Bikers have made the pilgrimage to Hollister for the past 28 years to have their motorcycles blessed on Palm Sunday. This year was slightly different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After checking in at Hollister Powersports on San Felipe Road, over 1,000 motorcycles rolled through downtown Hollister to the Top Hatters Motorcycle Club clubhouse at 843 San Benito Street. Founded in 1947, it’s one of the oldest such organizations in the United States.
The bikers passed under double arches for the drive-thru Top Hatter Bike Blessing. Normally, they would have gone to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, but because of pandemic restrictions the venue was changed to the clubhouse.
Participants paid a $10 donation to receive the bike blessing from retired priest Rudy Ruiz and a commemorative medal that was also blessed. Donations go toward the Top Hatter community pantry and scholarships, said Cesar Flores, a Top Hatter member and San Juan Bautista councilman.
“Easter Sunday is coming up and we want our bikes blessed because they’re our transportation,” Flores said. “We put up an arbor and the bikes drive through to get sprinkled with holy water by Father Rudy. He comes out and does the service every year to bless the bikes as they go out on the road and so no one gets hurt.”
After the blessing, riders went back to Hollister Powersports to congregate, have a sandwich, and perhaps buy Top Hatter merchandise. More than a few, though, stopped downtown to visit Johnny’s Bar & Grill, La Catrina Mexican Grill and other restaurants.
Flores said the club encouraged social distancing and the wearing of masks with limited success.
“We tried to tell them to keep their distance and had someone with a bullhorn telling them,” he said, adding that the person taking a head count stopped at a little over 1,000. “There were just too many and we lost count. Normally, we have a barbeque, but this time we had burritos.”
Flores said the donations for scholarships have dried up because of the pandemic, making it impossible for the Top Hatters to conduct normal fundraisers throughout the year. He said the club normally donates $1,000 scholarships to a number of schools in Hollister and San Juan Bautista.
“We don’t have any money, so we’re only giving to the high school in Hollister,” he said.
Councilman Rolan Resendiz is an unabashed fan of motorcycles and a supporter of the on-again, off-again biker rally held in July. So when bikes began arriving Sunday, he made his way to Hollister Powersports to visit and join the fun.
“It’s a beautiful, longstanding tradition that I try to go to and be a part of every year,” Resendiz said. “It was exciting to see people coming back to Hollister, shopping downtown and going to our restaurants.”
After visiting people at Hollister Powersports, Resendiz said he went home and rode his bicycle to the clubhouse along with his daughter.
“We drove through the arch and got blessed,” he said. “We were living in the moment. We had our bikes and our helmets on, and Father Rudy was there giving blessings.”
Resendiz was non-committal about people wearing masks, but said he was excited that more people are getting vaccinated.
“More people are taking this seriously, the numbers of infected are very low and before you know it, we’re going to be able to celebrate more events, like the biker rally. Hopefully, by July we can have the biker rally back and get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said.
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