Rebuttal to Steve Gordon's Hit Piece

Unpublished; written July 11, 1996
Dear Editor:

When I read Steve Gordon's July 8th editorial response to my July 3rd Community Forum piece, it made me wonder if this was the same Steve Gordon who used to write the "On Liberty" column for your paper.  While I might not have agreed with all of them, they were at least logical, well-thought-out pieces.  His latest editorial is nothing but a hit piece.    

Steve called my letter "snotty"; how would he describe HIS letter?  Vitriolic, hypocritical, condescending, and immature are some adjectives that come to my mind.  I wished he would have taken his own advice and talked to me before he attacked me -- even going so low as to include a reference to my mother.

His seven paragraph editorial contained four devoted to personal attacks on me, two hypocritically telling me to meet bikers when he has never met me, and one that addressed a minor point I raised in my piece. 

I'll address the only relevant point he made first.  He claimed that I used a reference to Tailhook as proof that the same thing could happen in Hollister. But the point -- as my piece specifically stated -- was that if our "Top Guns" can become a drunken mob, is it unreasonable for people to worry that bikers might, too?  I didn't say the bikers WOULD become a drunken mob, I was merely saying that I can understand why people might worry.

Steve also claimed that I "bashed" people in my editorial.  That is just not true; I did not bash anyone, either individually or collectively.  The closest thing to a bash was when I said Ernie Castillo should "get real" when he claimed people were worried about bikers sleeping on their lawns, when in fact they're worried about far more important issues.  I wouldn't call that a bash, but maybe overly sensitive people would.  Regarding bikers as a whole, I specifically said I didn't think all bikers were bad.  So where's the bashing?

I called Steve to discusss his editorial with him, and he said that I was accusing the owners of the San Andreas Brewery and Johnny's of being irresponsible, and that was bashing.  That was certainly not my intent.  If Bill or Charisse feel that selling Biker Beer, limiting their menues or converting them to feature all alcohol will make them money, more power to them.  I'm a capitalist, and if they can make money, go for it.  So if Bill or Charisse thought I was claiming they were acting irresponsibly, I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.

The point was that if people who know and cater to bikers are going to increase the alcohol parts of their menues, the image of bikers won't be improved.  If Charisse (for example) had said she planned no changes to her menu because bikers don't drink any more than the average client, that might be evidence that some people's fears that bikers drink too much (and then fight, destroy property, etc.) were off-base.  I was simply pointing out that their actions reinforce the stereotype, which I thought was made perfectly clear when I asked "Is this the image bikers really want?"

As long as I'm on the topic of alcohol, let me address the outright lie that I have a problem "with alcohol being used, anywhere, anytime".  This will certainly come as a surprise to the bartender who always knows to bring me a Corona when I stop at a local watering hole on the weekend.  I love beer, and have no problems with anyone drinking.

What I DO have a problem with is when people drink too much and either get into fights or destroy property.  Certainly there are many types of people who drink too much and get into fights, but like it or not, bikers have the reputation (at least among some non-bikers) of doing that regularly.  This is not just some old stereotype from 1947; just look at any movie or TV show where the hero goes into a biker bar.  I'm not saying the stereotype is right (take note of that), but it exists, and people's perceptions affect how they will react to a given situation.  If that's all people know of bikers, how can you expect them to react when they're told 20,000 or 100,000 bikers are coming to their small town?

That's why I wrote my Community Forum piece -- to try to help planners of future events help people get over those stereotypes.  I think the Free Lance made a poor choice of title ("Bikers Ignore Out Concerns"), though.  I would have titled the piece "Bikers Can Work With the Community", but I still think all of my major points -- plan first, announce later; don't alienate us from the start; plan an event we can support; start small; and don't mislead us with statistics and false arguments -- are valid. 

In fact, the events of the past weekend help confirm that I was at least partially right.  I think the past weekend's events went so smoothly in part because the event WAS small (albeit inadvertently) -- which was my fourth point.  And the July 8th Free Lance headlines said that the bikers were bored and wanted better planning next year -- part of my first point.

I was hoping that anybody planning a motorcycle event would realize that bikers have a bad image, and that the points I listed would serve as a guide to working with the community to help change that image over time.  If anyone interpreted it as anything other than that, please re-read the editorial in the spirit of constructive criticism before attacking it.

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

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