Requiem for an Artist: Mahlon Fawcett

Moment of glory- Lonnie introduced at the Roamin Angel breakfast before the car show

Rare moment of glory-
Lonnie introduced at the Roamin Angel breakfast before the car show.  I loaned him one of my Vette shirts.

It’s Christmas time.  For many years, my good friend, Mahlon Fawcett, known as Lonnie, would come up to our house in Lake Arrowhead for our annual Christmas party.  Although that has been many years ago, my mind wanders back to those parties and my friend who will not be celebrating Christmas this year.  He is no longer on this earth, but I will not let him be forgotten.  If you are on this website, you’ve met him.  He did all the banners for my website.  His zany sense of humor and off-the-wall ideas come through them, as they often did in his work.  Perhaps that limited the appeal of certain pieces he did.  Yet he would do commissioned work, even Disney characters for a child’s room.  He did great drawings of film notables like Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, Basil Rathbone and even Harrison Ford for me that hang in my pool room.  Although he knew almost nothing about cars, he enjoyed doing caricatures of car people in their hot rods and classic cars at the annual Roamin Angels car shows.  He loved drawing and would do almost anything requested.  His passion was his art.

Lonnie titled this one "Bomber's Moon."

Lonnie titled this one “Bomber’s Moon.”

I met Lonnie in the early ’80’s.  John, his brother, worked for me as a tow truck driver.  Finding out that I had an interest in Sci-fi, he told me about Lonnie’s work and brought in a few pieces to show me, which I bought.  I kept asking John to meet his brother, but he said that Lonnie was a recluse who hated meeting people.  For a year or so, John would occasionally bring in pieces Lonnie had done and I would buy them.  Then, out of the blue, I got a call from Lonnie asking me to meet him.  I went to his small trailer, where he showed me more of his work and asked me if I was interested in anything.  When I hesitated, he said, “Just give me what you think it’s worth.”  That was Lonnie.  He loved to draw, but hated marketing himself.  As it turned out, brother John told Lonnie I was making him give the art to him, so Lonnie never got any of the money.  But Lonnie’s phone call ended that scam.  And, as Bogie said to Louis in Casablanca, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Did I mention that Lonnie loved old movies even more than I do and could do voice impersonations of many of the old actors?  He did.

Time Travel ala  Lonie

Time Travel ala Lonnie

Over the years, Lonnie and I became good friends.  I tried to promote him and his art.  We went to a San Diego ComicCon in 1986, where he sold art at a table there.  Unfortunately, people there were looking for comic books, not original art.  I got him a review by Disney, which didn’t pan out for unknown reasons.  I got him an interview with DIC Entertainment that went quite well.  The very young executive we met with loved Lonnie’s art and described a new series that he thought Lonnie could do.  Lonnie and I both were on Cloud 9 when we left.  I kept telling Lonnie to do a follow-up call, but he felt it would be too pushy.  Then, months later, the series came out without Lonnie.  I tell this tale to demonstrate two facts: I believed in Lonnie, but he did not have enough self-confidence to push open the doors.  In retrospect, I feel guilt that I did not do more pushing for him because I could see he would not.  If I had, maybe Lonnie would have had a successful career in animation.  I’ll never know.

To understand a person, know his upbringing.  Lonnie’s father died when he was a teenager.  His mother was an alcoholic.  When he was an adult, she married a two-time convicted child abuser whom she chose over Lonnie.  Then there was his brother, John, who had been telling Lonnie that I was forcing him to give the artwork to me to keep his job.  His only romantic interest Lonnie married, but they soon separated and never met each other again.   I have no idea who she was or where she now is.  Out of this came a man who was kind and gentle, living to draw.  Lonnie was a big man when we met, over six feet and maybe 230 pounds, but never used his size to intimidate.  He was a good soul.

