HELL'S ANGELS -- A STRANGE AND TERRIBLE SAGA OF THE OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS
The psychopath, like the child,
cannot delay the pleasures of
gratification; and this trait is one
of his underlying, universal characteristics. He cannot wait upon
erotic gratification which convention demands should be preceded
by the chase before the kill: he
must rape. He cannot wait upon
the development of prestige in
society: his egotistic ambitions
lead him to leap into headlines
by daring performances. Like a
red thread the predominance of
this mechanism for immediate satisfaction runs through the history of
every psychopath. It explains not only his behavior but
also the violent nature of his
On a run everybody gets wasted. As midnight approached, the Willow Cove campsite took on an air of bedlam. People with glazed eyes wandered into the lake and sat down. Others fell against bikes or shouted meaningless abuse at friends they couldn't recognize. Rather than mix in the deranged traffic around the bonfire, I drifted back to my car, on the edge of darkness, and joined a group of Gypsy Jokers. They were still holding back, letting the Angels put on the show.
Hutch, the spokesman, seemed to have a philosophic bent and he wanted to talk. Just what was the meaning of this whole goddamn thing about motorcycle gangs? He didn't claim to know, but he wanted to explore it. "We aren't really bad," he said. "But we aren't good either. Hell, I don't know. Sometimes I like this scene, and sometimes I don't. But the thing that really pisses me off is the newspapers. I don't mind them calling us punks and that kind of stuff, but you know? Even when we pull off some really bad shit, they still get it wrong. When I read those things I don't even recognize myself. Hell, we should probably kick your ass just for being a reporter."
The others chuckled, but it occurred to me that the same remark might spark a different reaction later on, when the drink began to take hold. Yet it seemed that if the outlaws really wanted no part of the press, they would have bounced me out of camp much earlier. Just before dark Tiny had driven off two cameramen who claimed to be from CBS, and shortly after that he'd warned me about using the tape recorder, saying he'd throw it in the fire if he saw it. Except in posed or prearranged situations most Angels are leery of being photographed or recorded and even of talking to a man with a notebook. Tapes and film are regarded as especially dangerous because they can't be denied. This is true even in peaceful situations, where a casual photograph can place a man at the scene of a crime not yet committed. An Angel who gets arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in Oakland can always find witnesses to swear he was in San Francisco that night -- but he is done for if any newspaper has a photo of him talking to the victim ten minutes prior to the fatal fight. Tape recordings can also be incriminating, particularly if one of the outlaws gets strung out on booze or pills and begins bragging about what Senator Murphy calls "their wild acts and defiance of decency." This has happened. In one instance Barger took three hours of tape from a reporter and went over it carefully, erasing anything that seemed incriminating. Since then he has passed the word that nobody gives interviews without checking with him first.
The Jokers don't answer to Barger, however, and at that point they were eager to get the ear of any journalist who might give them a boost up the status ladder. Hutch is a bright fellow, about six-two, with thick blond hair and a face that any Arthur Murray studio would hire on sight. He works as a laborer now and then, but only to stay eligible for unemployment insurance, known in outlaw circles as the 52-26 Club. At twenty-seven he exists on the fringe of the labor market, working only in emergencies. When I saw him several weeks later at his parents' apartment in a prosperous residential district of San Francisco, he talked about motorcycle outlaws with a lazy objectivity that was hard to mesh with his concern for more and better press notices. I was only dimly aware of it then, but after a while I realized that if the outlaws were ever forced to choose between consistently bad and biased publicity or no publicity at all, they wouldn't hesitate to choose the former.
While Hutch and I were talking, another Joker joined the conversation. He introduced himself as Bruno, or Harpo, or something along those lines, and handed me one of his cards. Many outlaws carry business cards, some of them very elaborate. Frenchy from Frisco hands out shiny black ones with silver lettering. The idea of cards was born when the Frisco Angels, lamenting their rotten image, decided to win the public over to their side by aiding every stranded motorist they could find and then leaving a card saying, on one side, "You Have Been Assisted by a Member of the Hell's Angels, Frisco," and on the other, "When we do right no one remembers. When we do wrong no one forgets." It was not quite as classy as leaving a silver bullet or a chromed head bolt, but they felt it was better than nothing. For several years the Frisco Angels made a point of offering their mechanical talents to any motorist with problems, but that was before all the publicity. It would be very risky now.
