“Hey, Doll!” was my dad’s favored greeting to women whether he knew them or not. Given that this was in the ’50s, an occasional “Honey,” “Babe” or “Sweetie” was also thrown about. This wasn’t sexist…it just was. Then the ’60s hit like a cultural tsunami, with part of the wave having women realize, “We don’t have to take this shit any longer.” Those of us men brighter than a dull penny took the hint. What dumbfounds me is that women are still fighting for equal respect. When we —Lora and I — founded Thunder Press it was with the tacit understanding that women would be an important, and equal, part of it. Why? The better question was, Why not?
The first columnist we signed was Wendy Perry, a charismatic lady who influenced an untold number of women riders and showed more than a few men how to ride a Springer. She broke the trail for several other columnists that followed, notably Kay Cardwell, who we recently lost, Susan Swan, Jan Vargas and Betsy Farrell. At one point I believe we had more female columnists that any other mainstream motorcycle pub.
Women among our regular contributors numbered in the dozens, including Barbara Joans, Felicia Morgan, Leslie Prevish, Cris Sommer-Simmons, Genevieve Schmidt, and Gail DeMarco. The first editor we hired was Annette Boyer, and when we broke the seal on the eastern edition, Susan Buck had the helm. By the way, it’s not too far-fetched to say that Annette was the one that introduced proper grammar to yours truly…though I’ll never admit to it. If you walked into our office you’d find Debbie Macdonald holding sway over a crew that included Jennipher Wood, Lisa Clark, Robin Berrie and Birgit Heidgen.
And then there was this indispensable trio: Debra Allen, Kate Chickering and Bev “Barracuda” Nehmer – our first advertising team. Their efforts put Thunder Press on the map, and in the black. The key to working with them was to stand back and let it happen. Bev’s “Barracuda” tag came from an advertiser who told me, “Once Bev got ahold of you she never let go until you advertised.”
According to the Motorcycle Industry Council’s most recent study of the subject (2018) more than 19 percent of all riders are women. This is almost double the 2008 rate of 10 percent. Yet, I still find troglodytes that believe women have no place in the saddle; “That’s what the pillion is for!”
To those whose brains may have calcified let me give you something to think about. The abovementioned Cris Sommers-Simmons’ motorcycle bio takes up pages, including her entry in the biennial “Motorcycle Cannonball” cross-country run on “Effie,” her 1915 Harley-Davidson. Then there’s Shayna Texter, a 5-foot tall, 95-pound American Flat Track racer who beats the boys and wins Nationals on a constant basis in the world’s toughest dirt track series.
Or how about Elisa Wirkala? Haven’t heard of her? Let me fill you in. A few years back this young Seattle schoolteacher flew to Chile, her mother’s home country, where she purchased a Honda CLG125. I’m limited here to how much I can write, so let me condense the next part of her journey into one sentence. From Chile she rode that 125 to the tip of Argentina, turned around and rode up the length of South America, Central America, Mexico, California, Oregon and back home to Seattle. Pull out a map and check that out. I’m guesstimating, but I believe that trip works out to around 11,000 miles. On a 125cc motorcycle.
Not quite sure what my stepdad would say about this, but he wasn’t a dumb man so I’ll bet “Doll” wouldn’t be in his greeting to these women.
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