First there is the sound only….
It slides up Sixth Avenue South, tickling the windowpanes of the hospital.
Then … flashes of chrome in the sunshine.
Black leather flying.
In a move that looks choreographed, about 20 riders dip gracefully in to the main hospital’s circular drive and fill the space as if it’s their own.
Leading the charge—a large black trailer overflowing with children’s toys.
This is no ordinary biker group. This is Nite Train Express … a close-knit community of riders devoted to collecting toys and raising money for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Jimmy “Ice” Johnson unloads a little girl’s bike with pink training wheels, exposing a generously biceped arm inked with a panther leaping out of flames. Clad in riding gloves and vest, he swipes his shoulder-length silver hair out of his eyes and keeps working.
“I stopped this morning to pick up some extra school supplies to make sure they have enough,” Johnson says. “I hope the kids will be happy and just know that somebody loves them.”
There are soccer balls and baby dolls, toy trucks and teddy bears, backpacks and games—more than enough to capture the imagination of a sick child looking to escape into some fun.
Nite Train’s founders—Michael and Angie Gesell and close friend Sharon Sieradski—are busy directing the volunteers. Michael and Angie know what it’s like to have a child with medical needs. They were inspired by their own son, Gage—the sweetest of spirits—born with Angelman Syndrome, a complex genetic disorder that impacts the nervous system. Gage was treated many times over the years at Johns Hopkins All Children’s and made many friends.
Nite Train Express has been making these toy drops for years, even after Gage entered adulthood and aged out of treatment here.
But this year is different. Sweet Gage passed away in April. And yet, here are his parents, carrying on the tradition, unloading toys for other people’s children.
“This hospital saved my son twice when he was a child here. This effort is just a part of me now,” says Michael Gesell. “It’s also for all the people who come and support us. That’s half the reason we do it—to make these folks happy too.”
This Nite Train keeps rolling.
As the bikers exit the main drive, they open their throttles and rev their engines with enough ear-splitting rpms to reach the upper floors of the hospital.
Only for a few seconds.
Long enough to make sure the kids know they came.