Nostalgia Strikes

low angle photo of volkswagen kombi

Something happens when you hit middle (or late-ish middle) age. You have these fond memories of how things used to be. I am no different. My fond memories are around two subjects, guitars, and motorcycles. Activities that I used to participate in as often as I breathed. Both are either memories, or fading.

Motorcycles

I began riding in the late 1970’s, first on a ratty “Sears” minibike that was little more than a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower motor, with a centrifugal clutch, 2 8″ wheelbarrow wheels, and a primitive sheath brake. I recall that I ran it right into the back gate, knocking it off its hinges on my first twist of the throttle.

From there, we graduated to a pair of stripped down Honda XL125S’s 1976 vintage (they were cheap and plentiful) and we took to the dirt. A progression of dirt bikes, street bikes, broken bones, dislocated shoulders, and an immense amount of enjoyment followed for the next 30 years, until my reflexes turned to shit and I gave up the sport in my early 40’s.

But, while I was in that era, I had several bikes that I really really wanted to own and ride. Lust, desire, and practicality were not compatible.

I wanted one of the Yamaha 2 stroke twins that terrorized the street in the late 1970’s, the RD350 and RD400’s. Awesome in a straight line, mediocre brakes, and really shit cornering without a lot of modifications. Still, the sound, the smell of the two stroke oil, and the lightness of the front end under acceleration.

All good things to the 20 year old me. Alas, by the time I turned 20, the EPA had pretty much ended the reign of street 2 strokes, and I never got around to acquiring one. Probably a good thing.

Then there was the Yamaha SR500. A large, single cylinder thumper, it was low powered, but light, flickable, and stone axe reliable. Tons of hop up parts, since the power plant was largely the same as the TT variant for the dirt (the dirt version had smaller valves, to improve low RPM performance, and the SR had larger ones for higher flow at higher speeds, but otherwise they were identical).

But they shook like a wet Labrador retriever after a swim in a lake, they ran hot, and could be finicky to jet well.

A gorgeous bike to add to your garage.

Off road, the first dirt bike I bought with my paper route money was a well used 1979 Yamaha YZ125F. The first year with FIM compliant side number panels, it was an eighth liter screamer. I rode the piss out of it, did several top end jobs, and when it finally ate the big end bearing, I sold it for almost what I paid for it (bikes were dirt cheap in the early 1980s). But I had wanted a couple others.

1980 saw the introduction of the Yamaha YZ465G, a bear of a bike, that would literally yank your shoulder out of its socket. The next year, the YZ465H, was detuned slightly that made it a much better trail bike, and much more manageable. I worked at a motorcycle accessory shop, and the manager MX raced one of them, and I got to ride it a few times, and it was a blast. Never did buy one though.

Honda 600 Hurricane – introduced in the late 1980’s, this was the first super sport class bike that caught my eye. Sure there were Kawasaki Ninjas, but the Honda just looked so polished. Of course, being in my mid 20’s, and while I could have afforded to buy one, I couldn’t afford to insure it. Because my demographic was quite risky.

Yamaha XS650. A boring upright twin, in the vein of the British scramblers of the 1960’s that brought motorcycling to a generation, but unlike its British ancestors, it was reliable, didn’t leak oil, and because of the popularity, there were tons of aftermarket for it. I wanted one. I didn’t lust over it, but I am surprised that one never found its way into my garage.

There were more, many more, that caught my eye, and while many of them were common to find for good prices when I was in my late teens and twenties, I never pulled the trigger. Now, that I could find and afford any of these, I know that apart from my fond memories, these weren’t great bikes. Shitty brakes, sub-par handling, some reliability issues, and a lot of hassles. Unless I was going to buy them to sit in my garage and look at them, there is no point.

But I still dream.

Computers

My first interaction with a computer was in a special program in the 2nd grade. I was pulled into the gifted program, and part of the half days I spent there were like a Montessori school, where teachers facilitated students, but we had pretty free reign to explore and discover.

One of the learning stations was an early-ish computer learning system, built on a funny looking Commodore PET, tape drive and all. Probably 1977. I was captivated.

My next hands on was when my high school in 1979 or 1980 got a computer lab, filled with Apple ][+ computers. They were new, they were novel, and they were FUN.

While my paper route gave me spending money, it didn’t allow me to afford a base Apple ][+, where you could easily spend over $2,000 for a system with a single disk drive, and a monochrome monitor. So I went the other route, and bought an Atari 800, and used an old TV as my first monitor. Much upgrades, and acquisitions of goodies later, I was completely hooked. I bought a modem, a separate phone line, and ran a BBS on it, sharing programs, and talking to people across the country who called my service.

Naturally, I have fond memories of this period, and while all that original hardware has gone to the trash heap in the sky, I still fiddle with emulators, and I even have an Atari 130XE that I use to play some of my favorite games of the era.

But when I break it out, I remember how painful it was, how high the bar was to be able to use one of these systems.

Then I remember from that point on, I got into the PC’s, and built my own, many generations upgrading graphics cards, CPU’s and disks to chase the latest games (I was a huge fan of the first person shooters, and in the 1990s the technology was changing so rapidly that you built a new system at least every 18 months to remain current).

That said, while it was better than the Atari days, usability wise, upgrades and migrations sucked big tool. No good migration, often disks formatted with other controllers weren’t recognized, and you ended up erasing and starting from scratch. You lost a lot of files in these transitions. I built big boxes of disks, RAIDs, and used SCSI tape drives to back up, and yet still I was never able to move to a new computer, or even do a major OS upgrade without bad shit happening.

Today, it is effortless. I buy a new Mac, I point it at my old Mac, and some magic happens via WiFi and a bunch of hours later (faster if I plug in ethernet adaptors) my new computer is ready to go, with all my old programs and data. Much of my longer term storage is in the cloud, in multiple places, and I have a huge (20+TB) Drobo direct attached storage, so my data doesn’t get lost. (Of course, I still carry a lot of cruft, and a few times I have done some serious culling).

The 30 year old me, chasing faster frame rates on my Doom, Unreal, and Quake games in the 1990s was worth the pain of the upgrade cycle. Today, I rarely play games where the speed of the hardware makes a difference, and the continuity over literally 2 decades is refreshing, without having an insane backup and restore protocol.

I still turn on my old Atari occasionally, but even with a clever SIO to SDcard external storage, it reminds me of how primitive computing used to be.

Summary

As we age, we have fond memories of the past. We remember what we wanted, but could never attain, and now that we can, we (usually) have the wisdom to realize the folly of chasing youth via milestones of the past. But the reminiscences do keep me going on.

I know I will never pull the trigger to buy any of these things from my past. But I enjoy the dream and the ideals that they inspire.

Product Manager in Tech. Guitar player. Bicycle Rider. Dog rescuer. Techie.