Christmas card Lonnie drew with my '72 Vette

“Sorry, Comet, if you want to be Robin, you’ve got to wear tights”  A Christmas card Lonnie drew for me with my ’72 Vette

Lonnie had no formal art training, but had natural talent and taught himself.  His passion for his art knew no bounds.  He would rather starve than forsake his calling.  At times, he nearly did.  I would give him money, but he always made sure he did something in return.  Any idea of a picture, any concept I had of a drawing he gladly did.  He gave as much as he received, probably more.  He did drawings of me as the Crusader he loved, back against the wall, bloodied but not defeated.  I asked him to do it after a trying day at work and it hangs on my wall in my office now.  He did Christmas cards with all the cars I owned over the years,  Anything that I asked, he did and did well.  I had so many panels he’d made that I gave a number of them back to him to sell.  Sadly, he entrusted them for consignment sale to Jim Van Hise who was, at best, very tardy on payments and who is now selling Lonnie’s artwork for which he never paid Lonnie a dime.  DO NOT BUY THESE ON eBay!!  If you love his work, I have his best pieces in my collection.  I will make copies of ones I have and have you send the money to a charity he appreciated in his honor.  I will only take the cost of reproduction and furnish proof of that amount.  Contact me if you are interested.

Star Wars tribute,  Obi-wan, are you there?

Star Wars tribute, Obi-wan, are you there?

Over the years, Lonnie spent time with us at our home.  I like to feel that we became the family he never had.  When he came up to Lake Arrowhead for our annual Christmas party, he participated in the video-taping we did of spoofed commercials.  He taped voice impersonations of John Wayne, Obi-wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness), Humphrey Bogart and Alfred the Batman’s butler for our answering machine.  He got to see snow for the first time at our house.  His R2-D2 snowman sculpture was exquisite.   When my family and I moved to the Isle of Man, my sister and her husband had a farewell party.  It was a nostalgia theme and everyone participated in lip-syncing to a Moldie Oldie.  I have a video recording of Lonnie mouthing the soprano solo of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with his group.  I still laugh.

Typical cars how caracature

Typical car show caricature of me and my T-Bird

After we moved overseas, things did not go well for Lonnie.  He had his demons, mainly drink and tobacco. Drink cost him his place to stay and maybe along with his diet, his life in the long run.  But he did conquer alcoholism after becoming a Christian, totally abstaining.  However, the long-term effects might have caused his diabetes.  Tobacco kept its hold on him as long as I knew him, but at least he did not die of lung cancer.  After we moved back stateside, we had him come up to visit us for the Roamin Angel car shows in September.  It gave him a sense of validation to hear the praise for the drawings he did.  For several years, it was a vacation for him.  The only ones he ever really had.  But it didn’t last.

Lonnie doing waht he loved most at the 2003 Roamin Angel car show: creating his art.

Lonnie doing what he loved most at the 2003 Roamin Angel car show: creating his art.

Lonnie, bested by ill health and infection, ended up in an extended care facility.  I watched as he deteriorated, finally ending up in a motorized wheelchair.  Yet his mind and his talent remained alive.  I visited him when I was in SoCal, taking him to breakfast.  He relished the real eggs, sausage and hash-browns that he did not get “inside.” He talked about the art he did for people who lived with him or cared for him, oft times for little or nothing.  He taught kids how to draw, calling them his students.  His goal was to inspire them with the same love of drawing that he had.  And he did, a real success for him.  Money was never the reason for his drawing, but rather the love of creating.  Greed was unknown to Lonnie.


The last Christmas Card Lonnie drew for me.

“Merry Christmas, Santa.  We thought one Moldie Oldie deserved another!”  The last Christmas card Lonnie drew for me.

I was in France when I got a message on my home phone to call the facility where he lived.  Because the facility only had my home phone, they had been trying to get me for a couple of days before I retrieved the messages.  Lonnie had died on October 27th after an operation to remove one of his feet because of infection.  Having been out of the country, I never knew he was going into the hospital.  I was the only person Lonnie had given any authority to for his affairs and they did not know what to do with his meager belongings.  Linda Gutman, a kind lady from his church, handled everything for me, even though she had not known him that well.  Lonnie is gone, but will never be forgotten.  People who have his art will see him whenever that look at his drawings.  Every time I sit in my office, working on my computer and every time I walk through the pool room, I remember him.  While he never achieved greatness in the eyes of the world, he did in mine.  And he was a good friend.  Merry Christmas, Lonnie.




