Without it, Anniston is still Anniston.
But in typical Anniston fashion, this annual motorcycle showcase has evolved into a full-fledged dilemma for Mayor Vaughn Stewart and the City Council, which, unlike their predecessors, aren’t fans of such theater. It’s our own little Victorian melodrama: haves and have-nots, outsiders and insiders, the chosen and the unwanted, merchants and kings. Only a midsummer love affair could make it more interesting.
Let’s see if Anniston fouls this up.
Gurnee Avenue talks a big game about revitalizing downtown and burying the notion that Noble Street is a euphemism for retail boredom. Anniston’s downtown is like a teenager: we can praise it or nitpick it to death. Luring people — i.e., consumers — downtown so they can see what Noble Street offers is a must. (Gadsden’s figured that out. Anniston’s still trying.)
The problem is that motorcyclists carry a stereotype doused in leather, tattoos, Budweiser and loud rock ‘n roll. We’re not talking about Altamont and the Hell’s Angels, mind you. It doesn’t matter that many who attend Rumble are middle-classers riding machines more expensive than my Toyota. Or that they are well-to-do retirees who like to ride on weekends. The negative stereotype — think Easy Rider comes to town — is very much alive, though largely unfair.
Do beer-drinkers with tattoos and a taste for Southern rock show up at Rumble? Sure. But so what? Get over it.
Anniston’s downtown merchants haven’t unanimously accepted Rumble’s years here, even though Anniston Police say it’s largely not a problem. The short story: restaurants and bars welcome Rumble; some of the niche shops don’t. And, in typical Anniston fashion, a month before the 2013 Rumble is scheduled, the council is asking Rumble organizers to consider a move to Zinn Park to appease a few merchants who say closing the streets for bikers kills their business one August Saturday of the year.
Or, as one Noble Street business owner told the council, Rumble “brings the wrong kind of people downtown.”
Wrong for whom?
I like beer, I know the difference between Molly Hatchet and .38 Special, and I once owned a motorcycle. Though tattoo-less, I must be the wrong kind of people.
Look, I get it — to a point. Closing Noble Street is a hassle for police, for merchants and for the council. It’s not as easy as it looks. The council shouldn’t be summarily burned at the stake for suggesting a move to Zinn Park because of the reduced cost to the city.
But this is all about perception.
Anniston closes Noble Street for the Christmas parade.
Anniston closes Noble Street for the Noble Street Festival.
Anniston closes much of downtown for the Sunny King Criterium.
(For that matter, Anniston closes part of east Anniston for the Woodstock 5K, too.)
Yet, it now would like to move Rumble off Noble Street?
Even if the council’s reasons are sincere — they are, I believe — there’s no way this won’t be seen as pandering to the aforementioned stereotype. Anniston’s public message will be problematic: We’ll close Noble Street, disrupt traffic and interfere with downtown business — but only if you fit a certain “family friendly” profile.
That’s Anniston’s prerogative, of course. If it doesn’t want motorcycles and those who enjoy that lifestyle on Noble Street, it can say no. Cities do that all the time.
But let’s be honest. Anniston — and Calhoun County, for that matter — isn’t overrun by festival organizers who want to bring in a few thousand friendly people with disposable income they’re willing to spend. And Rumble, like it or not, has been a good one-day-a-year part of Anniston’s calendar for nearly a decade.
I’ll grant this to the Stewart City Hall: the mayor and council flashed a little backbone by opening Anniston to Sunday alcohol sales. That was not a universally popular decision. But it was the right decision, if not the only decision. The Stewart City Hall — which often seems preoccupied with consensus-building — could have chickened out.
Nevertheless, if Stewart and the council want to transform Rumble on Noble to Rumble at Zinn Park, they can try. But don’t you think there’d be at least one other Calhoun County town that would welcome these Rumblers with open arms?
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.