A diamond of miracles

November 9, 2006

Between work and graduate, school keeping up with this blog has been a chore so I’ve decided to cheat a little bit. For the next couple of weeks I’ll be using some of the feature stories I’ve written over the past year. — dlb

This article first appeared May 3, 2005

A diamond of miracles

Ohio’s new baseball league for the mentally and physically challenged

“If we were to tell you about an organized youth baseball league, you might call it ordinary,” – Miracle League of Central Ohio Web site.

Some have taken to calling it a field of dreams. Others say it is a league of their own. No matter what anyone wants to call it, a baseball league developed for physically and mentally challenged children, whatever the level of their ability, truly deserves to be called a miracle.

That’s what Terry Lyden, a Dublin, Ohio businessman, thought back in 2001. He was watching Real Sports, an HBO sports magazine program hosted by Bryant Gumbel, when he was drawn into a segment about a new youth baseball league called the Miracle League.

The Miracle League is a little league baseball program designed for kids with a range of mental and physical special needs. The league got its start in Conyers, Georgia in 1998, with 35 players on four teams.

The impetus for the idea came a year before when Eddie Bagwell, a Rockdale County Youth Baseball Association coach, noticed a child sitting in a wheelchair on the sidelines at every practice and game. The youngster was there to cheer on his older brother, who played for Bagwell’s team.

Bagwell invited the 7-year-old to play on his little league team. That one small gesture, on a Georgia ballfield, started a revolution in baseball that has spread from suburban Atlanta to 63 fields, built or under construction, in 33 states and Canada.

Back in Dublin, Lyden reacted to the Real Sports story by thinking, “What a great idea, I should do this.” But life and work got in the way. Before long, Lyden found himself bogged down in work and soon forgot all about the Miracle League.

Then three years later in 2004, Lyden was watching Real Sports again and saw another segment about the Miracle League. Lyden decided he wasn’t going to let the idea slip away again. So he went to the Miracle League Web site and found the information he needed to become a member. He paid the membership fee, requested a starter kit, and put in motion the process of creating the Miracle League of Central Ohio.

What happened next would be a whirlwind of activity that was only to be slowed by the onset of winter.

Lyden wanted to establish the league in Dublin. As Fred Hahn, Dublin’s Director of Parks and Open Spaces remembers, “Terry thought it should be in Dublin because he’s a Dublin resident, and Dublin is known for their emphasis on parks.” In a stroke of good fortune, Dublin was just beginning to consider expanding Darree Fields, a park with existing sports fields and playgrounds. There were no plans for the park, yet – just ideas for a new direction. Enough land already existed at Darree Fields to accommodate one more diamond, so the idea of a Miracle League ballfield fit nicely into Darree Fields.

In October 2004, the Dublin city council agreed to donate the land to build Ohio’s first Miracle League baseball diamond. The city would also commit money for a shelter facility and a universally accessible playground adjacent to the Miracle League field. But the ballfield would not be limited to just the children of Dublin. With an estimated 20,000 challenged children in the area, it was decided to open the league up to any eligible ballplayer, ages 3 – 19, in the Central Ohio area.

Now with the land for the ballfield, and commitments from the city of Dublin, the next step was to begin raising money, and to create partnerships to build the field and adjoining facilities.

Diane Alford, executive director and the only employee in the Miracle League’s national office, estimates that it takes about $500,000 to build a ballfield. That’s why the national office provides starter kits. Alford said that membership in the Miracle League costs $500, but the up-front investment is returned many times over because of marketing materials, media releases, and promotional DVD’s provided by the national office to their members. The national office also provides other services, like architectural drawings, and a negotiated price break for the playing field surface.

The national office suggests a field size of 15,200 square feet, measuring 115 feet from home plate to the center field fence. Dublin decided it wanted a larger field, so the Miracle League of Central Ohio settled on a field of 20,000 square feet, measuring 135 feet from home plate to the center field fence. However, Dublin decided it wanted to build more than just the ballfield, so the planners also included lights, a grandstand, dugouts, a picnic and pavilion area, and private changing rooms. The estimated cost rose to $650,000.

