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Travels with Harley

William Covington | 7/4/2012, 5 p.m.

The meeting was held at the clubhouse of the Chosen Few motorcycle club with riders from 26 other clubs. In fact, riders came from the Antelope Valley and as far away as Las Vegas to participate. OurWeekly was one of the sponsors, with the responsibility for transporting donated supplies the clubs had collected to the Dream Center in Echo Park, where they would be collected for shipment to New Orleans.

The riders were passionate about the prospect of rescuing people in the wake of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. (It was later determined to be the sixth largest hurricane ever recorded, and the third largest to make landfall in the United States. Additionally, as the most costly hurricane in history, it racked up $75 billion in damages and left 1,836 people dead.)

Many were visibly overcome with emotion, having seen news reports of such scenes as mothers on rooftops holding babies, elderly people clinging to their water-logged homes and bodies floating among the debris. It was a newsreel worthy of a disaster in an impoverished Third World country.

But this was America in 2005. Some of the older bikers, having served in Vietnam and other theaters of war, were moved to tears by what they had seen. To many, New Orleans after Katrina was reminiscent of villages that had been devastated by American bombing runs.

Some of these riders were hardened by their own inner-city experiences and had lived through their own personal calamities. There were Crips, Bloods, many with long rap sheets, and former ex-cons. Others were blue-collar workers, some were professionals--even an integrated Christian club that prayed over the event, and at least one women's club, Ladies First, who rode with attitude, like queens. Among the clubs were the Defiant Ones, Second to None, Rising Sun, and the list goes on.

The event was organized by Fred, "Punch" and "Worm" from the Rare Breed motorcycle club, "P.A." from the Royal Aces, "Smooth" from the Buffalo Soldiers and "B.K." from the Great Kings of Africa.

The clubs would caravan from the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) parking lot on Imperial Highway and Normandie Avenue to Echo Park.

The LAPD was set to shut down the streets, and also sent a motorcycle officer all the bikers knew--a big, corn-fed White biker with tattoos all over his arms. Finding that the DPSS management forgot to remove the padlocks at the parking lot, which was to be the staging area, he suggested with a big grin, "Let's get my bolt cutters and cut the lock."

Soon, the caravan roared down Imperial Highway--800 Black motorcycle riders--in Hog heaven, so to speak, which was a little odd since for many years Harley's Hog had not been a traditional favorite of Black riders.

According to bike builder Russell Miles, during the late '60s to early '70s, Blacks were not overly enthused with the Hog, due at least in part to the frequent magneto battery cell failure in the kick start and the bike's shaking.