(This is the fourth--and final--post highlighting the members of the Sirens who graciously sat down with me for interviews as I was preparing to write Everything In Its Place.)
KIM "KIMASAKI" WETZEL (in memoriam)
I interviewed Kim Wetzel in January 2019.
Kim and I met at Sharlene's Bar on Flatbush for a beer and the conversation was free-flowing and full of laughs. I came to learn that this was what Kim was all about. She was one of the most outgoing and friendly people I have ever met.
You could say that Kim's involvement with motorcycles started young. Here's a photo of Kim at age 2, with her dad on his bike. (As Kim verified with her mom, yes, this was a staged photo--she didn't actually ride with him like this!)
Riding a motorcycle was something Kim thought about for a while before actually taking the plunge.
[I]t had been something I’d been thinking about for a long time, it was a goal, [and I] finally got to that goal... [I] always told people, it’s like a metaphor for life: you set yourself a goal and you do it!
Kim told me about her love of the sensory experience of riding a motorcycle.
You feel everything—that’s the thing about riding, you’re in it, it’s not like a car. You’re in it. You smell everything, from that road kill over there to the trees, whatever, and you feel, you just feel it. I like it. I like feeling the curves—you just can’t get that anywhere else. Or that feeling of, you slow down, and then you accelerate. It’s really, it’s awesome. Or even on the straightaway, you take your hands off, and, oh, I’m just just riding this with my vagina, only! Awesome! That’s fun.
She told me how much she liked to ride in the back of the pack when going for a ride with the Sirens.
I like the look of everyone in front. It’s a line of women, and knowing that there’s 15 people or 10 people in front of me and we’re all---we all know each other,... we support each other no matter what, and... it’s this beautiful line of bikes in formation going around curves, it’s amazing.
Kim related this experience to one of the group's unofficial mottos, "No Siren Left Behind." Like many members of the club, she talked with admiration about the way the members support one another in times of need. (And then Kim started laughing and proceeded to tell me about one time when she and another rider were actually kind of left behind on a ride!)
Kim also talked about how respectful members of the group were with one another, even when there was debate or disagreement. She recounted a meeting from 10+ years ago when members were discussing the Sirens' "colors" (the design of their patch) and whether the image of the blond-haired woman on it should be changed.
[T]here was talk of, should the colors be changed, to be more diverse, to represent what we want the club to be, because at that point it wasn’t actually all that diverse. You look at Sirens now and it’s very diverse. Which I love. But then, eh, not so much.
Kim was amazed by the tenor of the meeting:
[S]o this meeting about the colors, it was the most respectful meeting I’ve ever seen anywhere, because nobody talked over anybody,... [I]t was like, we’re going to go around and each person’s gonna say how they feel about the colors, what they think, [and] we’re gonna listen. And we did! And I was shocked. Because I’d never been at a meeting where it wasn’t like, "but-but-but" interrupting and diversions and— And obviously the conclusion was, don’t change [the colors]. And everybody’s fine. And, we love the colors. We love the patch. Wear it with pride, for sure.
Kim was proud of the visibility of the Sirens, whether it was riding in Pride parades, volunteering for the Milk Bank (articles here and here--both include photos of Kim!), or just riding around. She talked about the "Ring of Keys" moment in the musical Fun Home, when young Alison--who has been fighting with her dad about wearing dresses and putting barrettes in her hair--spots a grownup in a diner who looks just like the person she wants to be. Kim was proud of the fact that members of the Sirens might be responsible for a similar "Ring of Keys"-type moment of recognition for young girls who encounter the club.
Kim was a beloved member of the Sirens. Tragically, she died of Covid-19 in March 2020. You can view a tribute video to Kim here, and if you are in Brooklyn, you can visit the bench dedicated to Kim's memory in Green-Wood Cemetery. A tree in the cemetery also bears a plaque with Kim's name, as does a bench in Washington Square Park.
May Kim's memory be a blessing for all those who had the privilege of knowing her.