Contemplating the Passage of Time

swa4908

I’m sitting in my home office (read: an old desk in my basement), tracking the progress of my son’s flight back to Oregon via flightaware.com as I write this. He is 23 years old and in the process of finishing off his final year at the Portland Actors Conservatory. He was home for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, which have now passed. Today is also my daughter’s 25th birthday. I have no idea how I could possibly have two kids in their twenties when I am still just a kid myself. Alright, that’s a bald-faced lie… sort of. It’s true that on the outside, I am older, baggier, surely no longer young enough to be called middle-aged. But on the inside, my twenties weren’t all that long ago and I’ve still got this young, foolish streak that rises to the surface more often than I would care to admit. In many ways, I never grew up. And it’s unlikely that I will do so anytime soon because I’m having too damned much fun.

I hope that my daughter enjoyed her somewhat laid back birthday and I pray that my son lands safely in Portland, nearly three hours later than my intended bedtime. I look at their lives the way I look at this new year that has just gotten underway. Imagine the possibilities! My kids may be feeling the pressures of adulthood—and I know from experience, the pressure can be very real—but they still have so many possibilities ahead of them. Indeed I can still see many possibilities for myself. It’s true, I am a lot further along in life than are my two kids, but I assure you I am far from ready for the grave just yet. I have many roads left to travel, many stories left to write, and a great deal of love and laughter left to share.

So here’s to 2017! May we all realize at least some of those great possibilities we’ve imagined, and may we each find ourselves at least a little bit closer to whatever it is we are seeking in life. Thanks for hanging with me.

Now In Their 4th Year: DuKane Santa Girls Promote Annual Toy & Food Run

santa-girls-3

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.”
santa-girls-4santa-girls-2santa-girls-6
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.”
santa-girls-1
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.
Fans and followers of the DuKane Santa Girls  can stay up to date on their appearances and promotions via their Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/DuKane-Santa-Girls-701322956613714/).

Ann and Michael’s Great Labor Day Weekend Adventure (Version 2016)

dubuque00

This adventure began in the wee hours on the Friday leading into Labor Day weekend. I was up sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 AM, getting myself ready and loading Miss Scarlett, my motorcycle, and I was rolling out of Plainfield shortly after 5:30, hoping to miss at least some of the dreaded Chicagoland morning rush hour traffic, which incidentally lasts about four hours. Despite the relatively early hour, I was stoked. My friend Ann and I were taking a three-day road trip to Dubuque, where we would rendezvous with an unknown number of motorcyclists who attend the Midwest Motorcycle Rally, which occurs in July of each year. This Dubuque meet-up was not a formal event like the rally, but more of a “gathering by invitation” for those rally goers who would rather not wait until next July to get together again. As soon as I received the invite, I had begun pestering Ann about going with me. After all, she had enjoyed the La Crosse rally so much and besides, as I’ve said so often, I am not a good alone person.

By sheer coincidence, before we had even discussed taking this weekend trip, Ann and I  had individually arranged to have that Friday off. So even though the first gathering of our group wasn’t scheduled until 6:30-ish that evening, we were able to take full advantage of what turned out to be a picture perfect day, weather-wise. Which is why this adventure began so early on Friday.

Dubuque01

I rode up to the Oconomowoc area, encountering a few pockets of traffic, one near O’Hare International Airport and the rest in the greater Milwaukee metro, which has been hobbled by road construction for some time. All in all it wasn’t so bad, though. The air was on the cool side for early September, but the sun was shining and the skies were beautiful. Before long I arrived at Ann’s place and began removing my riding gear as my dear friend came out to greet me, as she usually does. We were both grinning from ear to ear, like a couple of kids on Christmas Eve, but as eager as we were to set out, our coffee-drinking adult sides won out and we went in for some hot java first. We sat out on Ann’s balcony, sipping our coffees, updating each other on our respective family lives, and discussing the day’s loose itinerary. I even got a poppy seed muffin out of the deal. When time and weather allow, breakfast on that balcony has become our favorite way to start days like this one. But just because we had all day didn’t mean we wanted to spend it there.

In no time we had Ann’s things stowed away with mine in Miss Scarlett’s hard luggage and were heading out toward Dubuque, Iowa by way of Galena, Illinois. I take no small amount of pleasure in taking Ann places to which she has never been before. In that regard this whole weekend promised to be a virtual jackpot for me, because as far as I could ascertain, my favorite pillion hadn’t been to any of the places we were scheduled to visit, unless you want to count passing through Prairie du Chien on our way home from La Crosse as a visit.

In any case, I have been making trips to historic Galena, Illinois ever since I was seven years old.My eldest sister attended a small liberal arts college in Mt. Carroll and when we went to visit, we would sometimes go to Galena. Since that time, I’ve managed to go back at least every few years, either by auto or motorcycle. (Side note: Shimer College moved out of Mt. Carroll years ago, but the former campus is still there, now home to the Illinois Preservation Studies Center. It’s kind of a neat place to see, so perhaps Ann and I will stop there, briefly, on some future ride.)

IMG_6477IMG_6476

Galena is a great destination in itself, for people of all ages and walks of life. Bikers love this area because Jo Daviess County features some great riding roads, with plenty of hills and scenery that most of Illinois is not know for. They don’t call us flatlanders for nothing, but in this, the northwest corner of the state, they don’t call us flatlanders at all. Ha!

There is enough here to keep history buffs occupied for a while, too, including the home of Ulysses S. Grant, our country’s 18th president  (see granthome.com and www.galenahistory.org). Shoppers and antiquers alike will love all that the downtown area has to offer. Do you like to eat? The restaurants and food shops will keep you busy for some time. Romantic getaway? It’s here. Stuff for seniors? It’s here. Got kids? Galena has toy stores, candy, popcorn and ice cream shops, too.