Buying Collectible Cars

I recently gave a talk on buying a classic or collectible car at a men’s group.  Here is is what I said:

When it comes to buying hot rods and classics, you hear a lot of rules. Some are good, some are so-so and some are lousy. I’m going to give you mine and let you decide how to rate them. For you who already know all this already, sorry ‘bout that. Don’t shoot me, I was asked to do this. Anyway, here are my rules.

My niece sitting in my '67 Jag XKE.  That car had a "WOW" factor that was off the charts.

My niece sitting behind the steering wheel of my ’67 Jag XKE. That car had a “WOW” factor that was off the charts.

First rule: If you’re buying a classic car or hot rod, don’t assume the experts know what it will be worth in a few years. When I got into hot cars, they weren’t classics. They were what I drove every day. I had a ‘67 Jag XKE roadster that I sold for $3200 and thought I made a killing since I’d paid $1300 for it less than a year before. Then I had a ‘70 Hemi Roadrunner that I sold for $2000 and thought I’d really scored since I’d paid $1400 for it two years before and it had been my daily driver. In average condition, both cars are worth in the six figures now. Since when I owned and sold them it was during the original gas crunch of the ‘70’s and the Hemi ’s mileage was in the gallons-per-mile if you put your foot into it, few expected them to go up in value at that time. However, if hindsight were foresight, we’d all be rich. Then again, I knew a guy who bought an ‘81 Delorean for 17k when it was a couple of years old because he expected the value to skyrocket and the average value is now 22k and another guy who bought a ‘78 Corvette Pace Car new for almost 25k and parked it after driving it a few years, expecting it to be worth it’s weight in gold, but it’s only now worth a few thou more than he paid for it. Even at the lousy interest rates lately, they would have done better putting the money in the bank. Although we’ve seen the value of some cars shoot for the stars again, if the stock market crashes like it seems to be doing now, their value will too. Buy a car because you want it, not because you want to make money off of it. They’re not money in the bank, but movable works of art. Be wise in how you buy, but do it for the fun of driving the car instead of as an alternative to buying a rental property.

My 56 T-Bird: a lot of work and money to break even on the money.

My 56 T-Bird: a lot of work and money to break even on just the dollars spent.

Second rule: Don’t rebuild it yourself. Now if you’re a mechanic and painter, bought the car at an absolute steal or have a friend who can do all the work for a pittance, then go for it. But the best way for the average guy to get in the hobby is to let the other guy do the work and buy it cheaply. Even the guys who do all the work restoring a car themselves will many times get pennies per hour for their labor, if that. If you have the skill to do the work and love doing it, that may not matter. Cars are a passion and, like most passions, have little to do with reason. Of my three cars that I restored, I have one break-even, one slight profit and one home run, when factoring in my labor. But I was lucky. In the future, If I buy another car it will buy ready-to-cruise. You may get people who say that they would not have been able to get the car they have in the way it was restored for the price they paid, and I will not dispute that. But could they sell it for what they have into it without finding the perfect buyer? Remember that finding perfection on this earth is about as hard as finding New Old Standard parts for a Duesenburg. I personally know a guy who built a beautiful show car with all the best stuff and had it for sale for over a year with no serious offers. It finally sold at an auction to a porn actress for over100 grand less than he spent on it. He said, “I don’t even want to know what’s going on in that back seat.” Unless you love turning a wrench and using a sander, my general rule now is to buy someone else’s labor on the cheap. Unfortunately, I’ve never followed that rule.

After many hours of work and many dollars  spent, the Bat Rod is on the road.

After many hours of work and many dollars spent, the Bat Rod is on the road.  If I sold it, my profit on hard dollars invested would be minimal.