Accomplishing all of this might have been a daunting task without a coalition of determined and dedicated people. From the beginning, Lyden had the support of Dublin City officials, including Mayor Marilee Chinnici-Zuercher, who actively sought supporters. What may have been her best find is when she put Don Hunter, Senior Vice President with Duke Realty Corporation, in touch with Lyden.

Hunter says, “Our organization was brainstorming where we can help a group, and utilize our expertise.” When the idea of the Miracle League was presented to Hunter, he found an opportunity for his organization to make a contribution. In the end, Hunter and Duke Construction Company, a subsidiary of Duke Realty Corporation, agreed to donate its services and run the construction process. Duke would take it on as a construction project. They would coordinate the design, technical services, and all the contractors.

Now with a large partner, and well-known sponsor, in place, those spearheading the project knew getting donations of money and in-kind services would start to get easier.

In other cities across the country, Rotary Clubs were joining in the support of the special ballfields. So Chinnici-Zuercher, a member of Dublin’s AM Rotary Club, decided to enlist the aid of her club. Chinnici-Zuercher went forward and convinced her chapter to adopt the Central Ohio ballfield as their centennial project. The Rotary Club also committed volunteers in leadership and organization, as well as additional money.

With fund-raising, logistics, and volunteers all under way and falling in line, the time was fast approaching to start building the facilities. In less than eight months, from the first discussion between Lyden and city officials, Dublin was ready to break ground in May. An amazing turn-around time for any bureaucratic institution although, as Lyden is quick to point out, if it hadn’t been for winter, they would have started sooner.

Building a ballfield may not be as hard as it sounds – plant some grass, put down some dirt for the base paths, and install home plate and the bases. But that isn’t the case with a Miracle League ballfield. The field itself may be the largest and most expensive piece of the project. It is different from any other little league ballfield; these ballfields have to be completely and universally accessible, and they have to be safe.

The Miracle Field is made up of a rubberized material; similar to the material used for Olympic tracks. Because some players may be in wheelchairs, blind, or suffer from a multitude of challenges that affect their mobility, the fields have to be completely flat. There is no pitcher’s mound. The playing field is painted onto the surface including the diamond, home plate, and the bases. And the seams of the rubberized surface are kept to a minimum so there is nothing to impede the movement of the players. The surface of the field has to be a balance between a surface soft enough to provide some cushion for players who might fall, and yet still be hard enough to support a player in a wheelchair.

One other major difference between a little league game and a Miracle League game, are the rules. When the first Miracle League started back in 1998, there were no established rules for the highly specific game. The model that would be accepted is very similar to T-Ball League rules. The rules, simply stated on the National Miracle League’s Web site, are:
• Every player bats once each inning
• All base runners are safe
• Every player scores a run before the inning is over (last one up gets a homerun)
• Community children and volunteers serve as “buddies” to assist the players
• Each team and player wins every game

“If we were to tell you the athletes are physically and mentally challenged, you might call it touching,” – Miracle League of Central Ohio Web site.

Deborah Sanders son, Deonte Brey of Columbus, was the first registered player with the Miracle League of Central Ohio. 7-year-old Deonte has mental and physical challenges. For Sanders, the Miracle League is creating an opportunity for her son, and other special needs kids, to break through the perceived boundaries of their disabilities. This will be her son’s first opportunity to play baseball. Says Sanders, “We can not wait until opening season.”

To hear the stories, to see the work of volunteers, and to read the parent’s comments on the Web site should be enough to declare it a Miracle League. But it is the idea of the “buddy” that truly elevates the league to a higher level.

Madison Reed has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a neuromuscular disease which affects her head and neck control, as well as swallowing, breathing, sitting and walking. The 8-year-old is dependent on someone for everything. Madison’s mother Annette Reed says, “The Miracle League is the only program that will provide an opportunity for my daughter to actively participate in a sport and be a part of a team.” She thinks Madison will gain experience in sportsmanship, teamwork, and fellowship. Madison thinks it will be great fun to have help hitting the ball and “running” the bases, and she’s thrilled to participate with friends who are just like her.

In a Miracle League game, each ballplayer is assigned a “buddy,” a non-challenged child who assumes certain responsibilities for his or her ballplayer. The buddy has three things to remember. First and foremost, the buddy is to assure the safety of the ballplayer. Next, the buddy assists the ballplayer with the game but, it is stressed; the buddy is not to play the game for the player. The third, and most important responsibility; the buddy is to befriend the ballplayer and get to know them – every Miracle League team has stories of ballplayers and buddies experiencing a positive change because of the relationship.

