Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Black Heart of the Black Hills - Day 5

Sturgis, South Dakota, does not look like a famous town, but it is.  In August each year tens of thousands of bikers from around the world come to this unremarkable place on the northern edge of the Black Hills.  Why?  That is the question that has caused an itch in my thoughts all day.  Despite being an ardent motorcyclist, the last place I would want to be during the 7 days of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  This year the event celebrates its 70th Anniversary, and with it an anticipated attendance of 700,000 people.  No, I did not add a couple of zeros.  There will be almost three-quarters of a million biker types visiting a town with an official population at last census of 6442 (incredibly brave or twitterpated) souls.

The Rally is, for many, the Mecca of motorcycle culture.  In some respects it tries to live up to its image of a tough biker destination.  But regardless of the reputation ("Good girls go to heaven.  Bad girls go to Sturgis."), the stats don't support the label.  Despite the apparently tough crowd, in 2000 when there were 631,000 attendees there were only 10 Rally-related deaths, 359 parking tickets handed out, 111 people actually jailed, and 390 visits to the Hospital.  G8 and G20 Summits resulted in more dramatic statistics.

If it does not fit the annual 'bad biker dude place to be' label, why does it attract the masses.  As one friend stated, "Perhaps it is just herd mentality."  It has become, simply and inexplicably, the place for bikers of all description to congregate, if only to buy and then wear a T-shirt that proves one's attendance.

So why are we in Sturgis?  Of course, it is not during the Rally, or we would be paying $400 a night instead of $85 for our modest motel rooms.  Mostly, it is to say we were here and buy a T-shirt from this motorcycle Mecca.  The same logic, or lack thereof, was present when we went to see Mt. Rushmore today.  We were quite ready to abandon the idea of actually joining the throngs going through the entry gates, replacing the urge to do so by simply snapping a few photos while posing along the road by the sign that said, "No parking, stopping or standing at any  time".  We are creatures susceptible to 'group think'.  Witness the anxious desire to join in when passing the 'SALE' bin where others are frantically pawing through its contents like a dog digging after an escaped burrowing animal.

Maybe there really is a phobia imprinted on our genetic make up.  My daughter calls it "FOMO", the fear of missing out.  Then following on that fear we seem to have the need for self-validation.  If we invest time and effort into something (say a motorcycle convention of sorts), it would  be rare for us to admit it was a waste of time and effort.  We would rather sing its praises than complain about the poor choice we made.

So how was my day?   Well, Sturgis was a quiet town waiting for its population to grow by 100 times for one week.  Mt. Rushmore was still there, standing tribute to an eccentric, incomplete and controversial project that has awed and attracted 2 million Americans and others annually for roughly the same 70 years as the Rally.  It was a fascinating day of recognizing, without understanding or even appreciating, the human need for ritual. Like my habit of eating Tootsie Pops while riding cross country. 

1 comment:

  1. Those statistics sound pretty large to me for a small town to handle. Where do you put 111 people when you arrest them in a town that small?