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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Have Cucuzza, Will Travel

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As the old adage goes, if you don’t like your situation, change it. If you can’t change it, change your mind. What might have been a dark, depressing weekend for me turned out to be a wonderful one, with a good bit of help from a dear friend and the timely ripening of a somewhat unusual Italian vegetable.

My friend Ann and I were supposed to have gone on a fall motorcycle tour around Lake Michigan last weekend but because I had not yet resuscitated my personal finances following the complete and utter demise of my most recent employer (see Ups and Downs – Part 2 of 3), I was forced to cancel our trip. While I’d like to think I can shake anything off like so much dust from my sandals, the fact of the matter is my mind was headed for a very dark place as the result. Mind you, this wasn’t the first time in my life I’ve had to cancel plans for practical reasons. And yes, as a rule, having to do so sucks like a top-of-the-line Dyson vacuum. But what burns me most is not that I was inconvenienced—I can deal with that all day long—but that it had affected a friend of mine. It doesn’t even matter to me that this friend didn’t really mind all that much. If you want to end up on my bad side fast, do something, anything, that adversely affects one of my friends. When that happens, you may want to step back a mile or two.

But you see, though my employer had failed, miserably so, that had occurred last July. This was September and I still hadn’t pulled out of my own tailspin. So while the time span was quite within reason given my career stage (over seven years at the director level), whom could I blame for inconveniencing one of my dearest friends more than me? Nobody. Thus my smoldering ire was turned back on myself. Fade to black… almost.

Enter the cucuzza, a type of gourd that is grown as a summer squash in southern Italy. The Americanized term for this vegetable sounds like “googootz” and thanks to the myriad of Italian dialects, you may also hear it called something that sounds like “cogozza” or “coguzzigia.” It’s all the same thing. They grow on vines and they grow rapidly to substantial lengths, often over three feet long. The skin is inedible. The flesh beneath is white and tasteless raw, but when cooked, it takes on a translucent, pale green hue and has a mild, somewhat sweet flavor.

So there I was, looking at the prospect of spending four days—the length of our planned trip around the lake—obsessing over something I could not change, and that just seemed so pointless to me. So I reached out to Ann and said as much. “Why should we write off the entire four days? Let’s take at least one of those days and do something worthwhile.” Then for good measure, I added, “I’ve got a cucuzza that will be ripe for picking by this weekend. I could bring it up if you promise not to laugh, and we could prepare something with it together.”

“Like what?” Ann seemed intrigued by that idea—such is the power of a nice cucuzza—and so we so we laid pans for one day of riding, walking, and cooking together. In addition to supplying the cucuzza, on the eve of our day together, I offered to harvest some large leaf basil and grill some Italian-marinated chicken breasts for our culinary endeavor. Ann, in turn, obtained the additional vegetables and grains, along with some bread, wine, and other assorted goodies to complete the meal. Game on!

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The following morning, I carefully wrapped my cucuzza in a favorite cotton hoodie, strapped it securely into the passenger area of Miss Scarlett, my Victory Vision touring motorcycle, and headed to Ann’s place up in Wisconsin. What I was not prepared for, one-hundred-plus miles later, was the immediate affection Atlas, one of Ann’s cats, displayed for my well-endowed squash. When it came time to peel and cook my unusual vegetable, the photogenic feline posed no issues. Still, it made us smile and laugh a bit.

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The temperature and humidity were unusually high for late September, so Ann and I opted to restrict our motorcycle outing to the morning and early afternoon hours. This meant staying relatively close to home, but I didn’t mind. We rode a relatively short distance to Oconomowoc and ever my reliable navigator, Ann directed me to Fowler Lake Park, a delightful spot on the eastern shore of Lake Fowler, right in the midst of Oconomowoc proper. Once off the bike, Ann proceeded to lead me on a walking tour of approximately three miles around the lake, pointing out all manner of man-made and natural points of interest. Sure, it was a little warm, but the day was beautiful and we had a really fun time together.

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Once we got back to Ann’s place, we set about to chopping, sautéeing, and simmering our food. You’ll have to wait for my book to come out to get the full non-recipe, but the essential elements are the cucuzza, some aromatics and root vegetables, tomatoes, stock, meat, grains, and seasonings. Many options and variations are possible. The end result is a hearty, flavorful stew that makes a meal in itself. A few hours later, Ann, her son, and I had eaten our fill and true to the Italian tradition into which I had been born, there were ample leftovers.

