Working with the Community on a Motorcycle Rally

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, July 3, 1998
Dear Editor:

As the zero-hour for any biker festival on the Fourth of July approaches, I thought I'd take the opportunity to offer those supporting these events some contructive criticism on any future events.

1. PLAN FIRST, ANNOUNCE LATER -- It seems the majority of these events, including the three main ones that have been cancelled (Wild Ones, Gypsy Tour Motorcycle Classic, and Seismic Productions), had little if any planning completed. It appears the events were announced before the activities making up the events were planned, before necessary permits were gathered, and, in some cases, before the locations for the events was decided upon.

This is clearly ridiculous. Once an event has been announced, it's hard to put the cat back in the bag. Some bikers will still come, even if there will be NO activities for them. The advocates of these events have implied that trouble will be more likely if there are no activities planned, but if the events hadn't been announced before the necessary steps to hold them were taken, trouble would be even less likely.

2. DON'T ALIENATE US FROM THE START -- Even the motorcyclists admit they have a bad image, but complain that it's undeserved. So why plan an event to celebrate the anniversary of a riot? That's like the Los Angeles Police celebrating the anniversary of Rodney King's beating. And why would Bill Enders plan an event called "Johnny Returns", an apparent reference to Marlon Brando's charcter in "The Wild One"? Is that how bikers try to change their image?

Also, look what the local businesses are planning. Charisse Taylor, the owner of Johnny's Bar and Grill, a place described in the June 27th Free Lance as "popular with the biking crowd", is converting the menu to all beer and alcohol. Ms. Taylor has also hired bouncers to keep alcohol inside the bar. Bill Millar, owner of the San Andreas brewing company, is limiting the menu but relabelling some of his Seismic Ale as "Biker Beer". Is this really the image bikers want?

And last, change the names and symbols of the motorcycle clubs. Names like "Boozefighters" and "Hells Angels" don't make people think of the temperence and religious movements, and seeing bikers with skulls on their jackets can't help but make one think of the Jolly Roger -- the skull and crossbones of the ancient pirate ships. Again, how can we be expected to think bikers have changed if they choose names and symbols designed to frighten people?

3. PLAN AN EVENT WE CAN SUPPORT -- First, make any activity a charity event (at least initially). Bill Enders is donating proceeds from his "Johnny Returns" ride-in to the Hollister Police Youth Activity Fund and the Polly Klaas Foundation. Even though the name of his event is ill-chosen, it sounds like he's at least trying to do the right thing. However, I would prefer to see the money given to all local charities, not the Polly Klass Foundation (even though it's certainly a worthy charity); if you're going to use our town and county, let's keep the money local, too.

Second, realize that bikers do have a bad image, so don't plan an event on a major holiday weekend. Because of concerns of the motorcycle influx, several Fourth of July events have been cancelled, including some for children. This is sad, because, even if there are no problems, our children will be deprived of a fun time.

4. START SMALL -- Have local motorcycle shows downtown where people can learn to appreciate motorcycles and their riders. Note the word "local"; keep the announcement of the event in San Benito County as much as possible so the event won't get too big too fast. Give us time to find out if bikers have changed before planning statewide or national events.

5. DON'T MISLEAD US WITH STATISTICS AND FALSE ARGUMENTS -- In the June 27th Free Lance, Bill Enders claims that because Harley-Davidsons cost between $8,000 and $20,000, high-end professionals are more the exception than the rule. Statistics supplied by Harley-Davidson in the same article claim the average rider is 38 years old and earns $34,300 a year. So? People are worried that many motorcycle clubs are organized criminal organizations; I wonder what the average age and income for people engaged in organized crime is? If someone printed those demographics, it would be misleading about bikers, too, so what's the point? Give us useful statistics; let's see the average number of arrests for Harley riders vs. the general population. I don't think all bikers are bad (the only all-bad group is criminals), but let's see some relevant statistics if you want to quell our fears.

In the same article, Ernie Castillo claims that someone who can afford an expensive motorcycle isn't going to want to sleep on my lawn. Get real, Ernie; I'm surprised a church pastor would even try an argument like that! That's NOT what we're worried about; if someone needs to sleep on my lawn for a night, I'd be glad to help them out if they asked nicely. What people are worried about is drunk bikers wandering our streets; fights breaking out, possibly involving innocent bystanders; traffic jams; and property damage. Will it happen? I don't know, but acknowledge the perception and work to prove it wrong with valid arguments. Don't try to minimize the issue by trying to make our legitimate concerns seem foolish.

Lastly, the same article claims bikers admit "their peers may get rowdy or break the law on the average large-scale run", but then claim that that happens in any type of large gathering. At a City Council meeting, someone claimed that if 25,000 accountants got together, there would be rowdiness, too. Perhaps that's true, but I think other groups would at least follow my first two points -- plan first, and don't alienate us. And I doubt they would have a gathering so large that the projected attendence (initially, 20,000 to 40,000 for this year before the events were cancelled, and 50,000 to 200,000 next year) would be larger than the city (and county in the case of the 1997 projections) the event was held in. The only events that usually do that seem to be biker rallies and rock concerts.

And let's look at the other side of this argument. Let's assume bikers are no more rowdy than the average population. That may just imply that we don't need ANY large gatherings like that here. After all, even a gathering of the supposed best and bravest of U.S. citizens can turn ugly -- remember Tailhook? If U.S. Military personnel can turn into a drunken mob, can you blame people for worrying that bikers will?

It's too late for this year; we can't change what will happen this July 4th. But before any events are held next year, I'd like to urge any organizers of motorcycle rallies to take the above points into consideration. We all have to live together, so let's put our town and neighbors first, ahead of our hobbies and any out-of-town profiteers.

UPDATE: Hollister has held a motorcycle rally every year since 1996. There have not been any major incidents.

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