Dubuque02a

The first thing Ann and I did was head over to Durty Gurt’s Burger Joynt for lunch. Some eating establishments come and go in places like Galena, and some places stick around for a while. Durty Gurt’s has been offering decent food,  generous portions, and atmosphere in spades since 2007. I had been there a couple of times and thought Ann might enjoy eating there. She did, although we walked out full almost to the point of being uncomfortable. The portions here are very generous, but the food itself is rather tasty, which makes it easy to just keep right on eating, even when you know you ought to stop. We needed to walk it off, so we spent some time perusing downtown Galena.

We went into a yarn shop Called FiberWild that had a sign by the door proclaiming “You Need Yarn” (Ann is a knitter/crocheter and loves yarn). I applauded Ann for not being shy about going into any store she wanted to see, but much to my amazement, she did not buy anything. Whether this was because the bike was already almost packed to bursting or because of my friend’s iron willpower, I can only speculate. By comparison, at my urging, we stopped in at the Galena Cellars winery shop, tasted a variety of their goods, and walked out with two bottles of wine to enjoy during our stay in Dubuque. Hey, there is always room on board Miss Scarlett for wine.

dubuque33dubuque35dubuque34

Get this: I’ve been going to that town for almost 50 years now, and in all those years, I have never taken the time to check out the Galena River that flows through it, or this picturesque little place called Grant Park, which lies just across the river from downtown Galena. Until now. Besides motorcycle touring, Ann and I both enjoy taking long walks—not rugged hiking, but nice walks of say one to five miles—so on that Friday, both of us walked across the foot bridge at the end of Green Street and checked out Grant Park for the first time. What a lovely municipal park this is, with many benches, old-fashioned street lamps, a gazebo, a pavilion, a really old-looking fountain, and people. Real people, like school kids, running about hooting and hollering, and couples young and old, strolling the park or sitting together watching the river flow. In the middle of this park is a statue of Grant. At Ann’s urging, I did my best to imitate his stance, but I don’t know how well I did.

Dubuque21

After a decent amount of walking, and with our wine selection safely stowed, we headed off to Dubuque, a mere 20–25 minute ride via US Highway 20, which becomes Dodge Street after you cross the mighty Mississippi and come into town. That’s where our group’s hotel, Days Inn Dubuque, is located. And unfortunately this is where the only dark cloud cast its shadow over our otherwise bright and cheerful weekend.

Without dwelling on the negative, let me summarize it thusly. About a month prior to our stay, I made one reservation for two king rooms at this inn via Booking.com. I added a request that the rooms be close together and corresponded directly with the hotel (I still have the emails) regarding this request. When we arrived,  the desk help claimed they received reservations from Booking.com for one king room and one room with two double beds. That’s one count of bullshit.

With regard to my (documented) request that the rooms be together,  the desk help would not even acknowledge receiving my request and said our rooms were nowhere near each other. They were at opposite ends of a three-building complex. Neither Ann nor I was okay with that arrangement, if only for safety reasons. So in order to get two rooms anywhere near each other, we had to agree to two rooms with two double beds each. Not the end of the world, but not what I reserved over a month prior. That’s two counts of bullshit.

The only available rooms were smoking rooms—that’s not the hotel’s fault because such was the case when I made my reservation—but my room was so bad, it smelled like someone had just put out their cigarette, and that odor never got better, for three days and two nights.

I’d like to say that’s the end of it, but the bullshit went on. The outdoor pool was cold and full of insects—mostly dead, but not all of them—and there was this odd little spot in the pool where mini/micro bubbles continuously rose to the surface for no apparent reason. We swam once; that was enough. I can’t comment for Ann, but in my room, both of my mattresses were worn out. Meanwhile in Ann’s room, one corner up by the ceiling had substantial mold growing on it. Presumably because this was Labor Day weekend, the hotel was booked solid; and it had been too late in the day when we arrived to cancel anything, which meant our essential choices were two: take it or leave it. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

But Ann and I are both resilient types and made the best of a bad situation, essentially laughing it off, saying nothing of consequence to the others in our group, and making the most of an otherwise fantastic weekend. Besides, it sounds worse than it was. On a bright note, one day after I returned home, I received the usual survey invitation from my friends at Booking.com, asking me to rate my recent stay at the Days Inn Dubuque. I gave a very thorough review, with a chaser email sent directly to my friends at Booking.com, and I’m sure as soon as the appropriate party’s computer quits smouldering, I’ll hear something back. But I digress.

Dubuque18Dubuque19dubuque37

On the evening of Friday, September 2, our merry band of travelers convened in the hotel bar and made plans to go out for supper. There being no substitute for local knowledge, we took the advice of some locals and went downtown to the Mason Dixon Saloon, which is reputed to have good barbecue. I am pleased to report that their reputation is duly earned. I ordered a half rack of ribs, while Ann ordered grilled shrimp. We shared and for the second time in one day, ate more than our fill. The ribs were served dry-rubbed, with a sweet sauce on the side. They had the right texture and decent flavor, too. The shrimp rested in a seasoned garlicky buttery coating, were cooked correctly and were also very flavorful. This proved to be a good start to our weekend.

After supper, some of the group returned to the hotel bar, some turned in, and some opted to open a bottle of Galena Cellars wine and toast the weekend before saying goodnight. You know, thirty-some years ago, I’d have stayed out until the last person had had enough and then laughed as I walked away, still vertical. Today I possess neither the stamina nor the need to prove my drinking prowess. I’m either becoming old or becoming more careful; maybe a little of both.

