The second phase of my trip to Sturgis consisted of a rather unorthodox endeavor. I have often heard that in the 1 week of the Sturgis bike rally, with its three quarters of a million bikers, you can be anyone you want to be. If you could transport yourself to another biker dimension who would YOU be? A superhero, an outlaw, a cowboy, a rock legend, a porn star, well, suffice it to say, that we saw all of these characters personified in the biker pandemonium in Sturgis, South Dakota. There is a chain of thought cloaked in Freudian psychoanalysis that hypothesizes why people dress up in such costumes. Dragon Con, Sado Masochism, Halloween, Carnival, Cross Dressing, Comic Book Conventions, a plethora of levels where people dress up in a chosen false identity. Me, my thoughts were to spend 1 day in Sturgis dressed and in the character of my chosen false identity just for fun. 16 years of Catholic education is simply going to warp you a bit. From the accompanying picture you can plainly see that my sidekick and I planned, organized, purchased, practiced, and rehearsed to spend 1 day in downtown Sturgis, as “Cardinal Bartholomew Murrin” and his assistant, “Monsignor Kevro Wilkins.” A special envoy sent by the Holy Father, the Pope himself, to investigate the lifestyle of the American Biker. With a potential flock of almost a million, it was an almost plausible plan. No one would believe a “Pope” outfit, but a “Cardinal”, perhaps? The idea was to travel about town for 1 full day in my ‘38/’56 Knuckle sidecar, dressed in the authentic garb of a Catholic Cardinal and his Monsignor assistant giving blessings and saving souls somewhat tongue and cheek. Months of planning, and vestment purchasing went into play to ensure absolute authenticity. An odd plan, but this is Sturgis! What I did not plan for was the frenzy with which the crowds responded to the act enthusiastically accepting our Holy presence. God bless them!!
We awoke on our third day in anticipation of “the plan.” We dressed as men of the cloth and left no detail to chance. We wore no “costumes” but bore the true authentic regalia of holy men. Real silk robes, real wool jackets, hats, jewelry, shoes and undergarments. The internet is a dangerous place to go shopping, especially in the name of GOD. Just past 9:00 am Monsignor Kevro crouched into the sidecar of my vintage Harley in black suit with white band collar and broad wool hat (A Cappello). With my polished wingtip oxford I kicked the bike to life, resurrecting it if I dare say!! I donned my Biretta (Cardinal hat), made the ‘sign of the cross’, and we tank shifted and foot clutched into 1st gear and our mission began. We no sooner chugged 10 feet forward before a staring couple aboard a Street Glide idling past couldn’t stop glaring and rode straight into a muddy pothole dumping their bike and themselves into the brown goop. (Father) Kevro looked at me with raised eyebrows and stated the obvious: “These outfits may cause some accidents today!” We made it only 30 more feet and were surrounded by fellow campers clamoring for a picture with the holy men. A taste of things to come. Once on the highway if the ’38/’52 sidecar wasn’t enough, people waved and smiled to the guys in the red flowing silks with golden crucifix atop a staff chugging along. Traffic slowed everywhere to get a look and people pulled alongside for photo ops. The attention we received was a bit disconcerting at first. We truly did not expect passing bikes to slow down and U-turn behind us to get a better look or maybe a picture. I suspect that the authentic vestments of the holy men were too accurate to mistake as costumes. The fake brogue practiced by me since childhood seals the authenticity of the deal. We never broke character the entire day. Once at the Full Throttle Saloon we were waived into VIP parking for no other reason than perhaps the flag dude just didn’t know what to do? We walk slowly to the entrance of the main bar with flashes going off and requests for pictures with wives and husbands and friends. People ask us where we’re from and the answer makes them smile: “The Vatican of course.” As we walked about the grounds followed by curious onlookers smiling and pointing a camera crew approaches and asks the obvious. They are from the “Food Network” and want an interview about where men of the cloth eat while in Sturgis. We oblige and soon several producers are lined up to interview us. Local Stations, CMT, Full Throttle Television and some cable networks all vie for our attention. Our heads spin as staffers ask us to sign all kinds of legal waivers and producers quiz us in rehearsed answers. Directors have giggly interns ‘mic us up’ and we smile broadly and go along with the gag. Check us on network TV this fall!
Eventually we saunter past Jesse James’ booth where hundreds line up for autographs. His “people” notice us and usher us to the front of the line. He is a bit speechless obviously not sure what to think. We all shake hands and wide eyed he asks us “What’s your deal?” We repeat the Vatican story and he smiles broadly and asks us to take some pictures. We tell him we are praying for his soul, but after the Sandra Bulloch debacle it may be too late. We leave after giving him our blessing, whatever it was worth? He stares as we slowly walk off feigning ignorance of his fame that further adds to our stock. It isn’t long before someone tries to call our bluff approaching us finger wagging. It should be noted here that the world contains just over a billion Catholics led by about half a million priests. Of those numbers reported there are 5,056 Bishops (Diocesan Bosses), meaning the guys with the red capes and tall pointed hats kinda like a pointy loaf of bread on their head. Of those Bishops only 213 are actual Cardinals, meaning they are a “Big-Bosses” and are specifically chosen by the Pope himself and can participate in a “conclave” (a vote for a new Pope) and are otherwise referred to as “Your Eminence” and are recognized as “The Princes of the Catholic Church”! Each of those big dudes gets an ecclesiastical ring from the Pope himself. Accordingly, only Cardinals possess the special ring afforded their rank. So with smug indulgence I methodically remove my calf skin gauntlet glove exposing my “ring of St. Peter” to the astonishment of the nay sayer. “Details, the truth is in the details my son” are my parting words to him and we slowly walk off leaving the skeptic with his mouth open! I cannot recall how many people actually kneel before me and ask for blessings. I hoped they were kidding and patronize them nonetheless. Many more than I can count ask to kiss my ring. I oblige them too. Who am I to disappoint my flock? We eat free, drink free, park free and in exchange, we free the souls of the damned. There are times when the line for pictures is longer than my patience. We get to peek into the lives of the famous as clutching and excited onlookers become less amusing and the day grows long. Kevro, who was nervous at first and hesitant to speak, quickly settled into a routine of answering questions feigning an Italian accent and shaking hands with the crowds. In the end we estimated that thousands of people took our picture. An ever increasing entourage walked with us lending credibility to the stunt. We slowly grew weary of the constant attention and by evening I was all too anxious to rid myself of the all too convincing vestments of “His Eminence”. Night fell and we crawled weary into sleeping bags in our tents and broke into laughter aloud. “God Bless You Your Eminence” was Kevro’s last words to me as a man of the cloth. “God Bless you Father” was my reply before we quickly fell off to sleep!!
At the end of the week, on the flight home I sat next to a nurse from Washington State. She had flown to meet friends who rode out for their 1st Sturgis. She regaled in great times with riding pals, long sun drenched rides, wild nightly parties and “Oh, yea, we saw 2 Priest dudes – like Bishops or something. They rode an old sidecar bike and we heard they may have come all the way from the Vatican. Can you believe that?” You don’t say was my reply. You see the damndest things in Sturgis. Cardinal outfit notwithstanding, I hope I don’t end up in Hell. Stay tuned.
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home. Signed: “His Eminence Cardinal Stephen Bartholomew Murrin”