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

HA & hippies

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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All Things Must Pass: The Legacy of Russ Solomon and Tower Records

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Tower Records, El Toro, CA #138. My home sweet home for nearly fifteen years.

Russ Solomon, the founder of the late, great record empire, Tower Records, couldn’t have gone out in a more fitting way.  Watching the Oscars with his wife, commenting on how ugly he found someone’s clothing, he requested a bit more whiskey.  When his wife returned with it, she found him dead from an apparent heart attack.  Russ had gone out with a bang with all of his feisty spirit intact.

Tower Records was an important part of my life from an early age.  Living in Southern California during the seventies, the closest Tower to us was the West Covina location (we lived in San Dimas).  Although I rarely visited, I remember requesting records for my mother to pick up while she was out shopping.

Our house was always filled with music.  Both my parents loved and listened to rock ‘n’ roll.  My father loved the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Creeedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago and others.  My mom was a big Janis Joplin fan.  After they got divorced, my mother’s taste grew to include artists like Neil Diamond, Helen Reddy and, of course, the disco-era music of the Bee Gees.  When Saturday Night Fever came out, we went to see it as a family (with my step-father) and every Saturday or Sunday morning, the soundtrack would click into the 8-track player.  Us three kids spent weekends at Dad’s house in Newport Beach.   As a handsome, single lawyer, he was open to having a varied record collection, often influenced by the music of the girls that he was dating.  Added to the familiar Stones and Beatles albums were music by Heart, Jefferson Airplane, Donna Summer and Bob Dylan.

As I came into my teenage years, I began to develop my own taste.  Having my own stereo system in my room allowed me to explore and experience music in a way that perhaps other kids didn’t.  I never realized how lucky I was to have that luxury; I thought all kids had their own stereos!  My younger brothers loved KISS while I gravitated toward Aerosmith.  My Donny Osmond crush had matured; I was now in love with Steven Tyler.  I also listened to a lot of radio and because I had access to a stereo, I made mixed tapes, mostly of dance and disco music, that made the rounds at my junior high school, especially among the many black kids that attended there.  And although I was genuinely friendly with many of them, I was also very naive as I found out that many of them thought that I was a “wannabe”, a term that I learned about the hard way when one of them taunted me in the hallway, sing-songing, “Be whatcha wannabe!”, implying that because I listened to black music I wanted to be black.

When we moved to Mission Viejo in Orange County, I was a lonely, awkward fourteen-year-old, getting ready to start high school in a brand-new town with no friends.  Music, my ever-present friend, was there to ease my pain.  After a rather enlightening introduction to FM radio stations like KLOS and KMET and the ground-breaking KROQ, I spent most of my free time in my room, surrounded by my Rolling Stones posters (I had forsaken Steven Tyler for Keith Richards by this time), listening to classic rock and new music and on Sunday nights, the Dr. Demento Show.  DJs became important and loyal friends.

A job stuffing newspapers for my stepfather’s early morning paper route allowed me my own money and where did I go to spend it?  Tower Records in El Toro.  Whether my mom took me or I rode my bike there, I spent hours on each visit, flipping through the record racks while wondering what was behind that beaded partition in the poster section.  (At the time, this Tower location still had a head shop; too bad I was a tad too young to benefit from it before it was removed).

My record collection grew and grew and included all the Stones albums and records from my youth, but now with new music like the Pretenders, Pat Benatar and the soundtrack to The Decline of Western Civilization.  My mother had always been a small theater actress and loved to give cast parties.  I remember at a  particular one there was an English fellow, who was a member of the cast, who knew that I was a Rolling Stones fan.  He handed me the Marianne Faithfull album, Broken English, and told me I’d love it, but no to listen to it if my mom was around (a reference to the explicit lyrics in the song, “Why’d Ya Do It?”).

When I graduated in 1983, I went to live with my dad in Newport Beach while the rest of my family moved to rural Fallbrook.  I spent a year lazing about before my dad demanded that I get a job.  A trip to El Toro to get my hair cut led to a tip from my hairdresser, to whom I’d mentioned I was looking for a job.  “Go over to Tower,” he had said.  “Ask for Robert.”

Sporting a short skirt and a trim figure, I followed Robert, the store manager, into the back room where I was briefly interviewed and given a job working the Ticketmaster counter Tuesday through Saturday.  I had no idea what a punishment that was until later (that is another set of stories unto itself), but my nearly fifteen-year career at Tower Records began that April day in 1984.  I was nineteen.

