Leatherballs VIII: Myrtle Beach Goodbye

“Not A Dime in 2009” 

Longtime readers may remember a piece I did on Myrtle Beach’s spring bike rally last year, wherein I said this:

“They seem to have killed off The Strip at Myrtle Beach entirely, best I could tell. I saw maybe twenty bikes, tops, out cruising Ocean Boulevard on Thursday night. And the people hanging out on the front porch of the Beach House, another classic bike-babe-and-people-watching spot, all seemed sort of shell-shocked and subdued. The last, in a very literal sense, they had been.

“But fret not, party animals; bikers are a resourceful and tenacious lot, and they will always find a way to cut loose and get down…

“This year’s Spring Rally was number 68, which is kinda hard to fathom sometimes, even for an old dog like me. Cops or no cops, looks like it’s here to stay.”

A big man has no problem admitting when he’s wrong. Well, folks, I was wrong. I was badly, unalterably, inexcusably wrong. I was just as wrong as wrong can be. I couldn’t have whiffed more completely at that fat meatball if I’d been facing away from the plate, blindfolded, and waving a toothpick at it when the pitch came floating in.

Yes, friends, the Myrtle Beach Spring Rally, which had rocked, rolled, and rollicked for 68 action-packed years—and in fact any and all possible future rallies too—is dead.

It was killed off officially by several actions taken by the local city government, who felt the thing had become too large and out-of-control, and too much of a hassle for local taxpayers, to allow it to continue. In response to those angry taxpayers—many of them people who moved to the area only in recent years, knowing full well it was a highly-popular resort area and that crowds, noise, and inconvenience would be part of the bargain—the City Council enacted several draconian new ordinances aimed squarely and solely at discriminating against bikers.

One such is the new city helmet law, which ignores that helmet use by people over age 18 is specifically not required by the South Carolina state legislature and requires them for all riders in the city limits, and which has already sparked at least one protest run. From the Myrtle Beach Sun News:

“The law is one of 15 ordinances that the city passed last fall in an effort to curb the May motorcycle rallies that draw about 500,000 to the Grand Strand and regularly generate complaints from residents about reckless driving, public lewdness and noise.

‘I wore my helmet all the way here—because it’s my choice,’ said (Fred “Fast Fred”) Ruddock, who heads up a group called Bikers of Lesser Tolerance in the Charleston area. ‘It’s the law, not the device, that we oppose.’

‘To me, the helmet issue is just a surface issue,’ said Bruce Arnold, who rode the 650 miles from Miami Beach, Fla., to take part in the protest. ‘To me, it’s about discrimination. It’s about telling a group of Americans that they cannot be in a certain part of America.’”

A-fuggin’-men, brother. In my previous piece on the MYB Spring Rally, I mentioned that it had always been my favorite run, and one I made regularly for decades. It’s nothing short of infuriating to see such a fine old tradition wantonly destroyed by a bunch of biker-hating carpetbaggers, new residents who moved there knowing what they were letting themselves in for, and who now seek to change the character of the community they’ve hijacked for good. It’s an old, tired story all over the South, where we’ve seen wave after wave of newcomers, particularly from the urban Northeast, who, having fouled their own nests and made their decaying cities virtually unlivable, now seek to come down here and transform the South by telling us how we ought to be doing things.

But seeing as how bikers are doers instead of talkers, preferring action to whining, the question inevitably arises: what to do about it? Well, the protest run I mentioned might be one path to take; certainly, it can’t hurt. But it’s my opinion, based on personal observation, that the MYB City Council has already killed off the rally, and it isn’t coming back.

And should we really want it to? If the new residents of Myrtle Beach don’t want us there, why on earth would any of us wish to spend any money there—money they’ll then use to help enforce more anti-biker regulations, money that pays for all sorts of projects that will benefit the locals, but that we’ll be denied enjoyment of ourselves? Are we willing to let ourselves be played en masse for suckers?
Here’s part of a forked-tongue statement by Myrtle Beach’s mayor, who obviously would love to have it both ways:

“This was a difficult decision. Myrtle Beach welcomes visitors year-round, but the giant motorcycle rallies simply grew too large. Our staff, residents and businesses strained to keep up with these huge single-focus events. It may surprise you, but our economy is much healthier with a fully diversified visitor base, instead of a concentration on one or two extremely large events.