Even though the Miracle Field trend is a small one for the moment, at the national level Alford has expressed a short-term goal of building 500 fields serving 1.3 million children. Their long-term goal: a ballfield in every community. While the goals may be a bit lofty for now, Alford has gathered some major support from many major league baseball teams including the Chicago White Sox, the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers, the Minnesota Twins, and the Cincinnati Reds – just to name a few.
“This it truly a field of dreams, there is no doubt that if we build it, thousands will come,” says Hunter. “There is something tangible – we can touch and feel the field.”

The biggest difference in all of this has been the rippled effect throughout the City of Dublin. Everybody involved speaks praises of the community for its support of the project. As Lyden says, “everybody is on the same page and doing it for the right purpose.” Even Hahn, the director of parks and open spaces, a man with a lot experience working on city projects, pointed out, “I have not run into one ego yet.”

If there is any wonder about what drives a community to put together such an ambitious project, Lyden is the one to ask: “This field changes lives,” he says. “Kids who have never worn a uniform, never played a sport, get to do this. Parents get to watch something their kids might never do. And buddies get an experience they never got before – many kids are changed.”

“If you were to see them play, you would call it a miracle,” – Miracle League of Central Ohio Web site.


Gotta hankerin’ for a fling? Howza bout a hobby!

August 27, 2006

I’ve been talking about getting a larger motorcycle lately. I tell my wife that I’d really like something just a little bigger, something that won’t settle down on the back tire when I have a passenger and hit a bump. Something that will get up and go out of the driveway without me worrying about the next gravel truck coming round the bend.

I tell her this and she just looks at me like I’m wasting money.

So one day I just happened to mention this to some friends at the coffeehouse one day and one of them tells me to drop hints that feeding my hobby keeps me from “wandering” in other ways.

What? I say. Threaten her with marital infidelity if I don’t get my way?

Don’t threaten, he says, just drop hints that wandering around the roads on a bigger bike keeps you from wandering around with some young thing.

So there it is. You got a hankerin’ for some side fling with a little chippy? Well don’t let those wanton feelings take control; go get yourself a hobby instead. Is this the true secret to marital bliss?

Besides my fondness for motorcycles I’m a bicycle fanatic as well (have you noticed that there’s this two-wheeled theme running in my life). At any given moment I might have upwards to five or six bikes in various stages of disassembly while I tinker with this wheel or that brake or those gears. Never has my wife ever told me to pick up the parts and get rid of the damn things. She’s always tolerated my fondness for bicycles. Probably because they’re cheap (I usually work on old bikes purchased from second’s stores) and they provide a level of exercise I might not otherwise get. The bicycles can also create some common ground between the sons and me.

But it’s worth saying again: never has my wife complained about my bicycles laying about the barn. Maybe she knows something I don’t know. Let him have a harmless hobby like bicycles and he will never wander.

Now I have a friend suggesting I use the same approach to getting a new motorcycle. Well, not a new one, a used one that’s just a little bigger. Hmmm, have I been a fool to my spouse all along? Have I been a pawn in her little game to keep me home and happy?

And of course all this discussion brings up another issue. I’ve had a few acquaintances that have dallied a bit on the side. Should I perhaps suggest a hobby for them? Maybe get them to take an interest in kite flying or model shipbuilding – anything that will divert their attention away from that cute little babe who’s been showing them attention.

Then again, maybe it’s the person and not the hobby. I suspect my wife knows that it’s my love and respect for her that really keeps me at home – that and the fact that we have a really great relationship (nyahhh to all of you who don’t). So now it appears that fooling around won’t be much of a useful threat to feeding and expanding my hobby. This raises a new issue: I really want a bigger motorcycle, what kind of trickery must I employ to get her to let me buy it?

Two-wheeled Jihad

August 24, 2006

The following entry was written as a guest blogitorial.

How I became a bicycle terrorist

Globalguy asked me to write a guest blogitorial – that’s my cross between a guest blog entry and the traditional guest editorial submitted to mainstream media publications. Globalguy writes the blog Bicycle Diaries. He sent me an email invitation to send my thoughts and I responded with a lightening quick yes.

