its this-world equivalent at Emmett's Ale House in Dundee, IL. Emmett's is only about a half-hour from my home, so I often ride up there to refill the ol' growler. A practical lesson: a tightly capped growler can travel about 40 miles on its side in a motorcycle trunk; after that point it begins to leak, no matter how tight the cap is. So for longer beer runs (like to Grumpy Troll) I make a point of taking the Harley, because the growler can be stood upright in its saddlebags.

1 A.M. Ale is a traditional English brown ale, a bit like Newcastle, and seems close to what I had in mind when I put a bottle of Saturday Night Lightweight Ale in Nalia's hand. Of course, in this context (remember what we said about Nalia), "lightweight" is a relative term. As its name implies, 1 A.M. Ale is well suited for being consumed well after midnight--it's a bit more subtle, a bit easier-going than an IPA. Brown is, after all, a cooler color than red. A good choice for the second drink after beating the crap out of some bad guys...

Strong Morning Ale (page 10): That's right, it's not just for breakfast anymore! Okay, that sounds like something a drunken frat-boy might say, but in truth beer was a popular breakfast beverage up through the sixteenth century (according to Life magazine). And none other than C.S. Lewis mentions beer as a breakfast beverage, in the Narnia book The Silver Chair. He observes that since centaurs have both a human stomach and a horse stomach, they must have both a human breakfast and a horse breakfast... and the human breakfast (which he says is just like you or I might have) includes... beer! Now, it's probably not a good idea to start the day by knocking back a couple if you've got to drive to a job that involves operating heavy machinery, but since Jape, Scrornuck and Nalia are heading out on foot, why not?

So. On page 10, our hero orders a Strong Morning Ale, along with a little glass of red wine for his Sunday-morning ritual. The Ale is there to wash down a pretty substantial meal, and perhaps supply a little courage--while the meeting with Nalia is pure business in Jape's eyes, Scrornuck's twenty-three and single, she's a bit younger and also single... So the Strong Morning Ale ought to have a good flavor, one that goes well with a pile of food, and an extra shot of courage.

All of which are provided by Caber Tossing Scottish Ale from Fratello's/Fox River Brewery in Appleton, Wisconsin. The brewery itself is stuck into a shopping mall, which is both good and bad--malls are not my favorite places, but on the other hand, a brewery in the mall is sort of a "Dad Zone"--a place to hang out while wife and daughter go shopping... They also have a location down on the Fox River (not the same Fox River that runs in front of my yard), close to the Lawrence University campus. The on-the-river location doesn't sell beer-to-go like the mall location does (darn!), but they do have a much more spectacular view through the windows behind the bar--especially when the river's way, way high and the floodgates of the old Vulcan Mill dam are wide open:



Caber Tossing is a good, sturdy Scottish ale with plenty of body. Fratello's website doesn't list alcohol content for this stuff, but based on my experience it's pretty strong-- even if you're just walking, you don't want to start the day with more than one of them!

Heavy Red Lager (page 12): Not to be confused with the "red beer" found in some bars in Kansas, which is a mixture of macro-brewed light beer and tomato juice. Must be an acquired taste, and I cheerfully confess I was never able to acquire it.

We meet this beer after breakfast, after Nalia's ridiculed Jape's business proposal and stomped away. Scrornuck's trying to convince her to come back, and is about to remind her of a very important rule of business: it doesn't matter whether you'd buy the product; all that matters is whether the customer wants to buy it. So he's sat her down and offered to buy her a drink, just because he wants to. No strings attached. She orders a Pale Sunrise White wine, while he goes for a pint of the Heavy Red Lager, which I see as a solid, flavorful brew with a fair taste of hops and a deep red color, something that holds its own when consumed after a big meal.

There seem to be unlimited candidates for this beer. We can quickly dismiss most of the mass market ones like Killian's--in my book it's not enough for a "red lager" to be red in color; it's got to taste red... whatever that means. I know it when I taste it.

Emmett's makes a darn good red in their McCarthy Red--good color, good taste, and when they have it "cask conditioned" (served up through a hand pump from a wooden barrel in the basement, in the style of an English pub) the carbonation seems to get finer. Really nice stuff. But maybe a bit too subtle to be chosen by Scrornuck, who is, after all, about as subtle as a punch in the nose. So I think, at least in the context of this chapter, McCarthy Red is edged out by the Irish Red from the Carlyle Brewery in Rockford, IL. Irish Red is a bit cloudy, has a good red color, and plenty of flavor.

Batatat's Extra Black Taupeaquaahn Stout: This is sort of the flagship beer of Grand Taupeaquaah Themeworld development: a really good, creamy, "Black As Tar And Twice As Thick" brew. The kind of stuff that seems to fall into molecular-level resonance with Irish DNA; a beer that tastes and feels like it embodies the Four Major Food Groups in every swallow. And while we first meet it on tap (page 21), we quickly find that it's also the only beer worthy of being served in the World's Most Perfect Beer Container (page 34). As a result, we have two separate real-world equivalents.

