Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Death of Myrtle Beach

Let us offer a moment of silence for the late, lovely party town known as Myrtle Beach.

Once a winking temptress offering sand by day and devilry at night, the resort is cleaning up its act faster than Saint Paul toppled from his steed.

Once a hotbed of anything goes, the new refrain on Horry's shores is “No, no, nope, and forget it, buster.”

Oh, how the lowly have risen.

Myrtle's assault on festivities of yore are most pronounced on the motorcycling public, which tended to annually gather in roaring masses. We will not, clucks the town, abide this any longer.

Bike weeks drew tens of thousands of cycle enthusiasts and their admirers. They were noisy spectacles with a good bit of showing off, often testing organic limits of eardrum and liver.

Motorcycle people have always carried menacing reputations. But scratch beneath the leather and chains of the modern biker and you're as likely to find a banker or endocrinologist as a low-life kitten-killer pepped on glue.

With any large gathering, there are always a few who forget the boundaries of decorum, and Myrtle Beach bike weeks had their share. Stories are told, if you know what I mean. Participants were regularly steered before scowling magistrates on charges of “offending public sensibilities” and other high misdemeanors.

Myrtle Beach can't ban the bike weeks because the town never officially sponsored them, so it has passed rules requiring riders to wear helmets and erected other roadblocks to traditional debauchery.

This tide of wholesomeness runs counter to the history of The Strand. For generations, it attracted newly graduated high-schoolers exploring the forbidden fruits of adolescence, while duly assuring parents (as their parents had duly assured their grandparents) that the biggest threat to their youthful innocence was a nasty sunburn.

It was the town whose sublime honky-tonks hatched the mildly seductive shag. It was the land whose collective wisdom sent to Washington one John Jenrette, better remembered for hanky-panky behind a Capitol column with bride Rita than his bribery conviction.

It was a place that knew how to look the other way, but will do so no more.

With its gaudy main drag clogged with theme restaurants, pirate-cove kid parks and well-fountained condos hiding the sky, Myrtle Beach is banking its future on respectability. It wants to shed its image as Gomorrah-by-the-Sea. Out go vulgar T-shirts, in comes the Brooks Brothers outlet.

Now comes a new moral beachhead: the city wants to beef up its anti-thong law. It wants to let its constables ticket or arrest offenders on first offense.

Take this as a sign that old Myrtle Beach – that boozy, floozy respite by the shore –is officially dead.

For the new Myrtle Beach, there's no end in sight.

Mark Washburn

Mark writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer and from time to time is "used" as a fill in for Cedar Posts.

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