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!

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She Likes Watching Birds

Leia Walking

Our family pooch is a German Shepherador Retriever mix named Leia, although I also refer to her as the black princess. She’s sort of a self-contradicting mixed breed, as Labrador Retrievers love the water and German Shepherds do not. Leia takes an interest in bodies of water, while firmly planted on dry ground, yet she despises going out in the rain and literally screams when being bathed.

Leia loves going for daily walks with me. When I come home from work, she bounces around the house, hooting, crying and vocalizing in general until I am ready to go and produce a leash. Once the leash is secured, we head off on a walk that usually takes us around four, six, or nine blocks. On long walks, we take the nine block route and add on a side trip to a local dog park, for a grand total of 2.75 miles, but during the cold months, when days are shorter, we have generally kept it down to circumnavigating six blocks.

While we are out walking, like any healthy dog, Leia loves to sniff where other dogs have recently been. As such, we religiously stop at area trees, mailbox posts, street lamps, and fire hydrants, for these are the social media of the dog world. Indeed, the way she keeps her nose to the ground as we peruse the parkways of southern Plainfield, one would think there is surely a bit of bloodhound in the mix. but it’s all good and truth be told, we both enjoy our walks, most days.

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With the approach of spring, we began to see more and more animal life while we were out and about. Squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other people with dogs all became more prevalent and the days have grown longer. We have also encountered dogs without their people, but save the inconsiderate, careless, and sometimes just plain stupid members of our community as a topic for some other time. Now Leia has always shown an interest in the animals around us. I have occasionally had to correct her for trying to yank me right off my feet in her effort to give chase to a rabbit with me in tow. One time I watched her try to leap into a maple tree after a robin that had just flown up there. I must admit, I admired her enthusiasm, but she was tethered to me at the time and I really had no desire to follow my dog up into a maple tree that day.

Duck Duck Goose

Now lately, my young gal has taken an interest in larger birds, if only because they are substantial enough to distract her while she is tracking the urinary trail of a previous canine contributor to the social media content that lines the broad parkways of Feeney Drive. We pass several retention ponds and a culvert or two during our normal walks and lately, these small-scale wetlands have been frequented by ducks and geese. So far, the geese have been  Leia’s favorite, perhaps because they seem large enough to be potential playmates. They also don’t act terribly afraid. They sometimes hang out by the sidewalk above one of the retention ponds and simply walk down to the water, slowly, once we are within a quarter block of them.

Hawk

We have also seen numerous hawks and even a few crows—or perhaps ravens; I’m never sure. Now these are of little interest to Leia. They are never very close and if they are ever on the ground they are not there for long. In all candor, the only time I have ever seen a hawk on the ground, it was in the process of killing and eating a small mammal or another bird. Those few times I have witnessed that, Leia was not with me. maybe that’s for the best. I can only assume the crows hang around to clean up after the hawks.

DucksMore Ducks

Lately, the ducks—Mallards actually—have given us the most viewing pleasure. They are more active than the geese, at least when Leia is around. We have witnessed water landings as well as sudden take-offs, the latter of which really got Leia’s attention one evening.

 


I would be lying if I said I didn’t get something out of these excursions as well. The truth is I do so on several levels. Besides the obvious benefits of daily exercise, I also use these opportunities to bond with my dog. In addition, there is something to be said for communing with nature, wherever you happen to find it. I usually take these walks during my first hour after returning from work. You might say that this is just one more way for me to destress toward the end of the day. However one chooses to look at it, I do believe I benefit from my daily walks with Leia.

Thanks for hanging with me!

Check out the Food Vendor Lineup at Dukane A.B.A.T.E. 30th Anniversary Toy & Food Run

bikesDuKane 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.
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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.
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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)
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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)
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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.

