The toy run season is behind us and by all accounts 2011 was a banner year, one favored for the most part by clement weather and one that brought out record crowds at many events. It was a brilliant effort and it could not have come at a more critical time considering that a record number of American children are now living in poverty. Bikers nationwide stood up and showed up and ponied up to make a difference with hundreds of thousands of us raising tens of millions of dollars in cash and merchandise when it mattered most. We do truly rock.

Having said that, however, let me add one other thing: Thank God the toy run season is behind us. The pressure was starting to get to me. There are just too many angles to the whole toy run deal, so many subliminal currents at work in buying and bringing just the right toy, it’s enough to make a thoughtful man like myself crater.

Sure, it all sounds simple enough in the abstract. Some altruistic outfit sponsors a big run and party replete with supper and a band and all you have to do to get in on the fun is ante up a new, unwrapped toy. Bring a toy, eat a meal. Like I said, sounds simple, doesn’t it?

That’s because you haven’t really thought it through. Try to stay with me now as we crunch some numbers. OK, your standard biker meat-and-beans supper with a roll and soggy salad is worth what? Maybe a few bucks in materials and nothing in labor since it’s all whomped up and served by volunteers? That’s sounds about right, so we’ll call that our baseline for judging the cost of the toy you bring—a few bucks, make it a five-spot if you factor in the value of the music and possess some semblance of a conscience.

Of course conscience is a relative thing, and there are more guys than I care to admit who can actually sleep at night after noshing the benefit meat-and-beans and grooving to the jams having donated nothing more than a sock puppet they fashioned in the parking lot from available materials or, worse, a free-range Pet Rock.

But that’s not you or me. Our conscience is much more burdensome than that and our task is much more complex. We know that all the donated resources and volunteer labor are actually worth some significant margin over and above the price of beans, and that we’re expected to account for that—on the honor system—in the value of the toy. So let’s double the five-spot baseline and say a sawbuck will fairly make the nut.

Yeah right. Do you really want your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and the parts counter guys from the local dealership to watch you drop a ten-dollar toy onto the pile and grab a plate, salivating while some poor kid somewhere goes hungry? Of course not.

At least not these days when the need is so great, to say nothing of the fact that everyone has a camera phone to catch you in the miserly act and post it online. So now you’ve got that variable to contend with as well, and if you’re an old-school biker who wants to participate and humbly contribute but can barely make the rent or court payments you have to find a toy that doesn’t cost much yet looks expensive. This will take hours of shopping in discount hellholes and you’ll still end up with an ulcer because now you’re feeling guilty about paying discount. Trust me on this. Pass the Maalox, please.

So why not simplify matters and just pop for a big-ticket item to salve your conscience, impress your bros, and gratify the hardworking toy run sponsors?

Why Not? Are you insane? I’ll tell you why not: Because poor kids aren’t stupid. I ought to know since I come from a long line of them and, frankly, the future doesn’t look any rosier. The poor kid knows that a fancy present must be charity because their parents (or, very possibly, parent) can’t afford that kind of largesse. And now they wonder what kind of folks can, and why it’s not their folks. Lord, what a pickle. What we’re talking here is nothing less than the destabilizing of an already tenuous family unit, and possibly years of therapy if the kid grows up to afford it.

So what’s the solution? How can the average everyday scooter jockey who wants to ride along on a simple toy run in good conscience navigate through such a thorny moral thicket as this? I don’t honestly know. I’ve struggled with it for years and come away baffled and dyspeptic. All I can tell you that might be of any help is what my old pal Malcolm suggested to me at the last toy run of the season when I was agonizing over the whole multifaceted dilemma and teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

He said: “Shut up and eat, you cheap bastard.”

It’s all right here in the diaries.


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