For his 55th birthday, Cleveland antitrust lawyer Don Scherzer gave himself a present. It wasn’t a new set of golf clubs or an exotic vacation. Scherzer treated himself to a beat-up 1988 Oldsmobile.
It was perfect. Because, although Scherzer deals with the starchiest of white-collar crime, he had decided to compete in the dirtiest of high-impact sports: demolition derby.
His wife, Toni, a high school tennis coach, was appalled. “In her schoolteacher voice, she said, ‘You’re an idiot,’” Scherzer recalls.
Toni’s displeasure intensified when a mechanic reassured her that the derby was safe and, anyway, there’d be an extinguisher on hand to put out fires. That’s when Toni started crying, Scherzer says.
She eventually came around, albeit with reservations, and even helped decorate the “Scherz Mobile,” an Olds Delta 88 with a painted-on license plate that read “LTIG8R.”
The demolition derby requires that vehicles be stripped of their windshield, headlights and even license plates before competition. The driver whose car is still running at the end wins. “Clearly, not a lot of people with sense do this,” Scherzer says.
The oldest competitor by about 30 years, he was also the most prepared — thanks to Toni. “They’re in shorts and T-shirts, and I’m in fire-retardant overalls with gloves. It was hysterical what she made me do.”
The amateur competition took place at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in the summer of 2004. Scherzer placed fourth out of 10 and realized that getting banged into didn’t feel bad at all. “It was a rush. It was fun,” he says. But would he do it again? “Not if I want to stay married.”
His big idea for the summer of 2005 met with a good deal more enthusiasm on Toni’s part. Scherzer and daughter Gabe (short for Gabrielle) rode bicycles across the U.S., dipping their rear wheels into the Pacific Ocean on May 15 and arriving at the Atlantic on July 1 for a ceremonial end-of-the-ride dip of their front wheels.
Along the way, they admired gorgeous scenery; cursed the heat, headwinds and hills; and embraced M&Ms as energy food. They stood on the corner in Winslow, Ariz., made famous by the Eagles; bought T-shirts and postcards in Hooker, Okla.; and cruised by the Gunsmoke Campground in Dodge City, Kan.
Scherzer kept in touch through e-mail from his BlackBerry and by telephone. After a day’s ride, he’d call and say, “I’m out of breath, but I’m living. I’ll talk to you later when I can breathe.”
The trip was organized by CrossRoads Cycling Adventures, which planned the route, arranged for lodging and meals, and transported luggage, among other services. Riders who got fatigued or hurt from the 80-mile-a-day pace could hop on the Support and Gear wagon for a respite from the road. Scherzer took advantage of it on occasion, but some riders, including 21-year-old Gabe, made it all 3,403 miles as members of the exclusive EFI (“Every F—ing Inch”) club.
Of the 35 people who started the trip, 29 finished. Scherzer relished the challenge as well as the opportunity it offered to do something completely different.
A 1975 graduate of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a partner at Roetzel & Andress, Scherzer specializes in complex business and commercial litigation and white-collar criminal matters, with a focus on antitrust, trade regulation, distribution issues, and environmental and securities litigation.
He’s a huge believer in community service and has served as trustee and officer of numerous civic and nonprofit organizations, including his current three-year term as chairman of the board of the Montefiore nursing home. “It’s very important to help those less fortunate,” he says. While he has held that view as long as he can remember, his cross-country trip reinforced it. “I think it centered me. It put my life in perspective.”
Law is stressful, he says. “We fight with the other side, we fight with our clients, we fight with judges.” Even so, “I got to ride a bike across America. I’ve got nothing to complain about.”