Besides the dreaded Ticketmaster counter, I also worked in the new video section where my knowledge of foreign and independent films was fostered.  On the record side, my musical tastes branched out to include Bauhaus, the Cocteau Twins, the Cure and other so-called Gothic musicians.  Later, I became a Deadhead and followed the band around Southern and Northern California.  Still later, I learned about rap, international, jazz, vocals, grunge, metal and cocktail/lounge music.

And the friends.  Where do I begin?  A vast age group ensured that we all learned from one another as did the expertise of those that ran each music section.  Charlie, our fearless classic music buyer, was renowned throughout not just the county, but the state, it seemed.  Customers came from far and wide to listen to his advice and suggestions on not only specific composers, but symphonies, conductors, soloists and more.  An extremely smart and eccentric fellow, he could spend hours ruminating on not only classical music, but Egyptian history, science, lemurs and other exotic animals, the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa.

Bob was our jazz buyer and he, too, knew his subject inside and out.  An accomplished musician, he played washboard in the South Frisco Jazz Band, who at one time was Disneyland’s New Orleans Square house band.  Bob knew everything about jazz, but also had a keen interest in World War II memorabilia, notably German uniforms, medals, runs, etc. and was also an avid train enthusiast.

Oh, the crazy times we had back in the day!  Kids these days couldn’t conceive of what went on at Tower back in the eighties and nineties. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is a good start, but I don’t use those terms rhetorically.  Literally, I mean there was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll going on at the store.  Hours-long lunches with record label reps where the alcohol flowed like water; Christmases with schnapps bottles stashed under the counters; breaks out to VW vans where copious amounts of pot were inhaled; cocaine snorted off records and sex in cramped bathrooms and makeshift offices.  Ah, yes, these were good times, my friends, never to be seen again, at least in that type of abundance and acceptance.  It was a good time to be alive and young!

After a few years in the video department, I moved over to records where I was the assistant tape buyer for a while before becoming the record buyer (probably the last one as CDs were already on their way to taking over).  Bob and I were appalled and wore our “Save the LP” buttons proudly every day to no avail.  When the receiving clerk announced he was leaving, I jumped at the chance to work in the back room and to have a Monday-Friday, 8-5 schedule.  I approached Robert and asked for the position and I stayed on as the shipping and receiving clerk for my remaining eight years.

Soon after, Robert left to go and manage the Boston store and in came out new manger, Dennis.  I was apprehensive at first; we all loved Robert, despite his sometimes explosive temper.  But Dennis and I soon became close friends.

My decision to leave Tower was a difficult one, but I sensed that big (and not good) changes were around the corner.  Our store was moving to a new location and was to be combined with an audio retailer, The Good Guys; my raises were too small and infrequent.  My heart was beating out of my chest as I approached Dennis to tell him that I was leaving.

It wasn’t long before my intuition panned out and the new location closed.  It was heartbreaking; some of the old employees were still there, including Charlie, who really had no other prospects.

Over my years at Tower and beyond, I kept in touch with everyone and hosted a big Halloween party yearly, which served as a reunion of sorts.  I became the Mother Hen and archivist for our store location, good, old Tower El Toro, #138.  Many ex-employees had moved away, but with the introduction of the Internet and Facebook specifically, we all found one another again and picked up right where we had left off.  Our Tower family was intact once again and more than one of us joked that Facebook had been invented for Tower El Toro employees to find one another again.

In 2015, I heard about the Tower Records documentary that Colin Hanks had made, All Things Must Pass.  An exclusive screening and reunion was to be help in Sacramento, the home of Russ Solomon and the original Tower Records location.  I had to go and there I met Russ for the second time.  I had met him in 1990 when a Tower friend and I took a road trip to Sacramento to visit her family.  While there, we stopped by the Tower corporate office where we were greeted warmly and given a tour, then asked if we wanted to meet Russ.  Of course we did!  We were shown into his office and there he was behind his desk, music memorabilia surrounding him on the walls, shelves, etc.  We talked for a few minutes and he asked if he could take us to lunch-what a surprise and honor!  Russ took us to a restaurant on the riverfront.  He was gracious, kind, engaging and funny.

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Me and Russ at the screening of “All Things Must Pass” and Tower reunion, Sacramento, October 2015.