Third rule: Everybody lies. I don’t really believe that is always the case, but Dr. House often said that on his TV series and it has an element of truth. When you’re buying a car, assume it’s a lie. No matter how good it looks, check it out. If the car doesn’t have a fiberglass or aluminum body, bring a refrigerator magnet to check out the body. If there’s bondo, the magnet won’t stick. It’s a quick and easy way to check for prior repairs. Bring coveralls, a creeper, a light and a mirror. Check out the frame, underbody, inner fenders and suspension. Look for rust, poor repairs and rotted bushings. If the owner doesn’t want you to do that, walk away immediately. Ask for receipts on all repairs and rebuilds the owner claims were done. While I won’t say he’s definitely lying without them, I wouldn’t put my money on his word. Check under the car for drips. If it’s dripping then, it will likely do a lot worse when you drive it home. Even a car that has been detailed can reveal its dark secrets if you look carefully. While still overseas, I bought my ‘72 Vette from a friend here who claimed he knew the entire history of the car and that it ran like a scalded dog. Supposedly, the interior was in great shape, all the chrome had been redone and all parts were there. I took his word for it. He lied. The rockers were tightened with no lash on solid lifters, the interior was bad, the chrome was shot and the boxes of parts had many omissions. I still have the car, but our friendship suffered a fatal blow. I just had to put a lot more time and money into it than I expected. The worst stories I’ve heard are eBay cars that were not checked out by the buyer. If you can’t check out the car yourself or do not feel qualified to make an educated evaluation, hire a professional. A cost of a couple hundred is better than a loss of a couple thousand, or more. It hasn’t happened to me, but has happened to friends, car guys who dropped their guard.

An auction car can look great, but have hidden problems.

An auction car can look great, but have hidden problems.  I bought this at the same time as I bought the ’65 convertible and the person who put in the shifter was an idiot.  Then it cost a fortune to get them back home.  The auction company lied about transporters to California.

Fourth rule: Avoid emotion. Auction cars are the most dangerous because you often have little time to properly check out the car and problems can be hid. Caught up in auction frenzy, you can bid on car without properly checking it out. While I have heard of great deals at an auction, many are not. I speak from experience. I bought an ‘65 Impala convertible that looked great. I hadn’t planned on bidding, but it looked so good, sounded so good and was going for so little that I threw in a bid. I got it. It was not until careful inspection that I realized some almost-hidden rust issues and suspension problems. Emotion cost me a couple of grand, because I fixed everything before I sold it. Well, that and I bought it right before the stock market “readjustment” of 2008. The double whammy of car investing. The same is true when buying from a dealer or individual. While I would normally advise against buying from a dealer, it can work if you know the value of the car and don’t let your emotions rule your brain. Remember that there is always another ‘67 El Camino big-block out there and be ready to walk away. The trump card for the buyer is “no.” Be ready to use it.

A before and after of my home run: a '63 fuel-injected Corvette

A before and after of my home run: a ’63 fuel-injected Corvette

Fifth rule: Know why you’re buying the car. If it’s just for an investment, I’m not the guy to talk to. I’ve made good money on most collectible cars I’ve bought and sold over the years, but I often sold too soon or walked away from one I should have bought because it didn’t appeal to me. If you’re buying a car because you like it, then consider my previous four rules. Normally, at least you won’t lose money if you sell. However, this is too often where emotion over rules the mind. Even if a car has no expectation of going up in value and is going to take a lot of work, you might want to do it. While I am not one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” guys, you can build the car you want, the way you want and have the satisfaction of doing it yourself. In my nine years of writing my car column in The Union, I’ve heard a lot of different stories about why someone bought or built a certain car. Often the story is not logical. But what love is? However, just like having STD test done before a marriage, check out that love of your life and know the consequences before you commit. If you think the rust and rot on the car you want is worth the cost, go for it, just like if the woman you love and want to marry has . . . . Well, you get the idea. Go in with your eyes open.

