Hope and Joy in a Roaring Wave

Hope and Joy in a Roaring Wave

Every year Erie, Pennsylvania, hosts Roar on the Shore, a gathering of approximately 165,000 motorcycle enthusiasts that makes my hometown rumble for a few days. According to the Roar’s website, its mission is “to raise money for a worthwhile charity while encouraging motorcycle riding, safety and fellowship.”

I’ll state directly that motorcycles aren’t my thing. Harley-Davidsons and their many cousins are like rollercoasters, lime Jell-o with chopped celery and carrots, romance novels and turtleneck sweaters. You can like them. I’m not against them, just parked in the eh category.

But hope and joy are my things, and generally they find me by surprise.

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Hi, kind of blurry Santa and Mrs. Claus

I was minding my own business, standing along Glenwood Park Avenue with wife Kathy and grandson Cole. The Roar’s parade of motorcycles was going by, the riders vroom vrooming—such delight in engine flexing.

Cole needed to get used to the volume, so he sat in the car, peering out the open window. My body fat, from arm bingo to wine gut to muffin tops to saddlebags, trembled in the racket. The bikes were interesting, a smorgasbord of shiny eccentricity and plain weirdness. The air was a brew of exhaust and grilled hot dogs from nearby picnic shelters.

Such sensory overload would normally have me looking for an escape route, but this loud, funky scene was rendered gorgeous—every smell, sound, and sight, I swear—by human faces.

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Happy dudes in a happy brood: one of these guys let out a vroom that sent Cole diving for cover.

Watching them rev by, I felt like crying. I should have cried. (Yes, I’m way too in touch with my tear ducts. Guilty as charged.) Face after face saw my face, and we waved at each other, human beings exchanging something pretty modest, if you stop and think about it.

What does a wave between strangers mean, after all? “You’re a person. Hey, I’m a person, too. And I see you.” That’s it.

But it wasn’t the waves alone that moved my old soul. The bikers’ dear faces were blissed out. And what an assortment: grizzly, metrosexual, young and fair, toothless, weathered, cherubic and gaunt; skin colors, check; genders, check; ages, check; orientations, check.

In other words, motorcycles marching to their guttural tunes presented me with a nice collection of humanity that, as near as I could tell, found a few miles of heaven rolling along together as a tribe.

“Why are you so choked up?” I asked myself.

“They’re so happy,” I said, out loud a couple times, almost in disbelief. “For as long as this ride lasts, they get to be happy.”

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Cole, the recipient of scores of smiles and waves

On the way home, Cole said, in as clear a sentence as his toddler tongue has yet uttered, “That was so much fun”—a perfect little word for what I’ve decided is a saving truth.

Why did 5000 bikers wave to over 20,000 spectators? Why did the eyes of those in motion shine like the sun? Why were those standing still so often laughing? Because when human beings see each other, smile and wave, some of the gladness each of us keeps inside comes out of hiding.

Lest you accuse me floating off into rosy clouds, I’ll acknowledge that a few beers and a conversation about politics and religion might ugly up lots of those silly parade grins. But then, Old Milwaukee and opinions can furrow brows in my very own family. Rancor and ridicule are always as close as our elbows.

But the joy of a smile and a wave lies in the truth that we are all more than our passions, righteous though they may be. My personhood begins with roots: I love; with luck, I am loved back; a woman gave birth to me; I can never put down my life, a heavy satchel of stories that could make you dance and cry; I’m afraid; I suffer; I have dreams.

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Tell me your dreams and stories.

I chatted this morning with Stacey, a Starbucks friend who rode and roared. She was moved, she said, by the flags and folks sometimes a dozen deep lining the route. Words couldn’t quite get at the power she felt in thousands waving.

I actually spotted Stacey and her wife in the procession and recognized their awe, which may be the best word to describe the simple, elusive hope I found in Roar on the Shore.

If only we could see each other! Not what we believe or whom we love or how genetics sculpt our bodies and color our skin.

Imagine the fragile world if our smiles and waves meant, “Hey, there, fellow person. I won’t hurt you. Let me hear all about your mother. Tell me a story to make me dance.”

Okay, I am in the clouds. But I believe in awe. Would you help me bring some clouds to earth, to where we’re standing?

Or maybe we can just look each other in the eyes. That’s not too much to ask. Good Lord, we can do that much, right?

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15 thoughts on “Hope and Joy in a Roaring Wave

  1. I have yet to see this beautiful parade, but know I would be brought to tears just watching. Such insight you have. Love and peace my friend.

  2. Wow! Wonderful read! I rode in the parade and remember seeing that beautiful little red headed boy! When a child waved back (especially the little girls surprised to see another girl riding her own bike) and smiled it gave me hope that people are still good and still love one another regardless of the color of our skin. 😘

    • Hi, Stacy. What a buzz it must have been riding in that procession! Almost makes me wish I were a biker. Funny, the last thing I expected to get from the Roar parade was hope. Go figure. Peace, John

  3. I was in the parade and your beautifully written words capture my emotions perfectly! Thank you for sharing the fact the the emotions are not mutually exclusive, but totally aligned. This warms my heart!

    • Hi, Steph. Yeah, especially with all the hurt in the air these days, it was so cool to just get swept away in waving and smiling and laughing. My heart is still warm. Peace, John

  4. Hi John, I enjoyed this read this morning and it made me laugh. I got up at 3:45 this morning and drove hubby John to airport to catch an early morning flight to Findland. At Geneva Aiport, there’s a lane called the “Kiss and Fly” and at 4:30 this morning, in pitch darkness, people in the lane were getting out of cars, hauling luggages, kissing, splitting up and then moving on. Normally, the lane is reasonably fast. Since no one was behind me, I stopped my car and let John out and did the “see you in 4 days & hug thing” and then took off being mindful of the car line-up that had just appeared behind mine. As John was still walking towards the airport entrance – I found myself at a standstill in the queue, about 1/2 a metre ahead, with more kiss and fly people. Turns out, a family ahead of me was splitting up, parents with young children – a big family. When they were all done kissing, hugging, crying and sorting out luggages, the car took off as the other travelers walked away, but I still couldn’t move my engine because there was this one little boy who got left behind. He just stood there in the lane and in front of my car waving at me. There I was sitting in my car with my engine roaring and B.P rising signalling: “it’s time to go now…let’s move now…”. I thought: “do you want me to get out and kiss you too…will a parent please get this little kid…this ain’t a time for a big community hug…it’s an airport!!!”. I felt impatient (I wanted to go back home under my warm duvet – I’m a working mother!!) but I held tight, swallowed and allowed “insight” to take over and a good thing happened. I had a good flashback. I remembered how I was when I was a child (I would have done the exact same thing) and waved back and smiled at the little fellow who was still frantically waving at me. A parent finally came. That little exchange relates to what you said above. It was a moment where the little boy and I expressed: “You’re a person. Hey, I’m a person, too. And I see you.” That’s it. I just had to give that moment a chance and I’m glad that I did.

    • Yeah, Julie, but so generous and so much appreciated. A story like yours is soul food during our national civility famine. Blessings and thanks, John

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