In the Black Hills, we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally. It’s fun to see the bikes, we welcome the 400,000-plus visitors (and the revenue they provide), and we enjoy the notoriety the rally brings to the area. We also tend to blink at some of the costumes or lack thereof, wince at the noise, and breathe a sigh of relief when the last Harleys rumble out of town.
Most of us also like to tell our own biker stories. Here is one of my favorites. It’s a true story that happened a few years ago to my friend Jan.
One day during the rally Jan had made a quick trip to one of the big discount stores to get some shampoo. She went into the store and was heading for the shampoo aisle when she spotted the biker. He was big, maybe six foot two or three, with long hair hanging in a greasy braid down his back and tattoos swirling up his arms. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, just a leather vest that showed his chest—complete with more tattoos—and the hairy belly that hung over his belt buckle.
He was standing in the middle of a wide aisle, looking up and down with that confused air you have in a store when you can’t find something. When a clerk sees a customer with that look, the appropriate thing to do is go up to the person and ask, “May I help you?”
No one was doing that with this guy. Jan saw a couple of clerks in the vicinity, but they were both busily pretending they hadn’t seen the biker. Which wasn’t really surprising, because not only did he look confused—he looked angry. He looked as if he’d had a couple of small children for breakfast and needed at least one more for dessert. Other customers would come down the aisle with their carts, get a glimpse of him, and peel off down the nearest side aisle as if they’d just remembered something important they needed to get in housewares or lingerie.
As Jan came closer, the biker threw his head back and bellowed, “Won’t somebody help me!?” The two clerks vanished. The other customers walked a little faster in the opposite direction.
And Jan? Keep in mind that at this time she was in her mid-50s, a slender grandmother with gray hair, all of five foot one in her sneakers. She walked up to the man and asked him, “What are you looking for? Maybe I can help you find it.”
She said later he looked like a little boy who was about ready to burst into tears. He told her he had gotten badly sunburned the day before. He’d hardly slept that night because his sunburn hurt, and he was trying to find some ointment to relieve the pain and help heal his sunburn.
Jan took him along to the pharmacy, grabbing her shampoo along the way, and helped him find some aloe vera lotion and a pain reliever. They went back to the checkout together. He told her this was his first trip to the rally, he really liked the Black Hills, and next year he hoped to bring his wife along—and if Jan wanted a ride on his Harley all she had to do was ask.
She declined the ride, but sent him on his way with a smile and a warm handshake—a gentle one, because of the sunburn. She went home with a good feeling along with her shampoo, and he went home to Indiana with a peeling sunburn and a positive memory of Rapid City.
Of all the people in the store that day, Jan was the only one brave enough to approach this scary looking guy. She was the only one with the compassion and the insight to look past his tattoos and his angry face to see the perfectly ordinary person who was tired and hurting and just needed a little assistance.
The moral of this story is: Don’t be afraid to look a little deeper than what you see on the surface. There’s much more to any of us than the way we look on the outside. Elegant fashions, grubby work clothes, or grimy leathers aren’t who we are, they’re merely what we’re wearing. Never be too quick to judge a bird by its feathers—or a biker by his tattoos.