The Sunday before the U.S. Holiday of Memorial Day is the date for an annual event called “Rolling Thunder.” This event honors those who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military, especially those who served in Vietnam.
This huge motorcycle rally involves a few hundred thousand bikers, as well as many more tens of thousands of supporters who line the route of what’s called the “First Amendment Run.” That run (aka motorcycle ride)…
…queues up at the parking lots of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and slowly begins to take off to ride across the Memorial Bridge, then east along Constitution Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol Building, north on Third Street, then west on Pennsylvania Avenue that merges with Independence Avenue and proceeds to West Potomac Park where the Vietnam Memorial is located (just south of 22nd St. NW & Independence Avenue.)
Back in the day (like 22 years ago) when the man I later married was living in Arlington, I stayed with him the night before, then we rode two-up on my motorcycle to the Pentagon parking lot early, so we could get a place closer to the head of the line. And then we waited. And waited. And walked around some and spoke with some other bikers. But mostly waited in grueling hot sun and stifling humidity. The heat and humidity, typical of Washington DC, was a small price to pay considering what those we were honoring had to put up with for months and years while our slight misery was for a few hours.
We continued to attend and ride in this event for several more years, but finally gave up around 2001 when the logistics became too much of a hassle for us. By then, we had built our house in Maryland and it took longer to get to the Pentagon. Also, I was a member of a riding club by then, and we were riding with them in a group. The group ride was police-escorted (good), but it meant arriving at the Pentagon parking lot much later, meaning that our place in the lineup was much further back behind thousands of more bikers. The ride would start at noon, but by the time we were riding away from the Pentagon, it was close to 3:00pm.
The crowds were intense. The traffic (of motorcycles) was backed up, compressed, and extremely slow. Bikes were overheating and breaking down in the middle of the road. By the time we got somewhat close to West Potomac Park, there wasn’t anywhere within 20 blocks to park our Harley. We just rode home. (We heard later that even if we could have parked, the memorial events were already over and we would have missed them.)
Subsequently over the years, many friends have reported the same thing — ride leaves later and later, the ride is crowded, slow, and filled with helmet-less hot dog wannabe riders who have never ridden in a group and cause havoc and fear among those of us who are more experienced group riders.
By Memorial Day 2003, as our plans were changing against participating in this event, we decided to visit my mother-in-law in Pittsburgh for the long weekend. Her husband had died earlier that year, and she had been complaining about backed-up yardwork and gardening.
Since 2003 and every Memorial Day weekend since (except last year when I was in the hospital), we have been spending the long weekend in Pittsburgh at the mother-in-law’s. This year will be no exception.
Why did I title this post, “Thunder but no rolling?” Well, there are thunderstorms in the forecast. But my spouse and I will be in a cage either in Pittsburgh or on the route to-and-fro for the weekend.
Do I miss riding in Rolling Thunder? Well, not really … I do miss paying group tribute to those who have served and who are serving actively now, but I feel that with all of my work in rehabbing and remodeling homes of wounded warriors and aging vets, those are more long-lasting ways of paying tribute than a once-a-year motorcycle rally.
Life is short: thank those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.