ORMOND BEACH, FLA., MAR. 13—What can be said about Willie’s show that hasn’t already been stated during the past 12 years of its truly phenomenal history? How can you describe the mingling of those massive, movable metal sculptures in such a tightly packed (and tiny) front parking lot? And there are all those American men all over the place and rocking good music in the backyard. And then there’s the occasional longhorn helmet-hat and smokin’-hot young female hipster adorned in chainmail with a 40’s ’do and high heels up to… where? For those of you who are just tuning into the fun of the motorcycling lifestyle, or for those totally immersed in the unorthodox essence that comprises an adult biker party during Bike Week (where children and pets are not included), Willie’s remains one of the most happening events during both the Spring and Fall rallies.
I hadn’t made Willie’s show in four years… or was it five? I rolled up at high noon with a couple of my girlfriends from Port St. Lucie (Donna and Elaina, a.k.a. Bean) and immediately realized that the tattoo shop’s next-door neighbor (Walgreen’s) was now a part of the party, sporting a parking lot lined with motorcycles. That was new. (Guess they finally gave up the battle to keep us out and decided to embrace the denim horde with the hopes of selling a few sodas and chips in exchange.) The first person I discovered after parking was our very own fiery redhead aboard her road-dusty two wheels, THUNDER PRESS’ North Editor, Shadow. I was so excited to see my dear friend I forgot to turn on the camera. Something not so new! She was on her way to other destinations and that smell of 50-weight hung in the air. That fragrance coupled with the sights of old iron, both hot rod and chopper, were too overwhelming for my old biker babe bones to linger with my friend—I was eager to get into the mix of motorcycle mayhem, friends and artistry.
With the sounds of so many motors at high noon and the flux of the crowd just beginning to swell, I was once again blown away by the sheer ingenuity and talent these people are capable of producing and placing between two wheels. And these are not high-caliber TV biker celebrities, but instead the locals, or the boys from up north, with struggling shops and too much cabin fever—the real celebrities of the lifestyle. But also on hand for this day are the celebrities, engineering pioneers and paint masters like Dave Perewitz, Cyril Huze, Warren Lane and Bill Dodge. This day I was also deeply touched by meeting the friend of a dear friend who roams North Florida now. Chris Furst, while not a first in making such alliances, was such a fun and funny guy to sit with under Willie’s big tattoo sign that I had to mention him here. I don’t know if he sold the chop he brought, but we had a good time calling our mutual buddy and letting him know we had met. This remains a quintessential Daytona Bike Week occurrence that moves me to my biker-people-loving soul.
Publix is a large grocery store chain in these parts that sits across US-1 (a.k.a. Ridgewood) and offers great subs. You can also eat at the Sonic drive-in in that same lot or, if in a hurry, grab a faster hotdog in Willie’s backyard. The entire neighborhood around Tropical Tattoo is now, 12 years later, on board with this down-home, old-style chopper show. There’s an assisted living facility at the top of the little hill behind Walgreens where the seniors bring a table of things to sell and watch all the bikers ride by since Walgreens has resigned itself to the orderly crowd and now encourages the business. The one change I did notice was Party Time, Willie’s immediate neighbor to the south that is now out of business. Willie attributes this to the paltry economy, witnessing the neighborhood faltering while his own has mushroomed into motorcycle legendry. This year I saw more parking for more bikes, opening the door for greater attendance for gearhead freaks to come and experience the sensory overload of this stylistic biker party.
Separated from today’s madness (but highly equal) is the artistic parade of inking business that continues to progress inside the doors of the tattoo shop. Darren McKeag, from Grinnell, Iowa, was the out-of-town guest tattoo artist, and Shadow told me in our brief chat that she had planned on returning Saturday for new ink. I have to get up there one of these days, sans the Thursday festival atmosphere, and get me a new tattoo… or three! Clean, cool, welcoming, colorful—it is everything Willie Jones and his wonderful wife, Jeannie, stand for in life. No dogs allowed in or at the event, and again, this is not a place for the under-18 crowd—go to Main Street if you must, but not here.
Bill Grotta and his Twisted Tea girls sparkled in the afternoon Daytona sunshine as they offered up samples of their intoxicating liquor while Chris Callen, fellow journalistic madman, was laying a heavy beat on his bass guitar. Chris is proud of his band, Big House Pete, and it was great to finally see him again—skinnier than ever and looking as happy as me to be there! The Horse Back Street Choppers, one of the three official sponsors of this revelry, blazed their banners in various areas around Willie’s shop. Kirk Green’s incredible leatherwork was also available, while another sponsor, Spectro Oil, stepped up to answer the need of anyone a quart low.
A plethora of media—local, national, international and Internet—participate in this party. And it’s one that Willie says was the second-best attended to date. With 150 bikes registering from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Willie gave judging assignments to those who knew their inspection duties and what particular features unique to the class needed to be scrutinized.
In the front of the shop surrounded by the many handmade trophies, I found emcee Roadside Marty on the microphone working his magic with the ladies and the crowd. Part of Roadside’s job includes enticing the girls to highlight what the good Lord gave them while informing the crowd of who is present, making certain we recognize the unique craftsmanship presented by unrecognized builders. Although he can come across as crude and, at times, ribald, Roadside has a rather unpolished manner of letting us ladies know just how much we are appreciated. But with the sun setting, it was time to leave the jostling of the scoot-tramp paparazzi, get out of the way and let the boys do what they do best—ride and party… and ride.
Willie would like to thank Michael Lichter, Tito, Melinda, Chris and Lincoln. Willie tells me he worked too hard this year. Although many people offered to help, when the time came he knew it was his duty to keep us all gathered and happy. He says he loves doing this show and, although many times opportunities have come in from around the area to move it and make it bigger with more room and more bikes, Willie feels that would just not be the same. And since he is the man making those choices, his decision is to keep it at his Tropical Tattoo shop under the old live oak trees, in the same parking lot, every year.
All monies raised at the Chopper Time Show will go to ARNI, a local animal rescue facility, as well as supporting the local veterans. The best part of this event is that all participants go home with something—maybe a trophy, maybe a sale or new parts to play with; maybe just a camera loaded with images of an idiosyncratic society of metal freaks. But all attendees left here into the final weekend madness of Bike Week with happy hot-rod dreams and chopper-bobber builds in their heads. This show is kinda like Christmas for a little kid thinking, “I can build that.” Say Willie’s to any one of us chopper freaks and you will see a smile appear across our ugly mugs, the same smile that’s on my face now. Much love and respect to all and to all a good ride home!