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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

The Motorcyclist Motto - It's Always Your Fault
By Paul Tomori
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 at 01:20:07 (EST)

"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything. From the Interstate, America is all steel guardrails and plastic signs, and every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place.
- Charles Kuralt, On the Road
Yesterday, my family flew back to Niagara from Florida and I embarked on the long drive home with an incredibly jam-packed load of luggage, diapers, crib stuff, and laptops. My yearly sabbatical was over and it was time to head back to a snowy reality in St. Catharines.

I started off today in Savannah Georgia, fired up the GPS, and when I saw it was taking me directly to the I95 from my hotel in the downtown area, I defied it's programmed efficiency and turned North on a country road. The little Englishman's voice protested with calm repetition: "recalculating... recalculating"... for about a minute as I purposely turned in opposition to its "better judgement".

Was I mad? Nope... Having read Neil Peart's accounts as a nomad motorcyclist, driving on back roads and hitting every state in the continental USA, I thought I would indulge a little back-roading myself. Read: back-roading, not off-roading. For the next half hour, I enjoyed a much more scenic drive and actually made progress in the northerly direction I was heading.

Let's face it, Charles Kuralt is right in many respects. Driving across America on the main highways, one sees the same road signs over and over: Next Exit McDonalds, Wendys, Cracker Barrel, Exxon Mobil, etc... Only the exit numbers change. It does get a bit monotonous unless you get into mountain country or desert...

Monotony can be a dangerous thing when you're driving. So, I can see why there is a utilitarian angle to Neil's preference for back roads. It's not just about aesthetics.

My ultimate goal today was to get north to Charleston West Virginia, so I needed the efficiency of a fast, direct highway. Thus, I got back on the I95 and resumed my subordination to GPS commands which led me to the I77. As I drove, I thought about how extremely comfy the car has become, with cushy bucket seats and lumbar support, with tilt features and armrests, climate control, nice music and a drink holder... the actual experience of driving has come to feel deceptively safe as we hurl along at 70 miles an hour. By contrast, the motorcyclist faces the elements head-on... literally... his proximity to the road and to the perils thereon keep him alert to everything and its a good thing. Screwup in a car, you might crack it up... Screwup on a motorcycle, you might lose some important limbs. This is why, the motorcyclists have a motto that they counsel to each other: "it's always YOUR fault".

The car in front just cut you off? It's your fault for not anticipating it.
Some gravel on the curve sends you for a slide? It's your fault for not slowing down in anticipation of that possibility.
A car turns in front of you as you head through a green light? It's your fault for not presuming he would do that.

I think car drivers should adopt a bit of this mentality too.

Today, as I drove in my peaceful little bubble alongside a mountain slope in Virginia, that feeling of comfy invulnerability led me into a perilous "situation". The car ahead of me swerved just a bit and being perhaps not far enough behind him, what emerged from under his bumper did not reveal itself to me soon enough to avoid a small irregular shaped object... a small roadkill perhaps? a small boulder perhaps? I had about 2 seconds to notice it, assess its threat, assess my options and then act. I knew there were transport trucks slightly behind me on my right and a mountain face on my left, so with no swerve space, I found myself going straight over it. With a thud, it was immediately apparent it was not a very forgiving object... definitely not roadkill. That kind of situation can be deadly. The tire rapidly lost pressure and I knew I had to reduce speed rapidly without losing control. A tire blowout at 70 miles an hour on slick roads in the mountains with trucks alongside you is not my idea of thrilling.

As I pulled off to the right shoulder, I weighed my options. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, with an absolutely packed SUV, and my ability to steer was getting worse by the second. I slowed to a crawl and the vehicle leaned too far left and too far right everytime I adjusted my steering. My only hope I thought was that there would be cell access in this mountain pass, but I kept driving as there was a curve up ahead and I thought it would be prudent to at least see what might be around that curve. I inched along at 10 miles an hour fearfully aware of the 18 wheelers bombing along beside me just 5 feet away. My ride got bumpier and bumpier til I knew I was practically driving on the rim.

As I rounded the curve, my fortunes improved 100 fold. Ahead, just a quarter mile away, was a cop car who had pulled over a transport truck. I hobbled along and pulled up just ahead of them but way off to the side (I never mess around on busy roads, I get WAY off of them)... and I hopped out. The officer saw my plight immediately and asked if I wanted him to stay behind with his lights flashing so I could unpack my life's belongings and change the tire on the side of the road. I considered that option for negative 2 seconds and shook my head. "Could you summon a tow truck?", I asked. He nodded with full understanding and suggested I would be safer waiting in my car than standing on the road. I shook my head again. "I have a better place in mind", I said as he drove away... I then crawled up the hill beside the road to exercise my excessive prudence way out of the possibility of any further roadside drama... and waited patiently in the rain.

Before I hit that rock, I may have been a little too presumptuous about my safety but while standing on that hillside, the cold crisp air and my pounding heart had shocked me into the requisite vigilance. Of course, I waved my cell phone around looking for signal and then called my wife to recount my exceedingly bad luck followed by my exceedingly good luck, but I know as well as anyone... there was no bad luck involved here: It was all my fault for not anticipating the possibility of a rock in the road. Moving forward, I think I'll drive a little further back from the car ahead of me. I think I'll drive a little slower. And, I shall avoid night-time driving... Where would I have been if that little incident had happened at 11:00 p.m.? I'd have been stranded a little longer at the roadside and I would certainly have been laid-over for the night far from my intended destination.

Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting in the cab of a flatbed truck with my crippled car piggy-backed behind me. Ninety minutes after that, I was driving away from the Galax, Virginia Wal-Mart. (Who knew there would be a Wal-Mart right in middle of the mountains?! They're everywhere... they're everywhere!).

As always, I take incidents like this as "reminders" and I get philosophical about what lessons I can learn from the situation. Notwithstanding the fact that in life there is some stuff that you really don't have any control over, maybe it's best to default to presuming that control is more there than not. It will keep your "hands a little more on the wheel" and your "eyes a little more on the road". Let's apply that principle to business: When a client expresses concern about a project... when a server crashes... when a supplier doesn't deliver on a promise... when a task takes too long, who's fault is it? It's mine. It's always mine. Only a failure of imagination prevents one from anticipating and then pre-empting avoidable problems or at least building contingencies. Only a presence of imagination can keep the wheels of your life on the road.

Be safe in all you do and respect the ever-present perils that may be just around the corner... but don't let them paralyze you into a fearful state of inaction.

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