Several years ago, when I was still a working lawyer, I rode my motorcycle from my home near Lexington to a Continuing Legal Education seminar in northern Kentucky. It was a lovely ride up on Thursday, despite threatening skies, taking the BMW R100R through its paces on the curves of Rt. 36 and on up to the Airport Hotel where the seminar was held. By Friday evening, as the class was ending, the weather threats had become reality and a serious storm was lashing the area with gusty winds and buckets of rain.
Several of my colleagues, who had seen the helmet under my chair, became concerned and offered to give me a ride back to Lexington. They were puzzled when I refused, giving me that look that one uses for someone who obviously is too dim to understand the predicament they are in.
I was amused by the irony. Lawyers, who are stereotyped by the public with an image that is so far from the reality of our profession’s world, were stereotyping me as a motorcyclist. They had formed an impression of what I was about to do from virtually no actual information and experience, using only what they assumed must be the case…just as is so often done to them (well, me too, since I’m one of them) by the non-lawyer population.
As I left the hotel in my Aerostitch riding gear it occurred to me that those people I left behind were going to get wetter running to their cars than I would on the 100 mile trip home. Opting to take the quickest way out of town in the bad weather, I chose the interstate, and headed into the 5 o’clock traffic (can it still be “traffic” if it isn’t going anywhere ?) to clear the urban sprawl. After a few miles south, the road opened up and I could cruise at a decent pace. As I have done for a half century, I watched people in cars pointing at me, shaking their heads in amazement at what they thought I was enduring. Inside my riding suit and helmet, I was dry and warm and comfortable. If I was in my car, I’d be cocooned in a pleasant, climate controlled space, but uninterested in my own progress, bored, using the radio as a distraction, just wanting the trip to be over. On the bike, hands lightly on the grips, toes on the pegs, I was scanning everything in front of me, checking the mirrors, all senses alert, feeling through the tires for any change in traction, and making constant evaluations of my speed compared to conditions. It was invigorating. I thought of the famed New Zealander Burt Munro’s quote, something like, “You can live more in 60 seconds on a fast motorcycle than most people do in their entire lifetime.” (I was going considerably slower than Burt’s usual pace, but surely there are some points for wind and rain.)
Unlike the dire predictions of the people at the seminar and the pointing drivers in their cars, I felt no excess of danger, no unknown vulnerability. That isn’t “bravery”, but acceptance of manageable risk. I was in a familiar, if somewhat precarious position, but I had a pretty good idea of the risks I was taking and what to do to control them. Much like when I would step in front of a jury in a courtroom to present a case, a circumstance well known to the people I had just left at the seminar, but uncharted and perhaps frightening territory to those not in the profession. The legendary racer Kenny Roberts once said that he was not afraid of anything he could see. His performance on a race track was phenomenal, cool confidence in the face of what the rest of us would see as unimaginable danger. But King Kenny admitted that the thought of scuba diving scared him silly. An activity enjoyed by people from all walks of life, in various stages of age and fitness, terrified a man for whom leaning a race bike over at 180 miles per hour with his knee scraping the asphalt was just another day at the office. What the uninitiated think is impossibly dangerous and/or foolish is, for those who actually do it, fun.
Whether it is people, professions, activities, or politics, when assumptions are made based on what we think we know rather than reality, things can seem mysterious and frightening.
When we learn how it actually works, instead of relying on uninformed beliefs, the mystery fades away and, often, so does the fear.