These are the untold stories that never made it into my book, Exile on Front Street. I hope you enjoy them!
"Marked" is my next book. A fictionalized account of my adventures. Here is a synopsis. Coming this Summer...
The outlaw bike movement was born on the heels of World War Two by the returning veterans in Southern California. What started out as a esoteric sub culture has grown into a world wide phenomena. Whether renegade free spirits or as law enforcement describes a well oiled crime syndicate, they can no longer be ignored. If history has taught us anything, its history repeats itself and with each wars end a new batch of returning veterans must find themselves. This is one of those stories. Follow Marine Scout Sniper Jack Crest as he returns from the jungles of Vietnam, only to find little left that he can call home. His parents having died in a tragic accident, Jack picks up the pieces with old friends in the outlaw biker brotherhood. Rejoining the Question Marks motorcycle club, he discovers that the outlaw world that has changed radically in his absence. The Marks have spread across the United States and battles for territory and zealous law enforcement persecution have become part of club life. Jack soon finds that he has left one war behind, only to place himself in the middle of another. Haunted by a league of lost souls he dispatched in that faraway land, he seeks peace for himself and the club. But local law enforcement, secretive federal officials, and even his own club brothers conspire against his efforts and endanger his leadership and his life. Ultimately he’ll have to decide between leading an unwilling club down the long, hard road to peace, or giving in to his demons and destroying everything in his path.
When I walked into the outlaw bike world back in 1966, certain individuals were already wrapped in myth. Leaders like Sonny Barger and Mother Miles. Characters like Terry The Tramp, Magoo and, of course, Satan’s Slave Smacky Jack (who Hunter S. Thompson immortalized in his book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga).
One of the last of those larger-than-life outlaw motorcycle icons was Hells Angel Vincent “Big Vinny” Girolamo.
Vinny died in 1979, from complications stemming from a ruptured spleen. Rumors have swirled about his death for years. They’ve even made their way onto the Internet, and now run rampant on social media.
I posted a picture of him a few weeks back and, predictably, the post was besieged with “experts”—individuals who in all likelihood didn't know any of the players.
For those of you who quietly and respectfully asked me in private messages to set the record straight, this is for you.
It’s been more than forty years, but this is what I remember.
Vinny had come to the West Coast from New York, where he was a member of the New York City charter. My suspicion is that he came for a party, and not in any official capacity. Vinny was no diplomat and he generally left club business to others.
As the weekend of partying came to a close, only a handful of members were left standing. One of them was the new Oakland President Michael “Irish” O’Farrell.
It might have been over a woman, or just an intentional or unintentional insult, but Irish and Vinny got into a fistfight.
Irish and I had both been LACO Hells Angels, and his prowess as a street fighter was legendary up and down California. New York City Hells Angels were famous for their bona fide toughness, but Big Vinny was caught short. Although his body took the beating, his pride and ego got the worst of it. I suspect that, embarrassed and visibly injured, he embellished when he got back to New York. It would have been a rough homecoming for the member credited with the motto “When in Doubt, Knock 'em Out,” and was one of the most purely fearsome-looking individuals in the club. He told the East Coast members that he had been jumped by several Bay Area members. The New York charter President Sandy Alexander wasted no time in calling me.
“Why did they rat pack Vinny?”
I told him what I knew, and Sandy said, “There’s no way in hell Irish could have laid a beating that bad on Vinny.”
Our conversation did little to satisfy Sandy, so he caught the next flight to San Francisco to settle the problem once and for all.
I knew that Irish had legitimately fought Big Vinny one-on-one and honestly beat him. But even knowing how tough a street fighter Irish was, I wasn’t sure how he would fare against Sandy, who had been a pro boxer and was famous himself for his fighting ability.
As soon as they met face to face, it didn’t take long for the dialog to evolve into a physical confrontation. As they went at it in the back of the Oakland clubhouse, Sandy knocked Irish off his feet. Irish sprung back to his fighting stance, throwing a hard right and it was Sandy who was now looking up at Irish. Irish extended his hand to pull Sandy upright.
With that, Sandy apologized that he had doubted Irish. He took the next flight home to the East Coast, satisfied that it was Irish alone who had dealt the damage to Big Vinny.
What took place when Sandy got home was between Sandy and Vinny. Vinny died soon after, in a hospital from “internal bleeding.”
Vinny died like a true warrior in a one-on-one battle. He was not rat-packed, beaten with baseball bats, or stabbed. Several years later, Irish himself would be stabbed and shot to death in a bar fight.
I say we let them both rest in peace.
In my years as a Marine, Hells Angel, and businessman, I’ve had had plenty of experience with working with hard-to-get-along-with and emotion-driven leaders. But I’ve learned to become a team player.
And if called upon for advice, I will always consider it: this is what I would advise President Trump to do.
Admit mistakes, ask for input, move on.
After all, whether you like him or not, he is the commander in chief. And as the leader of the most powerful country in the world, he represents our nation.
I’ve survived numerous investigations and three major indictments. I have a consulting business in which I work with defense attorneys. I analyze reports and work on strategy. But my most important task is to guide first-time offenders through the judicial process.
It can be a perilous journey of twists, turns, and betrayals that can take a toll on your emotions and the ability to see the long view.
The first thing is you have to stop letting your emotions govern your actions and make for shoot-from-the-hip decisions. First, get off Twitter. Don't play your hand in the social media forum; save it for the courtroom.
You are painting yourself into a corner with public contradictions, which never helps anyone’s cause.
I would suggest not approaching co-defendants, possible witnesses, or any Russians for photo opportunities till this problem is behind you. After all, if Watergate taught us anything, it’s this: do not destroy or tamper with evidence. Try to avoid talking to investigators. Pleading your innocence several times in a letter, and then terminating the man leading the investigation in the same correspondence is not prudent. It makes you look suspect. In all likelihood, career-driven federal agents will pick up right where the last FBI director left off.
I would strongly suggest retaining the best criminal trial attorney money can buy, and deferring all contact to that person.
Get your moral compass on true north. The world is watching.
Spoils of War...
I've been posting pictures from the 1960s and 1970s on my outlaw museum page recently, and one painting in particular seemed to raise some eyebrows. Several people asked me, “Hey, what's up with the swastika?”
If history has taught us anything, it’s that conquering armies collect souvenirs from their vanquished enemies. Sometimes it helps soldiers remember battles, and occasionally the souvenirs are just to barter or sell to fellow soldiers (and, eventually, collectors back home). But maybe the most popular reason is just bragging rights.
Stripping enemies of their most potent symbols has shock value, destroying enemy morale in a way that can’t be matched. That was the case with the American soldiers who fought in the European theater in World War II.
As these young American warriors battled their way across Europe into the very heart of Germany, they seized all the Nazi regalia they could carry. It was their way of demoralizing and emphasizing German defeats, and taking something tangible for the blood they had seen spilled on the battlefield.
When these displaced and misunderstood veterans returned home, some of them joined together to form the foundation of the outlaw bike culture. Their brotherhood and commitment to each other had been forged in war, and they chose to display the spoils of that war right on their cuts.
Certain vest decorations might have seemed odd symbols to chose, especially among men who had experienced the trauma of war. But like so many things about the outlaw culture, society misinterpreted the message, and never bothered to understand its true meaning.
There are lots of traditions in outlaw biker culture. Respect and territory are among the most important. So it shouldn’t be surprising that a small local dive bar can become an extension of a clubhouse, and that club members frequenting the bar can become very possessive over it.
In my experience, the first response of the owners of these hiding-in-plain-sight establishments is usually panic. But over time, an unsteady bond develops. When there is trouble on the horizon, these bar owners quickly learn that taking problems to the outlaws is much better than calling the cops (who, in all likelihood, would just as soon have the Bureau of Alcohol Beverage Control pull the license and shut down the den of decadence).
In the early days, these establishments often resembled a scene from a Dave Mann poster.
One of the first times I ever walked into one of these hole-in-the-wall dives, the pool table was being used as a bed for a turnout. The table was in the middle of a dimly lit room. The bulb from the fixture over the pool table had been removed and the fixture was slowly swinging back and forth over the two figures writhing around on top of the green felt.
My flathead’s straight pipes had announced my arrival. As I walked through the door, the room stopped and, for one brief moment, all eyes were on me.
I was new to the outlaw world, and it was the first time I had ventured out on my own with not a single Question Mark to back me up. I suddenly hoped that I had made the right choice.
Slave Tiny yelled out to me, “You’re the only one from Ventura that rides anymore!”
Slave Darrell looked up from his pool table conquest and asked if I had an interest in her, because he was falling in love and, after tonight, in all likelihood she would be his new old lady.
Never at a loss for words, I politely declined. I said I wouldn’t want to interfere in a budding romance.
The room erupted in laughter and the smiles on Satan’s Slaves’ faces made me feel at home.
For the next several years I showed up to that bar, with or without the Question Marks. Bars like that always had odd names. This one was no different: The Rumble Inn.
It was located in the heart of the Southern California's San Fernando Valley, right on Ventura Boulevard. It was a home away from home for the Satan’s Slaves, the hardest riding bunch of outlaws I ever turned a throttle with.
Their pack of custom-built bikes would make its way across the Valley at high speeds, running red lights and breaking every damn traffic law in existence as they rode from bar to bar until they reached their final destination.
Even after I became a Hells Angels, I was a regular fixture around the Satan’s Slaves, even sitting in on their meetings.
In fact, I spent so much time with the Slaves, law enforcement misidentified me as one of their members. So it was no surprise that their problems were my problems, and visa versa.
When the bar owner came to the Slaves complaining that another bike club had been showing up and causing problems, I told them to count me in. The payoff would be all the beer we could drink, all night long.
The Slaves, a couple of other LACO Angels, a handful of non members, and me laid in wait for the marauding trespassers.
Late that evening, we heard the rumble of loud pipes fill the small parking lot. The ragtag wannabe outlaws entered into the bar the door, and the door behind them was quickly locked and all escape blocked.
It was all over in minutes.
It was a massacre. Once the dust settled, the intruders were stripped of their cuts, escorted out to their bikes, given a short lecture, and sent down the road.
The bar owner was happy and covered the bar with bottles of beer.
There was only one casualty on our side, and he was a victim of friendly fire. The eccentric recluse artist Von Dutch—the father of Kustom Kulture—had had his cheek laid open.
Dutch had been a victim of his own isolation. Although his name was well known among custom car and bike builders, his face was not. Tall Paul, a LACO Angel, was swinging a small chain dog choker when he sliced open Dutch’s face. He had mistaken Dutch for one of the intruders.
Although the Slaves quickly stopped the attack (in a security move that would have made the Secret Service proud), the damage was done.
Apologies were extended and accepted as fast as possible, so we could get down to the business at hand—free beer.
There was no getting around the fact that Dutch needed stitches, and a lot of them. But the thought of missing out on all that free beer outweighed his medical needs.
After a short consultation and Dutch’s utter refusal to go to the hospital, we decided that Slave Bill Reid would administer the medical aid needed.
Dutch took a seat on a bar stool, and Bill closed the wound with needle a thread that I cannot attest was totally sanitary.
Many years later, I ran into Dutch in Santa Paula. The scar was well hidden within the wrinkles on his face. I didn't mention that night in the bar and, as he was deep in alcoholism, I wasn't sure he would even remember.
Von Dutch passed away not long after. He might have been buried, but his legend was just getting off the ground. T-shirts, hats, decals with is name and flaming eye logo began flooding the market. One of his nearly worn-out screwdrivers, a tool with his name etched into the plastic handle, sold for $750 dollars at an estate auction.
I didn't know Dutch well, but what I did know about him makes me think that all this attention had him rolling over in his grave. I’m betting that, as far he was concerned, the world could kiss his ass, and he’d trade all the attention and fame for one more night of free beer.
Negotiating with Adversaries...
The world really seems to be in a volatile transition with no resolve in sight. I found that over the years, as a negotiator and mediator between outlaw bike clubs and street gangs, you have to put yourself in the other side’s situation. That means knowing something about the opponent’s geographical area, history, culture, etc. Whether you’re dealing with a country or just opposing groups large or small, each has their own wants and needs. The triggers depend on many factors. Coming into negotiations from a strong position puts you in a great bargaining situation. But dealing with individuals or entities that have shown a propensity for violence or are ready to forfeit their lives for their cause, means there is a whole different dimension to any talks. To find common ground, you have to tap into the other side’s emotions, and I’ve regularly been surprised that it often comes down to nothing more than recognition and respect. That’s why it’s wisest to open a dialog with understanding and benevolence. Remember, leave your stick in the car; you can always go back for it if necessary.
Outlaw Motorcycle Museum...
For the next few months, the blog stories will not be steady each week. My second book "Marked" will be out soon and I am in the process of finishing my third book and second volume of the Marked fiction series based on my life. In the meantime, I am working on a Virtual Outlaw Motorcycle Museum. Each week I will add new pictures with captions, hit the museum tab http://www.georgechristie.com/museum.html and take the ride. Let me know what you want added to the museum and to tell your story submit by email pictures and a short caption to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the late sixties, outlaw biker movies had captured the imagination of both American audiences and B-movie directors who were ready to stuff their pockets full of dollar bills.
The films had everything moviegoers could ask for: sex, violence, cliché dialog and, at times, some pretty cool looking bikes.
Everybody seemed to be getting in on the act. Even the Hells Angels tossed their hat in the movie ring with Hells Angels On Wheels, one of Jack Nicholson’s first big roles. But many Angels were unhappy about the film. Shortly after the release of that movie, members with calmer minds and a broader vision prevailed. The club decided that no non-member would ever wear the patch bearing the sacred club name or Deathhead again.
That rule stood fast for nearly four decades, until Sonny Barger reopened that particular can of worms (but that’s a story in itself, and I'll save it for another time).
When Hells Angels 69 hit the screen, it had been cast with real Hells Angels. But many club members still felt skeptical. Many thought we were depicting club members as nothing more than a caricature of ourselves. Once again, club members came away with mixed emotions.
While all this was taking place on the West Coast, where Hollywood still had its grip on the B-movie industry, part time circus performer, boxer, actor, and full time New York City Hells Angel leader Sandy Alexander had a dream.
He envisioned a real movie, about real Hells Angels telling their own story in their own words. It wouldn’t be the product of some Hollywood scriptwriter whose imagination had gotten the best of him.
There was just one problem: How do you tell that story?
Sandy had great footage, but it was really nothing more than home movies at that point. He added the talent of documentary filmmaker Leon Gast (he would later win an Academy Award for When We Were Kings, about the first Ali-Foreman bout, The Rumble in the Jungle).
It began to take shape as a real movie. But it was evident that something creative was still missing. So Sandy turned to his connections in the movie business for advice.
Steve McQueen warned us to stay clear of big motion picture studios, and even suggested maybe we should consider abandoning the idea all together.
Those of us close to Sandy knew that would never happen, so it was time to regroup. This time, Sandy came up with a non-traditional plan and what came about was as strange as it could get.
The sultan of psychedelics, Dr. Timothy Leary, had just done some time with Hells Angels members. From that experience, and conversations he had along the way, he made two suggestions.
Easy Rider had become a cult classic and Leary said that we needed to talk to Dennis Hopper. His other suggestion was go to rebel director and Hollywood studio outsider Richard Chase.
After several meetings with those two, the movie started to come together. With a financial shot in the arm from the club’s old friend Jerry Garcia, everything was on track.
Richard Chase would direct, Dennis Hopper would produce and narrate the movie. It all seemed to be rolling. But another obstacle was just on the horizon.
It was the early eighties, and America had just rediscovered that great import from Columbia, cocaine.
A drug-induced weekend of cocaine-fueled ideas led to come-down paranoia. By Monday morning, phones where ringing off the hook. It was a war of words between Hopper and Chase.
They exchanged threats and insults from the safety of their respective Santa Monica hideaways. With Sandy on the East Coast, it fell to me to mediate.
In the end Hopper bowed out. Years later, with our drug binges behind us, he and I had a good laugh about the lunacy of it all.
Richard carried on alone, and maybe it was a blessing. As the old adage says, “Too many chefs spoil the soup.” When the movie made it to theaters and drive-ins, it became a hit with the public as well as the critics. It was so well received that Chase took our little biker movie to the Cannes film festival in France.
It was there that we hit another obstacle, this time not with the movie itself but with Richard Chase. While in France on another drug-induced weekend, and amid a whirlwind romance fueled by the famous trio of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, Chase contracted a disease that didn’t even have a name yet.
After several stays in the hospital for various serious and mysterious symptoms, Richard became one of the early identified victims of AIDS. He would spend the next ten years in and out of hospitals, before finally dying of the disease.
Sandy had his own problems. He had been caught up in Operation Rough Rider and, while doing his time in a federal prison, became disillusioned with all the politics and club drama. He quit the Hells Angels.
My last conversation with Sandy was on the phone. He was calling from a federal prison, and it was not only a sad conversation, but a very personal one.
The movie lay dormant until the early nighties, when B-movie king Rodger Corman cut a deal with a French distributor. We were once again in the movie business and I was off to Paris for the media promotions and the premier.
I came home with a whole new advertising strategy, including a new movie poster idea.
I petitioned artist Dave Mann to do the art for the advertising campaign. Then I moved on to the difficult task of working inside the club to reach an agreement covering distribution, royalties and budget.
That was easier said then done. After several frustrating months of watching charters bicker between themselves, I bowed out.
When I told Dave Mann what had happened, he just laughed. I paid him for the work he had done and took with me what had been completed on the new poster design.
I presented a bill to the club for the money I had paid out of pocket for the artwork, at an officer’s meeting. The meeting broke up into a free-for-all. After lengthy arguments about who should pay, I told the club to forget it. I was now the proud owner of my third piece of Dave Mann art.
Once Dave died, the piece would forever remain unfinished—not unlike a lot my business with the club.
When you go through multiple criminal trials or find yourself in the middle of many historical moments, you tend to save everything you can. Any single piece of paper might save you. My wife calls me a pack rat, but I think of myself as an archivist.
I’ve always been organized. But after my last trial in 2011—which ended with me doing a year in La Tuna Prison in Texas—I came home to a very disorganized world. Nikki and I had lost just about everything, and we needed to rebuild. New home, new work, new lives. All the living I had done before was preserved in about a million unlabeled cardboard boxes.
