The mild ones: No Marlon Brandos in sight as bikers mob Hollister

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HOLLISTER, San Benito County — Ten thousand motorcycle riders are in town this weekend, and the streets could scarcely be more peaceful.

It’s the 70th anniversary of the celebrated Hollister motorcycle rally, the one that inspired the movie “The Wild One.” In that picture, Marlon Brando beat up Lee Marvin in the middle of Main Street, and a bunch of tough guys took over the town while the cops looked the other way.

(Photo gallery)

“That was all Hollywood stuff,” said Randy Burke, organizer of this year’s Hollister get-together.

Here’s what really happens when bikers take over the town: There are doughnuts to eat, ’60s music to listen to, great deals on helmets with spikes on top of them, and no fewer than three ministries preaching brotherly love to the leather-and-chain crowd.

At the rally that spawned the 1953 Brando film, one rider got a bloody nose, Burke said. That was it. Then the screenwriters took over and Hollister has been trying to live it down — while turning a buck — ever since.

Downtown was filling up Friday afternoon with shiny bikes, the kind that cost $25,000 and up and whose owners wipe off each and every finger smudge. They measure size in cc’s, or cubic centimeters of engine displacement. That’s as close to macho competition as anyone gets — my 1450 beats your 1350.

The engine revving can get loud, because that’s what happens when you have 10,000 motorcycles in town. It doesn’t mean anything, say the motorcyclists. It’s just revving. The machine that pops the kettle corn, at $10 a bag, is loud too.

Harry O’Dell, who is 76, and his wife Jan, 73, rode their Harley-Davidson from their home near Monterey. All the way, Harry said, his wife was sitting right behind, her arms around his belly and her mouth close to his ear, hollering advice from the rear seat.

“Mostly it was, ‘Slow down, slow down,’” said Harry.

They seemed to be typical of the Hollister crowd — retired, friendly, weather-worn and excruciatingly law abiding.

“The Hollywood image, that’s all crap,” said Harry. “We’re just here to have a good time with our friends.”

Richard Sutton, 70, rode his Harley from Hayward and was browsing the $15 T-shirt rack. He looked at the one that said on the back, “If you can read this, the b— fell off.” He said he didn’t think it was funny and that probably no one else did, either. Nobody bought one.

“I don’t know anyone who would actually wear that shirt,” Sutton said. “It’s offensive.”

The busiest member of Hollister’s law-enforcement team was crossing guard Nuno Flor. He stood with a handheld stop sign, the kind that helps a kindergartner get to school, and dozens of beefy guys in leather squealed to a stop on San Benito Street and waited single file, polite as pie. There was no impatient revving, either.

“I’ve never had a problem,” said Flor. “I hold up the stop sign. They stop.”

Police Chief David Westrick said he rarely has a problem with the bikers, especially after he installed a couple of speed bumps in the center of town.

“These are good people,” he said.

The chief said he wasn’t around in 1947, but his mother-in-law was. He asked her what happened.

“She said it was nothing like the movie,” the chief said. “I checked the police log for back then. One guy was arrested for public intoxication. That was it.”

Around town are posted signs that say, “No alcohol, pets, drugs, guns, knives or glass containers.” Everybody got that message, long ago.

Fernando “Jalapeño” Dominguez, 55, rode his bike to the festival from Chihuahua, Mexico. He was passing out chile peppers to his pals. That’s his thing, not alcohol.

“All of us, we got a bum rap,” Dominguez said. “It’s just like pit bulls. They’re nice. They’re not all killers.”

Cal Wilson rode from Idyllwild (Riverside County) and said he was looking for fun, not a fight. He’s been in fights, he said, and they aren’t fun. In his spare time, he puts on a Santa Claus suit and sits on the main street of his hometown, posing for pictures. Even in the summer.

“Not all of us are drunks who like to beat the s— out of people,” he said. “I’d rather be Santa Claus.”

Also on hand was Erik Estrada, the star of the “CHiPs” TV show from the 1970s. He’s the “celebrity host” of this year’s rally, which means his job is to walk up and down San Benito Street, posing for selfies. He’s 68 years old now, like a fair number of his fans.

His hair was black as a Harley tire, he said, for a good reason.

“I color it,” he said. “You think I’m going to show up here with gray hair? Are you crazy?”

In Hollister, there is no Bleeker’s Cafe, the one in the movie where Brando falls in love with the waitress. But there is Johnny’s Bar and Grill, which comes close. It’s got pictures of Brando on the wall, as do half the bars in town, but that doesn’t mean customers should punch each other in the nose, said bartender Lydia O’Brien.

“We’re mild and mellow,” she said. “If there are disrupters, they’re not part of this crowd.”

Any disrupters would have to contend with the JC and Us Ministry, a troupe of Bible thumpers that draws its crowds by staging a stunt show in which two motorcycles ride around and around inside a see-through steel sphere called the “cage of death.” After the show, Ron Ogren hands out Bible tracts and, in the sea of spike helmets, there are always takers.

“Jesus drew crowds,” he said. “We’re doing the same thing.”

On the main stage, rock and roller Blaine Ward of Lucky Tongue was belting out ’60s tunes, because that’s what the sort-of tough guys with the salt-and-pepper beards wanted to hear. Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beatles and nothing much newer than that.

“These people are the biggest bunch of teddy bears ever,” Ward said. “They’re real people. No phony clothes. They look out for each other. Everything else is Hollywood.”

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Steve Rubenstein
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