My last rule is on insurance. As a general policy, don’t go with regular insurance companies unless you plan to use the car as a daily driver. Companies like Hagerty’s and Grundy usually give better, more comprehensive coverage for far less than Allstate, Farmers or State Farm. When it comes to paying for a loss, insurance companies have Actual Cash Value, Stated Value and Agreed Value. Only Agreed Value makes sure you get paid what the policy says your car is worth. The other two allow the insurance company to wiggle out of paying you the amount your policy was for. Also, if the insurance company can make your car worth less, they can total it rather than repair it after an accident, even if it isn’t the best for you. Not that they would ever do that. Some companies make you get an appraisal to make sure it is worth that, others do not. There are normally conditions regarding mileage and when you can drive the car for collector policies. Check out the company you use to make sure it is the best for you.

If you were expecting me to tell you what car to buy, sorry. There are too many variables. Do you like foreign or American made? Do you want modern, nostalgic or classic car? Do you want street rod or pure stock? How much modifying do you want? Just like the women we love, there are many choices and not all of us agree on which one is best. You like a blond or a redhead? Voluptuous or athletic? Strategically added silicon or not? It’s all personal preference. If it’s stock, the older the car, usually the rougher the ride and the lower the performance. I wouldn’t dare tie that into my women and cars analogy. A ‘40 Ford coupe or a ‘57 Vette might look cool, but they were not all that comfortable to drive or ride in for long distances or all that dependable compared to modern cars. That’s why resto-rods, cars that look pretty much stock but have modern running gear and conveniences, are so popular. There’s a lot of debate on how it affects value, but that depends on individual car model and options. Clones have become popular for high-dollar muscle cars, like Hemi Roadrunners that were once plain Plymouth Belvederes and SS454 Chevelles that entered this world as humble small-block Malibus, so watch out if you’re in that market. A clone should cost far less than an original, so get documentation. Finally, the market for later-model cars that were once shunned, ones like the mid-to-late 70’s Trans-Ams, Datsun 280Z’s and the 80’s Pontiac Fieros, have gained popularity while still being affordable. They also have more creature comforts. Just be aware that smog checks are ,done on cars newer than 1975. Although, by law, all original smog equipment is supposed to be on any car, that’s not really checked. So what’s the next car craze? You tell me. I’ve put down a few websites that you can use to establish value of your dream car. Again, these are not perfect. Once you modify a car, which many of us have, it can affect the value positively or negatively. The main thing about a hobbyist car is to do your research and have fun after you buy it.

Here are a few websites that can help you find what a certain car will cost you. You will see that they do not all agree on values, so take them as background information rather than a bible.

Manx Classic Car Club

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook

When I moved to the Isle of Man in 1994, I bought a copy of The Official Isle of Man Year Book.   This is not like my high school yearbooks with photos of everyone there, but more of an almanac with 336 pages of statistics, names of government officials, important information about almost everything to do with the Isle, as well as listings of a multitude of Manx clubs and organizations with contact info.  I had shipped over my ’56 T-Bird and my ’63 Vette when we moved there, so one that caught my eye was the Manx Classic Car Club.

Now I have been a car fanatic since I was old enough to push around my toy cars, but I had never joined a car club.  Originally, my cars had not been old enough to be classics, mainly muscle cars that were two to five years old.  However, when I got the T-Bird, it was about 20 years old and the same for when I later got my Vette.  Still, I saw no reason to join a club when I could just hop in and drive them anywhere I wanted to without any formal organization.  But, since we knew no one but our real estate agent and his wife when we moved there, it seemed like one more way to meet people.  When I called the contact number, I found that there were no meetings, the dues were minimal (just enough to cover periodic mailing costs) and the main activities were cruises around the Isle, normally with some sort of food and beverage at the destination.  There were no real qualifications for membership and, although you were expected to take your classic car on the cruises, they did not have a firm definition of “classic.”  It sounded good and I joined.

One of the roads on a Manx Classic Car Club run.

One of the roads on a Manx Classic Car Club run.