Dubuque22dubuque40dubuque38dubuque39Dubuque23

Saturday was to be a full day of  motorcycle touring for our group and it did not disappoint. After a free continental (read: no meat) breakfast at the hotel, we readied up and gathered in front of the lobby for a day of fun and adventure that would take us to destinations in Iowa and Illinois. Our first stop would be the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa. I enjoy visiting this museum, which features quite a collection of interesting, unusual, and/or historically significant pieces, in addition to changing exhibits that give visitors a reason to return.

Certain enthusiasts will spend hours here, going over every detail of a particular genre or brand or even a single machine, while others take a more casual approach and simply peruse the exhibits, spending a little more time on items of particular interest. Ann and I both fall into the latter category. I would occasionally stop and tell her what I knew about a particular item and she would do likewise, often pointing out things that I would have otherwise missed. I particularly enjoyed the small Evel Knievel exhibit, which included one of his Harley-Davidson XR750 motorcycles, a couple of his leather jumpsuits, and a rather nasty-looking set of his x-rays that I had never noticed before. And then of course there is the Roadog, a unique custom motorcycle built by the late William “Wild Bill” Gelbke, an engineer from Wisconsin. This machine, like its designer, is the stuff of legends, utilizing a Chevy engine and a Powerglide transmission, among other things. It’s big, really big.

dubuquexx

Next we went down the road to J&P Cycles, a large mail order/internet retailer of motorcycle parts, accessories, apparel and novelties. The company was founded by John and Jill Parham in 1979. John is also one of the founders of the museum from which we had just come. I don’t know that either of us was expecting to buy anything—we had merely intended to browse the huge retail center—but we both walked out with some new headwear. Ann found a headband that she really liked and also bought me this really neat “COOLMAX” skullcap-like thing that is easy to don and remove, but manages to stay put, even at highway speeds. I was skeptical when she first pointed it out in the store and I remarked, “it looks like underwear for my head,” but she persisted and bought the cap for me. I was grateful for the gift and within minutes was loving the thing, which can also be worn as a cooling liner inside of a helmet.

Dubuque13

From Anamosa, Iowa we headed east on Iowa 64 toward the Mississippi River, where about 70 miles later, we crossed over into Savanna, Illinois. Sometimes it seems as though every weekend in the river town of Savanna, during riding season, is like a mini rally of sorts, with a constant parade of motorcycles coming, going, and of course, stopping. There are several bars in downtown Savanna that cater to the two-wheel crowd, including one called the Iron Horse Social Club, which is an arch rival to the establishment we were about to visit. I have never been there, but we rode past it and there were a lot of bikes parked in the vicinity of that place.

Just on the other side of town, on Illinois 84, we arrived at Poopy’s, which bills itself as Illinois’ biggest biker destination. This place is impressive. Besides the Pub n’ Grub, where the bar stools are made with padded toilet seats and references to excrement run wild on the menu, there is a souvenir and apparel shop (where you will find more crude references), multiple bars indoors and out, live entertainment outside, cabin rentals, and new this year, the Squirrel’s Nest, a covered bar up on their catwalk outside. Poopy’s used to have a tattoo parlor on the premises, but that had moved up the road since my last visit. I’m not sure why. In any case, it’s quite a biker destination and I had the privilege of taking Ann there for her very first time—but maybe not the last. Ha!

Poopy’s was to have been our lunch stop, and it was, but it was mid afternoon by the time we arrived, so this became our late lunch stop. And since Poopy’s serves up good food in generous portions, like most popular biker stops, we effectively did away with the need to go out for supper that night, too.

Dubuque24Dubuque25dubuque36Dubuque26

A live band began performing while we waited for our food and the place began to take on a more festive atmosphere as people continued to arrive and the rumbling thunder of bike engines never died down. This is the Poopy’s experience.

After we had eaten our fill and bought our souvenirs, we found our way to US Highway 20 and followed it north and west, past Galena, over the Mississippi and back into Dubuque. But rather than return to our hotel, we made our way into the city and up the bluff upon which is built, to check out the Fenelon Place Elevator, a fairly short and very steep scenic railway of sorts.

Dubuque07Dubuque06Dubuque08Dubuque28Dubuque27

As I understand it this elevator was put in by a banker who worked in town and lived up on the bluff above, so that he would have a quicker way to go home at noontime for dinner and a nap. The only other time I had been there, we started our tour at the bottom, but this time we started at the top of the bluff. From there you can see parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. On a picture perfect day like ours, the view was breathtaking.

Dubuque05Dubuque30Dubuque29Dubuque04Dubuque03

The cars are pretty small, so we had to descend in two groups. Ann and I were in the second group. The ride is relatively slow and smooth, but the stop at the bottom is somewhat abrupt, so riders are warned to remain seated until they hit bottom—literally. Once at the bottom, we got out, walked around, took more photos of the elevator, and found a shop that sold ice cream, candy, popcorn, and toys. Ann and I were still pretty full from our feast at Poopy’s, but we managed to share a cup of peanut-butter-and-chocolate-laced ice cream. Hey, it’s not like we were the only ones.

A short while later, we ascended the bluff, got back on our bikes and rode back down to our hotel, where an overwhelming majority of the group voted “no” on going out to eat again and instead we opted to hang out in the hotel bar, where a folk music duet was performing and the drink prices were on par with those of any normal bar, as opposed to a hotel lounge. As we all sat there, talking, laughing, and sipping our various libations, I looked around at the bar, the adjacent breakfast eating area, which had surely been a full service restaurant at one time, the patio and circular outdoor fireplace, and the decent-sized outdoor swimming pool. I imagine this was once a pretty cool place to stay, perhaps back in the late 1970’s or early 80’s. That wasn’t too hard to visualize, because I was certain we were looking at some of the original furnishings.

