The Short-Lived Love Affair Between the Hippies and the Bikers

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In the mid-1960s in San Francisco, the hippies had established a strong foothold in the community.  Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle and other areas had effectively been taken over by the influx of young people who were seeking a new way of life, free from the constraints, rules and norms of the previous generation.

At the same time, bikers like the Hells Angels were also firmly entrenched in the city and had been since 1953 when the San Francisco chapter was established. Taking a house at 719 Ashbury in the late sixties, they were in direct contact with the hippie population, which swarmed the neighborhood streets by this time.  Local musicians, the Grateful Dead, lived in a Victorian right across the street at 710 Ashbury.

Initially, the two groups shared a close bond.  Both considered themselves outside of society, living lives that were out of line with the norm.  Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, independence and a deep mistrust of authority, police and others created a shared understanding.  Several Hells Angels became celebrity figures in the community, including “Chocolate George” Hendricks, “Harry Henry” Kot, and Oakland members John Terence Tracy or “Terry the Tramp” and George “Baby Huey” Wethern, who provided the Haight with LSD.

In 1968, writer Tom Wolfe’s book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, documented the relationship between the hippies and Hells Angels, which began in 1965 when the club was invited to a huge two-day party out at Ken Kesey’s three-acre property in La Honda, up in the Santa Cruz mountains, a private and peaceful (usually) location with boundless beauty and plenty of  mystical and spiritual ambiance.

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After introducing the bikers to acid, free love, music, DayGlo paint and other hippie trappings, an alliance was formed.  The partiers included many notable characters from the counter-culture including Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, journalist and writer Hunter S. Thompson, Neal Cassady, Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass) and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.  You’d think that these people would have about as much of a chance at blending together as oil and water, but despite the obvious polarity between the two groups, a bond formed that August that set off a short-lived coexistence.

There are several reasons why these groups came together and then just as quickly (two months later, the Oakland Hells Angels, led by Ralph “Sonny” Barger,  literally attacked the Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) during a large protest of the Vietnam War).  At odds with their anti-authority stance and outlaw lifestyle, the Angels were staunchly patriotic. The club had been formed in 1948, made up largely of returning servicemen from WWII, and thereafter became a sanctuary of sorts for veterans of all subsequent wars who came back from combat and service feeling lost, angry and in dire need of communing with a brotherhood of like-minded men as well as craving that adrenalin that war provided, for better or worse.

One reason that the two groups melded at Kesey’s party was because the counter-culture elite was made up of people who admired authenticity, an outlaw attitude, and disregard for authority and society’s imposed rules.  Kesey saw the Angels as the epitome  of what he preached as “real”; the Angels lived the way they wanted.  They did whatever the hell they wanted and didn’t care who didn’t like it.

Another reason this initial dance went off so splendidly was because the Hells Angels liked to party.  They liked sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and Kesey and his intellectual friends were offering it up to them  for the taking.  Under the influence of good acid, the two groups intertwined like old friends, reveling in the hedonism that the Angels embodied.

When the Angels agreed to attend the party up in La Honda, they were greeted by a large banner reading: “The Merry Pranksters Welcome the Hells Angels”, in red, white and blue lettering.  Police cars kept vigil outside the gate as the festivities commenced and didn’t interfere much.  If they had, they would have found the Angels (and others) gang-raping a young woman who by most accounts willingly participated in “pulling a train”.  The girlfriend of Neal Cassady at the time, she reportedly had become jealous of his flirting with poet Allen Ginsberg and sought to give him a dose of his own medicine, taking things a bit further for a more dramatic effect.

As the hippie culture began to derail in the late sixties (many were leaving for a communal life outside of the city by then), the relationship between the two subgroups dissipated.  After the incident with the VDC and the Oakland Hells Angels, hippies realized that the Angels, in fact,weren’t  their advocates, allies or even friends.  However, there was a huge difference between the Oakland Angels and the San Francisco Angels, some of whom were genuinely friendly and kind to the hippies.  In fact, member William “Sweet William” Fritsch had been a member of the Diggers with Emmett Grogan, Peter Coyote and Peter Berg, among others before becoming a Hells Angel.

Altamont-Mick, Charlie & Bill Fritsch

Later, in 1969, Fritsch acted as a bodyguard of sorts to the Rolling Stones at Altamont, where the two factions came together and then clashed for a final time.  The Hells Angels had been hired as a security force for the free concert by the Stones, in part because they were known to be friendly with the San Francisco musicians of the day like the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane and others.  Unfortunately, and for too many reasons that I won’t go into here, things didn’t work out as planned and the concert, which ended with a concert-goer being stabbed to death by a prospect of the San Jose chapter right in front of the stage, went down in the eyes of some as the event that put the last nail in the coffin of the 1960s.

