HELL'S ANGELS -- A STRANGE AND TERRIBLE SAGA OF THE OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS
The fact that people are poor or
discriminated against doesn't
necessarily endow them with any
special qualities of justice, nobility, charity or compassion.
To squelch any possibility of the Angels roaring drunkenly out of camp during the night, Baxter and the Highway Patrol announced a ten p.m. curfew. At that time, anyone in camp would have to stay, and nobody else could come in. This was made official just after dark. The deputies were still trying to be friendly and they assured the Angels that the curfew was as much for their protection as anything else. They kept talking about "bunches of townspeople, coming through the woods with deer rifles." To forestall this, the police set up a command post at the point where the Willow Cove trail joined the highway.
Meanwhile, a mountain of six-packs was piling up in the middle of camp. This was in addition to the original twenty-two cases in my car. By the time it got dark the car was half empty, so I put the rest of the beer in the back seat and locked my own gear in the trunk. I decided that any symbolic alienation I might incur by securing my valuables was worth the risk of having them all lost -- which they probably would have been, for it was not long before the camp became like an animal pen. A reporter from the Los Angeles Times showed up the next day and said it "looked like Dante's Inferno." But he arrived about noon, when most of the outlaws were calm and stupefied from the ravages of the previous night. If the midday lull seemed that awful, the bonfire scenes might have permanently damaged his mind.
Or perhaps not, for the ten-o'clock curfew had a drastic effect on the action. By driving all the fringe elements out of camp, it forced the Angels to fall back on their own entertainment resources. Most of those who left were girls; they had seemed to be enjoying things until the deputies announced that they would either leave by the deadline or stay all night. The implications were not pleasant -- at ten the law was going to pull out, seal off the area and let the orgy begin.
All afternoon the scene had been brightened by six or ten carloads of young girls from places like Fresno and Modesto and Merced who had somehow got wind of the gathering and apparently wanted to make a real party of it. It never occurred to the Angels that they would not stay the night -- or the whole weekend, for that matter -- so it came as a bad shock when they left. The three nurses who'd picked up Larry, Pete and Puff earlier in the day made a brave decision to stay -- but then, at the last moment, they fled. "Man, I can't stand it," said one Angel as he watched the last of the cars lurch off down the trail. "All that fine pussy, just wasted. That wiggy little thing with the red shoes was all mine! We were groovin! How could she just split?"
It was a rotten show by almost any standards. Here were all these high-bottomed wenches in stretch pants and sleeveless blouses half unbuttoned ... beehive hairdos and blue-lidded eyes ... ripe, ignorant little bodies talking horny all afternoon ("Oh, Beth, don't these bikes just drive you kinda wild?"). Yeah, baby, wild for the open road ... and off they went, like nuns hearing the whistle, while the grief-stricken Angels just stood there and watched. Many had left their own women behind, fearing trouble, but now that the trouble was dissipated, there was not going to be any strange ginch either.
Among the hardest hit was Terry the Tramp, who immediately loaded up on LSD and spent the next twelve hours locked in the back of a panel truck, shrieking and crying under the gaze of some god he had almost forgotten, but who came down that night to the level of the treetops "and just stared -- man, he just looked at me, and I tell you I was scared like a little kid."
Other Angels rushed off to the beer market when the curfew was first announced, but their hopes for a party with the tourists were dashed when the place closed right on the dot of ten. There was nothing to do but go back to camp and get wasted. The police were lenient with late arrivals, but once in, there was no getting out.
The hours between ten and twelve were given over to massive consumption. Around eleven I ducked into the car and worked for a while on the tape, but my monologue was constantly interrupted by people reaching through the back windows and trying to wrench the trunk open. For hours there had been so much beer in camp that nobody worried about seeing the end of it, but suddenly it all disappeared. Instead of one beer at a time, everybody who reached into the car took a six-pack. The stash had begun. It was like a run on a bank. Within minutes the back seat was empty. There were still twenty or thirty six-packs piled up near the bonfire, but these weren't for stashing. The cans were clipped off one at a time. Nobody wanted to start a run on the public-beer stock. It would have been very bad form ... and if the hoarding became too obvious, those who planned to drink all night might get violent.
