I knelt on what looked like a milk crate. Beneath my knees, in yellow letters against a black cardboard background, were painted the letters UMFA. I leaned against the pool table, dipping my head into the cone of light from the fake Tiffany shade, and looked at the denim, leather, muscles, club patches, tattoos, and shadowed eye sockets of two dozen men who stared past me as they’d just as soon bury me at sea as look in my direction.
“All right,” Uncle Frank, the bearded, baseball-capped man next to me called into the room. “We have a new applicant for membership. Let’s hear what he has to say!” He nudged me in the ribs, and I reached for my scotch, swallowed it, and chased it with a beer. I needed to get convincingly ugly, and fast. I remembered Uncle Frank’s instructions. I would say what he told me to say, verbatim. No deviations. Fine, but what the hell was I doing? How did I get here? I hadn’t bargained for this.
“C’mon.” Frank nudged me again, harder this time. “You gonna do it or not?” I nodded, took a deep breath.
At the top of my lungs, in a hoarse voice, I shouted, “I AM AN UGLY MOTHERFUCKER!”
The response came immediately, in unison from almost 30 throats: “TOO CUTE… TOO SHORT!”
Freedom. Wind in the face. Bugs in your teeth. Plus 1200 to 1300 cubic centimeters of American-made shovelhead engine gurgling basso, humming reassurances of power and U.S. dynamism between your legs. Eating up the hypnotic freeways of Southern California, droning a challenge to the road, the law, the world. Riding a Harley is probably one of the last things you can do to thumb your nose at the shopping-mall reality of ’90s Americana, wave your freak flag high, and write your own scenario, one mile at a time, for some personal antihero epic of the mind. But the price is high.
It can be figured in the cost of a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle, some $5000 to $15,000, but that’s just to get you on the road. And it’s on the road where the free rider or club member (not “gang” member, please) begins to pay real dues.
Ever since Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin smirked and swaggered menacingly across the screen in The Wild One in 1954, the sight of more than two motorcyclists on custom “hogs,” “choppers,” or “scooters” has been enough to make citizens grow faint with fear and trembling. It wasn’t until 1969 and Easy Rider that bikers were portrayed in anything resembling a sympathetic light.
On the heels of that film, in December of that year, came the Rolling Stones’ concert at Altamont Speedway, where the Hells Angels bludgeoned a number of people with pool cues and one member of that club stabbed to death a man brandishing a pistol at the stage. I attended that concert 20 years ago and had my hand stepped on by one of the Angels as I mounted the roof of a rental van for a better view. I fell 20 feet back into the crowd, looking up at the image of a deranged, bearded man with several teeth missing and Viking horns protruding from an animal-skin helmet, waving a fist the size of a cinder block at me.
While Hells Angels and bikers are synonymous in the minds of large segments of the public, the fact remains that the Angels are a specific club about which there are as many legends as facts. But this is not about the Hells Angels. The bikers I was interested in are the independents or free riders. My concern was not bikers as outlaws, but bikers as people. Something other than stereotype.
Walking into Dumont’s A Tavern Etc., on El Cajon Boulevard, in El Cajon, past the rows of parked Harleys out front, my heart was sounding a little loudly in my throat. I had been riding for a couple of years — a 650 Triumph and a 750 Honda — but these are not Harleys. Inside Dumont’s, shouldering past guys, some the size of Coke vending machines with faces that ranged from mean to weathered, I felt like Woody Allen among Barbary pirates.
With me was Eileen Bradford, a legal secretary from the law offices of Richard M. Lester, an attorney who is a champion of bikers’ rights. Eileen has been around bikers for years and seems as comfortable in Dumont’s as other women might be at a tailgate party after a Chargers’ game. As my eyes adjusted to the light, or lack of it, I noticed one guy playing pool using a broom as a cue. He looked as if he might have been an extra in a movie with a title like Chainsaw Rapists on Wheels, but then so did almost everyone else in there. He gave me a cool look and turned back to his game. The only illumination was from the backbar, the pool table lights, and the jukebox. An overhead light at an empty back table made that part of the room look for all the world like an interrogation chamber. It was a Sunday afternoon. Maybe two dozen men and a half dozen women sat at tables, leaned against the bar, or milled around in groups of twos and threes. There were more biceps and steely glances than I felt happy about, and I wondered if my voice would crack as I ordered a beer, when Eileen introduced me to the owner, Rich Dumont.
