Bike Week is here again at Daytona Beach in Central Florida - it's a cold, rainy day but the air is warmed with the roar of motorcycles. It's Thursday. The madness will start building to a crescendo this weekend, continue all of next week, reach an unbelievable peak on the following Friday and Saturday. Everybody peels out of here on Sunday, ten days from now. That's Bike Week, one of the biggest events in the HD skull and crossed pistons world.
Ever since a young Marlon Brando played a biker in The Wild One, there has been an image which has evolved with the times - today's biker is now pictured with black leather and chains, facial hair and dark shades, a bleach-blond momma in a thong and chaps riding pillion and a get-the-hell-outta-my-way-dude attitude.
Some of it is true. Maybe a lot of it is true. A few years back, residents of our fair city were getting a bit fed up with the guys and gals on hogs. The noise, the beer-swilling, the near-nudity. The traffic. The sheer animal nature of it all. Let's face it : little old ladies with blue-rinsed hair become anxious and even upset when a swarm of heavily-tattooed Bubbas surround them at a stop light.
Some skillful massaging by the pre-Bike Week coverage in our local newspaper planted the idea that many of the hirsute owners of these expensive two-wheel monsters were really doctors and lawyers from "up North". BS! The dinner conversation in Hawg Heaven is not about torts and trials. That fist clutching a longneck is not a surgeon's well-manicured hand.
Experience has shown that the average Bike Week visitor is a law-abiding citizen, often a skilled blue collar worker. He loves his bike and loves to ride. He wants to check out the new bikes, to see and be seen, do a bit of partying, catch up with his buddies from previous years. Maybe he will pick up a leather jacket or a pair of quick-detach saddlebags at one of the booths that proliferate in the tent cities erected overnight on every vacant lot along the main routes.
But the old imagery persists. This year the local newspaper printed pictures of workers erecting chain link fencing around downtown parks. It was reported that the City Council approved a Bike Week permit to a South Atlantic Avenue bar whose owner wanted to feature special events. The bar's plans were finally approved when the owner cut his patron maximum from 200 to 150, reduced his hours from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. to noon - dusk, and agreed there would be no outdoors sale of alcoholic beverages. He also agreed to fence off his property at least 100 feet from Atlantic Avenue. The modus operandi this season seems to be "containment".
Here are several stories showing another side of Bike Week participants, one from our local paper, the rest from personal observation in past years.
In 2003 the homeless were interviewed for their reaction to Bike Week. One can collector, Debbie G., said,
"Listen, they're great people. We eat good in Bike Week. I keep pulling fried chicken out of the trash barrels on Main Street. I found a piece of ribs and sold them for $10," she added, "that covers my smokes for a week." And one biker gave her a crisp $5 bill because "she was honest - she wanted it for beer."
"It takes a lot of beer to live in the woods", Debbie said.
Bike Week means additional income for street people like Debbie. She normally gathers about 32 pounds of cans a day, yielding her $11.20. A busy day when the bikers are in town could bring as much as 60 pounds, which translates into more than $21.
A black-clad biker walked into AA's Intergroup retail outlet and wanted to buy a large print edition of the Big Book. The volunteer on duty said,
"It's really big and it weighs about three pounds. Why don't you get the little travel edition?"
"I need the large print one," the biker replied, "it's a present for my grandmother. I'm 3rd generation AA."
This was no surprise to the volunteer. For weeks before Bike Week, Intergroup receives calls from all over the United States, asking for meeting information. One AA meeting, Sunrise, is held outdoors on Sunday morning at a riverside park. The parking lot reverberates with the sound of engines. At the end of the meeting, 200 plus bikers stand in a circle, holding hands while they recite The Lord's Prayer.
Overheard in "Books-a-Million" where two out-of-town bikers were inspecting a flashlight gadget that clipped onto a book so the reader would not disturb a bed partner. One biker said to the other,
"You know, that's the up side of being divorced. I can read in bed any time I want to without disturbing someone else."
Finally, a story from my friend, Helen :
"I grew up in Daytona Beach. Every February my church would put on a pancake breakfast the last Saturday morning of Bike Week. All of us pre-teen kids would go into the campgrounds where the bikers were staying and sell tickets for the breakfast. We'd go early in the morning, when they were just crawling out of their tents and campers. They waited for us every year and always tipped us. They'd ask, 'What is your church raising money for this year?' We loved it, and could hardly wait for Bike Week to come around."