Dubuque20

Despite my opinions about the hotel, it still felt like Sunday morning had come all too soon. I didn’t want to leave yet; we were having too much fun! Part of the group was staying through Monday morning, but Ann and I had decided in advance to go home Sunday. We both had things to do before returning to (ugh) work on Tuesday and besides, we each had our respective families and pets waiting for us at home.

Dubuque09Dubuque10Dubuque11Dubuque12

Before heading for home, though, we followed our group over the river and up into Wisconsin, where we had planned to stop for lunch in Prairie du Chien. From that point, several of us would be peeling off and heading our separate ways. The weather was beautiful, again, and the ride to Prairie du Chien was fabulous. Besides, I was only too glad to have a few more hours of “we’re not going home yet” time with this awesome group of people.

Dubuque14Dubuque31dubuque32

Unfortunately every other biker for miles around, and quite a few non-bikers as well, had the same lunch idea in mind. We walked to four different places and they all had long waiting lists. Ann even tried smooth-talking a cigar store Indian posted outside of one such establishment, to no avail. So while the rest of the group toyed with the idea of crossing back into Iowa and looking for a lunch stop in that direction, Ann and I decided it was time to head east. So we bid our goodbyes and peeled off from the group.

Dubuque15dubuque42dubuque41

We found our way to Wisconsin 60, a most excellent road, and then onto Wisconsin 19 by way of US 12. Whenever we would enter a town and slow down enough to hear each other easily, Ann and I would talk about things, clarify our route, or just share a laugh together. After a quick snack and caffeine stop in Boscobel, we had decided to enjoy a late lunch in Watertown, at  a place Ann had wanted me to try, before getting her home. But as luck would have it, that establishment was closed when we got there. So we continued on to an alternate restaurant and found it to be closed as well. Ann suggested one more place to try before we headed out of our way in search of decent food—the Ixonia Pub. Lo and behold, the place was open! And so we went inside to share one last meal before I dropped Ann off.

Dubuque17Dubuque16

You know what? It wasn’t bad at all. The place was clean, the staff was friendly, the beer was cold and the food was quite good. Ann ordered a Pub Wrap with a side of fried curds and I ordered the Boss Hog, a burger topped with ham, bacon, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce, with a side of crinkle cut fries. We shared our sides along with each others company and had a nice meal together.

We got to Ann’s place and unloaded her things. I lingered for a short while, trying to rest a bit before taking my long, lonely ride home. I don’t like goodbyes. I don’t like long, lonely rides, either. I usually counteract my post-road-trip letdown by looking ahead to the next time—and that’s pretty much what I did, all the way home to Plainfield. My Sunday night ride home was blissfully uneventful, mainly because the big going home traffic jams were still 24 hours off. I no longer recall exactly when I pulled in, but it was late.

Time and again Ann and I found ourselves thanking each other for the fantastic weekend we’d shared. It really had been great. Less than 24 hours after I got home, I was sending Facebook friend requests out to the folks in the group who were on Facebook but with whom I had not yet connected, while Ann uploaded many photos and a few awesome videos that she had shot, and began producing the most lovely slide show video as a permanent reminder of the wonderful time we’d shared. Ann is a decent photographer in her own right, with a creative eye for doing things like this video. She is also my most excellent riding companion and a very dear friend. I look forward to our next outing.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Stress Is but a Response

I often need to remind myself that stress is not a stimulus. It’s not something “out there” that happens to us. Rather, stress is a response to external stimuli—actually one of multiple responses that are possible. So while it may be easier said than done (and practice makes perfect, though your mileage may vary, insert another cliché here), if you want a less stressful life, choose a different response. I want to share three recent instances where something happened that elicited a stress response from me that was not necessary.


Within the first half hour of waking up this morning, I dropped my phone from roughly waist height onto my kitchen floor. The phone landed face down, loudly. The last two times my phone fell to the floor, I ended up having to replace my Zagg Glass screen protector. They come with a lifetime warranty but the customer pays shipping each time and must return the damaged shield.

After the second time, I reconsidered my choice of cases and gave up my ultra-thin metallic case, a classic example of form over function, in favor of a Pelican brand product, similar to one my son had been using for months with excellent results. I should have considered this before allowing my gut to clench up as I retrieved my phone from the floor. The phone was quite intact, as was the Zagg Glass shield. Even the Pelican case was like new, not a mark on it.

So you see, my stress response was unfounded. Going forward I will try to be more careful with my phone and little less concerned when it falls again, as it surely will happen. I will also be a fan of Pelican brand phone cases.


Stress issue number two actually predated the first one by three days, which means it had time to ferment and grow. Last Saturday morning, following my triumphant return home from an epic road trip to Oregon and back, I had taken my motorcycle up to Randy’s Cycle in Marengo. By Saturday afternoon, I noticed something quite new in my garage: a fresh oil stain. I could not tell with certainty where on my bike the oil was leaking from, but my initial thought was that the oil was leaking at the drain plug and finding its way to my gremlin bell before dripping onto my previously oil-free floor.

To say that I became stressed over this discovery would be an understatement. After all, I had brought my favorite shop a motorcycle that did not leak oil and they seemingly sent me home, 57 miles away, with one that did. On top of all that, the shop had already closed before I made this unsettling discovery, and it was a holiday weekend, so the shop would not be open again for three days. So there I was, set up with a holiday weekend and no bike to ride because mine was busy marking territory in my garage—something that this brand is not known for.

