23rd Annual Toys in the Sun Run. December 5, 2010, Broward County, Florida.
A few months ago, thanks to a bit of prodding from my friend and coworker Justin Armstrong, I bought myself a brand-new Harley-Davidson motorcycle: a 2011 Sportster SuperLow. 883 cc’s of marvelous two-wheeled rumbling power, in exactly the size and shape to fit my 5′ 7″, 145 pound frame. Outfitted with leather-covered hard saddlebags, a GPS, luggage rack, and with the optional fuel and temperature gauges to boot. I ride it every chance I get, and drive it to work unless it’s raining or too damn cold.
Since I got the Harley, I’m always looking for fun runs to take it on. Up to Lake Okeechobee. Across Alligator Alley over to Naples. Down to Key Largo for an afternoon lunch at the Fish House. That kind of thing.
And as luck would have it, here in South Florida there’s a charity event that takes place every December. To raise money for Unicef, thousands of motorcyclists gather together down here for the Toys in the Sun Run. Driving across a chunk of Broward County, the participants carry toys on their bikes to donate to children around the world. Every rider donates at least $10 in cash, in addition to at least one toy of that value or higher. The ride ends at Markham Park, just outside of Weston, Florida, and turns into an outdoor festival with live music, food, bike and car oriented outdoor vendors, art shows, and everything else you can think of that goes with such an event.
About a month after I bought mine, Frank bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as well, a 2010 Sportster Iron. Thus it does not require Einstein or Hawking intelligence levels to figure out where the two of us were heading early on Sunday morning, December 5th, 2010. You got it. We were on our bikes, suited up and toys loaded in the saddlebags, off to Pompano Beach.
The flyers said to arrive no later than 9am at the line-up, for a 9:45 departure from the holding area at the Seminole Casino in Coconut Creek. We left the house at 8am. Frank, being new to riding a motorcycle and not yet comfortable driving on the freeway, wanted to stick to surface streets. So, about an hour later, we pulled into the parking lot at the Casino, taking our place in what seemed like an endless line of motorcycles. We ponied up our $10 donation, got our hands stamped, and took our place in the parking lot, lined up and ready to go.
Much to our surprise, we waited in the parking lot for a little over an hour. Even more to our surprise, we weren’t bored in the least. All around us were tons of fun people and thousands of bikes. We ended up chatting with all our surrounding bikers, especially a female couple (Lou and Maggie) who were riding right between Frank and I. At one point I said, “I was thinking about putting a wreath on the front of my bike for the ride, but I thought it would be too gay”. Lou said, “Honey, you can never be too gay”. Far be it from me to argue with a lady on a motorcycle dressed in leather.
We also talked with a young couple in front of us, a man and woman (never sure if they were married or just a couple) whose license plate read “2 YUTES”. A great joke if you’ve seen “My Cousin Vinny“, and a fun point of conversation if you haven’t.
We walked up and down the rows of bikes, admiring the unusual and the antique. One guy at the front of our line was riding a perfectly restored 1950’s Triumph, which looked like it had just been driven out of the showroom. We saw several original Indian and Victory cycles as well. And there were the oddballs, like the bright yellow touring bike with a fully enclosed, air-conditioned sidecar attached to it. In perfectly matching yellow, of course.
Parking lot after parking lot of motorcycles pulled out, and at last it was our turn. Police motorcycle escorted us out as we joined into the long streams of two-wheeled power driving to the freeway. As we drove along the streets, I realized that we were, in fact, a parade! People were lining the streets, waving, taking pictures, and cheering us on. I got all sheepish and happy, and though I felt like an idiot doing it, I waved back with a gloved hand to everyone that waved at me. And I made sure to keep a smile plastered on my face for all the photographers.
Down the street, up the ramp onto I-95, which was completely closed in one direction for the run. We got up to about 70 mph briefly, before slowing down to a more constant 10 to 20 mph as we merged onto I-595 and began heading west to Markham Park. All along the freeway route, the crowds were present. Every time we went under an overpass, the entire bridge was lined with people waving, cheering, and snapping pictures. I’m sure, of course, that some of them were thinking, “Damn motorcycle riders, closing down the freeway…” but this being a holiday charity event, I did not dwell on that possibility.
There was a fair amount of stopping and starting (“a lot of clutch work”, Lou said to me at one point) and for the most of the drive, I never got out of second gear. But it was hard to be in a bad mood, and the weather was gorgeous. Lou and Maggie had a large sack of candy with them, and every time we’d get near a group of children watching along the sides, they’d toss out handfuls of candy. I made a mental note to be sure to do that next year. Maybe I can mount a candy bucket right on the handlebars…
Around noon, we pulled into the park, donated our toys, and strode around the festival. As you’d expect, there were dozens of food vendors, many folks selling various motorcycle gear, clothing, and customizations, and lots of live music. The Charlie Daniels Band played, and a bit later I think it was David Cassidy. Also a local bluegrass/rockabilly group that was quite good. I ate burgers and several fresh corn dogs; Frank ate those in addition to a giant ear of roasted corn which he ate right out of the husk, which had been dipped in dripping butter.
After we’d visited every booth, picked up a few souvenirs and some magnetic “Watch For Motorcycles” bumper stickers for our cars, we decided to head home. We were stuffed with food, tired, and getting sleepy. As we walked back to our bikes, I tried to take some panoramic pictures that could capture just how many parked motorcycles were there. It just wasn’t possible. They stretched about as far as I could see in all directions. A cop walking nearby told us she there were something like 20,000 motorcycles, and “I have no idea how many people, but it’s a lot”.
Once we got home, the tired took over, and we took long naps. And realized we’d never exchanged phone numbers with Lou and Maggie, which is a damn shame, because they seemed like really nice girls to go riding with. And further realized that we were still exhausted, but couldn’t wait to do it again.
The Toys in the Sun Run is definitely going to be an annual tradition for me, no question. And next time I’m planning on decking my bike out a bit, and donating a good deal more toys. So if you’re in South Florida next December, be sure to wave as I drive past. Or, if you’ve got a motorcycle… come join!