Wednesday, Oct 30 2013 04:31 PM

Long live Dia de los Muertos

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    By Californian file photo

    Elizabeth and Ruben Munez ride their motorcycle through Union Cemetery during last year's Dia De Los Muertos Ride.

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BY STEFANI DIAS Californian assistant lifestyles editor

Among the dozens of motorcycles participating in this year's Dia de los Muertos ride, one driver will stand out with his souped-up vehicle.

"We have a hearse," said Ron "Hog" Newton, one of the ride's organizers. "This person went in and put a back seat in it for the kids to ride in. I think it's the oddest vehicle (we'll get), but you never know."

Related Info

Day of the Dead Ride

Heads to different cemeteries, followed by chili verde cook-off, raffle, music; starts 8 a.m. Saturday, riders leaves 9 a.m., cook-off 12:30 p.m.; Shriners Noble Park, 700 P St. $20 per rider, $10 for walk-ins, includes chili-verde cook-off tastings. 319-7844 or 831-4476

Other Dia events

Dia De Los Angelitos: In Remembrance of Infants and Children, balloon release, candlelight ceremony, cultural food; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday; opening prayer by Father Larry Toschi at 4 p.m., Hillcrest Memorial Park & Mortuary, 9101 Kern Canyon Road. Free. 858-337-1222.

Dia De Los Muertos: In Remembrance of Loved Ones, family altar, food, face painting, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, with a blessing of the altar by Father Larry Toschi at 1:30 p.m., Hillcrest Memorial Park & Mortuary, 9101 Kern Canyon Road. Free. 858-337-1222.

Fifth annual Altares de Familia, family altars, authentic Mexican cuisine, music, arts and crafts, vendors, 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Bakersfield Museum of Art, 1930 R St., and Central Park at Mill Creek. $1; free for children under 6. 323-7219.

Dia de los Muertos Expo 2013, masquerade theme: skulls, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Golden State Mall, 3201 F St. Free. or 345-5842.

The annual ride, which stops at four cemeteries (Union, Greenlawn, Hillcrest Memorial Park and Bakersfield National in Arvin) before a celebration and chili verde cook-off at Shriners Noble Park has come a long way in five years.

"It was a much smaller ride," said attorney and motorcycle enthusiast Henry Marquez. "We rode to the cemeteries late evening. We didn't have a cookoff. It was much more informal."

Since teaming with Newton and the Kern County Shrine Club three years ago, the ride has continued to grow, with more than 200 riders expected despite the event moving from Sunday to Saturday, which falls on the actual date reserved for remembering late loved ones.

"Word of mouth has been our biggest publicity," Marquez said. "There's a certain motorcycle community in Bakersfield, through the county. Whatever bikers who want to attend this thing are invited to attend. ... Some said they'd come from Visalia/Tulare County area."

The three-hour-plus ride allows participants to pay their respects to departed friends and family at the local cemeteries, but Marquez said there will be another Dia component to the event courtesy of fellow legal eagle and rider Robert Tafoya.

"I've asked one of our local judges to give a talk about the origins of Dia de los Muertos. He wants to attend the ride. When we get back from the ride or have settled down, he will speak. Even if people have heard about Dia de los Muertos, it helps to know from someone who knows about its origins."

While the ride takes place in the morning, things also heat up at the park as cookoff teams start as early as 7 a.m. prepping their chili verde for judging. Newton said they expect up to 20 teams and that interested competitors can enter until Friday.

"Tell them to call Hog."

For $40, teams of two will prepare their dish entirely on site for judging, which will start between 12:30 and 1 p.m., depending on when the riders return. All attendees can sample and vote for their favorite.

"The people's vote counts," Newton said.

As to what will ensure victory, there is no clear-cut answer. While Newton credits hot chilies for the tastiest stew, Marquez said the field is diverse.

"There are so many different styles. There are so many cookers, it depends on whether people like the particular flavor. It's not always about the heat."

Tastings are included with admission, but if chili verde is not to your liking, Frito boats, pulled pork sandwiches and hamburgers will be offered for sale.

For entertainment, Country George will kick things off in the morning and Glenda Robles and the Bandoleros will play into the afternoon.

Adding to the fun at the family-friendly event is the raffle, which this year features a 40-inch television, bicycles and gift certificates from local restaurants.

"People are into the whole raffling thing," Marquez said. "They want a chance to win some prizes."

The drawing starts around noon and continues until 5 p.m. when the TV winner will be drawn. Tickets are $1 each, $5 for a half-pull or $10 for a full pull (arm's length of tickets).

For $20, you're guaranteed to take home a long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with the ride logo. Organizers also will sell lapel pins (included with the T-shirt).

Along with the festivities, both men emphasize that the event is a fundraiser benefitting the Shriners Hospital in Los Angeles as well as needs closer to home.

"Last year, we raised $8,000 to $9,000," Newton said. "A partial amount went to the L.A. hospital. A portion is for needy families in town; bikers will deliver food (around Christmas). And a portion stays in Kern County for gas money and transportation for people who need to take their kids down to L.A."

Whether it's to pay tribute, taste good food or help a good cause (or all three), people keep the event growing, which couldn't please Marquez more.

"I think that after people have attended a couple of times they keep coming back. Every year it gets more fun. The more people the better."

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