RUBs, Rubes and the Red River Triangle
“Everyone realizes that people who are so needy for attention that they need to dress up and be as loud as possible are you guys and 16 year old girls ”
Damn! I hate that fat little prick ! Especially when he’s hitting me right between the eyes with something……But if it’s just us and 16 year old girls then the world’s biggest slumber party has just wrapped up! From pretty much all over everywhere the motliest of crews rolled into our burgh and the noise level was pretty much immeasurable. As for the dressing up part, well, I’ll get to that .
But to start with, you have to realize that not all bikers are that thrilled with ROT to begin with. And there are some who wouldn’t set foot out there if you paid them to. These are mainly the ”old school” bikers who sneer at all the lavish paint jobs and glittery chrome that you see festooned on many of the rally bikes. There’s an old saying with these folks that “chrome won’t get you home”; you’re supposed to put your money into reliability and ride-ability, not flashy extras that add nothing to the bike. Back in the 70’s these were the people who used to paint their bikes with cans of flat-black spray paint, spending thousands on a paint job would have gotten you laughed out of whatever bar you pulled into. To the old timers the ROT Rally is a party for RUBs, RUBs being Rich Urban Bikers. And all it takes is a glance at the Expo Center RV lot to see there are plenty of those out there. The most obvious are the million dollar motor coaches with 2 or 3 of the flashiest, gaudiest bikes you can imagine sitting next to them. If those bikes get ridden more than a few miles a year then I’ll eat my leathers. This is not to say that there aren’t any number of actual dedicated, hard riding bikers out there, it’s just that it’s a mixed bag. They used to say you could spot the RUBs by their brand new leathers, but I’m not sure that’s true anymore. The fashion world being what it is I’m sure someone is making “pre-faded” leathers by now.
Which brings us back to the dressing up part of Cartman’s rant. And there’s no doubt that “biker fashion” is a major driving force behind the Rally. What you mainly get for your $70 fee ($60 in advance) is row after row after row of vendor booths, some of whom actually sell motorcycle accessories but most are clothing dealers of one sort or another. Leathers of course, and T-shirts, boots & bandannas. There are belts, hats, panties and temporary tattoos, anything a person could want to show that they actually attended an honest-to-god biker rally. And it all ends up being so far over the top that it’s enough to make the old schoolers shake their heads in disgust. As for me, while I don’t agree with Cartman’s assessment of acting like 16 year old girls, it does seem like it’s costume night at the Country Club and everyone’s decided to come as bikers.
So now you have several thousand bikers and RUBs all milling around at the Expo Center, how are you going to keep them entertained? This being Austin, music is the first answer that comes to mind. And there’s plenty of that on hand…there are several small stages scattered around the site and there’s some good music coming from them. But when it comes to the headliner each year I keep having to ask the same question: What is it about riding a motorcycle that makes people fixate on the 70’s ? This year’s headliner was Ted Nugent, a guy now known more for running off at the mouth than for playing his guitar. If he’s done anything worthwhile since Cat Scratch Fever I sure as hell haven’t heard it. Last year’s headliner was the Doobie Brothers, with Eddie Money & the Georgia Satellites in tow, same problem there. Previous years have featured Paul Rogers from Bad Company and Hank Williams Jr.! With all the great music that Hank3 has been putting out over recent years why in the hell did they go with Hank2? And I imagine if there weren’t substantial penalties for grave-robbing then whoever books these shows would have been out looking for Lynyrd Skynyrd somewhere. I’m a child of the 70’s myself but geez guys ya gotta move on eventually…..
So if the music at the Expo isn’t cutting it then maybe a little trip to town is just the trick. So on Friday night it’s time for the Bike Parade, supposedly the longest bike parade in the world. And as someone who has ridden in it a few times I can guarantee you that it is truly a site to behold, even before it gets started. This is due to logistics. Before you can get everybody heading out together first you have to get everyone “staged” together. This entails having everybody pull into a huge empty field at the south end of the Expo and then sit and wait for someone to open the gate on the other end.There is absolutely no one in charge out there and no order whatsoever, you just pull in with a few thousand other bikes and wait. No vendors, no porta-cans, no shade, just a big ol’ vacant lot now filled with impatient bikers. And when the gate does get opened you now have that same number of bikers all trying to fit thru a tiny little opening without getting tangled up. It amazes me that everyone does eventually get thru without mayhem ensuing, so maybe no beer vendors is the right call on this.
But when you do finally get thru the gate you now have one of the most amazing experiences you can ever have on a bike. I’ve ridden in some large formations before, some big enough where we had police escorts to get us thru towns without tangling with the local citizens, but this is something else. Mainly because of the sheer number of people lined up alongside the road waving like crazy and giving high fives. A lot of these are entire families who must have been out there on the side of the road for hours, and I just can’t imagine what they are getting out of the whole thing. Not to be condescending, but it makes me think of times long ago whenever the circus would come to town and all the local rubes would line up to gawk at the elephants. But this is modern day Austin and I’m sure everyone has seen motorcycles go by before. Maybe not so many, but how many bikes can you watch go streaking past before it all becomes a blur? And considering how traffic gets totally snarled up for the parade I’m always surprised that we aren’t getting pelted with garbage as we go by, it would make a lot more sense.
