Top Hatters

tophatters

There must be something in the water, or more likely, the beer in Hollister, California. In motorcycle club culture, Hollister is the birthplace of the American biker. The small town in San Benito county has given birth to some of the most famous and infamous biker clubs in America.

The Boozefighters made history there as did the Yellow-Jackets, the Bravo brothers and the Jackpine Gypsies. I think I know what bikers loved about Hollister–its physical beauty. The hills, mountains, lakes and all of that glorious road. . .it wasn’t far from wine country, or the terra firma of John Steinbeck and Cannery Row. Hollister was firmly ensconced in the landscape of the American dream that they’d been told so much about; a place so idyllic, as to be preserved in the reliquary of the post-war mind.

The Bravo brothers, Jess and Joe, founded the Top-Hatters. Though they never sported the “One Percenter” patch, they were their own guys who didn’t fit into the world in a conventional way. Like the outlaw clubs, there was a wide nonconformist stripe in the Tophatters. They were founded in 1947 and are considered one of the pioneer clubs who, again, were largely comprised of WWII combat veterans. To this day, the Tophatters do a lot of charity work with veterans, and are resolutely patriotic. Mostly, they like riding their bikes with their brothers and being left the fuck alone.

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Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Stoned Riders

stonedriders

Some time around the ’50s, motorcycle clubs, at least the outlaw variety, found marijuana. It was perfectly anti-establishment and pissed off the squares. It also gave birth to motorcycle clubs like the “Stoned Riders” of whom I know absolutely nothing about.

Myself, I haven’t smoked any herb in over 30 years, but I get what people like about it. Lots of my friends use it to sleep.

The Stoned Riders? They were from Santa Maria, California and they rocked my old pal, the Zig-Zag man. If you wanted to piss your teachers off in a huge way, just draw the Zig-Zag man on your folder or your book. It was like waving a red flag at an enraged bull. We had a cement-head assistant principal who would go apoplectic at the sight of our Persian friend. All they knew was the Zig-Zag man meant “pot” and he was everywhere–t-shirts, scrawled on textbooks inside and out. . .every bit of pothead graffiti was either the hemp leaf or Double Z. I got so I could draw the stoner icon without looking. In fact, I recall spray painting a stencil of Zig on the trunk of a teachers car. It was a fucking masterpiece of vandalism–the sharp Persian features. . the big, perfectly-rendered fatty. . .it made me so happy. I almost got caught standing around admiring it. This one is for those unknown pot gypsies, the Stoned Riders of Santa Maria, California.

Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 3:32 am  Comments (3)  
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Yellow jackets

yellowjackets

The Yellow Jackets are probably the first Motorcycle club in America–forming in 1938, which makes it a toss-up between them and Illinois’ own Outlaws MC.

This was the first patch they ever had. They were mostly former military men who were among the most fearless road-bike racers in history. They raced wearing a black and yellow sweater under their colors as well as a bee-striped helmet. They were never an outlaw club and are not to this day, though early on, a great many of them were also members of the Boozefighters, including that club’s founder, Wino Willie Forkner.

The more one reads about motorcycle clubs, the more one comes to the realization of what a small culture it started out as. The Yellow Jackets were initially a car club and a lot of the guys (veterans without a lot of money) could not afford automobiles and were far more excited by the freedom of motorcycles.

Central to all of the MC’s, whether they are the darkest, meth-dealing, cold-blooded killer groups, or a club full of cops and former cops, is the idea of the motorcycle as an instrument of freedom. It is the binding object and metaphor–fast, dangerous, and eternal. Like I said. . .it’s why cowboys got off horses.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Devil’s Diciples

devilsdiciples

Before anyone jumps my ass about spelling, it should be noted that the Devils Diciples intentionally spell their name this way to disavow any religious affiliation. This is a club formed in 1967 by returning veterans from the Viet Nam War. They started with 12 original members–all vets–and today have chapters throughout Great Britain and Europe. They are very private and do not discuss their club’s business with anyone outside of the club.

It does not surprise me that the membership of this club are Viet Nam vets. A great many vets came home from southeast Asia only to be treated like pariahs. One can only imagine the profound sense of disillusionment this would entail.

Like clubs before them, this one started as a brotherhood of shared experience in the cauldron of warfare. Honor, pride, respect and loyalty were the code of these men as soldiers and after the sorry enterprise of the Viet Nam years, they sought out those who were most like themselves.