Dumont came over, shook my hand, and said to a few people around, “It’s the guy from the newspaper!” Turning back to me, he said, “At least you dressed all right.” He looked at my fatigue shirt, black T-shirt, and boots, smiled, and handed me a long-necked Bud. “Let me buy you a beer,” he said. A paint salesman for 25 years (“The best,” he said), Dumont is a lanky, gray-wire-haired man in his 60s with a quick smile and an enthusiastic, staccato manner of speaking. We went to the empty table in the back of the barroom where he showed me a framed clipping about his place from an El Cajon paper. The article seemed to be a retraction of an earlier hatchet job on bikers in general and Dumont’s in particular. Rich Dumont insisted I read the whole thing. I scanned it, and the writer ended the piece by describing what it was like to ride on the back of a Harley. Suddenly the scales fell from the writer’s eyes as he grokked the primally simple exhilaration of riding. His insight into the mind of the biker was complete.
As I leaned over the pool table, kneeling on the milk crate, listening to the jeers and catcalls of the “bros” surrounding me, I thought, “I’ve really stepped in it. This was a setup. No matter how loud I yell, they’re going to shout me down.” They never intended to initiate me into the UMFA. I don’t even own a Harley. Somebody probably figured I would be the clubs’ entertainment for the evening. Still, I didn’t see any way around it now. I’d have to play it out. I sure as hell was not about to try and brazen my way past those guys to the parking lot and my car. I remembered something Star, one of the bikers’ old ladies, told me. She said, “When you get up there to do your thing, and they’re not buying it, try grabbing your crotch.”
Looking down, filling my lungs with air once again for another go, I saw the previous initiate’s application lying on the table near the right corner pocket. Under the question “Just how fuckin’ ugly are you?” he had written: “I’m so ugly, my parents used to feed me with a slingshot.” I grabbed my crotch with my right hand, lifted my head, and shouted at the ceiling like a contestant in some lunatic beauty contest in reverse. “I AM AN UGLY MOTHERFUCKER!”
“TOO SHORT! TOO CUTE!” Laughter. Boos.
Rich Dumont kept buying me beers as we sat at the back table. He said he opened the place 12 years ago, with no intention of the thing turning into a biker bar, “But here we are. Who would have thought a place like this could have lasted 12 years?” He waved over one person after another. I was introduced to Suicide Lee, a smiling, pot-bellied Buddha of a man with a few wisps of white hair falling randomly over a balding pate. He was wearing the colors of the San Diego club the Swordsmen. “The good guys,” he pronounced, smiling a little cock-eyed. Suicide, formerly Sporty Lee, looked to be in his 60s. He told me he started out riding on a 1948 Indian. He’d been to Dumont’s for 11 years.
Rich quickly presented one regular after another, kept them moving as if I were holding court — guys with names like Bubba, Beast, Boat, and the more prosaic Bob and Brandon. The preponderance of Bs struck me, and a friend later pointed out it was a “bulbous, manly consonant. A natural for bikers.”
Brandon cut a swashbuckling if chilling figure, with long hair, beard, eye patch, leather pants, and jacket. His customized Harley is one of the more unusual jobs around. The gas tank is a stylized diamond or coffin shape; metallic, colored tangerine over pearl, with an airbrush painting of a bearded man with an eye patch behind two busty blondes (joined at the hip), surrounded by snakes emerging from a death’s head. When asked if he was a member of any club, he quoted Groucho Marx’s “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
Beast, whose real name is Mark Roth, looks like a full-size if dissipated version of one of the Seven Dwarfs. His ponytail hangs to his waist, and he appears as if he had stashed a medium-sized timpani under his T-shirt. The son of a preacher in Pennsylvania, Beast is the local Modified Motorcycle Association’s division representative. When asked what the MMA is about, Beast replied, “It’s an organization that goes back maybe 15 years or so. It’s mostly to educate riders in terms of their rights and safety. It’s a charitable organization too.” They have a toy run scheduled for November 26, where as many as several hundred bikers would gather at Fiesta Island, bringing either canned foods or new toys for the Salvation Army to distribute. “We party with other bikers. All bikes are welcome, not just Harleys. Clubs and free riders, it doesn’t matter. It’s neutral, just like this place.” He meant Dumont’s. “We just get into the family thing. Brothers and sisters, beer, food, and toys. We do it every year.”