Wow what an honor, I thought, here I am a budding writer and journalist with my own fledgling blog and now I’m being asked to write for someone else. As quickly as the euphoria had set in, so too did the fear of having to produce something that might be interesting to bicyclists reading the blog.

As an avid bicyclist and a self-taught mechanic I thought I would be able to pull plenty of ideas out my brain and create an entry on any given subject. How about the changing of the flat tire that resulted in a complete brake overall – naw, every bicyclist has had that experience. Maybe the long hot summer ride through the cornfields of Ohio after a job layoff – yeah, like that’s a unique experience. Or an in-depth look at Rails-to-Trails – *yawn* I love the organization but the thought is making me sleepy.

Then anxiety began to take control. Sure, I have fond memories of numerous rides throughout my riding career, but nothing I would identify as interesting to anyone other than myself. Hell, for many years I had the best of bike commuting situations – I rode five miles to my office and the office had a locker room with shower. I biked almost every day from March to November. The facilities were great; the job sucked.

And still no inspiration.

Then I read the August entries of the Bicycle Diaries. If one isn’t too careful, one can become a bit depressed and give up bicycling all together. Too many deaths have occurred as the result of bicycle/car confrontations. Where I live, close to Cleveland, Ohio, Charles Barr, a young man in his early thirties, and a well-respected bassist with the Cleveland Orchestra, lost his life when he lost control of his bike and swerved into the path of a pickup truck. In this case, Mr. Barr was at fault.

Regardless of the fault, in this country there exist very little safe space between auto and bicycle. On too many occasions, when tensions run high between the two, it is usually the motorist who is unwilling to share the road and the bicyclist who suffers.

Then I got my inspiration.

In my younger days I was, what one might call, a bicycle terrorist. I rode the streets and sidewalks like they were paved just for me. I’d weave in and out of traffic, I’d cut off drivers and I’d insult them in a variety of ways. I was hell-on-two-wheels and hell-bent on doing things my way, despite the consequences.

My entry into bicycle terrorism was typical of anyone who eventually winds up in a terrorist organization. As a young man I was a law-abiding citizen; as I grew older I became disillusioned over the inequalities existing between motorist and bicyclist. I turned to the dark side and became a soldier, no a leader, in the jihad against the internal combustion engine.

I wonder if 72 virgins will be waiting for me in heaven if I die while taking the life of an infidel motorist.

Just as a sidebar, I like writing terrorism and jihad into this article. I have this fantasy that it will send Homeland Security and the Bush Administration into a tizzy trying to figure out my hidden message.

Okay, back to reality. If someone offended me in traffic I hunted them down and left my mark on their car; if there was a hood ornament I took it a as trophy. I was particularly fond of carrying a piece of brick with me, then if a motorist cut me off I’d mark them right then and there on the spot. My own version of brick-a-hick – a game involving throwing a brick at drunken hicks at small town bars. It was developed by a couple of high school students I met during my teaching days.

However, I eventually bought a motorcycle and then a car and soon I was commuting on a regular basis. In time my family came along and that resulted in the addition of a minivan (although I still respect bicyclist and will stop a line of traffic behind me to give the right-of-way to a bicycle). It seemed as if my will to tilt against the cars and trucks in America had been sucked from me.

As I got older ( particularly after I became a father) I grew less reactionary – but no less vocal while riding my bicycle. I had put all my bicycle terrorist activities behind me. Bricks are no longer an accessory on my bike but a decoration around the gardens at my house.

Then I read Globalguy’s bicycle tragedy entries and the memories of my evildoer ways  came flooding back to me. America was still cold and heartless to bicycle riders. That was when I realized the jihadist still burned bright and deep inside me. In The Godfather 3 Michael Corleone says, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” I’m beginning to feel that way. The motorists are dragging me back to my jihadist ways, and who knows what event will transpire and become the catalyst for another bicycle holy war…

Baseball and Biking

July 20, 2006

So, you’re wondering, how does baseball and motorcycling transect? I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s because motorcycling, like baseball, can be long stretches of mundane routine punctuated by moments of absolute terror. The routine of riding the same route everday can lull you into a lack of diligence until someone pulls out and takes the lane. Playing baseball can be the same until someone hits a grounder that passes between your legs and into the outfield. Both require alertness and diligence to keep disaster at bay.

