“As motorcycle tour riders, we’ve had opportunities while traveling the highways to help ourselves to free coffee in other states. About ten years ago, a friend and I decided to return the favor,” said Roger Riley, a GWRRA chapter member.
Every Memorial Day weekend since, Riley and other chapter members meet early on Saturday to be ready for the southbound travelers out of the St. Louis metro area and beyond. By 6 a.m., they have pots of coffee ready; lemonade cooling and signs posted alerting weary travelers to take a break for free. In recent years, they began offering cookies to travelers and that has been well received.
“I have over 120,000 miles on my 2005 Goldwing. I can tell you from my own experience that riding interstate gets tedious real quick,” said Riley. “When I see an opportunity for a coffee break, I usually take advantage of it.”
Every year has proven to be a different experience for the chapter members who participate. The people who stop and the reasons they are traveling are as diverse as the communities, states and countries they come from to get here. There are even repeat customers who travel this way each year and have grown accustomed to seeing the motorcyclists.
There have been stories shared about family illness, births, marriages, graduations and deaths. Some are heading to fun destinations like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Tunica, or Memphis and Nashville. There have even been busloads of people who stop. The Corinthian Baptist Church out of Iowa has only missed stopping one year. They travel to Mississippi each year to sing at a church weekend celebration.
One year, while sharing information with a traveler about a book he’d read about Missouri history, member Jerry Cummins was astounded to discover he was actually talking to the author. The author went to his car and then gave him a signed edition of his book. Another year, we determined that a family with four children celebrated their Memorial weekend there at the rest stop enjoying our free offerings the whole afternoon. Most recently, “Almost Willie” serenaded chapter members after his tour bus pulled into the rest stop. Almost Willie told us he’d participated in a Willie Nelson look-a-like contest in Nashville a few years ago. The real Willie Nelson was in town, heard about the contest and came over and joined in. The real Willie Nelson took second place to Almost Willie. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
This is also an opportunity for the motorcycle chapter to make drivers more aware of the motorcycling community. Each member rides their bike to the rest stop and has it on display for travelers to look at and they answer any questions that might come up. Because members regularly ride all over the state and the U.S., helping people sort out directions to their destinations is an added benefit provided by the chapter.
Travelers often ask the group why they do this. The favorite response is that members were assigned community service by the judge and that always gets a raised eyebrow and a laugh once they come clean. Another response is that they are all family rejects that didn’t get invited back to the family reunion or neighborhood BBQ. Chapter members are usually invited to the travelers’ destination when they use this response.
“Our goal in doing this from the onset was three-fold,” said Riley. “We wanted to be sure that travelers had a place to stop, take a break, talk about their trip with us and get a good, fresh cup of coffee or lemonade for free before continuing on their way. There is still something in life that is free at our coffee break. Taking a longer break, refreshed and more alert, they have a better chance of arriving at their destination safely.”
“We also think the stereotype of bikers being bad is being dispelled,” continued Riley. “That’s a good thing. There are a lot of bikers who do good things. We hope that we’ve contributed to a better perception of our passion for riding. And finally, we want drivers to know we motorcyclists are out there. We are harder to see than a vehicle or tractor-trailer, so we want them more aware and to share the roadway with us.”
Traffic is decidedly down this year in comparison to past years. Regardless, the GWRRA chapter members will be out again on Monday, Memorial Day, as travelers return home. They will be set up at the I-55 rest stop on the northbound side beginning at 9:00 a.m. until it seems like the bulk of travelers have passed through. Then, they will pack it all up until next year - same place, same time.