Return of the non-rally
Thousands of bikers… don’t show
Hollister, Calif., July 3–5—“The Hollister 2009 motorcycle rally is cancelled,” or so read the statement issued by the Hollister City Council in February of this year. This was not the first cancellation of this event. The motorcycle trade magazines and internet blogs had different things to say, however. Many were of the opinion that it didn’t matter whether there was an official local government sanction of the event or not. The bikers were going to show up regardless. Thunder Press even published a number of articles and letters from readers saying the very same thing. Well they were right… and wrong.
As most of you who have followed the ongoing Hollister Rally saga know, the biggest monetary hurdle has been the inordinate payment demanded by local law enforcement for policing the rally. The opposition of Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller and San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill to the rally and the bikers who attend the rally is no secret either. Last year’s combined law enforcement bill of $360,000 pretty much ate up the City’s profit, which scares away potential promoters. Selling 10,000 Official Rally T-shirts out of the 40,000 that were printed up last year didn’t help either. I talked with a number of vendors last year who said they would not return for 2009 because the reduced crowds and the increased prices on permits and spaces ate substantially into any profit they might make. No requests for vendor permits during the traditional rally weekend had been received by the City for 2009.
If you think about it though, the event in 1947 didn’t have a Hollister Independence Rally associated with it either. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a number of riders who showed up for “a three-day program of social activities, races and hill climbing events… began ‘taking over the town’ the evening of July 3.” The Chronicle estimated the crowd grew as high as 4,000 people before the riot was over. By the way, they only needed 40 officers to quell the riot. All they did was herd the group into the area between 5th and 6th Streets on San Benito Street and ordered the band to play until everyone calmed down. That’s certainly not how the movie played out, huh, Johnny? Police Commissioner Charles Krieger stated after the riot, “It’s not going to happen here again,” and Chief Miller and Sheriff Hill are determined to keep that promise.
So what was on tap for this year? The Tophatters were having a party starting at the Whiskey Creek Saloon in downtown Hollister, the Boozefighters were raffling off a custom motorcycle at another downtown watering hole, the fabled Johnny’s Bar and Grill, the Gypsy Motorcycle Tour was back at Bolado Park, and Bill Enders from Bill’s Custom Motorcycles in Seaside had his yearly run from his shop to lunch at Whiskey Creek.
The wheel count
Friday found me in and around Hollister. I counted about 80 bikes parked in front of Johnny’s, with others occasionally passing through. On Saturday there were no more than 300 in the entire town. As always, the Boozefighters were in town to celebrate their anniversary, which falls on the Fourth of July weekend. This year marked their 63rd year. They were camped outside of town across from Bolado Park. As of Friday night there were only about 100 campers at Bolado. They were planning to raffle off a custom chopper this weekend and also to make a special presentation to commemorate Boozefighters founder “Wino” Willie Forkner, who died in 1997, just before the first official Hollister Independence Rally.
Reverend Ardyss Golden of the Hollister United Methodist Church at 5th and Monterey provided her usual all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Whether there has been an official rally or not, Reverend Golden has done this every year since the Rally started. Saturday morning found me and about 60 other customers eating as much as we could. Reverend Golden commented, “It’s sad. We miss the bikers. We love having them here.”
Then it was off to the Whiskey Creek Saloon two blocks away where I found Nico and Lil’ Jeff from the Tophatters set up in front and a long line of bikers waiting to sign in. For $20 you got a poker card, and a chicken and tri-tip lunch. The prize for High Hand in the poker run was $500 and a gift certificate worth $500 at Hollister-based Corbin. Not bad. I asked Jeff how they could afford to still do it for $20 and he said, “We have a lot of people who donate their time, gifts and places.” The money raised went to their High School Fund for needy students.
The route for today was to leave Whiskey Creek and go to Corbin, Mom and Pop’s Saloon in San Juan Bautista, the Cantina in Tres Pinos, and a final stop at the General Store on Highway 25 in Paicines where the barbecue was served. This Side Up provided the music. This was not a pack ride so once you got your map you were able to hit the road. There were over 300 bikes parked at the General Store by the end of the day.
While I was at Whiskey Creek, Bill Enders rode in with about 80 bikes from Monterey and surrounding areas. I had a chance to talk to Bill about the Rally. In 1996 Bill was a liaison between local law enforcement and the motorcycle community. There were rumors there might be a large event in Hollister that year. Remember the Pre-Rally? An officer called Bill and asked about it. After checking around for a few days Bill reported back that as far as anyone he knew was concerned, there was not going to be a motorcycle event in Hollister, although there was some interest. The only event he knew about was that he and some friends were going to Whiskey Creek for lunch. He had invited everyone he knew and expected there would be about 500 people showing up. The officer commented, “That’s not a ride. That’s an event!” Bill maintained it was only lunch and that they would be there from noon and be gone by 5 p.m. When Bill and his friends rolled past the town clock at noon, there were officers all over town taking down license plate numbers and videotaping the group as they rolled up to Whiskey Creek. Apparently he and his group were the Hollister event that year.