Beast then rattled off the names of other bikers’ toy runs. One, the Harley Owners Group run to Tijuana, is held in conjunction with the Mexican club Solo Angeles. Apparently there were some 300 bikes involved with that one. “Sometimes there are thousands of bikes converging on one place. It’s fuckin’ great. The ground shakes all goddamned day.”
James “Gunny” Gregory, president of the San Diego chapter of ABATE, said they had about 250 bikes for the ABATE Toy Run in Old Town. What did the acronym stand for? American Bikers Aimed Toward Education. Eileen Bradford said it was originally called A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, but that “sounded a little overblown after a while.”
I was bombarded with acronyms. MMA, ABATE, AIM (Aid to Injured Motorcyclists), NCOM (National Coalition of Motorcyclists); I was yet to hear of the UMFA.
It was then that Rich Dumont mentioned his annual drive for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, “Jerry’s Kids.” He pointed to a cinder-block wall behind me. The names and emblems of several clubs had been emblazoned on some hundred or so blocks. The Hells Angels had by far the most concrete squares. Twenty in all. “Each cinder block costs $10.00. The money goes to Jerry’s Kids. We’ve been doing this for ten years. We’ve raised at least $55,000.”
Rich called over Bubba. Bubba stood six feet plus, wore a black leather vest that exposed a bodybuilder’s torso decorated in spectacular tattoos. Bubba had short cropped hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and a brush mustache. I extended my hand to shake his, and he dropped a set of keys on the table in front of me. “What’s this?” I asked him.
“Keys to my bike. You ride?” (No “hi, howya doin’? Pleestameetcha.”)
“Yeah. You gonna let me ride your bike, man?” I stood up. I didn’t feel the need to point out that I’d never ridden a Harley exactly in the, you know, actual Harley-Davidson sense.
“You drop it, don’t come back. Just keep goin’ on foot. Fast. You ride okay. I’ll talk to you.”
“Well, fine. Great. You’re a trusting soul, heh-heh.”
“No, I’m not,” he said, dead serious.
Somebody called out, “Don’t sweat it. It’s a Sportster.”
We went outside, and I climbed on Bubba’s scooter. First thing I did was tangle my foot in the “chicken” or “sissy” bar. This didn’t look cool at all. There were muffled laughs from the guys who had followed us outside. The bike was clean, sleek, polished. My bikes never looked this good. I turned the key and hit the ignition, and the thing mumbled to me in a throaty metallic B-flat. I let it idle for a minute and flooded it as I played with the throttle. The engine died. “Sorry, man. Sorry.”
“Just a slow roll on that throttle will do it.”
“Yeah, I see. Nice.”
I started it up again and kicked down with my left toe. I waddled away from the curb in first gear, gaining traction on the pavement. Half a block down, I lifted the gear shift into second and peeled out nicely, heading east to the stop sign. I felt great. I was certain I looked really boss, too. The bike died at the stop sign. I turned and flashed a shit-eating grin back to the boys in front of Dumont’s. Starting it yet again, I pulled out from the stop sign and seemed to glide down El Cajon Boulevard on the back of some beast that was far more efficiently designed than I was. I turned right down a side street and got it into third for a block and a half. All I could think of was “Santa, oh Santa.…”
Suavely downshifting back on El Cajon Boulevard, I made an effort to erase the grin on my face and brought the bike to a stop in front of Dumont’s. I nodded somberly to the boys and back-walked the Sportster into its space. “Nice,” I said as if it were really only okay, more or less. I wanted to take the thing to a motel. I wanted to marry it. “Hey, thanks, Bubba. That’s a pretty nice machine.”
