Hollister, always just the one word, was the historic moment the earth moved for the pagan gods who gave the world the motorcycle outlaw menace.
The sleepy, little, farming town sponsored a three day Gypsy Tour over Independence Day weekend in 1947 and about a thousand motorcycle enthusiasts and their women showed up. The enthusiasts, who included members of still extant clubs like the Boozefighters and extinct ones like the Tulare Riders, camped out and drank in public parks. One of them was arrested for urinating in public. Dozens of them raced up and down San Benito Street and three of them were seriously injured in crashes.
Enter what was until recently called “the working press.” A couple of old pros from the San Francisco Chronicle – a reporter named C. I. Dourghty Jr. and a photographer named Barney Peterson – got to Hollister Sunday night and did their jobs: Which was to tell a story that would help their employer sell some newspapers. Peterson called the weekend an “outburst of terrorism” that included “wrecking of bars, bottle barrages into the streets from upper story windows and roofs and high speed racing of motorcycles though the streets.” The situation became so dire, Dourghty wrote, that 30 California Highway Patrolmen eventually “herded the cyclists into a block on San Benito street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, parked a dance band on a truck and ordered the musicians to play.” A local politician told Dourghty, “There appears to be no serious damage. These trick riders did more harm to themselves than the town.”
The Legend Grows
The Chronicle never ran Dourghty’s story but three weeks later Life Magazine called the event the “Hollister Motorcycle Riot” and ran one of Barney Peterson’s photos above a caption that read “Cyclist’s Holiday: He and his friends terrorize a town.” “He” was a Tulare Rider named Eddie Davenport. Eddie was very drunk and Peterson’s photo had been carefully staged.
Dourghty and Peterson’s fine, old fashioned journalism eventually inspired a spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Association to complain that the rioters were “outlaws” who represented only “one percent” of the motorcycling community. The journalists also inspired a writer named Frank Rooney to make up a story called “Cyclists Raid” which was eventually transformed into a movie called The Wild One. The movie gave the world one of the great lines in American cinema.
“Hey Johnny,” an easy blonde asked the leader of the biker gang. “What are you rebelling against?”
“What’ve you got,” Johnny replied.
It is said that Kurt Sutter, who has given the world Sons of Anarchy, keeps a copy of Johnny’s quip over his desk for inspiration. The few people who have ever actually watched The Wild One, rather than merely reading about it, know that the climax occurs when the bikers have to be rescued from the town folk.
And, all of that was then.
Now the town of Hollister exploits the myth of the way we were with a motorcycle rally most July Fourth weekends. The town recently decided to hold the rally every year for at least the next decade. The event provides an excellent opportunity to gouge tourists. And, police from miles around are guaranteed very many hours of overtime. This year’s rally will begin Friday July Fourth and end Sunday July Sixth. The event will feature 50 bands on three stages and “two giant beer gardens.” And yes, promoters promise, “bikes will be parking on San Benito Street!”
There will even be something new in Hollister this year. The city is adding forty video surveillance cameras at a cost of $300,000. Virtually every inch of downtown Hollister will be continuously surveilled.
“It’s a force multiplier,” Police Chief David Westrick told Salinas television station KSBW. “It’s a way of expanding our eyes and ears by 20 more people with these electronic eyes.”
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez told the station he thinks George Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia, summarized in the novel 1984, is an idea whose time has come. “There’s always Big Brother until it’s you that’s a victim,” Velazquez said while wearing a long coat and a tall hat to cover his dragon’s tail and horns. “Then you want Big Brother’s video tape to show what happened.”
So if you go to Hollister’s annual commemoration of mayhem this year, be very careful to scrupulously obey every law. Big Brother will be watching every move you make while you’re there.