Thursday, May 26, 2011

What I Learned at Biker Week: We're Not So Different

My parents own one of those timeshare deals where you use points to get vacation rentals. My Dad always invites my sisters and I to join. I usually go for part of the week. Last October, my Dad asked Adam and I when we could join them in the Spring and he'd book at that time. We said mid-May. By the time my Dad booked, a place in Garden City, SC was the only place available for the week. Adam and I agreed to drive down Wednesday and stay until Saturday when my parents left.

Garden City is just South of Myrtle Beach and mid-May is biker week in Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area. I'm not from MB and I'm not into motorcycles so the thought that we could be at the beach at the same time as the Hell's Angels never entered my mind. It wasn't until my Dad sent me an email that Tuesday letting us know about the weather and saying "it's biker week, so it's really loud" that I realized I'd be getting a cultural lesson on my mini vacation this year.

The car ride to the beach was uneventful (not a complaint) and we arrived late Wednesday night. The condo was maybe a quarter of a mile from the famous Garden City Pier. The fishing pier is the largest attraction in Garden City. At the pier, in addition to fishing, the pier has an arcade, two bars and great "people watching." One of the bars is just outside the tackle shop and another is at the end of the pier. Each bar features live entertainment from bands to karaoke. It's a must see while in Garden City.

The first morning that we were there, we got up early (by vacation standards) to do our exercise for the day. Adam enjoyed a nice cool run while I had to walk because I'm still recovering from quad tendinitis. My Dad decided to walk with me and we headed out south of the condo to walk in a small neighborhood. It was on this walk, I got my first glimpse of "biker week." We passed several parked motorcycles and their leather-clad owners waking up and greeting their fellow riders. Some were already on their bikes revving their engines to announce their presence. Or is it a mating call? We heard, for 3 blocks mind you, a man heaving over the balcony of a rented house. I don't know why he couldn't do that inside. I noticed, though, that there weren't as many bikers as I'd thought that there would be. I think most of them stay in Myrtle Beach and that the ones near us were older and more tame. There's no Hooters restaurant in Garden City which also could account for the small numbers.

The bikers weren't the most interesting people that we saw this trip, however. Adam, my Dad and I spent some time at the end of the fishing pier. There we talked to a man who was missing several teeth and had a tattoo across his chest that read "DO NOT RESUSCITATE." And then there was the guy from Isreal working at the Slick Track place who was wearing a white t-shirt that read in big black letters "And For My Next Trick I'll Need A Condom and a Volunteer."

Adam and I did try the Slick Track place. It was not a slick track. I think at one point it was, but it needs to be repaved. The carts were old and not in great shape. However, it was only $5 and we got to ride just the two of us for about 9 minutes. A bargain.

As Adam, my Dad and I were leaving the track and heading back to the condo, my Dad made a comment that really made me think. He said "As far as I can tell, all the bikers do is ride around, drink beer and buy (cycle) paraphernelia." My first thought and what I said was "Well, all we runners do when we go for a running weekend is run, drink beer and buy running paraphernelia."

Then I started thinking about all of the people that I've run into over the years while I was running a race in another city. Imagine a person who finds themself in Boston or Chicago on the weekend of the marathon having no clue that 40,000 runners will be their clogging streets and Italian restaurants. Someone with no knowledge of running races. What impression did we leave on them? I thought about the guy in Nashville that I shared a cab to the airport with. He was Australian and when he asked me where I was heading and I said Charlotte, NC, he didn't know where that was. And by 'didn't know where that was,' I mean North Carolina. I was his first and probably last encounter he'd ever have with a person from North Carolina. I thought about the European guys that stopped my friend Jody and I on a street in Asheville, NC to ask us about the Asheville half marathon that was finishing close by. They wanted to know how far a half marathon is, in kilometers. We couldn't tell them the answer. It's roughly 21.1km, just in case you get asked.

New races are created every year and old ones are gaining popularity. We book flights, hotel rooms, rental cars and arrive en masse to run, drink and buy running paraphernalia. Sure we pay taxes and help boost the local economy, but is every person living in the area on board with that? This week is a big week in Charlotte for NASCAR and it's fans. Statistics prove that this is a great boost to the Charlotte economy every year, but how many complaints from residents have you heard? I don't want people to feel this way about runners. I'm setting a goal to be more respectful of the citizens of the places that I visit and more knowledgeable of Charlotte. I plan to be more polite and empathetic to a bewildered person who stumbles upon a finish area full of sweaty, smelly, dry fit-clad runners, when they were hoping to ride their seqway through Grant Park. Runners think that runners are the nicest people in the world. We shouldn't keep that to ourselves.

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