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At Rose City Thunder - 2003

Rose City Thunder – 2003

There were angry and vocal protests to Mayor Vera Katz.  Two appeals were filed seeking a venue change prior to the event.  There were appeals to the city Noise Review Board.  Police were a little edgy.

I’m talking about the Rose City Thunder.

It’s coming up on the 10th Anniversary of the most legendary and controversial motorcycle event in the city’s history.  Portlandia was one of only four cities in the U.S. chosen for the “Ride Home” tour.  And it all happened in the lazy dog days of summer in 2003 in the South Park blocks.  In celebration of Harley’s 100th Anniversary, the motor company and local dealer, Destination (now Paradise) H-D in Tigard sponsored the event with the purpose to send riders off in colorful fashion to the “Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Ride Home“.

After more than two months of controversy, a unanimous City Council vote along with assists from Harley supporters and the downtown business establishment,  the kickoff party for Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary was a go on Friday, August 15, 2003.  There were loud exhausts, public address systems, and rows of the famous “honey buckets” (portable toilets).  Organizers estimated 15,000 visitors, plus 2,000 motorcycles attended pumping an estimated $1.5 million into Portland’s economy.

To be sure, there were inconveniences to downtown residents by streets that were closed, as well as the beer gardens, food, merchandise vendors, live music, motorcycles, and the associated crowds and, teeth-chattering rumble of the hogs’.  The South Park Blocks area residents were not impressed and could give two shakes of a unicorn’s tail that the involved bikers were well behaved and left a lot of their money in the city.

None the less, streets were filled with Milwaukee iron, chaps, bandanas, tattoos and ‘If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand’ t-shirts.  Even the Oregon Lottery got involved with a Harley-Davidson Scratch-It campaign and where a Madras man won a motorcycle.

The Portland event was a lead up to the great trek back to Wisconsin and as it turns out the atmosphere in the Park Blocks on that weekend were surprisingly mellow.  Participants were low-key, drank their refreshments and moved about the event in an orderly fashion.

The so called “incensed residents” returned to their usual way of life when the last Harley departed downtown, but continued to grit their teeth and fight another day on the great Fluoride debate of 2013!

Photo taken by the author.

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“Once you start something, finish it!”

Words to live by from Wisconsin’s custom builder Mike Rabideau who designs and builds his own motorcycles at Majik Mike’s Designs.  If interested you can see a day in the life video HERE.

Custom bike builders are always looking to make their bikes stand out amongst a sea of wild paint and chrome.  Majik Mike’s Designs are clean and isn’t it funny how minimalistic designs will stand out in a crowd these days.

Matt Binetti created this short documentary.  He reached out to me to share the story of his friend and a dedicated artist and his shop.

I was happy to do so.  Take a few minutes out of your day and enjoy the story of a rising star.

Photo courtesy of Matt Binetti and Mike Rabideau.

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Humpty Dumpty Prevention Program

Most chief executives are entering 2011 with big decisions to make—especially how to revive sales.

But, some have deeper problems to address.  Facing down “significant cost, efficiency and production flexibility gaps” as well as fierce competition for some, such as Harley-Davidson who last November told Kansas City union officials that it might move operations to Harley’s Springettsbury Township plant if a contract wasn’t ratified by early March.

Well it’s March and their “no blink” management style resulted in the members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 176 and United Steelworkers Local 760 not letting “Humpty Dumpty” fall.  They ratified a contract by a vote of 467 to 185 and the new labor agreement takes effect in August.

The “fall prevention program” has been implemented and proven to be an effective tool in the loss of all jobs in Kansas City.  Congrats to Local 176 and Local 760.  The new contract is a 7-year deal that, when implemented, will result in the Kansas City plant having about 540 full-time, hourly unionized employees compared with about 685 today.  Yes, it’s a loss, but it does keep many high-paying manufacturing jobs in Kansas City and brings all H-D plants under one umbrella for production flexibility.  The company stated that the new contract, which will be implemented in phases, will result in about $15M in annual savings starting in 2013.

