I’m not a joiner, not big on team sports, and I nod off when groupthink enters the room. Which is a way of saying I’ve never been a member of a motorcycle club, nor have I ever wanted to be.
I’ve nothing against clubs (OK…most clubs). They’re just a bit too structured for me. There’s already too much of that in day-to-day life. So when it comes to doing things I really enjoy, I want to do it my way. This, for better or for worse, has been a pattern in my life.
After mustering out of the service — decades ago — I applied for a job at Xerox as a field tech servicing copy machines. After weeks of interviews, and a lengthy session with a company psychologist, I received a very formal letter stating — in effect — thanks, but no thanks. I was crushed …I really needed a job! I reread the letter several times, and each time a sentence stuck out that I remember to this day; “We do not believe you are consonant with our corporate image.” Some might think of that as meaning, “does not play well with others.” As time passed I came to think of it as a compliment.
Given the above it’s probably more than a bit odd that I founded the Santa Cruz HOG Chapter —“Cruz HOGS”— in late 1988. (BTW, the Harley Owners Group is an organization, not a club.) My local dealer was Santa Cruz Harley-Davidson, a small, old-timey joint with a surly wrench twirler kept in the back by his wife who worked the counter and often refereed arguments between her husband and customers. Said wrench twirler had no particular love for Harleys, rarely missing an opportunity to praise Triumphs instead.
The Mothership was pressuring its dealers to form HOG Chapters. Surfacing in 1983, the Harley Owners Group was proving to be an excellent marketing tool, and a great way for riders to connect. While I was aware of HOG it was not something that particularly appealed to me (see first paragraph), but when the dealer approached me about starting a chapter for some reason I said, “Sure, why not.”
A lot of talk, a bit of arm twisting and the promise of beer had a couple dozen riders show up at a local pizza place. Given the can-of-mixed-nuts profile of Santa Cruz it was no surprise that the riders were a diverse group; white collar, blue collar, no collar, and a few that Mother warned about. The Santa Cruz Mountains are rich in biker history, some of it actually true. Lore has it that decades ago the county sheriff struck a deal with a particularly nasty bunch of ’em; You stay out of town and I’ll stay out of your face. I think a few that showed up for that HOG meeting might have heard that warning directly. Just why these outliers wanted to join HOG was always a mystery to me. But I was always glad they did as this varied mix of members pointed out the real value of the organization: bringing uncommon people together for the common love of Harleys.
But a couple of unique issues came along with them. For example, some didn’t want to pay dues to Milwaukee. I never understood why …they just wouldn’t do it. I wanted the group to succeed, so for a couple of months I paid their dues, unbeknownst to them. Eventually they came around, and one actually paid me back.
Then there were two riders who refused to go East. Santa Cruz is on the West coast, separated from the Silicon Valley megalopolis by an 1,800-foot pass. The two riders in question would go north, they’d go south and, probably, with a beer or two in them, they’d try and go west. East? Ain’t happenin’. I eventually found out that there was, uh, unfinished police business on the other side of the hill. All-around good people, though.
So despite the differences in look, income and police records, we managed to have great fun riding the wheels off our bikes. And it was a bit of a revelation to me in that, while being part of this group went against my curmudgeonly self, it was, overall, a great experience.
I stuck around as the Chapter Director for two years. I met some special people —a few remain good friends— and banked some of my life’s best memories. But as HOG grew —wildly!— it became a bit too structured for me, as it did for several of the Old Skool members. I left the chapter with good people, and it thrived and grew. The dealership changed hands, and following The Mothership’s dictate became yet another altar of excess. Unfortunately, when the 2008 financial storm hit, Santa Cruz Harley-Davidson sunk. The chapter members found homes with nearby dealers, but “Cruz HOG” now remains nothing more than a fading memory.
And I’m still not a member of a motorcycle club! Maybe Groucho Marx had it right: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
If you’d care to explain to Kittrelle why his existence on this planet is no longer required, or any other pithy comments, you can email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org