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1974: My niece Denise (right) with her brother (center) and me.
Seven years ago, I was the Admin of my friend Camille Speca’s “Did You Grow Up In Jackson Heights, Astoria, Woodside” Facebook group. During my tenure there as Admin, I had a chance meeting with one of the members, Denise Biondo-Kees, a member I knew from the time she was a child. In the subsequent years, I’d lost contact with Denise. My reconnecting with her began when she realized who I was. Her father Steve Biondo, was like my big brother when I was growing up in Jackson Heights in Queens, NY. When Denise realized who I was, she sent me the following private message:
“Hi Uncle Scott….I remember you so well….helping you to wash your bike, you letting me sit on it, letting me try to start it! Ha! You always seemed to be there for me in the Biondo house. You were such a vivid memory, such a big part of my growing up. Scott, you brought happy tears to my eyes. I feel blessed to have reconnected with you, truly like family….and I’ll always have you to thank for my love of loud, old-school Harley-Davidsons. You, and my Dad, of course.”
AUGUST 1974: JACKSON HEIGHTS, QUEENS, NEW YORK
I had my 1968 Harley Sportster, “Sally The Bitch” parked in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken’s parking lot, on Northern Boulevard and 88th Street in Jackson Heights. On the extreme northwest corner of the KFC parking lot—which happens to be contiguous with the building my parents owned and in which I grew up—there were a series of four metal posts cemented into the ground, leading to a break in the posts where the entrance to the parking lot was. Linking these metal posts, were links of thick chain.
I had the bike parked across the sidewalk, almost like a roadblock daring pedestrians to pass. On this day, I was photographing my bike. Six year old Denise—cute as a button—and her brother, were keeping me company as I walked around Sally to take different-angled shots of her. I used a tripod to take a pic of myself with Sally, with the camera set on self-timer. Just for fun, I also took a shot of little Denise and her brother, as they dangled on the chains linking these metal posts.
When you’re 6 years old, the whole world is your playground, and even the chains on fences of a fast food restaurant’s parking lot, can be your jungle gym. When you’re six, you can sample the universe around you as the proverbial oyster on a half-shell, spiced-up with the newness of life. I had this picture of Denise and her brother playing near my old Harley, somewhere in my house. I just found it…..
Is it any wonder that I refer to Denise as my niece? I think of Denise’s dad, Stevie Biondo, as an older brother. In the long-ago days when Denise sat on my Harley Sportster’s contour seat, and comically pushed her little foot on my Sportster’s kickstarter, I felt like Denise was my niece. I’ll never forget the way that the kickstarter wouldn’t budge, and the determined look on Denise’s cute-as-a-button face, in her effort.
These are treasured memories for me too. These memories resurfaced after Denise found me on Facebook, and opened up a whole slew of warm recollections about Denise, and deep introspection regarding her perception of not only me—but the biker subculture too. When Denise contacted me through Facebook, I felt an instant paternal affection for her. Look at her now! Denise is now a lovely young lady, loving mom to her sons, Alex and Matthew. Time sure does fly.
Denise with her son Matthew.
I began thinking about why this reconnecting with my adoptive niece after decades of not seeing her, seemed so profound to me—aside from the obvious reunion with a loved one. I’ve concluded that it has to do with the ritualistic manner in which the love of Harleys and the biker culture, is passed on from generation to generation in the culture.
Because the subculture is so pervasive in my life, Denise, as a living reminder of how “family traditions” are passed on, lend to our reconnecting, a very special significance for me. As elders to Denise in the biker subculture, Denise’s dad and I have passed on something very important and rare in our society: A love and respect for the traditions inherent to the biker subculture. There’s no doubt in my mind that this can be construed as the passing down of a family tradition, in the purest sense of the term.
This is frankly, the very first time that I’ve experienced a generational emotion such as this in the context of the motorcycle culture, for neither of my children have any interest in the culture. As a biker who is deeply steeped in the history and tradition of the biker subculture, I found Denise’s exclamation of her love for Harleys, profoundly touching. It was a familial-type of experience for me, heretofore not enjoyed before.
I especially enjoy her calling me Uncle Scott—I consider it a special honor and privilege. I admit that I’ll always think of her as that little girl who hung around when I washed my bike, sitting on the bike—and trying to start Sally. Listen, even at the age of 6, she had better technique than a lot of bikers I’ve observed!
Oh sure, I’ve heard from younger bikers who read my articles in Iron Horse magazine, who have told me that I had inspired ’em to ride Harleys. I’ve heard this many times from younger bikers, who’ve attributed their entrance into Harleyhood because they were motivated by my writing. That doesn’t compare, however, to the quasi-paternal experience of having passed on the feelings for a culture, like I have with Denise in person.
There’s a big difference between a magazine reader vicariously picking up on Harleys, and someone you knew as a child who has been imbued with this love and respect for Harley-Davidsons due to your personal influence on him or her in the formative stages of that child’s life. There’s a special poignancy in hearing from a family member, about her, “…love of loud, old-school Harley-Davidsons…”
The biker subculture is rife with stories of fathers and mothers passing on the love of motorcycle culture, to their progeny. In my life as a biker, Denise is that progeny by proxy. This experience of feeling like a true “uncle” in the life of my adoptive niece, has been rewarding in ways I can’t properly put into words.
Like the feeling when one hears the “Clickety-clickety-clickety..” horse-hooves idle of a righteous Harley, or the thunderous roar when I hit 80 on the highway with my stroker Shovel—it has to be experienced for it to be fully understood. The passing on of traditions within the biker subculture, is a form of passing down family tradition from one generation to the next. This is pointed out in this excerpt from an internet paper on family traditions:
“The continuation of family traditions amidst great technological advances and fast paced lives, is very much important. This is true whether a family is created by biology or choice. From a generational perspective, family traditions are practices or beliefs which are passed down from generation to generation. It is important to pass the torch of family traditions; this imparts a sense of continuity, bonding. Each family tradition creates warmth and closeness….it is a special tie that bonds them all.”
It is no surprise to learn that Denise and her husband Alexander, are motorheads. Considering their heritage, it is also no surprise to know that their sons are engaged in the motor culture, too. This is proof positive that the passing down of traditions is alive and well in Denise’s household.
I’m just happy and grateful that her father and I were able to pass on traditions of the biker subculture to her. If after reading this, you can’t comprehend why it was so emotionally rewarding for me when Denise found me on Facebook, then you truly wouldn’t understand.
In the final analysis, Steve Biondo passed on biker traditions to me. I, in turn helped Denise’s dad to pass them on to her. She and her husband then passed on the love of motor culture to her progeny. Everything comes full circle in life, and the circle is completed. Later.