I jumped right into doing the Outlaw Chronicles, getting my business Felony Prison Consulting off the ground, and then writing Exile on Front Street. It wasn’t until the fact-checking stage for the book that I actually faced opening those cardboard boxes.
It wasn’t the pleasant experience you might imagine it would be.
At first, I looked at the boxes like a kid studying a Christmas gift. But I realized after the first one that there was no way to know what lay inside. Often, any given box could stir up feelings I’d rather not explore.
You might think memories of the past are always warm and fuzzy. It isn’t that way for me. I gave up a lot, when I walked away from the Hells Angels. Any given box could hide some truly unpleasant history.
The worst were the boxes of pictures. Me and Sonny, when my kids still called him “Uncle Sonny.” Moments of friendship and brotherhood. Any relationship is complicated, but the relationship between Sonny and I had been more complicated and destructive than most.
It got so that I almost hated going out to the garage and opening one of those boxes. It could be like pressing on some wound from the past. I found the trial transcript when a Ventura member had testified against the charter at Grand Jury hearing. I uncovered Sonny’s 911 call recording that was the final nail in the coffin of our friendship. There were pictures of the Question Marks, David Ortega, and all those many friends who had died along the way.
But every so often, I opened a box with the usual trepidation and I would be pleasantly surprised to find a nice memory, something that brought a smile to my face.
Last weekend was one of those.
It was a box full of newspaper clippings. Sitting on the top was an article with the headline “Hells Angels Take Carradine To Cemetery.”
It was the story of how the Ventura Hells Angels provided an honor guard for the long white hearse that carried my friend David Carradine to his last performance.
The Kill Bill cast had been there in force, along with people like Tom Selleck and Jane Seymour. There were Hollywood megastars and the elite in character actors, the glue behind the leading men and women that at times turn a good movie into a classic. Up In Smoke actor Stacy Keach, and Kill Bill co-star Michael Madson were among those who spoke at the service.
Nikki and I spent the afternoon with the beautiful and gracious Lucy Liu, sharing memories of our friend.
I met David in the late ‘70s, when a mutual friend introduced us. David was ten years my senior, and a mystical gentleman in every sense of the word. He stepped out of the 1960s and into the ‘70s as Kwai Chang Caine, the bi-racial Shaolin monk with a price on his head, a nomad roaming the Old-West America from town to town in search of his half brother.
Each episode introduced America not only to the ancient art of Kung Fu, but also a lesson in Eastern philosophy (whether viewers knew it or not).
Part of his magic was that David was always believable. It didn’t matter if he was the outlaw bank robber Cole Younger, or the social justice warrior Woody Guthrie. His movie roles were endless, and so was his friendship.
In passing, he left me one last wonderful gift: the opportunity to become great friends with and part of the whole Carradine family. And he made opening those cardboard Pandora’s boxes just a little more pleasant. Rest in peace, Grasshopper.
The Brotherhood of Tattoos...
The Southern California outlaw scene, and the particular SoCal “cool”, didn’t just pop up overnight with outlaw bikers. It had been percolating along in some of the seedier parts of LA and surrounding areas for decades, and I think those early years set the tone for my introduction into the outlaw biker culture.
In the mid 1950s, as a young boy, one of my big adventures was taking a trip to the Pike Amusement Park. The park, in the heart of Long Beach, dated from 1902 and even in the ‘50s, it showed its age.
Long before Walt Disney came up with his G-rated Disneyland, Pike was Southern California’s gritty family attraction.
We would start the day off with a swim at The Plunge, a grand indoor bathhouse. As the sun set over the pacific ocean, the park proper would spring to life, with garish neon signs, thousands of brightly blinking ride lights, and a near-constant soundtrack of screams from riders on the many joyfully unsafe rides.
I particularly remember “The Carousel,” a giant, colorful circle of bucking horses and coaches, with bench seats for the less adventurous. If you could get on an outside horse—and had the nerve to lean out far enough, and a little luck and timing—you could grab a brass ring for a prize.
Next came the bumper cars. My mother always frowned on the bumper cars. “You’re going break your neck!” she would exclaim.
My dad would calm her down, and I would get the thrill of my young life crashing over and over again into brightly colored and oddly shaped cars.
I stayed clear of the roller coaster. It looked like a little too much adventure, with its gigantic, wooden tracks built on pilings that took the cars right out over water.
Rumor had it that, over the years, there had been many deaths on that ride. Urban legend was that each casualty prompted a name change. The Comet, Cyclone, Jack Rabbit, Cyclone Racer. You could change the names with a few upgrades and some paint, but the horror stories and the ghost of its victims lingered long after the park closed its doors. As a kid, I wanted no part of it.
Hands down, my favorite part of Pike was the Wall of Death. It was a large wooden cylinder where early motorcycle daredevils, like Reckless Ross Millham, performed stunts. Their motorcycles were held in place by nothing more than nerves of steel and centrifugal force.
I can still smell the exhaust, burning rubber, and the oil vapors coming off the overheated V-twin motor, as the rider circled the inside of the wooden silo on his chopped-down Harley.
Finally, we would head to the midway, where you had your choice of endless games of chance. Or you could show off your marksmanship at a live shooting gallery. Yes, a live public range where just about anyone could lay his hands on a working .22 for two bits. A different time entirely.
Because the park was almost right next to the navel shipyard, the midway boasted a dense collection of tattoo shops. These were open-air parlors with walls covered in designs called “flash.”
Many of the artists in those shops would later become famous, when tattooing exploded in the mid nighties. But at that point, it was a closed industry, frowned upon by society. As such, it was a natural home for outlaws of all kinds. Scattered among the navy squids were gear heads, hotrodders, and delinquents galore with their pomaded duck tails and pompadours. The grownups talked in hushed tones about those men and boys. It was a world I would call home just a decade later.
In the summer of 1966, I was reintroduced that thrill of tattoo machines buzzing, pushing ink into service personnel. The guy in a chair was often a Marine who had had a few too many drinks in an effort to take his mind off a waiting far-off jungle.
I was one of those Marines. I was waiting for my turn in the chair, in a San Clemente tattoo parlor just west of Camp Pendleton. I was next in line and had my ink all picked out.
Suddenly, a group of sailors showed up. Seeing the place full of Marines, they broke into a chorus of “Anchors Away”. Predictably, we retorted with the Marine Corps Hymn. A friendly fight broke out and I never made it into the tattoo chair. That was okay, because it was a good fight.
The shop owner kicked us all out and closed the shop for the night. The Military Police and local cops showed up at about the same time. When they asked what the problem was, we all said in unison, “There's no problem!” To prove it, we all walked off, shoulder to shoulder, to get breakfast together. Just a different strain of outlaw really.
At the table, we discovered that our newfound friends were Navy corpsman. Each one would, in all likelihood, be assigned to a squad of Marines, patching up the wounded in the field. It was truly a world turned upside down and for me it was just getting started.
Terre Haute Penitentiary Bike Show: Part 2...
This was a big event for me. Not only would I be spending the day with three of my club brothers, I was about to meet members of the Outlaws who I had been hearing stories about for years.
I had been instructed by senior Hells Angels to keep my wits about me and take the Outlaws seriously. It was some of the best advice I have ever been given.
Before the day ended, I would have personal and private conversations with three international Outlaws Motorcycle Club leaders, two former and one current.
But there was the bike show to deal with first. After each of us from outside the prison was patted down, we surrendered our IDs, which would be held until we left the prison.
We were each issued a blue bike show T-shirt to identify us as cleared guests. The prisoners wore the same exact shirt, but in red, to identify them as prisoners.
Next came the tedious bike clearance process. All bikes in the show had to be inspected for contraband. The gas was drained from each, and then the bike was pushed into the recreation area to await judging, and the awarding of the official prison bike show trophies.
Meeting the Outlaws left an impression. They were no-nonsense men who seemed just as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. It took only a few minutes to understand the strong bond our two clubs had built behind the walls of this maximum-security prison.
After all the introductions and handshakes, I was approached by an unassuming man of small stature. His greying hair looked as if he was between haircuts. He wore a wily smile beneath a Fu Man Chu mustache. Eye to eye and an arms length apart, we greeted each other with a firm, warm handshake.
“Hey, George. I’m Stairway Harry.”
I had been hearing his name in outlaw circles for years. He wasted no time getting down to business.
“The Outlaws want to go to Sturgis this year. What do you think?
That year was the Sturgis Black Hills Motorcycle Rally’s 50th anniversary. A real milestone in motorcycle culture. With half a million people expected to attend, the Outlaws understandably wanted to be part of it.
But of course, the outlaw world had imaginary boundaries. Cross them, and you could find yourself paying a tax, up to and including your life.
The Outlaws had always had Daytona Bike Week in their home state of Florida. For a decade, the Bandidos had been gracious enough to share Sturgis, their national run, with the Hells Angels.
Stairway Harry, a former international leader of the Outlaws, posed the question of Sturgis in a brilliant way. He didn’t demand, but he made a clear signal to take the inquiry seriously. Now it was in my court.
I respectfully explained that I didn't have the authority to make that call. To be honest, even if I had, I would have stalled. There had been lots of blood spilled between the Outlaws and the Hells Angels.
There was a lot to consider. In fact, inside the walls of the maximum-security prison, there was an inmate—another former Outlaw international boss, James “Big Jim” Nolan. Many people held him responsible for starting the conflict between the two clubs by murdering two HA members and a X-member in a Florida Outlaws clubhouse (and then dumping the bodies in a quarry).
Although he didn’t know it, Big Jim and I had our own history. In the late seventies, as he was on the run and in hiding from those murder charges, I located him in a rundown housing tract in the Arizona desert.
Big Jim had no idea how close he came to staying forever just where I found him. But after a lot of contemplation and reflection, I had gathered my things and slowly made my way back to California.
That was more than ten years prior, and I wasn't sure what to expect or how I would feel when we finally came face to face. Inside the prison, I was reunited with my club brothers and the prison staff started the day with an all-you-could-eat brunch.
Sturgis was the main topic of conversation. Not just at our morning meal, but throughout the day. It didn't take long to see beneath the bike show, to what the real agenda was.
As we made our way out to the recreation area, the prisoners had already begun the bike judging. A blond giant of a man made his way out of the cluster of bikes and began walking toward me. Without saying anything, my brothers guided me toward him.
We shook hands, Big Jim and I. We made small talk until Big Jim finally asked me to join him for a walk around the track. In prison etiquette, that’s a way to explore ideas and—at times—resolve problems.
As we walked, Big Jim never mentioned the murders, just some of the charges for which he was now doing a very long sentence. I saw no reason to mention his hideout in the Arizona desert. Instead, we talked about how to put the bad blood between the clubs behind us. We agreed it was time.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know there isn’t much I can do from in here, but I’ll do all that I can.”
That ended the conversation and pretty much the day. It was time for the afternoon count and none of us visitors would be allowed to exit the prison until every prisoner was back in his cell and accounted for. Stairway and I finished the afternoon together in light conversation. Just before we went our separate ways, Harry made it a point to let me know that Harry “Taco” Bowman was just up the road in a motel. Taco had taken over Harry’s position as international Outlaw President.
If we had been playing chess, it would have been my move.
There was no way I wasn’t going to that motel to see Taco, and Stairway damn well knew it. If it was a dare, I took it.
Within the hour, I was walking across the parking lot of the motel where Taco and his entourage had settled. As I made my way toward them, I was stopped and surrounded by Outlaws. A dark and somber member asked me, in a heavy Southern drawl, “What do you want?”
“Tell Taco George Christie wants to talk with him.”
He looked me up and down. “Wait here.”
The remaining Outlaws milled around me, talking about the day’s events. Taco emerged from a room, with his jet back hair held back by his trademark black headband. He was smiling broadly.
The circle of Outlaws surrounding me opened up as Taco approached. I used the opening as an opportunity to gain some control. I walked toward Taco so that we met outside the circle of Outlaws.
Although, I had shown up unannounced, Taco didn’t seem surprised. After our introductions and some small talk we got down to business. We both had hardliners in our clubs, old timers who thought any cooperation was a bad idea. Taco and I had a lot of work to do if sharing the Black Hills Run was going to happen without someone getting shot.
I couldn’t begin to count the phone calls, or calculate the time Taco and I spent on the phone over the months leading up to Sturgis. We put out one small fire after another, beating down rumor after rumor. But it was well worth every second of our time to see Hells Angels and Outlaws walking the streets of Sturgis shoulder to shoulder. That peace cemented a friendship between Taco and I. Well, at least until law enforcement told me that he had sent a hit man to Ventura on an unsuccessful mission to take me out. In 2002 Taco told me he never gave that order, but that’s another story.
Terre Haute Penitentiary Bike Show: Part 1...
I first met Harold “Stairway Harry” Henderson in 1992, at the Terre Haute Penitentiary bike show. The show was sanctioned by the prison recreation department, and sponsored by both the Hells Angels and Outlaw members that were doing time together.
It was an unwritten rule and common knowledge that any problems on the street that different outlaw clubs might have, stayed on the street and didn't bleed over into prison life.
It was a smart arrangement, and one that over the years served all outlaw bike clubs well.
I had personal experience with that unwritten rule, having just done a year at Terminal Island, before being acquitted in my murder-for-hire trial. Over the course of that year, I ran across several members from other clubs that the HA was at at odds with. It wasn't uncommon to share a cup of coffee and a story with someone who might otherwise be my adversary on the street.
It was a good break for everyone concerned. Prison can be a chore and drudgery at the best of times; a club beef that causes trouble on the yard can shut down prison life indefinitely. A locked down facility, can be a living hell.
The members of both clubs doing time at Terre Haute had taken this arrangement to a new level. Outlaws and Angels shared cells.
Not only did that raise some eyebrows, it became a topic of business at a West Coast Officers Meeting. Old-school hardliners made it clear that they were not happy with this new prison housing arrangement.
I was the West Coast chairman at the time. Although it was mostly an honorary position, it did give the member holding the seat some sway and influence. In the midst of all this housing controversy, I thought, “What better time to announce the prison bike show and make it clear I was going, come hell or high water?”
My announcement was received with mixed reviews. In the heat of the argument, I asked the million-dollar question. “How many members in this room know what this conflict is about.” I asked for a show of hands.
Not many hands raised, and even the hardliners came around. After several rounds of discussions, it was decided we would participate.
Several Hells Angels submitted the strict visitor bike show applications, but I was the only member outside the prison that would make the cut to attend the bike show.
For some reason, the Outlaws were much more successful getting approved. In the end, there would be close to a dozen Outlaws—counting the number of incarcerated members—attending the show that day.
The Hells Angels had four: three members doing time, and me.
A lot of things crossed my mind as I traveled east. It was no secret that my ultimate goal was peace between all outlaw bike clubs, and my position was made public in Sonny’s federal murder conspiracy case (after he conspired with club member and informant Tony Tait to blow up a Kentucky Outlaw clubhouse.) I was recorded by Tait, who was at that time the West Coast sergeant of arms. I had never liked Tait. At a West Coast officer’s meeting, he asked me permission to blow up the Outlaw clubhouse halfway across the country.
The government bug captured me shutting him down, no ifs ands or buts. That conversation had become public during the trial, and I was hoping that if the subject of the conflict came up, my now-public statement would support my position for peace.
But what the Outlaws would propose in Terre Haute caught me completely off guard…
Trumped on Two Wheels...
I’ve been a little puzzled as I watched the “Bikers for Trump” movement gain steam. I try to respect the position of others and don’t usually wade into politics, but it is worth pointing out a couple of ironies.
To start with, the bikers I know—and I think most bikers—aren’t rich. Most work hard. Their bikes are often the most valuable thing they own. Well, next to their own freedom.
Yet, for some reason, these guys (Sonny Barger among them) felt that a billionaire who had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had probably never changed a lightbulb, much less his own oil, represented them.
This guy, in all likelihood, has never shopped in a Home Depot or in an auto parts store. He’s never had to cook his own grub. Yet Bikers for Trump apparently thought he was their standard bearer.
Last week, acting under federal order, Customs and Border Protection agents screened the IDs of passengers disembarking a flight from San Francisco at JFK. Reportedly, the agents “requested” passengers show their IDs as they left the flight. Any true biker knows exactly how those “requests” work. Don’t comply, and they’ll find a reason to detain, if not arrest you.
Hassle the dissenters because they’re only 1 percent of the group, right?
In other words, citizens traveling from one state to another were required to show their papers. Sound familiar? It should. It was one of the first policies enacted in early stages of the Third Reich.
Bikers also value nature. Most of the bikers I know make regular trips through state and federal parks in their travels. I used to love riding through badlands, or through the mountains of Colorado.
Better enjoy those assets while you can.
The Bikers for Trump champion in the white house is about to open a private corporation land grab of mineral- and timber-rich public lands.
And I hope nobody among Bikers for Trump drinks water from the tap. This administration just issued an executive order stripping EPA water protections that have ensured safe water across the country for decades.
Many bikers of my generation rely on Medicare and Social Security. We should come up with a plan B, because Trump and his buddies in Congress would dearly love to dismantle both those programs to pump up a military that already spends more then the next seven militaries combined.
None of this should come as a surprise. Which is why I still can’t figure out what possessed any biker to join Bikers for Trump.
In my day, bikers valued freedom over everything, and were suspicious of any rich guy shilling for the “establishment.” We didn’t support “law-and-order” candidates because they were inevitably all for eroding our precious civil liberties.
Most of us served in the military and knew the reality. In my day, we wouldn’t have given a second look to some soft, privileged, trust-fund mutt who deferred from the draft multiple times.
But those were different times. Does Bikers for Trump represent what the biker culture has become? I don’t really understand it, but I would give them some unsolicited advice: Be careful what you ask for.
Question Marks Roll Call...
Anyone who has read my memoir, Exile On Front Street, knows my fascination with outlaw bikers started in the mid ‘50s on a street in San Fernando Valley. Birthed in Southern California, the outlaw biker culture has captured a wide audience and spread around the world.
What better place than the United States— a nation born in revolution and proudly hailing back to deep outlaw roots— as the place for the uniquely outlaw culture to get its start? But much like jazz, that uniquely American form of music, outlaw biker culture has become a global phenomenon.
