Every year for the last six or seven a committee of H.O.G. representatives met at the end of the state H.O.G. rally in Williams, Arizona to evaluate the annual event and vote on a venue for the next year . Every year for the last six or seven, they’ve chosen to return to Williams, a pleasant and accommodating little burg on the way to the Grand Canyon. Until last year, when Big John Kohnke, Tuscon H.O.G. Kahuna, dared to suggest it was time for a change. He recommended Tucson – no big surprise there – and they went for it. But what was surprising was the way the city signed on as hosts in a big way. Due in part to their good relationship with the Sunriders, who have organized the Toy Parade here for the past twenty five years and are recipients of the city’s Copper Cactus award for being good citizens who stimulate economic activity. Tucson officially loves bikers. They showed their love by backing this year’s Tucson Thunder Rally to the hilt with downtown street closures, designated motorcycle parking at key sites, a free shuttle bus, and use of the Tucson Convention Center, for example. Mayor Bob Walkup (a Honda rider who says he is a future Harley rider) even led the parade (on a borrowed Harley) despite having undergone an emergency heart related surgical procedure earlier in the week.
Now ya gotta admit that shows true Biker Spirit. City Manager Mike Hein was there as well (on his personal Harley), along with members of the Tucson Police Department showing off their Road King demo bike, which is the first of the new Harley-Davidsons that will soon replace the Kawasaki’s they currently ride.
Official activities commenced Thursday evening with a welcoming party at Tucson Harley and continued Friday night, with downtown serving as the site for a vendors area and a number of music stages, free with official registration. Saturday, festivities centered on TCC arena where TPD motor officers gave an impressive demonstration of skilled riding on a tight obstacle course as well as tips for safe riding. Think you can run from these guys? I wouldn’t recommend it. There was a Harley/Buell bike show and H.O.G. chapters from Arrowhead to Yuma (there ain’t no Zuni chapter yet) competed in bike games inside the arena. An all-woman’s team won the plank walk, possibly due to a female proclivity for cooperative action, or perhaps these ladies were just good with wood. There was also a men’s and women’s tire toss – they both seemed good at slinging rubber, and any more jokes involving sexual innuendo would be lame and obvious when it comes to the weenie bite. Saturday night was capped with a performance by southern rockers Molly Hatchet, and some guys way too young to be Bad Company. On Sunday those able to drag out of bed and mount up were offered an opportunity to participate in a poker run to raise funds for MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association). While most areas and activities are open to all, some are reserved for H.O.G. members. This is after all the Harley Owners Group Rally and they believe in their hearts, no matter what you metric riders say in public, that deep down you really want an HD and will someday step up.
Whatever you ride or which groups you join (or don’t) there was plenty to do for all. The historic Fox Theatre was screening Easy Rider while the Cinema La Placita was showing The Wild Ones. Two art museums offered bike themed exhibits and businesses all over town were hanging out the Welcome Biker banners and laying on specials – mostly on beer – to attract the biker trade. Not a bad way to be treated, really.
I should mention that this was also the weekend of the Tucson Folk Music Festival and these folks felt snubbed as the Mayor and an alphabet soup of bureaucratic committees and commissions failed to recognize their hootenanny as “a major event.” Some wrote letters to the local paper expressing their concern that the pickers and grinners would be drowned out by the throngs of wild-eyed bikers who did indeed make the streets echo with Harley thunder. But while some are certainly loud, they tend to go by quickly, and – don’t tell anyone our secret as we have worked so hard for so long to cultivate this bad boy image – bikers are a diverse and, in many cases, mature group and some I talked to intended to enjoy some folk music while in town. The two groups managed to peacefully coexist and there was no mandolin mauling or banjo bashing that I could see.
The hard work and dedicated effort of H.O.G. and C.O.T. (City of Tucson) would seem to have paid off as the numbers of attendees rivaled those of the event when it was well established in Williams—upwards of a thousand chapter members and at least twice that many riders overall as well as many non riding civilians come downtown to enjoy the show. I observed license plates from all over the country and even Canada as people, especially from the northern climes, decided a weekend in sunny Tucson was just the thing to alleviate seasonal attitude disorder. Then it was time for a bunch of serious-minded Harley Owners to meet in an ultra secret, highly secure environment in a desert setting ringed by high mountains to pick a place for next year’s get together. Don’t ask how I know this stuff – I’m Famous Jake and I have my sources of information. With various government representatives lobbying hard it was close. And the verdict is…. see ya’ll here next year.