Consider the reaction of a middle-aged roofing-and-siding salesman, cruising along with his wife and two children in the family Mustang on a remote stretch of Highway 101. Something in the engine begins to clank, so he pulls onto the shoulder and gets out to look. Suddenly he hears a rumble of motorcycles. A dozen Hell's Angels pull over, get off their bikes and walk toward him. Thinking quickly, he jerks the oil dipstick out of his engine and begins lashing at the thugs. His wife, terror-stricken, leaps out of the car and runs into a nearby cornfield, weaving through the stalks like a lizard. The children cower, the man is punched, and moments later a Highway Patrol car arrives. The outlaws are jailed on $3,000 bond for aggravated assault and attempted rape. A week later, when things are explained and all charges are dropped, the man apologizes ... but each Angel is $300 poorer, and the "courtesy cards" are left at home next time. The outlaws still carry cards, but not the highway variety. Most show only the club emblem, the member's name and the ever-present one-percenter sign. None give printed addresses or phone numbers. These are sometimes written on the back of the cards, but they change so frequently that it's impossible to keep them current. Most of the cards I have contain three or four phone numbers, nearly all disconnected for nonpayment.
For some reason I no longer have Bruno's (or Harpo's) card, but I remember him because he stole a full beer from me. I couldn't quite believe it, for he had gone to great lengths to make sure I didn't have any wrong impressions about the Gypsy Jokers. From time to time we would put our beers down on the trunk of the car we were leaning against. Just before he left I opened a fresh can, put it down and saw Bruno-Harpo exchange it deftly for his own, which was empty. When I mentioned this to Hutch, he shrugged and said, "It was probably just a habit, one of those tricks you pick up from drinking in bars when you're broke."
Habits like these are widespread in outlaw society. The outlaws can be very friendly with outsiders, but not all of them equate friendship with mutual trust. Some will steal senselessly, out of sheer habit or compulsion, while others will take pains to protect a naive outsider against the more light-fingered of the brethren -- who are not to be pitied or censured, but only watched. 
There is a story about an Angel who went to use the bathroom in the home of a stranger he was visiting. While there, he rummaged through the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of orange pills that looked like Dexedrine, which he promptly ate. Later, when he felt sick, he told the host about the pills and sheepishly asked if he might have made a mistake. It developed that he had taken a massive overdose of cortisone, a drug well known for its antiarthritic properties, unpredictable reactions and weird side effects. The man whose pills had been eaten was not happy and told the Angel he would probably break out in a rash of boils and running sores that would keep him in agony for weeks. On hearing this, the outlaw nervously retired to whatever bed he was using at the time. The boils never came, but he said he felt sick and weak and "queer all over" for about ten days. When he recovered, he said the incident had taught him a valuable lesson: he no longer had to worry about what kind of pills he ate, because his body could handle anything he put into it.
The theft of my beer sent me back across the clearing for another. By this time it was obvious to everyone standing around the campfire that the beer mountain was almost gone. Within an hour or so, those with nothing stashed were going to be thirsty. This would cause tension, and the hoarders were among the most insistent that another beer run should be made. Otherwise, they would have to share their stash or fight. Some people were too stoned and wasted to care about beer, but a hard core of about fifty drinkers who intended to stay on their feet all night began the laborious process of getting up a collection. By now the camp was badly disorganized. Barger had disappeared somewhere in the trees, and those remaining around the fire were the least likely to have money.
The fact that all the Bass Lake stores were closed was immaterial. Tiny said he had a "friend" who ran a market out on the highway. He would open the store at any hour of the night if somebody came around the back and rapped on the window of his bedroom. I listened carefully because I knew who would have to go get the stuff. The police were not going to let any Angels out of camp, and the only non-Angels still around were me and a young boy who had wandered in earlier and was now worried about getting home. Until he announced this, everybody thought he was somebody else's friend, but in fact he was a stowaway. Nobody was particularly anxious to help him get out of camp, but he insisted that he had to meet some friends who were cruising up and down the highway, looking for him. For a moment he was standing next to Tiny by the fire, and the contrast was mind-bending. A clean-cut lad about sixteen, wearing a white T-shirt and chinos, taking the mountain air with a huge hairy outcast given over to all forms of depravity and wearing a patch on his jacket saying, "I'm bound to go to heaven because I've already served my time in hell." Together they looked like figures in some ominous painting, a doomsday portrait of the human animal confronting itself ... as if a double-yolked egg had hatched both a chicken and a wildebeest.
