Rolling Thunder 2019

Memorial Day Weekend

You could hear the Harleys roaring.  Oh yeah, Rolling Thunder must be back, it will soon be Memorial Day weekend.  The hum of excitement, the drumbeat of history was pounding in my ear.  I heard on the radio that this would be the last trip.  This would be the last official Rolling Thunder visit to D.C. on Memorial Day.  Another end of an era event…. The older you get, the more of these you experience. 

We stayed home for the weekend, no elaborate trips out of town to the beach, or the Shenandoah- just planned on a quiet weekend at home and some spring clean ng.  The basement project led to the uncovering of all kinds of treasures… the makings of a future blog. The whole time I was sorting through mystery boxes, Rolling Thunder continued to be on my mind.

Saturday afternoon I took my bike (not a motorbike, but rather a bike with no speeds that I bought at a yard sale years ago for $10.00) from the garage and set out to follow that Harley sound, like a call from beyond, that magnetically pulled me over to the Highlander.  This motel is straight out of film noir or a Hitchcock thriller on Turner Classics.  It has been only minimally renovated since the 1950s and it has a large wrap around porch on two levels, encircling an inviting square shaped parking lot.  For one week every year, this is not a parking lot for cars at all, but rather a mecca for motorbikes.  For a large contingent of Rolling Thunder guys, this is a second home, a hang out, turned happening encampment. Tables are set up side by side in the parking lot with food and drinks that keep the party going well into the night.  There are occasional items or memorabilia strewn about as well, badges, medallions, etc.  A shiny royal blue bike catches my eye, among a sea of big black Harley Davidsons.The black shield in front of my very blue bike has “Boozefighters  MC  tn” written across it in Gothic print, bold and stylized, a bit like the riders.  Then I noticed that a lot of the guys had this on the back of their leather jackets.  It was a connector, maybe a bike club they all belong to, I don’t know, like so much I do not know about these bikers.

The “scene” in the evenings, when everyone comes back from the day’s activities, is a little like a mini biker’s Woodstock- very sixties.  Loud rock music plays in the background.  Guys and gals parade about with cans of beer and laughter from the gut, along with some tired and drawn faces clustered in groups, engaged in conversation, reliving the past and trying to live the present   I can’t help but think how much adjustment these guys have had to go through between the Vietnam war itself and then their return to the US., at a time when their service was often not appreciated, as in no other war.

You get the feeling that there is a lot of bonding going on here that nobody else will ever be a part of or understand.  In many cases, younger family members accompany the riders, many riding themselves.

There is most likely a whole different recovery culture for the different wars and conflicts that those who serve experience.  Vietnam is a world onto itself.  I watch these guys and the “happening” from my perch on my bike across the street from the parking lot.  I want to talk to some of the riders, hear their stories, but I cannot bring myself to interrupt the party.  It is their time, their day, their world.  I am an outsider, an observer, maybe I would even be an intruder.  I have heard that this is the last year because they are tired of being harassed and disrespected.  I hope that report was wrong.  I also heard that the finances and logistics were too much to handle as the members of Rolling Thunder age That seems believable to me.  I didn’t know that they have to pay 200,000 dollars to use the Pentagon parking lot to assemble there .  This was the biggest gathering ever, with bikes in the thousands down on the mall, since it is purported to be the last  Clearly they needed to meet at the Pentagon first, to enter the city and file past the Lincoln Memorial and the Marine guard who salutes them, as a unit. 

Part of me wonders, why aren’t we as a nation picking up this expense?  Look what they gave for their country… Would it not be possible for them to use the Pentagon parking lot as a military benefit of sorts.  As a taxpayer, I am willing to contribute.  For the government to do this once a year would not break the bank.  That said, driving a thousand miles or more to get here becomes a bigger challenge for bikers in their 70s and 80s. 

So, as I watch these guys leave town, I remember the distant chatter in high school, when you found out that someone you knew had been drafted.  One number, by chance, places you on the other side of the world in camouflage, hoping to survive a raid or attack, you never envisioned. Meanwhile back home, the country is erupting with protest and everything is being questioned.  Even though I didn’t like the war, I found myself liking Jane Fonda less….These guys are risking their lives, and you are giving cover to the enemy while there are troops on the ground   really?  She now says she regrets it, that was a long time coming…..Funny how age gives you perspective.

As this community reinforces each other’s memories and dreams on the pavement of the Highlander, I wish them well.  And to anyone reading this who has served this country, especially in times of war,  we are in your debt.  This weekend belongs to you!

Rolling Thunder, you will be missed in the quiet absence of your massive bikes and memories.

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