To all the folks who railed on my public union previous blog post, you see private unions have to adjust to economic conditions.  Unlike the Wisconsin public union members who have protested for days because they have been ask to pare back their benefits, Harley-Davidson has budgetary constraints that can’t be fixed by raising taxes. If we used the public union mentality I suspect they would ask Harley-Davidson to respond by raising prices and demand that motorcycle enthusiasts just pay more for a scooter instead of buying something else?

And if all that wasn’t enough… this item falls into the “what were they were thinking” category… I read that in Minnesota a local pipefitters union has purchased the Hillcrest Golf Club in St. Paul, paying $4.3M – yes, you read that correct at $4.3M – for the private club and vowing to keep it private for at least two years.  That does a lot for the unions  being frugal perception…

Photo courtesy of NYTimes.

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He’s a preacher’s son, a perpetual optimist, and in a nod to the “Imported from Wisconsin” team he rides a Harley-Davidson Road King.

I’m talking about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who pledged a “return to frugality in government.”

Harley motorcycles and government frugality are two things I can rally behind, but just 6-weeks into his term, the badger state protesters, mostly public-sector workers have seized the same building and are comparing the governor to Hitler and Darth Vader.

The trigger?  A bill which would reduce most public-sector workers of their union rights and pare back their benefits. The protesters interpreted “frugality” as code for “union busting” and erupted into dueling rallies and slogan chants.

In my overly basic description, unions have two sides.  One is the great positive influence on democracy of people banding together for equal and fair treatment by employers.  The other is the misuse of that power to force too many concessions from employers, or become unreasonable about the union making concessions when economic conditions have changed.  In fact, watching the teachers demonstrate in Wisconsin I wonder how all these people obtained college degrees because a 6th grader understands that if you have $50 in the bank, you can’t withdraw $500.  Can they spell bankruptcydeficit, or foreclosure?  And if your taxes are increased (suggested by legislatures who like gov. welfare programs and want someone else to pay for them), will you have more money or less to spend?

“Frugal” may describe Gov. Walker, but for many Americans we’re in ‘frugal fatigue’ fearing a job loss any day, coping with rising health care costs and hoping for any opportunity to break the economic gridlock and return to the good ‘ol days of 2005.

Take Harley-Davidson who was on a high-speed-train to utter collapse.  They had to reduce labor costs and gain worker flexibility to remain competitive in the new economy.  They stated it would move operations from Milwaukee to Kansas City if it did not get a new union contract with lots of worker concessions. They also had threatened to move operations from York to Shelbyville, Ky., if it could not get a contract in York.  The company never blinked and I don’t think it was an empty threat of playing one location against another, and the reality was they have the capability of moving if they want too — anytime.  The company wasn’t expecting much and didn’t get any pushback from the unions given the dismal job market and in the past 22 months, Harley-Davidson has negotiated competitive labor contracts with the unions, exited non-core brands, expanded internationally, rebuilt its balance sheet, and addressed the scarcity value of the brand.

Will there be fewer people employed at $35.00 an hour to manufacture a H-D motorcycle?  Yes,  but this wasn’t some proud attempt at “union busting” by the company management.  It was about survival of the company and for the remaining few people employed it was about work or do without!

So, for all the Wisconsin fans and Wisconsonites in these troubling times – for the love of the Super Bowl champions, Bucky the badger and of course, the beer (Pabst, Schiltz, Miller and Blatz) – can we all just agree and get united to pitch in a bit more on health care and retirement benefits like the rest of us in the non-public, non-union job sectors and break the gridlock?!

Photo courtesy of WI., collective bargaining rights protestors.

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It started as whispers, but lately we’ve heard more and more about the “R” word.

Recovery of the economy.

Economists are starting to down play the recession and clearly chatter from our D.C. representatives is all about a turning point as retail sales beat forecasts and for the first time in 10 years 160K jobs were created in the month of March.  However, the unemployment rate remains steady at 9.7% nationally and it really looks like the pace of growth won’t drive rapid improvement in the labor market.

And speaking of job growth, Harley-Davidson has taken some of the oxygen out any recovery in Milwaukee.  According to the Biz Journal the motor company filed a mass layoff notice this week with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development informing the agency that it was undergoing a permanent reduction in force and will lay off 94 employees at its distribution center in Franklin beginning June 7.  Unemployment remains steady at 8.7% in Wisconsin.  This news was not unexpected as the motor company announced more than a year ago that it was closing the distribution center as part of a major reduction in operations, with a third-party company picking up parts, accessories and general merchandise distribution.

