September 10th, 2016
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...