Thinking about my sad role as the only idiot to have attended all fourteen Slaughterhouse rallies, and having a little free time since I barely lifted a finger to help this year (Thanks Kathy!), i started thinking about how rallies have changed. I don’t want to get all misty-eyed or retro or elitist, and I definitely enjoy the current scene, scooters, and people just the way they are. I just thought it’d be fun to come up with a list of five things I miss from the early 90s, and five things I don’t.
Five things I miss about 90s scooter rallies
In the mid-90s, almost all rallies were camping rallies. Not only is camping damn fun, it’s cheaper than staying/drinking in the city, and it ramps up glorious jackassery while lowering the odds of personal endangerment or jail time. Sure, when tragedy struck, a helicopter was often required, but there’s nothing like riding your scooter 30 feet to the bathroom, then 30 feet back to the tent, then falling asleep with engines revving all around you and Andy Miller blathering loudly next to the campfire.
- Vintage scooters
Call me elitist, but seeing 30 completely random vintage bikes in various states of repair and customization is a lot more exciting than seeing a hundred new scooters fresh off the showroom floor. I like modern scooters, I ride one, I like modern scooterists, but it’s just not as exciting to stroll through a parking lot full of off-the shelf modern bikes. One of the highlights of the first rally of the year was seeing all the new barn finds and the evolution of the half-restored and custom bikes from the year before. And ecology be damned, I miss the smell of 2-stroke exhaust.
- Flaming burnouts
Flaming burnouts (spinning your rear tire on a flaming gasoline-soaked sheet of plexiglas) were just one of many really stupid but really fun things that happened at every rally back before we all got mature enough to worry about liability and lawsuits. What a glorious sight. It’s hazy, but I think one St. Louis rally even had a “ring of fire” to jump through.
- Knowing everyone
The late-90s rally crowd was a tight-knit group that spanned the nation, spending weekdays chatting on Usenet and IRC, and driving hundreds of miles to see each other every couple weeks. We stood up in each others weddings, drove halfway across the country for drunken baby showers, and we all knew we had a place to stay in pretty much any town in America. As the scene grew and diversified, and the internet with it, it also splintered into more local and specialized groups. There’s certainly still a tradition of meeting internet friends at rallies, and the scene is far more inclusive now, but rallies have become less personal and familiar because of it. Or maybe I’m just old and don’t know anyone anymore. A lot of new scooterists complain about the old-timers being “cliqueish,” but there’s just as much snobbery in modern scooter circles, and it’s never been hard to meet new friends if you go about it the right way.
- Put em on the glass/naked rides
New scooterists might be surprised to hear that just five or eight years ago, nearly every rally featured several, if not dozens, of people riding around drunk and naked. Taking this a step farther, Chicago scooterist/genius Guy Johnson invented a strange ritual called “Put ’em on the Glass,” featuring the leftover burnout plexiglas, a bucket of soapy water, and a squeegee. Sexist as it sounds, it swept the rally scene for a couple years, and scooterists of both genders would line up to expose themselves for a good laugh. Good taste, city rallies and the advent of digital cameras put a quick end to both activities. Darren’s attempt to revive the naked ride at Amerivespa ’08 just didn’t work out. You don’t PLAN a naked ride, brother!
- Those crazy german twins that were at every rally between 1995 and 1998.
- Scooter racing (sanctioned or otherwise) at rallies.
- Spontaneous trading of bikes and/or cash on Sunday morning.
- A relative lack of accidents.
Five things I don’t miss about 90s scooter rallies
A lot of the youngish skinheads dominating the scene brought their rivalries to the scene, and scared a lot of good people out of it. I hate racists, but I don’t actively seek them out to start fights with them, or secretly hope they show up. I guess there’s some sort of history and “honor” involved that I’ll never understand. At least anti-racist fights seemed noble compared to some of the other petty local/regional rivalries that resulted in nasty skirmishes. Certain factions also decided carrying a loaded gun to a drunken dance party was absolutely necessary, and even though a few people could never resist flashing them, or at least incessantly talking about them, luckily I don’t remember any shots being fired.
With the scene being dominated by mods and skinheads, the joke was “look for me at the rally, I’ll be the bald guy in a a flight jacket.” At least you had the choice of Fred Perry or Ben Sherman, a black or a green jacket, camo pants or jeans, and Docs or Sambas. The uniform is at least a little more varied now, and it’s great to see more hardcore scooterists wearing armored jackets and full-faces, despite the proliferation of flip-flops in some circles.
- The lack of musical variety
I love ska and soul and “mod” music (whatever that is, I still don’t buy it as a genre). I REALLY love it, and it was one of the things that drove me to the scene. But after several rallies of hearing nothing other than the Jam and “The Trojan Story” 2-disc set, I was ready to hear some more variety. Luckily these days, the practitioners of soul and ska (notably Grover from Cincinnati) have a little more variety (and great rare tracks) in their repertory, and you hear a lot more punk, rockabilly, lounge, britpop, indie rock, and even classic rock at rallies. And karaoke’s become more popular, which is great.
I was riding my Vespa Super once in Niagara with a group of four P200s, when one got a flat and none of them was carrying a good spare. Ignoring the problems of totally uneducated riders (we all need to start somewhere) and jackasses (who still proliferate in great numbers), rides are a lot smoother when every other bike isn’t breaking down every few miles. It’s hard to say why even the vintage bikes seem more reliable these days, but it’s my guess that inexperienced new riders are buying new, reliable scooters instead of heading out to their first 50-mile ride on a barn-fresh Allstate on 30-year-old tires, without a single tool, plug, or spare cable.
- Sunday morning
Again, it might just be because i’m older and more responsible, or because at a city rally bars close and you need to get back to your lodgings safely, but Friday night has become the new Saturday night. The amount of fun you have on Saturday night is proportionally inverse to the amount of pain you feel during your ten-hour-drive home on Sunday morning. And after thirteen years of rally-going, I’ll never learn that a big Dennys breakfast isn’t helping matters any.
- Jackholes I don’t know trashing my house and stealing from me.
- Losing hundreds of bucks of my own money on a rally.
- Driving for ten hours to get to a “close” rally.
- Winnebago Amerivespas.
- Inkjet transfer patches printed the morning of the rally.