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Opinion: May Day motorcycle runs

April has gone and May Day is upon us. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another victim, killing the Merced County May Day Spring Fair in Los Banos. In a November letter from Management Analyst Lyndsey Johnson of the Merced County Executive Office, the 2021 edition of the fair has been canceled.

May Day in Los Banos once was a huge motorcycle club gathering. There was a time during the year of the bicentennial, the main drag of the city was lined with Harley Davidson motorcycles and bikers as far as the eye could see.

I turned 21-years-old that year, and had a serious love affair with riding motorcycles. Fred and I rode his Harley all over the Central Valley, Bay Area and frequently on State Route 41 through Bass Lake up to Yosemite.

I had a Honda 185cc I rode to school, work and everyplace else.

For many years, Independence Day at Bass Lake drew motorcycle clubs from all over the western states, including the notorious Hell’s Angels.

What many people might not know is that the membership of the Angels included doctors, lawyers and many other respectable professionals.

During this time the H.A.s were attempting to make peace among the California bike clubs. Most of the bikers enjoyed riding, camping and— yes — consuming adult beverages.

The local club we rode with was The Tribe’s MC. Most of the members were married couples, with regular jobs and children. During the week, they worked and took care of the families.

On the weekends, the couples would pack their sleeping bags and tents, and take to the open road.

Each motorcycle run typically had a pickup truck or two and a couple of vans to haul the members’ camping gear, accompanying the line of motorcycles down the highway to the campground.

The pickup trucks were especially important in case of a breakdown. Toolboxes, wire and black electrical tape can do wonders, if applied correctly. Heater hose clamps can also serve in a variety of ways when a bike was ailing. A lot of the guys enjoyed wrenching on the bikes as much as riding them.

In many circles, motorcycle clubs can have very bad reputations. Unfortunately, it only takes a few stupid, intoxicated and self-medicated people to turn a weekend ride into a tragedy.

Many arguments occurred when a couple of the men had designs on the same woman. Female catfights were also common, as the women tried to get territorial over some man.

Another great biker party of the era was the annual Cantaloupe Festival in Firebaugh.

One of the local hosts of the biker party in the park was known as Skunk. He had a huge head of black hair with a natural white streak from the middle of his forehead to the back of his hairline.

He’d provide a couple of sides of beef for the barbecue, with side dishes provided pot-luck style by most of the women in attendance. Other guests brought kegs of beer, ice, soft drinks and the long-galvanized tub used to keep everything cold. Helping to defray the party’s expenses, mixed cases of hard spirits and wine were used as raffle prizes. Booze raffles were popular at most biker parties we attended.

Our club hosted The Tribe’s annual party, usually at the Riverbridge Bar in the foothills.

One year, my friend Robin Beban and I took a new 55-gallon trashcan and made potato salad in it. We used at least 100 pounds of potatoes, a couple of gallons of mayonnaise, quarts of mustard and a flat of boiled eggs. We also put in a couple of gallons of pickle relish. We used just about all the spices in Robin’s kitchen, including a box of wheat germ. That had to be the biggest potato salad anyone had ever seen. The bikers ate every bit of it.

I miss the days of riding Harleys, and really admire some of our friends from those club days who still ride.

When winter turns to spring, I begin to feel the 50-weight motor oil pumping in my veins. I long for the days with the wind in my hair and the bugs in my teeth.

Long days and pleasant nights. Have a great weekend.

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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.


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