Published in: on January 19, 2013 at 12:36 am  Comments (1)  
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Three Aces

threeaces

One of the best things about Three Aces on Taylor Street is the number of bike clubs that visit and co-exist happily. It’s that kind of joint. It’s a bar where even people who can’t drink anymore can find a comfort level.

Half-Fast, the Boozefighters, the Southside clubs and many others stop in from time to time because it’s motorcycle friendly. The truth is, it is everybody-friendly (unless you’re a chooch). . .unless you’re a mental midget who doesn’t act right.

I’m amazed at the variety of people Three Aces attracts, and I know why.

Anthony Potenzo.

There is no better front of the house guy anywhere. This place has always been what he wanted and he relishes it. I never met a guy more happy to go to work. He is the Toots Shor of Taylor street.

In the summer, the patio is wide open and it is a study in urban sociology– aldermen, models, bikers, actors, tattoo artists, tradesmen, gearheads, writers, and people from the neighborhood mingle and laugh and drink, and for a time, the whole hurting world is on the other side of the fence.

I love this place.

 

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 11:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hell’s Angels – Frisco

frisco

“Patches do not belong to members; they belong to the club (now a corporation). We’ve had a lot of problems with that distinction when informants and rats give over their patches to the cops. When informants turn over, we’ll sue to get the patch back. According to our bylaws, a patch remains club property, but we generally don’t get patches back from rats. Our patch is our symbol, which is why our people fight to the death for them. If you lose one, it’s a big-time dishonor, which is why the cops love to grab them.”–Sonny Barger, Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angel’s Motorcycle Club

The flying skull image from the first incarnation of the Hell’s Angels was based on an aviator’s patch from World War II. A lot of the first Hell’s Angels and the Boozefighters were Air Force vets. It is a flying skull with an aviator’s cap and wings. Years later, the bigger design (the ‘Larger Barger’ as it is known) caused no small amount of acrimony between the older San Francisco Angels and the brash new Oakland Angels.

In this culture, the patch and your “colors: are a very serious thing. Your colors are not allowed to touch the ground–ever. The patch is sacrosanct, an article of faith and all that is holy to a Hell’s Angel.

The Angels are not great lovers of rules, but they certainly have them. Anybody jumps an Angel, it is everyone in “One on All and All on One.” Failing to stand up for a brother Angel immediately get you kicked out of the club.

There is also a rule against pulling a patch off of another chapter’s member. “Taking somebody’s patch is a dangerous symbolic gesture. It represents capitulation, defeat. Say somebody in San Jose gets pissed at a Nomad and gets into a fight and beats him up. He can’t take his patch. Any serious offense has to go up to an officer’s meeting and go through the proper channels. Just because a guy can beat me up, doesn’t entitle him to take my patch. If somebody beats me up and takes my patch, I might kill him, even if he’s a member.”

The symbolism of the patch cannot be underestimated. It is the symbol, in their eyes, of being free men and not belonging to the world of wage-slaves and sheep. It was Barger who made the Angels get rid of the swastika and Nazi regalia early on in the seventies. At first the club had Nazi flags just to piss people off–and that it did. Whatever coziness the left worked up for the Hell’s Angels, this kind of imagery dispelled. Barger himself was sensitive to this given his aviator heroes spent no small amount of their tours of duty dropping bombs on Nazis. By the end of the seventies, the Swastikas and double lightning bolts of the Luftwaffe were pretty much gone from the Angel’s vests.

A good deal of the Angels’ appearance is calculated to make one think of pirates, or Vikings or visigoths, meaning they mean to scare you. If they scare you, you’ll leave them the fuck alone. The Hell’s Angels are big fans of being left alone. They are also big fans of the “theater” of the Hell’s Angels. When attending a funeral, they attend en masse. On that day the rest of the world is put on notice. “Don’t fuck around with us today, we’re burying one of ours, and we are not in good humor.”

When other clubs predict that the Angels will not show up at the annual gathering of the tribes which occurs in Sturgis every year? A nation of Hell’s Angels show up from every corner of America; double file, unsmiling and overwhelmingly. . .present.

Barger’s book undoes some of the mythology surrounding Altamont, the disastrous “West Coast Woodstock” that ended in death, disillusionment and signaled the death knell of the love generation of the 1960s. In Barger’s telling, the Rolling Stones themselves were as much responsible for the unrest at the show as the Angels were and his logic makes a lot of sense. The Stones went on several hours late, keeping an already overwhelming, and really drunk and stoned crowd, waiting in the hot sun.