By this time various drug reactions were getting mixed up with the booze and there was no telling what any one person might do. Wild shouts and explosions burst through the darkness. Now and then would come the sound of a body plunging into the lake .... a splash, then yelling and kicking in the water. The only light was the bonfire, a heap of logs and branches about ten feet wide and five feet tall. It lit up the whole clearing and gleamed on the headlights and handlebars of the big Harleys parked on the edge of the darkness. In the wavering orange light it was hard to see faces except those right next to you. Bodies became silhouettes; only the voices were the same.
There were about fifty girls in camp, but nearly all were "old ladies" -- not to be confused, except at serious risk, with "mamas" or "strange chicks." An old lady can be a steady girlfriend, a wife or even some bawdy hustler that one of the outlaws has taken a liking to. Whatever the connection, she is presumed to be spoken for, and unless she makes obvious signs to the contrary she will usually be left alone. The Angels are very solemn about this, insisting that no member would think of violating the sanctity of another's liaison. This is true, but only up to a point. Unlike wolves, old ladies don't mate for life, and sometimes not even for a month. Many are legally married, with several children, and exist entirely apart from the general promiscuity. Others are borderline cases who simply change their minds now and then ... They switch loyalties without losing rank, establishing just as firm a relationship with one Angel as they previously had with another.
These can be very shifting sands. Like beauty and honesty, promiscuity is in the eyes of the beholder -- at least among the Angel. An old lady who changes her mind once too often, or perhaps only once, will find herself reclassified as a mama, which means she is common property.
There are mamas at any Angel gathering, large or small. They travel as part of the troupe, like oxpeckers,  fully understanding what's expected: they are available at any time, in any way, to any Angel, friend or favored guest -- individually or otherwise. They also understand that the minute they don't like the arrangement they can leave. Most hang around for a few months, then drift on to something else. A few have been around for years, but this kind of dedication requires an almost preterhuman tolerance for abuse and humiliation.
The term "mama" is all that remains of the original expression "Let's go make somebody a mama," which was later shortened to "Let's go make a mama." Other fraternities have different ways of saying it, but the meaning is the same -- a girl who's always available. A widely quoted section of the Lynch report says these girls are called "sheep," but I have never heard an Angel use that word. It sounds like the creation of some police inspector with intensely rural memories.
The mamas aren't pretty, although some of the newer and younger ones have a sort of demented beauty that erodes so fast that you have to see it happen, over a period of months, to feel any sense of tragedy. Once the girls have developed the proper perspective, it's easy to take them for granted. One night in Sacramento the Angels ran out of beer money and decided to auction off Mama Lorraine in a bar. The top bid was twelve cents, and the girl laughed along with the others. On another occasion, Magoo was packing Mama Beverly on a run to Bakersfield when he ran out of gas. "Do you know," he recalls, "I couldn't find a single gas-station attendant who would give me a free gallon of gas for a go at her." The public prints are full of testimony by men who take pride in having "sold their talents dearly," but people who understand that their only talent is not worth fifteen cents or a gallon of gas are not often quoted. Nor do they usually leave diaries. It would be interesting to hear, sometime, just exactly what it feels like to go up on the auction block, willing to serve any purpose, and get knocked down for twelve cents.
Most mamas don't think about it, much less talk. Their conversation ranges from gossip and raw innuendo, to fending off jibes and haggling over small amounts of money. But every now and then one of them will rap off something eloquent. Donna, a stocky, good-natured brunette who came north with the exodus from Berdoo, once put the whole thing in a nut. "Everybody believes in something," she said. "Some people believe in God. I believe in the Angels."
Each chapter has a few mamas, but only Oakland maintains as many as five or six at a time. Among other outlaw clubs the situation varies. The Gypsy Jokers are not as mama-oriented as the Angels, but the Satan's Slaves are so keen on the practice that they take their communal women down to the tattoo parlor and have "Property of Satan's Slaves" etched permanently on the left rump-cheek. The Slaves feel that branding gives the girls a sense of security and belonging. It erases any doubt about peer-group acceptance. The branded individual is said to experience powerful and instantaneous sensations of commitment, of oneness with the organization, and those few who have taken the step form a special elite. The Angels are not given to branding their women, but the practice will probably catch on because some of them think it "shows real class." 
"But it takes the right girl," said one. "She has to really mean it. Some girls won't go for it. You know, like who wants to go to the baby doctor with a big tattoo sayin your ass belongs to the Satan's Slaves? Or what if a girl wants to cop out sometime and get married? Man, imagine the wedding night. She drops her nightie and there it is. Wow!"
