The Bat Bike Regatta
If I could tell the story of the Suck-‘Em Santas on this blog, I can surely tell the comparatively tame story of the Bat-Bike Regatta, another event of no redeeming value that involved many bars. The Bat-Bike Regatta was a summertime event, intended to hit every single bar on the South Jersey island that is home to the towns of Stone Harbor and Avalon. The island stretches about 6 or 7 miles north to south, with most of the bars their within a five mile strip. Too far to walk, for sure, but not too much ground to cover on a “bat-bike.” If I recall, and it is difficult to recall, a bat-bike was the nickname applied to a popular sort of retro-bike that was ubiquitous down the shore. Bat-bikes generally were gearless contraptions with coaster brakes, exaggeratedly rounded frame elements painted in basic colors, oversized pear-shaped seats with two big springs underlying them to cushion the ride, and simple u-shaped handlebars with plastic grips at either end.
The assumption, and it is generally a bad one on an island filled with twenty-something drunks, was that a bat-bike was low-maintenance in terms of theft prevention. There was no need to lock them, or so went the popular wisdom, because simplicity made them a silly thing to risk incarceration over. Some of the stories I recall from my days down the shore I now doubt the accuracy of because they border on the verge of urban legend status, and one in particular seems too perfect to be true. A lifeguard from Sea Isle, the next island north, who frequented some of the Stone Harbor bars, decided the best way to get back to Sea Isle one night after closing time was to steal a bat-bike. Penniless, he came upon the toll booth that sits atop the bridge between the islands that stretches over the inlet, and was required to pay a $0.25 toll, which applied to anything with wheels. Pressed to produce the toll by a diligent tollmaster, and knowing that no toll was required for walkers, he walked the bike from the toll booth to the edge of the bridge, hoisted the frame in the air and clear of the bridge rail, threw the bat-bike straight into the bay, and walked on.
In any given bat-bike regatta, moreover, a participant may be unwittingly cruising the streets on a once-stolen bike. In the first event I participated in, a friend hooked me up with a classic bat-bike, perfect for the event. I proudly pedaled it to the starting point of the event at Touche, and left it in the crush of piled up bat bikes left by other regatters eager for their first drink. I joined them forthwith, and while sipping my cocktail moments later, a couple of our merry band came laughing up to the bar, sharing a rather amusing observation. As they were parking their bikes with the others, an older couple walking by the bar came to a sudden hault, with the man eyeing up one of the bikes. He concluded quickly that the bike was the precise one that was stolen off of his property earlier in the summer. He grabbed the bike and stole it right back. A great story, no doubt, except for one fact – the bike was mine for the event. I had to scramble for a replacement, though I did manage.
I don’t know who hatched the idea for the first bat bike regatta, but in the case of the ones I participated in, the event was clearly animated by the personality of John Evans, nicknamed both “Snake” and “Worm.” It is hard to understand the transforming passion that some people feel toward an event that takes place once per year, but Snake seemed to value the bat bike regatta above all other things. He was the primary organizer and recognized leader of the group, setting the course and ushering regatters from bar to bar on schedule. Snake was a cross-country and track runner at Penn State, and a fellow guard in Stone Harbor. As a runner myself, we always had plenty to talk about. He once recounted to me that some group of medical school faculty wanted to measure the effects of intense athletic training upon sperm production, and so they came to the cross-country team to draw all of their subjects. Snake refused to participate, deeply offended that the researchers would simply assume that all cross-country runners masturbate.
There was no honor among thieves at the bat bike regatta, so one always had to be careful that someone within the group didn’t ride off on your bike. It is one of those mysteries of the universe, that the number of people in the regatta stayed the same, but as the drinking progressed, one by one bikes would mysteriously start to dwindle. This usually meant two things: you would either be riding someone or be ridden double at some point during the event, and that there was some decent probability you would have to do some explaining the next day to the owner who lent you your bike.
The first one I participated in was about 4 or 5 days prior to my 21st birthday. The event started early, so being carded was not a problem for most of the event. But when we finally wound our way back to Fred’s Tavern in Stone Harbor, I was rejected at the door. It was about 11 pm, and defeated at the door, I started to stroll down 96th street to head home, when the Hanford twins drove by. They were going to Snickers and asked me to join, so I figured – what the hell, one last shot at getting into a bar underage couldn’t hurt.
We approached the door to Snickers, and a black man big as a house was working the door. I hand him my ID, looking straight past him with my hand out to receive the ID back, playing it cool, like my eyes are already plotting my path to the bar. He reads the ID, looks at me, my eyes still fixed on my next task, and says the ID clearly shows my birthday is still 4 days away. Without any planning, in what I consider the funniest spontaneous line I’ve ever delivered, I said “yeah, yeah, yeah, the ID says August 3rd, but my due date was July 20, I was two weeks late – Cesarian section (not true), it was real ugly.” The house laughed, handed me the ID, and told me to have fun.