Bikers patch up rides, recount experiences
By CASMIRA HARRISON | The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. | Published: March 16, 2017
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The return home from Vietnam was so emotionally taxing, for years biker Jules Shubuck kept his military service mostly to himself.
"I was in the closet, so to speak," Shubuck said. Then, in 2006, he rode from California to Washington D.C., to the Vietnam Memorial. During the "Run for the Wall," Shubuck rode with veterans and met others along the way. Connecting with his brothers helped him regain pride in his military service, and he bought a Vietnam service patch at the Wall.
As part of the 76th Annual Bike Week, Shubuck is wearing that service patch in a place of honor — over his heart. People see the patch and connect with him.
"I have reached out to so many veterans here on the street that saw the patch that were also there," said Shubuck, recollecting how they welcomed each other home. "It was kind of rough when we came home."
Shubuck arrived from Pennsylvania with others from Murrysville Alliance Church to hand out Bibles along Main Street. He pointed to his church patch as his favorite, but says his Patriot Guard Rider patch is a close second. Patriot Guard Riders attend the funerals of fallen U.S. servicemen and servicewomen to show respect and have in the past guarded military families from protest groups.
Patches — and the traditions they're steeped in — are a staple of Bike Week. For some, the real estate on a vest — or cut — is a sacred space reserved for those pieces of stitched fabric, earned over time in a motorcycle club. But for many others who roll into the motorcycle mecca each March, the trip isn't complete until they've solidified it with a new patch.
One of the busiest places for patches during Bike Week is PatchStop, which has six locations: two on Main, two at Daytona Beach International Speedway and two at Bruce Rossmeyer's Destination Daytona, said Office Manager Cristina Kibler. Its home base is on the second floor of an office on Main Street.
By the time the last biker rides away from Volusia County, PatchStop expects to sell between 10,000 and 15,000 patches at just one of the Main Street locations, Kibler said.
"Everybody buys about 3 pieces each time and we usually average about 300 to 400 sales each day," Kibler said, adding that many of those have been patriotic, political or pro-gun. "Right now, one of the biggest things that we're selling would be the Second Amendment patches," she said.
But patch vendors don't survive on Daytona's Bike Week alone. Rallies are a nationwide occurrence and the PatchStop crew will barely get a break before Kibler and her team split into two teams and head to to Leesburg Bikefest and the Laughlin, Nevada, River Run.
"We're on the road four to six weeks at a time," said Kibler, who estimates they attend about 25 rallies a year.
Patches = stories
Neil Durfey chose a few more patches to add to his vest, including the official Bike Week 2017 patch. He brought his bike down from Buffalo, New York, and will be heading back to the frigid north soon.
"I collect every time I come," said Durfey, who also snared one with a masonic logo and adding that that one had a more sentimental meaning. "My dad was a mason," Durfey said.
Like Durfey's and Shubuck's, each person's patches contain stories.
PatchStop seamstress Heather Williams has heard a ton in her six years sewing them on for customers, and she loves when someone finds something they've been looking for.
"There was a guy last night. He was a firefighter in 9/11. He walked in and saw this patch up at the top," Williams said, pointing to a patch with the number 343 embroidered on a firefighter's helmet and gas mask along with the job's tools of the trade. "His wife walked in and she started bawling."
"There's so many, many, many examples of stuff like that," Williams said, wishing aloud how she'd like to video record each time she heard a memorable story at her sewing machine.
On a ride along Main Street this year, one might notice something conspicuously absent from the landscape.
The brand of the outlaw biker — denoted by the "1%" patch worn over the heart — was a rare sight. In fact, a large percentage of Main Street gawkers and partiers replaced the motorcycle club cuts with Harley Davidson sweatshirts and plain, black leather.
"Big Ben" Bowers, a member of the Leathernecks motorcycle club out of Central Florida, was one of the few wearing his colors on Main with a few of his club members.
"You know why, right?" said Bowers. "Because we're not welcome."
Bowers was referring to the "No Colors" rule for bars on Main. While occasionally you'll see a few motorcycle clubs sporting their territory on their cut, the emblems are usually stowed away in bikes for a Daytona Beach run.
Bowers said even though his is a military club — United States Marine Corps, to be specific — as long as the vest is a club cut, he can't wear it in a bar. "But we're not going into a bar," he said. "We're just hanging out here."
Too many patches?
Beyond signifying the solemn loyalty to biker clubs, patches have different meanings for different people.
"It's about experiences," said Larry Watkins, who was visiting Daytona from Port St. Lucie. After moving south, he noted he needs to replace his Maryland patch with a Florida one.
He also has a patch from his time stationed in the Philippines. He likes that one because that's where he met his wife. "For everybody, it means something different," Watkins said.
Joe Miller, who two weeks ago moved to Daytona Beach from Ohio, said he has four vests.
He has an entire vest dedicated to his involvement with the Patriot Riders, another for "odd sayings," and yet another for his Air Force service.
The service vest is where his favorite patch lives.
"It's in memory of my father," Miller said. "He was in the Army for 13 years. Served in the Korean War and died of complications from Agent Orange."
©2017 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.
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