But this rambling isn’t about motorcycling, it’s about baseball. On the ride in this particular morning baseball was just about all I had on my mind. The previous night my youngest son’s little league team was eliminated from their hunt for the championship. It was somewhat of a bittersweet ending; the season had dragged on a little too long (for little league) yet many of us left the dugout that night with the feeling that we won’t really be back to the ball diamond until next year. The ballfield was were I was most at peace. As I was fond of saying all season long: a bad day on a baseball diamond is always better than a good day at work.

Baseball has many attritbutes that make it in many respects the perfect life-teaching tool, as well as the perfect sport. In his Nine Principles of Baseball and Life, Raymond Angelo Belliotti writes, “Baseball is passing down an American legacy, reinforcing family love, teaching values and a way of life, sharing joy and triumph, sorrow and defeat.” It is all that and more. Baseball is a team sport that requires individual performance. Every member has to work hard together; lose focus for a moment and it can lead to disasterous results. What baseball really teaches is that everybody has a purpose in life but it’s pulling together and working as a team that really gives the purpose some meaning.

I came to baseball late in life — my father preferred basketball to any other sport, which has always surprised me because his father a semi-pro catcher for the Ariel Athletic Club out of Jamestown, NY, one of the many regional ball clubs that cropped up at the turn of the last century. Those clubs were a little like the travel teams of today — they went around town to town and play games almost purely for the entertainment of the game and the camaraderie of the team. In some small way I wish my grandfather could have been there to watch my sons play the sport. I know he would have been very pleased.

But, as I said, I came to the sport late in life. I played a little softball in my early years but the bulk of my experience has been helping with my son’s little league teams. I’m reluctant to say that I’m “a coach” because the coaches I’ve worked with know far more about the sport and the mechanics of playing the game than I do. I know that by working with some very fine guys who know how to teach, coach and work with kids that I’ve gained a far better appreciation for the game than I would have just sitting in the stands and watching. And by working with the little leaguers I’ve gained a far better understanding of my sons and of being a parent.

My youngest son grounded into the final out that ended the season. As we congratulated the winning team and walked back to our dugout I noticed my son was missing. I figured he was off grumbling about losing so I thought it best to let him go and work it out, and turn my attention to the remaining ballplayers sitting dejectedly on the bench. One of the hardest things to teach kids at this level, 5th and 6th graders, is to encourage and cheer on your teammates instead of assessing blame for missed plays and strikeouts.

What I saw in the dugout last night were players who were upset at the loss — not because of someone else making a mistake, but because of the plays they missed and the outs made against them. I saw young kids taking responsibility for their actions — wouldn’t it be grand if the world’s leaders, and the rest of us adults would do the same a little more often?

My son had disappeared to the backseat of the car where he laid until we reached home. He grumbled a little bit and I worried that he’d start up the blame game but by the time we reached the house he was very upset over how the game ended and kept saying it was his fault and that he should have waited for a better pitch — and this coming from a kid who played with two sprained fingers on his left hand and a bandaged right forearm from a bicycle accident the day before.

The second hardest thing to teach ballplayers at this level is that the loss isn’t your fault; it’s the culmination of many things on the field, and that both winning and losing is a team effort.

Baseball teaches us a lot of things. I know I learned a little more that night. I learned a little more about my sons, my family and the ballplayers I spent the summer with — and it all reinforced the notion that baseball is indeed life.

The motorcycle is still the same but the direction may change

July 18, 2006

It has been an extremely long time since I posted anything and I apologize for that. Between work, life on an old farm and little league ballgames (of which my son talked me into coaching) I seem to find time not to write. But that’s changed for the moment.

When I started out this blog I thought I would approach it from the viewpoint of life on the seat of a motorcycle. Being one who is inclined to social and political commentary I thought I would try to keep it focused on the social and away from the political. However, as time marches on I realize that won’t always be the case — I’m afraid the politics in me will come out. You see when one rides a motorcycle one has a great deal of time for thinking. Now-a-days with the introduction of MP3 players I could don a pair of earbuds and tune into my favorite podcast or listen to music via radio or ripping. In fact, some of the fancier motorcycles come with radio/CD players installed. One friend had a BMW motorcycle that featured a 5 CD player. But all those devices are an annoyance in my opinion. I have to play my MP3/radio so loud to get over the road noise that it hurts my ears. So I go without.