Clearly the labor market distress remains high and I’m not making light of hard working folks difficulties.   But, if it’s any consolation – plus the fact that this week Tiger returned to the Masters, launched a new 3D PGA Online Game and Nike’s greedy geniu$ made us feel CREEPY for the multimillionaire after rolling out a new ad featuring his dead father’s voice – Wisconsin is ranked among the top states for its ratio of golfers to courses and during this most distressful time, might I suggest a round of golf to reduce stress?  Better yet, maybe you could snag a 4-some in the middle of the day with Mr. Keith Wandell (H-D CEO) who according to a number of press reports is an avid golfer and discuss etiquette or share tips!

Photo courtesy of GoGo Caddy and H-D.


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Harley-Davidson is the only American motorcycle builder to survive the Great Depression and continue rolling today.

That fact and that the company has employed generations of workers as well as provided enthusiasts around the world with wind in the face fun has prompted lawmakers in Wisconsin to sponsor a bill to honor H-D as the state’s official motorcycle.

This seemed like a no-brainer to me, but an opposition group (Noise Free America) from Albany, NY issued a hysterical press release denouncing the legislation plan and comparing the “awful noise of Harley riders” to TERRORISM.  Huh?  One of the group members, George Atwood (email him your thoughts at: meteorite8877@yahoo.com) stated:

“The noise stresses people.  The noise ruins the quality of life in our neighborhoods and nation.  It frightens and intimidates people.  It leads to hearing loss, higher medical costs, lost productivity and loss of peace of mind.”

Geez, this group likely thinks Harley-Davidson is responsible for the lapse of security on Northwest Flight 253 where Abdulmutallab failed to explode the PETN?!  Maybe they think that H-D motorcycles are responsible for the coercion and torture tactics in Guantanamo Bay.   I’ll bet Atwood had a hand in writing the script for the recent South Park “F” episode?

This group creates more “noise” whining than what comes from the exhaust of my Harley.   I suspect they would complain about the sound of falling snow!  Talk about ignorant.   But, I’ve come up with a SUPER idea for the NFA group — don’t waste a breath and better yet help reduce the nation’s noise level by just waving this 11oz mug (see photo left) in the direction of those so called “noise makers.”

It’s nearly time to “ring” in the New Year.  Make some noise!!

Photo courtesy of WI State Journal and The Onion Store.

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nine_picIt was born in Wisconsin on Sept. 9 at 9:09AM.

It wasn’t a new Harley-Davidson model, but a baby boy to parents Chuck and Polly Berendes of La Crosse weighing in at — are you ready for this — 9 pounds, 9 ounces.

The article is HERE.  There are 5000 babies born in the U.S. every day and after last Wednesday they now have  a nine oh nine oh nine birth date.  In fact, the Wisconsin lottery suspended accepting nine oh nine number combinations when so many players selected them and the potential payout would top $3M.

I’ll let the “birthers” decide whether the scheduled cesarean was a conspiracy theory.  After all, to be a bonafide conspiracy, two or more individuals must knowingly conspire, plot or plan a surreptitious act.  Clearly more than two people were involved, but maybe it was simply about a vanity birth date?  I wonder if the out-of-pocket expenses for the unnecessary elective surgery was paid by health insurance or if the new healthcare bill will cover these “vanity” procedures?  But, I’ve digressed.

Here’s the real oddity — Harley-Davidson rolls out NINE new models for next year; AHDRA Finals (Rockingham) starts on October NINTH; there are NINE people in the photo of the top fuel winner, Phil Schmidt at the Northwest Nationals in Oregon and Kenney Coolbeth won the AMA Grand National and was quoted to say “I just put my head down for the first NINE laps…” these number nine and H-D similarities are creepy!

The only thing that would have made it even more bizarre is if little Henry (Berendes) was instead named Harley and his dad (Chuck) worked at the plant!

UPDATE: Okay now it’s become weird — USA Today reports that a Milwaukee man (Walter E. Ellis) was arrested and charged for the slaying of NINE women dating back as far as 1986.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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