Herman: Hanging out at ROT

12:00 a.m. Saturday, June 21, 2014 Opinion

I spent the first weekend in June with the Republicans of Texas at their state convention in Fort Worth. I spent part of the second weekend in June with the Republic of Texas at its motorcycle rally at the Travis County Exposition Center.

Compare and contrast.

One had a straw poll; the other had stripper poles. Both had T-shirts for sale, but only one had shirts on which “bitch” was a term of endearment. One event had well-dressed women. The other had semi-dressed women, including some who apparently cannot afford a full set of clothing. So sad (or, in some cases, so sag).

The ROT Rally poses many important questions about life in 21st century America, not the least of which is should a public-owned facility be used for such goings-on?

At the rally, I watched (for journalistic purposes) a parade of women eagerly displaying what God (and, in some cases, skilled medical professionals) had given them. I’m pretty sure these daughters of the Republic of Texas were not the same Daughters of the Republic of Texas who ran the Alamo for a long time.

I attended with Travis County Commissioner Bruce Todd, who has concerns about whether the whole ROT Rally thing is a good idea. Travis County owns the Expo Center.

What I saw in four hours out there showed me it indeed had something in common with the GOP convention: Some people might see folks enjoying their constitutional right to express themselves. Other folks might see the on ramp to the one-way highway to the end of civilization.

When darkness fell at the ROT Rally, a parade of motorcycles and golf carts did laps through the grounds. I believe alcohol was being consumed, which is good for tax revenue, if not health care cost containment. Some vehicles carried women exchanging glimpses of themselves for beads. Men in roadside chairs screamed encouragement.

Some of the women seemed quite experienced at this, including two who hung upside down from the top of a golf cart, a pose that inspired several men to discuss gravity and things that can defy it. It’s nice to hear folks discussing important scientific concepts.

The alcohol-infused frolicking was punctuated by Travis County deputies informing us of a tornado watch and encouraging us to seek shelter. Some folks retreated to their RVs. The rest of us headed to the building called the “Thunderdome” during ROT.

Inside, we were treated to a “comedy show.” Being more of a Henny Youngman guy, it was not my brand of comedy. (FYI, Commissioner Todd was home by now.) The raunchfest was a hit with the crowd, including a guy wearing patches that said “RIP Porker” and “RIP Jermo” and a guy carrying a duck.

There also was a touching tribute to a Vietnam veteran who was touched by a woman who showed her patriotism by dancing and showing herself, up close and personal, to him as he sat in a chair on stage. Later, several men participated in a biggest belly contest. Impressive.

And Americans’ love of T-shirts was on display when three women gave their all to win one in the fake orgasm contest. So good was the winner that, after she got up from the floor, an emcee questioned whether she had cheated by not faking.

She earned a T-shirt she can take off at next year’s ROT Rally.

Which leads us to the question: Is this healthy? Should the Travis County commissioners be renting its facilities for this kind of stuff? Remember, these are the folks who ran off the gun show because they wanted operators to go beyond what the law requires for gun sales.

ROT paid $114,654 this year, the third highest rental fee at the Expo Center behind the $232,048 paid by the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo and $116,251 paid by the gun show.

Todd’s concerns are about what goes on all around town during ROT, including traffic, noise, and “virtually every year there’s a death count.” There wasn’t one this year, which I’ll score as a tribute to local law enforcement and ROT participants’ willingness to be more careful.

ROT organizers say the event, which draws 40,000 motorcycles and 200,000 participants, generates about $36 million in local economic impact. That compares to claimed economic impact of $281 million for South by Southwest and $183 million by ACL Music Festival (2013 numbers for each).

ROT spokeswoman Ashley DuPree noted this year’s “family friendly” expansion downtown, in the American-Statesman parking lot. In an email to staff, Managing Editor John Bridges said in addition to producing revenue, “being a community gathering place is a pretty good thing and generates goodwill — as long as everyone leaves their clothes on.”

I don’t know, there seemed to be plenty of goodwill out at the Expo Center, even if everyone didn’t leave their clothes on. But I was very uncomfortable about what I saw, including the mixture of alcohol and motorized conveyances.

However, as Todd noted, everybody out there knew what they were getting into. It was an 18-and-over venue and admission was $65, more to park an RV out there. Was some of it potentially dangerous? Sure, lots of stuff is.

And ROT draws a diverse crowd of motorcycle enthusiasts, including veterans’ groups, Christian bikers and folks whose love of motorcycles does not extend into a full-time lifestyle. But for the nighttime crowd at the Expo Center, it is something of a lifestyle, some might say a lowlifestyle.

“Three things seemed to occupy people’s actions and interest,” Todd said in a morning-after assessment. “One, beer. Two, cigarettes. And third, topless women. Two of these are bad for you. You pick.”

Todd decided “we should not kick them out just because we find offensive things in there, so long as they do not knowingly permit illegal behavior.”

“However, it would be legal and appropriate to require that nothing they do as an organization in any way interferes with the community outside the boundaries of the rodeo ground.”

Todd likes the idea of improving the Expo Center to “attract other users more in line with the community interest.”

Should ROT’s use of the Expo Center be stopped? That gets me back to the GOP convention and when I think Repubs are at their worst, and that’s when they try to overlay their standards of conduct on other consenting adults.

I’m sure there are some Repubs (and Dems and independents) who think ROT folks will rot in hell. Could be, but they seem to be having fun (their raucous brand of it) en route.

Me? I knew I was a geezer when my reaction to the stripper pole performances and related folderol was this: “Somewhere there’s a father … .”

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