Every year I like to wrap up the motorcycle riding season by taking part in the annual Horry ABATE Toy Run. Let me first say that ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) works hard to protect our rights as riders; and, that the Toy Run the organization sponsors is a worthwhile event. That said...what a let down.
In years past the ride welcomed participants with entertainment; guided riders along a police-escorted route with the streets lined with onlookers; and ended with a celebration of riders wearing everything from Christmas bows to full-blown Santa suits on motorcycles decorated with tinsel and toys.
This year’s event (held Dec. 22) went something a little more like this:
As we pulled into the Inlet Square Mall parking lot ready to join the fun, my wife Sissy hopped off to turn in our toys and register. I was met by a motorcycle club member who greeted me with instructions to go get in the back of the other line because the front of the ride was reserved for motorcycle clubs and their members only. There is nothing like being treated like Rosa Parks getting sent to the proverbial back of the bus to make one feel welcome.
Now, I can’t fault the organizers for this, but in the past, one of our favorite parts of this event was the chance to wave to locals of all ages who lined the streets along the route, smiling and waving at the procession as we rode by honking our horns and revving our motors to say “Merry Christmas.” For whatever reason, this year there was barely a handful of spectators; two or three on this corner and a couple more on another every few blocks. Also not organizers’ fault was the lack of decoration and silly costumes. I absolutely HATE seeing stuffed animals strapped to motorcycles at any other time of year, but part of the charm of this ride has always been seeing big, bearded, burly bikers wearing reindeer antlers and jingle bells. Sissy and I wore Santa hats and almost felt uncomfortable because we were definitely in the minority this time.
Instead of having a fleet of state troopers - appropriately on motorcycles - clearing the way with flashing lights, stopping traffic at the intersections to let us parade through town there seemed to be only a couple of cops at a couple of the intersections, while what I’m calling “volunteers” used their tow trucks to block our route at others, intimidating the general public into staying put. Again, I appreciate the effort of those who donated their time and trucks, but it simply didn’t have the same legitimate feel and fanfare as in days gone by.
The ride used to go to the McDonald’s located at the south end of Myrtle Beach. I know during the days when Myrtle Beach city officials were working to do away with motorcycle rallies many participants pulled out of the ride at the Harley-Davidson dealership, to avoid entering the city limits, honoring the grassroots boycott of Myrtle Beach many of us still observe to this day. Organizers addressed this by changing the end destination to the McDonald’s in Surfside Beach instead. According to MapQuest, that puts the ride at a measly 3.96 miles long; less than half of the previous distance. It was seemingly over before it started.
It’s here that my holiday spirit was truly shattered like a Christmas tree ornament plummeting onto a tile floor. Despite the reputation bikers have among some in the general public as a menace to society I have always taken great joy in the fact that I have never seen any vandalism or theft at any motorcycle gathering (excluding organized criminal activities involving motorcycle thefts at the big rallies). It is commonplace in the motorcycle community to leave your expensive jacket draped across your seat; or, helmet perched on your rear-view mirror unattended. There is an unspoken, mutual respect among riders whose morays prevent us from taking advantage of others in our two-wheeled society. We share the same vulnerabilities of having saddlebags that don’t lock; heavy jackets we’d rather not carry around; and bags of tools, glasses, and other necessities we leave virtually unsecured on our rides. The law of the land has always been: You don’t mess with my stuff and I won’t mess with yours.
At our McDonald’s stop, we went inside to grab a drink and much to my dismay, some son of a Grinch stole my gloves off of my motorcycle while we were gone. They were my favorite gloves, too: black leather with sheepskin lining; warm; comfortable; and, perfect for cold weather riding. And they were a Christmas gift from one of my kids. I checked with the staff at the McDonald’s that day and again this morning before sitting down to write this column just to make sure they hadn’t ended up in the lost and found. There simply is no other explanation to how they disappeared so I hope Santa saw the scumbag that nicked my gloves and put him on the naughty list.
It was just as well that I had lost my appetite when the ride continued to the after-party at Beer 30 Bar & Grill since the food that was put out for participants consisted of three or four empty trays that I had been beaten to and a crock pot with a few leftover Swedish meatballs. We thought about having a drink, but between the cold weather and the cold reception, we didn’t feel much like a party so we headed home and nestled up in front of our Christmas tree.
ABATE’s commitment to area kids for the last 25 years is really what is important, though, and Sissy and I have done enough volunteer work to know how thankless a job it can be, so I do appreciate the effort of the organizers of the Toy Run and its volunteers. Despite my experience this time, I know how hard you work year after year to put this ride on and we’ll look forward to trying it again next year. I just won’t leave my new gloves on the handlebars.