But here’s the thing: I already knew, with certainty, that whatever the problem, whatever the cause, the folks at my shop of choice would make it right. They had done so before, even when the issue wasn’t their doing. I’ve been doing business with Randy Weaver and company for over three years now. They are known to be the best Victory dealer in all of Northern Illinois and in my opinion, that reputation has been well-earned.


So I got up this morning and rode Miss Scarlett back to Marengo. It was a bit of an inconvenience, but not the end of the world, and in point of fact, I had a rather nice ride. Upon arrival, they took my bike in and fixed the problem, which appears to have been unrelated to any work they did Saturday. It seems that on my way home Saturday, a seal where the shifter linkage passes through the engine case popped out of place, causing a slow but steady leak.

I rode the bike home, stopping a few times along the way to check for a leak, parked her in the garage with a dry piece of cardboard underneath the engine case, and checked again every few hours. No leak.

Episode three… I don’t know for sure what prompted me to go looking for my riding vest, but when I did so, I could not find it. No big deal, right? I probably put it down in an unusual place when I got back from Randy’s this morning… Oh, wait, I hadn’t worn it this morning. Well then surely when I had gone over there Saturday… Nope, I wore my jacket Saturday. Perhaps on Friday, when I had concluded my epic road trip? No dice. It had been cold in Minnesota that morning and pretty cool in Wisconsin, too, so I had worn my leather jacket all day.


Alas, I had not worn that vest since last Thursday, when I rode from Rapid City, South Dakota to Worthington, Minnesota. But surely I had brought the vest home… right?

My wife, Karen, called the hotel, but no vest had been turned in. She also called Randy’s, but I could have saved her the trouble, had I known. I messaged my sister, who had been on the trip with us. Then Karen and I took turns going through the van, the motorcycle, all our luggage, and every room in the house, turning everything upside down and inside out like frustrated DEA agents. Nothing.

I plastered the situation across Facebook, with photos. Almost immediately some of my biker friends began spreading the word. I should note that their response was instantaneous and impressive. I began to wonder what might happen if some of my brethren had come across my vest on the back of some unwitting teen. I must confess, that thought made me smile a little. But inside the space between my ears, stress had been building up big time.

At some point, stress had given way to resignation. That is, I had become emotionally resigned to having lost not only my leather vest, but all the pins and patches that I had added to it over the past few years, some of which were no longer replaceable. The effect was immobilizing me and I hated that, because despite whatever emotional and financial attachment I might feel about that vest, it was still just a thing. And things shouldn’t wield that kind of power over us.

The vest had been in my house the whole time. While passing through my bedroom—which had already been ransacked once or twice—something or someone possessed me to check the top of my wife’s dresser one more time. Then, on an apparent whim, I reached around and behind the dresser, thrusting my hand into the narrow abyss between that chest of drawers and a wall… and felt my fingers brush against something leathery.

“Eureka! I found it!” Similar messages were shared in earnest across Facebook and in text messages.

Again the stress—indeed the anguish—had been unfounded, but I didn’t know it at the time. If I could have even delayed the stress response for a while, I’d be better off.

A few parting thoughts:

  • Whether we exercise it or not, we have the power to choose our response to various stimuli.
  • If you’re going to be emotionally charged, like me, consider leading with positive emotions.
  • Pelican phone cases: good stuff.
  • Randy’s Cycle: good people.

Thank you for hanging with me.

After the Smoke Clears


When we returned home from watching some official local fireworks, the air in our subdivision was filled with smoke and the unmistakable aroma of saltpeter. Despite my town’s alleged “zero tolerance” policy regarding illegal fireworks, their use has been quite prevalent for the past two days. I’m cool with that, because I was once young and stupid myself. 

I had this friend—let’s call him Fred—who seemed to have access to all manner of explosive fireworks. Back in the day, he could get me bricks of firecrackers, the kind with Chinese characters on the product label, as well as bottle rockets, Roman candles, and of course, the coveted M80’s which were reputed to have the force of a third of a stick of dynamite. Now who wouldn’t want those?

Fred almost got his manhood scorched by an errant bottle rocket once. The things are so unpredictable, anyway. To the best of my recollection, I had lit the bottle rocket that went after my pal. We had been using an old coffee can as a place to set off packs of firecrackers and launch one or more bottle rockets at a time. Pretty much the same as always, I staged my little pyrotechnic specimen in the can, pointed away from me and with the fuse hanging over the side of the can. I lit the fuse. After a few seconds of mild hissing, the little bottle rocket shot off with a loud PSHHHHFFFFT, heading straight up before hanging an unexpected curve, not unlike that of a heat-seeking missile, and shooting directly into my friend Fred’s crotch.

In less time than it takes to exclaim “Oh shit,” Fred made a graciously swift backhand sweeping motion across the front of his family jewels, sending the bottle rocket about three feet into the airspace beside him before it went off with a loud BANG. Fred just stood there, looking at me as the smoke cleared. Upon having just witnessed his close call, I took immediate action and began laughing like an idiot. 

To be sure, there were more incidents such as this one, but Fred and I lived through them all, with our respective appendages and organs present and accounted for. If you are reading this, I hope you had a pleasant and safe 4th of July. 

Epic Journey Day Thirteen — The Bittersweet Run Home


Things are different in the Midwest. We don’t have majestic mountain ranges. We don’t have deserts. We do have natural beauty, though, and it’s different from what the other places have. And traveling to other places  has made me more cognizant of natural features in the Midwest. This is why we should travel. I read this somewhere… When we return, everything is still the same, but we have changed. 


I took almost no photos today because, unlike yesterday, this was not a day for doing touristy things. This was the run home. I estimated about 535 miles between our hotel in Worthington, Minnesota and my home in Plainfield, Illinois. My wife Karen had more like 610 miles to cover, because she needed to drop my sister off before coming home.  Our friend Eddie had already departed, in an effort to surprise his wife by getting home early. 

