It sure didn’t feel like the second Sunday in October, but there we were. Conditions were sunny, dry, and relatively warm as Ann and I rolled into the spacious lot at Fox River Harley-Davidson to register for the 31st Annual DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy & Food Run. This was Ann’s third consecutive year attending and my fifth. I attended for the first time in 2013, at which time I reconnected with one Wally Elliott, then the event’s coordinator, with whom I had done business back in the 1980’s and 90’s. One year later, I was a member of the DuKane Chapter of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois and was actively promoting the Toy & Food Run.
The folks at Fox River Harley-Davidson do it right. Besides serving as a registration and donations collection point, this motorcycle dealership puts out a free breakfast for Toy & Food Run participants. I should point out that riders of all makes and models are welcome. I have never ridden a Harley, but was made to feel no less welcome for it. When Ann and I rolled out toward Elburn with all the others, we had no idea how many bikes were in our party. Still, it felt awesome to be a part of that.
This annual event, billed as “Chicagoland’s oldest and largest suburban toy run,” is not a small one. From remote registration points, eight this year, participants fed into a parade staging area, and also a registration point, outside of Knuckleheads Tavern in Elburn, Illinois. From there a fully escorted parade wound its way to the Batavia VFW grounds for an afternoon of fun and festivities, with merchandise vendors, live bands, and food and beverage vendors on hand for the duration of the event. Local and state political figures and candidates also attended, including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, himself an A.B.A.T.E. member and avid motorcyclist. Admission was once again only $10 per person, along with a new, unwrapped toy and a non-perishable food item.
The atmosphere at Elburn could only be described as festive. Bikes were being parked in several staging lots. As usual, a live band was playing their hearts out in the lot behind Knuckleheads. Bikes and bikers were everywhere. A large, dedicated group of volunteers kept everything moving in an orderly fashion. Governor Rauner was there, as was Santa Claus. Some of us joked about who was the bigger celebrity.
At 12:30 PM, we rolled out of Elburn. As always, Ann was capturing everything she could with still shots and video. Countless Law Enforcement Officers and designated volunteers assisted with traffic control, ensuring a safe ride to our endpoint in Batavia.
The festivities at the Batavia VFW are always extraordinary and this year was no exception. Multiple bands provided an afternoon of vibrant live music, courtesy of TOGA Talent Agency. The merchandise, food, and beverage vendors were all top-shelf. And still more volunteers kept everything moving in an orderly fashion—no small feat for an event of this magnitude. The toys and food items collected that day (enough to fill two flatbed trailers, were distributed to many local charities, representatives of which were on site to tell their stories. The event itself also raises funds for our A.B.A.T.E. chapter.
For the record, A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois is a motorcycle safety and rights organization (read: lobby) that not only protects and fights for the rights of motorcyclists, but brings motorcycle safety and awareness to the community through speaking engagements, education at driver’s ed courses and visiting clubs and organizations. The DuKane Chapter represents the state organization in Northern DuPage and Kane Counties.
It sure didn’t feel like the second Sunday in October, but there we were, and it was awesome! As always, thanks for hanging with me.
In 2016 astronomical fall began on September 22, with the autumnal equinox, while meteorological fall began, as it does every year, on October 1. In the minds of many, though, the fall season pretty much gets underway the day after Labor Day. When I was a kid, shortly after the mastodons died out, my school years generally began either right before or right after Labor Day weekend, which is probably why to this day my mind turns to fall on that first Tuesday in September of every year, even though the astronomers and meteorologists see otherwise.
As an avid motorcyclist, I see both good news and bad news in the arrival of fall. On one hand, here in the Midwest, the first part of fall offers nearly ideal riding conditions. Temperatures are cooler, but not yet cold, so that one may comfortably wear gear when riding. The countryside gradually becomes painted in fall colors. There’s a sense of abundance in the air as farmers are harvesting crops, wineries are making wine, etc.
On the other hand, it won’t last. I have long likened motorcyclists to bees and wasps. Both become more active in the fall because they can sense that the end is near. Days become shorter. Wet or dry, fallen leaves on the pavement present their own hazards. Bees and wasps really are more prevalent, and they sometimes get sucked behind one’s windshield, into one’s shirt, or up one’s pants leg (don’t ask), where they may become agitated. Whether gradually or suddenly, even the daytime temperatures become less conducive to riding. And then there is the matter of snow and ice.