And there were already a lot of shoving and fistfights long before they deigned to come out of their bus and play their show. The crowd was already in a drug induced frenzy and even the most brazen Angels were scared by the size and ferocity of the crowd. This does not forgive the Angels over-reaction and violence, but it adds context to what actually happened.

There are telling spots in the film, Gimme Shelter, where the Stones stop playing and the crowd gets more angry. At one point the camera pans across Mick Jagger’s face and you can tell he is genuinely frightened and, for the first time–perhaps, in his career–he has NO control over his audience and one can’t help but feel that he, at this point, is an unwilling participant in all of this. The truth is Sonny Barger wasn’t in charge at Altamont–the San Francisco Hell’s Angels chapter was.

Even the late Bill Graham, who was NO fan of the Hell’s Angels, put the blame squarely on the Stones for a lot of prima donna behavior; delaying the show, for the unruliness of the crowd.

The more one reads of Sonny Barger’s history, the more one realizes that it is also the codified history of America: drugs, sex, love, hate, shame, fear, and rock and roll whipped into one hellish froth that somehow also reflects a grim prism of the American Experiment.

We would like to think we are better people than the Hell’s Angels. . .sell ourselves the bigger lie that our brutalities and bombings of civilians around the world are somehow a more civilized brand of murder. They are not. At least the Angels do not try to wrap their ugliest deeds in virtue and tell us it is all for the greater good. They know us and they know themselves and, in a large number, thinking as one?

Neither of us is any damn good at all.

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 5:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Black Knightz

blackknightz

Early on in Sonny Barger’s raucous autobiography, The Hells Angels leader laments the club’s choice of Harley Davidson motorcycles as their one and only, largely because of their shitty engineering early on. This surprised me to no end, given the reverence outlaw bike clubs, or “1%er’s,” as they were known long before that tag was hung on the greedy rich, have for the Harley Davidson Motorcycle.

He has a theory that I happen to agree with. What bikers love about Harleys is the low-end torque that makes the bike vibrate and rattle; transferring an almost sexual charge through your whole body. Never mind that you have to wrench-up the old bikes about every 200 miles or so, if you’re lucky. That they make your balls vibrate like a tuning fork has not hurt the appeal of the big American bikes.

Barger himself admits as much. He should have known that if they were the choice of the military–that these guys like a deal–the military almost always bought the cheapest shit out there and around the time of WWI and WWII, the cheapest bikes were Harley Davidson. In Barger’s life story, he takes great delight in relating how much he altered, chopped, forked and otherwise remade his Harleys. The bike was a mere template for him and the full-dressers were for squares.

Barger tells a very good story and puts an emphasis on the idea of the motorcycle being the object most central to the Angels forming a fraternity; central to everything bikers are about is the machine. It equals freedom. . .and nobody being able to catch you. It is the closest thing many men have to flying.

*

This club is called the Black Knightz, from Pomona California. Their charter reads: “Building Better Men,” and they do a lot of work with young men as well as veterans. If their annual picnic video is indicator, they are also not opposed to meeting girls and drinking beer. They are an African American Club, again, very much structured like a military unit, and I suspect a great many of these guys are veterans. On their website there is a group portrait of the Knightz and they are some serious looking guys. Their president, Big Ques, has a Ving Rhames vibe about him and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of this guy. There are some big guys in this club. There are also all kinds of motorcycles–lots of Kawasakis, Ducatis and other new brands kind of built to look like Harleys, like the Victory bikes. These guys are mostly working class guys with jobs. they’re not an outlaw club–too clean-looking.

This is actually about 90% of bike clubs. Very few of them are outlaw clubs.

It is a worth a visit to the Black Knightz to see the picnic video. Check it out. You’ll thank me.

Published in: on January 5, 2013 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Booze Fighters

boozefighers

“Johnny…What are you rebelling against?”

“Whatya’ got?”

–Marlon Brando
The Wild Ones

There has never been a better recruiting tool for motorcycle clubs than this movie. It is based on The Boozefighters, one of the first-ever motorcycle clubs in Southern California. It’s actually based on the Hollister, California “riots” in 1947, a riot so laughably tame it actually amounted to little more than six or seven Boozefighters being arrested for drunk and disorderly for drinking and racing their big American bikes in the streets of the small town, and a remarkably-pussy police force (only seven cops, two of them near retirement–they almost wet themselves) over a summer weekend that scared the shit out of the locals, who’d evidently never seen anyone piss in the street before.

