Rocking on Zombie Island
Two-wheel goblins embrace the perfect storm
Galveston, Texas, Oct. 29–Nov. 1—The initial thoughts that assaulted my mind when I saw the cool front sweeping across the Texas plains, headed for the upper Gulf Coast, were, “No way, it can’t be, not again this year.” The Lone Star Rally has suffered a brutal history of battling the weather gods in years past, and this did not look good. Back in 2005, Hurricane Rita forced the Lone Star Rally to reschedule from the end of September to the end of October. And then last year Hurricane Ike slammed the Island with such an impact that the rally was rocked back on its heels until mid-December—when it snowed the day before Lone Star was to start. And now, after the mildest hurricane season Texas had seen in a long time, it was raining in Galveston. And it would continue to rain all day on both Thursday and Friday. But then… then the sun came out and all was right with the world—at least Galveston’s little corner of the world.
Although the first two days of the event were definitely soggy, Saturday and Sunday simply kicked ass. The ride down had everyone bundled against early morning temperatures but, once you hit the historic Strand District, the leathers came off, the flesh came out and, with crystalline skies, low humidity and ample sun, the attendees at the 2009 Lone Star Rally saw some of the best weather conditions since the rally’s birth in 2002—it was a “perfect storm,” but in a good way. And this mixture did not go unnoticed by bikers from across the Lone Star State as thousands crossed Galveston Bay to stake out their own section of island paradise during the last major bike rally of the year in Texas.
The Lone Star Rally was birthed along a five-block section of The Strand, a strip of cobblestone in the historic district of downtown Galveston. One block away, Harborside Drive runs parallel to The Strand and is home to the docks and numerous eateries. It has also always carried the burden of handling the rally’s vendors and displays. Over the years, the rally gradually expanded to include more of the Island including Moody Gardens (with its many concerts) and the Convention Center (housing during different years a bike show, a bikini contest, a women riders conference and a camping show.) In recent years, additional property was grabbed when a lengthy section of Seawall Boulevard that runs along the shoreline was also closed down to accommodate vendors. In response, the Galveston City Council has fought for years to rein in this ever-enlarging event, with special efforts concentrating on eliminating the closure of the Seawall sector. And for years, the rally promoter fought back, waging war to not only maintain the turf he had secured but to incrementally increase his domain. It has been a rocky romance between the City Council and Lone Star, with threats by the rally to relocate and counter-threats by the Council of bringing in someone else to manage the event. But earlier this year the original owner sold his percentage of the rally to his partners, who apparently do not hold such fervent claims for expansion. So in 2009, there was no closure of Seawall Boulevard, with those vendors previously located there being squeezed onto Harborside Drive, Mechanic and Market Streets and a few side streets instead. (Mechanic and Market also run parallel to The Strand.) And the Galveston Convention Center stood vacant all weekend while the Bike Show and the Ms. Lone Star Contest were held at Pier 21 on Harborside, while the Lady Riders’ Conference was conducted at the nearby Joe’s Crab Shack. And while organizers estimated the crowd at 250,000, police placed the number at the more realistic figure of 150,000. But somehow this huge crowd managed to wedge into the reduced chunk of property pretty well—except for the parking.
Prime real estate
During the rally, The Strand is restricted to motorcycles and foot traffic. And as in times past, cruising and parking along The Strand was once again available by purchasing a $10 pass. Even though it is party central and the rally’s major draw, I avoid parking along this strip because of inconsiderate riders who don’t think twice about double parking, blocking earlier riders from leaving. The ill-mannered practice was once again rampant and by late Saturday afternoon, the bikes were three deep on both sides, causing several shouting matches. I ended up paying five bucks to an attendant at a bank parking lot two blocks off The Strand.
At one point prior to last year’s Lone Star Rally, many Galveston residents and some local officials balked at the idea of holding a major bike event following Hurricane Ike. But rally promoters felt differently and launched the “Rally to Rebuild” in an effort to assist the Island in its road to recovery. And even though by rally time the Island had restored its water and power shortages, the lack of hotel rooms presented a major problem in 2008. Numerous hotels and resorts were still repairing storm damage and weren’t open, while those that were in operation were occupied by construction workers and FEMA employees. This year there were plenty of rooms available. But apparently whatever money was spent on refurbishing these accommodations, the owners were determined to recoup wholly during the 2009 rally. Rooms that were listed for $55 on Thursday jumped to as high as $240 on Friday and Saturday—a hard pill to swallow during these times. I can only hope that bikers passed on this opportunity to provide bailout funds to these businesses and opted for more reasonable digs. They were available but you had to do some detective work to find them. As for those gougers, there’s always next year’s hurricane season… and fate has a way of settling the score.
A poker run kicked off this year’s event on Thursday, with more than a dozen stops placed in neighborhood convenience stores and restaurants. It ran until Saturday, when David Grigsby ended up with the winning hand. Saturday morning the Breast Cancer Awareness Ride took to the streets of Galveston with monies raised benefiting the Susan G. Komen Cancer Research Foundation. The Ranch Ride was also held that morning, departing from Stubb’s Harley-Davidson in Houston with local radio personality Outlaw Dave leading the pack to the Island. Keeping in step with the concept of this being a “free rally,” live music was provided throughout the weekend on stages set up at Pier 21 and Saengerfest Park. Formal concerts (paid admission) were held at Moody Gardens Outdoor Amphitheater, with Texas native Pat Greene performing on Friday and Lynyrd Skynyrd headlining Saturday night along with special guests Edgar Winter and Leon Russell. A Leather & Lace Costume Ball was incorporated into the admission price of the Skynyrd concert.
For those not interested in riding or music, you could take The Baywatch cruise to visit Galveston’s breeding ground for bottlenose dolphins, spend a few hours on a fishing trip, sail the bay onboard the Captain Kidd, a topsail “pirate” schooner, or visit the Elissa, a 123-year-old, three-masted, iron-hull sailing ship. The Elissa is the Official Tall Ship of Texas and was also the location for Saturday’s spirited No Limit Texas Hold ’Em Poker Tournament benefiting the Asthma Coalition of Texas.
But one of the most anticipated events of the rally was the chance to win Jean Lafitte’s Chopper, a stunning creation built by the now-defunct American IronHorse Motor- cycle Company earlier in the year. The winner of this treasure hunt was Rachael Beaman, who successfully figured out where the keys to the bike were hidden from a collection of clues gathered from participating stores and vendors across the Island.
Lions and tigers and bears
The World’s Largest Biker Halloween Costume Promenade was held on The Strand on Saturday evening. Witches and warlocks, devils and demons all competed for the $1,000 grand prize. No sexually explicit costumes or bike displays, no nudity and no drug-oriented costumes were allowed to enter (wait, these are bikers, right?). Rick Shinpaugh took top honors with his custom trike pulling a coffin. A mild evening after the parade added fuel to the party-fires along The Strand, with only the cry of “Last call!” having the power to dispel the covens of ghouls and vampires, casting them out to scurry to their lairs before dawn.
Although attendance was lighter, Sunday continued as a full-scale party most of the day with plenty of music and an ample supply of great weather. Needless to say, Bloody Marys were the drink of the day.
So the 2009 edition of the Lone Star Rally was a great success. There now seems to be a peaceful tone between the new rally owners and City Council, with both making concessions and reconciling their differences, creating a win-win situation for both parties. With an ease in tensions, the rally was even able to secure a two-year contract with the city, ensuring the event would remain on the Island through 2011. Now if only they can strike a deal with the weather.