Tiny would make a good reporter or an actor's agent. He has a fine sense of "contacts," of being in touch with what's happening, inside dope, the latest. He is an inveterate phone-user. Long distance means nothing to him. In Oakland he has several pay phones on which he takes collect calls from Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia and God knows where else. He operates like a master criminal, always checking the action, the chances, the possibilities. When he sits down in a bar he faces the door. While other Angels drink and talk aimlessly Tiny broods about unreachable contacts, unreported action and all the loose ends that might come unraveled at any moment.
He is six foot five, and his weight varies between 250 and 270, depending on his frame of mind -- which gyrates so wildly that he is probably the most dangerous of the Angels and also one of the best-humored. Others are quicker to fight, but they don't cause half as much damage. Tiny hurts people. When he loses his temper he goes completely out of control and his huge body becomes a lethal weapon. It is difficult to see what role he might play in the Great Society.
While the beer collection was being taken up, the headlights of a car came poking through the trees. A few bikes had come in since ten, but this was the first car, and the sight of it caused a stir. It turned out to be Filthy Phil, an ex-president of the Frisco chapter, who explained that he'd hidden a fifteen-year-old girl on the highway and needed some help to get her past the roadblock.
This jelled things. It was decided to do everything at once. Phil and I would go for the beer, try to get the boy past the roadblock on the way out, and take Pete and Puff to a point in the woods where they could locate the girl. Phil was looking anything but filthy. He was wearing dress slacks, a white shirt and a blue cashmere sweater. He'd had a hard time getting into camp, he said, because the cops wouldn't believe he was an Angel. He looked more like an off-duty cop, or maybe a brawny bouncer from some club on the Sunset Strip. His car, a new white Chevrolet Impala, was as out of place as his clothes.
About fifty yards short of the highway he pointed out where the girl was hiding, and the two Angels went off through the woods to get her. We continued along the trail to the roadblock. There were three cars and at least ten cops, with a white-haired Highway Patrol captain in charge. Our stowaway was sitting in the back seat, and just as the captain began asking us what we were up to, another car came by and the boy shouted, "That's them! That's them!" I reached over and blew the horn, the other car stopped, the boy leaped out, and seconds later he was gone. The police thought something had been put over on them. "You mean, that kid was in there all this time?" one asked. "Was he hurt? What's going on in there?"
"Nothing," I said. "It's dull. Go in and see for yourself. You'll be surprised."
The captain, who'd been mulling over the bogus press credentials I'd given him, then told us we couldn't leave. A long argument ensued, having to do with freedom of the press, a citizen's right to buy beer at any legal hour, and the possibility that the Angels might go looking for beer on their own hook if we were turned back.
"Where would you buy it?" the captain asked. "All the places are closed."
"We'll go as far as we have to," I said. "There's plenty of time."
They had a quick huddle and then said we could go -- thinking, no doubt, that we'd have to drive sixty miles, to Madera, to find an open bar. As we left, one of the cops smiled and said, "Have a good trip."
Ten minutes later we parked beside what appeared to be Tiny's friend's market, but it was hard to be sure. It was farther away than he'd said, and much bigger than his description. Because of this I was a little hesitant to go around back and start rapping on dark windows. If we had the wrong market it could be a serious mistake. But it seemed worth a try, so I rapped, keeping ready to sprint around the comer at the first sound of a gun being cocked. Nobody answered, so I rapped again. At any instant I expected to hear a woman shrieking, "Henry! They're here! Oh God, they've come for us! Shoot, Henry! Shoot!" And even if Henry didn't blow my head off, he'd be sure to call the police and we'd be busted for attempted burglary, trying to crash a beer market in the dead of night.
Finally I heard movement inside, and somebody yelled, "Who is it?"
"A friend of Tiny's," I said quickly. "We need beer."
A light came on and a friendly face appeared. The man came out in his bathrobe and opened the store. He didn't seem at all upset. "Yeah, good old Tiny," he said. "He's a real gas, ain't he?" I agreed, and gave him the $35 the Angels had collected around the fire. Phil added $5 more, and we left with eight cases. The man held Tiny in such high esteem that he charged only $1.25 a six-pack, instead of the $1.50 we'd paid at the other place. When we got back to the roadblock, the captain flashed his light in the car and seemed shocked to see the beer. We'd been gone less than a half hour. "Where'd you get it?" he asked.