“Please know that Myrtle Beach is not anti-biker or anti-motorcycle. We want folks to come on the vehicle of their choice and enjoy all of the things Myrtle Beach has to offer. We are ending the motorcycle-related rallies because they grew too big and lasted too long. The huge rallies even kept visitors away from Myrtle Beach, and that’s not good.

“For everyone’s safety and welfare, City Council has added a few new rules and regulations. We believe these new laws will make Myrtle Beach a safer and more friendly destination. For example, with your safety in mind, we now require that all motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet and eye protection. We also have a 1:00 to 6:00 a.m. curfew for everyone under 18.”

“With your safety in mind.” Oh, I like that one. Translation: Come to the beach on “the vehicle of your choice;” bring your wallets and checkbooks. Leave us millions of dollars to play with once your stinking, unsavory carcasses have boogied on down the road back to whatever cave you crawled out of, but we’ll be cracking down on you every minute of your visit here, and we’re going to use the money you spend to hire plenty more cops to keep you in line should you ever be so foolish as to come back again.

Well, screw that, says I.

The Myrtle Beach Spring Rally originated 69 years ago, put together by the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association as a way of expressing gratitude to their customers, and they aren’t taking the snub lying down; they’re doing something about it—namely, taking their business elsewhere, in the time-honored American tradition of voting with your feet, and your pocketbook. From the official CHDDA rally webpage:

“Yes, it is good-bye Myrtle Beach!

The Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association is pleased to announce that our 69th Annual Spring Beach Rally will be held in New Bern, North Carolina.  Mark Cox, president of the association said, ‘We will continue our legacy of 69 years celebrating the oldest, continuous rally by offering our Spring Beach Rally in New Bern”.  Mark went on to say, “This new venue will allow us to get back to basics and offer our existing and new customers a rally experience they will appreciate and with the ability to enjoy the freedom of riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle”.

The Mayor of New Bern, T.A. Bayliss, III, welcomed the rally, “We are pleased and honored that you have chosen to hold your rally in our city, and we pledge our total cooperation in making your rally a most pleasurable and memorable occasion for all in attendance.”

Now THAT’S more like it.

Some folks, including vendors in the Myrtle Beach/Horry County area who stand to lose one hell of a lot of money if bikers band together and refuse to continue pouring their hard-earned cash into a place where they’re patently unwanted, are trying to gin up support for keeping the Spring Rally going, striking back by refusing to enter the Myrtle Beach city limits or patronize businesses located therein. There’s some merit to this idea, but in the end, I think the better idea is to try to make New Bern a success. Yeah, it’s a little more out of the way, but so was Myrtle Beach back when it started. And…c’mon, like Sturgis ain’t? Since when did that matter to all you ironbutts out there, anyway?

It’s clear the New Bern city fathers are pleased to have us, which ought to make it a much more welcoming and enjoyable environment than Myrtle has been for a long time now. This move didn’t just happen overnight; it’s been a long time building, which is pretty obvious to most of us regular attendees. Every year has seen more traffic checkpoints, more harassment stops, more cops, and more hassle generally, culminating in this year’s big kiss-off. I’ll go back to the Sun Times’ report on the protest run for the last word:

“A group of onlookers gathered in a vacant lot just north of the start of Ocean Boulevard to watch the group ride into town, and that’s where the police cars waited, too.

‘I’m just interested to see a lot of bikes,’ said Frances Turner of Ontario. ‘I heard there were going to be 1,000.’

Others waved to the riders as they turned on Ocean Boulevard, giving them the thumbs-up sign.

‘I’m waiting for the police to make fools of themselves,’ said Bill Franolich of Albany, N.Y. ‘I think the law is unconstitutional.’”

Frances Turner is going to have a long wait. Bill Franolich…won’t.

So long, Myrtle Beach, and thanks for nothing. You damned sure ain’t what you used to be, and that’s a shame. Don’t worry, we won’t let the door hit us on the way out.


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