Gasoline tourism in the 7th circle of hell


The moon was rising over the bay; cool highlights sparkled on the surface. The sounds of jazz, tinkling glasses and people chatting drifted from the old Fulcrum bistro on main street across the water to where we were lounging on the back of our sailboat. It was a magical night.

Fast forward three years. It’s a hot sunny afternoon. The mayor and the town manager are standing in front of the same Fulcrum bistro, now long closed, the subject of many noise complains and council meetings. The driver of a custom Harley motorcycle lights up the engine, cranks the throttle wide open and does a standing burnout, motor roaring, rear tire smoking. A man walking with his small daughter on the sidewalk claps his hands over her head to protect her ears. When the driver eases off on the throttle the mayor and the small group begin to clap and cheer.

That was a small taste of the Atlanticade motorcycle event in the pretty, quiet seaside resort of St. Andrews. And apparently the town “needed” these tourism dollars. It reminded me a bit of the old joke about a guy walking up to a beautiful woman at a party and asking her if she’d spend the night with him. “Are you kidding?” she says looking him over with distain. “Okay, imagine if I were rich,” he says, “and I offered you a million dollars,” to which she answers, “Oh, yeah, so show me the million dollars.” Not missing a beat he says, “Good. Now that we know what you are, let’s talk about price... The price for us last weekend was having to live in the noise equivalent of the seventh circle of hell.

Our house is located in the epicentre of Atlanticade, about 25 feet from the main entrance-road into town. Every motorcycle coming into town had to pass by our house. Better yet, the entire noisy event was headquartered at the arena, just a couple of hundred yards away from our house. The non-stop noise was horrendous. Sleeping with the windows open was impossible. Our kids kept complaining about the noise and waking up every morning with headaches. Of course none of this would matter to anyone living far enough away from the zoo.

The residents of the town were sold a pretty good bill of goods on this event: it would be good for our economy and good for tourism, yada, yada. So I was surprised to see a whole tent colony of shops sprout up at the arena to sell goods to the visiting bikers. How was that good for our local retailers? And how much did all the portapotties and town staff and facilities cost the town—relative to the increase in income?

We were also told that this was a new breed of biker—credit card bikers, doctors and lawyers and such, just having fun. And that most of the bikes would be quiet. Nope. I don’t think so. While there may have been doctors and lawyers, a whole lot of them were certainly NOT riding quietly, or riding on quiet bikes. They were more like a swarm of Hells Angels with a teenage compulsion for generating maximum noise from their machines all hours of the day and night for three days.

And all that income? A lot of them seemed to bring a lot of their own supplies with them. From short conversations I’ve heard that sales were actually down on Canada Day for some restaurants, and for whale tours as well. Some art galleries didn’t fare any better. One art opening that usually attracted over 100 people drew only 12. As for attractions, Canada Day visits to Ministers Island were very low, just 10 people made the trip. I heard, perhaps incorrectly, that even the Algonquin Hotel didn’t do the numbers it expected.

Some retailers did do quite well. The bars and watering holes like Tim’s did a land office business. Inexpensive rooms sold out and even booked for next year, so I guess some people benefited—as long as they fit the biker profile. But therein lies the problem. Does St. Andrews fit the bikers’ profile?

And what about that bikers’ profile? One thing stands out: the sea of white hair and grey beards. This is an aging demographic. In fact, this is the last of the hardcore fossil fuel generation—riding the toys they couldn’t afford when they were kids. For today’s kids its video games, iPhones and Facebook. The digital generation has arrived and the gasoline generation is finally moving on.

Atlanticade and Sturgis in the States and NASCAR are the last gasps of the fossil fuel generation. Inevitably, these will go the way of earlier pastimes such as hunting and fishing, also greying sports as the lodge owners in northern Canada will attest.

So as we make plans for next year’s Atlanticade, we might consider that creating activity doesn’t necessarily translate into a better economy—especially on the busiest day of the season. We might also think more about how to build for tomorrow’s tourism customer, rather than submitting to an adolescent past.

On a final note, to the town’s credit, this was the most well-coordinated, well-managed events I’ve seen out here. A few quieter, profitable shoulder season events—like Moncton’s Northrop Frye literary festival—would really benefit from this level of organization. And maybe save a bit of fossil fuel in the process.


  1. Bikes quiet? Now that's funny. Haven't seen one yet.

    You have my sympathy, Gerald.

    On those rare occasions when there is a macho driver of a two-wheeled vehicle passing through our subdivision, with the mandatory gush of noise and smoke (and, quite possibly, flames -- and if not, that's surely not for the lack of trying), I feel an immediate and impossible to repress homicidal urge. Thank goodness they don't stay around. I can only imagine your ordeal. Ugh.

  2. Yeah. Insufferably loud. This piece ran in the local weekly, and I was pilloried to the point of near libel in the followup letters to the editor. One of them was my former employer and philanthropist, who seems at age 80 to have become a big biker fan. It's a strange world...


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