Easy riders

  • Jon Kelly
  • 14 Sep 08, 01:47 AM GMT

The Route 66 Riders of Kingman, Arizona, weren't what I was expecting from a group of bikers. All the members I met were over 60, for a start. None of them sported long hair or leather jackets. They didn't look like they started many bar-room brawls, although I'm sure there'd be hell to pay if you said anything mean about their grandkids.

For this, I was grateful. I expect your average Hells Angel would take one look at a pale Scotsman like me before reaching for his flick-knife.

Ken JonesInstead, the Riders all shook my hand and asked if I was having a nice trip. Relieved, I realised these were the ideal people to help me understand McCain country.

The Republican presidential candidate represents Arizona in the US Senate, after all, and has demonstrated his popularity with bikers. He exudes the sort of rugged, maverick persona that seems to go with an enthusiasm for travelling extremely fast through open spaces.

And I'm sure there's got to be some sort of connection between landscape and politics, too. Arizona is a red state both in terms of the colour of its desert and the complexion of its representation. It's easy to see how an environment so stark and empty conditions a preference for hardy individualists.

As he showed me his customised Kawasaki, David Brown, 69, told me that he'd moved out here after 30 years working for General Motors in Livonia, Michigan. It was the emptiness and the warm air that brought him to Arizona, he said, the terrain being ideal for riding.

"There's nothing like it," he grinned. "You're out there with the wind on your face breathing the open air of the desert. No-one else is around you. Perfect."

He was, he said, a staunch Republican. I wondered aloud if there was any connection between his hostility to big government and his love of the open road.

"Right," he nodded. "It's all under the same umbrella. Being free, doing what you want, no-one telling you what to do."
Barbara HallHis fellow motorcyclists were leaning the same way. Barbara Hall, 77 - who had taken up riding just a year and a half previously - had been sold by Sarah Palin's place on the Republican ticket.

Ken Jones, 76, proudly showed me the Stars and Stripes flags fluttering from his bike. A proud union man all his working life as an electrician, he was undecided - but inclined towards McCain. "Obama's just 47," he said. "I don't think that just because McCain is older, he'll be better for seniors. But I think he understands us."

Roger and Lucy PewseyBut I did come across one couple who were planning to back Obama. Roger and Luci Pewsey, 77 and 74 respectively, hadn't been out riding much since Roger began to suffer heart problems and diabetes some months earlier.

But Luci was still secretary and treasurer of the Riders, and Roger talked fondly about the pastime he had enjoyed since 1949.

"We really need change in this country," Luci said. "Most people round here are registered Republicans, but I'm a Democrat. I'm very concerned about keeping Roe v Wade."

Roger, previously a floating voter, complained that gas prices were too high, but believed Obama was the best man to bring them down. "We're too dependent on foreign oil," he said. "I think we really need to look at alternative energy sources."

It was time to go, so I jumped back on the bus. There were cacti by the roadside, and soon we passed a dead rattlesnake. This was a place for doing your own thing. Would you agree, tucsonmike?


  • Comment number 1.

    The Hell's Angels are actually very friendly. I ride past their New York headquarters every day on my bike (pedal-powered), and they wave cheerily. Sometimes they even holler at me as I whiz by: "Nice bike!" They'd at least wait for you to say something stupid before they busted out the "flick-knife."

  • Comment number 2.

    This is great Jon, keep it up with this standard of reporting and I definitely will keep reading.

  • Comment number 3.

    While it is interesting to note what a small pack of elderly - and wealthy (have you priced one of those rigs lately?) - motorcyclists think politically, they by no means represent all Arizonans. Just look at the Governor, a woman first elected to the office in '03..and as a progressive Democrat. Arizona, and the American West is a dynamic region, rapidly changing in population and politics. Leave the quick 'sound bite' sort of journalism to Faux News please!

  • Comment number 4.

    I really appreciate this news coverage. I've seen that guy across america but probably never would have talked with them.

  • Comment number 5.

    Typical quick chat proving that voting is based on image inside of facts. Ask people to state just 3 decisions voted by their favorite candidate, then their opinion on 3 decisions a good journalist could find to be totally contradictory of the candidate projected image. Otherwise we'll be stuck forever with the "Republicans don't want to increase taxes" and "Obama is the one to bring change" faux debate.

  • Comment number 6.