But as the saying goes, we must make hay while the sun shines and get some riding in while the riding is still good. That’s pretty much what Ann and I have been doing since we got back from our Labor Day weekend run to Dubuque, which I still considered to be a summer trip. There is a direct, bittersweet relationship between the hours of daylight and the duration of our rides together as the fall season plays out. Those autumn rides can be so pleasant, so beautiful, I find myself wishing they didn’t have to end so soon. Inevitably the days and the rides become shorter, but we make the most of what we are given.
We were blessed with some fantastic weather on September 18, so I ran up to Ann’s place early that morning and, after a bit of breakfast, we headed to Holy Hill, home of The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. I love this place and I’ve written about it before, right here on the MGD Time blog site. Indeed the very first time I carried Ann on my motorcycle was in the fall of 2014, at Holy Hill.
My 2014 article as it appeared in Thunder Roads magazine.
She had agreed to meet me there and take some photos for me to use in an article I was writing for the now-defunct Wisconsin and Northern Illinois edition of Thunder Roads magazine. I was nervous as heck about carrying Ann. Lord only knows why. After walking the grounds at Holy Hill, I took her to lunch up the road at The Fox and Hounds—the round trip couldn’t have been more than ten or fifteen miles—and Ann, having been a motorcyclist herself, proved to be a most competent pillion passenger. She also took some stunning photos, which the magazine printed with my article. So nervous as I may have been at the onset, by the time I headed for home that afternoon, I was already thinking about how cool it might be to take Ann riding again. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So it all started at Holy Hill, you see, and it seemed fitting that eventually we would return. There was no magazine article being written this time, no official reason to be there, other than to revisit this beautiful place and enjoy each others company. We had plenty of company this time, as apparently a lot of other people had the same destination in mind on this beautiful Sunday. Once we parked, we did something that I had never done at Holy Hill before, despite having been stopping there periodically for well over thirty years: We went to mass together.
Doing mass at Holy Hill together proved to be a pretty cool experience, actually. I came away feeling like maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long. Then we walked the grounds for a while, taking in the majestic views and natural beauty all around us.The last time we visited, we had climbed the scenic tower in one of the twin spires, where both the view and the climb are quite breathtaking. But the tower was closed this time, so we opted to move on and enjoy a late lunch.
Ann had suggested the lunch stop in advance of our trip, a place called MJ Stevens, located outside of Hartford, along Interstate 41. What a delightful spot! This is a place that Ann’s mother enjoys and now I understand why. The atmosphere is pleasant, the food is very good, and the entire staff seems warm and friendly. Ann and I opted for sandwiches off the menu that day, but from all appearances, the Sunday brunch is also a worthwhile choice. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend this establishment to friends.
We rode around for a while after lunch, but the high point of this run had been our time at Holy Hill. I enjoyed going back there and attending mass at the basilica with Ann. She took most of the photos and all of the video clips you see here. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, if not for Ann, I wouldn’t have nearly as much cool stuff to show you from all these excursions.
Our next run was on the weekend of October 9, down by me in Illinois, and it was a big one: the 30th Anniversary DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run. Ann had come down last year for the 29th annual event and we had so much fun together, I invited her back. This year was a little different, though, in that Ann played an active role in helping me promote the event. This was my third year assisting the DuKane Chapter with PR and publicity for their flagship charity event, but this year—with no small amount of creative assistance from my dear friend—I was able to do a better job before, during, and after.
Given the hours that would be involved that day, Ann drove down the night before and stayed over with my wife Karen and me. As Karen is not physically able to ride much, we arranged for her to meet us on the event grounds, where the motorcycle parade portion of the Toy and Food Run terminates and where a full day of music, food and fun begins. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After rising early and going to 7:30 mass at my church, we headed out to Fox River Harley Davidson in St. Charles, a remote registration point for the Toy and Food Run and a darned good one at that. After registering for the run and dropping off our toy and food donations, Ann and I (along with all the other attendees) were treated to a hot breakfast. Then after perusing the dealership and checking out all the bikes parked outside, we assembled for a group ride to Elburn, which was the main staging area for the Toy and Food Run parade.