After viewing the documentary with hundreds of other Tower employees, Colin Hanks and Russ himself; going to parties and events around town and meeting a lot of new Tower friends, I came back home and decided to have my own reunion for our store, Tower El Toro.  I got to work planning it and in October of 2016, I hosted fifty friends from as far away as Colorado for a day and evening of music, food and reminiscing.  Reconnecting with old friends was good for our souls and once again, our Tower family was together.  No other job (I hesitate to call my time at Tower a “job”; it was more like hanging out with friends everyday, listening to music) created the bonds and camaraderie that Tower did.  We are a worldwide family and when we meet another member, we embrace one another as an unquestioned member of our special tribe.

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Tower Records, El Toro, CA #138 Reunion, October 2016.

I consider myself among the lucky ones who can claim membership in the Tower family. The friends I made are lifelong, the music I was exposed to will be forever in my soul and the memories will keep me smiling until I die.  Thank you, Russ, for creating the most magical, wondrous infusion of freedom, music, individuality and common freakiness the world may ever know.  The misfits found a place to call home, a forever family to belong to.  Rest in peace and we’ll all see you on the other side.

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”!

Teaser Excerpt from the Upcoming Sequel to Red, White & Blues. San Francisco, 1986

  • every seven minutes

In mid-September, President Reagan actually mentions AIDS in a public speech where he vows to make the epidemic a priority.  There is great hope in the gay community, as the issue has finally gone all the way to the “top”.  Anticipation of change and financial aid is higher than ever.

Asher and James decide to put together a celebration of hope, something to direct people’s attention toward positivity and away from the death and fear that have been constant shadows in the city for far too long now.  After all, there are things to celebrate despite all of the hopelessness and sorrow.  The community has grown stronger than ever and due to safe sex education; transmission of the disease has decreased.

With a generous donation from Louise and Avery, the boys rent a large hotel lobby for the event and begin getting the word out via the community’s many channels. Some of their activist friends suggest making it a fundraiser, but Asher is adamant-he wants this to be simply a celebration, a fun evening of music, dancing, food, drink and camaraderie.

Plenty of people step up to donate their talents and time to help get the event off the ground.  Despite all of the excitement, James’ priority is still making sure that the patients are getting what they need, including meals, help shopping, cooking, dog walking and transportation to doctor appointments.  Toby is a great help with these things as he always has been and this leaves Asher free to promote the event as widely as he can.

The day before, a huge group of volunteers arrives at the hotel to decorate, blow up balloons and prepare any food that can be made ahead of time.  Asher stops in to check on the progress and is overwhelmed with the number of people helping out.  He immediately finds James to hear the details.

“Hi, honey,” James says, kissing him.  “Isn’t this amazing?”

“Yes.  Who are all of these people and where did you find them?”

James spreads his arms out.  “Everywhere.  More and more of them just kept showing up asking what they could do.”

Asher looks over the group.  Most of them are friends, but there are some that he definitely doesn’t recognize.  His face grows worried.

“What?” James asks.

“How many people are going to show up tomorrow?  What if there isn’t enough food…”

“Don’t worry about it!  Everything will be fine!”

Philly, who has grown light-headed from blowing up so many balloons, takes a seat nearby.

“What’s he worried about now?” he asks James.

“Too many people showing up.”

“That’s not a problem, honey!  That’s a good thing!”

“See?” James says. “Now go on home.  I’ll be there soon!”

Asher does as he is told.  He has slowly been getting back to his studying and has plenty of reading to catch up on.

The following evening, everything runs like clockwork.  The lobby is filled to capacity with mostly gay men, but their “sisters in arms”-the lesbians-have been showing support for them in growing numbers and many are here tonight.

A DJ is spinning records and music fills the air as volunteer waiters pass around trays of hors d’oeuvres.  Maura, Dan and Toby, along with Louise and Avery are sitting down at a table together.  Not being involved in the community and seeing so many men visibly suffering from the disease is sobering for Avery.  There are many men here tonight who are rail thin and pale, the sores of Kaposi’s sarcoma mark their faces and bodies.  He is still not comfortable being around them, not only because they are gay, but because he is afraid of AIDS.  Dan, too, is unaccustomed to being around so many gay men, but he instantly admires their fun and happy enthusiasm while feeling incredibly sad for the sick ones.

“Hey, girl,” Philly says to Louise, dancing over to their table.  He kisses her cheek.  “You look beautiful!  All of you do-even you Avery!”

Avery laughs and Louise takes his hand.

“Maybe you’ll dance with me later,” Philly teases him.  “You might even like it!”