Land of Tee Shirts, Tattoos and Salt Water Taffy

It seemed like a mission of mercy. Despite being the same youthful age as me (stop laughing), and despite having been born and raised in Wisconsin, my longtime friend and pillion passenger of choice, Ann, had never been to the Wisconsin Dells. That’s right, never been there. Of course this meant we had to go there for a few hours of fun and adventure. So I bribed her with the promise of a genuine rubber tomahawk if she agreed to go there with me and on a beautiful Sunday morning, I motored up to her place on Miss Scarlett and we headed west on Wisconsin 16 to a place I have known since early childhood.

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For as far back as I can remember, folks could always gauge how close they were getting to the Dells by the quantity and frequency of billboard advertising along the road. Down in the Chicagoland metro, for example, you might see one such billboard as you head from point to point, nowhere near the Dells. If you follow Interstate 90 out of Illinois and into Wisconsin, you’ll see more. And more. And more, until you finally arrive in a touristic frenzy to go and experience different ways to spend your money.

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It’s like that along the state highways, too, only a lot less crowded and a lot more scenic. Also less stressful. Our fellow drivers/riders seemed happier and more courteous than did their Interstate-running counterparts. Even the billboard advertising seemed less aggressive, although they still increased in number and frequency as we got closer to our destination.

When we arrived, we weren’t exactly in a touristic frenzy, but I was anxious to show Ann around. We found an open parking space just off Broadway, which is the main drag in downtown Wisconsin Dells, shed our riding gear, and set out on foot. Ann had carried along a comfortable pair of walking sandals, which seemed like a really smart idea to me as I spent the day walking around in leather boots. In nothing flat we were assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of downtown. Frenzied tourists scurried in every direction. There were many families, but also couples, young and old, and the occasional group of teenagers and twenty-somethings.

When I was quite young, I had an aunt who had never married and worked in a public school system. During the summers, she would regularly toss me and my sisters into her station wagon and take us places. Sometimes we would be gone for two or three weeks, but sometimes only for a day or two. Such were our trips to the Wisconsin Dells. We never went to the downtown shops or attractions, which my aunt collectively referred to as junk. Instead we always did three things: the Dells Boat Tours, the Tommy Bartlett Water Show (as I believe it was called then), and the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial. Just about everything else was declared too dangerous (go carts, roller coasters, WWII Ducks, etc.) or fell into that junk category. The Indian Ceremonial was discontinued in 1997, but even if it hadn’t been, the show began at sundown, way too late for this Sunday outing.

I would really have loved to take Ann to the Tommy Bartlett Show, because even though she had never seen it, in a previous life Ann had known Tommy Bartlett. How cool is that! But alas, somewhere along the line, they stopped offering an early afternoon performance. The earliest show was at 4:30 PM, which after allowing for show duration, parking lot exit, travel back to Ann’s, eating something (one would hope), and traveling back to the other side of Chicagoland, would have had me getting home well after midnight. That wouldn’t have left me in very good shape for work a few hours later. So with that option gone, our agenda was fairly easy. We were there to eat, take a boat ride, and walk some of the downtown shops.

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As it was already approaching noontime, we opted to start with lunch. I had heard good things about a place called Monk’s Bar & Grill. Well let me tell  you, those good things were well founded. The service is prompt, the staff is as helpful and friendly as any you will find, and the food is quite tasty. Ann and I both ordered the bacon cheeseburger. Hers was medium rare and mine medium well, but both were as juicy as all get-out, and flavorful, too. It’s nothing fancy, mind you—it is, as the name implies, a bar and grill—but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend this place to friends.

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With full tummies we headed out and began walking toward the west end of downtown, toward the Dells Boat Tours docks. We passed many tee shirt shops, candy stores making and selling fudge and taffy, arcades, tattoo parlors (I don’t recall seeing those when I was young), fun houses, haunted houses, and more. Most of the people we passed on the street seemed happy to be there. Some of the parents looked a little tired. I’m sure there was also an angry tourist or two somewhere in that sea of humanity. There always is.