    Before setting out on your journey, did you check in with the Merry Pranksters, who did the same kind of thing back in the early 1960s? A contrast between the US then and today would be an interesting point for discussion.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good reading!! I am an RVef and have just returned from Rapid City in South Dakota. We were there when the Sturgis Rally took place and I have never seen so many bikers from all parts of the States and Canada. They certainly enjoy their bikes, and the biker chicks are good to look at too!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Jon,
    As a Brit living in this country, this will be my 3rd election to witness. People say living in NY City, is like living in a bubble, as it does not reflect the rest of the country. So I read with anticapation where you will go next. I went to Pennsylvania for the primaries to help out with the Obama campaign and was impressed with how many 'bikers for Obama" there were there, so I hope you get to find them too! We have bikers in this city, and they certainly dont fit the profile for any of the above, I have even seen 'dikes on bikes' for Obama! I hope you shatter a few myths on your journey, keep up the good work, love your blog...

  • Comment number 9.

    Another interesting group of people for you to talk with would be the full-time RVers. A population of nomads who follow the sun. North to south in winter and then back to the north for summers.
    I am a Brit who came to Canada in 1973 , have now retired and taken up full-time RVing to escape the Canadian winters.
    As a group, American RVers represent a good cross section of the population. Some vehemently opposed to the Republican party and others supporters of McCain.
    Of course you could cross the border, and come to Canada where we are experiencing our own political turmoil!

  • Comment number 10.

    Good piece! The bikers, on the whole are a congenial lot, generous, and deeply patriotic.

    Last fall, our county lost a young Marine to the war. People lined the streets around the funeral home in tribute to him and his family.

    Word arrived a few days before that a group of protestors would be on hand to celebrate the boy's death, and emotionally torture the family.

    The group most immediately surrounding the funeral home was a substantial cadre of bikers, and they also set up a visible presence on the town's main street, about two blocks away. The protestors showed up, spotted the bikers, climbed back into their cars, and were never seen again.

    Not a word spoken, nor a punch thrown. Just wall to wall American flags and sympathy for the family.

  • Comment number 11.

    At what point did david brown stress his dislike for big government?are you working under the assumption that all republicans do not like a sprawling interfering bureaucracy in washington?what do they believe the bush regime has done in the last 8 years but interfere in a monstrous way,what with the patriot act and arbitrary powers to monitor peoples conversations,political affiliations etc,or do they prefer the hands off approach they so complacently demonstrated during the carnage in new orleans after hurricane katrina?and their profit driven attitude to universal health care,a stark contrast to their attitude to their corporate friends when they get in serious trouble ie; the freddie mac and fanny may bail outs!!
    As stated earlier,this is a fruitless exercise which will garner no great insight into the rationale of ordinary american people or society in general,people are irrational and unpredictable the world over and in this era of mass communication and fixation with celebrity and show business even the likes of sarah palin,a complete unknown could become president of the most powerful country on earth,as evidenced by barbara hall who somewhat mystifyingly endorses her for all the reasons i have just pointed out.
    There is no logic to any of the people you talk to jon,the usa is a country shot through with inconsistencies,hypocrisy and ignorance,but i suppose the one thing you have achieved is to highlight these facts,whether or not it is worth the money for a minority blog like this is very debatable,at least you are doing something positive jon unlike alot of your fellow citizens back here in the uk,how about reporting on the anti social and economic problems in britain jon?instead of worrying about a country on the other side of the world.

  • Comment number 12.

    Great stuff .Keep this going.
    Are you going near Brokeback? Maybe best to keep moving

  • Comment number 13.

