Monday, May 09, 2005

This sucks

A federal court judge has granted the NAACP's request for an order enjoining the city of Myrtle Beach for routing traffic differently during black bike week than it does during (mostly white) Harley-Davidson week.

I'm not an NAACP-basher by any means, but anyone who lives here will attest that traffic patterns ARE different between the two weeks. They're both basically clusterfucks as far as traffic and noise are concerned, but black bike week is a much bigger clusterfuck because the black bikers tend to, well, cluster, in a smaller geographic area. I'm not sure that the city's plan of routing traffic one way on Ocean Boulevard is the best solution to the black bike week traffic, but I think the city can justifiably point to a race-neutral reason for doing it.

The plaintiffs and the NAACP also sued a number of local businesses, motels and restaurants, alleging that their practice of closing during all or a part of black bike week is discriminatory. Again, as someone who lives here, I don't think that's the case; at least not for all the businesses. The traffic is so bad that their employees simply can't get to work. And many of them were getting no business from the black bikers anyway - staying open was a guaranteed money-losing proposition. Some years back, just when black bike week started to take off and draw masses of people, some friends of mine who play in a band had a gig at a club on the north end of Myrtle Beach. They drove up there, sat in traffic for HOURS, and when they finally got to the club (very late), no one was there. The owner told them most of his employees couldn't get to work, and he didn't have any customers, so he decided to shut down.

Now you know how I feel about white people (they suck, in my opinion), so if I thought the closings were motivated by racism, I wouldn't hesitate to say so. And I wouldn't be surprised if plenty of people in Myrtle Beach are stone racists. But I don't think that's the reason black bike weekend is viewed differently by many of the residents.

When I first came to Myrtle Beach, black bike week wasn't such a big deal. It was, as I recall, just a bunch of middle-aged black guys from motorcycle clubs in neighboring states. They'd come to Atlantic Beach, the erstwhile "Black Pearl," and race their bikes up and down the main drag and eat barbecue. They didn't inconvenience anyone. But shortly after I came here black bike week somehow metastasized into a massive Freaknik-type event with hundreds of thousands of young black kids on rice-burners, shrieking up and down Highway 17. And then when the traffic got too thick, creeping slowly up and down Highway 17. I remember going with a friend to a Memorial Day cookout in North Myrtle Beach a few years ago; this might have been the same year my musician friends found their gig cancelled. Anyway, it was early afternoon, and we got stuck in traffic. It took us two hours to go three miles in North Myrtle Beach. It was a fantastic spectacle - the bikes were beautiful and colorful, and so were the women. Every other bike sported a gorgeous babe in neon hot pants or a bikini and high heels. That's right, high heels, on a motorcycle. It was entertaining as hell, but still: Nobody wants to sit in a car, going nowhere, for two or three hours. That was the last time we ever tried to go anywhere north of Surfside Beach during black bike week.

Black bike week's never bothered me - I live in Murrells Inlet, and we don't get that many black bikers down this way (the Harleys are another story; I'm sick of them and their status-conscious meathead unskilled riders). But the new young crop of black bikers quickly got a rep among locals for being jackasses to waitresses and waiters, not tipping, and making a huge mess. Restaurant owners decided in advance to close that week, rather than deal with the hassle. A friend of mine who owned a motel in the middle of Myrtle Beach found that he had to spend entire weekends policing the property - unless someone actually STOOD there the whole weekend, the bikers would park on the property and block the motel guests' cars. And they'd have sex on the motel pool's lounge chairs. In broad daylight. Then they'd whiz in the pool. Without getting in it.

I think it was around about this time that the local paper, The Sun News, stopped calling it "black bike week" and started calling it "Memorial Day Biker Weekend."

It is true that some Myrtle Beach residents, in my experience, are all too willing to chalk up all this behavior to the race of the bikers. In other words, yes, we have plenty of racists here. (More than our share, perhaps - we get a few Northern racists who retire down here and then are surprised and disappointed to find that we let black folks use the regular drinking fountains and restrooms.) I myself always thought the raucous behavior was a function of the youth of the new group of black bikers. Anytime you get 300,000 21 - 24-year-olds of any race crowding into a beach town, well, you're going to have some unseemly behavior. Behavior that would make the Bush twins blush. Unfortunately, it gives the racists an excuse to bash black people, and it turns off the people who wouldn't otherwise give a damn what color the bikers are. In my humble white-person-hating opinion, if the black bikers would just clean up their act a little, and TIP THEIR DAMN SERVERS, they'd meet a much warmer welcome here. The one color that everyone in Myrtle Beach can appreciate is green.

Hey, it worked for the Harley riders, back in the days when they were actual grizzled relics of biker gangs and not the bunch of burr-headed Harley-Davidson-trademark-gear-wearing goatee-sporting steroid-pumped don't-know-how-to-ride trailer-their-bikes-here-behind-their-SUV assholes. Back when Harley week was just "bike week" and before it became completely Harley-branded and yuppified, it was viewed with apprehension by some people who remember the police getting into a shootout with some Hell's Angels years ago. But the bikers were for the most part on their best behavior; even the most raggedy and frightening-looking ones were unfailingly polite and tipped generously. I know, because I was tending bar. I loved the bikers because we made lots of money off them, and they were easy to deal with. OK, there was the occasional drunken bar brawl, but it wasn't a constant thing. I would take a biker over a Shriner any day (bike week used to fall at the same time as the Shriner convention and the hairdresser's convention. For a week, the town would be full of old-style bikers, Shriners in their fezzes, and hairdressers. The place has gotten so big now that those people would just get lost in the crowd now . . .)

So. My point, and I DO have one, is that the gang-fighting scary white bikers ingratiated themselves with the locals by behaving, and by dropping a lot of money here, and I believe the black bikers could do the same thing. Just TIP, fellas. Tip your hard-working server. If you can't affort to tip, you shouldn't go to a restaurant. Just eat a ham sammich out of your cooler. IMHO, as they say on the Net.

Oh, and stop banging on the chaise lounges, in front of the chirren, for the love of Bejus.

Disclaimer: When I refer to "black bikers" generally in this post, I don't mean, of course, EVERY SINGLE black biker. Some of them, the majority in fact, are perfectly law-abiding nice people who might even be good tippers. It's just that the substantial numbers of jerks are what people tend to remember, alas.


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