They watch as he dances away and joins the others who are moving to the sounds of the Bronski Beat’s seminal hit “Smalltown Boy”.

James is circulating the room, making sure everyone has food and a drink while Asher sits biting his thumbnail and worrying.

“Would you stop it?” James scolds him.  “This is supposed to be fun, remember?”

“I know.”

“Dance with me.  Come on!”

In the hotel kitchen, vats of spaghetti and meatballs are bubbling, garlic bread is toasting in the oven, salads are being dressed and cupcakes frosted.  The all-volunteer cooks are having a blast dancing to their own boom box as they begin dishing up the food.  Plates begin making their way out to the tables and Asher watches nervously.  He doesn’t know why he is so concerned except that he wants this night to be perfect without any hitches or disappointments.  He goes up to the DJ and asks him to stop the music, much to everyone’s dismay.

“Sorry,” Asher says into the microphone.  “I won’t take long.”

James rushes to his side.

“First of all, let me say welcome!  We have all been fighting so hard-first for our rights and now our very survival.  So many of us are not here tonight, dead from a disease that no one wants to hear about.  Why should they care about a disease that kills gay men?”

James puts his arm around Asher’s shoulders.

“But we pushed and will keep on pushing until there is a cure!  We will fight to end discrimination against those with ARC, fight for new definitions and diagnoses so that treatment can be available to everyone that needs it.  We will fight for funding for aggressive studies and new treatments.  For answers!  We will fight LaRouche and Jerry Falwell and everyone else that wants to tell us that we do not have a right to live.”

The crowd is cheering; James is getting misty-eyed.

“But tonight we stop fighting, just for one night.  Tonight we enjoy ourselves, forget about sickness and death, panic, uncertainty and hate. I remember when Harvey was assassinated.  I remember the pain, the anger, the candlelight march down to City Hall.  Many of you were there, just as I was.  Harvey fought for us and I know that he would have been very proud of you all.  I look around this room and I see a group of people that refuse to give up, refuse to step back into the closet, just as he asked us not to. James and I have been so lucky to be a part of this community.  So lucky to be with all of you here tonight.  We love you all and thank you for your support!”

Asher waits for the applause and yelling to die down before ending his speech.

“One last thing:  I want to acknowledge and thank Louise and Avery Booth for putting up the money to rent this place for the evening; Maura and Louise for the selfless support and kindness that they have shown our community from the very beginning and Toby, Maura’s son, who has sacrificed so much of his teenage years to help us get food to you, visit patients and help in any way he can.  He’s going to make one hell of nurse!”

Asher begins clapping heartily and James, along with everyone else, joins him.  As Asher steps away from the mike, James takes it.

“Everyone, please enjoy yourselves!  Food is coming out of the kitchen thanks to our awesome volunteers.  Please take a few minutes to eat and relax.  And don’t forget to pick up the pamphlets and other info that we have by the door.  There’s also free condoms, so please be safe!  I know that safe sex seems like a step backwards, but it’s how we’re gonna save each other now.  Thanks for coming out everyone and enjoy!”  He then turns to Asher.  “Come on, sweetie!  Let’s eat!”

Finally, Asher begins to relax and enjoy himself.  The sight of everyone dancing and laughing, hugging and kissing one another, especially the sick ones, is everything that he wanted this evening to be.

“This is really good,” James says, twirling spaghetti onto his fork.

Asher smiles.  It is strange.  James has been the one so distressed with genuine concern and worry over the community, but as soon as Asher expresses worry, James always changes his demeanor and becomes carefree.  He probably doesn’t even know that he does it, but Asher is grateful.  He takes James’ free hand and brings it to his mouth, kissing it.

“Thanks,” he says.

“For what?”

“For being you.  For loving me.”

“Aww!  How could I not?” James leans over and kisses Asher on the lips.  “I do love you!”

“I love you, too.”

At close to midnight, Louise, Avery, Maura and Dan leave.  Toby wants to stay behind to help clean up, so once again, Maura leaves him in the care of Asher and James.

“Everything turned out perfectly,” Toby tells them.

“It did, didn’t it?” Asher marvels.

Toby watches the thinning crowd on the dance floor.  He doesn’t know why he likes being around these men so much.  He knows that his mother wonders if he is gay and the truth is that he doesn’t know.  He does think some of them are attractive.  They’re certainly nice and fun and most have a great sense of humor and style.  He cannot deny that he has fantasized about being with one or two of them, but he has also done the same about some of the girls that he knows at school.

