Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moving Forward

So far this year, I've taken Anna on several charity motorcycle runs, so she is a veteran. But, I don't think she has ever looked forward to any run as much as the 4th Annual Station Education Fund Charity Motorcycle Ride. Anna lives and works in West Warwick, R.I., where 100 people lost their lives in a fire at The Station nightclub in 2003. The fund was created to help the 76 children who lost one or both of their parents in the fire, which started when pyrotechnics from the rock band Great White ignited soundproofing foam.

"This is emotional," said Anna, who, at first, was unsure if she wanted to participate, since the run is organized by the two brothers who owned the nightclub, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian. Some people still harbor anger toward the Derderians. But Anna spoke to a victim of the fire, who escaped phyiscal injury but was emotionally traumatized. She said the woman advised her to go on the ride because it is for a good cause. "Don't hate the Derderians," Anna said the woman told her.

The run began at Toll Gate High School, and we joined Cathilee DeLorto, the only other member of my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association who participated in this ride. A total of about 60 motorycles and 100 people showed up. Cathilee said the turnout was signficantly lower than past years, although that could be partly due to the fact that this year's ride had been postponed from last month due to rain.

Today's weather was sunny and so warm that I left the leather jacket at home. As we registered, there were reporters from two local television news stations. I saw Jody King, the education fund's director, and brother of Tracy King, who died in the fire. I told Jody that I used to be a newspaper reporter, and had interviewed his brother Tracy, who became a local celebrity for his feats of strength, which included the ability to balance heavy objects like a canoe on his chin. Although Tracy was a bouncer at The Station nightclub, "he was a big teddy bear," Jody said.

It turns out Anna had also met Tracy King at Lakis Pizza, where she saw him balance a stool and a knife. "I told him, 'You should go on David Letterman,' " Anna said. "He said, 'I already was.' "

This was not a traditional group ride, but a poker run (my first one). We drew our first card at the high school, and we received a score sheet with directions to three checkpoints along the 76-mile ride to our final destination, Motorsports Nation in Plainfield, Conn. Event organizers did not let the group leave all at once, but in groups of six. I ended up at the front of my group, but I asked to switch places with the rider behind me because I was confused. I could not remember a Mobil gas station on Route 2 in Exeter (which surprised Anna, since I used to live near there). "Sorry, I'm having a brain fart," I said to Anna as I shrugged my shoulders.

Our small group got on Interstate 95 south, then to routes 4, 1, 102 and 2, riding past Schartner Farms, to the Oak Harbor Village plaza, where lo and behold, there was a Mobil station I'd ridden by countless times - I was thinking it was an Exxon station instead. We met the first two waves of riders, drew our next card, and waited as more riders arrived. As the sun beat down on us, Cathilee got restless and tried to prod everyone to hit the road.

"Anybody wanna go?!" she shouted. "I'm standing here sweating!" But nobody responded, even after she started and revved her motorcycle. A few minutes later, other people started their motorcycles and the group headed for the next checkpoint, Breezy Acres Mini Golf on Route 1 in Charlestown. I had to accelerate to beat a red light at West Beach Road, and then suddenly had to jam on the brakes to turn into the gravel parking lot of the mini golf, as I apologized to Anna. "It's okay, baby, I'm still on the back," she said.

We drew our third card and most of the group hung out several minutes. The next leg of the ride was down curvy back roads and there were several turns. "Nobody wanted to lead," Anna said. "There's no blockers, no road captain." Pulling out of the mini golf parking lot was dicey, to say the least. I thought I was going to collide with another motorcycle, so I couldn't concentrate on whether any cars were coming on Route 1, where motorists routinely travel at 60 mph or more. I just stayed near the breakdown lane and prayed. Many riders got into the left lane, but then had to make a last-minute lane change to turn right onto Route 216. Then, on Route 216, we had a near-collision with a bicyclist, who thought he was going to cross the road in the middle of a large pack of motorcycles. I heard him drop the F-bomb and he abruptly aborted his attempt. I swerved, and then looked over my shoulder, because I thought he was going to dump his bicycle (I couldn't tell if he did or not).

Things settled down a bit as we enjoyed some early-fall scenic riding on back roads in Charlestown and Hopkinton, and crossed the border into Connecticut, riding past some farms on Route 49, before we arrived at our next checkpoint, at Town Pizza in on Route 165 in Voluntown, Conn. Anna and I had weak poker hands, but strong thirsts by this point. After a few minutes rest, we headed out for the last leg of our ride, as a girl stood in Route 165 and blocked for us. We continued north on Route 49, through more scenic farm country, and ended up at the back of the pack, as some of the larger group got separated in traffic. "This is our road, baby," Anna said. "I like it in the back. I feel safer."

At the end of Route 49, we turned left on Route 14, heading toward Plainfield, Conn. We turned left on Route 12, and then chaos ensued. "It was like ants - everyone scattered," one of the riders said afterward. Some riders turned into a Shell gas station, so at first, I thought it was just a fuel stop, but then other riders turned right into a church parking lot, while still others just made U-turns. I decided to turn into the church parking lot, and followed others, who were cutting through the parking lot to regroup on Route 14. But soon, the group stopped at a market, and I saw one of the 'leaders' dismount to ask a local for directions. We ended up going back toward the Shell station, which was the right direction after all. (It turns out that one of the riders up front, from the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, saw a poster with an arrow that he mistook for one of the direction markers for our ride.)

Thankfully, we soon arrived at our final desination, Motorsports Nation, a motorcycle dealer, where we ate hamburgers and hot dogs. "At least we're here," said a rider who was up front. "I kept telling Tony, everything is a left turn." The Derderians and Jody King drew and presented the raffle prizes, which consisted of gift certificates (a smarter idea than gift baskets, which are kind of hard to carry on a motorcycle). Lisa Walsh of Warwick, who had the best poker hand, won the grand prize of $500 cash. "This was my first group ride, and it exceed my expectations," she told the crowd, "so I'm donating the money to the Station Education Fund."

Jeffrey Derderian said the fund so far has helped 21 students with school expenses up through college, including tuition, books, supplies and laptop computers. When possible, the Derderians said they meet personally with the recipients.
Anna said the theme of the event was about moving forward from the tragedy that occurred in 2003. Brenda Wilmot, Jody King's sister, who said a prayer before the ride, said the purpose of the fund is to "help these kids realize their full potential." From the pre-ride prayer (which Wilmot made in Jesus' name), to our group's safety on the ride, and mentions of God during the post-ride presentations, "I felt God's presence the whole day," Anna said.

After the raffle, we were treated to a motorcycle stunt riding demonstation, with a finale ramp jump over a large dump truck by Doug Danger, who was trained by Evel Knievel and who was once in a coma for six months after a stunt accident. Even Doug Danger, with all his skill, appealed to God to calm the winds that could throw off his jump. I'm sure that I was not the only one who prayed that he would complete the jump and not get hurt. God was faithful and answered those prayers, because he nailed the jump.

Anna, Cathilee and I were among the last riders to leave, so we took mostly back roads home, riding at a nice, leisurely pace, including a stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and brownies. After leading Cathilee back to Warwick, Anna and I decided to keep riding since the weather was perfect, and opportunties to ride in a tee shirt this time of year are becoming increasingly scarce. Said Anna, "I don't want to go home."

1 comment:

    thanks for taking the time to post this my friend!