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Return To Brixton

An update from Pacific Northwest correspondent, Todd Marella

Sunday the 22nd of March wasn’t regular… or common… or without tension. It was the end of the first week of the US largely admitting to itself that the smart money says avoiding contact with other humans unless it is absolutely critical, is the only known way to slow the spread of the Corona virus, known as COVID-19. By the end of the week, the world’s number of confirmed infected cases doubled. I needed something to think about other than a global pandemic. I needed something to do other than prep for, isolate to slow the spread of, or consume every bit of online copy about, this sudden, yet altogether life-changing event.

Our final two races of the Salem indoor season were cancelled. The first, scheduled for March 14, which almost seems 'pre-Corona' in the big scheme of things, was shit-canned for a horse show. Horse people draw a better crowd than do flat tracker people, apparently. Our last race scheduled was for Saturday the 21st. I’m sure you can surmise what happened there. The governor put out a state-wide declaration banning public gatherings of 25 or more people, on the Wednesday prior to our races. My local Trader Joe’s looked like images I remember seeing of Soviet era grocery stores, and the traffic in town was as eerily quiet as I remember it in 1990, when I moved to Portland. (Hang in there, this turns and becomes flat track and fun-focused, I promise).

Last week, in response to a post by Adam Black @twigster_33, I asked if he’d reserve me a spot for the all-day practice session he’d arranged for 22 March. Limited to 25 riders, over a period of 7 hours, a rider could turn more laps than they do in an entire season, on one weird, but sunny Sunday. I’d seen that Korry @k_fitzpatrick_ and Chris @theironsociety had signed up already. It was gonna be great.

Korry has been hauling my bike, stand, and gas can around since the One Show in early February, and was good (as he always is) enough to give me a ride to the track on this occasion. Chris would meet us there.

Guns of Brixton is a tune penned by Paul Simonon, sheepishly presented to the band during the recording of London Calling. Paul was pleased with Joe’s reaction telling him it was great, and that he thought it should be on the album, with one catch: Paul would have to sing and play guitar on the track. Taken aback and a little scared by the premise of singing, Paul agreed to the deal. The tune went on to become one of the groups most recognizable and popular songs. Autobiographical and heavily influenced by the dub and reggae sounds Paul heard as a kid growing up in Brixton, it’s anchored by one of the heaviest baselines ever recorded. Return to Brixton is one of four tunes featured on an EP released in 1990. It’s a re-working of the original, in a dub style. It reminded me of the day at the track. Evoking a sense of overall unifying cultural tension (thanks Covid-19), and a familiar crushingly danceable baseline providing a soundtrack in your helmet while firing your motorcycle down the straights as fast as you’ve ever been able to muster, stabbing into corners like a hot knife in the margarine tub, and coming out just as easily…over and over again. It felt like dub… like you could do it all night.

73Q ran swimmingly. I’d not so much as changed the spark plug since my last outing in early February, and the bike had never felt better. I was able to borrow a little brake fluid from a rider I’d never met (thanks Alex), and gain some stopping power. We had to re-attach my pipe to the rear mount in the same hillbilly fashion we did before when it broke. I had to tighten my rear axle bolt, as I noticed my brake seemed to be sticking upon returning to the pits after a go around… Oops. Other than those minor hiccups, things were perfect on the green machine. I also had the pleasure of riding Korry’s bike. Wow…what a treat. So, that’s what a framer feels like. His is basically the same motor, with the exception of a different ignition system (including a big ol’ flywheel), and identical pipes (excepting the janky rear mount on one of ours… ahem). What a difference a Champion frame is compared to my stock, 'plugged' frame. Once I got over my apprehension about riding his prized build into a lowside, I got on the pipe a bit, and opened it up. I could really feel the difference in power delivery with that ignition and flywheel, as I’m still spinning the wheel quite a bit when exiting corners.

It’s been a long road back from his injury at the One Show races two years ago. I have to say, as much fun as I had turning lap after lap Sunday, perhaps the best part was being out there with Korry while he was parked next to us in the pits, and we held court, basking in the Salem sunshine (a rare commodity), revelling in the way 'We got it licked!' Chris was fast on the “Panthertaco,” and brought his 500 to get some time on that, as well. We laughed at each other’s jokes, helped each other change gearing, and planned for racing days to come. For a day, the dub in my helmet, and the livestock pavilion at the Oregon state fairgrounds, provided the soundtrack for perfect escapism from a global pandemic, just substitute hard-packed clay for sand dunes, and The Clash for Dominic Frontiere. Not On Any Sunday, but last Sunday, for sure. Dig.


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