The way it worked was that I would get a notice in the mail of the next run.  Then I would meet the club on Glencrutchery Road in Douglas, in front of the TT grandstands.  I would get printed instructions with the route and the final destination.  Since the cars had widely varying levels of power and handling, you were not expected to stay behind a slower car if yours were faster.  It was an individualistic cruise rather than a caravan.  One memorable run was when my daughter Noelle and I took the ’56 T-Bird.  There was an optional, more challenging route, which we took.  It became so narrow that I had to crawl out over the trunk lid to get a picture because the brush would have scratched the doors of the T-Bird if I had opened them.  Fortunately, the weather was unusually sunny and I had left the hardtop at home.  When we arrived at our destination, it was well worth the drive.

Our Host's Humble Abode

Our host’s humble abode

We had been invited to park our cars on the lawn of a rather impressive house.  Everyone brought a picnic lunch and we all dined with a view of a beautiful lawn and garden that surrounded a quite large house.  Painted white and with castellated walls, it was a bit of Camelot on Man.  Our host collected antique, historic motorcycles and showed them to us as he gave us a tour of the grounds.  It made for a pleasant afternoon, although Noelle and I lunched on sandwiches and Cokes while a few of our group laid out linen, china and crystal as they dined on cold roast beef and champagne for their midday repast.

The T-Bird joins the Jags and Rolls Royces.

The T-Bird joins the Jags and Rolls Royces for a picnic on the lawn.

Although most of the cars in the club were English, ranging from Rolls Royces and XKE’s to TR’s and MG’s, there were also a couple of Porsches and one Citroen.  I had the only American cars in the club.  As far as I know, I had the only T-Bird and one of two Vettes on the Isle, and the other Vette was a late 70’s unrestored one whose owner was not in the club.  It was humbling when club members complimented my cars and even asked if it were okay to take pictures of them when many of theirs were far more impressive than mine.  One of the picture-takers was the owner of the red 30’s Rolls Royce in this photo.  So if you ever get to the Isle of Man and hang out with the Manx Classic Car Club, ask them if they remember the crazy American who used to cruise with them.

Off to the TT Races

American Indian wins the TT Race!

American Indian wins the TT Race!

While Americans are preparing for Memorial Day remembrances and cook-outs, something else is happening on the Isle of Man this weekend.  Saturday, the 25th of May is the first practice day this year for the Tourist Trophy Races, more commonly known simply as the TT Races. In case you’re not a motorcycle racing aficionado, the first TT Race was in 1907.  The course was much shorter than the current one and went through Castletown in the south rather than over the Snaefell Mountain route in the north due to concerns about the motorcycles being powerful enough to cope with the climb. There were two separate races for two different classes of motorcycles. The winners were H. Rem Fowler for twin cylinder class race, averaging 36.22 mph, and Charlie Collier for the single cylinder class race, averaging 38.22 mph. While that might not seem all that fast nowadays, on the roads of that day and on the motorcycles they rode, it would have been a white-knuckled ride. However, by 1911 the machinery and popularity made it possible to use the northern half of the Isle, across the Snaefell Mountain road, much the same as will happen this year. An American Indian won with an average speed of 47.63 mph.  Oh, I should tell you that “Indian” was the make of motorcycle, not ethnicity of the rider. In those early years, according to, the road over the mountain was “little more than a cart track and there were gates across the road. It was the duty of the first rider round in the morning to open all the gates on his way, and the last one to close them all.” When added to the hairpin turns (which still exist) and a climb from sea level to about 1400 ft. elevation, the feat of the riders to complete the course, much less averaging almost 50 mph, is rather impressive. However, John McGuinness averaged (not topped out at, but averaged) 128.426 mph in 2011 on much the same course, but better paved.  I have driven much of the course averaging about 80mph in my ’63 Vette, and can say that John must have monster cojones.  My knuckles were white when I finished.

