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Back to the Future

January is always a good time to look forward to the coming year, but it’s also a good time to look back at where you came from. Sometimes, it’s good to look way, way back.

Today, I looked back to 1974, and a scanned article from Custom Chopper magazine that talked all about a motorcycle rally in the California redwood forest, and more importantly, what went into planning that event. Some of these things might be familiar to you, some might not…

First, you had publicity. This was an invitational event. Back then, that meant calling people on the phone, talking to them in person or even sending them an invitation in the mail- no Facebook, email blasts, Twitter or Zvents back then! But what if it’s a public event? Well, it was all about fliers, advertisements in newspapers and magazine, posters on lamp posts and in stores, bars, phone booths and anywhere else you could stick them up, word of mouth and a good network. Networks are still important today, but they’re a lot faster!

Then, you have organization. According to the article, people came from Stockton, Hayward, Concord, even Fresno, all the way up to the North Coast. Nobody used Google maps or email confirmations, they just sent in their registration (by mail!) and took off on faith. The camp ground was organized either by phone or by mail as well, or maybe Jeff McCann rode his motorcycle all the way up there from his shop in Stockton. Either way, there was no online form.

And food? Food was all catered locally and cooked on site. Custom Chopper writes that the attendees consumed 125 cases of beer, a 200 lb pig (and 7 extra hams), 25 gallons of baked beans and “an undetermined quantity of macaroni salad.” Today, you couldn’t get away with that in Northern California- there would have to be some sort of vegetable option for the non-carnivores. Oh, and the beer? Forget about that much alcohol and no non-alcoholic beverages at an event where almost everyone is driving their own vehicles. We’ve come a long way in safety, as well as technology.

Security? What security? Despite a bunch of bikers descending on a remote camp ground by the Eel River, the local constabulary limited themselves to a quick check, and were satisfied with a promise that everyone was behaving themselves. Today, there would be a swarm of private security running around in yellow jackets and probably a few cops as well, just to keep an eye on things. There would be a medical staff, organizational staff, insurance, maybe a corporation or a non-profit running it all, and forget about the band playing for 9 hours straight on the back of a truck.

Finally, there’s the legacy. Today, that event would be all over Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. Every moment would have been recorded on a cell phone and uploaded, shared and shared again. Back then, it was stories told over a beer at the local watering hole, a few blurry snapshots and a three-page article in an industry magazine. Whether it was about respect or lack of opportunity, privacy was assumed. Nobody knew who drank too much and made a fool of themselves unless they were there or knew someone who was, and it certainly didn’t make Most Watched on YouTube.

Things have changed a lot in the past 35+ years, but a lot has stayed the same. You still need publicity, organization, feeding the masses, security and some way to manage your reputation afterward. People still eat, problems will still arise, they will still be dealt with, and in the end everyone will have had a great time. Only now, it’s on YouTube.

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