We stayed together, the two ladies in the minivan and me on my bike, for the first half of the day, so that we could have lunch together. So we spent the first half of this day within sight of each other as we crossed southern Minnesota. I noticed that, like in many of the western states we had crossed, the interstate highways of Minnesota are set up to be closed down when conditions warrant.  I’m thinking winter storms, but I don’t really know what criteria must be met in order to close an interstate highway. We don’t do that in Northern Illinois. We plow continuously and apply ponderous quantities of rock salt (NaCl) to burn off whatever the plows don’t get. Indeed, in my little corner of the world, political careers have been created  and destroyed based on ones ability to control snow and ice to the satisfaction of all. 

We were approaching La Crosse, Wisconsin around  lunchtime, so we went downtown and checked out Fayze’s Restaurant & Bakeryt. We opted not to try any of their fresh baked goods for dessert, but I must admit, I was tempted. A
After lunch, for the sake of time, we stopped trying to stay within site of each other. I took a few legal liberties with regard to speed laws, and after five hours or so, I found myself home again. 


In all we’d come 4,782.2 miles since we left the R Place truck stop on June 19. Miss Scarlett, my Victory Vision Tour, got me through all those miles without issue. 

I regret nothing. 

Epic Journey Day Twelve — Rapid City to Worthington


Over the past twelve days, I have ridden through some breathtakingly beautiful parts of our country, but could not capture many parts of it because I was riding at the time, with no opportunities to pull off and stop, no digital cams mounted on my helmet or bike, and no photographer riding pillion with me at the time. Every now and then I would stop somewhere and shoot whatever I could. Just know that there was much, much more that I was not able to capture. That was frustrating at times. You know this practically begs for a return trip with a full-on camera crew. 


Speaking of frustration, one potentially frustrating thing about doing a long run like this on a fairly tight schedule is that you will pass right by—or worse yet, right through—other places that are vacation destinations in themselves, but you can’t stop and “do” those places, because there isn’t enough time. In the last few days, I’ve ridden past Yellowstone, past the Devil’s Tower, through the Black Hills without stopping in any of the usual places, and past the Badlands. Today, in my own small way, I tried to compensate for that by stopping at a couple of popular tourist attractions on our way east across South Dakota. 

In the 1930’s some hick drug store on the edge of  the Badlands of South Dakota began advertising free ice water to travelers on a nearby highway… and the rest is history. 


Yes, we did Wall Drug. We love doing Wall Drug. In fact we ate breakfast there. Then my wife and my sister did some shopping while I photographed a vast assortment of oddities for my collection. The whole affair was very touristy, and so were we. 


Three hours later, we were more than halfway across the state and visiting another classic American tourist attraction, the Mitchell Corn Palace. The Corn Palace is a different kind of touristy, though. Perhaps a greater sense of singular purpose (it’s all about the corn). There is also a lot less stuff for sale here than in Wall.  But again, we love places like this and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. 


 A couple of hours later, we had crossed into Minnesota and stopped for the night in Worthington. If all goes as planned, tomorrow will be the final day of this epic journey. See you then. 

Of Love and Motorcycles

Every year around the second weekend in February, three things have been happening for some time now—Valentine’s Day, my wife’s birthday, and the International Motorcycle Show in Chicago. One of these things is not like the other, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to tell which one. This year’s trio of festivities was one of those times.

Of these three traditions, Valentine’s Day would be the oldest. Some people call it a corporate holiday, but that’s not at all accurate. The earliest known written Valentine dates back to the year 1415, and the origins of this holiday concern a Christian martyr who lived, and consequently died, in the third century. We don’t know that Saint Valentine was born or killed in February. The placement of his feast day may have more to do with the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which fell on February 15. All of this is the stuff of mystery and legend, so who knows, really, but Google it if you want to learn more.

Beer KarenNext in the chronological order of things would be the birth of my wife. I can’t get into those particulars without getting into trouble. To put things into perspective, let me just say that we were married over 30 years ago and leave it at that. I do need to tell you some things about Karen, though, things that are highly relevant to this story.

For openers, Karen is not a motorcycle fanatic. Due at least in part to certain physical ailments and constraints, her total saddle time with me over the years amounts to less than four hours. If not for my own obsession with the hobby, I’m reasonably certain Karen wouldn’t have any interest in it at all. Yet nobody has ever been more supportive and encouraging of my own participation than she. On those rare occasions where pleasant weather and my free time converge, Karen is usually the first one to suggest that I go for a ride. Shortly after I had my first and, so far, only motorcycle accident, I briefly entertained the idea of taking the insurance money for my totalled bike and not buying another one. Karen let that idea take voice for all of 20 seconds before choking the life out of it with the words, “I guess you could, but you’d be doing it for all the wrong reasons.” This is the woman who more than once now, when it would have made more financial sense to keep the money, advised me to buy the bike. This is also the woman who, knowing that she would not enjoy riding pillion with me for very long, actually encourages me to let other beautiful women go riding with me. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the other Saint Karen.

DucatiRelatively young in the grand scheme of things, the origins of the International Motorcycle Shows only go back as far as the 1982 model year. I began going in 2003, the winter before I got my first bike. I was a late bloomer, learned to ride and got my license when I was in my early 40’s. At that point, I just wanted to get the “M” added to my license classification and never intended to actually get a bike. Or so I thought. But once bitten, once I had that M, well you know. So even though motorcycle ownership seemed to be out of the question financially, I wanted to go see bikes. So I dragged my wife and then-young kids to the big cycle show. A few months later, I had a bike of my own, a story unto itself, which we will get to. And I haven’t missed the IMS once since having gone that first time.