    Jon, that is true. One of the great joys of living in Arizona IS the open space, whether hiking, on a motorcycle or just driving with the windows down. I have been in England and yes much of it is crowded.
    Obamasmama's you are right about living in New York. Brooklyn is where I grew up. I now have a completely different world view from my mother and two sisters. New Yorkers are internationalist and provincial in the same breath (ask me how that is possible). On the other hand, my mother's cousin in San Antonio is married to someone who is a friend of Senator McCain. I am closer to my cousins in some ways. You know who they are supporting.
    To understand WHY Senator McCain chose Governor Palin (no, not Michael LOL, and you should see the comments on Palin's Travels), read Deerhunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant. Easy fun quick read. You will get a real understanding. For those of you who saw Governor Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, no question he did not like her and was looking down on her. If the mainstream media is smart strategically, they will NOT interview her. Why? Because much of Middle America will just see it as the "Elite Media" coming down on one of their own. You notice, ever since Senator McCain chose Governor Palin, she is the one being paid attention to. The Obama camp attacks the Senator, but not her.
    I was reading a New Europe article about the choice of Governor Palin. Like them, at first, I thought Senator McCain had lost his mind. (Friends of mine who are lifelong Arizonans say he is slipping). Now, it is proving to be a clever if flippant move in some ways.
    OldSouth, I like the way those guys protected the funeral home. I work with bikers. I like the bikers I work with.
    Abiquiu, my Canadian Toastmasters friends are telling me about the mess you guys are having.
    Ninjalinz, I remember Hells Angels HQ and CBGB well.
    Buckeyeman, it is true, buying the motorcycle is not cheap, but you certainly save on gas. And yes, I like Governor Janet.
    Some Republicans in Arizona may cross over to Senator Obama or vote for the Libertarian Party. Why? A South Carolina and an Arizona Republican have issues they do not agree on. Arizona Republicans fall into two types (as a very general rule).
    1. Economic Conservatives in Maricopa County.
    2. People who are really Libertarians. They will not want Governor Palin telling them how to live.
    I was supporting Senator McCain until he chose Governor Palin. Now I am not so sure.
    If you live in Arizona, Washington is VERY removed. Geographically, we are closer to Mexico City, just to give you an idea.
    Having said that, much of the land here is owned by some level of government.
    I know what I want for me. Bluntly, I am not happy with either candidate and I am a little afraid for the future.
    Newsweek had an article about Senator Obama making a stop at a diner in the Ozarks. Some of these people will vote for the Democrats if they feel they are not being "talked down to." You have to read Deerhunting for Jesus for more detail.;-)
    Much of what people in Europe do not understand about why our elections are going a certain way need to read some more detailed American History. Guys like Andrew Jackson. The people whose ancestors originated in Jon's region, Southern Scotland and the Borders. Read the Border Reviers by the late George MacDonald Fraser and you will get some idea.
    Aw shucks, Rainlawrence, you didn't think I would leave YOU out, did you?
    To paraphrase Monty Python, are you a Chartered Accountant, planning to become a Lion Tamer?;-) Do some more reading about us. Much of our history is great, much is not. I am not going to defend everything about us. Don't you want to know about your friends the Americans? I like learning things about MY friends, the Brits.
    This election is the most important in eighty years (because for that long, it is the first time with no incumbent). Also we have a lot to overcome. There are others I wanted to be President, but my opinion was not asked for.:-) BBC actually has a story about what it takes to be President. You tell me who is up to the way the job has evolved.
    The Libertarian streak in me is growing, but we are going to need some government interference in the near future.

    Jon, I have been putting comments about the bus trip on my blog and also lampooning the campaign.
    Thank you for letting me share.

  • Comment number 14.

    Jon, while the people you happened across (?or sought out) in Arizona may reflect the thinking of many there (even ones not retired or otherwise no longer productive of value), maybe even most of the voters, they definitely do *not* represent all. I moved to Arizona from New Jersey 33 years ago. (And rode a motorcycle too when in my 20s, but not since then having more important things to spend my money and time on). While those older Arizonans you write about are supporters of government by one of the 2 major parties, there are Arizonans who don't fit this mold at all. Many of the younger ones are strong supporters of Ron Paul and a very limited government - far more so than older USers who have become inured with the idea that government is solution to all problems. (Those in their teens and 20s are far more likely than their parents to question the status quo and seek other solutions.) There are even some like me and my husband Paul (63 and 70, respectively) who urge a paradigm shift *from* the idea that social order can only be achieved by governments. (BTW, my and Paul's marriage is a "mixed" one of sorts - I am a US legal resident and he is a Canadian legal resident. We technically "visit" each other 6 months in each location - we won't be back in Arizona until the very end of October so you can't visit with us now at my house outside Casa Grande ;>) Though if your route takes you down I-10 from Phoenix to Tucson, you will drive within a mile of it when you are just north of Casa Grande itself.)

    The major candidates for President, and likely too all the minor or want-to-bes, are interested in power over the lives of others and the adulation they receive even as just "pretenders to the throne". People can become socially mature if they are required to be so; however, the measures of government are to keep citizens dependent and obedient. Individual self-order without rule by others is the social system whose members are humans, who have become fully adult. Just as people can become physical adults, so can they become social adults - if only they are allowed (and even required in the sense that they will not achieve their desires unless they do) to socially mature sufficiently. Understanding the social interaction methodology by which more individuals would progress to become fully socially mature adults requires a paradigm shift in thinking about human interactions. For more read "Social Meta-Needs: A New Basis for Optimal Interaction" -

    Kitty Antonik Wakfer
    Casa Grande AZ USA and Harcourt Park ON Canada

  • Comment number 15.

    rainlawrence, you are boorish and rude, and give us ig'nurnt 'mericans some funny ideas about the British. For instance, perhaps some of you are RUDE and ANNOYING, and do not seem to realize just how lucky you are to have a top-notch news service readily available, rather than all the drivel we get from our televisions here. If you dislike the reporting, why don't you go read some of the other reports on this website? There are plenty to occupy your precious time. If you dislike the method, try being a bit more polite. Blunt can be annoying, but rude reflects badly on you, not the BBC.