It had been such an awesome day. In the course of that day, everything wrong had quickly become overshadowed by all that was right. Still, as is often the case, the ending was bittersweet. Why? Because it was an ending. After all the pots, pans, and dishes had been washed and put away, I packed up a few leftovers on Miss Scarlett and after we had exchanged our goodbyes, I headed for home, literally riding off into the sunset before turning south.

Sometimes all you need to do, in order to understand that all is not bad, is to be willing to see the good. Thanks for hanging with me.

Rides with Ann: the Autumn Runs

In 2016 astronomical fall began on September 22, with the autumnal equinox, while meteorological fall began, as it does every year, on October 1. In the minds of many, though, the fall season pretty much gets underway the day after Labor Day. When I was a kid, shortly after the mastodons died out, my school years generally began either right before or right after Labor Day weekend, which is probably why to this day my mind turns to fall on that first Tuesday in September of every year, even though the astronomers and meteorologists see otherwise.

As an avid motorcyclist, I see both good news and bad news in the arrival of fall. On one hand, here in the Midwest, the first part of fall offers nearly ideal riding conditions. Temperatures are cooler, but not yet cold, so that one may comfortably wear gear when riding. The countryside gradually becomes painted in fall colors. There’s a sense of abundance in the air as farmers are harvesting crops, wineries are making wine, etc.

On the other hand, it won’t last. I have long likened motorcyclists to bees and wasps. Both become more active in the fall because they can sense that the end is near. Days become shorter. Wet or dry, fallen leaves on the pavement present their own hazards. Bees and wasps really are more prevalent, and they sometimes get sucked behind one’s windshield, into one’s shirt, or up one’s pants leg (don’t ask), where they may become agitated. Whether gradually or suddenly, even the daytime temperatures become less conducive to riding. And then there is the matter of snow and ice.

But as the saying goes, we must make hay while the sun shines and get some riding in while the riding is still good. That’s pretty much what Ann and I have been doing since we got back from our Labor Day weekend run to Dubuque, which I still considered to be a summer trip. There is a direct, bittersweet relationship between the hours of daylight and the duration of our rides together as the fall season plays out. Those autumn rides can be so pleasant, so beautiful, I find myself wishing they didn’t have to end so soon. Inevitably the days and the rides become shorter, but we make the most of what we are given.

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We were blessed with some fantastic weather on September 18, so I ran up to Ann’s place early that morning and, after a bit of breakfast, we headed to Holy Hill, home of The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. I love this place and I’ve written about it before, right here on the MGD Time blog site. Indeed the very first time I carried Ann on my motorcycle was in the fall of 2014, at Holy Hill.

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My 2014 article as it appeared in Thunder Roads magazine.

She had agreed to meet me there and take some photos for me to use in an article I was writing for the now-defunct Wisconsin and Northern Illinois edition of Thunder Roads magazine. I was nervous as heck about carrying Ann. Lord only knows why. After walking the grounds at Holy Hill, I took her to lunch up the road at The Fox and Hounds—the round trip couldn’t have been more than ten or fifteen miles—and Ann, having been a motorcyclist herself, proved to be a most competent pillion passenger. She also took some stunning photos, which the magazine printed with my article. So nervous as I may have been at the onset, by the time I headed for home that afternoon, I was already thinking about how cool it might be to take Ann riding again. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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So it all started at Holy Hill, you see, and it seemed fitting that eventually we would return. There was no magazine article being written this time, no official reason to be there, other than to revisit this beautiful place and enjoy each others company. We had plenty of company this time, as apparently a lot of other people had the same destination in mind on this beautiful Sunday. Once we parked, we did something that I had never done at Holy Hill before, despite having been stopping there periodically for well over thirty years: We went to mass together.

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Doing mass at Holy Hill  together proved to be a pretty cool experience, actually. I came away feeling like maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long. Then we walked the grounds for a while, taking in the majestic views and natural beauty all around us.The last time we visited, we had climbed the scenic tower in one of the twin spires, where both the view and the climb are quite breathtaking. But the tower was closed this time, so we opted to move on and enjoy a late lunch.

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Ann had suggested the lunch stop in advance of our trip, a place called MJ Stevens, located outside of Hartford, along Interstate 41. What a delightful spot! This is a place that Ann’s mother enjoys and now I understand why. The atmosphere is pleasant, the food is very good, and the entire staff seems warm and friendly. Ann and I opted for sandwiches off the menu that day, but from all appearances, the Sunday brunch is also a worthwhile choice. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend this establishment to friends.

