What a long, strange trip it’s been

Cancellation stirs memories and mourning

Glendale, Calif., Oct. 23–25—I had heard some rumors the day before. A furtive phone call; a series of brief, confirming e-mails. Then a frantic e-mail was forwarded to me on Friday, October 9. A solid, well-established leader in the motorcycling community, a veteran, retired Marine gunnery sergeant, started his brief, but poignant reaction to the news, “OMG. I was there for the first ride way back in the day…”

This was the first, visceral response of many astounded reactions I was to bear witness to, as the riding community, and not just that of SoCal, would initiate the mourning process out of the sudden and certain loss of what has become an institution in the past 25 years.

The Gunny e-mailed from South Carolina, sharing memories: Recalling David Crosby hanging out, playing his music behind Glendale Harley-Davidson; enjoying the opportunity of Love Ride weekend to share in an ABATE leadership dinner the night before the run at “some place in Hollywood;” talking with Jay Leno one morning before the ride. (You know that was an early memory, as in the later years at Love Ride the celebs were all but inaccessible.)

Favorite Love Ride memories, mental snapshots of good times shared with friends, would be remembered as the news of the cancellation would spread, starting with the heart-wrenching e-mail from event founder Oliver Shokouh on Thursday, October 8, sending a ripple effect throughout the community, and even being announced on local news in the greater Los Angeles area that evening, setting off a series of frantic phone calls from those who hadn’t yet heard to anyone who would listen.

Like the Gunny, a huge body of Southern California riders would undoubtedly spend a few moments reflecting upon a memorable experience at some Love Ride or other during the past 25 years. There was the year our group of merry riders left Glendale Harley-Davidson early on Sunday morning and took the long way to get to Calamigos Ranch. We rode west on Sunset to the sea, where we caught Pacific Coast Highway and in the space of a half an hour saw Dave Mann, motorcycle lifestyle artist, on a stretched-out chopper leading his pack of Easyriders, and later on down the road got a quick look at Sylvester Stallone before he turned left into the Malibu colony on his green and white custom stallion.

Invoking the name of Calamigos Ranch dredges up memories of the awful, steep, loose dirt parking area that was a tremendous challenge to a relatively new rider on a 1986 883 Sportster. During the Calamigos site days the event volunteers were often from various Southern California H.O.G. chapters. As the event grew over the years the corps of biker volunteers formed up, became event regulars and were counted on every year to execute their duties as an army of professionals.

In later years, after Love Ride had moved to the park at Lake Castaic, the Easyriders magazine crew would host Saturday night parties at Calamigos Ranch. Riding in a group through the Malibu hills in the dark and frosty November evening was a real thrill, and upon arrival one might find oneself sitting at a picnic bench opposite Billy Gibbons, chowing down on barbecue.

As the event expanded to include Friday evening concerts at B.B. Kings at Universal City Walk, it became necessary to get up to L.A. a day earlier. Sometimes the journey didn’t go as smoothly as planned and more than once this rider found herself on the side of the road. Shorted-out batteries, fender benders; it can be a precarious affair, traveling the Southern California freeways. More than once I had the opportunity to write about a roadside fix of some mechanical failure, or the amazing good luck in the form of friends helping out in a jam, loaning a bike or a trailer at a moment’s notice.

How many riders have vivid memories of experiencing major goose bumps and surprising emotion, tears maybe, at the site of the crowds of well-wishers on Love Ride Sunday, waiting on the freeway overpasses to be able to wave and shout to the riders? The goose bumps can come back again at the mere thought.

And, anyone who did ride from the Glendale early morning party to the actual event at Lake Castaic, in later years, must have memories of all the riders on the side of the road along the 50-or-so-mile journey. One year John Paul DeJoria was sighted on the side of Highway 5 using his cell phone, and admitted later after he made it out to Lake Castaic that he had run out of gas, not having thought to check the tank on the loaner he had gotten from Oliver for the day. The last years of Castaic would see many attendees, cell phone to an ear, standing on the hill and gazing over the crowd below, trying to locate their group, typically instructing the friend on the other end to wave or jump up and down so they could more easily be spotted.

Friday evening, October 23, 2009, Glendale Harley-Davidson held an impromptu street event, featuring Peter Fonda, calm and chatty as he autographed Love Ride 26 merchandise and other memorabilia brought by fans. That night the dealership held a free, open-air screening of Easy Rider to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the movie.

Talking to Oliver that evening, marveling at where 26 years had brought us all, I mentioned that the first time I saw Peter up close and personal at one of the single-digit-numbered Love Rides, I thought he was very nervous around the riders and he passed on an opportunity to pose on the replica Captain America bike. Oliver brought up that Peter may have been worried about the riders’ possible adverse reaction to the activities of his sister, Jane. Any thought of that seems to have been overcome in the passing of years and the familiarity of brother and sister riders.

In the quiet of his office, Oliver shared the information that he had been the last holdout on the Love Ride board of directors. Right up to the day before the announcement was made, he had been exploring any possibility that would allow the event to go on, but it just wasn’t coming together. His daughters Suzanne and Emily, also members of the board, appealed to him to face the reality of it, and he had to heed their advice.

The economy, rising costs of production and difficulty booking the entertainment were all cited as contributing to the decision. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with a lack of volunteers, as the Love Ride army was out in full force that evening, manning street barricades and booths selling Love Ride 26 merchandise, lending support where needed, as usual.

The possible return of Love Ride was left open-ended in the final paragraph of Oliver’s e-mailed cancellation announcement, and he reiterated it in our conversation. Maybe 25 years of growth was a good thing to be able to look back on, but now it could be time to scale back, regroup and return to a smaller event. Asked what was his favorite time for Love Ride, “Calamigos,” was his almost immediate response. That was more manageable. Those were some fun times.


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