Fourth of July weekend rally draws hordes of bikers and police after April rally in Nevada left three dead
HOLLISTER – Tens of thousands of motorcycle fans jammed into this sleepy farm town Saturday for a Fourth of July holiday weekend rally that recalled one of the pastime’s darkest hours.
With warm weather expected to push into the 90s, tattooed and leather-clad bikers filled the narrow sidewalks, jostling with goggle-eyed tourists as they snapped up souvenirs, hot dogs and beer or just watched as roaring motorcycles cruised the town’s main drag.
Hollister’s population swells from 36,000 to 100,000 or more with the rally crowd. Saturday’s crowd was estimated as one of the largest in the event’s five-year history.
Every inch of curb for blocks on San Benito Street was taken up with gleaming motorcycles parked side by side. Two more rows of bikes were parked down the center of the two-lane blacktop, which was closed to all but motorcycle traffic.
An army of officers, including local police, California Highway Patrol officers and San Benito County sheriff’s deputies, were on hand to make sure the weekend didn’t turn into a repeat of violence between the Hells Angels and the Mongols biker clubs that left three dead at a rally in Laughlin, Nev., in April.
Brett Lackey of Martinez worked one of the souvenir booths and soaked up the sun with family and friends Saturday. He said business traffic was brisk, despite talk of violence that has rumbled since the Nevada incident.
“After what happened in Laughlin, people get nervous,” Lackey said. “There were rumors going around that there might be a showdown, but it has been really peaceful and nice.”
John Kempf of Hanford also dismissed notions that the event might turn violent.
“There were rumors, but we didn’t care,” Kempf said.
In front of Johnny’s Bar & Grill, a life-size image of a young, leather-clad Brando as he appeared in the film “The Wild One” greeted hordes of thirsty riders.
“At first it would seem like a strange thing to celebrate the original Hollister run, which led to the movie “The Wild One,” which gave motorcycling such a big black eye,” said Dave Edwards earlier in the week. Edwards is the editor of Cycle World, one of the most popular motorcycling magazines in the country.
While some motorcycle events around the country were canceled after Laughlin, three major runs, in Nevada, Northern California and New Hampshire last month were trouble-free.
City officials estimate the riders leave behind $6 million to $8 million over the three-day weekend event.
Ellen Brown, executive director of the Hollister Independence Rally Committee, said the community’s charities depend on the rally for fund-raising, selling food and souvenirs.
“We’ve been very lucky since Laughlin,” she said. “I really thought that was going to give a lot of ammunition to people who were against the event. We got two negative letters.”
In hopes of limiting problems, the city passed ordinances banning cans or bottles on the streets and outlawing the carrying of knives over 4 inches long.
“We have zero tolerance for alcohol violations,” said police Capt. Bob Brooks. “We want to make sure they stay within the bounds of their fantasy and that alcohol doesn’t cloud the line between fantasy and reality.”