Bikes ahead of me, and behind me, and even more coming over the hill in the other direction. We shout road code to one another -- a quick “Thanks!” and “You bet!” as I slide over a lane to let a brother pass by. A glance. A nod.
It’s the fellowship of the blacktop. They’ve got their Harleys, and I’ve got my ’95 Mazda Protege. Four-door.
And an active imagination.
It’s that time again. Every five years, Milwaukee throws a birthday party for the home team. For Harley-Davidson. And bikers -- tens of thousands, sometimes even a hundred thousand -- suddenly appear from all over the country for the big celebration. (From all over the world, actually. Last time around, at the 100th, I actually saw a bike with New Zealand plates!)
And this time, at the 105th? Another giant crowd. Another giant noise. There were Harleys everywhere. On every highway. At every intersection. And Harleys parked side by side downtown -- hundreds of them on a single block, all makes, all models, and more chrome than you’ve ever seen in your life.
Even when you weren’t looking at them, you were hearing them: the constant sound of Harleys in the distance, day and night. That’s because there was a constant stream of Harley concerts and Harley parties, day and night.
It’s absolutely the coolest thing Milwaukee does. (“Cooler than that brand-new statue of the Fonz?” Even cooler than that.)
And just so you know: I wasn’t lying about having the wind in my hair and the roar in my ears. That’s because I’ve got my Mazda’s windows down -- all four of them -- and they’re going to stay down until the temperature drops or I get the air conditioning fixed.
This was the week when Kawasakis and Suzukis -- even Vespas -- stayed indoors, stayed out of sight. I guess that’s Harley Fest Rule No. 1: Don’t even try to compete.
And Rule No. 2? Don’t fake it. You can walk along Water Street and admire the show. Just don’t try to pass. If biker leather isn’t your natural wardrobe, don’t start now. Ditto for biker lingo.
“Hey, Fat Boy -- that’s one beautiful man you’ve got there!”
No, wait -- that’s not right...
I mentioned concerts. They had The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, as this year’s headliner. Last time -- for the 100th anniversary -- they had Elton John. That didn’t work out so well. Elton John isn’t what bikers think of when they think “entertainment.” Elton John is what they think of when they think “brunch.”
Springsteen, though -- he nailed it. Hour after hour, rocker after rocker, and the sweat just pouring off him.
Or so I read in the next day’s paper. I wasn’t actually at the concert. In fact, as the crowd was gathering along the lakefront, I was already back on the road, me and my Mazda heading who-knows-where for who-knows-what new adventure.
You know what they say: Tramps like us...
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated
columnist. You can write to him at