This year was destined to be different from the get-go. Both of my kids, now adults, have M’s on their drivers licenses and both have enjoyed going to the IMS with Karen and me over the years. But while my daughter has a healthy appreciation for motorcycles, my son was always more of a fanatic, like me. The two of us would spend more time looking at the bikes, sitting on bikes, engaging vendor representatives in conversation, etc., and then talking about the whole affair for weeks afterward. But this year, for the first time since 2003, my son wasn’t here to go with us. He’s attending an actors conservatory in Oregon for two years, so it’s understandable, but that didn’t make it any easier on me.
Perhaps that’s why Karen requested that we make a special weekend of it, as part of her birthday/Valentine’s Day celebration. She had never done so over the course of the previous twelve years, but in hindsight, it seems to make sense. Sure, it was still bittersweet, but to a much lesser extent because my wife, having had the foresight to know how I would likely fixate on my son’s absence, chose to displace all that with a night and day filled with love and motorcycles.

We arrived at our hotel in separate cars, after work on Friday. Like all the hotels surrounding the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, the Hilton Rosemont is quite nice, if a bit pricey. Parking in the hotel parking lot was $25 per car. The breakfast buffet was nice, but was almost as expensive as parking the cars. They have a small sundry shop, where everything costs about triple what you would pay for the same thing at a gas station convenience store. Fortunately, I always carry my own wine and nibblies for occasions like this. To be honest, I’m amazed there wasn’t a meter of some sort on the toilet’s flush handle. But it was nice. Our room was spacious and clean, the king bed quite comfortable. As romantic getaways go, you could do worse.

OompahFor her birthday supper, Karen had requested the Hofbräuhaus Chicago, which is very close to the hotel. Had it not been the coldest night of this winter season, we might have tried walking there. But it was bitter cold out, so we took my Chevy, which was still warm. What should have taken a minute or two ended up taking a quarter hour filled with wrong turns, dead ends and a stop in the wrong parking lot, where we were given directions to our destination. Bear in mind, this was only a half mile from our hotel, a mere ten minutes away on foot. But we valet parked, laughed it off and walked inside.

Beer Vat HBHI wouldn’t call the Hofbräuhaus romantic, but it is a fun place. The food is great, the beer is quite good, and they have live entertainment. It can be a bit loud, especially if your table is close to the stage, but it’s a good time. I would definitely go back. Try the warm pretzel for openers. Imported from Germany the thing is about as big as a dinner plate and comes with a cheese spread and two different types of mustard. Goes very well with a stein of beer.

PretzelFriday night was all about celebration and romance, but Saturday was fun, too—just in a different way. We got up uncharacteristically early for a Saturday, enjoyed a very nice breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant, checked out of our room, and then took the heated sky bridge from the hotel directly into the convention center. The show had just opened and since I had already bought our tickets, we were able to walk right in without having to stand in line.

Fast MeThe best time to attend the International Motorcycle Show in Chicago is on Friday. The show opens in the afternoon, while many people are at work, and runs until 8:00 PM. There are fewer people, and the manufacturer and vendor reps are fresh. Since 2003, I’ve been able to do that once, and only because I was unemployed at the time. But for those who can go on Friday, I recommend it. The second best day to go is on Sunday. It’s way more crowded than on Friday, but still isn’t too bad during the early hours. The key to doing the IMS on Saturday, probably the busiest day of the three, is to get there when it opens, move as best you can, and try to be done by early afternoon. That’s exactly what we did and by the time we left, around 1:00 PM, the line to get in was intimidating.

Custom NessKaren and I have always viewed the IMS as having two essential two parts, the bike manufacturers and the merchandise vendors. There are other categories, namely the brand-oriented owners clubs, organizations and charities, motorcycle events and tourism, custom bike displays and contests, seminars and demonstrations, some sort of stunt show, and the motorcycle dealership exhibitors. All are nice, but we have always been about the bikes themselves and the product vendors.

We spent hours walking the show. We always spend some time with our favorite tee shirt vendors, an older couple out of New York who have watched our kids grow up, know our faces if not our names, and always greet us with sincere hugs. They sell an awesome selection of tee shirts, too.

Fast KawAs for the bikes, I always like to see what’s new, and because I try to keep up with developments from the major manufacturers, I often arrive looking for specific models. But my perspective has changed entirely since I began attending this show. In 2003 I had never owned a motorcycle and wasn’t entirely sure I ever would. I went to the show wide-eyed and salivating, but left knowing that a purchase wasn’t imminent. Or so I thought.

I wanted to get a bike. I didn’t see how that was possible, for a variety of reasons, but I could imagine the possibility. And so I never stopped thinking about it. Inside of three months, I had a Honda 750 Shadow A.C.E. in my garage. The bike was barely a year old and had something like 3,600 miles on it.

The next year I went to the show as a bike owner, a bona fide motorcyclist. I still salivated, because there were many bikes I thought I might enjoy more than the one I owned. But again I left feeling fairly certain that a purchase wasn’t imminent. One year later, same thing. But two months after that, I bought my first new bike, a 2005 Honda ST1300 sport touring rig.

From that point forward, the number of “bikes I’d rather have” dwindled. In 2007, I suffered my first and (so far) only crash and my insurance company bought me another bike. I chose the same model.

Six more years passed before I bought another bike, not because I didn’t want one, but because the only bikes I wanted more than the one I had were out of my reach. But I continued to follow industry trends and developments, attended demo ride events, religiously continued to attend the IMS, and never closed my mind to the possibilities of getting that next bike. In 2013 I took possession of a gently used 2012 Victory Vision Tour an American made, full-on touring bike powered by a 106 cubic inch v-twin engine. This changed everything.