In my novel, “Red, White & Blues:  Book One”, bikers and hippies come together and largely remain friendly.  Members of the fictional motorcycle club, the Souls of Liberty (SOL) are a mix of Vietnam veterans, thrill-seekers, lonely and disaffected souls and even a rebellious rich boy.  What keeps some of the members friendly with their hippie counterparts is the fact that their worlds intersected early on through a key member of the SOL before he had joined the club as well as when the group of friends re-locates from San Francisco to Monterey, CA.  A close bond develops between the Vietnam veterans in the club and the vets who are part of the hippie group.  As time goes by, the groups criss-cross one another’s paths constantly via fourth of July parties, weddings, Halloween balls and businesses owned by members of the club and affiliates.  SOL member John Clark’s wife, Edie, owns the small-town cafe where both club members and hippies come to eat; Mike Blackhorse owns an auto repair shop where a member of the SOL works; the club owns a strip club and bar where bikers, Vietnam vets and occasional hippies go for a beer or two.  While there are infrequent clashes between the groups, their shared history and continuous crossing over into one another’s lives keeps the two groups more or less friendly for the rest of their lives (the saga will continue in two upcoming books).

Of course, this is what fiction allows an author to do:  create a world where the unlikely becomes believable (hopefully).

 

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Upcoming Book Signing, Reading and Slideshow, Saturday, October 14 at Pipe & Thimble Bookstore, Lomita, CA 11AM-2PM

 

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Book Signing at Pipe & Thimble Bookstore in Lomita, California

I will be reading from and signing copies of Red, White & Blues:  Book One” as well as playing a slideshow that will showcase events, fashion, culture and music from the years that the novel takes place:  1964-1977.

If you are in the area, please stop by!  I will have copies for sale, but if you have your own, please do not hesitate to bring it!

Thank you for your support of indie authors and bookstores!  Please be sure and review and recommend “Red, White & Blues:  Book One”!

What is ABATE?

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ABATE is an acronym that originally stood for “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments”, but has since taken on several different but similar meanings: “American Bikers Against Totalitarian Enactments”, “American Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education”, “American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education”, “American Bikers Aimed Towards Education” and “American Bikers Advocating Training & Education”.

The idea for ABATE was conceived in 1972 by Lou Kimzey, editor of the biker magazine Easyriders. Lou, as well as many others, was beginning to feel the heat from state and federal lawmakers who sought to put pressure on the biker world by enacting restrictions focused mainly on motorcycle modification. Choppers, motorcycles that have been stripped down to their bare essentials and enhanced with sky-high sissy bars and grossly extended forks, were deemed unsafe by the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) and thus began the relentless pressure that chopper enthusiasts still face today.

As Kimzey was calling for unification in the biker world to fight these restrictions and laws, others were forming similar groups such as the MMA or Modified Motorcycle Organization and other biker rights groups. These sprung up all over the country and in 1974, Easyriders began to offer charters as well as publish contact information so that others could get involved and organized.

Here in California, as early 1966 mandatory helmet legislation was in place, but at the time, the only groups who publicly opposed it were the motorcycle clubs such the Hells Angels who even staged a good, old fashioned 1960’s style sit in on the state capitol lawn (so it is rumored). Clearly, there was a need for organization and a voice to legitimize the biker world.

Over the years, ABATE has faced much criticism. Because of its roots in the outlaw motorcycle world, it has been often looked upon as a group of unruly upstarts who buck the system under the guise of individual freedom. Often times, the charters meet up at local taverns to organize, discuss and make plans, which make it appear as if they advocate reckless behavior over safety. Many have publicly criticized the organization only to be met with a swift rebuttal that oftentimes harkens back to our Founding Fathers and how they did much of their own planning in America’s taverns to fight for individual freedoms and fight oppressive tyranny.

Despite the nay-sayers, ABATE has been extremely successful in organizing bikers all over the country. Their list of accomplishments, made mostly through perseverance and insistent involvement in local and state politics, is impressive. It includes such things as ensuring that high performance sport bike riders receive full coverage insurance; opening the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes to motorcycles and defeating laws against lane-splitting. ABATE has also been extremely supportive of the CMSP (California Motorcycle Safety Program); the promotion of May as Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month and making the Purple Heart license plates available to motorcyclists. Local charters are also involved in charities and food drives that provide food to needy families and individuals at holiday time.

Currently, the organization has thirty charters here in California with two in Orange County. If you would like to get involved in preserving biker rights, opposing or supporting specific legislation or getting involved in charity work, contact Steve Howe (Local #8) at santabeard@yahoo.com.

Why Ride a Motorcycle?

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I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog, but I remember when taking the MSF riding course many years ago the instructor asked the class this very question. Several tentative hands shot up and gave answers like fuel economy, parking advantages and other practical reasons. The instructor nodded his head, “Yes, yes, those are all good reasons,” he said. “But what about for fun?”

