My First Northeast Shrine Association
By: Michael Pembroke
With the dew still glistening on the morning of Thursday, August the 21st, we find ourselves gathering in a large picturesque driveway, on the river.
The work of the morning, to secure our big boy toys in, for all intents and purposes, a race car trailer; and for Michel Vigeant to give us each our endowment of Cash Calendars – my first.
Thanks to the continued support of a benevolent fellow, we hitched our wagon to a borrowed Ford pickup, and once again, “Constant Reader”, we set out from Ottawa to attend a function somewhere points beyond.
We made it past the border, with little ado, thanks to a few experienced Shrine travellers, and some fore planning for the mini-bikes. We slowed only enough to breeze through the Duty Free.
After eating some American miles our small caravan decided to follow the lead of a veteran, and we stopped for lunch at TGI Fridays in Syracuse; it was a great choice – for the food part.
We were seated, with most of us facing the windows framing the large parking lot of the mall, that the restaurant existed in. Lunch was unfolding splendidly, and the merriment abounded. Our Director noticed a state trooper strolling from the direction of our truck and trailer, and joked that he hoped we were not getting a ticket – we were not.
Our trailer is proudly logoed with Tunis Shriners, the name of our group the Silver Helmets and our mission if you will: the “Precision Motorcycle Drill Team.” It is this last designation that plays in the lunch portion of our travel.
A young lady had just purchased a brand new Harley Davidson. She had decided for some reason or another, to take delivery of her machine in the sunny parking lot of the shopping mall, on that very same day.
The girl in question now astride her metal steed, said giddy-up, and her shiny new ride rocketed into the side of our trailer, and so did she. There were a few horses hiding in that machine and she hammered our trailer hard enough to wreck the bike. The impact was precisely where the Precision Motorcycle Drill Team lettering is, on the trailer. Can we all feel the irony? Needless to say, we were way laid for some time with the gracious state troopers, and a surprisingly chipper woman.
The rest of the road was uneventful, except for the beauty of the landscape.
We arrived in Springfield Massachusetts a little later than planned, and were greeted by some friendly faces, spear headed by our Assistance Director. Needing to stretch our legs, we set out to explore our surroundings. We were lucky enough to find an outdoor festival next to the hotel, with live music and food – a great welcome to the town. We stumbled across a Brother wearing a Widow’s Sons cut, and that made the gathering that much better.
Friday found us at The Big E, the fairgrounds where the first chapter of the festivities would transpire the next day. In spite of the rain, we practised our manoeuvres. When our due diligence was accomplished, we headed back to the hotel for some fellowship in the hospitality suites, and to clean up for dinner. The one in particular I had the opportunity to attend was that shared by Sphinx Shrine from Connecticut and us – it was more than accommodating.
Tunis Shriners all met up at an authentic looking German restaurant, where the atmosphere didn’t feel like it was painted on the walls, for a Temple dinner. We had a table of over fifty Nobles, and two very welcomed guests. What a fantastic turnout, and a great time!
Saturday morning we hit the fairgrounds early, and we were all business. We set about making our bikes and ourselves presentable, readying for inspection. Then it was upon us, the competition.
First we stood at attention like soldiers, in front of our aligned and shined machines. We were circled by, what can only be assumed by their manner, a couple of Marines. As I am sure was the fear in the heat, no one fell and we moved onto the next stage.
We hit the field in unison, and for about ten minutes, we turned, cornered and circled as one. Our little motorcycles creeping along at about ten kilometres per hour, all the while fighting for our balance to stay astride. Our tandem ride seemed to go well, and we moved onto the next round.
The next course was set up like two parking spots beside one another. The goal of this competition, was to enter one, leaving the other in the longest possible amount of time without putting your foot down. Most of the boys faired well, and we moved on to the last leg.
Speed was the name of this game, and everyone was ready to come off the leash. The course involved a tight slalom heading to one end, and a mostly straight dash back, stopping before the finish line. With great encouragement from our fellow Nobles, we all burned some rubber between those pylons, and came to halts with screeching tires.
We took turns cheering on our Brethren from around the United States, as they all completed the events, and we saw some impressive efforts.
Now for the stress free kind of fun, everybody loves a parade, and we Shriners are no exception! We travelled quite a distance on our eclectic vehicles, from The Big E to a school in the town of Agawam. There we staged for an impressive parade.
What differed from this parade, compared to some of the others I had the good fortune to participate in, was that this parade was all Shriners. We took up the considerable driveway to the school, the parking lot, part of the road and the field. We all miled around tinkering and introducing ourselves. We rested, laughed and got to know one another, for a couple of hours before we stepped-off. All the while the pipe bands, and others competed in the nearby school.
It was a perfect day, and five hundred and thirty-seven Nobles left that staging ground onto the parade route. Tunis Shriners number 179 were well represented by our past Potentates, The Airforce, a Hillbilly, some Ladies, The Director’s Staff and of course our fearless leader the Illustrious John Hawkins. It was a whole bunch of fun riding through Agawam, and the town showed up in force.
Folks eventually meandered back to the two hotels. We had a chance to tidy up before the next spot on the agenda was chased. Some of us had time to saunter back into that welcoming Sphinx / Tunis oasis to palaver with our fellow Nobles and Ladies. Those moments that appear as nothing on the official slate, sure seem to have a huge impact on the folks, and the memories.
Everyone piled into vehicles and we were off to Six Flags for the Banquet. We arrived at a beautiful outdoor venue, and the weather could not have been better.
We gathered under what would be called a gazebo, but by naming it, it diminishes the sheer size of it. There was a small stage, and enough tables that you could not see the other side of the structure when you sat at one. The buffet spanned more tables than I can recollect, and there was just as much food.
We dined in the fresh summer air, and the meal drifted into entertainment. A comedian mounted the stage, and his act was an homage to some of the classic comedians, such as Abott and Costello. He was also a Brother.
The night closed with the awards presentation. The trophies were spread generously around all of the Temples. We here at Tunis, took home four more for the collection. Everyone parted, and we made one last pilgrimage back to our suites, to say our goodbyes.
There were over two thousand sets of Shriner boots on the ground for this Northeast Shrine Association, in Springfield Massachusetts. Bonds were formed that you can feel will last a lifetime. I saw friends I have met in other towns neither of us were from, and we were genuinely glad and excited to see each other when we crossed paths again in this one. We will be even deeper into these summer camp like friendships when next we align. I not so humbly suggest, at least to our newer Nobles, to take the next step and get involved in our activities. I assure you that you will return to your family and friends, a happier, more fulfilled Noble of the Ancient order of the Mystic Shrine.