Back in the beginning, though, I didn’t realize it would grow like that. I just knew I would be a part of outlaw society. Prudent by nature, I entered it cautiously, one step at a time.
The first steps were with the Question Marks. I had heard about the Question Marks long before I ever saw one. So I was already impressed when I met Dick “Woggy” Woods. The founder of the Marks, he was a soft-spoken and well-mannered man, six feet tall, lean, and patient. He had a great reputation; his integrity was above reproach.
He was also talented. I saw him build many choppers and hot rods, all of which were worthy of being in the pages of a magazine. His talent as a craftsmen only scratched the surface of what he might have accomplished.
That all ended one evening at The Sinner’s Palace on Ventura Avenue, just a block from where the Ventura Hells Angels would make their home a decade later.
The Question Marks had gone along with the Satan’s Slaves, in search of one of the Slaves bikes that had been stolen earlier in the evening. The bike had been recovered and outlaw justice had been handed out.
Dick arrived late to the party, shortly after everyone else had left. Whether out of fear or anger, one of the motorcycle thieves stabbed Dick in the back as he walked in the back door.
The injury left him partially paralyzed, and no doubt changed the destiny of not only Dick Woods, but also the Question Marks.
I always felt that Dick would have gone on to become an outlaw legend. Years later, looking back, I saw that the Question Marks would have become a Hells Angel charter long before I founded Ventura.
In a short amount of time, Dick had built and led the Question Marks into a true, respected, 1% club. Their reputation was good enough to get them invites to Bass Lake, and any other outlaw run worth mentioning.
This small, elite club was all built out of an oversized, galvanized barn in Somis, California. In the daytime, the barn served as storage and maintenance depot for the Buena Park attraction Movie Land Cars of the Stars. At night, it served as a clubhouse. Somis was just a stone’s throw from Camarillo, my home before I left for Marine boot camp.
If Dick was the brains, David Ortega was surely the muscle. Back in those days, he was known as Cave Dave. At times, he was a one-man army. He kept the smaller local Ventura Clubs in check, and made them stick to outlaw tradition, by deferring to his imaginary Book of Strength, full of David’s rules and guidelines.
(Over the years I’ve been approached by more than one fledgling young outlaw, and asked if I had actually ever seen the legendary book. My reply? “Sorry, you’re not ready to see that book.”)
In 1965, Cave Dave blasted by me on the 101 Highway, on his chopped ‘47 knuckle, the large stylistic question mark on his cut bouncing in the wind. Little did I know I wouldn’t see him again until the early ‘70s, when he returned from San Quentin after serving a stint for possession of marijuana.
Shortly after he got back, we forged our friendship in blood on a Ventura beach. The two of us made a stand against several of the local clubs. That turned out to be the beginning of the end for the smaller clubs, which came quick once the Ventura Hells Angels planted their flag in that sleepy beach town.
Several years later, outlaw artist Dave Mann would create one of his famous scenes depicting the incident. If you look closely at the Mann art, you can see another Question Mark in that scene, trying to rise up to rejoin the battle. That would be Tom Dooley, a lean, six-foot blond who, at the time, was in a full left leg cast. He wasn’t much help that night, but became not only a brother, but also a valuable friend and source of guidance over the years. His life ended in a traffic accident on a country road in the deep South.
Little Chico Jones was a five-foot-five-inch Mexican, with thick, curly black hair. What he lacked in size, he made up for in heart. When Butch from the Cleveland Hell Angels met Chico at the annual Bass Lake run back in the mid ‘60s, he asked Chico, “What would you do if I cut off your pinky finger?” Chico responded with disinterest, “It wouldn't really matter. I never use it anyway.”
I’ve heard two versions over the years, of what happened after that.
In the first, Chico severed his own digit and presented it to Butch. The second had it that Chico along with Butch removed the finger with one surgical cut. Either way, when the sun came up, the finger was gone. For many years Chico’s finger sat on Butch’s fireplace mantel.
Wes Campbell was another Mark who drifted off to work in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. I can still see him riding near the Ventura pier on his chopped pan head. He looked like Bob Dylan, straight off the Blond on Blond album, right down to the hair. For years we stayed in touch. When he’d come to the states, he’d always drop into the Ventura clubhouse, to tell us stories of his overseas escapades.
Question Mark Bill “Doc” Holliday was a high school friend, and sported thick glasses, a trimmed full beard, and greased-back hair. He looked a bit like a bohemian intellect, but he was all outlaw.
Bill made the leap from hot rods to choppers and was an early pioneer in Harley aftermarket parts. It all came to an end in the early ‘70s, on the streets of Oxnard. After a minor traffic accident, Doc sat down to catch his breath and never got back up. Rest in peace, brother.
Lanny Moore was another high school brother and Question Mark. He stood six-foot-five, a giant of a man with a heart of gold. He spent more time working on his bike than riding it, but was still flying his Question Mark cut as we stepped onto this new century.
Garry "Shears" was a bit of a ladies man, dapper and handsome, with long blond hair. His pan head had the highest and loudest set of stack pipes I have ever seen. Running from the cops in upper Ojai. He hit his blackout switch, to kill his taillight but keep his headlight on. It was an innovation that helped him outrun many a cop. Anybody who’s ever been on Highway 33 knows it’s pitch black at night, with brutal turns. With Shears taillight off, the cop pursuing him ran right up on the bike and bumped the back wheel.
Whether by accident or design, we lost a good brother that night. I will never forget Shears or those stacked straight pipes reaching to the sky and shooting thunder.
Remo was a wild Mark, someone I never got close to. He just drifted east, never to return. Rumors ran wild of his demise, murdered by a jealous husband, overdose, a shootout in a bank robbery gone wrong.
I don't know about all that, but I will tell you this. I asked David Ortega once to tell me about his brother Remo. He looked off into the distance then summed it up with one word: “He was a regular.” In David’s special imaginary book, that was the highest compliment.
Paul “Animal” Hibbits, another high school alumni, looked like a mountain man even before he grew out his hair and beard. He had been a high school wrestler, and I never saw him give ground to anyone.
Animal also got his start with Dick Woods. But after a weekend altercation, a clash of strong egos and strong men, he thought it was best to pull up stakes.
He wound up in Oakland, and can be seen in the classic documentary Gimme Shelter, sporting his fox headdress. When you hear Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, crying that someone just knocked out their lead singer Marty Balin—that was Animal.
Animal had warned his onetime friend several times, that if Balin continued to disrespect him, he would knock him out. Animal always said a man is only as good as his word.
Question Mark David “Chief” Brown and I met in a high school shop class our senior year. But even then, he had the look of a young Wild Bill Hickok.
After graduation, we drifted apart only to cross paths again as outlaw bike riders. Already a Question Mark, with a reputation as a one-man party, his motto was, “Up, down or sideways.” As a close friend to the Satan’s Slaves, he drug me even deeper into the outlaw web I would forever be tangled in. When I told him I was off to Los Angeles to become a LACO Angel, I saw the hurt in his eyes. But when I came back as an Angel and asked him to take a ride with me, it was just like old times.
Several years after Dick Woods recovered—as much as he was going to—from his knife wound, he moved to the Sonora mountains in Central California. The last time I saw Dick, Animal, David Ortega and I went on a road trip to see him … or maybe say goodbye.
That last visit, he said something I will never forget as long as I live. Like a loving father, he told his three outlaw children how proud he was of us, and that our accomplishments made him part of outlaw history. Hell, he was the real trailblazer. We just followed the path he had already carved out.
That's the last time I saw Dick Woods. He died shortly after. His cremated remains were sent to us, and had a special place in the Ventura Hells Angels Clubhouse, a small shrine to our Brother Dick Woods. The ashes disappeared after a police raid, never to return. His remains may have gone missing, but his spirit remains.
The Blinding Flash: Part 4...
As the police officer approached the porch, the curtains in a window opened and closed several times, revealing the panicked face of our now bunkered-down European guest member.
The door opened, and the lady of the house came out onto the porch. She looked like she could have stepped out of central casting for a suburban housewife. Her body language was calm, and she spoke in low tones as the officer stood patiently listening.
My assessment was that these were all good signs.
In a motherly manner she extended her hand back through the door and curled her fingers back into her palm several times, beckoning our European brother.
Reluctantly, he stepped out onto the porch. He cautiously eyeballed Tall Paul and me. For the next ten minutes, he told his tale with exaggerated face, hand, and body gestures, continually pointing in our direction, as well as beyond us toward the vast desert landscape. The housewife translated.
The officer was scribbling notes on a small notepad, when he suddenly stopped, slipped the pad into his left breast pocket, and headed in our direction. I was certain that now there was a translator, this misunderstanding had been sorted out.
That hope was dashed as soon as the officer explained that the woman spoke a similar dialect but still different from what the European Hells Angel was spouting.
So the story flowed from our guest, through the matron of the house, and on to the officer. His expectation of clarifying things now gone, and he was more confused than ever.
Outlaws have always lived in a much more esoteric world, as we did at that time. We had our own language. We also had, what they call in today’s world, code words. A word or phrase that could be spoken openly, but would reveal meaning only to our small group. That summer’s secret phrase was “The Blinding Flash,” and it was a reference to a male sexual climax.
The officer requested our IDs, called them in and, once again armed with his notepad, restarted his line of questioning.
He mumbled “California,” more to himself than to Paul or me, as he studied our IDs.
“So you’re on your way to Colorado?” I nodded yes. No big revelation. Even back in those days, the cops kept track of our movements.
“You came out through the desert. Did you stop in the desert?”
Paul and I glanced at each other in confusion. “Well for gas.”
He didn't like that answer.
“Anything else?” Then the line of questioning suddenly shifted to our guest. “This guy’s a real member?”
I said, “Of course. That's why he has a cut with our colors on it.”
“He's from another country?”
“He seems disoriented. What’s his problem?
Forty years ago, meth had just replaced the small cross-top mini Benzedrine tablets in the biker drug culture. Initially, meth was seen as the outlaw biker super drug. Ride 500 miles to the party, rage all night, and then ride 500 miles home in the morning. No problem.
Searches and drug tests didn’t become widespread until the mid nighties. The “fast lane,” as we called it, was wide open.
But several of us in the midst of it all had begun recognizing the casualties. I could have ended the whole mess, with a simple, “He’s been up a week snorting drugs.”
But, of course, I couldn’t.
So I came up with the next best explanation I could think of.
“It looks like a case of extreme jet lag.”
The officer looked even more confused. Paul chuckled lightly under his breath. I was sticking to my story.
“I've seen it before, officer…” was all I could muster up with a straight face. Paul was now biting his lower lip to hold back the laughter. In all fairness, the cop was not convinced. He continued his interrogation.
“Answer me this. What happened in the desert?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you set off an explosion?”
Now I was totally lost.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He got that look that cops always got when they thought they had you in a trick bag. “Okay, then, explain ‘the blinding flash’.”
That was it. Both Paul and I broke into uncontrollable laughter.
The officer was not amused, as he barked back, “What’s so damn funny? It’s obvious to me, you’re holding back something.”
I delicately explained to the officer what the inside joke was, which only confused matters. He retreated to his patrol unit and, after a series of radio transmissions, he came back.
“Okay, you two are free to go. But that member stays with me until this is sorted out.”
“No,” I shot back, “he’s with us. I'm responsible for him.”
“Okay, then, I suggest you meet me at the station.”
Paul and I started the steep climb back up to our bikes. As we mounted our rides, we could see our guest bouncing around the back seat of the patrol unit. I slowly shook my head, and mumbled, “What a nut.”
At some point in time in his travels, every outlaw biker has a nickname thrown on him. In the right circumstances, the moniker sticks.
Paul responded, without missing a beat, “Yeah, Norte The Nut.”
So on this summer morning, in St. George, Utah of all places, that obscure member from Europe was reborn.
After regrouping with Grubby Glen, we made our way back to the police station. To our astonishment, our brother from another continent was now homesteaded in the back of the police cruiser, refusing to exit.
Over the next eight hours, a parade of players appeared. A nurse, a priest, a college professor, not to mention several individuals who were just trying out their skills of persuasion.
The chief finally made an executive decision. He informed everyone that an official of sorts from Norte’s homeland was due to arrive from Salt Lake City. That person would act as interpreter and get to the bottom of this mess.
When the man arrived, he had the look of a diplomat. He was a towering blond gentleman, with a medium build, wearing a gray, three-piece suit, wire-rim glasses, and carrying a worn brown leather briefcase.
He wasted no time. After introductions were made, he had everyone stand back and got down to business.
He had a twenty-minute conversation with Norte, and then came back to share his evaluation. With a dry sense of humor, he began.
“Apparently the California Hells Angels are a powerful organization whose reach extends all the way to St. George. This gentleman,” pointing at me, “has apparently put this whole community, including the police department, on his payroll.”
The diplomat went on to say that everyone was now part of the conspiracy. The chief just shook his head in disgust and asked, “What does he want?”
“He wants to book a motel here in town and would ask that these gentlemen he was traveling with pass a message to his countrymen, who he had planned on meeting up with.”
A second before I said it, Glen barked, “Not without our patch.”
For the next thirty minutes we argued, not only with the cops, but among ourselves. In the end, we saved ourselves assault and strong arm robbery charges by citing a club rule: no member can take another member’s cut without a vote in a meeting.
Once that was settled, we just got back on the road. We traveled straight through to our destination, Frisco, Colorado.
We passed the message to Norte the Nut’s charter, and the last thing I saw was four good sized European members heading to St. George, Utah.
As far as what happened to Norte, I never saw him again and never asked what became of him. It might be hard to believe that the cops never mentioned drugs, but that was then, and certainly not now.
To this day, no one really knows what happened to that member out there in that desert. Norte was the topic of debate for years. A divine experience? A self realization? The Vegas lights rising up out of the black night? The bells and whistles of that Mesquite casino?
Ah, hell. I think what it was, was that bag of ‘70s pure crank we passed around at one too many gas stops.
A Blinding Flash: Part 3...
The sound of the police sirens were getting closer.
I took a quick assessment of everyone who had tried in vain to capture our fleeing guest member visiting from Europe. We looked like a band of marauding outlaws. We had been on the road for a day and half. The desert heat, mixed with Harley oil and grueling highway miles, had taken its toll on us.
With the St. George cops rounding the corner, I suggested to the assembled members that we take a tactical retreat back to the bikes, except for me and one volunteer.
Paul, Ventura's newest member, would stand with me. He was a few years younger and about the same height, but carrying 100 more pounds than I was. He was neither muscle nor fat, just a fireplug of a man.
Paul was a character. The women loved how his long dirty blond hair spiraled to his shoulders. In moments of stress, he’d pull his goatee down to the center of his chest with his left hand, while pushing his long hair out of his eyes with his right. The whole routine looked like a third-base coach giving a hitter signals.
Grubby Glen led the remaining members and prospects back up the steep hill to the bikes.
Two police cruisers skidded to a stop. I would find out later that they represented half the St. George police department.
As the sounds of sirens died, the silence was broken by the rumble of the bikes forming up to make their way to what was supposed to have been our next scheduled gas stop, just a mile up the road.
I don't know what the woman in the house had told the police when she made the call, but it couldn’t have been good. The cops came out of their cruisers with their .38s drawn and sited on Paul and I.
They positioned themselves behind their car doors in combat stances. They were shouting multiple orders and questions in a jumble. The last thing I heard was a comical shout, “Stop them, they’re leaving a crime scene.”
Although everyone was facing Paul and me, I suspected he was referring to the pack now heading east. That was my opening.
As a marine rifleman, I had learned the art of field combat. But as a communication troubleshooter for the Department of Defense, I had learned the art of conversation. I found that conversation was often more effective.
I moved toward the cops with my hands raised, palms facing them. I yelled, “What makes you think this is a crime scene?”
I did a slow 360-degree spin to let everyone know I wasn’t armed. Nobody shouted for me to stop, so I continued moving forward.
The officer nearest me came around his door and holstered his weapon. After a half-hearted pat-down he told me to relax.
Paul, my sole Hells Angel backup, started coming toward us in an almost comical repeat of my movements. The officer barked, “Tell him to stay back.” This police sergeant was smart enough to let me to be in control of my own members.
I signaled for Paul to stand down, which he did.
I told the officer, “This one speaks English.” A wry smile broke across his face as he mumbled, “I see. Okay, so what the hell is going on?”
In an effort to maintain the appearance of control he told me to wait there. That set the tone for the cat-and-mouse game that would take place for a good portion of the day in the beautiful city of St. George, Utah.
The Blinding Flash, Part 2…
As Grubby Glen, prospect Art and I walked across the casino floor, closing the distance between us and our guest from a European charter, his focus shifted from the bells and lights of the slots, to the three of us.
We could see his lips moving rapidly, but we were too far away to hear what he was saying. It didn’t matter. When we finally got within earshot, we caught a stream of his native tongue that none of us spoke. We could only make out one word: “Police.”
Regardless of the language, that’s a universally unpopular word in the outlaw bike world. Coincidentally, Grubby Glen had a button displayed prominently on the front of his vest, which read “I Hate Every Cop in this Town.”
Glen stopped in his tracks and looked over at me. “Did he just say what I think he said?”
Before I could answer, a uniformed security guard walked by and our distressed guest gestured and moved toward the rent-a-cop.
Glen’s speed was impressive. In one swift movement, he grabbed the European member and directed him back to our small circle. He held out his right hand, index finger extended, as an adult would scold a child saying “No, no, no.”
“No police, police bad, Brothers good.”
I couldn't help but bust out laughing. So did Art. It didn’t help matters.
After we regrouped outside, we spent the next twenty minutes trying to not only calm the member down, but also analyze the problem. You haven't lived until you’ve seen a bunch of social misfits exchanging ideas on how to resolve a personality crisis.
After about ten minutes of banter, I asked the million-dollar question: “When was the last time this guy slept?” Art broke the resulting silence, saying, “He ain't slept since we got to Berdoo.”
The small crowd of members who had gathered all started counting on their fingers the number of days of missed sleep. After several minutes, we narrowed it down to either three or four days, as if this would make a difference.
All of a sudden David O. had a moment of clarity and figured out that it could be what he described as the noise factor. It was the sheer road noise getting into this overtired guy’s head; the running roar of the bikes.
David’s suggestion was that all we had to do was move the support truck in front of the pack, rather at the rear behind the sound and movement of the bikes. (As a visiting member, he hadn’t brought his bike and was riding in the support truck.)
