Friday, May 24, 2013

A fast tradition

Five years ago our copy editor made the suggestion at our daily morning news jam that we should cover the “Run for the Wall.”

I know I hadn’t ever heard of it and was intrigued by the effort. I wasn’t the only one. Honestly, collectively as a staff here at Land Line, we were hooked from the start.

The Run for the Wall is a motorcycle tour that runs from California to Washington, DC, in the days leading up to Memorial Day. Many, if not most, then participate in the Memorial Day ride, Rolling Thunder. This year will mark the 24th anniversary of Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day.

The Run for the Wall starts in Los Angeles. The participants then trek across the country on either the Southern route or the Central route. Here at OOIDA HQ, we’re partial to the Central route, because it rolls along Interstate 70 right outside our front door.

That first year we covered Run for the Wall there were some of us who snuck out of the office and waved as they drove by.

There’s nothing like hundreds of motorcycles rumbling by, flags flying, waves and honks. They appreciated our small but supportive showing.

Flash forward five years. In the weeks leading up to Run for the Wall, the chatter starts. There are employees who bring in tons of flags to wave and share with other employees. We have it dialed in and can’t wait for the riders to pass by.

What was a small group that first year has grown extensively. Everyone is angling for a way to make it outside when Run for the Wall riders go by.

The second year we were surprised when one of the bikers pulled out of the pack, slowed down and guided his big blue Honda Gold Wing to a stop on the shoulder – right there where we were standing. The leather-clad rider – complete with a vest covered with patches and badges – swung off his bike and introduced himself to our elated group.

“I’m Krazy Karl, life member!”

One of our own? We screamed and converged on him for hugs. It was Life Member Karl Haartz. He served in the infantry in Vietnam in 1966-67.

So every year we wait to see who might stop by to say hi, swap hat pins (Run for the Wall has hat pins they pass out. A real hot commodity here.), a few stories, hugs and they are off again.

This year we got a whopping surprise. About 15 participants showed up ahead of the main pack. They were Run for the Wall Ambassadors. They work ahead of the main pack and stop at various locations that have shown big support to their ride and all it stands for.

We were blown over. They were thanking us.

“Land Line Now” news anchor and Vietnam vet Reed Black, Editor-in-Chief Sandi Soendker and I all made a beeline for the lobby to greet the group. LaDonna Dempton, who works the front desk greeting members, was already in the thick of things.

It wasn’t a long visit, but it was special. We told stories about Truckers for Troops and how special the men and women who serve in our armed forces are to the membership. I showed some of the wives the wall in our cafeteria that’s filling up with flags, certificates of thanks and gifts from the troops who receive the care packages courtesy of Truckers for Troops.

We all asked at one point or another about Krazy Karl. David “Bounce” Talley, who is a member of OOIDA because of Karl, told us Karl’s health won’t allow him to make the cross-country trek. But I know that in his heart he was riding along with them.

Karl’s absence really underscored the purpose of the Run for the Wall. “We ride for those who can’t.”

Our visit wrapped up with hugs for our new friends. They hopped on their bikes while we grabbed our flags and went to cheer on the main pack.