I moved to the bay area of California in 1995; prior to that I lived in Marquette Michigan. Here in the San Francisco bay there are so many things to do. You can literally surf in the ocean in the morning, downhill ski in the afternoon and attend a concert that same evening. In my opinion, because there are so many options for things to do here, the natives don’t accumulate large number of friends. I’ll always miss Marquette because of the friendships I’ve made.
Two of the events I loved to attend when I lived in Marquette were the off road races at Bark River Michigan and Crandon Wisconsin. Once I went to the races I was hooked. The first off road I went to was the Crandon Brush Run 101 off road faces. There I watched purpose built 4-wheel trucks, 2-wheel drive trucks, VW Bugs and off road dune buggies race. By the time I moved to California I believe they even raced 4-wheelers. It was always a fun weekend. Plus there was always Jack, Gary and Terry that actually raced their 4-wheel drive trucks there. As fun as the racing was to watch, it was the people from Marquette that made the trip worth wild.
While many of the off road gang would go to the races on Friday, I usually went on Saturday morning. I’d pull into the race track by noon on Saturday and look for the big yellow converted school bus that the Marquette gang would bring to every race. You wanted to park near it, but just far enough away so you could go to sleep when it was time. Not everyone would sleep at the races. There were some, like Wack that would compete for a memorial cup that was dedicated to a fallen friend. I never competed for the cup because the winner of it was voted the biggest partier there.
My second time to Crandon was with my brother Jim. Jim, his friend Dirk and I took my still empty 1984 Ford van to the track. I’ll never forget that weekend. It rained like you’ll never believed. They canceled the races for the night. I’m not kidding. They canceled the 4-wheel drive races because of rain. They held them a day later, but for a while it rained hard, hard enough to cancel off road races. Normally at the race, I’d hang around camp fires the Marquette gang would have at their campgrounds. Since these were off road races in rural America, the parking lots were hug grass fields. Pushing my wheelchair around them was always a workout. Every once in a while my wheelchair would find a hole and stop and I wouldn’t until I hit the ground. But I was with 100 people I knew and thousands of others that would help when I needed it. I never sat around waiting for people to come talk to me. I loved being on the move. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes when I didn’t feel like talking to someone I’d tell them I needed to take a piss. I’d wheel off into the darkness looking for another party and not come back.
Later that Saturday night Jim, Dirk and I took my van up to the barn where they held a dance. Wheeling in the wet muddy grass from campfire to campfire wasn’t fun. I’m the type of guy that will talk to everyone, so when I lost Jim and Dirk, I wasn’t worried. Well, every once in a while I’d peek out the door to make sure the van was still there. At the dance, I danced. If a pretty girl asks me to dance, I’ll dance. Just in case you’re wondering, every girl that asks me to dance is pretty. Once at the dance, the night went by fast.
The place was emptying out at around 2am I’m guessing and I haven’t seen Jim or Dirk in quite a while. I look everywhere, but no luck. My van is still out in the parking lot, but it didn’t have a wheelchair lift installed yet. I couldn’t get inside of it by myself. I looked everywhere, but still no Jim and Dirk. Finally I wheel over to the van and open the sliding door. The door opens, the interior lights come on and a half naked girl jumps up. Next thing I know two or three half naked girls jump out of the van caring their clothes. As I look back into the van I see Dirk with a big smile on his face. My first words were I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Dirk just laughed and told me not to worry about it.
A few minutes later I’m inside the van and Jim’s driving the van back to the campground. He doesn’t make it 20 yards and the van is stuck. The ground in Crandon is slippery clay. The tires that came with the van were the cheapest I could buy. All they did was spin. As they spun, the van slid down a hill and up against a fence post. Jim gets out and does something. Then back into the van and tries driving again. I’m laying on a sleeping bag telling Jim to wait until morning, but he wouldn’t. I wouldn’t of either. That’s just how we O’Dovero’s are. But the van didn’t have hand controls, so there wasn’t anything I could do to help. I’m giving my rear a rest while Jim works at it. I tell him the place has 100 4-wheeldrives that can pull us out when the sun comes up, but Jim doesn’t quit. It was about 4am when Jim has the van moving two feet back and forth. At around 4:30, he’s got the van moving 5 feet back and forth. Jim’s been in and out of the van so many times it’s impossible for me to sleep. I don’t have a clue what he was doing when he’d get out, but as the sun just started to break for the day, Jim has the van moving 20 to 30 feet. Then finally the little engine that could makes it up the wet grassy clay hill and we go back to the pits. At the pits we finally crash as some of the race team’s wake to start working on their trucks.
