For the most part, Kritters is your typical local diner. They specialize in pulled pork sandwiches and generously sized hamburgers, and they’re a popular local breakfast spot.
But on Thursday nights, Kritters attracts bikers from all over northern Michigan.
On bike night, the dirt road leading to Kritters is lined on either side by a neat row of sparkling Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The bikes’ owners – 40 or 50 of them – are gathered in the diner’s big backyard. They’re hanging out, laughing and drinking beers.
If you close your eyes, and you think of bikers, you’re probably thinking of these guys. They have long, grey beards, tattoos and black leather vests full of patches.
It’s like a scene out of “Sons of Anarchy,” or maybe “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando. They’re pretty serious looking dudes – the kind you might be inclined to steer clear of.
Many of them are gathered around a large bonfire – having a raffle.
Wally Shattuck is reading off the winning raffle numbers. He’s kind of the unofficial leader of this group. He laughs when I tell him I’m a little apprehensive to come talk to a large group of bikers.
“When we first come to this bar, people here thought, ‘Oh my God, bikers are coming here,’” Wally says. “And now, they get along with us great. They look forward to seeing us.”
Wally blames TV and movies for painting bikers as dangerous criminals.
“We’re not some gang out there, doing drugs … like the movies show,” he says. “We’ve got doctors, lawyers. I’m a master electrician that does robotics. We’re from all walks of life … mothers, fathers, grandfathers. I’m a grandfather.”
Wally heads the local chapter of ABATE, a political action group that puts on bike nights like this all over Michigan. You may have heard of ABATE in the news a few years ago, when they successfully lobbied the Michigan legislature to repeal the state’s helmet law.
Wally says these days, the group is focused on lowering insurance rates for motorcyclists, and making car drivers more aware of motorcycles on the road.
The party heats up as people order cold beers at an outdoor bar. Classic rock – like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival – plays through speakers.
Many of the bikers are couples, like Bryan and Cindy Rogers from Central Lake.
They’re playing a couple of games designed for couples. In one, you have to throw a motorcycle tire over four bowling pins. In another, you have to throw a beanbag into a metal pail hanging 12 feet up a wooden pole.
Bryan and Cindy both started riding motorcycles about 10 years ago. Cindy used to ride on the back of Bryan’s burgundy Harley-Davidson Rocker – a low-slung chopper-style bike – but now she has her own. They both say they like the camaraderie that comes with motorcycling.
“It’s a big family,” says Bryan. “It’s a tight group. Bike riders are a tight group.”
“Riding down the highway and waving to the other motorcycles … getting together and stopping at places we probably wouldn’t stop at if we were in a car,” says Cindy Rogers.
Cindy says Kritters is one of those places.
At the end of the evening, Bryan’s burgundy Rocker wins the “best bike” award. He pulls the Rocker around to pose for photos.
Afterward, he and Cindy – and most of the other bikers at Kritters – literally ride off into the sunset. After all, most of them have to work in the morning.