May 4, 2007
You couldn’t have asked for a better day, a more memorable route, or a more worthy cause.
Our fearless Ride Captain, Laura Sisto, put out the call for anyone wanting to go on the Freedom Run 2007, sponsored by those nice folks at Bergen County Harley Davidson-Buell.
The ride was to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org), founded a few years ago when a lone veteran rode his bike coast to coast to bring attention to those vets coming back from Iraq with serious wounds, who needed our support. A worthy cause, if ever there was one.
Since I live in Bergen County and the starting point at the Hackensack Court House is about 15 minutes away from my house, I suggested we meet here. Michele is pictured at the right proudly wearing her Spokes-Woman Colors.
The day dawned crisp and clear, with the promise of 75 degree weather by the afternoon. Not a cloud in the blue-blue sky...my mother used to call clear days like these “flying weather.”
Laura and her sister Pita, and brother-in-law Danny made it to my house about 9 a.m. Pita had her new Kawasaki Vulcan 900...a Victory...alike if ever there was one. After pit stops, we proceeded up Route. 80 to Hackensack, seeing many bikers along the way.
We turned the corner onto River Street and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a parking lot full of thousands of bikes! (Some estimated the final count as over 3,000!) We were directed to the end of the line up, told where to sign up and where the coffee was. There were people from every Jersey club imaginable...the Christian Bikers, Buffalo Soldiers, Dawn Patrol, etc, but many riders weren’t affiliated and wore no colors. Everyone was in a friendly mood and this mood was to last all day!
Laura called this “one of the best-planned rides” she’d ever been on. And Laura should know considering how many she’s seen.
Instead of standing on line to sign up, assistants had clipboards with sign up sheets and pens and moved through the line to you. The next line was for pre-paying tolls. The only charge for the day was the $5 that paid for your tolsl. (EZ pass was no good today.) The project made money through donations and selling T-shirts. Laura got us each a flag decorated wrist band to put on our wrist and show as we went through the bridge toll booths.
After the tea and coffee, Laura and I wound up standing on line waiting for the port-a-potty. Some men wandered off to the parking garage across the street. Others stood on the long line...scratch that myth that men take a shorter amount of time. It was 10:30, starting time, and Laura pointed out that the motorcycle police were already in the saddle. I ran into an acquaintance who said the bathrooms were open in the courthouse annex and I trotted over there, calling over my shoulder to Laura to remember to put the seat UP when she was done.
On the way back, we saw Kathy Stelnick and Paul from the Dawn Patrol, but had to get to our bikes and get suited up. There were so many bikes in the courthouse parking lot that it took over half an hour for us all to move out.
Soon we were on Route 80 heading east...and I had a strange sense of déjà vu. On September 11, 2001, I drove back on the NJ Turnpike, from a meeting that was cancelled in view of the events of the previous hour. I must have been one of the last cars they let on the Turnpike going north, as there were no cars either in front of me, or in my rear view mirror. It was like I was the only person left on the face of the earth.
This time, the cops had stopped the traffic...this was a fully escorted ride...and there was no other traffic ahead of us, or behind us on the road. We spread out over the two center lanes, pretty much in group travel formation. We took Route 80 to the George Washington Bridge. Because traffic was stopped, a lot of people had gotten out of their cars and were waving, or taking pictures. Going over the GWB was a dream come true...clear views on both sides of the bridge with the sun full up and the azure sky clear. I felt like God really liked me.
Again, traffic was stopped as we traveled up the West Side Highway, with its beautiful view of Jersey-on-Hudson. Then we started to hit stop and go traffic patterns. Before the end of the ride I wouldn’t be the only one flexing my clutch hand to get some feeling back. People behaved well on the ride, with no hot-doggers, and nary a wheelie in sight.
At the intersections along the West Side Highway, cops stopped pedestrians, cars and trucks. When our long line slowed or came to a halt, people ran like crazed ants across the street. At many places along the roadside, there were firemen atop their rigs, (at one point in a cherry picker over the road) cheering us on. We beeped our horns, (I blew kisses as well as I could with my full face helmet) and waved to them and also to the people gathered on the overpasses.
Trouble occurred when we turned left to ride cross-town. Evidently there weren’t enough cops to stop traffic and for a couple of blocks, Laura, and then I were ride captains, until the motorcycle cops caught up with us and took the point. Tip from Laura: just put up your hand in the standard universal cop “stop” signal and the cars must stop.
Finally we were moving slowly, slowly past Ground Zero. It was hard to see anything with the fence around, but still you knew you were cruising past hallowed ground. Danny took a picture of the flag waving above the new construction. Soon we were together again, bouncing over the God-awful potholed entrance to the Holland Tunnel.
Through the tunnel, it was a short ride to Liberty State Park, with it’s great view of Ellis Island, where my maternal grandparents came separately to this country. Ms. Liberty was there, too. Fittingly one of the speakers recited the Emma Lazaras poem...“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” She coulda been looking at this crowd, come to think of it.
OK...that was a cheap shot. But talk about a sea of humanity! Everyone dismounted and started herding toward the food...and the port-a-johns. There were bikes as far as the eye can see. I was parked close to Kathy and Paul. The guy next to me chatted me up and told me he had won the Harley he was driving in a raffle from the Javits Motorcycle show with one ticket. I lost Laura, Pita and Danny. We got separated. But, God bless cell phones, we got together before long in the food line. They had gotten on the wrong line at first, but were mid-way through the line when I found them. The line didn’t move for quite a while because people were standing in front and eating, instead of getting their food and moving on. Trays of hotdogs were sent through the crowd, as appetizers I guess. There was a feeding frenzy every time one appeared and then the calm. Those cheeseburgers Pita caged sure tasted good.
We wandered around for a while...the day was still good. Much speechifying, but appropriate for the cause of wounded warriors. All the veterans were asked to raise their hands and keep them raised while the speaker said these were the people responsible for us living the life we love. Amen. We yelled and cheered...me for the Viet Nam vets among them.
There was a band playing modern music, but it didn’t interest any of us. The DJ had correctly gauged the age of the crowd and played music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but this “music” was like a sharp stick in the ear. Time to go, even though I usually have to hear someone play “Sweet Home Alabama” at one of these events before I say that.
It was a charmed day...over 3,000 rode, but no bikes or riders were injured...and I will forever remember riding through the canyons of Manhattan with no fear.
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