There were motorcycles parked everywhere when our group arrived. We were directed to a parking lot about a block away from the pre-run festivities held outside of Knuckleheads Tavern on North Avenue. More and more bikes poured in as we walked the area, listening to live music, greeting people we know, looking at bikes, and otherwise being a part of the scene—just me, Ann, and a couple of thousand casual acquaintances. At the appointed time, everyone returned to their machines and prepared to roll out. When that many motorcycles fire up together, the word “thunder” is a very appropriate term that describes not only the sound, but the vibration that fills the very air around us.
What a blast. After we rolled onto the grounds of the Batavia VFW, located right on the banks of the Fox River, we were treated to hours of live music, provided by six different bands. As A.B.A.T.E. is a motorcycle rights organization (actually a sizable lobby), there were numerous politicians in attendance, including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, himself a motorcyclist and active member of A.B.A.T.E. There were many, many product vendors and food vendors, too. A very touching flag ceremony took place early on. We filled a couple of flatbed semi trailers with toy and food donations that were picked up the same day by numerous local charities.
It felt so great to have been a part of this and we had such a good time again. Believe it or not, Ann and I are already talking about possible promos for next year.
October 16 started out wet for me, but fortunately not cold. By the time I got to Ann’s place, the rain had moved on. We waited a while for the pavement to dry off, and then took a ride up into the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. At one point during our ride, on a whim, I turned in at a sign I saw for the Ice Age Visitor Center, which turned out to be a nice little find. We took one of the trails and ended up at a scenic vista overlooking some of the prettiest fall color we saw that day. There was also a large observation deck out behind the visitor center itself, but as the sign warned, there were many bees, wasps and hornets nesting and flying about, so we didn’t linger there. When touring on a motorcycle, sometimes the best places are those we find by accident. This was one of those times.
Our last run of the season, so far, was again rather local. I left home in the dark and ambient temps were still in the 40’s when I arrived at Ann’s. Remember, motorcycling inherently involves its own wind chill factor. I hadn’t opted to wear longies and was rather cold when I arrived. But it warmed up quickly after the sun rose and we did manage to get a nice ride in, albeit a short one. We revisited a place called Nature Hill, that Ann had taken me to see last spring, before the riding season had even gotten underway. We got a good walk in that day and I think I did a little better climbing that hill this time.
I stayed long enough to partake in some crock pot beef stew that Ann had prepared before we headed out that morning. It was delicious! Still, the days have been getting shorter all season long and it was already dark when I headed for home early that evening.
Although we have no more rides scheduled, I doubt very much that we are done for the year, not just yet. Conditions are such that we can no longer plan well in advance, but I assure you that on very short notice, if conditions and schedules permit, Ann and I will ride again.
And of course you’ll read about it here. Ha! Thanks for hanging with me.
DuKane ABATE is hosting its milestone 30th Anniversary Toy and Food Run on Sunday, October 9th at Batavia VFW, on Route 25 in Batavia, IL. Motorcyclists from miles around, some from out-of-state, will once again gather at multiple registration and collection points before heading on to a central staging area in Elburn. A fully escorted parade, led by Santa Claus as well as many area lawmakers, including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, himself an avid motorcyclist, will make its way to the event grounds in Batavia. Toy and food donations collected for this charity event will benefit 18 local charities. The DuKane Chapter also maintains a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/DuKaneABATE/, with several sub pages, where the most current information and event updates are provided.
Once in Batavia, participants will be treated to a variety of live music from six different bands, merchandise vendors and more. Food and beverage vendors will be there, too, and this year’s food line-up alone is something to talk about. The following are scheduled to be on hand.
Batavia Diner 2 – A local favorite, they will be serving pulled pork barbecue as well as tacos. (See bataviadiner2.com)
Chico’s Tacos – People rave about Chico’s in Elburn. If you’re a fan, then you will be glad to know that they will be at the Toy and Food Run again this year. Enjoy!
Coach’s Catch – Out of Worth, Illinois, Joe will be serving up deep fried shrimp, coconut shrimp, cod, corn dogs, and onion rings.
