I Still Hate Rolling Thunder

I didn’t always. In fact, back when the whole thing started it actually struck me as an excellent idea. On top of the original issue of servicemembers missing and unaccounted for, we were just starting to hear about things like the government’s shabby effort to sweep Agent Orange under the rug; “crazy Vietnam veteran” had become a stock phrase, the nation conspicuously wanted these guys to go away and I was glad they refused to do so. There are times when being meek and tasteful is not a virtue and this seemed like one of them. Sometimes you have to make noise.

[For my non-U.S. readers: Rolling Thunder began in 1987 as a motorcycle ride through the nation’s capital on Memorial Day; there were  two to three thousand bikes involved. Currently we see more than ten times that many. The group behind the ride sponsors charities; fine, good. Every year they converge on the DC area: enough already. I hate to think how much of my local tax money goes to managing this production.]

A quarter century later, I don’t really detect any remaining rationale behind the annual ride, except that it’s an excuse to make noise. Rolling Thunder’s in town! Yippee ki-yay! People who live near the assembly point of the ride, south of me near the Pentagon, have to put up with the racket, the fried hydrocarbons, the takeover of the roads. The rest of us just know we don’t dare go into the District today, at least not if we don’t want to get entangled with a four-star clusterfuck, generated mostly by people who want to piggyback onto the respect that combat veterans earned in blood and terror by riding a motorcycle so other people can cheer at them. It’s a little like my increasing disgust with the Pink Ribbon campaigns — turning something that is deadly serious into a big party, marketing opportunity (oh, you bet that the motels and bars hereabouts love Rolling Thunder), attention grab and general nuisance by claiming to support a “good cause.”

I used to live in a rental townhouse a few miles from here and one year a guy in a detached home behind me got a block party permit without consulting any of his neighbors and had a Rolling Thunder beer party with about three hundred of his closest friends: bikes by the dozen lining the end of the cul-de-sac, outdoor amped music rattling our windows in the frames, Jiffy Johns, the whole shooting match. He was a supernal asshole most days, whose dog was always getting loose, nasty when confronted about it; the whole ‘hood must have been lighting up the police switchboard before we could shut them down. Respecting the troops, my butt.

I say end the thing, leave the crotch rockets at home, and if you’re a civilian and want to show how much you care about our soldiers past and present, start on foot at the end of Memorial Bridge and finish up at the Capitol. In orderly, silent, reverent formation, carrying your flag, or march at dusk and carry a candle, we can work out the details later. But don’t ask me to believe your weekend-long beer party and bike rally is about anything but that universal American holiday-weekend regression to the mean: have a sale, act adolescent, drink alcohol, what was this about again?

Wonder how many takers there’d be. It’s hot. Americans are fat. Bets?


9 thoughts on “I Still Hate Rolling Thunder

  1. We’re surrounded by bikers at the moment [and at the beginning of May]. There used to be a tradition of heading down to the South coast for drinking and fighting. Nowadays most seem to have silver hair and talk about their gardens in the pubs whilst downing a swift half of Evian.

    • It sometimes seems to me that everything in America, and possibly the industrialized world, is ruined by the inevitable degradation toward “let’s party” (I still do not fully understand what that means as a verb, other than to drink, eat, yell and be rude, and behave in ways that ought to embarrass an adult).

      As for Rolling Thunder specifically, what cranks me more than anything is the enshrinement of the “F&^% you if you got a problem” attitude. “We died for you, or oops we’re still here but anyway someone died for you, or at least someone died because of disastrous foreign and military policy on the part of the country where we both live, so shut up and let us disturb the peace as much as we like.”

      It’s the annual apotheosis of people who go around with a permanent grievance or just lust for that one day a year when they can parade a screw-you attitude and get cheered for it. I hate it.

  2. I was trapped, and lost in DC in the midst of one of these, back in 88 or 89. What a mess.

    Hera and I made an effort to avoid even leaving the neighborhood when events like this were held. The detours, the resulting gridlock, and the inevitable accidents made driving in DC during these events just unbearable.

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