The Man with the Badge

Dave Carter is an ex-cop with a good attitude.

There’s this sensation that you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re driving down the road and see those red and blues light up in your rear view mirror. All of a sudden you’re 16 again, and the county sheriff has busted you taking your dad’s car out for a joyride.

Dave Carter may put out that vibe the first time you meet him, but it’s purely unintentional. He’s tall, has a deep voice and carries himself with the confidence of a man who’s worn a badge for decades. And there’s a reason for that: he has. But don’t let that initial conversation set you back, because Dave is not only one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, but he’s one of the nicest, too. He just has to warm up to you first.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Forty-five years ago, Dave Carter was a ticketing agent at Chicago O’Hare airport when he met a woman named Gwen who worked for the same airline. Six months later, the two are engaged and happy as can be, when the higher-ups at the company decide that one of them has to go. After all, employee fraternization was frowned upon. So with that, Gwen quits to work at a temp agency, and Dave continues at the airline for a few years. “In retrospect, I should’ve left earlier,” Dave says. “A couple of years later, I joined the police force.”

Dave’s history with law enforcement started off young, when he was just a kid living with his family in Colorado. “If you look back at me, if you look at any of those old pictures I had either a cowboy hat on or a gun in my hand in some way or fashion when I was growing up,” he explains. “So it was either become a cowboy or become a cop.” A neighbor of the family worked for the sheriff’s department, and he encouraged Dave’s love of the badge. It became something that he wanted to do, he just needed to make a pit stop or two first.

Dave was introduced to the travel industry by way of a correspondence course, and that led to an internship in Kansas City when he was 18. He was hired shortly thereafter, and transferred to Chicago. “Coming to Chicago was a whole different world,” he says.

When he worked at the airlines, it was a time when the U.S. Marshals were all over the airports. Working at a counter the way he did, Dave was able to talk to them quite often and he did, garnering respect for the field. As such, he decided to apply for the job, but he also figured he’d apply to work for the sheriff’s department, just to cover his bases. “The appointment papers for both jobs came in the same mail,” he explains. “We had to make a decision.” And they did, based on what was best for their growing family, as they already had children. Soon, Dave was working for the Cook County Sheriff Department, which, at the time, was the third largest sheriff’s department in the United States.

From then on, Dave worked in law enforcement, always moving around internally as things got stale. “I never made rank, but I worked in every facet of police work, which was fortunate. As you grow stale in one, your horizons change and you can go work elsewhere.” That took him into all sorts of interesting worlds, including undercover and detective work with financial crimes. “He looked very different as an undercover cop,” Gwen says and smiles. “Long hair.” Dave laughs, “It was when I was a lot younger and slimmer, too. I could play the part, then.” But after 30 years, things had changed — the world, as well as police work — so he decided to retire so that he could spend some time with the family and enjoy life. And that was the plan, for a little bit, anyways.

About a year or so later, Dave gets a call from a friend of his that had retired from the force just a little while before Dave. The two talk, and it turns out that this friend had moved up to McHenry County to patrol the Fox River for their sheriff’s department. “It’s nothing like you’ve ever done,” the friend said. Dave follows, “This season was my first season in 10 years that I did not return to the river.” If you’re counting along, that’s 40-plus years in law enforcement.

Two-Up

When it comes to motorcycles, Dave has a long and storied history with Honda. “I came up through the ranks with the Sears Moped, the Honda 90, the Honda Dream and the Scrambler. When I went to college I had the Superhawk, but moving away, getting married kinda put the brakes on that adventure for a while.”

So to the side went that hobby, and instead it was on to other things: work, kids, family, all that stuff. But when their daughters went off to college, that bug crept back into his life. “He said, ‘I want to get a bike,’ and I said, ‘Go ahead,’” Gwen recalls. “I figured he was going to find a Harley. He went and found a Wing.” That bike was an ’84 GL1200, blue, with low mileage. They took it out all over the place, making new friends and having adventures along the way. It was a lot of fun.

At one point, the two decided to go on a vacation to the Florida Keys, but they didn’t want to ride all the way there from Illinois, so instead they rented a GL1500 locally. The two fell in love with the newer bodystyle, so when they got home they started looking immediately for a new Wing until they found a ’94 GL1500 that they would give a home. “We put almost 150,000 miles on that bike,” he says, taking them all across the country in the process. They triked it as well, which became their first experience riding on three wheels.

Two years ago, they decided that they could afford a new bike. They went to Niehaus, did some research and after a few months of picking and choosing their options, they came home with a GL1800 trike. “It’s also changed me,” Gwen says. “I probably would say ‘Let’s go for a ride’ more often than he might. I’m ready to get on and go and I could spend days on it — doesn’t bother me at all. Totally different mentality on a trike.” They also bought a Bushtec trailer around the same time, so today they’re ready to go whenever and wherever.

Future Proof

Today, Dave and Gwen enjoy their retirement and their time on the bike with a renewed vigor. Gwen, because of the additional comfort and safety that comes with riding on three wheels, and Dave because he’s finally not working anymore. Although it does tend to be a running theme that he’s a bit of a workaholic, he assured me that he’s not going back to work anytime soon — after all, he spends most of his time on GWRRA.

If you see the two of them on their white GL1800 trike cruising to a show, riding to an event or just taking the scenic route, make sure to say hi. Dave may seem a bit intimidating at first, but don’t let that throw you off. He’s just a big teddy bear on the inside, albeit one that knows how to handle a weapon and take down a criminal in short order.


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