Sunday, August 04, 2013

There Goes The Neighborhood

Red Lodge Riders by mdt1960
Red Lodge Riders, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
My favorite Harley joke...

Q: How is a Harley Davidson like an old dog?
A: They both like to ride in the back of pickup trucks.

Well, the “The Red Lodge Iron Horse Rodeo” has come and gone which means this quiet little mountain town is now in recovery mode from an onslaught of loud motorcycles (mostly of the Harley Davidson variety). I’m happy to report that the Subaru corps of Red Lodge are slowly reclaiming the main drag again. Like a Jekyll and Hyde story, Red Lodge transformed from a quaint and tranquil enclave into a village of chaos and paranoia located next to an easy-escape-penitentiary. Some of the locals compared it to an infestation of cockroaches.

Now that it is history, I find myself questioning the communities that kowtow to the loud Harley events/rallies. Typically we are told that it’s good for commerce, but there are obvious costs in hosting this particular crowd—for starters, extra law enforcement and emergency services are always beefed up when a “rally” comes to town. No doubt, a few watering holes probably do extremely well during these rallies, but one has to wonder how an entire town truly benefits, especially if alienating many of the permanent residents of the community is part of the fallout. And this: might there be other groups a community could cultivate that would generate as much (if not more) commerce without all of the consternation? After all, I don’t recall anyone ever informing me how great the Harley crowd is when it comes to tipping or splashing out with their dough.

As one Red Lodge resident pointed out, “I bet I spend a lot more money in Red Lodge over the course of a year than the average Harley rider that is here and gone for one weekend. Why should I be told to leave for the weekend if I don’t want to tolerate them?”

When walking up and down on Broadway, Red Lodge’s main drag, the rally was akin to a circus freak show. Harley riders and non-riders sit or stand, gawking as the the parade of roaring bikes go by. Often you see the same riders go by several times within the hour. I wonder if they are reliving their teenage years of cruising or making up for the cruising that eluded them as a teenager.

One also has to wonder if the riders see themselves as some modern-day outlaw (à la Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter character) riding into town hoping every local will stop what they are doing while staring with their mouths wide-open.

As long as I’m speculating here, I’ve gathered that many of these riders are likely singing to themselves Bon Jovi’s “Dead Or Alive” as they make that first pass down a community’s main drag.

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride.
I’m wanted dead or alive.
—Jon Bon Jovi.

Too funny.

On a related note, I also found myself chuckling as one rider who was decorated with the obligatory black vest that spelled out “Lone Wolf” on the back—cruising Broadway with all the other bikes. One is hardly a lone wolf if they have to wear a label telling the world such.

One friend asked recently, “If Harley riders are the ideal of American rugged individualism, why do they all wear the same clothing that usually entails some ensemble of a black leather vest with patches, black leather riding chaps and blue jeans, and a black t-shirt (often sleeveless) advertising some Harley Davidson dealership? In reality, they are conformist lemmings.” My suspicion here is if the Grateful Dead groupies were as loud as the Harley crowd, they wouldn’t be allowed in any town.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. My partner simply said it this way, “It’s a chance to dress up in a costume and be someone they aren’t.” In essence it’s a Halloween party on wheels.

Though I’ve never owned a motorcycle myself, I do understand the excitement, passion, and that feeling of being free associated with riding a motorcycle. Perhaps I’ll even try it someday, but what I fail to process is the need to carry out this activity on a piece of equipment that overpowers every other sound including a normal conversation—not to mention the need to rev the engine excessively or when it's really not required at all. Such is hardly a practice of respect or considerations for others—which seems to be sooooo unAmerican these days. As I see it, every time a rider revs their loud Harley Davidson, it is simply an outcry for everyone to look at them. And usually I do—with great disdain. Like a dog barking excessively at us, we all should be encouraged to yell back “SHUT THE FUCK UP” every time a deafening Harley goes by. And, if noisy scooter trash is now permissible in America, then such outspoken replies should be licit as well.

In short, the excessively loud Harley Davidson motorcycle has become the quintessential illustration of today’s loud, overweight, underperforming, entitled and overbearing American. Surely such “audible” gatherings of machines would never have been tolerated in the same way back in the 1950s.

And through it all, somehow this particular loud and unruly group that commonly displays messages like a skeleton’s middle finger on the back of their riding vest, or patches that celebrate guns and death, with grandiose, stereotype depictions of Native Americans is somehow considered patriotic. How is that… because they ride an under-performing, oil-slobbering, gas-guzzling, overpriced and overbearing motorcycle that’s made in America?

When will the noise-based, “look-at-me” Harley contingency finally ride that “Highway To Hell”...and not return?

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