He looked like the cat that ate the canary, as he mumbled, “Problem solved.”
The next fifteen minutes was dedicated to reassuring our foreign brother he was in safe company with lots of smiles, pats on the back, and hugs.
Glen continued to speak to the guy in two or three-word phrases, but now he added an accent, which truthfully only seemed to make our paranoid visitor even more suspicious.
Me, personally, when it came to partying I always subscribed to two schools of thought. What goes up must come down, and better living threw chemistry.
There was only one real way to straighten this problem out, and that was sleep. So I made several attempts to slip him a drink dosed with a few #10 valiums, but had no success.
As Art pulled the support truck up in front the pack, Glen led our neurotic friend to his seat. The guy looked like a prisoner being led to his last meal.
As soon as Glen shut the door of the truck cab, I fired up my bike. In minutes, the whole pack came to life. Once Glen had got himself settled, we pulled out onto 15 East. One mile up the road would put us in the tip of Arizona, and a fast trip through the Virgin Mountains would drop us into St. George, Utah.
As the sun rose, we had a much better view of the support vehicle directly in front of us. Things looked calm in the truck cab and, for a brief moment, I thought sleep had granted all of us a reprieve.
But as we crossed into Utah, the weigh station with its blinking lights and scattered police cruisers parked at odd angles must have once again triggered our European brother’s panic.
The support truck started slowing down and Glen and I were now right up on the bumper. We could see that a desperate struggle was taking place between Art at the wheel and his passenger in the passenger’s seat.
Art was holding tight to the steering wheel with his left at about twelve o'clock while he straightarmed his passenger with his right, trying to keep the European on the passenger’s side. Art was doing all he could to maintain control of the truck.
Suddenly, the passenger’s door opened, closed, and then flew open wide, allowing the passenger to jump free as the truck traveled at a slow roll.
The truck and pack both stopped abruptly right in the middle of the highway.
The visiting Hells Angel may have been crazy, but he wasn't stupid. He quickly assessed the terrain and decided he would run down a steep embankment to a small cluster of what looked like newly built tract houses.
He ran full tilt down the hill, trailing several members and prospects. If I was still a member of an outlaw bike club I would swear on my patch what happened next is the absolute truth.
The crazed member sighted in on the nearest house. As soon as he reached it, he began banging on the front door with both fists, shouting at the top of his lungs in his native tongue.
We were almost on him, when the door swung open, he forced his way inside, and the door slammed closed in our faces.
We could hear a woman through the door, speaking to this guy in his language. We all gathered on the porch to regroup. After a quick huddle I was nominated to approach the door. I lightly knocked, trying to be as calm and polite as I could be. The woman’s voice sounded through the closed door.
“He has told me everything. The police are on their way.”
Then I heard the sirens, off in the distance …
The Blinding Flash, Part 1...
Every outlaw motorcycle club charter develops its own personality. As individual as outlaws are, each charter attracts like-minded men and weeds out the ones that just don't fit.
Coming out of the chaos of my time in LACO, the focus had been on staying alive, not riding. When we made the move up to Ventura, I was determined to get back on track to what I thought the lifestyle was all about.
I remembered when there was a rule in many one-percent clubs that you couldn’t fly your cut if you weren’t on your bike. It was one of the many unwritten rules that everyone who wanted to be a full-patch member understood and followed.
I felt like tradition is what had been missing.
With the help of my old Question Mark mentor, David Ortega, it wasn't long before the Ventura charter was getting back to riding and partying, and enjoying the lifestyle the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Hand-built, custom bikes were at the top of the list of important things in the Ventura charter. Not just building them, but getting out there and riding them every chance we had.
We found that long rides separated the men from the boys. It soon became a charter rule that if you wanted to be voted in as a Ventura member, you had to make the annual—and often cross-country—USA/ World Run.
Not everyone could balance grueling thousand-mile rides with the partying and hijinks that goes along with outlaw life on the road. Over the years, I saw a lot of men break under the pressure of the highway. But one story really stands alone.
This is that story.
I had once heard it said that every man has his breaking point. It’s like a thread hanging somewhere in his consciousness; once pulled, there’s just no way to stop the whole thing from unraveling.
One particular foreign visitor’s unraveling started on the 1981 World Run, as we rode out of the darkness of the summer desert and into the glaringly bright lights of Vegas, America’s monument to decadence.
As LACO veterans, we had already learned a hard lesson years earlier. You had to ride right past Vegas without so much as a sideways glance—just like Homer’s Ulysses avoiding the sirens. We just rode on.
We caught up with our Berdoo brothers in the high California desert, and we all agreed Mesquite would be our next gas stop. As a group now over twenty bikes strong, we were rolling so tight that Berdoo’s support truck had become part of the pack.
Aristeo “Art” Carbajal was at the wheel. Art was prospect, a 5’10”, dark-skinned Mexican with thick, jet-black curly hair. A prospect at that moment, Art was a great brother and would become a respected and excellent Hells Angel. (A decade later, he would lose his life in a fight with some Mongols over the word “California.”)
Art had been tasked with not only driving the support truck, but entertaining and taking care of a visiting member from Europe. This visiting member didn't speak any English, and the incident that unfolded would be the catalyst for several years of heated debate about requiring all Hells Angels to speak English.
Over the years, Mesquite had turned out to be a great alternative to Vegas. It had grown a lot from when we had first started gassing up there. From a one-stoplight town with a gas station and an old-fashioned truck stop, by 1981, Mesquite boasted a sit-down restaurant and even a small casino.
After stopping in Mesquite to gas up, Berdoo’s Grubby Glen and I were deep in conversation in a corner of the casino. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Art was standing patiently but anxiously, about ten yards away. He was trying to get our attention without violating the unspoken rules that dictated how a prospect was supposed to behave.
Grubby Glen had just returned from a seven-year stretch in Folsom. He was about 5'8", in his early forties, with a mane of blond hair and a wild ZZ Top-style beard.
Outlaw nicknames are a funny part of the culture. Ventura’s own Tall Paul was anything but, yet he was taller than LACO’s 5’4” “Small Paul.” The club brother “Tiny” tipped the scales at around 400 pounds. In keeping with the nickname tradition, there was nothing unkempt about “Grubby” Glen.
Art was so clearly nervous, shifting from one foot to another, that Glen and I called over to him. “What’s wrong, prospect?”
With a few sentences and as much respect as he could muster, Art explained that our overseas guest had reached the “edge” and was now mentally falling apart.
Glen and I laughed, and told Art to quit fucking with the member. (Prospects weren’t above getting their own back on members who weren’t totally aware of what was going on, and therefore, couldn’t punish the prospect.)
His reply was fast and stern: “I'm serious, he’s losing it.”
We looked past Art at our European guest. The member was focused in what could only be described as a hypnotic trance, on the casino slot machine bells and lights.
Glen and I, with Art in tow, started the long walk across the casino floor to our confused visitor.
What happened from there, is one for the books...
The Wife Beaters...
One of my first exposures to widespread media coverage was as the point person for publicity behind the release of Hells Angels Forever, the 1983 documentary about the club.
New York City President Sandy Alexander and I were swinging through Texas doing press, when I got an invite to Joe Bob Briggs’ annual Drive-In Movie Awards. Briggs was a Texas celebrity who wrote tongue-in-cheek, very funny reviews of B movies (that he lumped under the title “drive in movies”).
Every year, he would host an awards night that was supposed to be the sarcastic equivalent to the Oscars. (Speaking of the Oscars, here’s a little known fact: Joe Bob’s mother’s maiden name was Thelma Louise; I don’t know if “and” was her middle name.)
I took him up on the invite. It was only sitting in the audience that I learned Hells Angels Forever had actually been nominated in one of Joe Bob’s made-up categories. It was a contender for “Best Use of a Hammer in a Motion Picture.” And we won.
Joe Bob invited me up to accept the award and I went up to the podium. In the spirit of the sarcastic nature of the event, I said, “I accept this gold hammer award on behalf of the Hells Angels. It’s a great honor to publicly accept a award that’s usually only given out in dark alleys.” I’m not sure the well-lubricated crowd totally got that I was kidding.
The press junket wasn’t all fun and games, though. A scene in the movie showed a New York member’s old lady saying something like, “He only hit me once.” Feminists took offense at that, and the press picked up on the controversy.
Most members didn’t give a damn what the public thought about what an Angel did in his own home, but the controversy was dragging some of the good press we were getting from the movie.
A radio host who had seen Joe Bob’s award show, reached out and asked me if he could interview me on air. I asked him if he wanted to interview both me and Sonny, thinking it would be a good chance for us to really spur interest in the movie and get back to positive promotion. The host jumped at the chance, and we called Sonny into the show via a long-distance call to Oakland.
The show was going fine, when a caller brought up the issue of the feminists and the old lady’s quote from the movie. I deflected and basically said what happened between consenting adults was their business. But when the host of the show set up for the next commercial break, he said, “We’re going to take a break now, so that the Hells Angels can beat their old ladies.”
Sonny wasn’t known for his great sense of humor—another big difference between him and I. He got furious. He was shouting down the phone that he’d fly out and kick the guy’s ass. It took me a couple long commercial breaks to convince Sonny that the guy was just being a wise ass, didn’t mean anything by it, and that we had to go on and finish the interview. Sonny didn’t say a word from that point on.
It may be my fading memory, but I don’t recall Sonny ever doing a radio interview again.
Live at the Mob Museum...
This Saturday the 14, I will be in Las Vegas at the Mob Museum at 1:00 pm. I will be doing a slide show, answering questions and signing books. I hope you will join me for the afternoon. I hope to see you all there...
Business Behind Bars..
When I first started hanging around the LACO Hells Angels, I quickly learned many unwritten rules, codes of behavior and pieces of street wisdom. The first piece of advice the LACO president, Old Man John, gave me, was about getting arrested. It wasn’t “if you get arrested.” It was, “when.” I can still see him with that half-smoked stub of a cigar hanging out of his mouth, moving up and down as he talked. “Georgie, always pay your bondsman. Then your lawyer. In that order!”
There was solid logic behind that advice. You might change lawyers, but when you needed a bondsman to put a bond, you really needed the bond. If you had burned him, you were going to be out of luck.
But more than that, if a patchwearer from any club burned a bondsman, the guy was likely to think every club member would burn him.
That became pretty important by the end of the ‘70s. It wasn’t just reckless driving and misdemeanor disturbing the peace beefs. There were major state and federal cases begin brought throughout California against the Hells Angels. The ‘80s brought even more cases across the country not only against the Hells Angels, but other outlaw bike clubs.
As time went on, the system was no longer straightforward. The authorities rigged it. You didn’t have to worry about paying your bail bondsmen, because prosecutors could get a judge to declare your assets ineligible, essentially denying you bail. Or they get bail set so impossibly high that nobody could afford. Then they’d work with the jail to throw you in the SHU until you were ready to take a plea. Bikers were targets for this treatment. Now, it’s blacks and Hispanics.
One has to wonder if this is some type of social experiment against segments of society not in the mainstream, especially as the prison population has exploded.
What came first? The chicken of the crime, or the egg of incarcerating people on dubious plea deals to make money corporations.
By the mid-1970s, there were around half a million people in jail or prison.
Today, that number is roughly 2.2 million, even though statistics tell us the violent crime rate has plummeted across the nation.
Even when you’re out, you’re not out. Seven million people are under some sort of correctional control, including parole or probation.
The cost of all this? An estimated $80 billion a year. But most of that money is not going to any state or federal government.
Whether by chance or design, the prison industry is big business.
The corporate prison system is one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States, with publically owned corporations backed by mainstream Wall Street investors.
Their profits translate to high bails and long mandatory sentences encourage defendants to plea out, even when they’ve been indicted for something they didn’t do.
Once those people are in, they’re subjected to work that pays slave-labor wages; dollar-a-minute phone calls; email fees; commissary fees, and more.
Inmates are no longer given cash or a check when released. They are now paid with debit cards that feature high interest or fees.
Once they get parole, they are usually subjected to mandatory halfway houses, where you must work to pay for your bed.
All of that makes inmates and ex-cons the new slave class. It keeps the poor, poor, it gives criminals incentives not to reform but to become better criminals, and it is inhumane and indecent.
The time has long since passed for change. We must reform the prison system in this country if we’re going to remain something we can reasonably call a civilized society.
Happy New year...
I want to thank everyone for making 2016 another great year. My first book, Exile On Front Street, has been very successful thanks to you all. Please watch for the release of my second book, Marked, late next year. It's a fiction account of a young outlaw club member who becomes a leader in an ever-changing world of outlaw motorcycle clubs. I have several other projects in the works, and will keep you all posted on their progress. And, of course, I will continue to post new blog stories staring again next week. Have a great holiday, and I’ll see you all next year!
The Outlaw Guide to an Underground Ride...
When I was filming the Outlaw Chronicles, it wasn’t just a History Channel program to me. It turned into a cathartic journey, one that became the foundation for my book, Exile On Front Street.
Right from the start, the producers and I knew it would be looked at hard by all parties on both sides of the law. We agreed that it had to be right. I could tell the genuine stories on camera, because I lived them. But the re-creations—scenes with actors playing outlaws—worried me. Over the years, I’ve seen quite a view movie and TV biker re-creations that were just downright embarrassing.
My concern was put to rest when I met the crew from The Chun. The Chun is a group of guys who live the outlaw lifestyle without the weight or baggage of a patch. If you’re connected in the motorcycle underground, you probably already know about these guys. The group inhabits a clubhouse in LA, and though it’s not open to the public, if you find your way there, these retro Harley riders won’t turn you away.
I felt like they were perfect to take the audience on a visual journey of my past, all the good, bad, and ugly. Just hanging out with these guys made me feel thirty years younger. They are no-bullshit, hard-riding youngsters who took me back to the best riding years of my life.
If you happen upon The Chun clubhouse and come across my amigo Todd, tell him I sent you. If, after ten minutes with these guys you don’t feel like getting some wind in your face, you don't belong on a motorcycle.
Here’s a great afternoon ride (and The Chun clubhouse is a perfect starting point) for a day of off-the-beaten-track, backroad exploring. Check your oil and get a cup of strong coffee. We have some riding to do.
Head to the town of Buellton. It’s a couple hours north on the 101, a great ride up the coast. Gas up and stretch your legs. We’re not there yet.
Continue on 101 north, and it won't be long until you run into the San Marcos Pass, Highway 154 exit. Swing back toward Santa Barbara.
This is the Old California Stage Coach route, and we’re heading to Cold Springs Tavern, a 160-year-old actual stage coach stop.
Look for Stage Coach Road, and follow it to the tavern. There is plenty of bike parking and, depending on the time of day, you can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If the outdoor BBQ is going, you can even score yourself some great tri-tip. Of course there is a full bar, but don't drink to much; we still have the ride home and one last stop to make.
Our last stop is the Rock Store on Mulholland Drive. You can get there either inland or from the coast—just head south. I’ve been coming to the Rock Store since the late ‘60s, and its now one of the most famous motorcycle hangouts in the world.
The place is graced by outlaws and celebrities alike, but the real stars here are the motorcycles themselves. You'll find every make and model imaginable on display and the price of admission is just a little time out of your day!
Capable Of Evading High Speed Pursuit...
Earlier this week I received a private message on Facebook from someone asking if there was any truth to the rumor that I coined the phrase, “capable of evading high speed pursuit”. Well, it was a long time ago, but this is how I remember it.
In the sixties it was all about looks and style. After a short stint on a 1957 panhead, and another year on a 1941 Indian Scout, I found my signature bike.
It was a 1942, jet-black, 80-in. Harley Davidson, with an early VL front end, a cat’s-eye dash, jockey shift, shotgun pipes, high bars, and a chrome 1936 hand brake lever. All that was set off with a custom solo seat decorated in a hand-stitched red spider web.
I didn’t even make the pretense that I might ride double; there was no passenger seat or rear foot pegs. It was built for me, and me alone, and I almost lived on that bike.
The young Southern California outlaw bike culture was one big party, and it inevitably caught the interest of law enforcement—who seem to hate the idea of anyone having a good time.
California’s top cop, Attorney General Lynch, saw the party as a menace. After a ten-year study, the Lynch Report reared its ugly head to set the world straight about the strange and terrible outlaw world.
According to law enforcement it was all gospel. But even gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson—who had lived a year with the Hells Angels researching his book, and gotten his ass stomped for the privilege—said the report was utter bullshit.
That didn't slow down or discourage the cops, though.
Even before the war with the Mongols kicked off, things where in flux. Cops carried blank “field interrogation cards,” just looking for suspects to pull over and enter into their new outlaw biker filing system.
It was pre-computer generation, and waiting for the results from a search called in by a cop in a cruiser, fed into a teletype, and then fed back to the officer, was time-consuming, ineffective and irritating. Wear a patch on a Southern California highway and you could count on wasting a whole evening or afternoon handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.
There was only one way to combat this new attack on our good times: faster bikes.
That led to an explosion of hot rod motor experimentation up and down the West Coast (an environment that would eventually breed the Jesse James and Billy Lanes of the world). It didn’t stop with the motors. Short front ends, Pirelli racing tires, high speed stabilizers, front and rear disc brakes, toggle switches to cut the rear tail and brake lights, and drag bars all made for exciting, late-night, high-speed police chases. We weren’t giving up without a fight.
It became a sport between the Ventura charter and the Ventura cops. If we got caught, we took our medicine in the form of a ticket and an occasional lecture. Most of the cops accepted defeat with just as much grace.
But there was one cop who just didn't see the sport in it.
One summer afternoon, David Ortega, Jessie and I rode our bikes to the Ventura pier and parked them at the entrance. Although the bikes weren't taking up much space, and there was no sign against parking them there, this cop just went off the deep end with us.
He told us he was going to do this and that, and turn our Harleys into Mopeds, bla, bla, bla.
Needless to say, as soon as we stopped laughing at him, we all kicked our bikes to life and gave him a brake stand salute, throwing chunks of rubber from our tires and pieces of the wooden pier in his general direction.
He ran to his car to start the pursuit, but we all took off in different directions. It really wouldn’t have mattered anyway; his patrol car couldn’t get out of its own way.
