Issac Bailey | It’s time for a more textured conversation about Atlantic Beach Bikefest

June 11, 2014 

Issac Bailey, The Sun News Photo by Steve Jessmore

STEVE JESSMORE

Here’s one of the first welcome back messages I received from a reader:

“Glad to hear you have a crippling disease. Obviously the socialist liberal anti white [sic] commie rot in your brain has spread to your body. Maybe you should pray to Obama your god for salvation. Except he doesnt [sic] care about useful idiots like you. Hopefully it afflicts your fingers so you can no longer spew your disgusting racialist commie tripe.”

I’ve been tracking the reaction to the return of the bad old days of the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest. If I responded to this reader the way many responded to Bikefest, it would go something like this: I’d either directly or indirectly implicate all white readers or “white culture” for the action of this reader and the relative few others who think like he does.

I’d exaggerate the harm such readers pose to me, claiming they have the power to ruin my life or the area’s image. I’d ignore the readers who would never think to send such a message, no matter if they were happy I’ve returned or disagree with everything I write.

Broader and historical context would be lost on me.

I’d pretend that the majority of readers didn’t send messages like: “It was wonderful to open the paper this morning and see your column! Hope you are feeling stronger each day.” That message also came from a white reader.

In times of chaos and shock, calm reflection is what’s needed most but often is the last way many of us respond, particularly when irrational, deep-seated fears are superficially validated and the mob eggs us on.

Now that the initial rush has subsided (at least a little) and over-heated press releases sent and stern press conferences held, maybe Grand Strand leaders of all stripes can commit to leading the area through a more rational conversation.

Here are things to consider:

Bikefest and Harley week should not be treated the same. The two events are too dissimilar. A one-way traffic route on Ocean Boulevard may be necessary for Bikefest and not for Harley because of the way the overflow Bikefest crowd congregates in huge, concentrated numbers.

The primary difference between the two events is neither race nor age; it is organization. Harley is organized around the Harley-Davidson motorcycle and was structured by Harley dealers throughout the Carolinas after it got out of hand and included reported rapes, shootings and robberies, as well as an armed standoff between bikers and police in the mid-‘90s.

It didn’t improve (plenty of locals still disapprove of the noise and lewd behavior) because participants grew older; it improved because Harley dealers grabbed the event by its collar, knowing that if they didn’t, their product’s image would take a hit.

In contrast, much of Bikefest has little organization and less to do with Atlantic Beach. The recent shootings and chaos did not occur in Atlantic Beach. Outside of that four-block town, there is no structure and the love of motorcycles is not central. It is a gigantic street party of people who come to do what most of the area’s estimated 16 million annual tourists come to do, break rules, bend laws, and fracture community standards in the name of vacation fun.

This may not be Las Vegas, but tourists, associated with Bikefest or not, come for the thrill of our sin offerings, not the energetic sermons our churches are known for.

Atlantic Beach City Council can cancel the event but a ton of people will show up next year anyway, for the same reason the area has large crowds during the Fourth of July and every other summer weekend.

Bikefest was its most peaceful and least chaotic when Myrtle Beach joined efforts to organize it. Hotels and restaurants put up welcome signs and City Council sponsored Friendship Teams to welcome the participants and provide a reminder that their elders would be disappointed if their behavior got too outrageous. The calls to roll up the welcome mats and disassociate the city from Bikefest over the past few years have backfired; doubling down on that plan next year would only make things worse.

Can we be real, though? Most crime in our area is committed by locals, and those criminals don’t take vacations Memorial Day weekends. I had to chuckle when the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce claimed crime was an issue here only one weekend a year.

Shootings are also not the norm for Bikefest. A Memorial Day weekend shooting several years ago that ended in the death of a Coastal Carolina University student was committed by locals but blamed on Bikefest. This time, according to what we know, a small group from the Charleston area that had been at odds came here during Bikefest to settle their beef with guns, and three people were left dead.

Neither the National Guard, Myrtle Beach City Council nor Gov. Nikki Haley could have prevented such a thing. Had that group chosen the 4th of July weekend to fight and shoot each other, would there have been calls to shut down that weekend?

Lastly, someone please tell the good folks of Charleston to shut the hell up. It takes a lot of nerve to condemn this area and demean our tourists while outsourcing their gun violence to us. Maybe they need to solve their own problems before criticizing us about ours.

Contact Bailey at ibailey@thesunnews.com and read his daily comments online in his “A Different World” blog.

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