Hang tight and keep off the wall

Hang tight and keep off the wall

The hazards of the course explain a big problem with the TT Races: the deaths. The first one happened in 1913 and there have been 239 rider deaths in the TT Races and Manx Grand Prix (considered an amateur race on the same course, taking place in late August).  There have also been two officials and two spectators killed by motorcycles during the races over the years.  How did these happen?  It’s one tough course on narrow, two lane, often twisty roads along stone walls and stone houses at breakneck speeds.  One mistake could cost a rider his life.   According to the the British newspaper Daily Mail, Barry Sheene, who rode the TT in 1971, vowed he would never return, saying,  “It is impossible to make that course even reasonably safe.  It is 37 miles of stone walls and telegraph poles. If you come off you hit a solid obstacle. I don’t think hitting a stray horse in the middle of the road is a true test of men or machines.”  So, am I advocating banning the TT’s?  Definitely not.  For one thing, I would hate to live the rest of my life watching over my shoulder for a Manx assassin, looking for revenge.  For another, like most Manx, I believe in free choice and responsibility.  While not a biker, I have been known to take some of my performance cars a bit over so-called “safe” speeds.  If I crash and burn because I exceed my capabilities, that’s my fault.  Not my car’s.  Same with the races.  The riders make a choice, going for the thrill.  Is it the race’s fault if they exceed their capabilities?  No.

The Manx way of thinking is that you should know your abilities and not exceed them.  The Isle has no speed limit unless posted.  If you get in an accident, at least one party will get a ticket because someone did something to cause it.  If it’s a single-car accident, the driver will get a ticket because he or she was driving unsafely.  It is not the speed that kills, but speeding unwisely.  I guess a lot of that Manx philosophy remains with me.

Kirk Bradden, right on the TT course.

Kirk Bradden, right on the TT course.

So, besides my trip around the course in my Vette, what are my personal experiences with the TT’s?  For one, my wife and I used to help out at our church, Kirk Bradden, with serving snacks and beverages to spectators.  Kirk Bradden is on the Peel Road, right where the bikers have to slow for an “ess” curve.  The members of the church would bring out benches for spectators and provide nourishment for them, all for a little profit.  Members would make sandwiches and bake desserts, all sold for as a fund raiser.  I became huckster and cashier for the food.  I did up the prices.  For example, a huge piece of chocolate cake sold for 30p (about $.50).  The members were spending more in making them than the church netted for selling them.  After twenty years of running a business, I had to change that.  It was fun, but I could have done better if I spoke German.

I think the largest number of bikers who come to the Isle for the races are German.  In fact, there are numerous signs posted saying both “Keep Left” and  “Immer Links” to warn those not used to British rules of the road.  Hopefully, they have prevented some nasty head-ons.  I must say that, considering the little Isle is packed with about 50,000 visitors, bikers no less, and that most of them are hoisting a pint or two at a minimum, there is no real increase in crime or violence.  The Isle is pretty much as safe during the races as all other times, which is very safe.

My last anecdote about the TT’s is on what is called “Mad” Sunday, the day after the races end.  On that Sunday, anyone can drive the 37.739 mile course and all traffic is one-way, just like for the racers.  It is a biker’s time to go a little wild and cars stay off the course.  It’s not a law, but a tradition all wise motorists follow.  I was not aware of this the first year we moved there.  We drove to church that morning in our little Ford Mondeo before the event started.  When we set off on our return drive along the Peel Road, the bikers were out in force.  Fortunately, we were heading the right direction, but it was like swimming along with a school of sharks.  I think a few even grinned at us like sharks, but their face shields hid it.  I am not a nervous driver, but having swarms of bikes weaving in and out around me did make me a bit edgy.  After about six miles of it, I was glad to turn off on the Braaid Road and head home. Needless to say, I used the back roads on Mad Sunday from then on.

I am not a motorcyclist.  I like four wheels on the ground.  But I did enjoy the way the Isle revved up for the TT’s.  They’ve been going on every year since they began, with the notable exception of 1915-1919  and 1940-1946, due to the World Wars.  I hope they continue, for they are the major part of the Isle’s tourist trade and a great tradition.

Speed rules!  Click on these videos to see why.  Feel free to mute the sound.
Video 1 for 2011
Video 2 for 2012

Driving in the British Isles, especially on the Isle of Man

When I moved to the Isle of Man (home of the famous Tourist Trophy, or TT, motorcycle races), I had to get a new driver’s license.  No big deal when you’ve already been driving for almost thirty years, right?  Wrong.  I needed to learn all the rules of the road and take a test while driving on the left (no, America, not wrong) side of the road.  The pass rate for those taking their driving test, including those retaking it, was 17% at that time.  By comparison, California had about an 80% pass rate at that time.