We all were long gone by the time he decided which biker to follow. The three of us met up at the clubhouse and had just settled in when who should show up but this cop.
He stood in front of the locked steel front gate yelling at the top of his lungs for the guy with the silver bike to come outside. We were still new to Ventura and according to this cop we all looked the same and so did our bikes. But they were all black except for poor Jessie’s. His was the silver one and it bought him the ticket.
After several delays by both sides, the court date was upon us. Jessie’s attorneys took the position: prove it officer. The best witness for the defense was the officer himself, who freely admitted he could not beyond a reasonable doubt identify Jessie or the bike.
The judge handed down a not guilty verdict. Before he did, though, the cop took one last-ditch attempt to sway the verdict. “Your honor, their bikes are all capable of evading high-speed pursuit!”
Without missing a beat the judge barked at the officer, “Sir, that’s not against the law.”
So the answer to the original question is: It was that officer who said it first. Like true outlaws, we just stole it from the cop.
My Holiday Gift To You: Some Advice...
Some of you may know I have a consulting business. I work with criminal attorneys in preparing client’s defense. Many are first-time offenders and just don't understand the judicial process. I speak to them in simple language and try to help them through the legal steps of what can be a long, expensive, and very scary journey. One of the first things I explain to a client is to avoid back-up beefs. Prosecutors use additional charges against a defendant, in any plea deal and in sentencing. Whether you have charges pending and want to blow off some steam this holiday season, or are just getting into the holiday spirit, here is some light-hearted advice.
Drinking in Public
Drinking in public in is an accepted practice in many cultures, but never really caught on here in the States (with the exception of certain stadium events). Throw a few back outside of your home or a bar and you could find yourself receiving various citations. If you really feel the need to do some public drinking I suggest you go to Vegas where roaming the strip with a drink in your hand is encouraged. But remember, like so many other things in that town, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas—and that includes drinking in public.
Drinking and driving is certainly a public safety issue, but I also see it as big business. Drink and drive and you could be subject to an array of costs. Impound and storage fees for your vehicle, bail, attorneys fees, fines, and alcohol education fees. Now if all that financial punishment hasn't got your attention, let me remind you about your loss of license and driving privileges and that always seems to have the biggest impact, and is the loudest objection with any of my clients. Suddenly, you’re grounded like a high school student at the mercy of parents. I always suggest to my clients to get representation with an attorney well versed in DUI laws. For the readers that like to do it themselves, here is a little pointer to postpone losing your driving privileges. In many states, if you do not request an administrative hearing with the DMV within ten days of your DUI arrest, you forfeit your right to have the hearing and your license will automatically be suspended within thirty days. Once you request the hearing, your license remains valid until the outcome of the hearing. You can make the request or have your attorney represent you at the hearing. Those of you that think they can beat the system with one of the many over-the-counter breathalyzers available today, think again. Although you may blow under what constitutes the legal limit, an officer always has the authority to arrest you for “driving while impaired,” just from his professional observation. So a good attitude can go a long way in the end. But why take a chance? Put someone else behind the wheel.
Sex in Public
For those of you who like to walk on the wild side and are looking for a cavalier adventure, I’d suggest you consider a few things first. There are legal consequences for a simple carnal pleasure. Depending of where you’re located, getting caught having sex in public usually falls under a misdemeanor charge of Indecent Exposure/Public Nudity. But there are certain circumstances where in can be a felony, depending on the arresting officer. They can call it exposing your genitals in public, and a conviction could lead to lifetime registration as a sex offender. Save yourself a lot of time, anguish, and money and get a room. If you’re feeling frisky, open the curtains.
I had a good run in the sixties, and an even better one through the seventies. There were bullets flying and bodies dropping all around me, but I managed to make it into the eighties unscathed.
That all came to an end when the feds put me in their sights. When federal law enforcement fixates on you, there is a really good chance you’re going down. And I did.
I had been pushing back and talking loud against law enforcement for a long time. After several investigations, I was finally arrested for a murder that never happened and a crime I didn't commit. I would eventually be found not guilty, but not before spending a long year in custody without bail.
It was 1986, long before downtown Los Angeles became home to the high-rise metropolitan detention center, with its underground corridors that wind their way right up into the federal courtrooms. I found myself at Terminal Island, a federal prison that was a medical facility and classification center for both sentenced inmates and those awaiting trial.
My arrest had been blasted all over the news and the prison officials—along with the population—knew that I would be arriving soon. After several hours in the receiving center I walked out into the yard. My club brother Guy “Gorgeous Guy” Castiglione had everything waiting for me, as well as some advice.
“We need to find you a job as soon as possible or you’ll wind up in the mess hall.” At the time, inmates awaiting trial or sentencing would pull kitchen duty.
For weeks, we put up a valiant fight to keep me out of the kitchen. Jumping from one temporary job to another worked for the first few weeks, but the authorities soon figured out our plan, and I was told to report for kitchen duty the next day.
At 8 the next morning, I made my way over to the clothing office to pick up my kitchen whites. Then I took the long walk across the north yard to the mess hall. When I arrived and reported in, the corrections officer told me to grab a cup of coffee and wait for him. He had a serious mess to straighten out.
It all stemmed from 1976 when, after several lawsuits and hunger strikes, the Jewish inmates won the right to full kosher meals. By the time I went inside, Terminal Island had twenty-five Jewish inmates. The funny thing was, if you could get onto the kosher food line, you not only got the best cuts of meat, fish, and poultry, you never had to wait in line to get served.
Not surprisingly, the Jewish inmates guarded the kosher food line as if it was the Ark of the Covenant. Beyond the food and convenience, it was a real sense of religious pride, one they had fought hard for.
The prime cuts of meat meant for the kosher line created a big problem for prison staff. There was a lot of theft. The kosher goods were big money in the prison black market, run by the different factions inside.
The Jewish inmates were also very particular about the variety of the menu. With the backing of the prison rabbi behind them, they were a political force to be reckoned with, and could be a headache for the administration.
I listened as the conversation went back and forth between the corrections officer and a small group of inmates confronting him. It didn't take long for me to figure out what had happened. The head of the kosher kitchen had been transferred to a different prison in the middle of the night. Although there were plenty of Jewish inmates to keep the kitchen running, ironically, none of them knew kosher cooking rules.
I thought, “Hell, why not?” Then I spoke up.
“Sergeant, I think I can help you out.”
Everyone stopped talking and turned to me.
“I grew up working in a kosher delicatessen. I know all the kosher cooking rules.”
That was good enough for the corrections officer, but the Jewish inmates resisted the idea. After all, I wasn’t one of the tribe. But I explained that despite my Greek heritage, my father had partnered with a Jewish friend in a Jewish deli. I’d work there as a teenager.
The inmates came around, but I would have a couple of other big obstacles to overcome in the prison food administrator and the Rabbi.
So I served two “test” meals that day: lunch and dinner. They were a big hit. As far as the Jewish inmates were concerned, I was the new kosher cook.
Then I met with the food administrator. It started off a little rocky, when he blurted out, “I know who you are. I got enough problems in that kitchen, I don't need any problems from you.”
We talked for a good half hour, and he explained about the theft. The personnel problems in the mainline kitchen were nothing compared to what was going on in the kosher kitchen.
I told him I had several years of experience working with complex personalities. He ended the conversation by saying, “Well, I guess if you can run that goddamn motorcycle club, you ought to be able to handle twenty-five Jews.”
I assured him I could, and excused myself.
The next hurdle was the Rabbi. He only came in once a week, so that gave me a few days to prove my ability in the kitchen. It also gave my new Jewish friends a chance to warn me how the Rabbi was a real practical joker.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I made my way to what was the makeshift Temple in the prison. But when I saw him, he reminded me of my grandfather, and I immediately felt right at home with him.
He was short and round, his grey hair and beard both a bit messy. He had on an old, timeworn dark fedora hat that matched his old threadbare suit. He was everything the inmates said he was, and for a brief moment he took me out of that prison and back to my childhood.
We talked and talked, and he threw trick questions into the conversation, testing me about kosher rules, as well as questioning me about my Greek orthodox religion. As our time ran out, he adopted a very serious tone and said, “I think you are a good boy and we’ll accept you into the kitchen. But I have one last question. George, are you circumcised?”
All the Jewish inmates had warned me that he would try his best to catch me off guard. So I slowly rose and said, “Of course, Rabbi.” With that I started to unbutton my pants.
He raised his hand to stop me as he broke out into deep, bellowing laughter. He liked that I came back with my own little joke on him. I had the job and that kitchen occupied me for the next year. I put my all into it and it gave back to me because the work and those twenty-five Jewish inmates really helped pass the time
A Class Act...
I had heard about the high-powered criminal defense attorney Anthony “Tony” Brooklier long before I met him. In 1987, Mickey Rourke introduced me to Tony at the Café Roma in West Hollywood.
Café Roma was a famous place where you just never knew who you might run into. It was a popular hang out for the famous and infamous alike; the tables were filled with movie actors, rock stars, directors, producers, wise guys, and even the occasional Hells Angel.
Tony was the son of L.A. mob boss Dominic Brooklier. Somehow, Tony had received a congressional appointment to Annapolis. But his dream of naval greatness ended his first year; he was asked to leave after the powers that be discovered just who his father really was.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Tony would later walk away from his position as a California deputy attorney general, to represent his father against racketeering charges.
Dominic Brooklier would ultimately be found guilty, and would eventually die in federal prison. But not before his son staged a valiant fight and heartfelt plea to keep his father on the street.
His courtroom presence was legendary. He was famous for his shoot-from-the-hip-style defense. In 2001, I would get a firsthand account of his expertise.
Tony represented me in my massive 59-count state racketeering and tax case. The grand jury testimony alone was 12,000 pages, all packed into 54 legal size boxes.
Held in custody on a million dollar bail, I spent many hours with Tony deep in the Ventura County Jail isolation unit, a place known as “The Dungeon.”
Our attention often drifted from my legal woes to politics, courtroom strategies, and Roman history. Although we covered a lot of territory in those jailhouse discussions, Tony’s favorite subject was always his father. Tony told me many great stories of old Los Angeles, and of his father.
Tony was a devoted son. I was facing a lot of years in prison and I think my situation trigged many memories for him. Although he never said it, I felt like he somehow held himself reasonable for his dad’s fate, because he hadn’t been able to win the old man’s release before he died.
Tony took his own life on November 15. He was only 70, but I suppose he had his demons and they got the better of him. But he was loyal, caring, smart, a great storyteller, and one hell of a lawyer.
That’s the way I choose to remember him. I am hoping everyone who knew him will carry that thought of him too. We will all miss you, Tony. Rest in peace.
What Happens in Oxnard, Stays in Oxnard...
As the sixties came to a close, it marked the end of an era. Especially for the outlaw bike world.
Out east, a war was brewing between the Outlaws and the Hells Angels over the oldest reason in the world: a women. The Bay Area had Altamont, where a young Hells Angel named Alan Passaro stabbed Meredith Hunter to death, after Hunter pointed a gun at the stage where several Hells Angels sat.
And in Southern California we had maybe the best kept secret of all: Danny DeCarlo from the Straight Satans Motorcycle Club fingered Charlie Manson in the cult murders perpetrated in Los Angeles.
It didn’t take long for the local small 1% community to ride into Venice and shut down the Straight Satans.
All those events conspired to create a subtle shift in the outlaw bike world consciousness, even though it wouldn’t become totally evident for years.
The look of your bike and your knowledge of its mechanics became less important than, “How tough is this guy and can he keep his mouth shut?” The carefree nights of endless rides and parties were all but behind us.
The problems were not just with other outlaw clubs. The cops had us in their sights. So, as the bike culture grew, so did the need to be more selective and creative in recruiting and testing members. If a candidate proved to be a lightweight or, worse, an undercover cop, you had to stop them dead in their tracks.
We did that by having the guy commit what he thought was a serious felony. Not only did it weed out lightweights and flush out informants or cops, it also served as a training exercise and a way to evaluate the prospective member.
We custom-fit the fabricated crime to the individual. Shootings, debt collections, big drug deals—anything outside the law that could be controlled and orchestrated was fair game.
One task we gave a prospective member has stayed with me all these years. It was a pretend bombing that, for a brief moment, had me wondering if I had inadvertently delivered a real bomb.
The prospect’s name was Paul.
I met him at the Chrystal Lodge, a sleazy hotel in old Ventura. We had told him to dress all in black and make sure he wore a hat. I carefully brought in the fake bomb; it was made up of road flares, wire, and something that at a glance would resemble an electric detonator.
The plan was that I would drive Paul to the target. He would place the package of explosives under the target car. Jessie would follow in a second vehicle and position himself with the triggering device, remotely exploding the charge.
Before we left, we explained to Paul who the intended victim was.
Jessie did the storytelling because he was so good at it. I had a hard time keeping a straight face while Jessie told Paul that the target was a high-ranking Mongol. Jessie said the Mongol was there to kill a Ventura HA officer, and we had to move quickly before he changed his location.
Jessie explained the Mongol was staying in Oxnard, a town just south of Ventura. With the motel room number and car description laid out, we drove off to do the job. Jessie led in his car, but not before he came up with some secret handshake for Paul, one that I had never seen before. It was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing.
We made it to Oxnard and got into position. Paul put the package in place. I told him our part was over, and we started driving back to Ventura.
I remember looking him in the eyes and asking him if he had any second thoughts.
That was good enough for me. He was in. As we made small talk on our way out of town, a serendipitous event occurred. All the lights in the city of Oxnard went out because of a local power outage.
For one brief moment I had to wonder. Paul looked at me.
“How big was that bomb?”
Keeping my game face on, I said, “It’s too late to think about that now.”
The rule was, you never talked about it. But I told Jessie about the power outage and we had a hell of a laugh. It was one of my last memories of Jessie and I hold if fondly; he was murdered a few weeks later. The bullets, unlike the bomb, were all too real.
Far Out Man...
When my daughter opened her own law office, I came on board as the office administrator. She wanted to build a criminal defense practice, and I knew my way around the system and what went through the mind of most defendants.
But a criminal defense practice takes some time to develop. Meanwhile, she had to pay the bills, so she did a lot of personal injury cases (she had worked in a personal injury firm when she was in law school).
Moriya was good at dealing with the often fuzzy logic and strange behavior of clients, but one guy in particular threw her for a loop.
He had just left when she asked me into her office.
“I don’t know how to deal with this guy.”
“What’s the problem?”
“He thinks the United States government is acting in collusion with an alien government to hound and track him. He said they’ve kidnapped him and implanted tracking devices in him and they were sending radio signals to him.”
He felt the only person he could trust was Moriya.
“What do you think we should do?”
“Let me talk to the guy. Maybe he’s not as far out there as you think, and maybe we can find a simple resolution.”
A week later, he came in for another meeting and I took him into my office. He brought boxes of documents and he told me that the government didn’t know where he was at the moment because he’d given them the slip by removing the implants and going off the grid.
I thought, “Yeah, off the grid.”
He showed me a mark on his back where the aliens had captured him and put an implant in. Then he showed me a scar on his finger where another implant had been inserted, this one from the government. They both had been tracking him.
I set up another appointment for him, kind of hoping that he would just find his own remedy and go away. But when the office secretary called him to confirm his appointment the day before, he said he’d be there.
He arrived on time for his appointment and told me he was ready to go forward with the lawsuit and he wanted to know what our game plan was.
I told him, “Look, it’s obvious you’re off the radar. If we file suit, they’re going to know where you are. I think there’s a good possibility that they’ll abduct you again and put more implants in.”
He looked at me, shocked. “Oh my god, you’re right. I can’t let that happen.”
We parted company, agreeing that he would keep his head down so the aliens and the government conspirators would not relocate him and I’d keep working to find a way to expose the conspiracy and get him restitution.
It was almost a relief to get back to the sanity of our regular clientele of meth heads, thieves, and attempted murderers.
Talking Over the Border...
At the end of the ‘90s there was tension in the United States in the aftermath of the Nordic Wars fought between the Hells Angels and Bandidos. The wars had begun in 1994, and had included viciously brutal combat in Sweden and Denmark—including a rocket attack on an HA clubhouse. The problems had involved not only the two clubs, but support clubs as well.
I was West Coast Chairman and I had made a trip to Amsterdam to help with peace negotiations, so I was well aware of the tensions.
After the war, a problem flared up in Canada. It wasn’t a problem with the Bandidos. The problem was with the people who were exploring the thought of becoming Bandidos.
Canadian one-percent club members were no nonsense individuals, and not above extreme violence. The issue between the Hells Angels and Bandidos was over the Rock Machine. The Rock Machine was a fairly new club in Quebec and had been at war with the Hells Angels since 1994.
Over 160 people had been killed in the conflict. So tempers flared when the Rock Machine made overtures to the Bandidos, to patch in and become the first Canadian charter flying the Fat Mexican.
I had known the Bandido president James “Sprocket” Lang since the late ‘70s and knew I could work with him, but he had just gotten indicted. I really wasn’t sure who to reach out to, to try to resolve the situation.
I contacted the lawyer who had started multi-club “coalition” meetings. The new Bandido president was a guy named George Weggers and, ironically, he had already reached out to the lawyer to feel him out about me.
The lawyer agreed to let us use his house near Malibu Lake for a meeting.
It was a positive sign. We were both thinking about negotiating. At the next officer’s meeting, I explained that I wanted to meet with the Bandidos.
Everyone was pensive, and I didn’t know what to expect. The thought of a set up had crossed my mind. But I had known the lawyer for more than a decade and he was a stand-up guy. I thought it would be safe, so we set up the meeting at his magnificent sprawling lake side house (it had once been owned by the band The Eagles).
I had five of my guys, and Weggers showed up with five of his. I soon discovered that he was a lot like me. He didn’t like anyone trying to put him a corner or give him ultimatums, but he was open to discuss and negotiation.
I explained to him that we didn’t have a problem with the Bandidos. The problem was with the people who were trying to become Bandidos.
It wasn’t just The Rock Machine. This had happened before with a club called, Bullshit that wanted to patch over to become Bandidos over in Europe. Hells Angel Bent “Blondie” Svane Nielsen had been convicted years before of killing two Bullshit members. The two clubs up in Canada hated each other just as much.