At the end of the evening, many people stay to clean up and secure the leftover food which they will take out tomorrow to the patients that couldn’t make it to the party.  Asher pulls his car up front and the food is loaded in.  James and Toby say goodbye to everyone and jump in as well, waving to a group of men standing outside.

“That was so fun!” James says.  “It was great to see everyone, especially the sick ones like Joey, Luke, Brian, Bobby…”  His voice trails off and he sighs, knowing that none of them have long to live.  “We gave them a good night.”

“Yes, we did.”

They drop Toby off at home.  Their apartment is quiet; even Freud gives them a silent meow as they enter.  The answering machine is flashing.  James walks past it and gets a drink of water and then he and Asher go straight to bed.  They lie in each other’s arms knowing that in the morning, everything will start all over again, but for the next few hours there is peace.

Chapter One from the Forthcoming Sequel to “Red, White & Blues”.

Chapter One:  1979

July 4th.  The last one of the decade.  Edie Clark is busy with food and children.  Her husband, John, is out in the garage with some of his brothers from the motorcycle club, the Souls of Liberty.  Stories and bottles of liquor, spare motorcycle parts, sweat, laughter.

It has been nearly two years since John’s brother, Pete, was murdered while working the late shift at a local gas station.  Two years without convictions or sentences.  Every day John calls the prosecutor.  Every day he is told to be patient; that they will get what they deserve.  It is all John can do not to attempt to take justice into his own hands.

Sandy Porter, the woman Pete Clark left behind to raise their now nearly ten-year old son, is sitting on a swing in her backyard.  She is drunk.  She holds a cigarette, nearly burnt down to the filter and stares off into oblivion.

“Come on, Mom,” Jimmy says, taking the cigarette from her fingers.  “Aren’t we gonna go to Uncle John’s?”

Sandy sighs.  There are so many reasons why she doesn’t want to go there this year.  Two of them are men.  Men that used and then discarded her and they will be there, staring at her, telling stories about her.

For seven months, she had an intense affair with Lucas Blackhorse.  He and Julie Hartford, his girlfriend and Sandy’s best friend, had moved in after Pete’s death initially to help with the mortgage and taking care of Jimmy.  After six months of living under the same roof, Sandy took more than just monetary help from Lucas.  She was so vulnerable and he was perceptive, selfish.  One cold night, an extra glass of wine, a sympathetic touch.

Two months passed before Julie realized what was going on.  Rage fueled by bitterness and betrayal lead to Julie moving back to her old apartment in Pacific Grove and taking her six-year old daughter, Pandora, with her.  She and Sandy’s relationship has never been the same.  In the aftermath, Lucas and Sandy’s relationship began breaking down.  Five months later, Lucas left.

December 1978.  Enter Kevin Miller, the one-eyed biker.  He and Sandy hoped to weather the holidays in a drunken, lustful haze.  For two months, they staved off depression and a real fear of being so lonely over Christmas that they simply wouldn’t make it alone.  They shared some good times, but it was clear early on that Sandy would never be able to fit into the biker lifestyle.  Too headstrong, opinionated, stubborn.  Besides, Kevin’s devotion to his club and motorcycle left her alone much of the time, so the relationship really did nothing to put her fears to rest.

The worst was yet to come for Sandy.  In January, Lucas contacted Julie.  He wanted her back.  She refused and he left the next day for Wisconsin, intending to spend the summer-maybe longer-with his mother and relatives back on the old reservation.  By March, Kevin had gone and Sandy was alone again.  Julie called Lucas; he could return if he married her.  In April, there was an informal ceremony in San Francisco.

This is why Sandy does not want to go to the Clarks’ 4th of July party.

“Mommy?”

Sandy is shaken from her thoughts.  She follows her son back into the house.  He pulls a tub of store-bought macaroni salad from the fridge, setting it on the kitchen table next to a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes. Sandy packs it all into a paper grocery bag.

“Okay, honey,” she says.  “Go and get a jacket.   It’ll be cold later.”

Mike Blackhorse packs his family into the Jeep that he bought his wife, Sarah.  With the two children growing, he thought it better than the Volkswagen Bug that Sarah had been driving them around in.  Free, now almost nine, and his six-year old sister, Eve, climb in the back.  Eve holds a Tupperware container filled with cut-up vegetables; Free balances a bowl of dip on his lap.  Sarah has a cake up front.  Mike starts the car and they are off.