Doughballs – Located on New York Street in Aurora, Doughballs will be baking fresh pizza in their brick oven. They will also be offering burgers, hot dogs and brats. (see doughballspizza.com)
Elburn Lion’s Club – A local favorite, the Elburn Lions will be offering hot dogs and sausages from Elburn’s own Ream’s Meat Market at this year’s Toy and Food Run.
Georgieno’s Rib Stickin’ Rockstar Livin’ Italian BBQ – Do you like Italian food? Do you like good barbecue? How about both? Check out Georgieno’s, a mainstay traveling restaurant on the event circuit and sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Owner Georgieno Hennager has developed an offering of homemade sausagesand authentic Italian favorites in addition to signature BBQ dishes and homemade sides. (see festivals-and-shows.com/georgienos-rib-stickin-rockstar-livin-italian-bbq-goshen-indiana.html)
Southern Smoke – Out of Paw Paw, Illinois, Southern Smoke BBQ will be featuring their signature pulled pork and chicken, along with mac n’ cheese and beans. They will be selling popcorn as well. (see facebook.com/SouthernSmokeBBQPawPaw)
Team FIB – Short for “Flatlander’s Incredible BBQ,” this local catering outfit owned by Bryan Whipple and Sean Trowbridge, produces competition style barbecue. Check out the rubbed smoked brisket. (See facebook.com/Team-FIB-BBQ-Caterers-919668601446227)
The bottom line is this: If you come away hungry from the 30th Anniversary DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy & Food Run, it’s your own fault!
About DuKane A.B.A.T.E.
A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois is a motorcycle safety and rights organization that not only protects and fights for the rights of motorcyclists, but brings motorcycle safety and awareness to the community through speaking engagements, education at driver’s ed courses and visiting clubs and organizations. The DuKane Chapter represents the state organization in Northern DuPage and Kane Counties and maintains a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/DuKaneABATE, with several sub pages, where the most current information and event updates are provided.
What began on a whim as a novel way to promote the DuKane Chapter of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois’ annual Toy & Food Run has snowballed into an entity unto itself. The DuKane Santa Girls are now a staple of the motorcycling community in northern Illinois and points beyond. How did this come to be? We put this question to Sara Elliott, the group’s Coordinator and a founding member of the Santa Girls.
“It all started about four years ago,” reminisces Elliott. “Three of us had gone out together and were just kidding around, thinking of ways to promote the Toy & Food Run. Next thing you know, we went over to a local party supply store and picked up some female ‘Santa’s helper’ costumes.”
“We began showing up at events, handing out Toy & Food Run fliers. Before long people began asking if they could take pictures with us!” That’s when the Santa Girls began to take on a life of their own. “At first people weren’t sure whether the Santa Girls would be, you know, family-appropriate. But once people got to know us and what we’re about, we began to get requests for appearances.”
The DuKane Santa Girls make appearances year-round, at a variety of events, most of which are motorcycle-oriented, but they have never lost sight of their original mission—to actively promote the annual Toy & Food Run, which always takes place on the second Sunday in October. There are currently ten Santa Girls who rotate in groups of two-to-four, depending on the size and duration of the event. They range in age from teenagers to forty-somethings. “We have no age restrictions,” assures Sara. “All we require is a friendly demeanor, a positive attitude and a genuine desire to promote the Toy & Food Run. This is what we are all about.”
The 30th Annual DuKane ABATE Toy & Food Run will take place Sunday, October 9 at the Batavia VFW in Batavia, Illinois. The DuKane Chapter also maintains a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/DuKaneABATE, with several sub pages, where the most current information and event updates are provided.
I’m writing this having just come from a very well executed biker charity event, but what I want to talk to you about is not this event per se, but about that which drives events like this and makes them special—the generous nature of the motorcycling community at large. So while I show you pictures and talk a bit about what I observed today, I intend to go way beyond that.
So yeah, my wife Karen and I wen to Gippers II in Coal City, Illinois, where a benefit was being held for a friend of the family, of whom we are both quite fond. Apparently lots of other people share that sentiment, becaus this event seemed to be quite well attended. But I have come to realize that’s not so unique in the biker community. On the whole, we are not rich people. We just have big hearts.
