John Szyjewski is a minister. Ordained, via the Internet, in 2009.
He's a minister - currently standing in the gravel parking lot of Stolley's Hogg Alley in Summit - wearing dark sunglasses, steel-toed work boots and a jean jacket vest with a patch on the back, reading: "Jesus Hates Pussies."
He's a minister with a devil tattooed on his right wrist and a series of large flames in red and yellow tattooed across the entire front of his neck. He's a minister whose beer of choice is Pabst Blue Ribbon. A minister who enjoys a good cigar.
"I eat meat," says Szyjewski, "I cuss…"
He's a minister who, at the moment, is making the point that he's "just a regular ol' guy." That, although ordained, he is not holier than thou. That he too has the wife, the two kids, the dog, the cat, the mortgage, the job, "living paycheck-to-paycheck like everyone else."
He's a minister who will not preach at you. Instead, with all the power vested in him by Godalmighty above (and the World Wide Web), he only wants to bestow upon you a blessing for a long and happy life.
Szyjewski is a minister who, as of a Saturday afternoon this May, has conducted more than 100 wedding ceremonies, a dozen baptisms and six funerals. As for the number of motorcycles he's blessed, Szyjewski is uncertain. "Countless," he supposes.
Szyjewski does know his first motorcycle blessing was in 2012. At The Wagon Wheel tavern in Fort Winnebago. There, in the gravel parking lot, he raised his arms over a congregation of roughly 70 motorcyclists, calling forth angels to be sent from the heavens - to join and protect them - on the bar's annual Perky Nipple Dice Run.
Szyjewski is a minister who, when giving your motorcycle a personal blessing, will bow his head, gingerly placing a hand on your headlamp. He'll then ask you to place a hand on your motorcycle and bow your head as well.
"May the Lord be with you at home and on the road …" is how he begins.
Szyjewski is a minister who, earlier today, blessed nearly 250 motorcycles in this manner, one-by-one, hand-to-headlamp, all the way down the line. This time in the gravel parking lot of Sheryl's Club 175 in Slinger. For the Ride for Liam, a fundraiser for a local little boy diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
He then hopped on his Yamaha Midnight Stratoliner, leading the entire pack here to Stolley's, where there are more motorcycles to be blessed, more money to be raised for that little boy.
Szyjewski is a Hartford resident. Twenty-nine years old. Works as a machinist by day.
He's a minister, known widely as the "Rockin' Rev," who says he'll bless "anything with wheels." Asking him, Anything? He nods. Even a riding lawnmower? He nods again. "I'll even bless those self-propelled push mowers," Szyjewski says. "One can never be too careful out there."
(He isn't kidding. Later on, Szyjewski will bless the bike - actually a bicycle, an old, 3-speed ladies Schwinn - that this magazine reporter pedaled over. He'll earnestly lower his head, a hand placed on a bike light that burned out long ago. Without judgment, Szyjewski begins "May the Lord be with you…")
He's a minister who, when he speaks, you'll feel comforted by his words. You'll feel surprisingly prepared for whatever may come down that road ahead. You'll feel blessed to have met him.
He's a minister who, when a ride organizer tells him they should press on to the next stop, agrees, saying, "Alright, let's f***in' roll." But he promptly apologizes. Being ordained and all, Szyjewski says, such language shouldn't be used. "Let's," he says, "friggin' roll."
He's a minister though, who feels the latter doesn't easily roll off the tongue.
He's a minister who, just before leaving, removes his sunglasses, tilts his head back, taking in the blue sky and smiling, as if not believing a day could be so beautiful.
And, while Szyjewski does this, that tattoo of flames spanning his neck can be better seen, and there is clearly much more to it. Actually, it's surprising how it earlier could be missed. That all along - right there across his neck - the mythological Phoenix was bursting into fire, rising reborn from the ashes.