The angry tourist hadn’t expected to spend so much money, didn’t think it would be so crowded at a major tourist attraction in the middle of summer, doesn’t know why they had to sit in traffic just to spend more money, and on and on and on. And it isn’t enough that they are miserable. They want everybody to share in their misery, too, especially the people who are working their tails off at all the establishments. I once watched a father with two small children in tow give a restaurant cashier the riot act as she rang up his bill—the food wasn’t worth the money; the rolls were stale;the service was slow—all at the top of his lungs, as his two very small children looked on and an entire restaurant full of people did their level best to pretend not to notice. Just go home, angry tourist. Thank God they are so few and far between.

We soon reached the west end of downtown, we bought tickets for the Upper Dells Boat Tour, descended a long stairway to the docks, and after a brief wait, we boarded our boat, the Red Cloud, for a two-hour tour of what had originally brought people to this area, the natural beauty of its land and water.

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It seems to be the same at beautiful vacation destinations across North America. Wherever people flock to see Mother Nature’s greatest hits, somebody will be there to sell them tee shirts and a vast assortment of genuine souvenirs, many of which are probably made in China.Then come the fun houses, fudge shops, wax museums, water parks and so forth. Not that those things aren’t fun, but aren’t they the wholly fabricated polar opposite of why people began going to places like Wisconsin Dells, Niagara Falls, Gatlinburg, and Myrtle Beach in the first place?

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We made our first shore landing at Witches Gulch. We walked through the cool air of the narrow canyon. Whirlpools and rushing water could be seen and heard beneath the walkway. There is a particularly narrow point that used to be called Fat Man’s Misery. The narrow place is still there, but the sign is gone. I can’t help but wonder if some fat person, or maybe an organized fat people’s rights group of some sort, got offended and embarked upon a crusade to have the sign removed and the name banished.

At the end of Witches Gulch lies a snack bar, souvenir stand and restrooms. People were lining up at each of them. When I came out of the men’s room, I spotted Ann leaning on a rail, looking across the way at a flowing stream and a sign that read “STAY out of the WATER!” She was smiling fiendishly and suggested that we needed a photo. I laughed nervously and offered to take the picture. For the record, her foot never actually touched the water.


Our second shore landing was at Stand Rock, a towering sandstone formation several feet away from a ledge. For years, tourists have come here to see a trained dog leap from the ledge to Stand Rock and back again. The photographer H.H.Bennett, whose photography of the Dells area first drew tourists—to whom he then sold postcard souvenirs—photographed his son making that leap, in order to promote his new shutter technology. As I understand it, that image is now in the public domain, and I share it here (below Ann’s video clip) with that understanding.

This photograph taken and published in 1886 by Henry Hamilton Bennett.

After seeing the dog leap, we followed a different and very beautiful path that led us back to the boat, but not before leading everybody to a snack bar, walk-in gift shop, and restrooms. By now you may be wondering whether or not I made good on my bribe and got Ann a rubber tomahawk. Truth be told, we never saw one. We saw plenty of rubber-tipped spears, but she showed absolutely no interest in those, so we just continued on.


All shenanigans aside, we enjoyed the Upper Dells Boat Tour immensely. Both Witches Gulch and Stand Rock are very beautiful places. I enjoyed seeing it all again, but even more so, I enjoyed bringing Ann to see it for the first time in her life. She saw things that made her smile and that smile just made my day.

By the time we returned to the downtown area, it was time for me to take Ann home, so that we could enjoy a quick bite together before I continued another 150 miles to my own home (for a round trip total of 461 miles for the day). In case you’re wondering, those miles mean nothing to me compared to what our friendship means to me. Besides, nobody shoots better photos and videos for me than Ann does.

Did she like it? Yes, Ann liked it, but she also said that she didn’t feel deprived for not having gone there as a kid, because the places she did go to in the summertime were (and still are) golden to her. But what about all that neat touristy stuff? I think Ann said it best.

“You know I loved Witch’s Gulch and Stand Rock, along with the boat ride. That boat ride is so much more than a tourist thing. It really brings nature to the masses.”

And she is exactly right. People originally came here to see the area’s natural beauty. The tourist trap components came later and have evolved over time. For many, many years now, the Dells Boat Tours have taken people to see why Mother Nature has drawn people there since the beginning.