For what it’s worth, Gipper’s II is a cool venue. I’d never been there before. It’s big—certainly bigger than it looks from the parking lot.There’s a main bar, a courtyard area featuring a somewhat sheltered outdoor bar, and another facility, on the order of a banquet hall, beyond that. Friendly, helpful staff, nice atmosphere… I like it there.
So Karen and I show up, and some people know us, but most don’t and that’s okay. We ate. We drank. We listended to the first band (alas, we weren’t there long enough to catch the second one. Those who know either or both of us would stop by and exchange hugs and talk a bit. Some who didn’t know us still engaged us in conversation and shared some laughs. That’s a biker thing. In any case, it was a great environment in which to find ourselves.
But again, there’s more to the story. Just a few days ago, I learned of a biker chick from another group, out of state, with whom I am affiliated, who had gotten hurt in a bad crash with a truck. Probaby before she even got her cast on, word was being passed along within our group. A PayPal account was established and everybody stepped up and pitched in. The recipient was overwhelmed.
Folks, I see this all the time within the biker community and it makes me proud to be a part of it. This is who we are! This is what we do! Thank you for hanging with me.
I never realized how much work it takes to pull off an event on the magnitude of the DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run, the oldest and largest toy run parade in suburban Chicagoland, until I became involved with it myself last year. As DuKane Chapter President Judy Kaenel so aptly put it, “This is not just a run; it’s an event.”
And what an event! An extremely well coordinated parade run brings all the motorcycles from a starting point in Elburn, Illinois to the event grounds in Batavia. Multiple bands, including at least one national/international act, perform on different stages through the day. A variety of food vendors tempt attendees with their wares, providing in effect a “Taste of DuKane” atmosphere. Product and service vendors also dot the grounds. A bike show with trophies and prizes takes place. All of these things come together in an effort to attract the attendees, bikers and non-bikers alike, who bring many toys and food donations, enough to benefit eighteen different local charities!
But what does it take to put on an event such as this? A lot of people putting forth a great effort, beginning months in advance, that’s what. The DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run takes place in October of each year. Planning for this year’s event began last December!
There are volunteer coordinators, site coordinators, entertainment coordinators, security coordinators, public relations and publicity coordinators (that’s where I play my modest part), political coordinators, human and vehicular traffic coordinators, set-up and tear down teams, stage coordinators and technicians, electricians, carpenters, donation collectors and coordinators, medical and first response teams, a flag line, membership coordinators and promoters, all this and more. In most cases each coordinator has additional people assisting him/her. All are volunteers, gaining nothing more than the satisfaction of a job well done for the benefit of others in need and support of the motorcycling community and their rights. It is my pleasure and my honor to be associated with these people.
As I write this, the 30th Annual DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run is less than twelve weeks away. As much as I do not look forward to summer passing by any faster than it already does, I must admit I am getting rather excited about this.
The view from my hotel window at 6:00 on Sunday morning was not encouraging, nor was the radar image on my phone’s weather app. A rather large, albeit not severe, storm system was moving into the area from the northwest. With a few hours remaining until I would head for Lake Geneva for the combined Chicagoland and Wisconsin Ride for Kids, or not, I kept checking the radar and looking out my window as the system rolled in.
Within an hour, my friend Ann had messaged me her regrets. It was already pouring rain and thundering by her, so she opted out of joining me for the ride. I agreed with Ann’s decision 100%, though I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.
A little while after that,the rain arrived in Kenosha, too. I decided to go downstairs, load a few things onto the bike, grab some breakfast and see what the weather was going to do. And what it did was get very, very wet in short order.
But then a funny thing happened. By the time I walked out of the breakfast room, it had stopped raining. I walked outside, just to make sure my eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on me. The pavement was still quite wet, but there was not a drop of rain falling any more. I checked the time. It was just after 9:00, still plenty of time to pack up, check out, and head for Lake Geneva. So that’s exactly what I did.
I had donned my rain gear as a precaution. The rain was gone and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the dissipating cloud cover, but there was still plenty of spray being kicked up from the wet road surface—at least until the road dried out, which happened surprisingly quickly, thanks in part to the plentiful gusting wind.
