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Poker Runs of the Past

by The Lorax

Many who ride today might not realize that a Poker Run was much different not so many years ago. I remember my first Poker Run. It was 1982.

I was a 22-year-old single mom going to college. Every weekend I babysat for another single mom who would, one day a weekend, take off with her boyfriend, his friends and her brothers for all-day rides on motorcycles. Soon after my arrival the bikes would roar in. The guys would dismount and discuss a general destination. Her brothers had the BMWs, her boyfriend and another guy had Harleys and the last guy had a Yamaha 850 Triple that was to later, much later, be my very first bike.

After a short pow-wow, off they went. I knew it had to be a blast. There was something to this gathering of bikes. A small swarm of bees, traveling down the highway. A group of friends, a small tribe or perhaps a brotherhood. Why else would she pay a babysitter for 12 hours work every weekend?

Her boyfriend also belonged to a van club. Another brotherhood of sorts. Another swarm with a destination. One of his van club friends stopped by to return something a day or two previous and had arrived again on this day. My suspicion, which was correct, was that he was checking-out the new babysitter. This guy must've liked what he saw. He is my husband today. Back then, I wasn't sure I wanted another "old man." Men were nothing but trouble. You looked at one, you got pregnant. If he liked me, then maybe he had a motorcycle. I couldn't get pregnant just riding. Could I?

On that day, I knew I had to find out if he rode a motorcycle. I asked him if he rode and my heart jumped when he said that he did. "So why don't you ever ride with the guys?" He rode dirt bikes. He didn't even own a street bike. I must have oozed disappointment. I must have slapped him in the face because he quickly countered with, "But I could probably borrow one. I'm sure my heart-rate must have increased. I had to try to breathe. I couldn't settle down. My friend told me about them. Poker Runs. Lots and lots of bikes. All different kinds. Back country roads. Hours of riding. Beautiful scenery. To top that all, a big party at the end. Was I excited? Why wouldn't I be? I couldn't wait until the next Poker Run.

The day finally arrived. I got to my friend's house early after dropping off my little one at my parents'. I wasn't really nervous because I was told that my date was a great dirt biker and roads were cake. All the regulars arrived. Everyone was there and ready to go except my date. I was getting worried. He seemed to really show an interest in me. Why wasn't he here? My heart was beginning to sink when we heard a strange sewing machine-like noise approaching.

Up the driveway came my date on what seemed like some type of toy motorcycle. If memory serves me, it was a late 70's Honda CL 350. Two heavily muffled little cylinders and lots of valve noise. I felt my heart sink. "Can two of us fit on that thing?" I must have voiced it out loud. I hadn't meant to. I heard someone say through my mental haze, "You guys are thin."

I thought again about what was about to happen. I reminded myself that it was this or nothing. Make the best of it. Suddenly, I realized it was a ride, the day was perfect and I was going on a Poker Run. I was going to have a blast.

We traveled a little more than an hour when our bike started feeling funny. Turns out the tire had a slow leak and was going flat. "We can't go," my date said dejectedly. I went into panic mode. "WE ARE GOING! Stop and get something to fix it!" So we wobbled into a Pep Boys, got a can of fix-a-flat, ignored the taunts of the others and away we went. The tire held air for the weekend, but was flat again when my date returned the Little Honda to its unhappy owner.

We arrived at the meeting point sometime before lunch. Bikes were coming, bikes were going. Everywhere I looked, I saw bikers that could have been extras in that Marlon Brando movie, "The Wild Ones." I knew about the motorcycle clubs and most of the participants resembled that breed. Knowing what I know now, half of them were probably narcotic agents. Back then, people wore their club colors without fear. I just thought that this was the coolest thing and didn't realize the dangerous implications.

I look back and think about what we were riding. Ignorance was truly bliss that day. I think we weren't harassed (too much) because we were with a group that had Harley riders. Either that or they figured we must have had a huge set of balls to ride "rice" amongst this partisan crowd. Imagine, baby rice amongst the Hogs. My date was surely brave and courageous. Did I say crazy?