I think that was Jim’s first trip to the Crandon Brush Run 101. A few years later I’m bringing my younger brothers Joe and Jay to the races. This time my brown Ford van is completely customized. My brother Jay is in the passenger seat while Joe is riding in his buddy’s Chevy truck following us. I believe they’re 4 guys in the truck. It’s a Saturday morning and I’m drinking my morning dew. Sometimes I’ll put the cruise control on and take a quick drink, but if there is someone in the passenger seat, I ask them to steer while I take a drink. It’s safer. More often than not, I’ll pull over for a second to take the drink when I’m alone, again it’s safer. I just finish my drink of dew. Jays is still steering when I look at the road, Crap, a blue car with the red light on top. I try to put the bottle in the holder, but it falls on the floor pouring out sugary mountain dew all over my carpet. I missed the holder because I look at the speedometer and see I’m going 6 miles over the limit. Crap, I must have sped up a little while taking the drink. Sure enough I get pulled over and get a ticket.
I catch up to the Chevy truck in Niagara WI. My brothers and friends are only 19-20 years old, so they ask if I’ll buy them a case or two of beer for the weekend. Since I figure they’re old enough to fight and die for this country, if they want to have a beer while sitting on the side of a grassy hill watching off road races, I’m not against it. we needed food for the weekend anyway. We load up on food and extras when the town sheriff pulls up. Even though I’m spending money in that lovely little ”town” The lady in the liquor store called the police on us. God forbid someone under 70 is happy in Niagara WI. It’s twice in an hour I’m talking to the police. It looks like it’s going to be one of those types of weekends.
The nice cop that he is takes everyone’s driver’s licenses and starts calling in each and everyone’s in including mine. While we wait, the guy driving the truck tells me the truck has the plates from his Camaro on it. Oh Crap. So I wheel over to the sheriff’s car and ask him to roll down his window. As I start to tell my nice friend who has nothing better to do this Saturday morning than to give out tickets to the tourist spending money in their lovely little hamlet that all the beer was inside my van and I’m over 21, the radio squawks out Chevrolet Camaro.
The sheriff is quiet. He doesn’t say a word. OK, you’re leaving town now and no one under 21 rides with you. he must not have heard the radio, or realized the plate thing because he then told me to wheel away from the door so he could get out of his patrol car. Back at the van I tell Jay to ride with me. My new fat friend says no; No one under 21 rides with you. I then tell him he’s my brother. You’re not going to force them to have 5 guys in a pickup truck when I have an empty van. Jay, get in my van! Was Opie Taylor’s dad pissed! OK, but you follow me out of town. So we got a police escort out of Niagara Wisconsin.
We get to the race track and find the big yellow bus. I put the 1984 ford van in park and hope to never see a cop again. Well, at least not for the rest of the weekend. Soon Joe, Jay and friends are putting up a tent. This is a big 25’ x 25’ commercial tent Joe got from his work, a rental company. Soon there were 40 plus Marquette people watching dumb and dumber trying to put the tent together. The Marquette crowd starts heckling them. There are no directions for the big hug tent and the young boys don’t have a clue how to put it together. After sometime enjoying the show a couple of the Marquette gang come up to me and tell me they’ll never get the tent together before dark. I point to my van. I’m sleeping in there. I’m not worried. The show goes on for at least 30 more minutes without any progress when two women from Marquette start helping. The next thing I know brother Joe is standing next to me with a can of beer in his hand. Soon four or five of the hecklers are also helping put the tent up as it starts to get dark. I look across the crowd to see brother Jay flirting with a girl. He’s no longer working on the tent, but 10 people from Marquette are. Joe gives me an elbow. He then says, did you ever read Tom Sawyer? I broke out laughing (remember the white washing of the fence?). You can call an O’Dovero a lot of things, but you can’t call us dumb. Well, not all of us.
Let’s see, the Bark River off road race story that pops into my mind first is going down the hill. Well, that and Jack flipping Terry’s Toyota end for end several times. Jack did it right on the main straight away for everyone to watch. The best part of it was you could see it was going to happen a few laps prior. Jack just kept going faster and faster over the jumps. Each time when he flew farther, he’d bounce higher in the air. Finally he bounced so high that when he landed he landed right on the front bumper. The rear bumper was pointed up at God. Then for the next several seconds it was a slow motion Olympic’s gold medal floor tumbling act.
Bark River, like Crandon is set in the rural countryside on acres of grass fields. Actually the Bark River track is set in a little valley between two hills. The start of the race is the best part. All the race trucks, dune buggies or race vehicles form a straight line on the opposite hill that we the fans sit on. The green flag drops and 30 or more vehicles race for the first turn that’s only two cars with wide. As often as they make it through without a crash, they crash. It looks just like a funnel for race trucks and every driver has the balls to be one of the only two that can make it out of the bottom spout first. You’re sitting on the side of a hill on a calm Saturday or Sunday talking to friends. You’re probably on a big blanket relaxing. Birds are chirping life is relaxing when all of a sudden you hear the roar of dozens of 800 horsepower engines. Two seconds later there’s dirt, metal, tires and sometimes entire 4000 lbs trucks flying through the air. If you’ve never been to an off road race, go to one. It’s worth the price of admission and then some. One Sunday in between races I found myself alone on the hill. I had left whomever I had been talking with to get a brat to eat. Why do brats and hamburgers taste so much better on a weekend outing then when cooked at home on a Tuesday? I had brought my own brats, buns and etc. for myself, but not a grill. I never bring a grill. I just ask to borrow someone’s. I’ve never had a problem finding someone to help me out. The Bark River track has a steep hill to climb to get to the viewing area, so they allow me to drive my van up there. I had my food in the van so I asked the guy cooking food to sell if I could cook my brats on his big large grill. Not a problem, he said. I gave him my package of brats and he gave me one already cooked. Why wait he said. You look hungry. After a half hour of mucking down two brats, getting mustard on my shirt so I had to change it, good thing I had the van nearby and becoming so full I didn’t want to move, I wandered back to the hillside.
