For most of the twentieth century, No nation on Earth could outpace the GDP of these great United States. From baby buggies to bumbershoots, "Made in America" said something, and American industries took pride in saying it. After WWII, however, many American engineers found themselves being exported to the factories of our allies and enemies alike to stop the economic bleeding on their war-torn shores.
From these US-led philanthropic programs a new global economy was born, with nations developing specialties that would ensure their individual prosperity for generations. While Germany and Japan energized their economies building automobiles and electronics for the common man, America's best and brightest focused their industrial might against the other last, great post-war superpower: Russia The strategic shift from domestically produced consumables to big-ticket weapons and high-tech made the growth plan for every savvy US business obvious: build more RADAR, less RadarRanges. While we played cat-and-mouse with the Red Menace, China, Taiwan and South Korea humbly offered their mass-production services to anyone with a blueprint, a purchase order and a line of credit.
From this paradigm shift another new, uniquely American talent sprung: Branding and Promotion. If you couldn't beat them with Research and Development, simply Rip off and Duplicate and let the admen do their stuff. It worked, because America gobbled up every Japanese stereo, German car and Chinese pogo stick Madison Avenue could dump at her feet. No individual or business was immune to the siren song of satisfaction and low prices, and American institutions like The Schwinn Bicycle Co., Motorola, General Electric and Harley-Davidson simply grabbed an oar on the slow boat from China and started rowing. To sustain their own growth and prosperity, the best offshore suppliers of US-branded merchandise invested billions in advanced materials and technologies, to the point where it is now impossible to build a cellphone, a bicycle or a motorcycle that is 100-percent "American Made."
For lovers of two-wheeled machines, this is heartbreaking. While I didn't grow up in the Golden Age of the American motorcycle, I have lived in the eye of a different but curiously connected two-wheeled storm: Bicycle Motocross. The Golden Age of the American BMX industry was between 1974 and 1982, when Mongoose and Schwinn mass-produced hundreds of thousands of high-end 20-inch bikes in US factories, and dozens of boutique builders from ACS to VDC handcrafted quality bikes, parts and accessories on American shores. Today many motorcycle and car enthusiasts in their 30s and 40s cut their grease monkey teeth on BMX bikes built by companies I admired or worked for in my youth. One such gentleman is Marshall at Topping Events.
Topping Events hosted their inaugural So-Cal Cycle Show and Swapmeet at the Long Beach Municipal Stadium in 1997. Given SoCal's distinction as the spiritual home of both the custom chopper and early BMX industries, it didn't take long for Marshall to make the connection between both scenes, and to open his event to fans of rusty old bicycles, too. Fail to see the connection? Does the name Gary Littlejohn ring any bells? Beginning in the 1960s, this Hollywood stuntman, motorycle builder and metal fabricator crafted choppers, sidehacks, gas tanks and BMX frames. My first real BMX bike was a Littlejohn-Murphy monoshock I ordered from a California-based motorcycle and BMX mailorder in 1974.
On the third or fourth Sunday of every month, dozens of motorcycle swappers and a growing number of old bicycle collectors converge in the parking lot of the Long Beach Municipal Stadium at 5:30 a.m. to show their wares to the hungry mass of early risers. With flashlights in one hand and hot coffees in the other, ardent patrons of patina lurch from space to space like zombies searching for fresh meat. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and no one leaves Long Beach empty-handed.
The Long Beach Swap Meet brings out a who's who of modern builders, media mavens and bikeriders, which is why events like it are such powerful catalysts for the health and propserity of our scene. When "new" is too expensive, too garish or too cheap for someone's taste, "used" never seems to go out of style. Where else but Long Beach might you find the rocker box off an Ironhead and an Ashtabula BMX fork on the same table? The American industrial complex might be going to hell in a handbasket, but free-market capitalism doesn't get much better than that.