It was not more dangerous than any small town parade with a few rowdy drunks thrown in. Well, a reporter got a hold of it on a slow news day and  decided to paint it as the end-all of civilization. The tale of a marauding gang of motorcycle hoodlums proved to be catnip for the Hollywood imagination as well. In one of the string of star-making roles Marlon Brando had in the mid-50s, none produced more juvenile delinquents than the The Wild Ones.

Along with Lee Marvin, who played “Chino”, (loosely based on Boozefighters founding member Wino Willie Forkner) Brando made it downright sexy to be a mouthy asshole on a motorcycle. Soon there were bike clubs all over California and the rest of the country, as well. But nowhere did they have the lifestyle currency that they had in California. Lots and lots of road, through mountains, next to the sea. . .from San Diego to Big Sur, there was lots of American landscape to get lost in and to marvel at from a huge, speeding American Motorcycle.

It’s important to remember that clubs like the Boozefighters, the Flying Tigers and the Hells Angels were formed in the crucible of the second World War. The effects of fighting the war cannot be underestimated in the nihilism that came to characterize some of the nastier outlaw clubs. A great many young men went overseas fully expecting not to return–my own father did.

Upon surviving; a new, more fatalistic view of the world took hold among many veterans and colored their view of the world and their place in it for the rest of their lives.

It is also important to take a longer view and realize this was always the case as it was with William Quantrill’s Raiders, after the Civil War. The immense push westward, by nomadic groups of farmers, cattlemen, prospectors and snake oil salesmen, men who needed to get lost in the bounty and promise of America, hoped to hell all of the hopeful hyperbole was true.

“Go West, young man,” seemed a mantra as well as an idyllic destination.

When “Wino Willie” Forkner returned from World War II, he knew he wasn’t ready to settle into a job settle into a middle-class life and become a regular taxpayer. It didn’t make sense to go from warfare one week to squaresville the next. Warfare had awakened the restless spirit in a great many of these returning vets, as well as the fact that the hearing damage a great many air men had incurred, had inadvertently disqualified them from potential jobs in the still nascent aerospace industry.

Some guys became astronauts and some guys became Boozefighters, Hells Angels, and Gypsy Jokers, and took the endless American road for their home. They went to the Redwing store and bought heavy-buckled engineers boots and strapped on steel.

Harleys, Nortons and Indians tore ass across the California landscape just because they could and nobody was going to tell them different.

This was the birth of the 1%ers; the one percent that didn’t fit in to polite society and didn’t fucking want to.

The Boozefighters never became an outlaw club. In fact, these days they spend a great deal of their time doing good deeds for kids and returning veterans.

They, like the Angels, are resolutely patriotic–a great many of them former soldiers, sailors, and air men. The clubs are very often structured like a military unit. There is also a great love for beer in this club. In fact, they describe themselves as, “a drinking club with a motorcycle problem.”

There are now Boozefighter chapters all over the U.S. and the U.K., as well as Japan. While they are not a criminal club , they are still not a bunch to fuck around with. They don’t back up from confrontation and there are always a lot of them.

There is an old saying among bike clubs that is observed when they are making a public appearance as a club, “Always bring a crowd.”

And they do.

Published in: on December 29, 2012 at 9:39 pm  Comments (3)  
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Hells Angels

hellsangelschicago

“It’s like this; every baseball player wants to be a Yankee, and every biker wants to be a Hell’s Angel. . .” – Steve Earle

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter–bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

Stephen Crane
From The Black Riders

There is a dense mythology that surrounds the Hells Angels. They are mythic–they are barbarians, pirates of the road, killers, bangers and bastards. They are are all of these things, and none of these things at once. The Hells Angels are a beast unto themselves.

One can watch Gimme Shelter and be rightly horrified by the actions of the California Angels, and then one can pull alongside the double-file, miles-long line of Harley Davidsons packed with toys for kids every year and, oddly, be touched by the actions of the Hells Angels. A woman I know in London recently wrote me and said that where she lived, the Angels were more likely involved in charity works than any real criminality. They are the most well-known of motorcycle clubs; the first to be designated as an”outlaw motorcycle gang” by the American Motorcycle Association.

