The moon cast ghostly shadows on the asphalt as my husband backed our Harley into the curb on a deserted side street. I yawned in spite of my racing heart. Four thirty in the morning is not the usual kickstands-up time for a HOG ride. Clutching my thermos of coffee close to my leather jacket like a favorite teddy bear, Frank and I walked down the row of k-rails to a table. This was our first West Coast Thunder, and we had chosen to see it from a volunteer’s perspective.
Slowly others joined us, zipped up in jackets against the breaking day chill. “Gather round,” our leader called and we pressed closer for last minute instructions. Everything was organized to make sure that riders that registered this morning would move quickly through the lines and get set up for the ride. Since midnight, teams had been tirelessly working, setting up the rails and blocking off the streets in order to stage thousands of motorcycle riders for the parade.
Our marching orders given, we scattered to our tables with our box of registration forms, credit card machines, and cash box. Monica and Jeff were the other couple assigned to our table, for which I was grateful as she had already been doing registration before the event.
The sporadic growl of engines disrupted the early morning silence. The sun emerged and everything was bathed in a pale pink glow. Suddenly we were in business as a long line of bikers wearing the same colors pulled up and parked in front of us. Beyond them, on the other side of the rail, prepaid riders were riding up to their spot in line.
Monica and I pointed at the places on the forms that needed to be completed and signed. We passed out headlight stickers, drawing tickets, and concert tickets. As our line grew, Jeff and Frank greeted riders and collected money.
In the variety of faces we saw that morning, there was one common factor. Whether young or old, male or female, married or single, all reflected the same respect. Respect for our military, those who serve, those who had served, and those who gave their lives for their country. No matter what political view they might hold, today’s parade was for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Hour after hour passed, and the rows of rails were jammed with all types of motorcycles. A hum of thousands of conversations hung over the cluster of chrome and metal like a gigantic bee hive. I wondered if there would be enough room for everyone, but the bikes kept coming. In the midst of the excitement, HOG officers rode around on golf carts, picking up cash, delivering pastries, and checking on us.
Finally, we got the signal to shut down and join the party. Frank fired up our bike and we circled around the block to find the end of the prepaid riders’ line. At first I thought we would take off right away, but this was the next stage of waiting, as the color guard ceremony and other festivities up at the dealership were still playing out. Later I would look at the video that other HOGs made and entertain a twinge of regret. If we hadn’t been doing registration, we could have been up there with our other HOG friends watching the show.
Squinting in the bright morning sun, I finished my last sip of coffee and looked around at the small group of volunteers ready to ride. Even though we were some of the first people to arrive, we would ride around the middle of the pack. But West Coast Thunder wasn’t really about the ceremonies, or even the concert to follow later. It was about remembering those who had served our country, who probably never received honor during their lives. Perhaps the best way to honor them was through serving others.