George assured me he wasn’t looking for problems between our clubs. We agreed that sooner or later, we were all going to have to leave past grievances behind us. But the reality was, if a club that was at war with the Hells Angels patched over to become Bandidos, we were going to be at war with the Bandidos. It was just outlaw logic.
There was no Rock Machine charter in the United States; but if they became Bandidos, the war between the two clubs would most likely bleed over into the states.
Weggers suggested that we loop in the Hells Angels in Canada. The problem was, I couldn’t get into Canada because of my club membership, and the Canadian members couldn’t get into states for the same reasons.
Weggers had a solution. Peace Arch Park in Billingham, Washington is situated so that the US-Canada border runs right through the park. You can literally talk across the border in the park.
So we got Hells Angels from British Columbia and Quebec, and Bandidos from the states, to meet at the border in this nicely landscaped park. We talked for three hours.
Ultimately the Rock Machine did become Bandidos. The Canadian Hells Angels weren’t in the mood for diplomacy. They gave Weggers an ultimatum, which is not how you get somewhere with an outlaw club leader.
But he and I built such a strong relationship—and friendship—that we did manage to keep the conflict from bleeding over into the states, something I’m proud of. I only wish we could have done more.
The Heart Of America…
What I experienced over the years as I traveled across America was a very valuable lesson. Each time I went out on the road I not only learned about the people in the places I traveled, my many road companions, but most of all about myself. After all if you don’t understand yourself how can you really began to learn anything about anyone else. I think this was one of the most important takeaways from my whole fifty-year adventure. As I explored the roads and regions of our country, every time I thought I might have stumbled on the real pulse of America I would come across some other place that seem to fit the bill. And then it came to me: It’s the diversity of its people that makes our country what it is. If we loose that spirit, we are doing a disservice not only to our forefathers’ concept, but to ourselves. Next month America will speak and it will be up to us to get behind our new leader, whoever it may be. As Americans it will be our duty.
Vegas? Hell Yes! Why not...
In a short span of time during the late 1970s, I had become a Hells Angels leader. Things in Los Angeles were in chaos. The war with the Mongols was in its fifth month with as many murders. Needless to say, things were hot.
When the Satan Slaves patched over to become Hells Angels, the remaining members of the LACO charter made a tactical retreat to establish the Ventura charter.
I knew if we were to be taken seriously, our presence was now the most important factor. I learned quickly that absence didn't make the heart grow fonder, it caused suspicion. My remedy would be to shove Ventura down the throats of any member I encountered.
Timing is everything. The USA run was scheduled to take place just outside Cody Wyoming. It was the most important run of the year and I planned to take advantage of it.
There would be Members there from all around the world, and I wanted all the Angels from Ventura there. I had been on a couple USA runs, but not as a leader. I wanted that year’s journey halfway across the country to be perfect.
I knew Old Man John wouldn’t be making the trip, but I went to him for his advice. As my mentor and the previous president of LACO I respected anything he had to say.
As we sat at his kitchen table, I unfolded the map that had our route all marked out in red felt pen. John studied it, as a retired general would study a battle plan at the request of his respectful replacement.
I waited patiently for his approval as he puffed and bit down on his ever-present cigar.
“Looks good!” he bellowed out at me. “But I would suggest one change.”
I was a little disappointed. I had expected only his stamp of approval.
“What’s the the problem?”
“I wouldn’t make Vegas an overnight stop. In fact, steer clear of it. There’s a nice little truck stop just this side of it. I would go on to Mesquite and save yourself a whole lot of trouble.”
“John, the guys are really counting on a night in Vegas.”
John reached for his cigar with his right hand and pulled the wet stub out of his month. With a smile as broad as I can ever remember him having, he flicked his ashes.
As I continued making my case, he smiled and interrupted me. “You’re the boss now.” He laughed and said, “Hell yes! Why not?”
So the Ventura charter rolled into Vegas in the cool of a desert night.
I have to admit, the circus of lights in the middle of nowhere made me excited. It was a world away from the war, the cops, or any other worry for that matter.
It was the middle of the night and I had it all planned out. A little nightlife, a little gambling, and we would all be in bed by sunup. We pulled into the Riviera, and we were treated like kings.
After a quick shower, we all met in the casino. We checked our watches, it was three in the morning and we all agreed on leaving Vegas at midnight, we would be getting back on the road in less than twenty-four hours.
We all disappeared into what was left of the night. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I got into the party spirit right along with the rest of the charter.
All I can say about the rest of our time in Vegas, was that it was a blur. No one made the midnight road call that night.
Checkout time came awfully early as we were pushed out of our rooms by the maids. As we milled around the parking lot trying to piece the night together it didn't take long for us to figure out we were now all but broke.
Thank God for Western Union.
It took all day for more money to show up and we limped out of Las Vegas just as the sun was setting. We pulled into the USA run almost 24 hours behind schedule, but made up for lost time quick.
The whole time I could still see the smile on Old Man John’s face and hear his voice: “Vegas? Hell yes! Why not?
The Last of the Good Old Days...
By the mid 1960s you could feel change in the air. I had my license and started driving everywhere, and the newfound freedom made the nights seem like they would never end.
Like everyone else in that turbulent time I was in search of something.
I had traveled up and down the coast looking for new surfing adventures or anything else that looked like fun. But the truth was, things that had been so familiar to me were all changing.
Just above Ventura, the Pacific Coast Highway—the main thoroughfare to Northern California—would soon be nothing more than a frontage road after the new 101 freeway opened. My favorite local surf spot Stables, with its dozens of old dilapidated single-horse barns that butted up against the rocks and sand, was demolished by an oversized bulldozer. A mile down the beach at California Street, the cool old houses that stopped just short of the shoreline were being replaced with a concrete boardwalk.
The older veteran surfers warned us that all this so-called progress would change the ocean bottom and alter all our favorite surf spots in a negative way. There were other changes as well. I was getting ready to leave for Marine boot camp.
I started wishing that it could be like it had been, forever. Back when the Silver Strand crew had taken me under their wings and shown me the ropes. I mean, how could I leave them behind, go into the service without saying farewell to John, Doody, Steve and the rest of the guys?
So I called John and told him I would pick him up early Friday evening. He sounded eager to see me.
When I got there, he walked up to the car, opened the driver’s door, and said, “Slide over.” It was a direct violation of my parent’s instructions. But no way was I telling John he couldn’t drive my car.
I slid over, and John jumped in. Away we went.
We started out fueling up at the local burger stand to prepare for a night of drinking around a fire by the jetty. We got enough food for half a dozen guys, but by the time we reached the road that ran parallel to the navy base it was mostly gone.
Every weekend along the coast, there would be friendly fights between the local surfers and any military personnel that might try to crash the bonfire parties. As John and I drove down the road we could see what we thought was a lone sailor in the distance, surely on his way to crash a party.
John pushed the flimsy cardboard takeout box with its leftover hamburger crusts and errant fries across the seat to me. He said, “Target to the right!”
I launched the box out the window and it hit the unsuspecting sailor squarely on the back. We were still laughing as we pulled up to the bonfire on the beach.
We took our place around the fire, greeting everyone and waiting patiently for our share of the white port-and-lemon juice bottle making its way around the circle.
It felt so great to get back together with these guys. Everyone was there except for the legendary Doody Juarez.
We could see a large figure approaching. A six-foot-five frame of pure Hawaiian muscle. Doody, the toughest guy to ever set foot on the Oxnard beach. He didn’t look happy.
A guy called out, “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Someone just nailed me in the back with a food box. I got shit all over me.”
Without missing a beat, John looked at me and started laughing. “Had to be them goddamned sailors.”
I knew it was my cue to shut up. But it set the tone for the night. The usually funny banter between friends got nasty as the wine flowed.
I can’t remember his name, but some fool started in on Doody. He said, “I'm surprised they didn't target that oversized head of yours.”
In all fairness, Doody’s head was extremely big, even given his large torso.
One thing led to another and Doody made it clear he had heard enough about his head. I still don’t know what possessed that surfer to continue harping on Doody, but he did. Predictably, Doody commenced giving this young man a boxing lesson.
It got brutal quick. We all started yelling, “Stay down, man, stay down.” After awhile, even Doody said, “Just stay down man,” but the kid kept getting up for more.
To put a stop to it, John said, “Doody, come check out George’s car.” As we walked toward the road and away from the fire, the beating victim yelled out, “Hey Doody!”
“You still got a big head!”
Some things never change.
In the early 1980s, Oakland Hells Angels Fu Griffin and Deacon Proudfoot set up a concert promotion business. They called it Charlie Magoo Productions in honor of another Oakland member who had died of a heart attack.
They did pretty well, putting on concerts for Willie Nelson and other country acts, and I decided it would be a good business to get into.
Fu and I were friends, and he gave me a lot of good advice and connected me with the legendary producer Bill Graham, among others. I was also close with Jerry Garcia, and he and Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully really helped me develop my business.
I eventually had a good network of talent, including Donald Eugene Lytle, better known as Johnny Paycheck. Johnny had recorded a runaway hit with “Take this Job and Shove it,” in 1977. But like a lot of hard-living country stars, Johnny partied a little too much and, by the mid 1980s, he was known more for his drinking than his singing.
I liked Johnny personally and I thought he was a great performer, so I decided to put on a concert with him as the headliner.
I booked the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. It’s a beautiful old theater that I think was built for opera. It was just large enough at 2,500 seats, but it still seemed intimate and the acoustics were perfect.
I booked Johnny and started selling tickets for $20 a pop. But what I didn’t know was that the last time Johnny had played Santa Barbara, he had performed at a place called the Chili Factory. He had fallen of the stage blind drunk.
The event had been a total disaster and, as soon as I announced the new concert, the Santa Barbara News and Review came out with a scathing article predicting that my concert was going to be another disaster with a washed-up country star. Ticket sales stopped in their tracks.
I might have just cancelled the concert except for a piece of advice Bill Graham had given me. “George, don’t ever back out of a concert just because you’re not going to make the money you want to make. If you’re going to make it in this business, the customer always comes first. Don’t disappoint them.”
So instead, I came up with an idea. I lowered ticket prices to $10 and one unwrapped toy, and turned it into a Toys for Tots concert. I put out press releases and the tickets started selling.
I knew if I could keep Johnny sober, he’d put on a hell of a show.
I arranged with Johnny’s manager to have Johnny fly in on the Thursday before the concert, telling Johnny that he would play that night.
When he arrived, as expected, he’d been drinking on the plane. I picked him up at the airport and drove him to the Holiday Inn, where I had two of the biggest guys in my charter waiting.
As he was settling into the room, he asked me, “What time do I go on?”
“Johnny, you don’t go on till Saturday.”
“What, what are you talking about?”
I told my guys, “Get him anything he wants to eat. But no drugs, no alcohol.”
Johnny went ballistic. He started screaming at me. “This is bullshit, man. I’ve got a contract.”
I looked at him and laughed. “You really think a contract means anything to me? Come on Johnny, you’re going to put on a hell a show up there. They’re waiting for you. Everyone thinks you’re going to fail and I know you’re not.”
Then I left him there.
On Saturday, my guys brought Johnny to the theater and he was ready. He had that big Johhny Paycheck smile back on his face. He hit the stage and put on a fantastic show to a sold-out crowd. After one of several encores he even took the time to thank me for putting the show together. It was like old times for him.
And I’ll give it to him, every time Johnny saw me after that he would say, “You son of a bitch. You going to lock me in a goddamn hotel room again?” And we would laugh and laugh. Johnny Paycheck was a lot like the best Hells Angels, a rough, hard partying character, but with a heart of gold.
Keven Kostner's Parents...
In 1993, separated from Cheryl, I headed to Sturgis without anyone in my family for the first time. Normally, Cheryl would drive the support van and both of the kids would come with us. But for the first time, it was just me leading a young charter. And I felt homesick, out of sorts.
We stayed at our usual motel in Spearfish, just outside of Sturgis. The first morning, we all went to breakfast at a diner that was famous for serving a platter that nobody could finish. A stack of pancakes, eggs, a pile of hash browns. I got as far as I could with it, and then decided to walk off the meal by looking around Spearfish.
I found this little clothes shop that was decorated like a cross between a surf shop and a skate shop. It had a real Southern California vibe, and it lifted my spirits because it seemed so familiar.
An older couple owned the shop and I struck up a conversation with them. They were very pleasant people. As we talked, I could see the husband checking out the “Ventura” patch on the front of my vest.
“You’re from Ventura?”
“Yeah, all the way from Southern California.”
“We’re from Ventura! Our son went to middle school there.”
“Really? Wow, small world. How do you like it out here?”
“We love it.”
“I got to tell you, I was kind of homesick for my family, but this whole atmosphere in the shop, it really makes me feel comfortable. It feels good in here.”
They were obviously pleased that I liked the shop and I bought a couple T-shirts and sunglasses as some of the guys from the charter came trickling in, looking for me.
As we were leaving, I asked the couple, “Are you guys coming into Sturgis tonight?”
“Oh no, it’s too wild there for us.”
“Ah, c’mon, it’s not that wild.”
“It’s a little too wild for us. We’d love to go, but I think we better sit it out.”
I wasn’t having it. “Look, if you come in we’ll meet you in front of Gunner’s bar. Me and all my guys. We’ll escort you up and down the main drag. We’ll make sure there’s no problems and you can check out all the bikes and the people.”
They looked at each other, and the husband said, “You know, that would be great.” The wife grinned and said, “Our son’s going to give us the devil when he finds out we went into Sturgis with the Hells Angels.”
I laughed, thinking this guy was probably some accountant in Southern California who wouldn’t believe his parents. She said, “You might know him. Kevin Kostner?”
So now I’m thinking, “Oh great, Kevin Kostner’s parents. I’ve really got myself into a jackpot.”
I hadn’t yet brokered a peace deal and was just starting to reach out to other clubs, making overtures. The Bandidos and the Angels were having problems in Scandinavia, a situation that would escalate into the Nordic War. And at that time, the Bandidos national run was Sturgis. They didn't stop other clubs from coming in, but it was a full-on mandatory run for Bandidos members, and it wasn’t a question if, but when, we’d run into a pack of them.
I met the couple in front of Gunner’s Bar as we had arranged, and we started making our way down Main Street. I had guys from the charter on both sides, front and back. I told them to keep their heads on a swivel and make sure that nothing happened, because I didn’t want a hint of trouble.
We walked the entire street and the couple seemed to have a blast. They thanked me and gave me hugs before heading back to Spearfish, with my sigh of relief right behind them.
Years later when I met Michael Blake, the author of Dances with Wolves, I told him the story. He knew the Kostners from working on the movie with Kevin.
“The family probably would have thought it was funny as hell. They’re just really good natured people.”
Still, I’d like to run into Kevin Kostner some day and ask him if his parents ever told him about the time they hung out in Sturgis with the Hells Angels, and what he thought about it.
The Outlaws Come to Town: Part 2
What had seemed like a simple gesture of goodwill when Cisco made it, seemed like something far worse to East Coast members when they heard about it. Offering to let the Outlaws enjoy themselves at Dave Burgess’ whorehouse was a big problem for members out east.
The bigger issue was that the East Coast charters weren’t happy when they heard that the West Coast Officers had met with the Outlaws to discuss peace. We assumed that nobody in the club would be against peace.
We were wrong.
The conflict with the Outlaws had been bitter, deadly, and longstanding in the east. Those charters weren’t about to just forgive and forget.
The hospitality shown to the Outlaws made everything worse. It became a huge political issue. We found out how strongly the East Coast members felt a few months later, during a President’s Meeting in Cleveland.
Everyone on the West Coast was still feeling great about the Outlaws meeting. But as Cisco, Papa Guardado, and I sat around the table with the other presidents, an East Coast member came in and told Cisco, “I can’t tell you how mad I am that you guys are inviting Outlaws to a whorehouse, when we got Hells Angels in prison and Hells Angels in graveyards, and the Outlaws put them there.”
Cisco tried to explain why peace talks would be good for everyone, but the East Coast guys weren’t having it.
The member finally told Cisco, “Let’s go downstairs and we’ll talk about it.” Cisco followed him down, figuring to have a private conversation and work out their differences.
Instead, when they got down to the basement, the member sucker punched him and proceeded to fuck Cisco up. When Cisco came back, he was swollen, bleeding and bruised.
I was furious. I got up in the meeting and said I couldn’t believe a member of Cisco’s status would be disrespected like that for trying to move the club forward. I had come out with six young members of my charter. I made it clear, “If anyone puts their hands on Cisco or a West Coast officer again, you’re going to deal with us.”
We wrapped up the meeting and came home with bad feelings still lingering. A week later, they kicked out the member who had attacked Cisco.
But it didn’t change the East’s stance on the Outlaws. That animosity went on, and it’s still alive today.
The Outlaws Come to Town: Part1...
In the late ‘90s, there were unsteady ceasefires throughout the outlaw world. Although there were no major battles going on between the Outlaws, Hells Angels, Mongols, and Bandidos, there were small skirmishes that threatened to start larger troubles.
After I got out of jail in 2002, I was trying to figure out a way to bring peace to the clubs. It got harder because Outlaw President Taco Bowman had been convicted of, among other things, putting a hit out on me. I understood that Taco had been squeezed by a lot of forces in his club to take action, and he could just as easily have targeted an Angels leader in the Bay Area. Taco and I had a good relationship for the most part and I didn’t hold a grudge. In fact, my daughter would end up assisting his counsel in the appeal of his life sentence.
With Taco gone, there was new leadership in the Outlaws. That represented an opportunity for a fresh start.
At a West Coast officers meeting, we all agreed that we should meet with the Outlaws leadership and take a stab at forming some kind of peace, or at least open channels for communication.
We reached out to the Outlaws and everyone agreed to meet at a Holiday Inn near San Francisco International Airport. It was important that I be there to show the Outlaws that there was no lingering hard feelings about the contract.
We had the meeting in a suite in the hotel and it went better than I expected, even though we didn’t come to any formal truce or agreement.
I think all of the Angels had assumed that the Outlaws had flown in from their base of operations in Illinois. But as the meeting broke up and we all walked out, it became clear that three of the Outlaws had driven from Illinois. Everyone there understood immediately; that meant they were all packing because the only reason you wouldn’t fly was that you wanted to carry a gun.
In the spirit of the meeting, Cisco Valderamma said, “Hey, since you guys are driving, why don’t you come by the Frisco clubhouse and have a drink? Sonny’s waiting to hear how the meeting went and I know he’d love to meet you.”