As a result, the only audio stimulation I get is the road noise, the growl of the engine and the wind rushing by. This lack of “outside interference” gives one a great deal of space to think. That’s where the primordial soup of my social and political commentaries begins to bubble.

Now let it be know that, in the interest of full disclosure, I tend to be more liberal in my thinking. But that doesn’t mean that I adhere to all things liberal, I’m still very pragmatic in my approach to life and politics. And when it comes to social commentary, well let’s just say that nobody and nothing is sacred — if it bears worth commentary, I will usually have an opinion. Oh, in the further interest of full disclosure, I don’t really care if you disagree with my opinion — that’s why it’s called an opinion. However, as a budding, online blogging journalist, I do try to maintain a high degree of integrity. I will honestly not report something that I can’t verify through facts. That’s how it should be in journalism. Read into this, if you want, I won’t be imitating a Fox News broadcast or some of the muckraking, yellow journalists they employ. And it won’t be Air America either.

So where does that leave me politically and socially? I try to be fair to both sides of an issue, although when it comes to stupid people doing stupid things I will tend to be more sardonic then not.

Don’t Worry About That Weather Report…

June 23, 2006

Every rider experiences it. A rainstorm. You just realize you’re going to get wet, put your head down and go.

However, it’s sometimes smart to pay attention to the weather reports — or at least tune in.

When I called my wife to find out about the status of the rain 30 minutes north of where I parked she said, “It’s pouring up here. It has been for the last half-hour. Why did you ride your bike today, didn’t you see the weather report this morning?”

I replied no and proceeded to curse the sky for dumping copious amounts of water onto my ride home. I should have suspected the day was going to be a washout after I stopped for coffee that morning. The police officer and the auto mechanic, both at the local Starbucks for their morning jolt, asked the same question as my wife. The officer went onto explain that it was expected to rain all day. And not just a gentle summer rain but periods of torrential downpours interrupted by moments of driving rain and violent thunderstorms.

I rode on pooh-poohing them. It was dry, after all, and the sun was shining — somewhat.

“Where are you?” my wife asked.

“Right now I’m parked under the overhang above the side doors of a middle school,” I replied.

“Do you want me to come get you?”

“Naw, I’ll wait it out for a bit and try to run home when it lets up.”

A few minutes later the rain had all but stopped and I saw my chance to head north with the hopes of outrunning any further bursts of thunderatic activity. I probably rode a half-mile before the heavens opened up again so I turned around and made my way back to the overhang above the front doors of the same middle school.

I dismounted from my bike and hung my helmet, gloves and jacket over anything I could find to give them a chance to dry out. The intensity of the rainstorm increased, I pulled out some articles and sat down on the concrete to wait it out. Within minutes I heard the familiar tune Chava Nagila, the ring tone I have set on my cell phone, coming from the bag on my bike. I answered it.

“Are you still at the side doors of the middle school?” My wife asked.

“No,” I replied, “I made it around to the front doors.”

“Well I just checked the weather map and it shows a solid block of thunderstorms from here to the Indiana border (three hours to the west). Do you want me to come get you in a dry car?”

“But what do I do with the bike?”

“Leave it there with a note explaining. I’ll drive you back in the morning to get it.”

But I kept thinking, It’s just a little rain, I can handle this. Sure I’ll get wet, no soaked, before I get home but I’ll be fine — I’m not some sissy. Then the sky lit up with a lightening and thunder show reminiscent of the homerun fireworks at a major league ballpark.

“Okay come get me,” I conceded.

The rain showed no signs of easing by the time my family arrived 45 minutes later — of course both sons had to come so they could witness my soaking status. In the interim I called a friend in town and arranged to leave my bike at his place. I thought it wouldn’t be wise to leave it parked by the middle school front doors. Even with a note explaining my predicament, I worried the police and school officials wouldn’t find it terribly amusing that I rode right up the sidewalks to the front doors.

After a brief explanation of the change in plans, which somehow managed to include both boys running to the front doors to share in the experience, we took off for the friend’s house. At one point, while waiting for a light to turn green, I turned to my family in the car behind me and smiled. They all laughed. I would later find out that at that approximate moment the song Crazy by Aerosmith had come onto the radio and my family was laughing back at the appropriateness of it.