We went in, registered and got our "map." Back then, the map was a list of taverns that you stopped at to get a card for your poker hand. Thus, Poker Run. The last card was given to you at the final party site. The route was mapped out with flour bags or spray-painted circles along the way. Before you came to an intersection, there would be no sign or one or two circles, depending on whether you were to go straight or turn. It was a beautiful area. People in little sleepy villages were sitting on their lawn chairs, relaxing, waving and watching the bikes go by. There were areas where the cops were poised to pull over all the bikes with loud or absent mufflers or any other infraction they could muster. They too knew there would be bikes traveling along that route and were ready to teach the Wild Ones that they owned this turf. Along the route were riders working on the occasional pre-Evo machine that decided to have it's usual breakdown.

You didn't really need the map to see which bars were stopping points. Their parking lots were always filled with bikes whose owners were inside "gassing up," or whose riders were giving the bones a rest. They were probably those hard-tail riders. You knew if those guys had a date because there would be a pillow on the back fender. Not the kind you have on your bed, smaller and more like a couch pillow, I guess. Among the parked bikes there was a table, under a huge tree in the parking area, where you got your poker card.

We made one call-of-nature stop. We decided we would just get to the final party site and drink there. It may have had something to do with the 350 Honda and the turtle pace at which we progressed.

We arrived in one piece, parked the diminutive bike amongst our friends' huge ones and got our final cards. Wouldn't you know it? My date, the one guy without a street bike, won a door prize. No, not the Grand Prize, which was a new Harley. Just a pair of foam handgrips that fit his dirt bike. We were happy, though, and they're still on the old thing's handlebars.

The atmosphere was like a huge country fair. There were hotdogs and hamburgers. Corn on the cob and beer. Malcolm Forbes even showed up with his Hog, hot air balloon and Lamborghini, not to mention a bevy of absolutely knock-out hunky body guards! It was wonderful. Even though many viewed these bikers as outcasts, I felt at home with them. Malcolm felt at home with them. Even though they looked grubby and mean, everyone seemed nice. All my life I was never part of the "popular" crowd and was usually treated as an outcast. Here I could relate. I knew their meanness and tough exterior was protective armor to prevent the rejection that they dealt with all their lives. In that non-judgmental environment we were all free to be ourselves. We were together, breaking bread, sharing the joy and freedom of motorcycling on a summer day. From one of the richest and most successful men in America to society's shunned. I received a small, triangular patch that day. I sewed it on the collar tip of my denim jacket. I still have it. It's a tattered old jacket now.

Around here, I don't even think they still have Poker Runs and the runs we see don't offer beer at the end. You no longer have the freedom to ride a run at your own pace. Usually, it's a slow, follow-the-leader parade, bumper-to-bumper, smelling bike exhaust. Although I ride my own Harley almost daily, I've never ridden in an organized run. I'm sure I would if I didn't feel like I was being herded like sheep in a flock.

There was something very cool about being free to set your own pace, get lost if you screwed up, stop for a beer if you wanted or answer nature's call if necessary. I'm not endorsing drinking-and-driving. I don't do it. But there's just something too "cagey" about all the rules and regulations that come with today's runs. The fact that motorcycle club relationships worsened in the ensuing years also put an end to those old types of gatherings. I realize that most runs these days are money-raising events for good causes.

I just miss the ragged edge.

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Story copyright Renee Aun, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


From The Lorax:
"I'm a 43-year-old mother of three who has been riding for four years. I'm a research scientist who commutes to work (a 50-minute-each-way) trip on a 1992 Heritage Softail Classic, weather permitting. I also ride a customized, 1993 Sportster and a 1998 Royal Enfield Bullet. Also in the basement is a 1972 Triumph Tiger 650 and a 1995 Electra-Glide.

WHAT YOU NEED to Know! Cyclechex Motorcycle History Report.
Motorcycle History Report - What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Used Motorcycle.
 


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