Words by Edyn Herbert, Radio Milwaukee college intern
I’ve never been blindsided by an encounter before. I was going on my first community story with Dori Zori — to the Harley-Davidson Museum to check out a new exhibit. We arrived and were greeted by Willie G.
Excuse me, THE Willie G.
Now, I didn’t grow up in a family that was into motorcycles, but I am from Milwaukee, and being from Milwaukee, even if you don’t grow up with a direct association to motorcycles, you still hear the distinct engine sound all the time in the summer. And every five years, your city is overtaken by Harley-Davidson enthusiasts from all over the country/world. So I am familiar.
Now let me reiterate. I was greeted by Willie G and proceeded to walk through the new Willie G exhibit with Willie G. Willie G Davidson, the guy that pretty much single handedly created the cool factor that is Harley-Davidson motorcycles. As Dori and I walked through the exhibit I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know one person could do so many different things. From aesthetic sketches to practical designs, motorcycles to race cars, pencil drawings of t-shirts to water colors of flowers, Willie G does it all.
He would stop at different designs of his and walk us through the history, what he was thinking back then. Conveniently (and well designed by the museum), the real life results were displayed next to the designs. Finally, we made it to the end of the tour. It lasted about an hour, with frequent stops while he reminisced.
We began our farewells, snapped a quick picture and then finally I looked up. About 30 people formed a circle around us, waiting for the chance to shake Willie G’s hand. But instead of pretending like he needed to stay and talk with his fans, he simply said, “I have to go up and work in my studio.”
Willie G comes to the Harley-Davidson Museum every day. It's where his studio is. He just paints, or sketches, or something. He’s always working.
And if you’re wondering what Willie G’s childhood smelled like, it was quite fittingly … gasoline.