Any reporting or historical information regarding the Angels is bound to be rife with errors and half-truths–even the stories they’ve written about themselves; in fact, especially the stories they’ve written about themselves. they’ve always known not to rat themselves out with inflated braggadocio and to protect themselves from the man.

When they thought Hunter S. Thompson resorted to a little too much embroidering in his fascinating, if flawed, Hells Angels, they warned him. When it persisted, they stomped the shit out of him. The Angels felt like Thompson fictionalized and revealed a bit too much.

Honor. Respect. Loyalty. These are the code words of the Angels, and to be deficient in any one of these traits disqualifies you from the possibility of membership among their number.

The Hells Angels are named for a Bomber squad in WWII some of the original members came from. A bunch of Air Force combat veterans returned from the war only to find themselves without jobs in the aviation field for which they’d been trained. It seems, in many cases, the returning vets’ hearing loss was a mitigating factor in their inability to any longer perform these jobs. Some, disillusioned by this, bought big American motorcycles and leather boots and made nomadic runs between San Bernadino and Oakland in search of day jobs and fun.  The only motorcycle club that pre-dates the Angels is the Booze Fighters, another group of Air Force vets who wanted little to do with the Angels, whom they sensed were a different, more outlaw, breed.

The Booze Fighters are whom the gang in The Wild Ones are based upon, particularly Lee Marvin’s role, “Chino,” who is based on a real-life biker named Wino Willie. After The Wild Ones, both the Angels and the Boozefighters became legendary presences in Southern California, spawning a culture of non-conformity that inspired everyone from other bike clubs to the beatniks.

The leader of the Hells Angels, for as long as I’ve been alive and aware of them, has been Sonny Barger. Barger, a native of Modesto, California, with a long history of delinquency has been the leader of the Angels since 1957. He has remarkable charisma and is resolutely patriotic. Barger once wrote then-President Nixon a letter informing him of the Angels willingness to go and “finish” the Viet Nam war for America. He and fifty Hells Angels.

He also tangled with anti-war protesters, whom he despised for their lack of patriotism. There are some very telling Sonny Barger quotes. Here are a few of them:

“Treat me good, I’ll treat you better; treat me bad, I’ll treat you worse.”

“The greatest thing that I have learned is probably the simplest thing any of us can learn: I am who I am.”

“My most basic credo is: I never said freedom was cheap. And it ain’t. Never will be .It’s been the highest priced and most precious commodity in my life.”

(Referring to Keith Richards during the Altamont Concert in December 1969.) “I stood next to him and stuck my pistol into his side and told him to start playing his guitar or he was dead.”

“If I ever get too old to ride my motorcycle and have pretty girls, I’d rather just rob a bank and go back to prison.”

It is also a credit to Barger’s stewardship of the Angels that he has led them effectively through their decades-long blood feud with the Outlaws, a motorcycle gang formed right here in Illinois in 1936. The Outlaws, for years, did all they could to keep the Angels from opening a Chicago chapter, which inevitably happened in 1994, despite the Outlaws’ president, at the time, blowing up their clubhouse on Grand Avenue. The Angels came here, patched-over the Hells Henchmen and there has been a Chicago chapter of the Angels ever since.

It is very hard to know what to believe of the Hells Angels. Those who hate them will tell you they are savages and animals. Those who revere them will tell you they are the last generation of American men who truly own themselves. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I do know the the Angels are the original  “One-Percenters”–the one percent that doesn’t fit in and doesn’t care to and, in this cookie-cutter world of conformity, there is no small amount of grace in that.

I’ve known a few Angels over the years, or I should say, I’ve met a few. Except to each other, maybe,they are unknowable. They remain our nomads. . .a culture of men who wish to belong to nothing except themselves and each other.

Published in: on December 26, 2012 at 9:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Black Widows

blackwidows

In Ireland, there is an all-women motorcycle gang called the Black Widows. Their website is a little cryptic about what exactly they do. Tthe only information they willingly give up is that they tour around Ireland going to  “rallies” (I assume this means bike races, not unlike the Isle of Wight race).

There is one group shot of them from far off that looks like a group of amply proportioned gals of a certain age. They look somewhat road-tested and of ill-humor. Something tells me they could probably kick the holy dog-shit out of the male motorcycle gangs in Ireland.

They have a very no-bullshit countenance. Like, if you made them angry, they’d stomp a mudhole in your ass.