As I pulled into the Grand Geneva Resort, I couldn’t wait to get out of that rain suit and put on some sunscreen. The wind was still whipping, but the day had become sunny and dry. Unfortunately the damage had already been done with regard to attendance. I have been participating in the Chicagoland event since 2003 and this was by far the least attended of any to which I have been—and the donations collected reflected this as well. But those of us who were there managed to have a good time and came away with the satisfaction of knowing that we helped the kids. In the end, that’s what matters most.
His grave is tucked away in a far corner of St. Benedict Cemetery in Crestwood, Illinois, not far from Blue Island, where I was born and raised. It wasn’t easy to find, but from all appearances, it hasn’t been neglected, either. Several youth-oriented Christmas decorations were left near his headstone the last time I stopped there, presumably by his mother (his father’s grave is now beside his) or perhaps his siblings. Regardless, the love and affection for this boy has withstood the decades.
His name was Steven and he died in 1975, exactly one month before his 14th birthday. Also just a few months before he and I were to graduate from the eighth grade. Steven and I had pretty much come through grade school together. I remember one time, when we were in sixth grade, he came from out of nowhere when some other kid had thrown a wild punch at me for no apparent reason – he was showing off his kung fu prowess or some stupid thing like that – and Steven basically came between us, asked the kid what he thought he was doing, and then proceeded to stare him down until he slunk back into the woodwork. Why had he done that? I don’t know for sure. I think I might have gotten him out of trouble once and he was repaying the favor. In any case, I appreciated what Steven did and still remember his gesture of friendship to this day.
My classmate died from what we refer to today as a pediatric brain tumor. A brain tumor diagnosis in 1975 may as well have been a death sentence. I do not recall all of the details, but I know that Steven’s troubles seemed to have come from out of nowhere, very quickly. I know that surgery was performed and I know my classmate did not survive. I’m not sure I believed the news at first, but was soon to be convinced.
His was the first wake I had ever attended, the first dead body I had ever seen in person. There Steven lay, a classmate the same age as me, whom I had known for about eight years and who by all rights should have still had an entire lifetime ahead of him. The top of his head was wrapped in a flesh-colored bandage, where his long, straight, black hair should have been. His skin had this unnatural pink hue to it, instead of the usual brown. He was dressed in his altar boy garments. None of this had a calming effect on me in the least. That kid showed up in my dreams for weeks afterward.
That was an ending, a rather unpleasant one, too. Forty years have gone by since then, but I have never forgotten about Steven. Through the decades, especially during some of the lower points in my life, I have found myself wondering why he was taken from us at such a young age and why I was left to continue on. The answer to that question has not yet been fully revealed to me.
Now there is no simple way for me to transition smoothly from what I’ve just told you to what comes next, but if you’ll just be patient and walk with me a bit, I promise you will see the connection. For the record, I went on to high school, then college; I graduated, got a job, got married, started a family, and so forth. Somewhere along the line, I took a fancy to writing. All of this is well and good, but there is a different beginning you need to know about, and this also originated in Blue Island.
Once when I was about four years old, my family had gone visiting my aunt, uncle and cousins, all older and cooler than me. Like many Italians at the time, they lived “below the hill” on the east side of town. The two families visited each other very often, but this time stands out in my mind because it turned out to be a pivotal point in my life. One of my teenage cousins had bought a motorcycle and was showing it to everybody. At some point he and several others present asked if I would like to go for a ride. I must have nodded or something, because I was suddenly lifted off the ground, placed in front of my cousin – more or less on the gas tank – and shown where to hold the sides of the handlebars. Then we turned around in my uncle’s driveway and headed off, among shouts of “Hold on tight!” and “Be careful!”
I can still recall the sound of that one-cylinder engine and the vibration through the handlebars as the engine rose and fell, going between first and second gears. At one point, we came to a stop and my cousin asked me which way I wanted to go. I pointed and off we went, cruising through the neighborhood. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. A few minutes later, we pulled back into the driveway. People were asking me what I thought as somebody lifted me from the bike and set me back on terra firma. I turned around, pointed to that motorcycle and exclaimed, “I want one of those!” My mother began yelling something in Italian and I don’t think she stopped for another fourteen years.
