REPORT FROM THE BONE ORCHARD: THE KING IS, IN FACT, DEAD
The contest for the future, if any, of the Myrtle Beach Bike Rally is over. Final score: everybody lost.
The soon-to-have-been 70 years young rally was more or less summarily cancelled by a consortium of city government, disgruntled local cranks, and transplanted Yankees outraged by the fact that the tourist area they had moved to in hopes of quietly living out their declining years was actually known to welcome hordes of free-spending tourists at certain times of year, and that in May, those hordes included—GASP!—bikers.
What’s been left unexamined, and practically unmentioned in all the commentary I’ve seen so far, has been the racial angle. Yes, brothers and sisters, there is one, it turns out. See, each year for the last 26, the week after the Myrtle Beach Bike Rally—which has always been primarily about Harleys, but in recent years has seen a growing influx of annoying rice-grinders—has been the week of Atlantic Beach Bike Week, almost exclusively the preserve of black kids whizzing around on Japanese sport bikes.
Atlantic Beach Bike Week has always been known, fairly or unfairly, as a pretty rotten week if you aren’t a black kid whizzing around on a Japanese sport bike. Business owners took to scheduling their yearly vacation-time closing when the black bikers were in town, a recurring problem that eventually got so bad the town’s government had to threaten business owners with sanctions and an ordinance requiring them to stay open for Atlantic Beach Bike Week. There has been talk locally for years now about finding a way to get rid of what is commonly referred to as “Black Bike Week”, and in the end the only way to do that was to get rid of both Bike Weeks. When the transplant population—apoplectic over the noise and general rowdy hoo-raw inflicted on their ersatz-peaceful little retreat (which has for decades seen literally millions of visitors per year, from all over the U.S. and Canada) every year by bikers both black and white—finally reached critical mass, the city council took action to do just that, by enacting all sorts of restrictions and regulations, some of them applying only during the rallies. The message behind them was loud and clear: BIKERS NOT WELCOME HERE. BLACK ONES ESPECIALLY, BUT WHAT THE HELL, WHITE ONES TOO.
How much of the problem with Atlantic Beach Bike Week is based on longstanding—“eternal” would probably be more unflinchingly honest—racial prejudice, and how much on actual, quantifiable bad behavior is of course impossible to know. It’s in the nature of dirty little secrets that they remain both dirty and secret, if not little. And obviously, nobody is much interested in breaking things down statistically by race and date, which would probably get them a big fat lawsuit and/or some sort of penalty from some government harmony-enforcement agency or other, making solid facts hard to come by.
And in the end, that’s not really what matters anyway, although I’ll say I’ve heard rumors of some tentative steps recently taken regarding possible future cooperation between black and white bikers, to see if there might not be a way to get Myrtle Beach to reconsider having cut off its economic nose to spite its quality-of-life face. I’m sure that’s a fine thing and all, but I suspect that the business owners’ reaction to this year’s utter disaster will accomplish much more than any outside efforts will.
And utter disaster it was. The Brittain Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University says hotel occupancy was down 40 percent during the H-D Rally. Occupancy during Black Bike Week was down almost 30 percent. There have been several protests organized and held by both bikers and local business owners, some of them drawing hundreds of angry, newly-impoverished people. A new group, BOOST (Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism), has been formed for now-struggling businesses to rally around. One of its founders, Robert Kelley, owns hotels in Horry County, and had this to say:
“Our main goal is to work with our local officials that wish to work with the business community to try to lessen the impact on residents but not end the rallies. There’s too much money associated with it; there are some people that say we could lose up to half a billion dollars this month, and this is not the type of economy to throw money away (in) right now. We’re working with some other groups that have formed recently on a voter registration drive, we’re going to be knocking door to door, our hotels in our group are going to donate their buses, we’re going to have a couple of pick up points for people in the city to drive them to the polls if they don’t have a car, we’re going to do everything we can to make a better turnout this November”
Kelley says business at one of his hotels on the north end (ie, in MYB’s rivals in North Myrtle Beach, an entity separated from Myrtle Beach not only by several miles geographically, but several light-years in terms of attitude and ambience; those of you who’ve been there know what I mean) was down about 2 percent, while two of his other hotels with Myrtle Beach addresses, but not actually in the city itself, were down 30 percent. That most likely represents a drop in online registrations alone, I’m guessing, since unless a large disclaimer was posted on his website, potential guests booking online and supporting the boycott would likely have given any place with a Myrtle Beach address a miss.
But not to worry, business owners in Myrtle Beach proper: your city government has sprung into action to calm your fears and ease your burdens, in true efficient, effective government style: they’ve raised taxes, a hilariously bumbling response to the catastrophe they created. Yep, after the rallies were over and the magnitude of the economic bloodbath had started to become clear, the city council unanimously approved a 1-cent hike in the sales tax, all funds slated to go to….you guessed it: advertising and marketing to promote tourism. I’ll let Kelly have the last word on that ludicrous folly:
“The state gives Myrtle Beach money to attract tourists; they used that money instead to produce and play radio commercials telling people not to come to town, when business is already suffering.” And now they’re raising taxes on their own, to in effect say of their earlier, “stay away, stay away” campaign: “Umm, never mind.” Only politicians could be capable of conceiving something so completely ridiculous, hapless, wasteful, and self-defeating.
Kelley’s group plans to oppose MYB Mayor John Rhodes’ and other city officials’ bids for reelection by backing strongly pro-growth candidates. With Myrtle Beach’s decision to do away with a 70-year-old tradition affecting not just Myrtle Beach itself, but businesses and towns all up and down the Grand Strand, Kelley’s group might just find its support isn’t strictly local. For example, Ocean Drive Golf Resort, a great old hotel established in 1949 and renovated some years back, is located in the heart of the city of Ocean Drive. It’s the epicenter of the twice-yearly SoS gathering (Society of Shaggers—no, not that kind of shagging; it’s a dance. Yeah, I know, so is the other kind….aw, forget it), right on the oceanfront, complete with a beachfront tiki bar. I’ve stayed there before myself, and if you can get past the whole “Golf Resort” bit, it’s a great place to use as a base of operations/crash pad for your Bike Week revelries.
You might think its physical distance from the MYB brouhaha, along with its reputation as a more quiet, staid, adult sort of joint, would maybe insulate it somewhat from the damage done by the Myrtle Beach city fathers. You’d be wrong about that; a spokesman for the resort, H. G. Worley, says Bike Week was “the worst” since they’ve been in business; “It was an absolute disaster.” He says it’s because of “the negative publicity generated by Myrtle Beach.” And he oughta know.
My guess is that it’s all gonna be too little, too late; as I said last issue, the Myrtle Beach rally is gone, and it ain’t coming back. There were a goodly number of diehards who went down and avoided the Myrtle Beach city limits entirely, stepping around them like a coiled snake in the yard. But as word spreads that we’re just not welcome there anymore, without a major effort from the surrounding towns to welcome bikers, that number will gradually dwindle. And one of the greatest, most venerable old bike rallies in the country will go the way of the Whizzer.