For the Benefit of Others

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Why I Choose to Ride in the 2017 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run

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The Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run is something that has become important to me over the years. In terms of numbers, this is the biggest fundraiser run I do each year, with thousands of bikes, all riding together for a common cause, in support of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial.

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Whether you ride a motorcycle or not, if you have never visited the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois, I urge you to do so. That wall memorial is most unusual for several reasons. For openers, this memorial was made possible not by any branch of our federal, state, or local government—believe me, if that were the case, we would still be waiting—but by the Illinois motorcycle community. That’s right. As I understand it, the concept was hatched by a couple of bikers named Tony Cutrano and Jerry Kuczera. Made possible by donations of material, labor, and funds, this memorial was dedicated on June 19th, 2004. As the result, the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial became the first of its kind, a memorial honoring our fallen, by name, while a conflict is still ongoing.

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Each year, on the third Saturday in June, members of the motorcycle community gather in numbers—think four figures minimum, sometimes five—to raise funds for the memorial wall, which unfortunately continues to grow as more names are added each year, and to show their support for the fallen as well as for their families, some of whom are also in attendance that day (these are called Gold Star Families).

I want to talk to you about these families for a moment. You’ll notice them as you approach the wall, no matter if it’s during the day of the Freedom Run or any other day. They are usually very quiet and are usually focused on one of the many names now engraved on that wall. As often as not, some are crying while others are consoling—and sometimes they are all doing both at once. You know, it’s one thing to come thundering into Marseilles with a few thousand casual acquaintances, but once the kickstands are down, the closer everyone gets to the site of that memorial, the quieter things get.

And there you are, a badass biker, standing there looking at all those names engraved in the granite. You can see and hear the Illinois River flowing just beyond the memorial site. Then you hear another sound and you look over to see a mother, a father, a wife, a brother or sister, a child… sobbing uncontrollably. You look upon a scene like that and it changes the way you think about the Wall Memorial and the event that has made it possible through the years. It changed me, anyway.

Some years ago, I think it was 2005 or 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the co-founders of the wall memorial, the late Tony “Greaseball” Cutrano. At the time, I had been president of the Illini Free Spirit Riders motorcycle club, and we had arranged to meet Tony at the Wall Memorial and present him with a small donation during the off-season. After we presented the check and took our pictures (I wish I had one to share with you here), we spent some time talking. Of all the things we discussed, there was one thing Tony said that made everything click with regard to the scene I described earlier. He explained that for some families, that Wall Memorial is the closest thing they will ever have to a cemetery because sometimes, there is no body to be recovered. I never felt the same way again about the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, about the Wall memorial, about the big after party, about any of this gig.

I also have never missed this event in more than ten years.

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This year we will carry on the tradition that began in 2004, but without the “festival” support of the City of Marseilles. I could speculate on the reasons, but to what end? Listen to me: Times change, people change, events change. But our cause has not changed. Get it?

This year the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run returns to its roots by renaming its after-party the Celebration of Freedom. As you will see on the flier, this part of the event will take place at Fat Daddyz in nearby Seneca. It’s a great venue, I am told, but is obviously smaller than the City of Marseilles, so if parking becomes a bit of a hassle, please exercise a bit of patience and cooperation.

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Just one last point. I know some riders are gravely disappointed in the City of Marseilles for their decision to discontinue their municipal Freedom Fest this year. Yeah, me, too. But their municipal event was NEVER the focal point of the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run! Sure, some people stayed in town and partied while the solemn ceremony took place at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial site. Now wouldn’t it be a dirty shame if those brothers and sisters didn’t participate this year because the city wasn’t hosting a party?

Yes, that would be a dirty shame. Do we really want to buckle under a bad decision made by some lame politicians? This year, just like every year before, the Freedom Run itself and the solemn ceremony at the Wall Memorial are still the collective centerpiece of our day and they are still as important and alive and vibrant as they were in 2004. So please, do come out on June 17 and show your continued support for this cause. Come June 17, let’s ride!

The Dehumanized Condition

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I saw this Quartz article—More and more Indian IT engineers are under-skilled, unwanted, and unemployed— earlier today and although it involves a bunch of people I’ll probably never meet, in a country I’ll probably never visit, this piece bothered me on a fundamental level. It reminded me of something that I learned decades ago about an inevitable consequence of economic evolution, a consequence that renders large groups of people irrelevant, invisible, and forgotten.

