By Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA and Brad Bumsted, Sam Janesch, and Mike Wereschagin of The Caucus
Carmen Gentile (third from right) and Jason Motlagh talk with Ron Johnson (second from left), a member of the Ronin Motorcycle Club, based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, prior to joining the club on a ride on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Edgewood, Pa.
PITTSBURGH — We meet at the headquarters of Postindustrial to embark on a two-week exploration of our region following more than a year of pandemic lockdowns, political upheaval, and protests.
It’s the first trip of its kind post-shutdowns. And we’re traveling by motorcycle. Joining me is rider Jason Motlagh, who’s on assignment for Rolling Stone. Jason is an awarding-winning journalist and filmmaker based in Baja, Mexico. Like me, Jason has covered conflicts and trouble spots abroad for many years.
I’ll write daily dispatches from our trip for Postindustrial, with photography from renowned Pittsburgh-based, international photographer Justin Merriman, a founding member of American Reportage. So be sure to check back every day as we travel through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and more.
We’re joined by documentary filmmakers Mark Oltmanns and Matt Cipollone, who are producing video for our trip for a separate project, Two Guys on Bikes, (more than that later). Assisting with production in the field and driving the crew is Lindsay Plaskett. Postindustrial CEO & Editor-in-Chief Kim Palmiero is handling logistics and other matters, from our home base in Pittsburgh.
From our home base, we meet up with the Ronin Motorcycle Club, a co-ed group of two-wheel enthusiasts.
Marlon Hutson, a member of the Ronin Motorcycle Club, based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is reflected in the mirror of his motorcycle as he prepares to go on a ride with the club.
Mark Howard, the president of the Ronin Motorcycle Club, based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, waits for members of the club to gather before embarking on a ride together on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Edgewood, Pa.
Regular readers of Postindustrial will remember the Ronin from a story from the magazine in 2019, in which we discussed defying stereotypes about outlaw bikers. They may ride high-speed machines and show a little flash, but their club is all about community, family, and good clean fun.
Ron Johnson, a member of the Ronin Motorcycle Club, based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, laughs as he talks with other club members on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Blairsville, Pa.
Tationna Smalley, (left), and Cole Ferri, (right), both ride sometimes with Ronin MC. Here, they suit up before heading back to Pittsburgh on Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Blairsville. The MC is a small group of bikers who love the thrill of long-distance rides, doing charity work in support of causes including lupus and domestic violence awareness, and just hanging out together.
After a short prayer in which we lock arms in a circle, we head out with the Ronin for a short ride along a beautiful stretch of highway on a sunny spring day.
We zip past the suburban sprawl and head about 40 miles east to Blairsville, a one-time coal-producing town where one of my great-grandfathers worked in the mines.
There we sit down at a delicious barbecue joint to enjoy a meal and talk about how life has changed during the last 15 months.
We also touch on topics of race, vaccine hesitancy, and much more. The Ronin members, who come from a variety of backgrounds, share keen insights into these strange and challenging times.
After parting, we head back to Pittsburgh so the film crew can capture breathtaking cityscapes on film just before the sun goes down.
Want to read the full story of this journey through the heart of Postindustrial America? Subscribe today and you’ll receive our print magazine in which we’ll chronicle this trip with more details, plus access to Postindustrial full range of podcasts, digital content and much more. Don’t miss out!
Carmen Gentile is founder and editor-at-large of Postindustrial. He has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.
Justin Merriman is a freelance photojournalist who has traveled the world to cover politics, wars, natural disasters, civil unrest as well as covering assignment throughout the United States. His work has appeared in leading national publications and he has received multiple top journalism awards. Justin is a founding member of American Reportage.
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