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Bikers Bring Cheer and a Big New TV : Holiday: Motorcyclists give residents of a Santa Clarita rest home handshakes, hugs and a 50-inch television set.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This year, Santa wore black leather and rode a Harley.

About 50 rough-and-tumble bikers roared up to a Santa Clarita convalescent hospital Sunday to deliver presents, firm handshakes and teary-eyed hugs to elderly residents.

But the visit became something more when the bikers, many tattooed and sporting Fuller Brush beards, found a half-dozen residents at the Santa Clarita Convalescent Hospital staring at a blank television screen in the recreation room.

The set broke several months ago, and the hospital could not afford to replace it.

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“When I saw them without a TV it about broke my heart,” said Matt Fisher, an organizer of the event and owner of Exclusive Hog, a Santa Clarita motorcycle shop.

The bikers immediately started collecting money. Within a few minutes, $360 was raised and about 20 motorcyclists headed off in a thunderous caravan to Caston’s TV and Appliances nearby. The hospital had saved about $2,000 for the television and with the money raised by the bikers the group was able to afford a discounted 50-inch set.

They had enough money for the sticker price only, but after hearing their story of holiday need, owner Jerry Caston agreed not to charge sales tax.

Caston threw in a videocassette recorder for another $50.

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“Get that TV hooked up,” resident Jefferson Atwood said when the bikers returned and wheeled the set into the recreation room. “I want to watch football.”

“I’ve seen a lot of happy faces today,” said Tony Finchen, an off-duty detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, as he left the hospital. “I almost started crying.”

The idea to visit the hospital was hatched last year by Terry Blake, one of an informal group of Santa Clarita Valley motorcyclists who regularly ride together. After delivering toys to underprivileged children, she decided to organize a similar event serving seniors.

“Nobody does anything for the old folks,” Blake said. “A lot of them don’t even have any family that comes to visit.”

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For many patients, the leather-clad bikers will be their only visitors, said hospital owner and administrator Barbara Khatchadurian.

“This is so exciting,” she said. “I’m joining a Harley club.”

Last year, Blake gave Tadd Atkins a white stuffed kitten and this year she wanted the 83-year-old to have a matching teddy bear. After searching briefly for Atkins in the crowded recreation room, Blake found her sitting alone in her room.

Kneeling to put her arm around Atkins, Blake asked gently, “Remember last year you got a white kitty?” Blake presented the white teddy bear to Atkins but could say no more through her tears.

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“It’s beautiful,” Atkins said as tears rolled down her cheeks. For several minutes afterward Atkins cried silently in her wheelchair, rocking gently and hugging the teddy bear to her face.

Similar scenes played themselves out in room after room, where the hospital smell was temporarily overpowered by new bottles of cologne and baskets of potpourri.

“I gotta find my buddy,” Rod George said urgently as he peeked in every room to locate a man he met last year. George could not remember the man’s name and his search was unsuccessful. Hospital administrators could not tell George what happened to the man.

But he soon found a new buddy.

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He and Finchen tried to interest Atwood in some coffee and cookies, but the 87-year-old shook his head with an expression of distaste.

“How about a shot of Jack Daniel’s?” Finchen asked jokingly.

Atwood’s lips curled into a smile.


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