Gov. Nikki Haley’s scheduled meeting this week with Atlantic Beach officials highlights part of the absurdity of the discussion surrounding the annual Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest. That small town had no problems during Bikefest yet it is where South Carolina’s governor has chosen to go to urge the town to shut down maybe its only reliable money-maker, and it is being blamed for what happened in the much larger and better-resourced Myrtle Beach.
Maybe Haley is genuinely trying to be the grown-up in the room and is responding to an event that this past May made headlines for awful reasons, including a triple homicide after an ugly fight. Or maybe she’s playing an all-too-common political game in which she gets to look like the tough sheriff-like figure coming to town to clean up the mess no one else is courageous or smart enough to handle.
Either way, her trip underscores the point that too many of our leaders don’t understand this event, though “event” is probably not an accurate term for what happens along the Grand Strand every Memorial Day weekend.
For starters, there were no problems reported in Atlantic Beach this past May. Like in most other years, a large gathering of people packed the town and had fun, if fun means milling up and down those four blocks listening to music, riding and admiring motorcycles, patronizing vendors, talking and checking out young ladies in their bathing suits, among other such things. That’s all. The beach itself isn’t even a huge draw during Bikefest in Atlantic Beach.
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It’s just one big, open street party, or festival, if you will. A different version of it plays out in Myrtle Beach, mostly along Ocean Boulevard, but also Kings Highway and other areas. The purpose of Bikefest participants in Myrtle Beach is the same as it is in Atlantic Beach, to come out and have fun in a big crowd, though Atlantic Beach is more focused on the motorcycle.
That’s it. They are here to enjoy the resort area like other visitors do, some families, some couples, some singles, some small groups of young and old men, some small groups of young and older women, some family reunions, some churchgoers, some volunteers, etc. There is no “typical” Bikefest participant.
There is no centrally-defined Bikefest outside of Atlantic Beach, and that’s what Haley and others seem to need a better understanding of before attempting to offer solutions. I’ve said this before but will repeat it: What happened in May, the multiple shootings, is not a regular feature of Bikefest.
While it makes sense to try to prevent it, it makes even more sense to not over-react to something that could have been a unique occurrence, not part of a deadly trend.
In the years Myrtle Beach spent time and money to help organize Bikefest within its city limits, with new traffic patterns, welcome signs, Friendship Teams, coordination with promoters trying to earn a buck, Bikefest was at its most peaceful and barely noticed by most residents. Atlantic Beach does those things every year – and it has not had the types of problems Myrtle Beach had this past May, a year Myrtle Beach was not actively trying to organize that big mass of humanity as much as it could or did in the past.
If Haley is visiting Atlantic Beach to get a feel for how to organize the event to prevent a repeat of this year’s event, that might be helpful. But if it is just another demand to shut it down because of what happened miles away from Atlantic Beach, she may as well stay in Columbia.
The problems occurred in Myrtle Beach, not Atlantic Beach. That distinction keeps getting lost in the over-heated discussion about Bikefest. But it shouldn’t.