More than 500 bikers from San Benito County and beyond had their motorcycles blessed by local clergy members at the 30th annual Top Hatters Bike Blessing event April 2 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hollister.
Event chair and longtime Top Hatters member Robert Poelker, also known as “Sideshow,” said the cool, overcast weather likely kept the crowds down for this year’s Palm Sunday blessing. Past bike blessings have drawn more than 1,000 motorcycles, riders and passengers to the event that has become ingrained as a local tradition over the years.
“People come down here (from out of town) for the bike blessing. It has a lot of nostalgia for Hollister,” said Poelker, who has been a Top Hatters member for 27 years.
Gathering and socializing in the church parking lot and surrounding streets prior to the blessing Sunday morning, motorcyclists made crosses and other designs out of palm reeds, before attaching them to their vessels. Inside Sacred Heart Church, Elvis impersonator Rick Torres sang traditional hymnals, including “Amazing Grace,” before pastors conducted a short Palm Sunday service.
For the bike blessing, bikers and their passengers lined up before they rode slowly through two arches made of palm branches in the church’s rear parking lot, as Father Rudy Ruiz, Associate Pastor Karl Tolentino and Pastor Diva Roxana splashed their motorcycles with holy water—a gesture intended to protect the bikes and their riders as they continue on the road.
Poelker, who has chaired the annual Bike Blessing for Top Hatters for more than 20 years, said the event is held on Palm Sunday because of the day’s significance in Christian faith. As Palm Sunday marks Christ’s return to Jerusalem to crowds waving palm branches, Polker said, “Here come the bikers to get their palms in Hollister.”
Poelker said he scheduled Torres to perform as a special treat for the 30th annual Bike Blessing this year, to provide “something different for the community to enjoy.” The King impersonator sang some more after the blessing at Grillin & Chillin Alehouse in Hollister, where many of the bikers gathered after the events at Sacred Heart.
Notably absent from this year’s Bike Blessing was Rev. Ardyss Golden, a longtime San Benito County pastor who died Jan. 9. Golden participated in the Top Hatters event for more than 20 years, leading the annual Palm Sunday service and blessing the bikes with holy water.
Poelker noted how “special” it was to hear Torres sing “Amazing Grace” during the Palm Sunday service, as the hymnal was Golden’s favorite song.
“She was a very big part of the Bike Blessing,” Poelker said.