While some people may arguably start out riding a motorcycle because of the benefits it provides economically, practically and environmentally, those people I feel are few and far between. Most people have a desire to ride a motorcycle for more esoteric reasons. After all, using a motorcycle for transportation isn’t a necessity it is a passion in most cases.

Riding (as opposed to driving) requires absolute concentration and awareness. It is demanding both physically and mentally and challenging as well. You must become super aware of your surroundings, of other vehicles on the road. You must pay attention to weather and road conditions. You must know your motorcycle intimately; its power, maneuverability and limitations as well as your own. On a motorcycle, you must practice “present moment living”.

The most acute sensation while riding a motorcycle is that of being in the scene. In a car, you are completely closed in and have many available distractions to pass the time: radio, cell phones, GPS devices, mini televisions, air conditioning, etc. You are in effect in an environment that mimics that of your home or office with all the comforts those provide. You are looking at the outside world from a closed off point of view, surrounded by thousands of pounds of metal, glass and rubber. Driving a car is, for the most part, unengaging.

While car drivers generally see other drivers as competitors, motorcycle riders see other riders as companions. There is a great camaraderie amongst motorcycle riders, a feeling of being part of a giant family or community. Rarely is there hostility between riders like you see with drivers. We’ve all seen the one or two fingered low wave that bikers give one another as opposed to the middle finger salute that drivers frequently share between themselves!

Motorcycle riding involves passion and a sense of freedom through intense oneness with the machine and one’s surroundings. Unlike cars, motorcycles provide riders with the thrill of risk-taking, adventure, escapism and individuality. On a motorcycle all of your senses become heightened. You smell everything from pine or eucalyptus trees to blooming jasmine and orange blossoms; burned fuel and oil; rain, sea or lake water and even skunks and roadkill. You can more acutely detect temperature drops or increases and can feel the wind rushing around you as the road flashes beneath you only inches from your feet.

In my novel and the upcoming sequel, I often use a motorcycle ride as a form of therapy for several of my characters. Because you must be fully engaged in what you and others are doing as well as your surroundings, motorcycle riding can help clear your head of the chatter that drives most of us crazy every day. If you do it right, you can achieve that Zen state of being in the Now.

Lane-Splitting in California

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California is the only state where lane-splitting (or filtering) is legal.  By legal, I mean that it is permitted, but there are no official laws regarding the practice:

California law does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane, a practice often called “lane splitting,” “lane sharing” or “filtering.” (DMV.ca.gov)

Lane-slitting is when a motorcyclist rides between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction in order to avoid being rear-ended, which accounts for about a quarter of all accidents involving a motorcycle and car.

The debate between both motorcyclists and motorists who oppose the practice and those that support it has been ongoing for years now.  Studies and statistics aside, bikers have been slitting lanes in California for decades and most of those who share the road with them are likely not even aware of the ambiguity surrounding its legality.

A bill was put forth last year (AB 51) attempting to put guidelines on the practice, thus making it legal with certain restrictions.  AB 51 was authored by Assemblyman Dan Quirk (D-Hayward) and included guidelines such as speed limits while lane-splitting (motorcyclists could go no faster than 15 MPH above the moving traffic and no faster than 50 MPH overall).  A two-year study on lane-splitting by UC Berkeley concluded that riders who employed the practice were safer than those who sat in place in traffic, thus increasing their vulnerability to be hit from behind. AB51 has been put aside for now so supporters can have more time to work on the measure.

There are car drivers who intensely dislike lane-splitting and even some who go out of their way to inhibit it by blocking the motorcyclist’s way or, incredibly, opening car doors on them.  While this is not the norm, it is of note here because of the amount of tourists California has on the road at any given time.  Riders who rent motorcycles here in California should bear in mind that although the practice of lane-splitting is not new, it is still disliked by many local drivers who view it as an unsafe and unfair way for motorcyclists to avoid traffic.  In addition, there is also danger from out-of-state drivers who might not be aware of lane-splitting.

If you have questions or concerns about lane-splitting, be sure to talk to the guys at OC Motorcycle when you rent your bike and route your trip. Vigilance is the key when riding a motorcycle and if you are new to riding or not familiar with California driving and traffic patterns, lane-splitting should be avoided.

Day Trip: Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear

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With spring comes warmer weather and the thawing of snow in our local Southern California mountains. There’s nothing quite like turning off the freeway and heading up into higher elevations, twisty mountain roads and pine-scented fresh air.

Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear are located in the San Bernadino mountain range and are within easy riding distance of OC Motorcycle. Heading north on CA-57 you will then need to continue east on CA-60, then north again on CA-15 and east on CA-210 before hitting CA-18, known as the “Rim of the World” highway for its breathtaking views of the valley below. Be aware of heavy traffic on weekends and that the area is regularly patrolled by the CHP and local police, so watch your speed. Riding time is approximately an hour and a half.