There were about twenty Slaves at Bass Lake, but they didn't do much mixing. They staked out a small corner of the clearing, parked their bikes around it and spent most of the weekend lying around with their women and drinking their own wine. The Gypsy Jokers were less inhibited, but their behavior was oddly subdued in the presence of so many Hell's Angels. Unlike the Slaves, few of the Jokers had brought girls, so they were spared the constant worry that some pill-crazed Angel might try to move in and provoke a fight that the Angels would have to win. In theory the Hell's Angels confederation is friendly with all other outlaws, but in practice the half-dozen Angel chapters clash frequently with various clubs around their own turf. In San Francisco, the Jokers and the Angels nurse a long-standing enmity, but the Jokers get along famously with other Angel chapters. A similar situation prevailed for years in the Los Angeles area, where the Berdoo Angels had sporadic rumbles with the Slaves, Comancheros and Coffin Cheaters. Yet these three clubs continued to speak well of every Hell's Angel in the state except those dirty bastards from Berdoo, who kept muscling in on other people's turf. All this was changed, however, by the Monterey rape, which resulted in such overwhelming heat that the Berdoo Angels were forced into desperate coexistence with the Slaves and other L.A. clubs, who were not much better off.
The Satan's Slaves are still a power in outlaw circles, but they have lost their slashing style of the early 1960's.  Other outlaws say the Slaves have never recovered from the loss of Smackey Jack, their legendary president, who had so much class that even the Angels held him slightly in awe. Smackey Jack stories still circulate whenever the clan gets together. I first heard about him from an easygoing Sacramento Angel named Norbert:
"Man, that Jack was outta sight. Sometimes he'd run wild for three or four days on pills and wine. He carried a pair of rusty pliers around with him and we'd sic him on strange broads. Man, he'd jerk em down on the ground and start pullin their teeth out with those goddamn pliers. I was with him in a place one time when the waitress wouldn't give us any coffee. Jack climbed right over the counter and took out three of her front teeth with his pliers. Some of the things he did would turn your stomach. Once he pulled out one of his own teeth in a bar. People couldn't believe it. A lot of em ran out when they saw he was serious. When he finally got the thing out, he laid it down on the bar and asked if he could trade it for a drink. He was spittin blood on the floor, but the bartender was too shook up to say anything."
Smackey Jack's turbulent three-year reign came to an end in 1964. Few of the outlaws seem to know what happened to him. "I heard he took a real & bad fall," said one. "He pushed his luck about as hard as a guy could." Motorcycle outlaws are reluctant to talk seriously about former buddies who came to a bad end; the implications are too depressing. Smackey Jack, with his penchant for free-lance dentistry, was not the type to retire peacefully. Whatever happened -- whether he was jailed, killed or forced to flee anonymously -- he exists in outlaw legend as a rollicking, unpredictable monster who always prevailed. His loss was a demoralizing blow to the Satan's Slaves, whose spirit was already faltering under continued police pressure. By the end of 1964 the club was on the verge of disbanding.
The Slaves, along with several of the Hell's Angels chapters, were saved from extinction by the Lynch report and the nationwide infamy that followed. It gave the outlaws something to live up to, but they could never make it big unless they stopped fighting among themselves. Barger was among the first to realize this, and the other clubs were not far behind. Their long struggle for equality was suddenly rendered futile. The publicity breakthrough gave the Angels such prestige that the other clubs had no choice but to get on the bandwagon or perish. The process of consolidation took most of 1965, and it was only in the first stages at the time of the Bass Lake Run. Of the dozen or so functioning outlaw clubs in the state, only the Jokers and the Slaves felt confident enough to show up at Bass Lake in significant strength. Individual Angel chapters might have lost their supremacy, but when all of them got together, there was no question about who had the action. All things considered, it was a nervous time for the Slaves to show up with their women, who tend toward a wispy, blondish prettiness -- a tempting sight for any Hell's Angel brooding drunkenly on the whys and wherefores of an unjust sex ratio.
