Published Friday, October 6, 2006
FRUGAL FREEDOM RIDER
For a Soldier's Dad,
a Motorcycle Makes a
By Kyle Kennedy
The first call from Larry Richardson mentioned nothing about the motorcycle, the pledge, or the war. Responding to a Ledger query about gas prices last month, he left a terse message explaining that he was no longer shopping at Venezuelan-owned Citgo because of anti-U.S. comments made by Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president.
Other readers had sent e-mails praising their hybrid cars and detailing how they had cut down on driving to save money. Richardson just seemed like he wanted to vent, which he did.
"That Citgo thing was on my mind," he said recently. "My wife thinks I'm crazy."
But it wasn't just about Citgo.
Richardson, 46, has been thinking about gasoline quite a bit for the past two years, ever since his 24-year-old son headed off to Iraq to fight in the war. As he sees it, foreign oil has a lot to do with terrorism and the war -- so the less gas he uses, the better.
That's why Richardson bought the motorcycle two years ago, leaving his truck to gather dust.
"I made a pledge to myself that as long as my son is over there, I would drive my motorcycle," he said. "To this day, rain or shine, I drive it."
Richardson's bike, a grey, Kawasaki Vulcan 1500, can squeeze roughly 50 miles out of each gallon of gas and usually sets him back just $8 for a weekly fill-up. In comparison, he used to spend about $240 per month on gas for his 1990 Ford Bronco.
The burly Lakelander's face lights up when he talks about the motorcycle's fuel savings or the time he stunned his wife when he came home with five bags of groceries strapped to the bulky machine.
"But that wasn't my primary reason for doing it," said Richardson, the facilities director for Highland Park Church of the Nazarene in South Lakeland. "I thought, what could I do personally to help the guys protecting our rights? The thing that came into my mind is, stop using so much gas."
Of course, the primary reason for the bike is Matthew Richardson, now in his second tour in Iraq stationed near the Syrian border. As a specialist with the Army's 1st Infantry Division, it is Matthew's job to help recover U.S. Humvees and trucks that have been disabled or destroyed -- often by makeshift bombs.
Larry Richardson fears that some of the American dollars flowing to Middle Eastern oil companies end up financing terrorism. He also thinks the U.S. is too dependent on foreign oil, and wishes the government would invest more in alternative fuel programs.
"I know one person can't necessarily make a difference, but I think I am. My little part is helping break our dependency," Richardson said. "It takes a lot of people to do it, but I can't control everyone else. So I just have to do what I can."
Richardson, a former store manager with Winn-Dixie in Central Florida, worked at an Avon Park gas station during high school. He witnessed the 1970s energy crisis firsthand.
When the station owner raised prices from 25 cents to 49 cents per gallon, "I thought people were going to kill us," Richardson said. The station's business customers, who survived on their vehicles, had to fill up in the early hours before dawn to avoid long lines of irate motorists, he said.
If Richardson had his way, the U.S. would be more self-sufficient and wouldn't have to deal with oil hysteria again. But he concedes that his own method of fuel conservation isn't always comfortable.
"It takes some discipline when I get on that bike and I'm going down the road in a rain storm. But I have a good rain suit, so I do pretty good," he said. Richard does admit that he occasionally uses his Bronco when the weather makes it unsafe for motorcycle riding, but says it's a rare occurrence.
His wife, Terry, said Richardson has become a vocal motorcycle advocate at home.
"He always makes a point of letting me know that we're saving a lot of money by only using one car," said Terry, an executive assistant for a Lakeland investment group. "He'd like for me to get my motorcycle permit and get my own."
If you ask Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, people like Larry Richardson aren't very common. Even though cheap gas has become a distant memory, prices have not been high enough to force most people to alter their habits, she said.
"Typically, with the products we buy regularly that have price fluctuations, the fluctuations have to be extreme and stay extreme to change behaviors," said Yarrow, a professor with the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
However, Yarrow also says that Richardson's motorcycle purchase is a special case.
"That's just his way of supporting his kid. I don't think it has to do with gas prices at all," she said. "Every day he rides that motorcycle he feels more connected with him. That's the key."
Richardson said his son knows about the motorcycle, though maybe not the reason behind it.
"I don't think I ever went into great detail why I'm riding it," he said.
Matthew Richardson will soon return home in December on leave from the Army. His father hopes it will be for good, but whether or not he is redeployed, the motorcycle will stay.
"There's a big problem (in the Middle East) and I don't think it's going to go away anytime soon," Richardson said. "Besides, my son isn't the only one over there."