As Volusia and Flagler County residents continue the arduous process of digging out following the vicious onslaught of Hurricane Matthew, many in our community have differing opinions on whether the annual bacchanalia of Biketoberfest should be cancelled, or welcomed.
The answer is – you’re both right.
I agree with those who argue that adding 100,000 motorcycles to this witch’s brew of downed power lines, rotting debris piles, sporadic electricity, twisted signs and awnings, and large sections of roadway that are still in ruins.
As the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean so insightfully pointed out, “Biketoberfest is all about two-wheeled fun on the roads, and some intersections still don’t have functioning lights.”
Not to mention the privations of friends and family who have been displaced, or those living primitively without power, hot showers, or the ability to refrigerate food or prepare meals – especially the elderly and infirm.
Earlier this week, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, I saw a pack of early-bird bikers from Ontario rolling two abreast on A-1-A, slowing down to sight-see, as several out-of-state utility crews trailed behind them in a valiant attempt to restore power to weary residents.
My blood boiled – not at the bikers, they planned a vacation and here they are. I get it.
I was angry at the abject stupidity of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau who failed to see the wisdom in cancelling or postponing an event that requires massive and intensive government resources from east Volusia municipalities and the sheriff’s office – police, fire, EMS, code enforcement, traffic control, permitting, etc., etc. – while our citizens are still in shock; still reeling and cleaning-up from the devastating effects of a Category 3 storm.
It’s almost heartless. Even cruel.
Putting the wants and desires of those who stand to benefit financially from this annual event ahead of the humanitarian needs and personal convenience of struggling residents is beyond shocking – but it best epitomizes how we do things here on the “Fun Coast.”
But then I consider the other side of the argument.
For years we have allowed our elected and appointed officials – at the direction and urging of their uber-wealthy handlers – to cobble together a fragile, one-dimensional economy based almost completely on the uncertainty and instability of various “special events.”
It’s bikes, beer, and automobile racing.
I understand when that is all you have going for you – the difference between feeding your family or not – it’s important to take advantage of these limited opportunities when you can.
As I’ve said before, our county government has become a plutocracy – ruled exclusively by oligarchs – who know that any form of economic progress or expansion will diminish their influence and span of control.
They know the masses can only be controlled if you keep them hungry.
That’s equally heartless.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record – our area needs deep and comprehensive revitalization with an emphasis on rebuilding our broken tourism industry, stabilizing our governance and leadership, and initiating massive reform of our almost criminal corporate welfare scheme.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, many areas of Volusia County stand at the crossroad of opportunity and transformation.
The third leg of that stool is strategic vision.
In short, now is the time to foster an environment that will attract outside investment and create diverse opportunities – not just those that benefit the well-connected few.
Whether or not our elected officials have the foresight and strength of character to seize the moment without a laser focus on lining their pockets, and those of their friends, remains to be seen.
In my view, now is the time to begin building a local economy that isn’t completely reliant on biker rallies, service jobs, and the largess of a few Machiavellian millionaires with personal profit motives.