We rode around for a while after lunch, but the high point of this run had been our time at Holy Hill. I enjoyed going back there and attending mass at the basilica with Ann. She took most of the photos and all of the video clips you see here. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, if not for Ann, I wouldn’t have nearly as much cool stuff to show you from all these excursions.

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Our next run was on the weekend of October 9, down by me in Illinois, and it was a big one: the 30th Anniversary DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run. Ann had come down last year for the 29th annual event and we had so much fun together, I invited her back. This year was a little different, though, in that Ann played an active role in helping me promote the event. This was my third year assisting the DuKane Chapter with PR and publicity for their flagship charity event, but this year—with no small amount of creative assistance from my dear friend—I was able to do a better job before, during, and after.

Given the hours that would be involved that day, Ann drove down the night before and stayed over with my wife Karen and me. As Karen is not physically able to ride much, we arranged for her to meet us on the event grounds, where the motorcycle parade portion of the Toy and Food Run terminates and where a full day of music, food and fun begins. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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After rising early and going to 7:30 mass at my church, we headed out to Fox River Harley Davidson in St. Charles, a remote registration point for the Toy and Food Run and a darned good one at that. After registering for the run and dropping off our toy and food donations, Ann and I (along with all the other attendees) were treated to a hot breakfast. Then after perusing the dealership and checking out all the bikes parked outside, we assembled for a group ride to Elburn, which was the main staging area for the Toy and Food Run parade.

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There were motorcycles parked everywhere when our group arrived. We were directed to a parking lot about a block away from the pre-run festivities held outside of Knuckleheads Tavern on North Avenue. More and more bikes poured in as we walked the area, listening to live music, greeting people we know, looking at bikes, and otherwise being a part of the scene—just me, Ann, and a couple of thousand casual acquaintances. At the appointed time, everyone returned to their machines and prepared to roll out. When that many motorcycles fire up together, the word “thunder” is a very appropriate term that describes not only the sound, but the vibration that fills the very air around us.

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What a blast. After we rolled onto the grounds of the Batavia VFW, located right on the banks of the Fox River, we were treated to hours of live music, provided by six different bands. As A.B.A.T.E. is a motorcycle rights organization (actually a sizable lobby), there were numerous politicians in attendance, including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, himself a motorcyclist and active member of A.B.A.T.E. There were many, many product vendors and food vendors, too. A very touching flag ceremony took place early on. We filled a couple of flatbed semi trailers with toy and food donations that were picked up the same day by numerous local charities.

It felt so great to have been a part of this and we had such a good time again. Believe it or not, Ann and I are already talking about possible promos for next year.

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October 16 started out wet for me, but fortunately not cold. By the time I got to Ann’s place, the rain had moved on. We waited a while for the pavement to dry off, and then took a ride up into the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. At one point during our ride, on a whim, I turned in at a sign I saw for the Ice Age Visitor Center, which turned out to be a nice little find. We took one of the trails and ended up at a scenic vista overlooking some of the prettiest fall color we saw that day. There was also a large observation deck out behind the visitor center itself, but as the sign warned, there were many bees, wasps and hornets nesting and flying about, so we didn’t linger there. When touring on a motorcycle, sometimes the best places are those we find by accident. This was one of those times.

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Our last run of the season, so far, was again rather local. I left home in the dark and ambient temps were still in the 40’s when I arrived at Ann’s. Remember, motorcycling inherently involves its own wind chill factor. I hadn’t opted to wear longies and was rather cold when I arrived. But it warmed up quickly after the sun rose and we did manage to get a nice ride in, albeit a short one. We revisited a place called Nature Hill, that Ann had taken me to see last spring, before the riding season had even gotten underway. We got a good walk in that day and I think I did a little better climbing that hill this time.

I stayed long enough to partake in some crock pot beef stew that Ann had prepared before we headed out that morning. It was delicious! Still, the days have been getting shorter all season long and it was already dark when I headed for home early that evening.

Although we have no more rides scheduled, I doubt very much that we are done for the year, not just yet. Conditions are such that we can no longer plan well in advance, but I assure you that on very short notice, if conditions and schedules permit, Ann and I will ride again.

And of course you’ll read about it here. Ha! Thanks for hanging with me.

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.

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

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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.”
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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.”
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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/).