    (Actually we do have two good organizations -- PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) and NPR (National Public Radio). NPR has it's own news service, but PBS just shows good news shows. Notice that both have the work "public" in them. They are both largely funded by donations from the average listener, and there are no commercials -- unlike basically all other TV and radio stations here. However, they are based on a state-by-state basis, and some states don't have them. You in Britain are very lucky to have such a great organization as the BBC, even if you do have to fund it directly. Here in essence everything comes from us, but it goes to companies first; even PBS and NPR get funding from other places.)

  • Comment number 16.


    Starting to get a read on us, maybe.?

    Confusing as heck is it not?
    And you have miles to go.

    To the lady who said that there were 'non productive people' in the 60 to 70 year old age group///Mcain is 72 and running for top boss.

    Jon just keep doing what you are doing, and take it all at face value.

  • Comment number 17.

    Responding to comment by phil29....... I am well aware of John McCain's age of 72 - remember I stated that I've lived in AZ for 33 years. And I was very much aware when he moved there in 1981 after retiring from the Navy. (My father was a career Navy officer too.) Politicians are *not* productive in the sense of producing value for the world or even in their own individual *long term* interest. They seek only to gain and maintain power to control others via government enforcers with their legalized use of force. Politicians produce volumes of words promising all sorts of programs paid for via money extorted from taxpayers - whether handing out funds via grants, subsidies, contracts or bailouts. They also urge one military action ("peace-keeping", "regime change", etc.) or another in various parts of the world while possibly condemning others - all such actions creating harm. They pass one form of legislation or another to interfere with the voluntary interactions of individuals each acting to maximize hir own lifetime happiness (the purpose of each person's life whether or not s/he recognizes it). There is more, but this is sufficient to demonstrate that McCain and Obama (with VP hopefuls Palin and Biden, respectively) and all the lesser would-be bosses out seeking votes want to be just that - the bosses of other people's lives. And once again none of this is really necessary for social order. Kitty Antonik [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 18.

    In regards to the "[Personal details removed by Moderator]" on my previous comment.... I knowingly choose to use my full name and the names of the towns and states/provinces where I live - my legal residence and that of my husband. (Note that I did not put down street addresses - they are not relevant, nor my email address - though I have no hesitancy to do the latter where such is permitted.) I do want people to be able to identify what I write as coming from *me* and my residence location makes it possible for others to more readily do so, as well as provide some limited background for me. The general (and increasing) penchant for anonymity is not something I agree with and have stated so - and why - numerous times on the Internet. I visibly stand behind what I say verbally and in writing. Kitty Antonik Wakfer [Personal details removed by Moderator](If moderator insists on removing these locations despite what I've written, at least leave my full name...)

  • Comment number 19.

    This was left on my blog as a spoof I thought I would share. [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 20.

    OldSouth wrote:
    Good piece! The bikers, on the whole are a congenial lot, generous, and deeply patriotic.

    Last fall, our county lost a young Marine to the war. People lined the streets around the funeral home in tribute to him and his family.

    Word arrived a few days before that a group of protestors would be on hand to celebrate the boy's death, and emotionally torture the family.

    The group most immediately surrounding the funeral home was a substantial cadre of bikers, and they also set up a visible presence on the town's main street, about two blocks away. The protestors showed up, spotted the bikers, climbed back into their cars, and were never seen again.

    Not a word spoken, nor a punch thrown. Just wall to wall American flags and sympathy for the family.

    Old South:
    This situation also occurred a few years back in Hudson, Wisconsin. I was living near there at the time and remember thinking what absolute heroes those bikers were to the family who needed to be shielded from hateful remarks in order to grieve the death of their son. Those people weren't protesters, but rather vile spewers of filth (judgment of being gay had nothing to do with this family's military death).
    I never got to say thank you to those bikers, although I should have made the time.
    Bikers, you are a true SHIELD, a wall to protect and defend families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you! And may every single one of you be as blessed in this life as you are blessing others.

  • Comment number 21.

    Good post. I've only seen Kingman from a cheap motel on my way to somewhere else.


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