In New Orleans, there are some very boss-looking women’s motorcycle clubs–Caramel Curves, which is full of Pam Grier-type, curvy women and the Queenz, who come out every  “Super Sunday” for the Mardi Gras Indians gatherings. Both clubs are for African American women and both clubs dress up for this–lots of tight spandex and leather.

Thank god I was wearing the baggy pants.

The Sisters of Scota are a club comprised,mainly, of gay women from the Bay area who rally at the pride parade and other events, as well as do a lot of charity work for breast cancer organizations and LGBT charities. The name “Scota” comes from an ancient woman warrior in mythology. The Road Angels is another motorcycle club who does a great deal of charity work, mostly with people in recovery and substance abuse issues.

Women’s Clubs, like women, are far more concerned with doing some good in the world than their male counterparts.

Where as men’s gangs are a lot about beer, pussy, dope, respect and guns, women’s groups tend to be altruistic in nature.

Here is to the Black Widows of Ireland. Mess with them, and you’ll wake up with the cats looking at you.

Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Iron Horsemen

ironhorsemen

The Iron Horsemen are an outlaw motorcycle gang from Ohio and many other eastern states, all the way to Maine. They are known to tangle with the Angels and the Outlaws; again, a primarily white gang comprised of former military guys and tradesmen.

They have a long criminal pedigree– everything from murder to drug-dealing to doing enforcer work for the various mobs.

Published in: on December 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Toledo, Ohio

ohiotoledo

“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet for life” — West Side Story

In “Sons of Anarchy,” the highly entertaining (if improbable) TV series on FX, the codes of biker gangs are examined as if watched through a prism of a sociology experiment. Some of it is very close to the truths of SOME bike gangs.

Often, if a member of an outlaw biker gang elects to leave the gang, his tattoo is removed; forcibly, if need be. the choices are not pleasant. The tat is cut or burned off. I used to think this was bullshit until a friend of mine from England showed me his scar from leaving the Road Rats. It was cut off of him.

Outlaw gangs usually stipulate that you’re in for life. The Hell’s Angels, The Outlaws, The Pagans, The Mongols. . .these are lifetime affiliations.

Outlaw Bikers consider themselves “One-Percenters,” the oen percent that doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to.

The best known of these gangs, the Angels, started after World War II. Most of the guys were Air Force veterans that came back to San Bernadino after the war, only to find unemployment and a culture that had little to offer them. They drove big American motorcycles, wore boots and leather and started their own tribe. One cannot separate the crucible of warfare from the formation of this fraternity. This was years before post-traumatic stress syndrome even had a name.

The first generation of Hell’s Angels were young men who had no real way of explaining the effects of warfare on themselves. It’s not an accident that a great many bike gangs are full of military veterans. The outlaw biker structure is not unlike the military in that it is fraternal, tribal and run by order of rank. There is a Sargent at Arms, there is an established pecking order in which the prospects, (new members who’ve not earned their colors, or patch yet) and there is a deeply tribal caste system.

The white gangs are only white. Black bangs, the same way. Hispanics, as well. There are very few mixed-race outlaw biker gangs; in fact, almost none.

Outlaw gangs started for the same reasons every other outlaw organization has. Protection. Safety in numbers. There was no American mafia until newly-arrived Italian immigrants fell victim to the Irish gangs in New York in the 1850’s. Italians formed the mob here to protect themselves from Irish and Jewish gangs on the lower east side, as well as from the cops.

The Knight Riders of Toledo are an African American gang. One can surmise from their very existence that they probably formed to protect themselves from white motorcycle gangs such as the Outlaws, who are all over the Midwest.

The Black gangs are a bit different in that they ride many different kinds of bikes, whereas the white gangs are almost exclusively Harley Davidson riders. Lots of Kawasakis and Suzukis (“rice burners,” in the parlance of white bikers). Like white bikers, African American bike gangs are largely comprised of working class guys, as well as veterans of the military. Some of the California black bike gangs also have former Black Panthers as members.

In Ohio, the Knight Riders are a chapter of the Slim Goody gangs which are also found in D.C. and the Carolinas. The gang “colors” have always fascinated me because they speak to a tradition that dates back to the oldest heraldic designs.  Hell, the armies of the Crusades, the Romans and the Spartans wore colors and carried their “patch” on staffs into battle.

In other words, bands of warriors are nothing new.  Today’s gang is tomorrow’s army.

Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 12:28 am  Comments (2)  
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