Saturday, May 14, 2005
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina —This weekend is the kick-off for two motorcycle rallies held annually in the U.S. eastern seacoast town of Myrtle Beach. Enthusiasts this year are expected to meet or exceed the 170,000 bikers that arrived last year in droves to the small resort town of 23,000. Festivities span two weeks, and extend again this year into the Memorial Day.
Leading off is the week-long Harley rally, followed by the next week’s BikeFest. In and around town, both day and night are punctured by the sounds of bike engines gunned and revved at stop lights and in parking lots. Groups of cycle riders dominate the streets.
“By Friday night, the front parking lot will be a full line of motorcycles to the corner.” said motel owner Ranjan Patel. The Super 8 motel takes up half a block at its location in the heart of the downtown motel strip. “Both sides [of Ocean Blvd] are nothing but bikes.” Both she and her co-owner husband agree, the influx of bikers dwarf in size the numbers of tourists who visit during regular summer months for ocean-side and family amusement park attractions.
The highly accesorised bikes, decked with chrome and polished to show it, flashed the townscape. Choppers made a showing, but road hogs dominated the ridership, often going twosome. Many rally goers arrived on the scene with SUV’s or big pickup trucks towing cargo trailers loaded with cycles.
Growth in the sheer size of the two rallies led police to make changes in the handling of traffic flow. During BikeFest last year, the mostly black crowd that came in on the heels of the largely white Harley rally the week earlier, were faced with confusion when the two-lane Ocean Blvd was made one-way.
A branch of the NAACP in Conway, the next town over from Myrtle Beach, alleged discrimination by Horry County and Myrtle Beach Police. They claimed authorities and police used an overwhelming and aggressive police presence, combined with a restrictive one-way traffic pattern, to intimidate and discourage the participants in the rally.
An injunction was issued earlier this week by U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten, who ruled that bikers at both rallies be treated the same. Myrtle Beach city lawyers immediately filed an appeal to the ruling at the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying “the trial court erroneously determined that the plaintiffs would likely succeed on the merits; that is, that the city of Myrtle Beach intentionally treats Memorial Day weekend tourists differently from others similarly situated because of their race.”
A plan to submit an opposition to the notice has already been announced by Michael Navarre, an attorney for Steptoe & Johnson, who represents the NAACP civil rights group. “We certainly don’t think the judge has ruled erroneously,” Navarre said, according to The Sun News.
Traffic control and safety measures were in full swing Friday morning on US-17. Both directions of the 4-lane divided highway south of Myrtle Beach had traffic cones and parking barriers set up to control traffic. Large flashing road signs on each side of the highway warned cars to use the passing lane. The warning sign flashed a message that the right lane was for motorcycle use only. Police monitored the pull-offs near a Harley dealer’s lot where popular attractions were set-up in the immediate vicinity.