It had been another awesome day of fun and adventure. Thanks for hanging with me.

Behind Any Grand Event

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 Black Princess


The times in my life when I did not have a dog have been few and far between — and sometimes intentional. Whenever I have had to say goodbye to one of my pets, for example, I would always wait for an unspecified period of time before getting another. Maybe it’s part of my grieving process; I don’t know. Last time it was just a matter of months. In the May of 2015, we lost Rocky, our Border Collie/Beagle mix and my near-constant companion for 14 years. In September of the same year, we adopted young Madeline, a Labrador Shepherd (we think) mix, and gave her a forever home along with a new name, Leia.

From the first time I saw her photo online, while I had been perusing photos from the various area shelters, I knew she would become our next dog. But before she became our Leia, this pup led a very rough life and had more than one brush with death. She had been rescued from a kill shelter in Tennessee on the same day she was listed to be euthanized. While with her foster family, it was discovered that she had contracted canine parvovirus. The disease had already advanced and this pooch was not expected to survive—but she did. I figured any dog who’d been through all that deserves a shot at having a better life. So we set out to give her one.

We took her home and fed her, and she grew. And grew. And grew. Leia now weighs between 60 and 70 pounds. She has grown rather large, but remains svelte. I sometimes refer to Leia as “the black princess,” but I do so in a loving manner, despite any reasons she may give me to do otherwise. I’ve never had a dog quite like this one. She’s a chewer, a digger, a runner, and a jumper. Leia has a lot of energy and of we don’t make a point of getting her to use it in a non-destructive way, she will expend it in her own way, which can be destructive indeed.


I’ll never forget the first time I looked into our backyard to discover that somebody had been pulling our landscape timbers out of the ground and carrying them around like sticks. Leia has dug substantial holes in our back yard, some of which lead into other people’s yards. She has jumped fences, torn fences apart, and eaten fence boards. She sometimes picks up rocks bigger than my fist and carries them around.

In an effort to curtail this destructive energy, I began taking Leia on daily walks, usually between two and three miles each time. Okay, sometimes she takes me, but that’s not the point. The point is that these daily walks have been good for both of us. I have lost weight, gained energy, and otherwise feel better about myself, and Leah hasn’t eaten any structural materials in a while. See, everything works if you let it.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Our Early Departure from the Midwest Motorcycle Rally


Due to my longstanding commitment to the Chicagoland Ride for Kids, I have never been able to stay for the entire Midwest Motorcycle Rally—I’ve always had to leave Saturday morning. I will not likely ever stop my fundraising efforts to cure the kids, but I may revise my strategy, at least once, so that I can attend the MMR from start to finish. More to come on that.


After enjoying one more breakfast at the La Crosse Family Restaurant, Ann and I checked out of our respective rooms, said our goodbyes to the few people we saw on our way out, and headed for home. Not wanting to return home via the exact same route we had taken to get to the rally, we opted to cross over to the western bank and run south along the Mississippi River on that side, first through Minnesota and then Iowa. But for one unexpected detour, everything went as planned.

Here is some footage taken during that leg:

    • Near Brownsville, MN:
    • Near Lansing Iowa:

We crossed back into Wisconsin at Prairie du Chien and picked up U.S. Highway 18, which we followed all the way back to Sullivan, where we gave in to hunger and stopped in at the Sullivan Saloon for pizza and beer. Whether because it would be our last meal together for a while or not, I can’t say, but Ann and I thoroughly enjoyed our supper.

It was time to take Ann home, say our goodbyes, and head on to Kenosha, where I would be staying for the night. After spending four truly fun-filled days together, I didn’t want to say goodbye. But rather than drag it out, we did exactly that and before long, I was Kenosha bound.


My hotel in Kenosha was nice enough. I even had privileged parking, beneath the front canopy. But I was alone and as I’ve said many times before, I am not a good alone person. I went straight to my room, checked the weather forecast for the next day, wrote for a while, and went to sleep thinking of all the great times Ann and I had enjoyed at the rally.

I can’t wait until next year. Thanks for hanging with me.