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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, June 21,2008
as "Thunder Becoming Landmark Event in Motorcycling"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 24, 2010
as "Pittsburgh Rides: Lets Get Ready to Thunder"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

If boxing announcer Michael Buffer were going to be in Johnstown, PA on the third weekend in June, he might just use this version of his trademark opening. The expression certainly catches the excitement and anticipation of this annual summer rite and what is rapidly becoming a landmark event in the world of motorcycling. The 2006 version Thunder In The Valley is expected to be the biggest ever, with event organizers anticipating that as many as 200,000 riders will somehow squeeze themselves into the Valley of the Little Conemaugh for four days of sun, fun, chrome, and iron.

200,000 people! Let me try to put that in perspective for you. Imagine if every living soul residing in Orlando, Florida came here for a visit. That’s the kind of numbers we’re talking about. Every hotel room within 40 miles is booked, and has been for a year. Area restaurants, bars, drug stores, gas stations, and retailers are gearing up for this version of the Johnstown Flood— a deluge not of water, but of customers and cash. And the associated sales and use taxes make for a very healthy payday for local city, boro, township, and county governments.

The most remarkable thing about this rally is the smoothly uneventful way it glides through the weekend. There are other places hosting rallies of this type that are compelled to put out a call for assistance to every badge-carrying agency who will listen to deploy uniformed officers in an often vain hope of keeping order and preventing riots. From what I have been able to find out, the local PDs have always handled this crowd with their own resources, not even calling on the State Police for assistance. Part of this is, of course, the efficient way the local gendarmes go about their business. Mainly, however, it is the characteristic of the Thunder faithful, a largely responsible, peaceful, and “adult” crowd whose primary preoccupation is to have a good time within the bounds of good taste and the law. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional “incidents.” You simply can’t put that many people together without at least some problems. But for a rally of this size, you couldn’t ask for a better-behaved crowd; unless you had the Quakers in for a weekend.

Another element that makes Thunder the great time it is for all is the warm welcome we local folks give these leather-clad vagabonds. We have earned each other’s respect, riders and residents. Most of all there is among Johnstowners, not a grim foreboding, but a gleeful anticipation as we face this weekend. And it’s not just the expectation of a good payday.

There exists within the soul of all of us a secret desire to shuck off the bonds of work and chores and hit the road. It is an inborn trait of Americans, harkening back to the days when folks mounted their horses and hit the dusty trails, passing through towns like Tombstone, Laredo, Dodge City, Cheyenne, towns whose very names conjured up that spirit of adventure. You can’t deny it. As we wander the streets this weekend and see these “lone folks on horseback” all of us will entertain, at least for a brief moment, the emotional yearning to run up to them and cry, “Take me with you!” The most memorable 9 days of my life were spent riding the desert and mountain roads of 7 southwestern states. I had nowhere I had to be, and all the time in the world to get there. There’s no greater feeling of freedom and independence than an open road and a horizon to ride into.

Being a safety advocate, I can’t keep from plugging my agenda. Last year, a big bike rally in Franconia, NH resulted in the deaths of 10 bikers, all in accidents. As a rider, I want everyone to have an unforgettable time this weekend. I also want them all to be able to go home on Monday—in one piece. For our local drivers, be especially vigilant, especially when turning left across oncoming traffic. For the riders, let’s all try hard to keep this rally the highly regarded and warmly received event that it has become. We are guests of the warm-hearted people of Johnstown; let’s act accordingly.
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