In February of 1978, Mike purchased the vacant lot next to his auto repair shop and hired two more mechanics, Greg and Paul.  Mike’s old mentor, Ernie Mueller, came down from San Francisco and literally wept at the site of Mike’s shop and his success.  It was one of Mike’s proudest moments. The two men had a picture taken in front of the shop that was now hanging in the office.

At the Clarks’, more club brothers have arrived. The driveway is crowded with choppers; chrome glistens in the sun, burning oil fills the air.  Morgan Stewart is in his sixth year as President; John is still the Sergeant at Arms.  VP Big Al Riley had begun to have heart issues, so Salem Lund was elected Vice President.  His co-ownership of Full Throttle Customs and the Swizzle Stick with Morgan and his general intelligence made him the natural choice. His old position of Road Captain went to Justis Jones. Dewey Leightner is still Treasurer but Melvin Robideaux is now Secretary as Clayton “Spider” Carvell had been imprisoned for possession of an illegal firearm and a small amount of methamphetamine.  In his absence, the club looks after his wife, Sam, and two very young children, two- year old Travis and one- year old Casey.

Alex Lund, Salem’s twin brother, is now an unlikely part of this scene.  Since starting his own legal practice and moving to Carmel, the twins had resumed their close relationship, spending a lot of time together.  Alex has also become the club’s go-to attorney, except for any cases that involve his brother.  Those he gives to his newly acquired partner, Frank Abbott.

Now Salem arrives, Sadie in tow.  She is carrying their eleven- month old daughter, Rowan.  After discovering that she was pregnant, Sadie and Salem had married. To please his parents, there had been a wedding at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, much to the amusement of his club brothers.  Clearly, the ties that he had to his parents were still strong, despite all the grief that he continued to inflict upon them.  A more fitting party was held the following weekend at the Souls’ clubhouse before the newlyweds took off for a honeymoon in Sweden, where Salem’s younger sister had returned after her own marriage.

Sandy and Jimmy come through the back gate.  Edie gently lowers her three and a half- year old daughter, Jessica, down to the grass and goes over to help with Sandy’s bag.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says, embracing Sandy.  “How are you?”

“Great,” Sandy replies, but flashes a look to Edie that means she is anything but.

“Is Pandora gonna be here?” Jimmy asks.

“I think so, but why don’t you go and play with your cousins for now?”  Edie steers the boy in the direction of her two sons, Warren, six, and Shane, five.

Sandy follows Edie over to one of the picnic tables.  “I assume that means Lucas and Julie are coming?”

“They’re invited,” Edie says, uncovering the macaroni salad.

Sandy sighs.  “Well, I guess I can’t avoid them forever.  I’d like to, though!”

Free and Eve Blackhorse come over and set the vegetables and dip down on the table.

“Where’s Jimmy?” Free asks.

Edie points him to the front yard.  He goes off running with Eve trailing behind him.  They nearly trip their parents on their way back out the gate.

“Stay around here!” Mike shouts.

Sarah sets her cake down with the other desserts while Mike goes off to grab a beer from one of the many coolers.

“Happy 4th!” Sarah says.

Sandy nods.  “Yep!  I’m gonna go put this wine in the fridge.”

“How’s she doin’?” Sarah asks Edie.

“Not great, but she’ll be fine.  She’s got to get back on her feet.  I think it’s a good sign that she came!”

“Yeah, it ain’t gonna be easy seein’ Lucas and Julie,” Sarah admits.  “I could just kill him for doin’ what he did.”

Morgan Stewart spots Mike at the cooler and walks over.  He opens the lid and pulls out an icy bottle.

“How are ya, Blackhorse?”

“Great!  You?”

“Never better!”

Morgan pops the top off his beer with a pocketknife and drinks down half the contents.  “That’s good shit!  Gotta keep Ol’ Smiley grinnin’!”

He turns to watch Kim Daniels walk over to Sarah and Edie.  True to his word, he still hasn’t married her.  His two sons have joined him this 4th of July.  Lane is now twelve and has grown sullener with each passing year.  Invariably, it is Morgan’s fault that the boy is the way he is.  The four hundred miles between he and Valerie is no barrier for blame.  Being raised in San Francisco by his mother, Victoria, seven-year-old Max seems to be faring better.

“Oh, God!” Edie says as Kevin Miller enters the backyard. “Here comes trouble.”