Into every motorcyclist’s life a little rain must fall, but this was ridiculous. As we drove home I began to realize how dangerous it would have been for me to continue, particularly in the low road areas that were flooded. These weren’t just puddles on the road that I would have to negotiate, these were rivers of runoff that I would literally have to ford. At one spot a truck blew through a low point and sent up a wave that would have surely knocked me off my bike.

Finally back home safe and dry, and a little less for wear from all the ribbing I took, I sat down to look at the weather maps. Nearly every county in the state was under a flood warning or watch. Several communities near the lake were dealing with the Venice Effect — streets of water with boaters ferrying people around; those living close to rivers were warned to remain vigilant throughout the night.

By 5:30 the next morning the rain had stopped. I made some coffee, read the newspaper and watched the weather on T.V. At 7 a.m. I woke my wife and said, “Come on, you’ve got to get me to the bike so I can get to work before the morning rainstorms start.”

The Brotherhood of the Bike

June 9, 2006

It’s something you don’t really notice unless you’re a motorcyclist. Next time you’re driving along behind a biker and they pass one coming from the other direction, watch their left hands. In most cases you will see one salute and the other return the salute. It’s what I call “The Brotherhood of the Bike.”

My wife finds it very amusing any time we’re riding and we pass a bike approaching from the opposite direction. I salute, they return; my wife gets a kick out of the culture. Occassionally you’ll see truck drivers salute. Sometimes drivers of distinct foreign cars, hot rods and antigue autos will salute each other but mostly it’s bikers who salute and return the salute.

Now some bikers won’t salute or return one and I’m not sure why but I suspect one of four reasons: 1. they don’t want to remove their hands from the handlebars, either for safety reasons or fear; 2. they haven’t been riding long enough to understand the salute; 3. you’re on the wrong bike or; 4. it’s somehow beneath them.

Before I go too much further I should explain what I call the salute. First it’s not really a salute in the terms of a salute one might see between members of the military, it’s more like a wave. But it really isn’t a wave either. It’s more like sports figures sticking their hands out for a “low five.” It’s an acknowledgement of the other bikers — that’s why I call it The Brotherhood of the Bike.

But in truth it’s unfair to call it strictly a brotherhood because female motorcyclists will salute as well. Brother/Sisterhood of the Bike doesn’t flow well and Personhood of the Bike just isn’t right. So for now please allow me a little latitude to call it a brotherhood and maybe we can create something new later.

I don’t really know how the salute got started. I suspect it’s because as motorcyclists we all feel the need to stick together and acknowledge each other. When I started to write this post I did a quick Google search and found one article called, “The Wave:” Protocol or Endangered Species written by John Cerilli. John’s article goes into the protocol of the wave (what I call the salute) with interesting comments like, “Harley riders tend to wave only to other Harley riders,” and “The sport bike crowd tend to wave to their own kind,” or some riders who, “Only wave if the other rider waves first.” In my own experience I haven’t really seen a breakdown by bike brand or style.

When I started riding over 30 years ago the salute was a raised clenched fist, a little like the black power salute of the sixties and seventies. I remember one of my buddies, who started riding with his dad when he was very young, told me that it was proper to salute and return a salute between motorcylcists. He went so far as to suggest that not doing so was a serious motorcycling faux pas. Okay I don’t think he said faux pas, but I have a vivid memory of him implying that it was on the level of a grave insult.

So there we were, riding along and raising our fists in salutes to other members of our exclusive organization.

Now we do a salute that, as I mentioned earlier, is a little more like a low five between sports figures, and I do salute whenever I pass another cyclists — except if I’m shifting, turning or coming to a stop. In those instances I usually nod in response. But I’m not insulted if the other rider does not return the salute. Sometimes I get a Harley rider (and I stress they are few and far between) who don’t return a salute; on occassion the sports bike rider won’t either. For those times I do get turned down on return salutes, I just figure the other riders don’t understand The Brotherhood of the Bike.

If you want to read John Cerilli’s article, “The Wave:” Protocol or Endangered Species, you can access it at http://www.motorcycleshopper.com/articles/the-wave.htm