“Buy me a beer,” he said and took his keys back.
“Sure. You got it.”
I handed him a Bud, got another for myself, and Bubba took my elbow, “I want to talk to you about the fuckin’ sheriff’s department.” Duffy is not a popular guy among bikers. Bubba ran down a list of grievances, but I only had his version of the story: unnecessary detainment and abusive treatment — “the price,” on the road.
Other bikers in Dumont’s had similar tales of police harassment to tell. The common thread running through all the stories I heard was that bikers were discriminated against, treated as criminals based solely on the fact that they rode custom American bikes, sported tattoos, and tended to be large and hairy. One after another of the stories involved shakedowns; muffler, engine, and serial number inspections; impromptu roadside mug-shot photography; also the photographing of tattoos for further identification purposes. Members of clubs are apparently guilty by association with “outlaw gangs,” and free riders are lumped in on the basis of what amounts to the mechanical idiosyncrasies of their vehicles, haberdashery, and tonsorial habits.
Are bikers political animals? “They have become that way out of necessity,” Doug “Bit” Bostrom told me. “Political freedom of rights, choice, and safety have become survival issues for us. So yeah, though bikers are not by nature political, they have been forced to become political. Beast and I have been active in politics, different groups but similar, for the past nine years.”
Doug, for example, was the San Diego local ABATE chapter president, on the state board of directors for that organization, and acted as state political action committee chairman, though he no longer holds those titles. He was involved with the proposed legislation dealing with mandatory motorcycle safety training for first-time riders. ABATE was against it. Doug’s duties included letter-writing, meeting senators and representatives (Senator Deddah, for example), and San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner. He also mailed questionnaires to public officials and candidates, determining their positions on biker-related matters and drumming up members of the biker community to register to vote and educating them on the issues. His roommate, Beast, carries on much the same sort of work with MMA.
How did he vote? Democrat? Republican?
“I vote issues, not parties,” he said. “One of the main issues that has brought a lot of bikers together is the proposed helmet law in California. AB36. Senator Richard Floyd’s baby. We defeated that one. Now there’s a federal blackmail law in the works, S1007 that says, basically, the federal government will withhold highway funding if helmet laws are not enforced on a state-by-state basis. Naturally, our point of view is a civil-rights thing: let those who ride decide.” What about the thing about bikers, the Angels, whatever, being involved in big-time methamphetamine labs, distribution, all that?
“Look at the number of lawyers, doctors, businessmen doing cocaine,” Bit jumped in. “Cocaine is a drug for the rich. Because meth is cheaper, there’s more widespread use, so they’ve got to find a target group to pin it on. So, hey, it’s bikers. They busted some bikers into that, so it must be the bikers are the ones manufacturing it, dealing it, right? Simple. Every group, the Boy Scouts, Businessmen’s Association, has their bad apples. That’s where the term ‘one percenters’ comes from. Well, what about the guys on Wall Street who get busted with massive amounts of cocaine? Does that mean because you’re a stockbroker you’re a cocaine dealer? It’s politics pure and simple.”
Eileen Bradford came across with the legal groundwork for propounding this idea of bikers as speed merchants. “Because of the RICO act, which went through about 20 years ago, Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations. It was geared toward the Mafia, but for the last 10 years now they’ve used it as a handle to get at bikers. The idea is, you have a motorcycle club with several hundred members in different chapters. If as many as two of those members get busted for dealing drugs, it’s considered racketeering for a criminal organization and they can bust you — maybe a clean and sober biker. That’s how it’s set up. Known associates. These guys need federal money to keep it going. So they have to find something at regular intervals to keep their jobs, their funding. And they do. One way or another. They hassled Rich Dumont’s Muscular Dystrophy run on this basis. You set up a roadblock in La Jolla, on any night of the week, you’ll find more drugs and outstanding warrants. I promise you.”