That put the Outlaws in tricky position. If they said “Yes,” they were taking a big risk. Under a previous president, Jim “Big Jim” Nolan, the Outlaws had killed two Hells Angels—Ed “Riverboat” Riley, George “Whiskey George” Hartman—in 1974, by luring them to an Outlaw’s clubhouse.
But if they said “No”, they would lose face and put a damper on the productive talks we had just wrapped up.
So they agreed to come by the Frisco clubhouse.
Then the leader of the Outlaws said, “Hey, George, why don’t you ride with us.”
Now, I was in the same bind they were. If I said “No,” it meant I didn’t trust them and the meeting was just words. If I said “Yes,” it could be the last ride I took, if the whole thing had been a setup.
The hair on the back of my neck went up, but I didn’t have a choice. “Okay.”
As we got near their car, one of the Outlaws said loud enough for the Angels to hear, “George, you sit up in the front.”
Everyone in both groups got the implication and started laughing.
It took us about fifteen minutes to get to the clubhouse. When we pulled up, all the members along with Sonny, Cisco, and Mark “Papa” Guardado were standing out front, wearing shit-eating grins.
As I got out of the car, Cisco called out, “Hey, George, how was the ride?”
“Longest fifteen minutes of my life.”
Everyone started laughing and it broke the ice.
We had a good time in clubhouse and Cisco sent the Outlaws on their way with a present.
“Listen, since you guys are going out on 80, why don’t you go back through Reno and stop at Dave Burgess’ place. Have a good time, it’s on us.”
Dave Burgess was a Nevada Hells Angel who owned a brothel named Old Bridge Ranch. Cisco had told Dave to give the Outlaws whatever the wanted, on the house. As we watched the Outlaws drive off, I don’t think any of us realized how much trouble that simple, magnanimous gesture would cost.
(Read Part 2, next Saturday)
Exile On Front Street Is Now Available Overseas...
When I returned from Texas in 2014 I had made up my mind that I was going to tell my story, the way it happened. By November 2014, I had a book deal and two years later I now have a completed book. Today Exile On Front Street goes on sale in England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa. New Zealand and Australia. By the end of the month it will be available world wide. I hope you all get out of it what I put in it. Thanks...George Christie
Roger and Me (and Liza Too)...
At the end of 1988, I was working with an entertainment lawyer to negotiate the film offers that had come in after my murder-for-hire trial and acquittal in 1987. A few months later, Roger Corman released a movie called Nam Angels, starring Brad Johnson. Johnson was an up-and-coming actor. After the release of the movie, it didn’t take long to find out it included the Death Head in several scenes. I went to my attorney Susan, who was an intellectual property expert, and asked her, “Susan, look what Roger Corman did. What do you think?”
“It looks like he infringed on the club’s trademark.”
So I made an appointment and went to talk to Corman. He laughed it off. “You don’t have a leg to stand on.” He wasn’t giving me credit and didn’t realize that I had a great lawyer behind me and that the club had already successfully dealt with trademark violations. After the movie Hells Angels On Wheels, the club voted to never let anyone wear the Death Head unless you were a member, and that included any actors in movies.
Eventually, we wound up in court. I was at one table with Susan, representing the Hells Angels, and Corman’s legal team was at the opposite table. Things didn’t go well for them out of the gate. The judge looked over his glasses like a parent about to scold a child, and told Corman’s lawyers, “I think you should take Mr. Christie out in the hallway and be very nice to him, because you got a problem.” He was being a little theatrical, because it was obvious he found the whole thing—this long-haired, patch-wearing club member sitting in his courtroom opposite these high-priced attorneys—more than a little amusing. Everyone agreed to adjourn and meet to see if a resolution could be negotiated.
So we set up a meeting, and there we were in a big, formal conference room sitting at a big, formal conference table. Susan and one her associates on one side, Corman’s team on the other, and me at one end facing Roger Corman at the other end.
Out of the blue, Corman said, “You want to save some money? Put it in your pocket?”
I looked at him, not knowing what he was up to.
“Then let’s get these goddamn lawyers out of here.”
It was an unexpected turn of events. I looked over at Susan. She said, “You’re the boss, George, what do you want to do?” I knew she had complete confidence that I wouldn’t give anything away. That I could negotiate toe to toe with this Hollywood insider.
“Alright, let’s talk.” We sent the lawyers out of the room and talked. I made it clear that the club wasn’t going to back down. We talked about what figure would make the club whole, and settled on $60,000. A lot of money in 1989.
So Roger Corman wrote the Hells Angels a check for $60,000 and, as part of the agreement, I was allowed to work with a film editor to remove the Death Head and all Hells Angels indicia in the film, for future releases and distribution. As I sat next to the film editor each day at Concord Pictures’ editing facility, Corman would drop by and joke around, saying things like, “Goddamn, I remember the good old days when we could buy you guys off for a case of beer.” He took it well, because it was just business to him. Eventually, we became friends.
One day we were talking, and he said, “You guys have learned a lot over time.”
I said, “We have. We’ve even got this documentary (Hells Angels Forever), and we’re looking for overseas distribution. I don’t suppose you would be interested in that?”
He smiled. “Bring me a copy.”
So I did, and I’ll be damned if we didn’t end up signing a contract. He got us a distributor for Paris, and he sent me to France to do publicity. It was actually a natural, because Mickey Rourke was red hot in Paris, and the French couldn’t get enough of him. Mickey had come to the barbecue I threw for the jurors after my acquittal and we had been photographed a lot together. So the French associated me with him.
I fell in love with Paris. I brought Cheryl with me, and they put us up in the George V, the Four Seasons hotel right off the Champs-Élysees and close to everything. It was a blast. I got to hang out with the Paris Hells Angels, went out to the nicest restaurants, and did tons of interviews for television, radio, and magazines.
Liza Minnelli was in Paris at the same time. Liza was a friend of Chuck Zito, the flashiest of any Hells Angels. She also knew the movie distributor, and when she heard I was in town promoting the movie, decided to throw me a party. The party filled a nightclub in the center of Paris, and there aren’t many parties I’ve been to that could top it.
When you first earn your patch as a Hells Angel, you know it could take you to some crazy places. You’ll meet unusual people, and get yourself into unusual circumstances. But of all the things I imagined when I patched in, I don’t think I ever dreamed I would be standing next to Liza Minnelli in a Paris nightclub, with City of Lights opening up for me like a Christmas present. I very nearly didn’t come home.
We Need More Catgut...
As a young Hells Angel, I listened to leadership because I’d learned how chain-of-command works as a Marine. When the president of your charter told you to go do something, you did it. So in 1977, when Old Man John came to me and said the club needed people to show up at the Fiddler’s Convention in North Carolina, I didn't question him. Back then, it was always, “The Outlaws are showing up.” The club always wanted a big presence at events because the Outlaws were going to show up. I never came across the Outlaws, but the trips were a blast just the same.
I would have jumped at the chance anyway. I was this young West Coast Hells Angel who was going to get the chance to meet high-profile members from all over. It was exciting. And the Fiddler’s Convention was famously a wild party. They had lots of good music, clog dancing, moonshine, and whole lot more.
When I arrived at the Hells Angels’ campground. I had just settled in when Tommy from Cleveland came up to introduce himself. Tommy was cool as cool could be, wild but very stylish. He looked a little like Wild Bill Hickok, and Cleveland had a reputation as one of the baddest charters in the states at the time. So, yeah, I was impressed.
Tommy acted like we were old friends. “Hey brother, what’s going on?”
We introduced ourselves and shook hands.
“Want to take a walk with me?” Tommy was a real jivey guy, hip in every way. I was so happy, thinking to myself, Wow, I get to tag along with this badass Cleveland Hells Angel. He said, “Lets get a little something to eat here.” There was a huge barbecue spread going on in the camp, so we loaded up on potato salad, beans, and burgers. As we finished eating, and while we talking about the differences between Cleveland’s weather and LA’s, Tommy started slipping on a pair of knockout gloves. Knockout gloves have lead sewn into the knuckles. You don’t see them so much anymore, but they were used a lot in the ‘70s. Cops couldn’t jack you up for them like they could a long fixed blade knife. Tommy had cut the fingers off the gloves and they looked very normal on him.
He had a lot of juice. Everybody we came across was like, “Hey Tommy! What’s happening man? What’s going on?”
He’d just smile and keep walking his cool walk. “Ah, you know how it is.”
We kept walking until we came to this little clearing, where a table had been set up with a banquet of drugs. There was LSD, heroin, cocaine, uppers, downers. Anything you could want. We walked up to the table and Tommy zeroed in on the dealer standing behind it. He said, “Remember me motherfucker?” And with that, he dropped the guy with one punch. The guy’s friends swarmed us and we started fighting, me not knowing that Tommy had demanded a free sample earlier in the day and been sent away empty handed. When you’re an Angel, if your brother’s in a fight, you’re in a fight too. It’s real simple math.
The fight got a little crazy. I had gotten the better of a guy who had rushed me, but there was action all around me. I had this guy down on the ground and was trying to keep him there with punches, when I heard a loud, unmistakable click. One of the dealer’s friends had flanked me and was holding a .45 about three inches from my head. The gun had jammed or misfired. Fortunately for me, Mitch, a member from Rochester, had just come on the scene with an ax handle. He hit the gunman at the base of the skull with a full swing and dropped that guy like a sack of rocks.
The drug dealer and his remaining friends cut and ran for the back of a U-Haul truck that was parked about twenty yards away. They clambered inside and started shooting at the Angels who had come running when word of the fight got out.
A lot of the Hells Angels had come heavy expecting to run into any number of Outlaws. So suddenly, it’s a big gunfight … and I don’t have a gun. Tommy and I took shelter behind a big dirt berm as the bullets flew. But he was still raring to get into battle. I held him back, saying, “Tommy, you’ll get caught in the crossfire.”
He shook me off and said, “Fuck that.”
He jumped up, pulled a .38 out of the back of his waistband, and emptied the gun in the general direction of the U-Haul. I didn’t see if he hit anyone, but someone else tossed a Molotov cocktail into the truck and it burst into flames.
All the Angels took off back to our camp. The older Angels started arguing about whose fault the fight was. As a new member, I just hung back and kept my mouth shut. All of the sudden, an older member, a 6’4” beast who was one of the toughest fighters in the club, grabbed me around the shoulders. He says, “What the fuck man? What’d you bring a knife to a gun fight?” And then he roared with laughter.
He pointed to the cluster of Angels in the center of camp getting more and more heated. “Let them fight. Let’s just sit here in the back and watch them go.”
He lit a joint and passed it to me and we talked. Eventually, he said, “I’m going to go lay down for a couple of hours. At six o clock, meet me at the amphitheater. Try not to get into any trouble in the meantime.” He laughed again, “I got to keep my eye on you.”
So I headed over to the amphitheater at 6 sharp. I was going to show this member that I was a stand-up Angel, responsible. But there he was in the amphitheater, fighting five guys. He’d knock down one guy, and then hit another, and then kick the guy that was down. I ran down into the bowl of the amphitheater to help him out, even though it didn’t look like he needed help. As the other guys scattered to go lick their wounds, I said, “Hey man, I thought you said stay out of trouble.”
He started laughing. “Do as I say man, not as I do.”
It was just the beginning of the craziness. At one point, someone announced over the loudspeaker system that people needed to stop fighting because the first aid station was running out of catgut to stitch people up with.
Oh, and the music was pretty good, too.
The Hostage Situation...
In 1985, my daughter Moriya was in high school. She was dating a guy who I thought was a real knucklehead. I don’t even remember his name because I think I’ve blocked it out. Nice enough guy, but the type of character you know is going to walk into trouble first chance he gets. Unfortunately, characters like him often get other people in trouble too.
One afternoon he took Moriya to go see a friend. As it turns out, the “friend” was a weed dealer and Moriya’s boyfriend owed the guy money.
About an hour later, I was relaxing at home when the phone rang. On the other end was the clown she was dating, so freaked out that he could barely put two sentences together. He was hysterical, trying to apologize and explain something all at the same time.
“Alright, slow down. Take a breath and talk to me. What’s going on?”
“This guy we went to see, he’s holding Moriya. He won’t let her leave because I owe him money.”
“So what did you do about it?”
“He told me to go get the money, but I don’t have it. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Well I did. You don’t fuck with an outlaw’s daughter. And you especially don’t fuck with a Hells Angel’s daughter.
My dog at the time was an attack-trained German Shepard named Soledad. He was a smart, friendly dog around the house. But give the command, and he was ninety pounds of pure trouble.
I put him in my car, and grabbed my favorite business partner, a High Standard 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun from the house. It was a short drive to the address Moriya’s boyfriend had given me, but I was getting hotter by the second.
He had called the cops after he called me. Because, like I say, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
Just as I was leading my dog out of the car, cradling my shotgun, a young cop in a cruiser rolled up.
It was 1985. Cops were just a lot more commonsense and low key. They understood better than anyone that having a Hells Angels charter in Ventura meant more order, not less. We took care of the problems they couldn’t or didn’t want to handle.
The cop rolled down his window. I said, “I think you better get out of here.”
These days, I would have been surrounded by a SWAT team in about thirty seconds. But this cop just said, “Okay.” He rolled his up window up and drove away.
As Soledad led me up the walk to the front door, it opened and Moriya came running out. The drug dealer was on her heels looking sheet white. I wasn’t wearing my patch, but it was just a year after I had run with the Olympic torch, so everyone in Ventura knew who I was.
I shoved the barrel of the shotgun into this dealer’s chest and told him that I never wanted to see him again, and his time in Ventura was over. He looked like he was going to throw up, and I doubt he was rarely as happy as he was to see Moriya, Soledad, and me pile into the car and drive away.
I’m not sure if it’s the best way to end a hostage crisis, but it worked for me.
Setting the Record Straight...
The Sonny Barger Clown Show is back on the road. Unfortunately, it’s a one-song act sung mostly out of tune.
This time, Sonny’s Clowns are renewing the call for me to take a lie-detector test.
I already did. It’s called writing a memoir. I worked with an editor whose function—besides recommending cuts to what I wrote—was to fact-check everything I wrote. It was no fun. Whenever I mentioned a name or a specific event, he dogged me for background documentation—letters, legal transcripts, old newspaper articles. I spent lots of money and time on PACER. I got to know the LA Times archives intimately. I had a subscription to newspapers.com.
I had to put together a comprehensive timeline with key events listed by actual date. You try doing that for your life, and see how easy it is.
Next came the lawyer.
Over a series of phone calls, lasting about 10 hours all told, I went through a legal review of the manuscript with the outside counsel hired by the publisher. It was closer to an interrogation than a conversation. It was his job to cast doubt on every last detail, and he wasn’t satisfied until I could prove the truth of what I had written.
In short, Exile on Front Street is as close to the absolute truth as sixty years of memory and exhaustive fact checking can get you.
But even if I hadn’t written that book, I wouldn’t take the lie detector test Sonny originally demanded, and that Gunner Wolf challenged me to take in a strange letter reprinted in a local Ventura paper.
First, it’s a bizarre suggestion. Why in the world would I ever do that? What would it prove?
Second, I don’t do Sonny’s bidding. I never did. That’s the heart of the problem he has with me. I certainly would never do Gunner Wolf’s bidding—a member who was kicked out of my charter in disgrace. (What happened Sonny? Couldn’t convince a charter president to sign that whacky, bullshit letter?)
I also don’t do the club’s bidding. I did my best for the Hells Angels over four decades. I quit and then they changed my status to “Out Bad.” Even if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be beholding to the club.
All of which is why the bizarro-universe reasoning of Sonny’s Clowns would be funny if it wasn’t just so stupid and irritating.
According to them, I had no right to publish a memoir because Hells Angels don’t make these things public. Never mind that I’m not a Hells Angel anymore. It’s pretty funny irony that the members who pick up Sonny’s line bark at me on Facebook, Twitter, and their websites. And Sonny himself takes over a blog (when he’s not selling “Sonny Barger American Legend” ball caps on his website)?
So much for Hells Angels not airing club business in public.
There are, however, lots of background singers in the Sonny Barger Clown Show.
He’s got Candy Chand, a religious inspirational writer who apparently has had a late-life conversion to biker groupie. She’s written an admittedly drunken review of Exile, in which she says she’s “been close friends with Sonny for over 30 years.” Funny, for 25 of those years I was a high-profile member in the club and interacted regularly with Sonny. I never once heard her name mentioned, much less met her. I’ve had ex-members call me and ask, “Who the hell is Candy Chand?” I don’t know, other than the latest loser Sonny’s got carrying his water. Equal parts sad and strange.
And there’s Donald Charles Davis, a hack blogger who thinks a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations substitutes for thoughtful writing. He’s a wannabe and a coward who would have been chewed up and spit out in the outlaw motorcycle world.
He’s fond of calling me a liar, but no mention of what I lied about. I’m a rat, but no mention of who did time or got busted behind my “cooperation.” He’s even let Sonny take over his blog in a point-by-point rebuttal to things I said in History Channel’s The Outlaw Chronicles.
Here’s the thing though. You don’t need a lie detector test to go after a liar.
The Hells Angels know their way around a courthouse. The club has long pursued trademark violations with a vengeance. Lawyer Fritz Clapp is effectively the club’s in-house counsel, and Fritz isn’t shy about going after individuals and businesses that use the Death Head without permission.
Sonny knows all about legal remedy. He had his lawyer write a cease-and-desist letter that I, and the History Channel, ignored because it had no basis. If I lied in that show, he could have sued for libel. The same is true of the book, an advance copy of which Sonny has had for at least two months through Candy Chand.
The trouble with lawsuits, though, is that they have to have basis. If you’re the liar, it doesn’t make any sense to sue.
Which is also Nick Mead’s problem. He entered a joint venture with my wife, to promote the documentary he made about me, The Last American Outlaw. I believe Nick got threatened by the club and shut down the movie. Now, out of embarrassment, fear, or both, he’s one of the most vocal of Sonny’s Clowns. He wants me to stop selling screeners left over from the initial production of the movie.
The problem? He doesn’t own the movie or the screeners.