Custom RatFrom a North American touring standpoint, my current ride is near the top of the food chain. There are other “full dresser” touring bikes, each with its own set of pluses and minuses, and I look at every one of them each year. But for the last two years now, I leave the show without wishing I could afford a different bike than the one I own. I may dream of a new accessory or two, but that’s the extent of it. I’m in a good place.

By early afternoon, Karen and I had seen everything we wanted to see and were ready to head for home. The show had become quite crowded by then and we couldn’t help but notice the depth and breadth of humanity that was outside buying tickets and waiting to get into the show. We had picked a good time to leave.

Beer MeI am grateful to Karen for having thought up this getaway weekend, which provided some much-needed “us” time and helped me not to dwell on the first-time absence of my son. Such is the power of love and motorcycles. As far as I know, our son will miss the show next year, too. Will we do the same thing again? You’re asking the wrong person.

Until next time…

Close Encounters of the Thanksgiving Kind

roast-turkey-1566802-639x479   My memories of Thanksgiving are not exactly the stuff of Norman Rockwell illustrations. Oh, there have been plenty of fond memories, just not your typical textbook Americana vignettes. For one thing, I didn’t grow up in a traditional American household. My mother and father were Italian immigrants, as was the overwhelming majority of my cousins. I was born here, but my first words were probably spoken with an Italian accent.

how-to-make-italian-food-2-1566265-1280x960The traditional American Thanksgiving dinner consists of roast turkey with cranberry sauce and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and other assorted goodies. My Thanksgiving dinners came with most of that, plus a steaming bowl of homemade pasta smothered in homemade tomato sauce and a huge platter of meat that had spent hours simmering in that sauce – things like homemade meatballs, braciole and salsiccia (aka fresh Italian sausage). There was always homemade wine and homemade bread on our dinner table. The insalata – a tossed salad dressed with vinegar and oil, plus a small plate of olives on the side, in case anybody wanted some – came after the main course and before the dessert, which may have included pumpkin pie, raisin pie (my father’s favorite), biscotti, and who knows what else.

On any Sunday or holiday, my mother would get up around 5:30 and start preparing dinner, which we ate at noon, or shortly thereafter. By 9:00 AM, if you walked anywhere near my mother’s kitchen, the aromas alone could cause you to gain two pounds. And if she was expecting ten people for dinner that day, my mother cooked for twenty. That woman would rather have died than see us run out of food. My father used to say, “If you leave my table hungry, you’re a damn fool.”

olivesWhen I was a child, back in the 1960’s, there were still a good number of live poultry shops in the Chicago area. And since my grandfather, who briefly shared ownership of a small restaurant, refused to eat any bird we hadn’t killed ourselves, the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner was usually still walking during the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. I still recall a particularly traumatic experience I had one Wednesday afternoon prior to Thanksgiving, when I ran down to the basement of our Blue Island home, probably looking for my father, and came face-to-face with a tom turkey that was every bit as tall as I was. Maybe taller. We both stood there for a moment, staring at each other in the dim light of what was remaining daylight filtered through a small basement window above our heads.Turkey

The turkey said nothing. I turned and bolted back up the basement stairs, yelling at the top of my lungs, “Mmmmaaaaaaaa!” In the decades that followed, for as long as that house remained in the family, I always approached the basement with caution.

As time went on, it became apparent that nobody in our family cared all that much for leftover turkey. So by the mid 1970’s my mother had discovered the perfect solution to this: She stopped making turkey for Thanksgiving and baked a ham instead. This went on for years until 1986, the first year my new bride and I had Thanksgiving dinner at my folks’ house. A few weeks before, my mother turned to my wife and asked, “Karen, what would you like to have for Thanksgiving dinner?” Ma was just was trying to be accommodating to her new daughter-in-law. And in a similar spirit, not wanting her mother-in-law to go out of her way, my new wife responded, “Oh, a turkey would be fine.”

We had a huge turkey that Thanksgiving, plus all the other stuff – even a small ham. When Karen found out, after the fact, that my mother hadn’t cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving in years, but in fact had prepared that trophy bird just to please her, she seemed irritated with me for some reason. “I’m gonna’ kill you,” she hissed at me as I drove us home. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“But dear, had I done that, you would have given an answer to please Ma, when all she wanted to do was please you. See?”

Let me tell you, my wife may have been small, but she could sure pack a punch.

I’ll never forget the first time my wife baked a big, beautiful ham for dinner. Within 30 minutes, the whole house was filled with this burning chemical stench. It seems my bride had removed the outer plastic wrapper without realizing there had been a second layer of plastic beneath it. I came running into the kitchen just as she was removing our slightly charred, plastic-glazed dinner from the oven.

I tried to lighten up the situation by exclaiming, “Oh, look, a laminated ham!” Man, that woman can really swat when she wants to.

So yeah, our Thanksgiving gatherings may sometimes be more suitable for a slapstick comedy that the cover of Life magazine, but they are no less memorable. And it’s still very much about family for us. Grandparents. Parents. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Brothers. Sisters. And always, always children. These have surrounded me on various major holidays throughout the years – and there have been a lot of them now.

One last thought: Traveling has become a little easier for me over the years. When I first got married, starting the Thanksgiving holiday with a full tank of gas was very important, because even the local gas stations were closed on major holidays. I can only speculate that this is because, being people, retailers back then had their own families with whom to spend their holidays – and hearts that made them want to do nothing less. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that again.

To all of my readers, old and new, I wish a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!