Sandy is still inside.  Kevin strides over to Morgan and Mike, claps his president on the back and then grabs a beer.  He is unconcerned about seeing Sandy and does not understand the awkwardness it will bring her.  Hell, he was never looking to settle down and if that’s what she thought, it was her fault, not his.  Still, when he sees her come out of the kitchen and stop short, his face flushes.  Gathering herself, she walks past him and back toward Sarah and Edie.

“Hey, girl,” Kevin says and grabs her arm.

Sandy stares him down, her body tense.

“Calm down,” he says, and then loosens his grip.  “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Sandy laughs.  “Yeah,” she says and walks off.

Morgan shakes his head.  “Let it go, brother.”

“What?  I don’t want any bad feelings and weepy chicks ruining my day, that’s all.”  Kevin downs his beer.  “Besides, it ain’t your business.”

“I know,” Morgan says, and walks off to find another distraction.

Kevin reaches into the cooler for another beer.  “You know that broad pretty well,” he says to Mike.

“Yep.”

“Well, you know what I’m talking about, right?”

“Not sure.”  Mike does not want to get involved in this.  At all.

“Fuck it!” Kevin says, and then he, too, walks off.

It is dusk by the time Lucas and Julie show up and she marches straight over to Sandy.

“Look, we need to talk,” she says.

Sandy finishes off her glass of wine.  “Alright.  Let’s go inside.”  She refills her glass and offers one to Julie. They sit down at the kitchen table.

“It’s been three months since Lucas and I got married,” Julie starts.  “Please, can’t we put the shit behind us?”

Sandy runs her finger around the base of her glass.  “He hurt me, Julie.”

“He hurt me, too!  So did you, but I can’t go on like this.  We’ve been friends for too long to let a man get between us.”

“So you’ve forgiven me?”

“Yes.”

“What about him?  Have you forgiven him?”

“I don’t know.  No, I guess not fully.  Not yet.”  Julie sighs.  “The truth is I guess if it really came down to it, I’d rather have you than him.”

Sandy smiles.  “That’s funny.”

“Why?”

“That’s how I feel, too.  I just don’t know if I’m ready to see him again.”

“You don’t have to.  Besides, I don’t think he wants to see you, either.  He knows he’s an asshole!”

Julie gets up from her chair and goes around to Sandy, hugging her from behind.  “I love you!  I’ve missed having you in my life!”

Sandy can feel hot tears rolling down her cheeks.  “Me too,” she sputters.

Mike has found his way to the garage.  Under a huge Souls of Liberty flag, a game of darts is going on in one corner, a game of pool in another and lots of drinking and laughing in between.

“Hey, Mikey!”  John says.  His eyes are red slits and he sways slightly on his stool.

It always amazes Mike how much alcohol these guys could put away, but then he remembers when he had just returned from Vietnam and how much he was drinking himself.  These guys were doing it in happiness for the most part; he had been doing it in despair.

“Come on in,” Morgan says, raising a beer bottle.  Pretty wasted himself, he throws an arm around Mike’s shoulders.  “How’s your bike runnin’ these days?”

“Pretty good.  I keep it up even though I don’t ride it too much, ya know!”

“Hey!”  Morgan says conspiratorially.  He points his beer bottle in Mike’s face.  “You know what?  We both have a brother who spent time with Sandy…and didn’t survive!  Is she a man eater or what?”

Mike smiles, but is not sure where this is going.  These guys were so unpredictable when they were drunk.

“Yah, I guess we do,” he says.

Morgan nods.  “You know what else?”  He leads Mike down the driveway, his arm still around his shoulders.  “You ever think about joining a club?  Our club?  We could use a guy like you.  You keep your bike running, you’re responsible, you were in Nam.  I bet you can fight.  You get along with all of us…”

Mike is taken aback.  He has thought about it, but only in fantasy terms.  Only when he sees them ride through town in a pack, wishing he were going wherever they were off to.  To be a member of the Souls of Liberty would take so much of his time.  Time that he simply didn’t have.

“Morgan, I appreciate it.  Really!  I’m…honored that you would ask me, but I just don’t think I could find the time.”

Morgan nods.  “Yeah, well, you think about it, okay?“  He lets his arm slip from Mike’s shoulders.  “It’s a good club.  I think you could use us.”

“I know what you mean,” Mike says.  “I do.”

“I know you do.  Think about it, alright?”

Mike remembers the morning when he confessed his absolute worst secrets from Vietnam to Morgan.  Aside from Pete, who took the knowledge to his grave, he was the only other human being in Mike’s world who knew what he had done.  He knows exactly what Morgan means.  And they both know that Mike will decline the offer.