The joint venture owns the movie. Nick has tried to shut down my website and Facebook account with DMCA complaints. He got rejected in both cases because he has no claim. He continues to harass posters and followers on my Facebook page, and to tweet almost daily about me. He is one of Sonny’s saddest clowns. (Nick, honestly man, I hope you get some help for what seems to me to be a pretty serious drinking problem, and just get some kind of life.)
The worst are the members and former members, who are the height of hypocrisy. Even though we weren’t close, I went to bat for Rusty Coones when Sonny and Rusty’s charter wanted to vote him out of the club while Rusty was in jail. It was a violation of the rules and I fought it, and consequently Rusty’s still a Hells Angel. I helped convince attorney Barry Tarlow’s law firm to take Rusty on as a client. My thanks? Rusty’s gotten right in step against me. I understand, you are either in or you are out. I am out and have never tried to conceal that fact.
So a lie-detector test? No. I don’t do what Sonny Barger commands. Never have. And Sonny of all people should realize that bullshit about lie detectors cuts both ways. I can think of a dozen questions he wouldn’t want to be asked strapped to a machine.
But how about this? How about Gunner Wolf writes a check for that $2,000 he doesn’t have, to the Tri-County Autism Group (TAG) (www.tricountyautismgroup.com) or The Autism Society (www.autism-society.org/get-involved/donate/). It would do a hell of a lot more good than any lie detector test.
In the meantime, I won’t hold my breath.
Look, I know that liars are liars are liars. Me setting the record straight isn’t going to really change a thing. Sonny’s going to continue with his clown show until he falls over and takes his last breath. Donald Charles Davis is going to put his bullshit spin on every yellow post he puts up, which I’m sure will periodically include something nasty and derogatory about me. Knuckledraggers inside the club and out will continue to puff up their chests, and tell themselves they’re not liars. Nick Mead will continue to whine like a little bitch.
But I do take some comfort in getting it out there and making it clear that I know they’re lying. And they know I know. I guess that’s going to be as straight as the record ever gets.
To Amsterdam and Back...
When I got out of jail in 2002, trouble seemed to be brewing all over the outlaw world. The Laughlin River Run was about to take place and I petitioned my parole officer to let me go. I knew the major California clubs would be represented, and I figured that it would be a good chance to put out some fires and work on a lasting truce with the Mongols.
My parole officer wasn’t having it and he shut me down cold. So I didn’t go. The truth is, there’s no way of knowing if I might have been successful had I gone. Peace is always a hard sell in the outlaw world. As it turned, things were the opposite of peaceful.
The famous River Run Riot broke out at Harrah’s after a group of Hells Angels confronted a large contigent of Mongols over a beef that was fueled by cops. The fight ended with arrests on both sides, and a Mongol and two Hells Angels dead. (A third Hells Angel was shot off his bike on his way out of Laughlin later that night.)
It was incredibly frustrating and disheartening to hear about the fight from a distance. I kept thinking that there might have been something I could have done to prevent my brothers from dying on a casino floor. Sure, you never know how things might have played out, but I regretted not being there.
A little more than a year later, the Amsterdam Hells Angels were celebrating the charter’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Although the Hells Angels had pretty much settled their beef with the Bandidos, we were seeing little flare-ups here and there. And the truce the two clubs had negotiated to end the Scandinavian Wars was only a couple years old and by no means strong.
So as my guys in the charter got stoked for a trip to Amsterdam and a few days of partying in the most decadent capital in Europe, I saw an opportunity to make sure another war didn’t break out. In Amsterdam, I’d have the chance to talk directly with our European club leaders. I was pretty sure that I could work with them to avoid a repeat of the Laughlin disaster.
I got permission to travel to Amsterdam. But just because the parole department is cool with you traveling, doesn’t mean the feds aren’t going to try to jack you up. As Nikki, me, and the rest of the charter got off the plane and headed toward immigration, I learned yet again how far United States federal law enforcement could reach.
At the head of the stairs leading down to passport control, I saw an immigration official pointing at me and talking to another official. I was wearing my patch, so it wasn’t hard to pick me out of a crowd.
They pulled us all aside and told me that I couldn’t go through customs. I started raising hell, arguing with them until they called someone higher up the food chain. He told me that the American government has requested that I be put on a hold and prevented from entering the country. He said that Nikki and I could choose to stay at the immigration detention center until the matter was cleared up, and it would probably be from five to seven days.
I knew damn well that “detention center” was just another name for jail. It might have been a more comfortable cell, but it was still jail. I told them to book us on the next available flight back to the States.
That flight turned out to be a nonstop to Houston. Nikki and I were escorted to the boarding gate and we were soon airborne. By the time we were an hour from Houston, we had been traveling for about 35 hours straight. As I sat there thinking, it dawned on me that maybe I could still salvage something from the trip. I got on the seatback sky phone and called the Bandidos’ international president, George Weggers.
“Hey George, it’s George. I went to Amsterdam and they turned me around, so I’m flying back through Houston. I just wanted to let you know.” George Weggers was based in Washington, but his second-in-command, Jeff Pike pretty much ran Texas out of Houston.
“You’re coming to Houston? Sit tight. I’m going to call Jeff Pike right now. Call me back in half an hour.” As we started our approach into George Bush Intercontinental Airport, I called George back. He said, “Hey man, Jeff said this is great. When you get into your hotel, call him.”
Nikki and I checked into the Houstonian, two hours after Vice President Chaney had checked out. I suppose there were a lot of available rooms with all the secret service and VP entourage leaving. When the clerk saw the “President” patch on the front of my vest, she said, “A president? We just had the Vice President here, and now we have a president.” She must have liked outlaws—or official titles—because she gave us the presidential suite at no extra cost.
I called Jeff Pike, and he came over with about twenty Bandidos. We hung out for the next three days. The Bandidos were always gracious to me and I really liked them. They were old school outlaws with old school values, and they made me feel right at home.
They took us to dinner, and showed me around. Along the way, we made more progress on negotiating how to make and keep peace, in the states and abroad, than I ever would have in Amsterdam.
The feds were clueless that by their pettiness in keeping me out of Holland, they had actually encouraged OMC cooperation. The real dig was that when I returned home, I found out the feds had called my parole officer. They had laughed about how they had fucked with me, cost me money, and that they knew all along I would never get into Amsterdam.
My PO was a really decent guy, someone who didn’t play games. So I told him sending me back through Houston, the heart of Bandidos territory, was a blessing in disguise. Then he made it a point to let the feds know. I’m pretty sure they were not happy about that, which in itself, made the trip all worthwhile.
The Youngest Hangaround...
Anyone who has ever spent any time in the outlaw motorcycle culture knows that one of the biggest challenges of being an outlaw is juggling home life and club life. You’re expected to show up at club events (and lets be honest here, those events are usually a lot of fun) no matter what’s going on at home. These days, more and more clubs put on family-oriented events. But back in the late ‘70s, runs and even informal get-togethers were a little wild.
My first wife Cheryl never really liked club runs. She wasn’t interested in coming with me on runs, and she didn’t like the fact that I might be somewhere having fun while she was at home with the kids.
So when I told her the Ventura charter was headed to Bass Lake for the weekend, she got predictably bent out of shape. Cheryl and I had a running battle over who was in control of my life. And she was an outlaw in her own right.
As I headed out to my bike to take off, she sent three-year-old Georgie out the door dragging a tiny day bag full of his clothes.
“I’m ready to go Daddy.”
Cheryl had set me up. She figured I’d either tell the rest of the charter to go ahead without me, or I’d take off and feel shitty for the entire run, having left my kid crying on the doorstep. Cheryl could always knew what button to push, and I decided to give it right back. I scooped Georgie up, tucked him in between the gas tank and my belly, and took off to meet up with the rest of the charter. I think Cheryl was blown out. She couldn’t believe it.
It was a different time, and I was a young man still in my twenties. I had an ace in the hole as well, because I knew we’d trailing a support vehicle, a big truck. Would I do it now? No, of course not. But I did it. And the cops took notice.
We had just pulled onto the grapevine when a California Highway Patrol cruiser lit us up. David Ortega and I pulled over to shoulder while the rest of the charter and the support vehicle pulled off about twenty yards ahead of us.
Some cops just have to prove how not afraid of Hells Angels they are. Those are always the scared ones.
This guy was all puffed when he came up to talk to me. “Whose kid is that?” As if I had kidnapped or stolen a little kid.
“Who do you think? He’s my son.”
“Well you can’t carry him on the bike like that.”
“Yeah. I’m taking him.”
“Oh? Well that’s what you’re going to have to do, take him from me.”
David Ortega had been standing patiently by while I got angrier and angrier at this cop. Out of the corner of my eye I saw David put his gloves back on, which was always David’s sign that he was getting ready to fight.
I guided Georgie behind me, and then I told him to run up a berm next to the shoulder. He did what I told him to.
A CHP sergeant rolled up in his cruiser and took the scene in pretty quick. The original officer conferred with the sergeant and the sergeant came up to me.
“You’re not taking my kid.”
“Okay, look. Is that your truck?”
“Yeah, it’s ours.”
Around 1990 I moved my tattoo shop, “How about this? How about you put the kid in the truck for now, and leave him there until you get out of my jurisdiction. After that, I don’t give a damn what you do.”
I looked at David and David nodded. We were both okay with the solution. I told Georgie to come with me and I walked him up to the truck and I said, “Daddy will see you at the next gas station. We’ll be right in front of you.”
He said “Okay,” and we got him settled in the truck.
I didn’t do any partying at that run because I was busy babysitting at the motel in town. In a way, Cheryl won because she really put a damper on my weekend, but I think I proved my point. It wasn’t the best way to involve a child, but it was the first run Georgie ever went on, and he was a champ about it—as trouble-free and “go with the moment” as a three-year-old could be. It wasn’t my high point as a parent, but I think back to the memory and what a natural Hells Angel that kid was, and it makes me miss even more.
In loving memory of George “Georgie” Christie III. Rest in peace son, you’ll never be forgotten.
Around 1990 I moved my tattoo shop, the Ink House, from Ventura Avenue to West Main Street, just around the corner from the Majestic Ventura Theatre. In no time I developed a close relationship with the owners. Me and several club members soon had an open invitation to attend any concert held at the theater. Over the years, we had future, current and former rock stars drift in and out of the tattoo shop, and even the clubhouse. You just never knew who was going to show up.
The west end of Ventura is a small area and it wasn’t uncommon when members went out for a night of hard partying to mob up and walk wherever they were going. It was a golden era for the younger Ventura members, who owned the town. When the night slowed down, they’d just shift the scene to the clubhouse.
On this particular night in 1995, Seattle-based experimental instrumental group Hovercraft was playing. One of the founding members, Beth Liebling, was married to Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam.
Ventura’s like any small town—rumors abound. There were “Eddie” sightings everywhere. I had learned not to pay attention and to just go about my business. I was in my fifth year as a bachelor and I always went late into the night. As I sat in the clubhouse, I could hear the voices of my young Hells Angels crew coming up the street.
The voices seemed exceptionally loud, but above them all I could hear Lil George. My first thought was they where all vying for the attention of the same young lady. Over the years I had seen more than one sword fight over a women, but not on this night.
To my surprise as they entered the front room, there was not one women among them. But in the center of the group stood Eddie Vedder. Introductions were made and after a tour of the clubhouse Eddie settled into one of the big comfortable couches surrounded by members. We had a great conversation that spanned music and politics. At one point Georgie said, “Hey Pops, Eddie’s friends are the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.” Eddie said that it would be the first time he would see them play and politely added he was really anxious to see them live. We flipped the station and I was introduced to the Foo Fighters. Sitting there watching an obviously up-and-coming band, with my son next to me and Eddie Vedder on the other side, felt just a little surreal. But when your son has followed your footsteps in to the clubhouse, it gets that way sometimes.
This Saturday, August 6, will be one year since I lost my oldest son, Lil George. I still hear his voice echo in the wind, "Hey Pops." Any parent understands that losing a child at 39 is out of the natural order of things. Over the next few days I am going to post this older blog story along with a couple untold stories that didn't make it into my book. Over the last year, so many of you reached out to me. Thank you for that. I forgot how many friends Georgie had.
We left Ventura around midnight. We were trying to make it through the desert before that unforgiving sun rose. Once again, we were on our way to Sturgis.
Twelve bikes, followed by my family in our Dodge Van: my wife at the time, Cheryl, my daughter Moriya and my 16 year old son Georgie. We were streaming across the desert night -- tight as a military caravan, fast as a pack of race cars. The sun was just rising as we hit Mesquite. Ventura's packs always ran hard and fast. We set noon as our departure time - would rest for five hours then get back on the road. If we stayed on schedule we would be in Grand Junction with the setting sun. There we’d take a full nights rest then head up the 70 and onto the 25 that would take us into Cheyenne, leaving a one day ride into Sturgis.
We had made Grand Junction a pit stop on this route for many years. It was always a friendly place for us -- with reasonable lodging and food and even an authorized Harley dealership. On this particular journey, after a shower and some dinner, the older brothers were sharing war stories with the newer members making their first ride across country as Hells Angels. Next year, as seasoned members, they would be telling their own stories to the new guys.
As the night was coming to a close Aaron, who had just been voted in as a new member, asked how close we were to the airport. His question didn't sit right with me and my instinct served me well. After a quick line of questioning Aaron informed me he had to be back in Ventura for court the next day. After I gave him one of my famous lectures he assured me I worried too much and that all he really needed was for us to get his bike back to Ventura.
This caused a bit of a ruckus. We just weren’t prepared to truck his bike. The van wasn’t set up for a tow bar and was full of excess gear for the entire crew. Add in the three passengers and it was maxed out. So much for planning ahead.
Aaron was from the younger generation of members with a free spirit and an open mind and heart. He never missed a beat and in the midst of our conversation he said “I understand, little George will have to ride it.” As a father, I had my doubts about George’s readiness for such a journey and I will tell you -- the look his mother gave me was dangerous at best. Every Hells Angel in the room thought the idea was brilliant. After several hours of parking lot practice we made our way out to the highway.
Although I was hesitant when Aaron presented the idea of my 16 year old son riding a late model Harley FXR halfway across the United States… Georgie proved to be a natural. His Mom tried one last ditch effort to protest on the basis that while he had a valid state drivers license he didn't have a motorcycle license. I assured her that wouldn’t be a problem and we would take care of it promptly upon returning home. That was that.
The next morning we pulled out of town right on schedule. And let me tell you how good it felt to have my son riding next to me. When we pulled into Sturgis and parked on Main Street in front of Gunners Bar, we were swarmed by Hells Angels from all over the world. Georgie was no longer a boy -- he was the man of the hour. The ride home was even better - out to the Custer Battlefield Memorial, over the Big Horn Mountains to Cody and then up into Yellowstone, back across the desert and then home.
Anyone who has experienced life on the road knows it is a rite of passage. That year, my boy Georgie left Ventura a boy and returned a man. Two years later, at the age of 18, he became the youngest Hells Angel in the World.
I have always been so grateful for this memory. Now it means more than ever. I will never forget that ride with Georgie next to me and when I close my eyes to dream I will see his smile beaming at me as we rode together - side by side - for the very first time.
A Bum At The Clubhouse...
I’ve been fortunate all my life to become friends with some truly memorable characters. One of the best is the actor Mickey Rourke. In addition to being a world-class movie star, Mickey is a true original, and I’ve always felt that he’s kind of a classic outlaw. He walks his own path and doesn’t really care what you think about it. From time to time, he can even surprise other outlaws.
I was working out at in my home gym one Sunday, when I got a call from the clubhouse.
“Hey George, there’s some guy over here asking for you. He looks like a bum, but he’s got a beautiful girl with him and he says he knows you.”
“Yeah, he looks like he crawled out from the river bottom.”
“What’s his name?”
I heard the prospect shout out the door, “What’s your name, man?”
“Tell him it’s Mickey.”
I only knew one Mickey who would show up at the clubhouse dressed like a bum with a gorgeous woman on his arm.
“Tell him to come over to my house.”
The clubhouse was walking distance to my house in Ventura, so I waited at the door. Sure enough, after a few minutes, Mickey Rourke and his current girlfriend, a drop-dead gorgeous actress, came walking up. And he actually did look like a bum.
“What’s going on man? Why the get up?”
Mickey looked down at his trenchcoat and the shoes that looked like he had fished them out of some dumpster wrapped in his shirt.
“It’s for a movie. I’m doing a movie with Faye Dunaway called Barfly.” Mickey was playing Henry Chinaski, the main character based on the writer and poet Charles Bukowski.
We all sat down in my living room and Mickey told me how great Dunaway was to work with, how she was bringing out the best in him. That’s what Mickey was always like. In the more than thirty years I’ve known him, I’ve never once heard him badmouth someone. He is a positive guy and it’s why people, both men and women, gravitate to him. Well, that and he’s a lot of fun to be around. There’s always something interesting happening if Mickey’s in the room.
Mickey has lived a wild life and I’m sure that dressing like a hobo to go a Hells Angels clubhouse is far from the wildest thing he’s done. But it cracked me up and it’s just one of the many memories I have about him: The Bum that Stormed the Clubhouse.
I had someone ask me recently, “Are you going to vote, George?” I gave my standard answer: “I'm a felon.” They responded that they were a democrat. Like many people, they missed my point. It's election time again and that means lots of politics. Over the years it has become one of my favorite sports. Now, as a multiple felon with no vote, I’ll be sitting this one out. But that doesn't mean I can't watch. The two major parties are now worlds apart, but each convention had one shameful, but perfectly legal thing in common. Both events included protesters burning American flags. It's always hard for me to watch that type of demonstration, let alone understand it. Over the years I grew to love and respect the American flag more than I ever had as a child. It wasn't that I had become more patriotic; it was brought about by my membership in an outlaw bike club, and what the patch represented to me and other members. I discovered that it wasn't just our club, but the same throughout the outlaw bike club world. The first thing I was taught was the man makes the patch, the patch doesn't make the man. And like a flag on a flagpole, my patch had a special place in my home where it hung proudly when I wasn't wearing it. There were basic rules to follow, really just common sense. You never let it hit the ground, you didn't conduct yourself in a unbecoming manner, never let it be disrespected, never let it be taken from you. And like the American flag, you had to be prepared to give up your life and liberty for it. I no longer have the patch to defend, but I hope to God I will always have that flag.
She gets me...