Keep it kickin’
Yuma, Ariz., Apr. 20–22—It’s not like back east with snow creating the “cabin fever” effect. Here in SoCal it’s more a result of the daily survival of the roads and freeways made even more dangerous with “intexticated” drivers. That this event is called the Yuma Prison Run contradicts the actual freedom gained by attending. My friend Esta (goin’ on 93!) had asked to ride along so I made a short side trip to gather her up.
It was an uneventful cruise into Yuma with great weather in the 80s all the way. We made it to sign in at the fairgrounds, cruised around looking for friends and clubs, then parked near the snack stand for Esta’s convenience. This was only possible with a noticeable lack of motorcycles which normally crowd this area near the vendors, of which a few were MIA. But I did find the Nuggets and Loners in their regular campsites and stopped to have a drink before wandering off.
The vendors that did return, along with a few newbies, included purveyors of motorcycle gear, bike supplies, lawyers, patches, do-rag, jewelry, food, and more. The Sam Morrison Band has been entertaining us for many years with their consistent southern rock, original tunes and special covers of Bob Seger songs, beginning their set at sundown. With member Karl Sanger on sax adding flute they now include Jethro Tull music.
Saturday, after a leisurely breakfast obtainable at either the snack bar or the Desert Ministries buffet, it was time to try our luck at bingo. Did I say luck? Not for me but Magoo won the final blackout to receive a trophy and 9” long stainless-steel Harley sculpture. Parents dropped their children off with the Christian Motorcyclists Association who kept them entertained with crafts, games and face painting. They also supply toiletries in the restrooms.
Even with the expected 10-degree jump in temperature, I consider low 90s to be extremely tolerable in Yuma and downright pleasant for the bike games. After agonizing loses by mere inches the winners emerged as Shawn Chamlee in first place, Joy Mattice in second, and third was Eric Dimaio. First-place Ball Drop winners were Caesar and Bridget, second were Edgar and daughter Savannah, and Toby and Carmen came in third. The Wienie Bite produced admirable results with Edgar and Nicole taking first and Sam and Sue’s very respectable second.
Following their own cabin fever tradition, the Victor McLaglen Motorcycle Corps makes Yuma the official start of their performance season. Jimmy Wright of the Seattle Cossacks was a guest corpsman. VMMC recruited another young miss, Tanya Pham, to join Megan Margison (with her infectious smile) to play with the boys, lending a new sexiness and feminine touches to the usual masculine stunts. VMMC performed all our favorite stunts along with several variations of mini pyramids, always a crowd pleaser. Even a cantankerous Shovel needing push starts couldn’t dampen our applause!
I headed off to the Yuma Territorial Prison to await the VMMC-led parade of bikes. Inside the gift shop I overheard one the sales people repeat the belief of a local that there was “no run” this year. I stepped up and said, “I’m running! Go check the marque at the fairgrounds!” It might be easy to think that, Yuma not being overrun with the usual 2,500-odd bikes
Having killed a few hours it was now time to return to the fairgrounds to get in line for dinner by the Yuma Youth Hockey League. Seems most folks now knew the routine and didn’t need to be asked “tri-tip or chicken?” so the line progressed quickly. After dinner I checked out the vote-by-buck bike show with one of everything. All money raised goes to the Yuma Children’s Burn Center. Mike Hart’s sign pleading for pity votes actually worked to earn his Ural with sidecar first place and a fireman’s helmet. Chopper Kris’s Miller High Life-themed chopper took second place and Craig Ittner’s Winnie the Pooh dresser, with absolutely fabulous graphics, took third.
As I walked around the grounds, talking with so many friends, I realized we were a single organism and each conversation was a verbal synapse keeping us alive. I felt so energized talking to as many people as I could. This is one reason I so love this run. Every conversation renews our relevance and solidifies our connection to our chosen universe. In the past I’ve joked about traveling almost 300 miles to visit friends that lived a mere 10 miles from home. But where was everybody?
Beginning the awards presentations, Centaur Steven Taylor opened with, “Thank you; we can’t do this without you!” The bike show yielded $769 and the winners accepted their trophies: Long Distance Female: Veta Chenoweth, 2,600 miles, Long Distance Male: Ernest Burruel, 3,000 miles, Oldest Female Rider: Virginia Wakefield (76), Oldest Male: L.D. “Smitty” Smith (89), Largest Association: Golden State H.O.G. with 12 sign-ins, Largest Club: Boozefighters MC with 32. Other club participants were Loners, Marine Riders, Partners SoCal, Nuggets, Wind & Fire, River Riders, Silver Eagles, and V.F.W.–U.M.F.
Now on to the reason we’re all here: Steven presented a $2,500 check to Yuma Children’s Burn Center, $2,500 to ARC, and $2,500 to Amberley’s Place. The 50/50 of $662 (with a last-minute $20 contribution from a gentleman in the audience) was won by Chopper Kris who generously returned the pack of bills to Steven and graciously kept the $20 for gas money. And that, my friends, is the true spirit of this event! The members of Norwalk Centaurs were called on stage for a round of applause in appreciation for all their hard work and formally dismissed from duties to enjoy these last precious hours of the run. And Steven assured us all that there would be a 58th annual Prison Run next year and, “It’s up to all of you!”
When the band returned, Sam Morrison echoed that sentiment. “Pound it on social media and keep this run going!” Being unabashedly patriotic, Sam introduced a song “I Will Always Stand,” dedicated to anyone who’s ever worn a uniform and referencing the non-standing NFL players. Proceeds from the single will benefit the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation. Included for $10 is the single, a magnet and dog tags. Check out their video with a special message at youtube.com/watch?v=VUHHiz94Rcc.
The PSDF is a non-profit organization providing Service Dogs to those who may struggle with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Each day 22 of our heroes will take their own lives. The PSDF’s goal is to reduce that statistic from “22 to Zero.” (Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, P.O. Box 323, Murrieta, CA 92564, email@example.com; 866.477.DOGS). When their singer Doreen Novotny sang “Black Velvet,” the dancing turned from raucous to sultry. To round out the evening the dance trophy was given to the Oldest Rider “Smitty” so it just goes to show that age is just a number.
So… are people coming to party in the motels and not bothering with signing in? Does everyone prefer to spend their money on corporate “greed” runs? Did they all have to work overtime? Did “cash only” at the gate prevent those who previously wrote bad checks from returning? Has the newness of motorcycle ownership worn off? Natural attrition? Need more advertising and much earlier? I dunno; a home-grown event, proceeds strictly for charity, family friendly, best $30 you could spend for two nights of camping, great food, fantastic entertainment. Damn! What does it take? It takes commitment. Come on, folks! Let’s make sure we keep the Yuma Prison Run alive and kicking! Round up all your friends. Spread the word! Let’s make it to the 60th and beyond! I would hate to lose this run.