I first entered college, sometime after the earth cooled, as a student of economics. That changed quickly enough, but not before I had completed several seriously enlightening courses in that discipline. At least some of what I learned from my esteemed professors, for better or worse, has stuck with me to this day. The above-linked article reminded me of this. Let me explain.

Economic evolution/revolution has always opened doors for some and slammed them shut for others. Consider the transitions from agriculture to industry, from industry to service, from service to information, and from information to (smart) automation. That last transition is still unfolding. In fact plenty of people either don’t know about it yet or are in denial—but that’s a topic for another time. My point is this: with every turn of the wheel, opportunities have opened and opportunities have closed. Each and every time, while traditionally understood job opportunities shrunk, new and exciting job opportunities expanded, albeit not always at the same rate. Maybe never at the same rate.

What happens when the only job role you’ve ever known becomes obsolete? On a purely academic level, the answer is simple: people must be retrained.

But even the citizens of academia will readily admit that not everyone can be retrained and funneled into the revised economy. Why? For openers, there will likely be fewer new jobs created than old ones eliminated. Second, who is going to pay for all this retraining? Finally, consider also that some individuals may be too close to retirement to start over—but not close enough to be able to retire.

If you haven’t already done so, please take a few minutes to read the article to which I referred earlier. Check out the prediction that “3.9 million employees of Indian IT services companies would become ‘irrelevant’ within the next four years” due to automation. And don’t overlook the prediction that 65% of the displaced workforce cannot be retrained.

That seems like an awful lot of people to disregard as irrelevant. Irrelevant! We aren’t talking about an obsolete screw that will no longer be used to manufacture a product. We aren’t talking about a line of code in a software program that is no longer needed. These are people! Human beings! When they disappear on paper, when they drop from the statistics, when they are no longer visible in the economic model, what do you imagine happens to them?

I am reminded of a 1993 movie called Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas. There is a scene in which Douglas’ character encounters a man protesting in front of a bank, raving about having become “not economically viable.” During this scene, the raving man is arrested and taken away by law enforcement officers. What is often lost on the audience is the fact that the man carted off by police is dressed identically to the anti-hero of this story.

Of course it doesn’t take an economic revolution to cause this condition. We see the same thing happen on a smaller scale whenever an economic downturn occurs. Or smaller yet when a specific industry falters. Or smaller yet, when this or that company is forced to “downsize” in order to remain viable.

This happens every day. I have witnessed it firsthand, on varying scales, for decades. As an educated man, I am capable of understanding and explaining the whole cause-and-effect episode. As a wordsmith, I can spin things toward a specific desired outcome.

Just remember one thing. No matter how we slice, dice, or spin a given situation, these are human beings we are talking about. Okay?

How would you like to be called irrelevant? I thought so.

I know this post has been a bit of a departure from the things about which I usually write. With that in mind, if you are still reading, thanks all the more for hanging with me.

 

Only Our Conflicts Are Real

Today I came to a realization regarding our moral, ethical and political ideologies.

Recall the poem “The Blind men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe. Six blind men are examining an elephant and each is adamant of his experiential findings. The last verse says it all.

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right,
They all were in the wrong!

Now before you go any further, examine this bit of reflection from—of all places— a 1966 western movie, The Professionals.

“Maybe there’s only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?”

And therein lies the rub. Aside from the fact that we each approach the current situation in Washington wearing the filters of our respective human experience, we also approach one another with conflicting understandings of good versus evil. From this perspective, we come to debate and argue, each with the intent of winning over the other guy. And for the most part, each will fail.

We can’t even agree on right from wrong! And in our efforts to win each other over through seemingly benevolent discussion, we vehemently entrench ourselves ever deeper into our private realities, ever bending our arguments to protect what is ours, rather than admit it might not be entirely accurate. Nice going.

I knew we were in trouble when I saw the exact same news story concerning President Trump being shared on Facebook by both a pro-Trump advocate and an anti-Trump detractor. The same story! And when I realized they couldn’t both be right, it occurred to me that the only sure thing in this equation was the conflict itself. That was real.

Wake up. You cannot win with the arguments you are making. In this regard, you are no better than one of the blind men in that poem. In fact, you are worse because at least the blind men were all of a like mindset.