By eleven it was plain that every girl in camp was not only spoken for, but taken. Off in the bushes there were sounds of giggling and groaning and twigs snapping, but the hundred or so outlaws who remained around the bonfire were discreetly oblivious. Many had worked off excess energy in the traditional war games. On some earlier run they had formed two secret battle societies: The Lodge and U-Boat 13. At any moment, at the sound of a prearranged signal the U-Boat mob would rush on some hapless Lodge partisan, crushing him under a pile of bodies. Other Lodgers would then come to the rescue, adding to the pile-up. It looked like a scramble for a loose ball in a game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, except at Bass Lake the human heaps involved fifty or sixty people. I remember seeing Puff, who weighs about 225, sprint for about twenty yards and dive headfirst into the pile with a beer in each hand. For some reason there were no injuries. The outlaws are not athletic in the sense that any are ex-lettermen, but nearly all of them stay in good shape. They don't work at it, but the way most of them live they don't have to. What work they get paid for is usually physical anyway, and when they're not working they exist on hamburgers, donuts and whatever else they can hustle. Many swell up with beer, but the swelling bears little resemblance to the stylish pot of the desk-bound world. Even the few fat Angels are built more like beer barrels than water balloons.
There are those who claim the outlaws don't need food because they get all their energy from pep pills. But this is a bit far-fetched. The substitution doesn't work, as anyone who ever tried it can tell you. There are drugs to stimulate latent energy, but they are worthless and enervating unless the energy is there in the first place. Taken in excess on an empty stomach, pep pills induce a kind of nervous stupor characterized by fatigue, depression, chills and soaking sweats. The Angels deal freely on the black market, and if any pill really worked as a substitute for food they would use it in large quantities, for it would vastly simplify their lives. As it is, they take their nourishment wherever they can. Girls cook for them, waitresses give them "credit" at greasy diners, and there are always the married men, whose wives rarely balk at feeding five or six of the brethren at any hour of the day or night. According to the code, there is no such thing as one Angel imposing on another. A hungry outlaw will always be fed by one of the others who has food ... and if times are lean all around, a foraging party will hit a supermarket and steal everything they can carry. Few clerks will try to stop a dangerous hoodlum rushing out the door with two hams and three quarts of milk. The outlaws are not apologetic about stealing food, even though it goes against their pride. They prefer to think they don't have to -- but whenever they do, they aren't sneaky. While one is gathering hams or steaks another will create a disturbance to draw the clerks. A third will fill a rucksack full of cans and vegetables on the other side of the store ... and then they will all flee at the same time through different exits. There is nothing difficult about it. All it takes is gall, a threatening appearance and a surly disregard for whatever the neighbors might think. As for the police, by the time they reach the scene of the crime the food is already being cooked, twenty blocks away.
The outlaws are not articulate when it comes to the strengths and weaknesses of the world they function in, but their instincts are finely honed. They have learned from experience that some crimes are likely to be punished, and some aren't. A Hell's Angel who wants to make a long-distance call, for instance, will usually go to a pay phone. He will deposit enough money for the first three minutes, acknowledge the operator's signal at the end of that time and talk for as long as he wants. When he finally finishes, the operator will tell him how many coins he should put in the black box ... but instead of paying, he laughs, spits obscenities into the phone and hangs up. Unlike the normal, middle-class, hard-working American, a motorcycle outlaw has no vested interest in the system that is represented by the voice of a telephone operator. The values of that system are completely irrelevant to him. He doesn't give a damn, and besides, he knows the phone company can't catch him. So he completes his call, abuses the operator and goes off to get happily wasted.
1. Webster defines oxpeckers as small, dull-colored birds that feed on ticks which they pick from the backs of infested cattle and wild animals.
2. In early February 1966, Terry and a Frisco Angel named George Zahn were arrested for "contributing to the delinquency" of a fifteen-year-old girl who had "Property of Hell's Angels" tattooed across her back at the shoulder-blade level. She also had the clap, which worries the Angels about as much as bad breath.
3. The Slaves returned to prominence with a vengeance in the summer of 1966, when thirty of them ransacked an apartment house in Van Nuys, a suburb of Los Angeles. On the morning of Saturday, August 6, three Slaves were served with eviction notices and forced to leave an apartment they had occupied for only a week. On Saturday night the three evictees returned to the building with a noisy raiding party and wreaked havoc for several hours. The terrified occupants locked their doors while the outlaws smashed sixteen windows and threw thirty pieces of furniture into the swimming pool. The Slaves threatened their ex-neighbors with further attacks if anyone called the police -- which somebody finally did, but not until the motorcyclists had roared off into the night, seeking new nadirs, etc.