Slaughterhouse 19, Chicago’s longest running scooter rally

The Midnight Ride through Lower Wacker Drive. | Aug. 30, 2013 / PHOTO BY JULIE EGELAND

The Midnight Ride through Lower Wacker Drive. | Aug. 30, 2013 / PHOTO BY JULIE EGELAND

The first slaughterhouse scooter rally was held in Chicago in 1995. The rally’s name is an homage to Chicago’s history as the “hog butcher to the world.” Initially, the rally was specifically for classic vintage scooters. As the market for modern scooters has grown, Chicago’s Slaughterhouse Rally has become the Midwest’s largest gathering of scooters. Annually scooterists from all over the country descend on Chicago over Labor Day weekend to dance, eat good food, share bike tips and most importantly ride.

I first became interested in scooters after watching Zach Braff’s character on Scrubs get one. I was still in high school but his character’s scooter inspired me to look into the history of Vespas and Lambrettas from the mid to late 1960s. These scooters were the “Mods” preferred mode of locomotion around town. Invented in Italy after WWII to help people get around the ruined cities without spending too much on gas, by the 1960’s they came to symbolize the bleeding edge of fashion, music and cool. After researching everything I could about them I was lucky enough to get my first scooter, a Vespa GT200, at the end of my senior year of high school. Once I had my motorcycle license I used it whenever I could to get around. I relied on it so much that I eventually sold the car that I had used throughout high school. In college my scooter was invaluable as it was small enough to fit in the tiny parking spaces the city had forgotten to install meters on in the Loop, allowing me to park for free.

Midnight ride headed west on Division towards Late Bar. Aug. 30, 2013 / PHOTO BY ALEX V. HERNANDEZ

Midnight ride headed west on Division towards Late Bar. Aug. 30, 2013 / PHOTO BY ALEX V. HERNANDEZ

I first discovered Slaughterhouse while joyriding around Chinatown on my Vespa the summer of 2006. I had only been riding a year when I saw what seemed like over a hundred scooters buzz past me. I immediately hopped onto my ride to catch up and rode with them until they all pulled over to get bubble tea. While we were all parked I chatted up a few of the guys and girls in the rally and got a quick crash course on the event’s history. They invited me later that day to The Midnight Ride.

While the scooter scene has experienced peaks and valleys in popularity, there has always been a core group of riders that keep the tradition alive. Usually it’s helped by pop culture’s rediscovery of the fashion and music of the 1960’s. The film Quadrophenia inspired American teenagers to get into a Mod revival during the 1980’s, while more recently the show Mad Men has done the same for the Millennial Generation. One example of this is the Windy City Soul Club, a roving dance party that moves around Chicago and features DJ’s playing Popcorn, R&B, Northern Soul, Crossover, and Modern Soul like JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound.

In the vein of Windy City Soul Club, Slaughterhouse weekend usually includes lots of dancing and drinking but also has BBQs, Scooter Gymkhana and The Midnight Ride. Of these rally events my absolute favorite (and the only one that I take pains not to miss) is The Midnight Ride. The Friday of Slaughterhouse scooterists head to a predetermined bar and hang out until about 12 a.m., usually dancing to some soul music or singing karaoke. When the witching hour rolls around everyone gets on their scooter and we ride in formation throughout the Chicagoland area.

The route changes every year. Sometimes we’ll ride through Lower Wacker in the Loop, with the sounds of our engines underground echoing like a bunch of pissed off wasps in a can. Other times we’ll ride out to the sticks and buzz through some newly paved country road without street lights and have the night sky twinkle above us. Usually these midnight rides end at Late Bar, where they’ll blast New Wave, British Invation and old school R&B until 4 a.m. Regardless of the route we take, The Midnight Ride is always an amazing experience. I can’t wait to do it again next year. Ω

Notes from the peanut gallery.

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