The draft version of Batatat's is most like Shakespeare Stout from the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon. No question about it. Newport is one of those too-pretty-for-words Oregon coast towns, home also of the Sylvia Beach Hotel, which is named not for a nearby place where land meets water (though it is in fact on the water), but for a writer. The rooms are all decorated in themes based on writers, and I did a certain amount of work on The Last Protector in the "Oscar Wilde" room. It was a great room, with a door that led onto the roof and a well-stocked library, but, alas, no spigot dispensing stout. Sigh. Rogue makes a variety of beers and ales, including the famous Dead Guy Ale. Their brewery is on the water, underneath Conde McCullough's gorgeous multiple-arch bridge. Makes for a nice picture--the bridge, the inlet off the ocean, and of course all those kegs waiting to be filled...

Anyway, Shakespeare Stout seems the perfect beer for a writer. On my last trip to Newport, a 5500-mile round trip on the Harley, I brought back two bottles of Shakespeare. One was consumed with David Schmaltz in Walla Walla; the other was carefully padded and kept till I'd finished the revisions to The Last Protector and sent them off to the publisher; then I ceremonially opened the bottle and toasted to the completion of the book. Little did I know that I still had two rounds of copy-edits and one more full revision ahead before the book actually went to press!

But, of course, Shakespeare Stout on tap is dispensed with nitrogen, which gives it that creamy head and those tiny, tiny bubbles that just feel different when you drink them. But Shakespeare Stout in bottles is carbonated, which isn't bad... just different. And the World's Most Perfect Beer Container is rather obviously two or three more steps of evolution from the "widget" cans used by Guinness (the technology of these things is fascinating; if you've never checked into how they work, click here to read about it on Wikipedia). So, as conventional as it sounds, I appoint Guinness in a widget can as the everyday equivalent of Batatat's in a bottle. Of course, there are a few improvements to be made before the widget cans reach Batatat's level of sophistication (chilling the beer and automatically disposing of the empties, just to name a couple). Race you to the patent office...

Black Sunday Lager (page 292): This is a seriously dark German-style beer, to be consumed near the rubble of a demolished building. As the dust is settling (if you've read the book already, you know what I'm talking about; if not, I'm not going to spoil the surprise). Which makes me think of a business trip to Nuremburg I took in the spring of 2001... we stayed at one end of the subway, out in the 'burbs, and rode it into the old part of town, saw the cathedral that had been painstakingly rebuilt after the war and pictures showing how little of it had been left when they started rebuilding. Then we wandered around looking for places that made their own beer, and found this one that sold a really black dark beer with lots of flavor... but the place was just a little hole in the wall, one of many places in Nuremburg that made their own beer. So, barring a return visit someday, the source of this beer shall have to remain a mystery...

But until I return to Germany (at somebody else's expense, please), I must find some other beer that can fill the shoes of Black Sunday Lager. To my surprise, I found a semi-mass-market beer that comes pretty close. Sam Adams makes, as part of their "Brewmaster Series," something called Black Lager, and it pretty much lives up to the name. Black as coal, strong of taste, and somehow appropriate for the afterglow of demolition...

Jape's Light Lager (page 1, and all over the book): Just what might this stuff be? Well, that's a bit of a puzzle. Jape has taste in beer, so it's not some industrial macro-brew, but it's not a heavy dark like Scrornuck prefers. Jape's too subtle for a beer that assaults the taste buds. So what might it be? I think there are two leading candidates, but neither is perfect, as technically, both are pilsners (though it can be argued that a pilsner is just a specific kind of lager). Those candidates are Goose Island Pils, which I used to buy at the local supermarket--a delightful summer beer, great for sitting on the deck watching the river go by--and Antarctica, a Brazilian beer I came to love while doing business in Sao Paulo.

But neither of these beers has a picture of a dog on its label, and on page 136 we learn that Jape's beer of choice does. Now that I think of it, I've never run into a beer that did. Oops. My two candidate beers both feature birds: Goose Island Pils, of course, had a goose, while Antarctica has penguins. Anyway, I've discovered that Goose Island has discontinued their Pils, so I suppose that makes Antarctica Jape's beer of choice by default. Unless I stumble across something better. The research again continues...

Fun fact: the Portuguese language includes two different words for beer: cerveja, meaning beer in a can or a bottle, and chopp, meaning beer on tap. Chopp Antarctica Claro, served in an unending stream of little glasses in an airy, open beer hall in Campinas, with rain drumming on the tin roof and soccer fans cheering the games going on a dozen TV monitors, is one of my fondest memories of my visit to Brazil. I don't speak Portuguese (beyond knowing the words for beer), but I suppose beer and sports are a sort of universal language.

And if any of you reading this want to suggest a beer that's a particularly good match for one of the beers mentioned in the book (particularly if you know of a decent light lager with a picture of a dog on the label!), drop an email to danielcstarr (at) gmail.com and let me know!