Beast chimed in. “Harleys are expensive to maintain. Bikers work. They have jobs, man, they have to. Most guys can’t afford another habit like drugs. The bikes are everything.” Brandon, for example, is a quality-assurance manager for Dresser-Rand, and Doug Bostrom is distribution manager for Executone Information Systems.
We talked about other things for a while, drank beers. Then Bit mentioned Malcolm Forbes as one of the wealthiest and most famous bikers in the world. “He owns over 60 bikes, all of them Harleys. He gave Liz Taylor a big old pink or purple Harley or some shit.” Forbes is a hero of sorts, it seemed. Another public figure, closer to home, who is well loved by the motorcycle community is former mayor Roger Hedgecock. “He put through motorcycle parking downtown, access lanes, and got motorcyclists recognized as qualifying for car-pool status. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient methods of transportation, and if you’re alone on your bike, you’re still occupying the vehicle to 50 percent of its capacity. He also tried to do away with attitude arrests. Harassment. I say ‘tried,’ but at least he was aware of it.”
I had assumed no one could be less political, more apathetic and probably ignorant of politics than bikers. That if any of them had any politics at all, they’d be to the left. But there is a strong streak of fundamentalist, old-time patriotism, right-wing conservative sensibilities, and something that resembles Libertarianism among those at Dumont’s, at least. “Heavy metal populism,” someone called it.
I reached for the scotch and drained the glass, chased it with what was left of the beer, and decided to go for it one more time. Still kneeling, I grabbed my crotch with both hands, and in a voice that made me feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, I snarled into the barroom ceiling, “I AM AN UGLY MOTHERFUCKERRRRRRR!!!!”
Rain pelted the low dunes at Fiesta Island. Gusts of wind sent sheets of drizzle over the mostly deserted landscape. Only a few hard-core jet-skiers were in evidence, and there was no mistaking the sound of their engines for Harleys. I wondered how many bikers would show for this MMA Toy Run. There are few things more miserable and terrifying than riding a motorcycle in the rain. It resembles surfing more than two-wheel motoring, when the road reaches the saturation point that makes hydroplaning not only possible but a near certainty. I peered through the windshield of my truck looking for evidence of bikes and riders, straining my ears for the distinctive sound of those engines. When I rounded the west side of the island, I saw them. Maybe 40 or 50 bikes parked in loose-leaf rows. Leather glistened blackly in the wet as men, women, and children gathered in clusters along the side of the road. It might have been a fearsome sight to the casual observer unless one looked closely at the toys and stuffed animals many of them were holding.
Between 11:00 and noon, another 40 or 50 bikes arrived bearing food and toys. The rain let up, and I found myself talking to a guy known only as Crazy Mickey. We were talking about the people that showed up in the rain on their bikes. Hard core. Did Crazy come on his bike today?
“No,” he said. “My bike is down.”
“I tried to climb a tree with it.” He shook his head sadly. “It can’t be done.”
Crazy had an emblem on the back of his denim jacket that was a caricature of an ogre or some similar creeplike being. The figure had snot running from one nostril and a huge gnarled finger jammed into the other. The rockers above and below the emblem said UMF of America. “What’s the UMF?” I asked him.
“Here.” He handed me a card that said: “You certainly are an ugly motherfucker. Would you consider joining an elite social organization?” On the other side of the card it read: “UMFA, Luaus, Drinking contests, Wild women, Pile parties, Hocker glasses, Christian De-programming.” He showed me another card, identical, except that it read: “You certainly are a cute little fucker.”
“That’s for women,” he said. “Hey, you wanna join?”
“I don’t know.” I kept turning the card over in my hand.
Crazy took me over to a table under a plastic tarp, where he loaded me down with literature from the Law Offices of Richard M. Lester, AIM, NCOM, and all the other acronyms. One sheet bore the UMF logo and the slogan “Ugly is as ugly does”; beneath that was some information about the UMF. A sample: “The ‘Ugly Motherfuckers of America’ was founded in July 1982 in San Diego CA. Our founding father was ‘Moko Joe’ (UMF#1), an escaped lunatic from Hawaii. The express purpose of the club was to take the vote away from women. Having run into some heavy resistance from the U.S. Congress, we fell in with some bad company and have been drunk and/or loaded ever since.…”
Crazy offered to sponsor me at the next meeting at the Club Marina in Point Loma. I thanked him and said I’d be there.
