- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

Event expensesprompt pullout

HOLLISTER, Calif. — At Irma’s Fashions just off the main drag, Irma Bertuccio greets customers as she has for 66 years in this town on California’s central coast.

In a print blouse and skirt, her hair curled into a prim cap, Mrs. Bertuccio steps forward from another era, when the town’s ladies bought only dresses off her racks — and when young toughs tearing around on motorcycles were about as sinister as you could get.

Mrs. Bertuccio remembers when, back in 1947, men just home from the war roared into town on motorcycles. The ensuing party for several days began a legacy of biker badness that still imbues almost every corner of Hollister.

“They were really wild,” said Mrs. Bertuccio, softly giggling like she was recalling bridge players who got a little tipsy around the card table.

Years later, the annual revelry is bankrupting the town, some say, which led town leaders to pull sponsorship of this year’s rally, traditionally the first weekend in July.

But rally fans say nothing is going to stop their iconic pilgrimage that harkens back to that post-World War II landmark year.

That year, with monikers like the Boozefighters, the interlopers atop motorcycles ended up in the pages of Life magazine and as the inspiration for the 1953 Marlon Brando film, “The Wild Ones.”

The annual gathering never really ended, insist some of the most die-hard fans, and it picked up steam and city backing on the 50th anniversary in 1997, boosting it into a traffic-stopping annual rally that drew about 120,000 people into the town of 36,000 last year.

The event — which fans say shed its lawless leanings years ago — closes several blocks of the main street. Parked motorcycles jam the curbs and the median while the owners shop at vendors hawking everything from T-shirts to Brando posters. They linger for burgers and beer and, of course, to admire other bikes.

Now, though, facing what the majority of the City Council thinks is a $600,000 bill to host and police the rally, a majority of the council has nixed official ties to the event.

But that hasn’t stopped it.

“The faithful, they want to be here,” said Charisse Tyson, proprietor of Johnny’s Bar & Grill, Hollister’s main street homage to all things biker.

What’s a city to do?

“It wasn’t an issue of not liking the bikers,” said City Council member Monica Johnson, who voted against supporting the rally in February. “It’s more an issue of representing the city of Hollister,” a city that could go broke in three years.

There’s a Plan B, she assures, a scaled-back one that anticipates maybe only about 20,000 people downtown for the first weekend in July.

Police Chief Jeff Miller won’t talk about what his plans are for policing the nonevent, except to say his 29 officers and 27 San Benito County sheriff’s deputies all will be on duty.

• Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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