My wife and I recently took a trip to the Black Hills, a "just because" jaunt that we made just because it's summertime.
We stopped in Sturgis, a sleepy town of 6,600 perched on the northern rim of the Hills. Sturgis is noted for its proximity to several Minuteman missile silos and a little event known simply as the Rally.
Each year, approximately half a million motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the planet descend on Sturgis. Our Sturgis visit occurred a few weeks before the Rally commenced. It's not that we have anything against motorcyclists; we just don't particularly relish the idea of bathroom lines that could involve 10,000 people.
Being a wild and crazy couple, our first stop was a museum. The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum features some primordial motorcycles that might have been owned by the Flintstones. Also on display were a few oddball makes, such as a Flying Merkel.
We chatted with Arlene, who works at the museum. Arlene is originally from New York; it was a bit startling to hear her Brooklyn accent in the midst of the Midwest.
We asked Arlene about memorable things she's seen during the Rally.
"There's a guy who has decorated his bike like a buffalo and dresses like a buffalo," she said. "Another fellow paints himself entirely green. And I saw a motorcyclist who had a dog sitting on his lap with a cat sitting on the dog's back and a mouse sitting on the cat's back. There are always a few women - and I don't mean only the silicone type - who have an aversion to clothing and wear just body paint and pasties."
Our museum experience left us peckish, so we repaired to an establishment called One-Eyed Jack's. Main Street Sturgis is chockablock with bars and tattoo parlors and T-shirt shops. In a short walk you could get drunk, obtain an unfortunate tattoo and purchase a T-shirt to cover your inky embarrassment.
As we waited for our food, I chatted with Sarah, one of the barmaids. Sarah was wearing an extremely skimpy outfit, the kind that makes it difficult to maintain eye contact if you're a guy of the male species.
Gazing at the rafters, I asked Sarah what her impressions were regarding the Rally.
"It's insanity times 10!" she replied. "Wall-to-wall people the whole time! It's the busiest motorcycle rally I've ever worked."
Examining my shoelaces, I remarked that I wasn't aware that being a barmaid at motorcycle rallies was a career choice.
"The Rally brings a lot of business to this town," she said. "There are people that come from as far away as England and Australia and have their bikes flown in. You also see some million-dollar motor homes."
Our chat concluded, I kindly thanked Sarah, my eyes fixed on the neon sign above the bar.
Across the street is a former body shop called Mr. Al's. Its owner was Dad's shipmate during the war, so I walked over to make inquiries.
The concrete floor of the shop is painted with rectangles that are leased to Rally vendors. Unpacking their goods were Bill and Joyce Wood of Ft. Collins, Colorado. Bill is an optometrist who makes prescription goggles for Rally goers.
I asked Bill and Joyce what it's like to work the Rally.
"Most of the bikers are very nice," said Bill. "Certainly there are biker gangs such as the Hells Angels and the Bandidos. But if you leave them alone, they leave you alone. Some of the most bothersome people have been non-biker tourists."
Do you ever feel unsafe?
"Not at all," said Joyce. "There's always a large police presence. But I wouldn't bring my kid to the Rally. Not due to safety issues but because they would get lost in the sea of people."
I was told by a body shop employee that Dad's friend now lives in Tennessee. Which was too bad; it would have been nice to meet the guy.
My wife said we needed a souvenir, so we walked to a T-shirt shop. As we shopped, we spoke with its manager, Terri.
"There are some big celebrities who come to the Rally," said Terri. "I know that Toby Keith has often been spotted. And last year we had Mike and Frank from 'American Pickers' and the 'Pawn Star' guys. The Rally gets bigger and better each year!"
Powerful motorcycles rolled through Sturgis, their riders looking like pilgrims who have finally found Mecca. The smell of Harley exhaust mingled with the fragrance of pine forest.
"Do you want a Harley T-shirt or a Harley T-shirt?" asked my wife.
"Keep looking," I urged. "I was hoping for a Flying Merkel!"