I saw Eileen Bradford standing next to a custom three-wheeler owned by her boss, Joe Eggleston (of the Law Offices of Richard M. Lester). “How’s it goin’?” she asked.
“Great. Bubba let me ride his Harley. I still haven’t come down.”
“You mean his skirtster? That half a Harley? That sewing machine?” She laughed.
We were joined by some other people, including some bikers’ old ladies. Star was tall, pale, adorned with ornate jewelry and leather. She wobbled on high-heeled boots. Dino was small, long-haired, with round doll’s eyes set into the paleness of her face above a diminutive chin. Colleen, also long-haired (nearly to her waist), had kindly slits for eyes and a pleasant, whiskey voice. Eileen wore a fringed jacket, chain-smoked, and was quick to joke, tossing a headful of strawberry-blonde hair around to punctuate her laughter.
We talked about the perception that bikers treat their women badly. They all smiled and shook their heads. It wasn’t true, they concurred. “When I hooked up with Beast, seven months ago,” Dino said, “my people said, ‘Hey, he’s goin’ to make you push his bike when it breaks down. Or leave you on the side of the road. He might sell you into white slavery.’ ” They all nodded as if each of them had heard similar kinds of things. “People shouldn’t be so scared of them — us,” Dino concluded.
Surely there must be some basis to these stories, right? Not so you could tell by the women here. Star was excited that she would be riding alongside Beast and Dino at the head of the convoy of bikes to the County Administration Building, where they would drop off the toys with the Salvation Army. “It’s quite an honor,” she said, and Dino smiled in acknowledgment. Colleen, Bob’s old lady, was, she said, a grandmother to an eight-year-old, though this seemed hardly possible. She had been riding for 25 years; her father rode an Indian motorcycle, and she had never seen any of the kinds of things typical in the Hollywood stereotype: gang rapes and beatings.
I met members of Tijuana’s Solo Angeles, who looked, with a few anachronisms, like bad guys from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. They all spoke excellent English and told me about their upcoming toy run where they bring food and toys directly to the people in the poor neighborhoods of Tijuana. What? Were these people all saints? Nobody terrorizing anybody, just a lot of families on bikes wearing a lot of leather. No one so much as had a can of beer in his hand (though I later learned this was because the beer truck was running late). I didn’t see any evidence of drugs, though you might have found some, if you looked.
But then I didn’t see anybody with a gun either, though many of the bikers owned several, legally, natch. These were NRA boys and anti-gun-control activists. There was a strong odor of white supremacy about some of them too. When I asked if there wasn’t a black biker club in San Diego and where it might be, I was told, “They operate out of a phone booth in front of the welfare office.” There was general laughter at this idea. I saw only one black man at the toy run; he was accompanied by his son. One biker wore a T-shirt with a picture of Martin Luther King’s face surrounded by a target sight of the kind you see in a rifle scope. The legend beneath it read, “Our Dream Came True.” All right, so I didn’t care for some of their politics; I wasn’t sure I cared for anyone’s.
What was not to like about these charitable, much-oppressed champions of rugged individualism? Maybe the worst blanket statement you could make about the guys I met so far was that, well, none of them would be mistaken for rocket scientists. But that was another stereotype that turned out to be bogus. I was introduced to Wild Bill (member of the UMFA), otherwise known as Dr. W.H. McKnight, a physicist at the Naval Ocean Systems Center.
“You’ve heard of Star Wars? Well, I’m a star warrior!” he said proudly. Wild Bill is in fact a rocket scientist — or close enough. And he has been riding for years. He is politically outspoken on civil rights, gun owners’ rights, and bikers’ rights in particular.
