Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Wild One Lives: the Hollister Biker Rally

The Hollister, California biker rally takes place this weekend, and the rumble of thousands of Harleys can be heard in the streets. Bikers come from all over to attend the Hollister biker rally, some traveling hundreds of miles.

The biker rally in Hollister started in 1947 in what is now referred to as "the incident." Thousands of bikers descended on the town for the 4th of July celebrations, got roaring drunk, covered the town about three feet deep in empty beer bottles, beat each other up, beat townsfolk up, belched a lot, slept on people's lawns, rode their bikes into restaurants and broke the furniture, and made general nuisances of themselves. The police were outnumbered and finally had to bring in police forces from neighboring towns to push the bikers out, like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

"The Incident" led to a short story about bad bikers, which led to the movie "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando. The movie was released in 1954 and starred Brando and Lee Marvin as a rival motorcycle gang leader. Here's how a biker website, Custom Motorcyles, describes the incident:

History of the 1947 'Battle for Hollister'
The town's mythical status as a July 4 refuge for the 'one-percenters,' outcasts, and outlaw biker misfits began on July 4th, 1947, when some 4,000 bikers, led by the 'Boozefighters Motorcycle Club' and the 'Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington,' descended on the town for a three-day drunk-fest, during the AMA sponsored 'Gypsy Tour' race held outside of town.

At the request of the Hollister police department's seven deputies, the California State Highway Patrol imposed martial law. Over a three day period, approximately sixty people were injured in the malay.

Of the 1947 incident, Life Magazine described the event as a "cyclist's holiday," but the subtext of the article showed a darker side, telling of outlaw bikers "racing their vehicles down the main street and through traffic lights," as they "rode into restaurants and businesses, breaking furniture and mirrors."

In the article, the only explanation for the rowdy behavior came from one of the participants, stating: "we like to show off."

A San Francisco Chronicle reporter photographed the iconic (but allegedly staged) shot of a drunken biker teetering on his Harley Knucklehead bobber, surrounded by broken beer bottles. In response this indelible negative imagery, the AMA responded with the explanation that the mayhem was not committed by the 99% of mainstream cyclists" who are law-abiding citizens, but by the last "one percent."

Hollister and 'The Wild One'
The town's mythical status as a July 4 refuge for the 'one-percenters,' outcasts, and outlaw biker misfits was codified in the 1954 Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin movie 'The Wild One.'

One of the scenes I liked best in the movie has a pretty girl asking the Marlon Brando character "What are you rebelling against?" He replies, "What've you got?"

Nowadays the bikers are a lot more polite. The city welcomes them. You see signs for "Biker Breakfasts" put up by restaurants and "Welcome Bikers" signs in the roads approaching town. Motorcycle manufacturers bring in their latest models for display; streets are closed downtown to all but foot traffic and motorcycles; booths are erected everywhere to sell food, bike gear, accessories and clothing. The streets are lined with thousands of Harleys, their gas tanks painted in bright colors and impressive art. Biker chicks walk around in plunging necklines. You can even buy hand-rolled cigars, rolled while you wait. Hey, these last two items always pique my interest.

More important, the bikers are largely a patriotic lot. Bikes with American flags or POW-MIA stickers are common.

This year the city decided to hold the rally on the weekend following July 4th, to save money on overtime pay for the police. What started out as a drunken brawl 61 years ago has become a commercial street fair. And it ain't half bad.

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