San Clemente is a sleepy, Southern California beach town.  Haven Hartford has made it his home.  He and his girlfriend, Seta Kapoor, had tied the knot after being together for two years and now have a five-month old daughter, Drisana.  After spending the better part of his time working on new paintings, Haven had an extremely successful run of shows at galleries in Laguna Beach where he sold all of his work.  As the money came in, he began to think more and more about opening up his own art store and studio in San Clemente, a town where he had become very comfortable.

In October of 1978, The Art Haven opened downtown and the Hartfords moved to a two-bedroom apartment near the San Clemente Pier.  Haven began offering art classes on Thursday evenings and was so over-booked that he had to place tables out on the sidewalk.  Life has finally fallen into place for him.

When Pandora, his daughter with Julie, comes down for the summers, he takes her surfing with him.  The little girl amazed her father and friends with her innate skill. With determination, fierce brown eyes fixed on the waves, Pandora seemed older than her mere four years.  Haven had no doubts that this girl was something very special.  Despite his excitement and pride, he couldn’t shake another feeling that seemed almost like fear.  Seta, too, saw something unexplainable in the child, a maturity that seemed overbearing in a sense.

In San Francisco, Maura Weston is managing the bookstore, Moonstone Books.  She and her son, Toby, now twelve, live in a small house near Golden Gate Park.  Louise Powell still owns and oversees the operations of the bookstore, but has given up many of the daily duties to Maura, concentrating on her tarot card readings instead.

The apartment above the store has been sitting vacant for some time now, and Maura is on her way to meet a new prospective tenant.  As she walks toward the store, she can just make out a man standing near the stairs that led up to the one-bedroom apartment.

“Hello!” Maura says, extending a hand.  “I’m a little out of breath!”

“Hi,” the man extends his hand.  “I’m Asher Levin.”

Maura takes his hand.  “Maura Weston.  Come on up.”

The man follows her up the stairs and then waits on the landing while she opens the door.

“It may be a bit musty,” Maura says.  “I’m afraid I haven’t been very diligent about opening the windows up here.”

Asher Levin laughs, closes the door behind them.  “It’s a one bedroom?”

“Yes.  It’s great for one person…or a couple.  Would it just be you or…?”

“Yes, just me.  Oh!  And my pet cat, if that’s alright.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”  Maura pulls the curtains back in the kitchen and opens the window.  “What do you do for a living, Mr. Levin, if I may ask?”

“Of course!  I’m a teacher over at City College on Phelan, but I’m also studying to get my PhD in Psychology. I’d like to teach at one of the universities.”

“Well!  Impressive!  That’s wonderful!  What do you currently teach?”

“General Psychology.  It’s interesting, but not really enough for me.”

Asher peeks into the bedroom.  “May I?” he asks, and then proceeds into the small room.

“Of course!”  Maura says.  “There’s an attached bathroom back there as well!”

“I like it,” he says, returning.  “What do we do about that?”

“Great!  I just have some paperwork here…”

Maura watches as he fills out the application.  His writing is neat, small.  His hair is black and curly; he has a well-kempt beard and moustache.  He wears round glasses.  He somewhat reminds her of Cat Stevens.

As they head out of the apartment, Maura explains the hours and operations of the bookstore below.  Asher listens politely before heading back to his car, a well-worn red Karman Ghia.

“See you next week, then!”  Maura calls.  “Oh!  What’s your cat’s name?”

“Freud!  What else?”

Louise Powell has been engaged to photographer Avery Booth for one month now.  Micheaux, Louise’s nine-year old son, has taken a deep liking to Avery, which has made things easier on everyone, especially Louise.  Knowing how much the boy had loved his father, Cain, she feared that he would never allow another man to be as a father to him.  However, Mikey was only five when Cain was shot and killed on duty while working for the Oakland Police Department, and although he remembers his father well enough, he had still been young enough to be able to accept someone else.

Louise is relieved when she hears that the apartment has been rented.  She hopes that he will stay for some time as the added income really helps.  Avery’s photography business did very well (as did the bookstore), but extra money always came in handy, especially with a growing boy in the house.

Louise had hoped to move to Monterey, especially after Pete Clark’s murder, but the bookstore and Avery’s photography didn’t make it plausible.  Instead, they rented a large, four-bedroom apartment on Fulton St. that was within walking distance of Moonstone.  There was plenty of time to plan for their future.

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.