“Wanna go for a ride?”
Suzy runs circles around the living room coffee table, yes, yes, YES!
Vinny and Suzy get ready to ride.
Satisfied with her enthusiastic answer, Vinny Ombres grabs his black leather vest and helmet and heads out the front door, Suzy prancing at his heels.
As he takes the protective cover off his cherry red Harley Road Glide Ultra, Suzy sits patiently on the sidewalk.
Suzy, who is named for Vinny’s grandmother, in her biker doggie basket.
Once the bike is road ready, Vinny straps Suzy into the custom compartment in the back and puts on her goggles. For longer rides, she also wears earmuffs.
Off they go, Suzy leaning forward to feel the wind’s fun fury on her furry face.
Suzy started riding as a puppy.
Suzy, an adventurous 15-pound miniature Australian Shepherd, and Vinny, a big, burly guy with a Paul Bunyan beard, have been riding together since she was a puppy.
Two and a half years ago, Vinny drove his Chevy Malibu, not his Harley, to Pennsylvania to pick Suzy up from a breeder. Only 8 weeks old, she had no idea that she was going to be a biker.
“I started her on a snowboard,” Vinny says, adding that she was small enough to smuggle onto the slopes. “I put her in a backpack strapped to my chest. She was a little nervous because it was a new experience, but I could tell that she liked it. The next month, we rode a moped together with her sitting between my legs and putting her paws on the handlebars. And then we got on the bike.”
Are we ready?
At first, Vinny strapped Suzy behind him so she could ride standing up.
When she mastered that, he transferred her to the custom metal basket on the back of the bike and secured her with a harness/leash system he designed that keeps her contained but allows for controlled, comfortable movement in the cushioned space.
“I had to put her in back because I have to make room for human partners to ride,” he says.
Con-furring about the trip.
Since then, Vinny and Suzy have added boating, jet skiing and camping to their itinerary.
Vinny’s two loves – bikes and dogs – are relatively new interests. Like the rest of his life, they came together without much pre-planning.
Vinny, who was born and raised in Babylon, Long Island, had decided on a career in the arts after earning a degree in visual communications from Farmingdale State College SUNY.
A break between rides.
But he had worked his way through school doing hard-hat jobs, and when a union offered him a position in Astoria teaching construction safety, he decided to give it a try. He’s still doing it.
He got his first bike, a black Harley Sportser 883, nearly a decade ago when he was 27.
“I had wanted to ride since I was 17, but I always assumed my mother wouldn’t like the idea,” he says. “But when she told me she loved bikes and wouldn’t mind if I got a license, I got a permit the next day.”
Last year, Vinny and Suzy biked the East Coast.
Shortly afterward, a friend found him a rescue dog, who just happened to be named Harley.
Initially, Vinny wasn’t keen on the idea.
“She was a 6-year-old Pomeranian,” he says. “She was a big Pomeranian – she was 10 pounds, but still, I said, ‘I’m a single, straight guy. I cannot be walking around with a Pomeranian. How am I going to pick up women?’”
‘She’s my baby,’ Vinny says.
He decided to give Harley a trial run because he heard that she liked to ride. (He’d also been told that she was house trained and didn’t shed, which he immediately discovered wasn’t true.)
“For the first three days, she wouldn’t look at me or talk to me,” he says. “But the first time I took her on the bike, she looked at me, and her eyes totally changed.”
Vinny and Harley had a lot of fun hiking, biking and even kayaking in the four years they were together. So much so that Vinny traded the Harley for a bigger bike, a black and silver Kawasaki Voyager.
This fall, they are going to bike the Pacific Coast Highway.
Without her, “my life became a country music song – I broke up with my girlfriend, my grandmother died and I flipped my bike and broke my ankle,” he says.
He pulls up his pants leg to reveal a scary 7-inch scar.
Suzy and Vinny take day trips to Long Island and Manhattan and the boroughs.
“I have two plates and nine screws,” he says, smiling. “It’s awesome.”
He got a new bike and a new dog in 2016, and his life has been exciting ever since.
Taking a short spin.
“I don’t have a wife, I don’t have kids, I don’t have a girlfriend right now,” he says. “Suzy’s my baby.”
Vinny, who “can’t stop thinking about riding on two wheels,” is the road captain of Roads to Roam, a club he started for family and friends that has biked as far as northern Connecticut, eastern Long Island and the Catskills.
Ah, the feel of the wind in my fur!
In addition to these jaunts, he and Suzy have been all over Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens; they even have ridden along the FDR Drive.
“Sometimes we’re gone for hours,” he says. “We like to stop for lunch and dinner. When people see us, they smile and laugh and take pictures.”
Suzy and Vinny, who did an eight-day tour of the East Coast last year, are planning a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway this fall.
I’m ready to ride again!
Vinny is still working out the plans. He only gets two weeks of vacation, so to save time, he’ll send the bike ahead, and he and Suzy will fly there to meet it. He’s taking a drone to document the journey.
It’s unclear whether Suzy comprehends this itinerary. But she scampers excitedly up to Vinny and hugs his leg. In return, he scratches her behind her fluffy ears.
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. It is a free, public event.
Support Astoria Characters at GoFundMe
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com;
@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,
Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling