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Ponch Rides into Town to Celebrate Harley-Davidson's 110th


In honor of Harley's 110th anniversary, some big names and thousands of motorcyclists are storming the city. One of the big names: Erik Estrada.

Erik Estrada comes to Milwaukee to help celebrate Harley-Davidson's 110th anniversary.

Best known for his role as Ponch on CHiPs (1977-1983), Estrada has become a cultural icon. Estrada, who took part in festivities at Milwaukee's House of Harley dealership, grew up in Harlem and wanted to be a cop when he grew up, inspired by a man and role model his mother was dating. But once he got to high school, he met a girl who was in the drama club. What better way for Estrada to get to know this girl than to join drama club? Once he got in, he was hooked…on the profession, that is.

After having various acting gigs for seven to eight years, Estrada landed the role as Ponch on "CHiPs," a show about California Highway Patrolmen that he says was beneficial for everybody involved. He was able to get his mother out of Harlem and into a better living situation and it gave him celebrity that he still puts towards the common good.

Estrada points proudly what he describes as the integrity and good morals on display in "CHiPs" - the police never drew their guns, there was no swearing, and no graphic violence.   It was a very family-friendly show:

“They sat with their moms and dads, their brothers and sisters, relatives, and remember warm, fuzzy, cozy times,” says Estrada. “And that affects them, too. That’s one of the lasting effects it has.”

The show, Estrada feels, showed the audience how to be the good guy.

That's in contrast, he says, to the cop shows of today.  "Nowadays, everything is desensitized," he says.  "They have to have things that are sensationalistic.  You gotta see the gun drawn, you gotta see the bullet penetrate the flesh, and blow blood all over the place."

Since "CHiPs" ended its run 30 years ago, Estrada has held roles in several reality television series and Spanish-language telenovelas.  But more recently, life has imitated art imitating life: he's been deputized to work on Internet crimes against children by the Bedford County (Virginia) Sheriff's Department.

But his trip to Milwaukee and the Harley-Davidson 110th anniversary festivities was geared towards people with fond memories of his time on TV, riding a motorcycle.  His role on "CHiPs" marked the first time he'd ridden a motorcycle, but it certainly wasn't the last - he currently belongs to two motorcycle clubs in California.