New Orleans is built partially below sea level. Occasionally Mother Nature takes a swipe at the Gulf Coast and on August 29th 2005 she landed a solid punch. New Orleans got hammered by hurricane Katrina. Bummer! When the sea kicks your ass it’s a bad day and my heart goes out to the people who lost loved ones or property in the disaster.
Now for the part where I get all non-PC. From the moment the storm made landfall, blame was assigned to virtually anyone on earth who wasn’t actually a resident of New Orleans. Inexplicably George Bush got plenty of it. I doubt the President has magical powers over the weather but apparently no drywall in New Orleans was damaged but that Bush caused it. Listening to the news I got a malady I call “Gripe Fatigue”. After the fiftieth time I’d been presented with some clueless rube (who has never left their neighborhood much less the city) bitching about who was responsible for all maladies in their life, I tuned out. If you think the urgent infusion of truckloads of money will make New Orleans into heaven on earth you’re incorrect. (Giving me money, however, is a very good idea so send that check right away!) Meanwhile I couldn’t ignore the fact that hurricanes happen every year and the city just happens to be built under sea level. Let me repeat that last part; under sea level. Aren’t storms in the Gulf of Mexico to be expected; like blizzards in Alaska or heat in Phoenix?
Luckily folks rose to the occasion and faced a challenging time with dignity and resolve. Just kidding; they went apeshit. FEMA trailers and the Mayor’s insistence that God wanted the city rebuilt with the proper racial mix and guns seized from civilians and looting made me wonder if we’re all just animals. Surely some residents had the good sense to get out of Dodge before the shit hit the fan but I never heard about them. Too many losers cowered and bitched and blamed Bush. The deplorable lack of self reliance filled me with despair. Sadly, Katrina is merely an example. Every year in many locations for many reasons voices cry out that they are in misery and it’s everyone’s fault but their own.
If you knew nothing more than the Katrina saga you’d conclude that America is totally hopelessly irretrievably dependent and inept. But wait! There’s a counterpoint to the blame everyone else game I associate with Katrina. Bikers!
Every year, like the migration of a great amusingly chaotic species, well over half a million leather clad yahoos on motorcycles descend on remote little Sturgis, South Dakota. I’ve been there too. It was like the bar scene from Star Wars but with more boobies and louder machinery.
I enjoyed the partying and general mayhem but I also gained a new source of patriotic pride. It’s heartening to witness a multitude of bikers drifting in from all over the continent merely to built a city out of beer cans and noise. There is no Federal Program to subsidize motorcycle based frivolity, so by some points of view Sturgis shouldn’t exist. But its there in all it’s leather clad glory! Many hundred thousand men and women and kids and dogs and bikes and Elvis impersonators and drunks and mechanical wizards on custom bikes and t-shirt sellers and scantily clad women and ugly old farts and silly dentists and genuine hoodlums and every piece of humanity across the spectrum. All self motivated. Nobody forced to go. No tax dollars needed. No FEMA trailers. No blaming whichever party is in office. No bullshit.
This year they may break 750,000 participants; all of whom have deployed a considerable outlay of logistical, financial, and personal resources. Consider what you need. Motorcycles are big expensive powerful machines that don’t come cheap and if you go to Sturgis without one you’re a big whiny loser. Nobody goes there without a ride and rides aren’t free. Every bike is privately owned and operated. Fewer subsidies are expended on the half million bikes in Sturgis than on a dozen Priuses shuffling around Starbucks. (And just for the record motorcycles can be shockingly fuel efficient. So you can be “green” and still scare the shit out of the neighbors. Win win!)
Money alone doesn’t get you there. You either ride there (I did!) or (if you’re a poser) trailer your motorcycle. Riding means piloting a powerful rumbling machine hundreds of miles in the heat and wind and noise and bugs and loving every minute. Ralph Nader weeps when he thinks of all those citizens not wearing seatbelts. Can’t operate a clutch? Don’t like the heat? Miss the safety of your Volvo? Stay home! I don’t know what portion of bikes are trailered (my motorcycle would be insulted if I put her on a trailer!) but even trailered bikes represent considerable resources. (You’re still a wuss for not riding!) Got no truck and don’t want to ride? Stay home with your momma!
There is no light rail. No metro-bus. Obama won’t airlift your motorcycle for you. One way or another you drive your ass to the middle of nowhere all by your damn self. You pay the maintenance of all that machinery. Gas and insurance and tires and helmets and skull motif chrome keychains and silly bandannas and everything else are purchased with your cash. Don’t ask FEMA. Can’t afford it? Stay home with the kiddies.
Nor is it a visit to the Hilton. The majority camp in the middle of fields in a place that doesn’t even have trees. You bring your own food or pay for burgers and beer and meals and beer and trinkets and beer and concert tickets and beer. You set up tents or reserve overpriced hotels years in advance or just pass out in the grass. (I had a tent.) Neither FEMA nor the president is flying out to a field in South Dakota to tuck you in. If it’s windy it’s windy. If it rains you get wet. If it’s hot you sweat. Most people sleep on the dirt and that’s that.
All this…and not a single tax dollar. Every participant is a volunteer. Everyone is skilled enough to handle a hefty bike, responsible enough to amass the money they’ll need, and tough enough to sleep on the ground and call it a party. In short they’re a nation of silly but consenting and fully self-reliant adults roaming around in loud mechanical packs. So long as America still has goofy hordes that do something as improbable (and spectacular) as to amass an army of motorcycles in the empty prairie just to party we’re on the right track. Bikers give me hope that our society is not yet fully spineless. Have a great vacation riders!