But eventually you do make it downtown, park where a cop tells you to and wander off to see the glories of Sixth Street. Except I’m a local guy and I never go to Sixth Street, with two notable exceptions. In my interview last month with Justin McCoy he mentioned Red River’s old “Bermuda Triangle”, that being Emo’s, Casino El Camino & Lovejoy’s. Emo’s has moved east of course so that leg is gone, but Lovejoy’s and Casino’s are still there like oases in the desert. Everywhere else downtown has big “Welcome Bikers” banners and people outside hawking “Ice cold beer ! No cover!”. What they don’t tell you is that the ice cold beer is generally $4 tallboys of swill and there is no cover because nobody would pay to hear the lame-ass cover band playing 70’s hits that night. So I always make my home base out of Lovejoy’s, cheap in-house craft beer and a killer jukebox.Ever so often I wander down the street, check out some bikes and some babes, then stop off at Casino’s. There it’s the usual crowd, incredible jukebox and a great spot to down some whiskey. The out of towners don’t usually make it down that far, maybe not enough Skynyrd being played. I guess Casino’s doesn’t get as much of an economic boost as a lot of the clubs, but I would think that the continued sanity of the staff would be worth something for that weekend.
And some places downtown get even less of a boost from all the hub-bub. For some the whole thing is a drain on income, not a boost at all. That’s the case at my own personal hangout, the dark ol’ cellar down at The Elephant Room. As you might imagine live jazz is not really on the menu for most riders, not even jazz from the 70’s. And since downtown has been blocked off to all car and bus traffic the club regulars can’t make it in without a huge amount of effort. So The Elephant has one of their slowest nights of the year, despite the thousands of bikes parked right outside their door. So I always make it my final stop of the evening, a dark room, cool jazz and a well-made drink in front of me. The ride home that night is soooo sweet.
But that’s not the whole story, because there are really two entirely different aspects of ROT to consider. There’s the Friday night insanity in downtown, that’s fairly family friendly. And then there’s the continuing hijinks out at the Expo Center, an iron horse of a whole different color. But to really experience the Expo part you need to stay out there at night, and that’s a real pain in the ass unless you ride a bike. Of course you could drive out, pay the entrance fee and pack your tent etc. in on foot from the parking lot. Maybe you could wear a black t-shirt and try to blend in, that might work. Either way the real fun doesn’t start until after dark. That’s when inhibitions get thrown to the wind and peoples’ clothes start coming off. And then the Flesh Parade starts. To really understand how that works you have to realize that the camping and RV spots out there are set out around a series of small paved roads behind the Expo. They have barricades set up to keep everyone going the same circular route and it’s all one way, but the whole loop stays full of bikes, ATV’s and all manner of motorized contraptions pretty much all night long. People set up lawn chairs along the sides to watch it all, stripper poles get set up and a lot of Mardi Gras beads get tossed around. But the beads are hardly necessary, a lot of the girls are either totally nude already or just wearing G-strings. And there’s some male eye candy out there for the ladies in the crowd as well. And all of this is going ’round and ’round at maybe 5mph all night long, truly something that has to be experienced to comprehend. The more hard core of the flesh demons rarely leave the roadside the whole weekend, it’s like Mardi Gras but with less supervision. A couple of years ago some killjoy went out and took a few hundred pictures of the festivities, sent them to the County Commissioners and tried to get it all shut down. The only result was that now there is no one under 18 admitted. I can honestly say that I never noticed any kids around after dark anyways, but actual biker kids are usually used to this kind of stuff at an early age anyway, it’s just what Mom & Dad do. And in terms of all out bacchanalia there is nothing else like it.
Then it all comes to a crashing halt on Sunday morning. Everyone tries to remember where their clothes are, saddle bags are packed and the RUBs put their toys back on their trailers. And it’s a pretty subdued bunch that heads off down the highways on Sunday, another ROT in the can. So just what are the tips for successfully surviving the Rally? Let’s make a list….
Avoid Seventies Classic Rock. Extra points for not yelling “More Skynyrd !” in every bar you go to. Cut it down to one or two at most.
Don’t Fill On Swill. There’s good beer available in good bars. But if you don’t know where Lovejoy’s is I ain’t gonna tell ya. It’s already crowded enough and I don’t want to lose my table.
If you ride in the Bike Parade be sure to smile and wave at all the friendly people along the sides. I wasn’t kidding about the garbage, Austin traffic brings out the worst in us.
When parking your bike downtown on Friday night, keep in mind that being closest to the curb means having 2 or 3 bikes blocking you in when you come back. So either leave yourself an escape route or stay out late, some folks get testy if you try to move their bikes. Hospitalization can occur.
And finally, lighten up! Between the old schoolers, the RUB’s, the rubes and the babes, this is all supposed to be about having fun. Attitudes have their place but this is a big ol’ party. My old riding buddies from the 70’s would never have believed that one day Austin would close off all downtown traffic and turn the streets over to us idiots. But if you are a true biker the echoes of the V-Twins bouncing off the high rises is like music unto heaven. That sound is what brings me back downtown every year, and I hope it always does. Because Surviving The ROT means surviving another year, still riding and still living the life.