“Here’s something to think about,” he told me, stabbing a finger into my chest. “You look at South American countries, they can’t enforce their own constitution. They may have one that grants civil rights, voting rights, etc. But who enforces it? The army? Who’s going to protect you from the army? Who’s going to protect you from the police? Who’s going to ensure that the constitution is provided, guaranteed, and granted? The ultimate power rests with the citizens of any country. If the citizens have no means to exercise that power, their constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The ultimate power resides in the home. In your bedroom dresser drawer, your nightstand. I consider myself as much a patriot as you’ll ever find.”
I asked him to name some of the guns he owns. “I have a 20-gauge pump Ithaca shotgun, a Remington 244, a Ruger Mini 14 assault rifle, I have a 380 auto. All legally registered. Oh yeah, I have a nine-shot .22 revolver too.” He went on to add, “In order to maintain your rights, I figure you have to exercise them.”
Around noon the rain had let up and clouds had parted, revealing glimpses of sun. Bikers were starting to mount up for the run from Mission Bay to the administration building, downtown. Beast and Dino led the column of some 120 Harleys at a slow five to ten miles per hour. Three squad cars detained the group at the access road to Fiesta Island. The police were going to escort the bikers and divert traffic, but the cops thought it was supposed to be at one o’clock instead of noon. We waited. After half an hour, we were waved on. I rode point in my pickup truck, barely able to take my eyes from the rear-view mirror filled with a train of Harley-Davidsons and the men and women who love them. It was another sight that might cause cardiac arrest in Ed and Evelyn Mastercard on vacation with the kids. The thunder of the 100-plus engines sounded like Armageddon.
The cops blocked off I-5 for a couple of miles and Pacific Highway. It took about ten minutes to get to the Salvation Army truck. Two television news units were there. When the toys and canned goods were deposited on a blanket and loaded onto the Salvation Army truck, Beast made a short speech and remembered a couple of brothers who were in the hospital or had died.
The crowd split up after 20 minutes or so, and I walked over to the guy in the Salvation Army uniform. His name was Robert Bassharn. I asked him what he thought of these guys, these bikers. “I think they have hearts of gold.” He smiled beatifically.
“Yeah,” I said. “But they’re kind of ugly, don’t you think?” His beatific look became gaseous, but he didn’t say anything.
I waited for the response to my last desperate plea for recognition as ugly. Real ugly. True ugliosity. I didn’t expect it to come. I was convinced I was being jerked around for the sport of these alienated whackos. Okay. I just wanted to get out of there in one piece, with maybe a shred of manly dignity. I steeled myself for the cry of TOO SHORT… TOO CUTE once again, but what washed over my ears was a bath of welcoming brotherhood, acceptance, belonging. “FUCKING UGLE-E-E-E-E!” they rasped into the Club Marina and clapped me on the back.
All right. Great, I’m ugly. I belong. I knew it. I knew, deep down I was as ugly as anybody in the room. Knew from the git, the gut, the git-go. I really, in the end, had no doubts, I am now Ugly Motherfucker no. 532. A dubious honor? Somehow it seemed a more life-affirmative role than my standing in the Book-of-the-Month Club. Or the Writers Guild. Somebody brought me another scotch. I drank it. We went to the Red Onion in Mission Beach for “Harley and Ferrari Night.” Anybody showing up with either a Harley or Ferrari got in free. I didn’t pay, though I didn’t arrive on a bike.
Amateur dancers, women in G-strings and leathers, played themselves over a Harley and an Italian sports car on the sunken dance floor. We clapped. I stood, a little unsteadily in my cowboy boots on the upholstered booth, supported by Ugly Motherfuckers who held me by the collar of my leather jacket and the seat of my Levi’s. Bikers dominated the place. More guys with Harleys than Ferraris. I stayed for a while and then had to split before they announced the dance winners. I was feeling the scotch and beers. I was ugly…yesireee. Everyone said so. Felt okay about it too. More than okay. In the cab on the way home, the driver said, “You see all those Harleys?”
“Too much. Those guys are nuts. You a biker?”
“Well, you don’t look like one of those animals, man. You look like you got some sense to you.”
“Sure. Are those guys out of their minds or what?”
After some thought, I told him as accurately as I could, “Or what.”