Even though I had driven almost 800 miles to get to the 2 Million Bikers to DC rally, I wasn’t the least bit sleepy. Perhaps it was the anticipation of the coming day, or the 14 kegs of caffeine I had shoved into my body on the way here. Or perhaps it was that I was in a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night all by myself. I knew I should have brought my handgun, although that would have been illegal in every state except the one I came from. The recent news coverage of random acts of black on white violence did nothing to appease my concerns, either. I trusted God would take care of me, but that didn’t mean I could go lay out on the hood of the car, so I locked the doors of my crimson Tide colored Ford Focus and let my seat go all the way back. Despite my obvious jitters, ancient military training kicked in and I was asleep within 5 minutes. Half an hour later I awoke to find the windows were completely fogged up. Great. Now I looked like a scene from Titanic. Not only would the passing thugs know someone was in here, they’d assume there were two of us bumping uglies. I turned the air on until the windows were clear, then cracked them enough to keep from steaming them up and tried to sleep again. Now my lizard brain kept nagging me that hoodlums could get in the car, so after another fitful hour I pulled out my eight inch pocket knife, opened it up and rested my hand on my chest while trying to doze. Now bad guys could see I was a sleeping old white man with a pocket knife. Yes. That should keep the gangs away.
I gave up around 2 A.M. (telling myself “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”), cooled the car down again and listened to some Coast to Coast and then a replayed broadcast of Mark Levin as the occasional baggy pants gangsta strolled by. I told myself that if one of them turned to approach me I would quickly pretend I was masturbating with a goofy look on my face. That works better at repelling trouble than a pocket knife flashing in the street light. From time to time one or two bikes roared by, their motors slicing through the still of the night like lightening in darkness.
A couple of motorcycles slowed down as they passed the Fort Washington Harley Davidson building, turned around in the street and circled around to the back. In a couple of minutes a pair of sleeveless, bandana wrapped bikers strolled out of the gloom from the side of the store and walked the length of the glassy showroom. They soon settled down by the wooden podium that had been erected the evening before. It looked like they were going to wait it out. My stress level immediately went through the floorboard. Who would mess with two mean-looking dudes in leather and chains? I saw another opportunity for an interview and exited the car, making sure I slammed the door loud enough for them to hear. Didn’t want to be confused with Jerry Garcia in case they hated the Grateful Dead.
As I approached them sitting there on the steps of the podium, the pale lights of the store outlining their bodies against the night, I smelled an old familiar sweet odor coming from their direction and felt the hippy in me do a backflip. I introduced myself and we passed handshakes around. They were both grizzled and grey, and as I glanced at the patches on their jackets I saw they were Vietnam vets. Tim had a deep bass voice that went to my bones, and the other man identified himself as Cookie. No, I didn’t ask, for fear of my life. Tim passed me the cigarette and I thanked him before filling my lungs a couple of times with the harsh smoke and then passed it on to Cookie. As we played Round Robin with the burning stick, I found out they were from some town on the outskirts of Bangor, Maine, and that they had indeed been in Vietnam but met through the local VA center and wanted to be a part of this event.
I spoke of the Muslims who were suppose to gather that day and shared my disgust for their feeble effort to hijack it to voice their own complaints. Cookie’s eyes, black and shiny in the pale light, fixed on me for a moment before speaking. “It’s not about those mother fuckers. No matter what happens, don’t forget it. It ain’t about them. It’s about honoring all those people who lost their lives on 9/11.” He turned around and showed me a large round patch in the center of his leather jacket. The twin towers stood against the New York skyline, and a huge eagle was superimposed behind it, wings outspread and claws extended. Below this were the words “ALWAYS REMEMBER” and encircling the patch was “2977,” “HEROS ALL” and “WE SHALL NEVER FORGET.” Cookie’s voice sounded ghostly as he spoke with his back to me. “My nephew worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. He was working on the 103rd floor that day.” The silence that followed was thick with reflection and grief.
A large RV towing a trailer with two bikes on it slowly and carefully rolled into the parking lot across the street. It settled down at the far end, and we saw two figures and a dog emerge. I shook hands with Tim and Cookie again, thanked them for the honor of their company, and went to meet the newcomers, the buzz in my head pushing sleep farther away.
Mark and Lenard Moss (brothers with 20 years between them) and their old yellow lab Joe had driven from East St. Louis to participate. The lights from the parking lot turned everything a thin gray. They showed me their motorcycles – new looking, fully dressed Goldwings – and we all sat on the edge of the trailer with our feet dangling and swapped stories of the road. It was too dark to take notes, and my short term memory was shot from the herbal martini, so I don’t recall most of our conversation. I do remember that they were good, peaceful men who loved to travel and who had only decided two days prior to come to the rally here. Joe roamed around the parking lot and tree line to the north of us, his nose stuck to the ground, and whenever he strayed too far one of the men whistled and the dog came back, zig-zagging across the pavement. At one point I went across the street to the 7-11 and got coffee for us all, and we sat and talked about where we had been until the sky began to change colors in anticipation of the dawn. The somber day was upon us, and we were ready for it.
To be Continued…