The day was upon us.
As soon as the sun peeked its head above the horizon they began arriving, a steady and deafening stream of bikes from all directions. It is almost sacrilegious to describe them as such, but as I stood on the sidewalk absorbing the growing legion, this came to my head and stuck like breakfast grits to the ribs: Morning Glories. Indeed, they were glorious to behold. Every type of motorcycle you can think of was there, although for every foreign bike there were 10 Harleys: Sleek Sportsters, thick-chested Fat Bob Superglides, comfortable Softail Classics, imposing Electra Glides and monsterous Road Kings, to name but a few. There were smatterings of Indians and Boss Hogs, Confederate and Iron Horse, a few British Triumphs, and of course, every conceivable Japanese bike on the market. There were trikes and Spyders and custom jobs that refused to stay in the envelope. They began parking in front of the Fort Washington Harley-Davidson dealership in neat rows and columns, indicative of military veterans, and when the store’s employees showed up and opened the gated fence on the north side of the building, motorcycles quickly filled up the perimeter.
Many of the bikers were middle aged and looked as if they had been chiseled out of stone. They stood around in small clusters, admiring each others’ rides and talking about the day. Everywhere I turned I saw patches sewn on leather or denim with either military themes (82nd Airborne Devil with Baggy Pants, 103rd Airlift Wing, 2nd Battalion 7th Marines War Dogs, 29th Infantry Blue and Gray), combat veteran themes (POW/MIA, All Gave Some Some Gave All Vietnam War, Combat Action ribbon, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Bosnia Deliberate Force, Afghanistan Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom), biker sayings (American by Birth, Biker by Choice, Old Skool Biker, American Hawgs The Road is Ours, Lone Wolf No Club, Shut Up and Ride), all kinds of 9/11 patches (Never Forget, FDNY In Memory of our Fallen Heroes, Pentagon shaped with We Remember, God Bless the USA We Will Never Forget, PDNY FDNY Port Authority Fallen Heroes) and combinations of them all. When I walked among them I couldn’t take it all in. A reverence and seriousness permeated the crowd; no boisterous horseplay or bawdy laughter erupted among them. The air was filled with the sound of thousands of deep-throated bikes vibrating me to the bone. The rumble rose and fell like ocean waves, and I let the scene wash over me, stripping my mind to its guttural core, exposing something powerful and dangerous and primitive and essential and absolutely fearless.
The bikes themselves were without exception, gleaming and clean. I saw intricate designs, mesmerizing acrylic paintings and colorful murals on gas tanks and hoods. In the parking lot across the street I spotted a stunning red bike with a fantail of flags behind it like an Indian chief’s headdress, and it drew me like a magnet. The front of the windshield was emblazoned with a majestic eagle; its wings were American flags and they stretched out on either side as if coming in for a strike, the razor-sharp eagle’s claws splayed and ready to rend its victim. Over and behind the eagle’s fierce head were the World Trade Center towers standing bravely against a cloudy blue expanse. As I examined the bike closer it became evident that this was all a tribute to the rescue workers who died on 9/11. On the right side of the tank was an elaborate picture of two angels bowing down on either side of a firefighter who sat on a curb hunched over in fatigue and grief. I saw what I assumed to be the rider standing behind it. He was short and stocky and built like a cinder block, with a sleeveless jacket that displayed enough pins to qualify as body armor. He had a camouflage hat on his head, and wisps of white hair stuck out all over. He wore a badge of some sort around his neck attached to a long ribbon, the kind that distinguish event staff and security. Another man with a camera was crouched down taking photos of the bike, and he introduced himself as Mark Hicks, who had driven here in his car to be part of the rally. He told me that the rider of this spectacular machine was a retired NYC Fire Chief. I hoped that fellow was going to be in the front.
I milled about, taking a few pictures but mainly just soaking in the growing sea of metal and leather. This was no longer just an event, no longer just a rally. It was becoming a living entity. It was becoming a single army of patriots brought together to pay tribute and honor the victims and heroes of 9/11. The Battle Hymn of the Republic began playing on someone’s stereo “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. / He hath loosed the faithful lightening of His terrible swift sword / His truth is marching on!” I fought to keep the tears from my eyes, here in this gigantic mass of soldiers, but failed. Sometimes my love for this country is so great I break down and cry.
To Be Continued…