When you become a full-time resident on the Isle of Man, you have ninety days to get your Manx license.  Officially, our residency started in August, when we first touched down at Ronaldsway Airport (I loved that name), but I had to return to get our house in California sold.  Before I left, I took my wife, Kelly, out for her first time as a driver in the British Isles.  Probably the only reason our marriage survived is that we cut the lesson short after about ten minutes.  After I flew back to the States, she promptly enrolled in a course of private lessons with a local driving instructor.

“L” is for “Learner.” Or possibly for “Look out.”

By the time I returned in late November, she had her license and advised me to take lessons from the same instructor.  Even though I had driven in the British Isles for three months (when you add up all the days for four trips over), I heeded her advise.  I was glad I did.  Things like your hands can never leave the wheel unless you are shifting are very awkward and foreign to a California driver.  No hand-over-hand turning and no one arm thrown over the seat while reversing (backing up in California-ese). Rules of the road are different as well, such as no left turn (remember which side of the road you’re on)  on red, and no drinking a cup of coffee while driving to name a couple.  Roundabouts abound, so get used to them.  And remember to look right as you turn left into them.

Then came test time.  Like I mentioned in previous posts, language can confuse.  For instance, my instructor said, “don’t drive on the pavement.”  Where should I drive, out in the fields?  Pavement over there means the same as sidewalk here.  Then there’s the off-side, near-side bit.  Here we say driver’s and passenger’s side which always refer to where the driver is sitting.  Near-side is closest to the curb (or kerb) and normally the passenger side, while off-side is closest to the center line (if there is one) and normally the driver’s side.  If you’re driving a left-hand drive, which I did when I drove my Corvette or T-Bird, near-side is the driver’s side and off-side is the passenger side.  Want me to go through that again?

My T-Bird that I drove occasionally with the Manx Classic Car Club, parked in our drive. Remind me, which side is the off-side and which is the driver’s side?

I took my test in December (fortunately no one notice it was past 90 days) in our Ford Mondeo, a small car by American standards.  It had an auto trans, which meant it was in the 10% minority of British cars.  I felt like I was sixteen again, but in a bad way.  The possible humiliation of flunking with many years of driving experience hung over me like a dark cloud.  Things like making a “Y” turn (three-point) on a narrow road without touching a curb, yet allowing enough room for a car to pass if need be, was not easy.  Then you park and the examiner gives you an oral test (no multiple-guess) of your knowledge of the highway code, such as name all the fifteen times you should not overtake (pass) another car.  Start guessing.  Your eye test is reading license plates at a distance.  A police officer can ask you to do that again at any time.

I passed.  Then I had to take it again.  I originally passed in our auto-trans Ford, but I could not legally drive my 4-speed Corvette when it arrived until I took the test again with a stick shift.  Fortunately, I did not have to take it in my Vette.  I passed again, thank God.

The Manx look down on other UK drivers and vice versa, yet I side with the Manx about who are the best drivers.  There is no speed limit on the Isle unless it is posted, yet any accident will result in at least one ticket.  If you are in a one-car accident, you must have been at fault.  After all, are there any real “accidents?”  This Libertarian view of accountability has a ring of truth.  If you get two tickets in three years, you lose your license and must go through the entire process again.

Pull over, if you please. You were doing 25 in a 20. Dreadfully sorry, but I will have to issue you a ticket.

Five miles over where there is a speed limit posted is an automatic ticket and, yes, they do use radar.  Fortunately, drivers will flash their lights at other drivers coming from the opposite direction to warn of radar traps, so you do have a fighting chance.  But if you get caught, your name will be printed in the   paper.  My banker told me she felt like a common criminal when her name appeared for going five miles over the posted speed limit.  It’s a small island, you know.

In conclusion, I have driven all over the US, Italy and the British Isles.  IMO, the Manx drivers are the best, hands down.  Being tough can pay off.