As I was talking with Bill, I noticed a number of bikers putting their pocket knives and other sharp objects in their saddlebags. When I checked into the matter I was told that Hollister officials had enacted a no weapon ordinance just for the weekend and anyone caught with any kind of weapon, including a pocket knife, they would be cited or arrested, depending on the weapon. Many people had seen a sign on one of the traffic light poles at 4th and San Benito. I could not locate a sign so I contacted one of the Hollister Police Department’s finest, Officer Celane. He said the ordinance had peen posted in the paper three days before the event. It wasn’t specifically aimed at the bike rally but applied to other public events as well and only encompassed San Benito Street. He said, “We’re just telling people to put them away.”
The Boozefighters had parked a trailer in front of Johnny’s and on that trailer was a brand new custom motorcycle being raffled off. The proceeds were to go to a Nevada County military family support group in Grass Valley, California. Carl “Big Daddy” Spotts of Boozefighters MC Charter 6 in Grass Valley supervised the build. Assisting him was BFMC member Jeff “Trashcan” Wray. Parts alone value the bike at $25,000, and do not include the hours and hours of labor put in by Carl and Trashcan. The drawing would be held at Johnny’s Sunday afternoon. Ticket sales started last year when the bike was first being constructed and they were still flying out Johnny’s doors. Incidentally, as packed as Johnny’s was most of the day, they only sold about 50 breakfasts on Saturday, their busiest day. Beer was selling much better. Go figure.
The Gypsy Tour Motorcycle Classic at Bolado Park was a lot more event-like. There were over 30 vendor booths, a swap meet, car show, motorcycle show and bands. The bands played all three days and into the evenings, Friday and Saturday. There were at least 200 campers and a few hundred visitors strolled through as well. Admission was $5 per vehicle (no matter how many people you jammed into your sidehack) and camping was $20 a night. There were plenty of food vendors and some nice restaurants in nearby Tres Pinos, so you weren’t going to starve to death.
The really cool part for me was the drag racing on the Grimsley property behind Bolado Park. This was truly a run-whatcha-brung affair. Harleys against Harleys, Harleys against Hondas, Fords against Chevys against Dodges, two-wheel versus four-wheel drive, rock crawlers against mud racers, cars against trucks or ATVs. You name it, it was there, all on an official 1/8 mile drag strip complete with timing lights. Then there was the mud pit. This was the best part. The trucks would make their entry into the pit shooting a huge wall of muddy water 20 feet into the air. One guy made several successful passes through the pit, but on his sixth attempt his truck hit the water, stopped immediately, and the front wheel floated away as one of the white-clad spectators jumped into the middle of it like an inner tube at the lake, turning him completely brown. No one was brave enough to sacrifice a Harley—or even a Honda, for that matter—to the mud pit gods. For those that didn’t want to drag race or take a mud bath, there was also a circle track set up.
Sunday around noon the Boozefighters christened a new memorial box at Johnny’s which contained Wino Willies’ ashes and a photo of Willie with some of the other Boozefighters taken in 1996. One of the fellows in the picture was Snowman from the San Diego Boozefighters Chapter. Snowman was there to lead a toast for Willie. He said, “It’s what we do. Boozefighters up!” The crowd responded with, “Boozefighters up!” and drank to Willie.
Then it was time for the bike drawing. Dago Day, one of the original Boozettes, who was 16 in 1946, drew the ticket. When she looked at the name on the ticket she said, “It’s not mine, damn it.” She gave it to Pizano who announced the winner, Andy Anderson of Grass Valley. Andy was contacted by phone as he had already left. Pizano said, “His wife was screaming so loud in the background I couldn’t hear him.” Personally, I didn’t miss the big crowds, and since it was a non-event, the bikes were able to park on San Benito Street once again and you weren’t tripping over vendor tents and police officers. On that note, police presence was very minimal.
Yes, the bloggers were right. The bikers came in spite of the fact that the Rally had been canceled. But not in great numbers, so the bloggers were wrong, too. As it was, I didn’t count more than 1,000 bikes in Hollister and Bolado Park combined for the three days. Bill Enders brought more bikers to lunch at the Pre-Rally than this year’s event brought to town. Too many unofficial rally years will relegate the Hollister Independence Rally to the “Remember When” category. Just a thought.
I talked with Marlin Moss, a local businessman who was on the original Hollister planning committee. He had plans to put a measure on the ballot in a special election this year that would put the Hollister Independence Rally Committee back in charge of the rally. He hopes to make 2010 an official rally again.