Lake Arrowhead is a lovely mountain town with the charm of an Alpine village. Although Lake Arrowhead itself is privately owned, Lake Gregory draws fishermen, nature lovers and water skiers in the summer months while the two villages, Lake Arrowhead and Blue Jay, offer shopping and dining in abundance. From May until September, the Summer Concert Series entertains locals and visitors alike with quality tribute bands that cover nearly every important artist from the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to Depeche Mode and Garth Brooks. Concerts are free and take place on the main stage in Lake Arrowhead Village. In October, the town puts on one of the best Octoberfests in Southern California. Be sure and visit Wildhaven Ranch sanctuary, home to indigenous critters that are unable to live in the wild anymore.

My local friend recommends several restaurants to eat at including Hortencia’s Mexican Restaurant, Lou Eddie’s Pizza and the grill at the Antlers Inn. If you plan on staying overnight, accommodations can be booked through Lake Arrowhead Retreats (Arrowhead Retreats).

If you intend to head to Big Bear also, you’ll need to get back onto CA-18 and then CA-38, a nice scenic highway that at one point achieves the distinction of being one of the highest roads in Southern California. Big Bear is about another hour and a half ride from Lake Arrowhead.

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Big Bear Lake offers all manner of water sports from kayaking to paddle boarding and, of course, fishing. In addition, the town offers visitors hiking, parasailing, helicopter rides, horseback riding, golf and even bowling. Big Bear is home to one of the country’s only alpine solar observatories and there is a zoo, too!

Fun and delicious dining can be had all over the village from Noble Roman’s Pizza, Big Bear Mountain Brewery, The Cowboy Steakhouse & Saloon and The Cave where live music sets the pace every weekend.

Both Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear offer hiking and camping, but you’ll need to obtain a California Adventure Pass which can be purchased at the Lake Arrowhead Ranger Station or Visitors Center as well as some local businesses.

If you are looking for the perfect escape from the city, Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead are the perfect destinations for a day or weekend trip. And with the beautiful scenery and fresh mountain air, getting there on a motorcycle is a big part of the pleasure. Be sure and call OC Motorcycle to reserve a bike or two and hit the highway soon!

 

Day Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

 

Joshua3Joshua Tree National Park is a place that holds a lot of mystery and other-worldly beauty. It is home to the iconic Joshua tree, surreal boulder formations and panoramic views. Back in the late Sixties, it was also the location of a now-infamous desert photo shoot and undoubtedly enlightening trip made by friends Keith Richards and Gram Parsons. Later, of course, Parsons would be found dead in the Joshua Tree Inn, his body becoming the subject of a truly twisted rock ‘n’ roll tale.

In addition to its musical history, Joshua Tree is host to some 700 species of plant life and around 240 bird species, including the occasional pelican who makes its way over from the nearby Salton Sea. Joshua Tree is rich in Native American and California history as well and its haunting beauty is a must-see for all who visit or call Southern California home.

From Orange County, head north on the 55, then east on the 91 toward Riverside for about 30 miles before reaching the 60. Head east for another 18 miles or so. You will then need to get onto I-210E for about 22 miles before reaching the 62, which will take you into the park after 43 miles or so.

If you’ve never seen them before, you may be taken aback by the wind farms on the 62. These giant white turbines make you feel as if you’re on some alien planet and they were not placed out there haphazardly. This portion of the road can get very windy, so be prepared if you’re on a lighter bike.

A great stop before reaching the National Park is at Hutchins Harley-Davidson in Yucca Valley. With an attached 1950’s style diner and a vintage motorcycle museum, it’s a perfect place to grab some breakfast or lunch.

A second detour from the 62 is to head down Old Woman Road and check out Giant Rock, the largest free-standing boulder in the world. Nearby is the truly spacey Integratron, built in 1959 by UFO enthusiast George Van Tassel. The all-wooden 35-foot high dome is said to be an acoustically perfect structure where today you can experience a neuroacoustic sound bath or perhaps attend a UFO symposium.

Once inside the park, you will likely be overcome with visual stimuli from all corners of your vision. The roads inside the park are meant for meandering and enjoying the sights, so take your time and stop often. The liquid-like rock formations and hundreds of Joshua tree sentinels are spectacular to say the least. Be sure and drive up to Key View for an incredible view from a 5,185 foot elevation. You can see Mt. San Jacinto, Cochella Valley and on a clear day, the Salton Sea from this vantage point.

When you’re finally ready to leave, simply head back to Orange County the way you came or map out a back route through Box Canyon and Mecca, down through Borrego Springs and then make your way back to CA-5 N toward Orange County.