In the years that followed, I went for many more rides with my cousins, as they acquired bigger and faster bikes. Every so often I would be foolish enough to utter the word “motorcycle” in my mom’s presence and she would begin hollering again. It was great fun. But then I went to college, got a job, got married, had kids… It seems I had neither the time nor the money to get that motorcycle. I’m sure my mother was very happy, at least for a while.
The year was 2002 and I had turned 41 years old. Chalk it up to middle age crisis – why not, my wife did – but somehow that long-dormant desire had reawakened and I decided to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic Rider Course. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford a bike of my own, but I reasoned that it would be satisfying enough just to see that “M” classification added to my drivers license. So I did it… and I failed. That’s right. I had gotten a perfect score on the written exam, but lost my nerve on the riding range and gave up too many points to pass.
I was crushed. Didn’t these people know I was destined to become a motorcyclist? Apparently not, except for one particular instructor who had seen that gleam in my eye and understood how much it meant to me. On our way out, she pulled me aside and advised me to come back in August, because although all the MSF classes are booked solid by March, the end-of season classes end up with vacancies and I could likely just walk in and register.
I spent the rest of that summer mentally repeating the range exercises over and over again, until I was executing every maneuver flawlessly. When August came, I walked into one of the scheduled classes and was able to register, just as that instructor had said. I took the entire course over again, asking more questions and getting much more out of it than I had the first time. The range exercises were less intimidating, because I had performed then all hundreds of times in my head. When testing day came, I went first and came within one point of a perfect score. At last I was a motorcyclist!
Turns out I had been sorely wrong about one thing: Getting that “M” on my license wasn’t enough. The motorcycling bug had bitten me hard. Less than a year later, I had acquired a gently used two-tone Honda Shadow A.C.E. Like most new riders, I started out by riding through my neighborhood, gradually going farther and farther. But I was riding alone, and I am not a good alone person. Because none of my friends at the time were motorcycle riders, I began seeking out opportunities to ride with other people. After doing a little research, I came across a local event called the Chicagoland Ride for Kids®, a fundraiser for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
It was like being struck by a lightning bolt. Pediatric brain tumor? Steven!
Back in ’75, when a tearful teacher told her classroom full of stunned kids what had caused Steven’s death, she hadn’t used the word “pediatric”, so it might have taken a second for me to understand what I had found – an organization formed to fight what had killed my classmate. I knew I had to do this. So despite having not one minute of group riding experience, I showed up at the Allstate Insurance corporate facility on July 14, 2003, for my first escorted charity ride. There we were, just me, my then-11-year-old daughter and roughly 3,000 casual acquaintances.
Was I nervous? Not at all. I was scared. But we did it! And together with all the other motorcyclists, we raised $325,092 for pediatric brain tumor research that day. Thus began a new tradition for Teresa and me. My daughter and I have been raising money for pediatric brain tumor research by actively participating in the Chicagoland Ride for Kids every year since 2003.
Now a funny thing happened in 2005, when my son, then age 12, began expressing an interest in our efforts. A motorcyclist companion of mine learned of his interest and offered to carry my son on his bike at the ’05 event. I graciously accepted and in so doing, incurred the ire of my daughter, who had come to think of the ride as “our event.” Oh, the shame of it all!
Of necessity, for the sake of keeping peace in the family, our tradition then expanded and I began participating in two Ride for Kids events per year. Each July, my daughter and I would ride in the Chicagoland event and in August, my son would ride with me in the Wisconsin Ride for Kids, which was held in Middleton. Both of my kids were happy with that arrangement, an accomplishment in itself.
Last year, for the first time, the Chicagoland and Wisconsin Ride for Kids events were held concurrently, out of Lake Geneva. Lucky for me my son, now in his twenties, has a motorcycle of his own and his sister no longer sees it as a supreme insult for him to participate in the same event as us. Even my wife, who does not ride, showed up at last year’s event, making our endeavor a true family affair.
And so it continues, year after year. Me, I wouldn’t miss this for the world. And now you know why. Thanks for listening.
If you would like to support our efforts with a small donation, please visit my fundraising page at http://pbtf.convio.net/goto/daversa. We would be grateful. I even have a No Shave November promotion going on, where the amount of my beard that gets shaved off will be determined by the donations made via my page this month.