I don’t know why, but I’m looking down the side of a grassy hill and thinking I can roll down this hill and make it to the bottom without wiping out. There three things going through my mind I have to be concerned with. First it’s going to be a rough bumpy ride so staying in my wheelchair is going to be a concern. I have bungee cords in my van, so I can strap myself in. the second is making it to the bottom without wiping out, but that’s the challenge. I had already done the snow covered Spruce Street hill, so I know I’ll have to release my brakes to straight out, but I’ll gain speed, so it will be on off with the brakes quickly. And third, getting back up the hill, there is no way I’m ever getting back up this hill by myself. So my first task is to find someone that will pull me back up the hill. after telling a few friends my plan to go down the hill, I found someone offering to pull me back up. The guy I choose was a big guy named John. His family owns a carpet shop if you’re keeping score. I’ll never forget the look on big John’s face when after agreeing to pull me back up the hill said I had to hit the snow fence at the bottom of the hill. John and his four friends quit laughing when I told them hitting the fence wasn’t going to be the problem, it was how fast I’ll still be going when I hit it. Like the snow when I went down Spruce Street, grass was going to be slippery when trying to stop. I’ve been down many blacktop covered streets where both my rear brakes lock up for a spell.
After strapping myself in the wheelchair with a bungee cord, I set about choosing my path down the hill of no good can ever come from this. I was looking for two things. One, a smooth looking path without too many obvious holes and ruts and second, the least amount of people to run over. I found my path of destruction where I only had to ask one couple laying on a blanket to please move for a second. When I told them my plan, they thought I was crazy, but where more than willing to let me make a fool of myself. There were a couple of people down near the bottom of the hill that I might fly near too, but it was hard to tell the actual path I was going to take. If my memory served me right, it probably isn’t going to go the way I planned it.
Ok, I’m at the top of the hill, my last chance to chicken out before I do something I know I’m soon going to regret and I bob my head forward one last time to push me over my waterfall of no return. The speed was there right away. The path was as rough and bouncy as I imagined, but my rear wheels actually in the air were a surprise. Luckily I kept on a straight path. The two people I would have missed by five feet or so still jumped up and move farther away. As I passed them, I knew I was going to make it without wiping out. It was now can I stop in time. I still had a lot of speed. I didn’t have to steer anymore, so both brakes were locked on solid. My rears wheels were skidding down the grassy hill. I was still going fast enough that if I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt I’d be launched when I hit the snow fence.
The stop was fast and abrupt. The bungee cord was around my chest, but my rear still slid forward almost out of the wheelchair. As I’m lifting myself back into the wheelchair, I hear the crowd on the hill applauding my stupid accomplishment. The race track announcer comes over the loud speaker informing everyone what I had just done. I turn my wheelchair around and look up to the crowd. Yeah I’m not the smart O’Dovero today. But I’m not sitting at home thinking the world owes me something either.
Oh, speaking of smart O’Dovero’s. On one of my many weekends at Bark River I came back to the Marquette part of the campground one night after making my rounds hitting stranger’s sites. I seen six chairs lined up like they were seats at the Delft theater in Marquette. For those of you that are too young, which I’m one, at one time the Delft theater showed plays and hosted big bands and the like. It was a several hundred seat theater built probably 100 years or more ago long before movies. When I was in the 3rd and 4th grade, my buddy Kelly and I would go watch Saturday matinees there. The days of big bands and broad way style plays had long past and replaced with one huge movie screen. I haven’t been there for decades so I don’t know how many movie screens it now has, but I’m guessing on several smaller ones. I used to always buy lemon drops when I went. Not just to eat, one needed something to throw back at the other 3rd graders when they threw stuff at you. I remember watching all the James Bond movies there. Back when life was fun and simple. Lately I’ve been reading the James Bond 007 novels. A couple of days ago I just finished, ‘’From Russia With Love.’’
Anyway I get back to the campground to see the six chairs lined up like a movie theater in front of my brother’s tent. No one was sitting in them at the time, so I was a little confused when a concerned girl from Marquette that knew the family for years came up to me. Jer, tell your brother, who shall remain nameless for this story, everyone can see. I look toward the tent, but see just a tent. I don’t see anything of concern especially nothing that would warrant an audience. She then says, they (John and his girlfriend) had a flashlight on in the tent earlier as her face turned red as can be. OK, I understand.
Just in case you don’t camp in a tent very often, if you have a light on inside your tent at night, the tent becomes a canvas much like a movie screen showing shadows of people inside. Be careful of what you do in your tent when you have a light on. Others might be watching the show.