Santas On Harleys Kick Off The Season

ROUTE 2/ A weekly journey through Anne Arundel County

October 09, 1990|By JoAnna Daemmrich

Don't panic yet, but there are only 78 shopping days left 'til Christmas.

That's right. Even though roadside stands still are stuffed full of pumpkins, the ever-vigilant merchants marketing Santa Claus realize that less than three months remain to persuade shoppers to indulge in a traditional flash-the-plastic spending orgy.

The first signs of the standard fall campaign have been subtle so far: a few spot radio ads, replenished greeting cards and rolls of shiny gift wrap tucked between the candy corn in Rite Aid.

Some skeptics, frustrated by the ever-increasing commercialization of Christmas, may prefer to close their eyes to the first fake wreaths and say, "Bah, humbug," to jingle bells in October. But if they live in the Pasadena area, they just might be awakened to the impending holiday when a smiling St. Nick roars by on his Harley this weekend.

Between 60,000 and 80,000 motorcycling enthusiasts are expected to head to Fort Smallwood Park this Saturday for the 10th annual Operation Santa Claus. Some will cruise to the park on the Patapsco River dressed in Santa Claus costumes, while others will stick to the traditional black leather jackets and heavy blue jeans. All will arrive bearing bags of toys, food and money for needy children.

"Motorcyclists seem to have a very tender spot for children," said Robert A. Ritter, a training supervisor with the state Department of Transportation's Motorcycle Safety Program.

Ritter arranged the first toy run in 1981 to give motorcyclists a chance to socialize, donate Christmas gifts to children from low-income families and combat the stereotype of the big, bad biker.

"I wanted to help show that the image had changed," he said.

"Motorcyclists don't necessarily mean black leather, tattoos and long hair.

They can be engineers, doctors, lawyers -- family men who just have a different mode of transportation."

Four times the expected 1,500 bikers showed up for the first Operation Santa Claus in Baltimore. The event rapidly grew in size and popularity, drawing more than 80,000 bikers and raising $22,000 for the Salvation Army's toy shop last year. Hundreds of thousands of teddy bears, dolls, board games and other toys have been collected from bikers and distributed to needy children in the last years.

Operation Santa Claus was moved to Fort Smallwood Park, which is owned by the city, because the event "basically outgrew the city," said Kathy Davison, promotions coordinator for the Motorcycle Safety Program. Davison also helps organize the annual toy run.

Motorcyclists bearing gifts come from across Maryland and as far away as Florida, she said. Some people who don't even own a Harley also show up for the event.

Baltimore City police will oversee the event, which starts at 10 a.m.

Saturday and lasts until 6 p.m., when volunteers load up the last trucks with toys and close the pit beef and gyro stands.

Neighbors might not exactly be delighted to see thousands of bikers, even those dressed as Santa Claus, roar past their homes. But Ritter has a message for them.

"We want to try to show people that Christmas can be all year 'round," he said.

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