"Down the road," I said.
He shook his head glumly and waved us into camp. Obviously, some dirty work was afoot. I felt a little sorry for him. Here he was, standing out on the highway all night, sworn to protect the citizens of Bass Lake, and the very people most likely to suffer looting if the Hell's Angels ran wild were helping to get the hoodlums drunk.
We were received in camp with cheers and shouting. Our eight cases made the nut. The hoarders wisely fell back on their own stash, and sometime around four a big contingent from the south rolled in with several more cases. The rest of the night was more a question of endurance than enjoyment. Magoo, a twenty-six-year-old teamster from Oakland, stayed by the fire and kept stoking. When somebody warned him not to burn everything up on the first night, he replied, "What the hell? There's a whole forest. We got plenty of firewood." Magoo is one of the most interesting of the Angels because his mind seems wholly immune to the notions and tenets of twentieth century American life. Like most of the others, he is a high school dropout, but his gig with the teamsters gives him a decent income and he doesn't have much to worry about. He drives a truck whenever he gets the call -- sometimes six days a week and sometimes only one -- and he says he enjoys the work, especially after a long layoff. One night in Oakland he showed up wearing a white shirt under his colors and seeming very pleased with himself: "I did some righteous work today for the first time in a long time," he said. "I unloaded thirty-five thousand pounds of frozen chickens, even stole one. It made me feel good to do some work for a change."
Magoo is a pill freak, and when he gets wired up he does a lot of talking. Despite his Cro-Magnon appearance, he has a peculiar dignity that can only be dealt with on its own terms. He is easily insulted, but unlike some of the others, he distinguishes between accidental insults and those which are obviously intentional. Instead of bashing people he doesn't like -- in the style of Fat Freddy, a heavy-set Mexican, the Oakland chapter's punchout artist -- Magoo will simply turn his back on them. His opinions are flavored with a morality that seems more instinctive than learned. He is very earnest, and although much of his talk is weird and rambling, it is shot through with riffs of something like primitive Christianity and a strong dose of Darwin. Magoo started the Portervil1e riot in 1963. He was the one who according to the news magazines, "mercilessly beat" the old man in the tavern. Here is Magoo's version:
"I was sitting there at the end of a horseshoe bar, just drinking beer and minding my own business when this old bastard came up, picked up my beer and threw it in my face. "What the hell!" I yelled, and I stood up quick. 'Uh-oh,' says the guy, 'I made a mistake.' So I clipped him with a right and he stumbled. Then another and he was going down, then I finished him off with another punch and left him there on the floor. That's all. Hell, what would you do if some sonofabitch threw a beer in your face?"
One night in Oakland, Magoo and I got into a long conversation about guns. I expected the usual crap about "dum-dums" and "shoot-outs." and "cooling guys with a rod," but Magoo talked more like a candidate for the Olympic pistol team. When I casually mentioned man-size targets, he snapped, "Don't tell me about shooting at people. I'm talking about match sticks." And he was. He shoots a Ruger .22 revolver, an expensive, long-barreled, precision-made gun that no hood would even consider. And on days when he isn't working, he goes out to the dump and tries to shoot the heads off match sticks. "It's hard as hell," he said. "But now and then I'll do it just right, and light one."
Magoo is more self-contained than most of the Angels. He is one of the few who doesn't mind telling you his real name. He is married to a quiet, ripe-looking girl named Lynn, but he seldom takes her to any Angel party that might get wild. Usually he comes alone and doesn't say much unless he decides to drop some pills, which cause him to rave like Lord Buckley.
At Bass Lake he tended the fire with the single-minded zeal of a man who's been eating bennies like popcorn. The flames lit up his glasses and his Nazi helmet. Earlier in the day he had chopped his Levis at knee level with a hunting knife, exposing his thick white legs for about ten inches before they disappeared again into black motorcycle boots. The effect was an obscene mockery of bermuda shorts.
Sometime before dawn I was standing by the fire and listening to Magoo make one of his classy propositions. He was talking to two other Angels and a girl, trying to convince them: "Let's the four of us go off in the bushes," he said. "We'll smoke up some weed, get all fucked up, feel no fuckin pain -- and if she wants to lay some body on us, why not?" He waited a moment, but there was no reply, so he continued: "You're an Angel, aren't you? I never manhandled you, did I? Never given you a hard time. So what's wrong? Let's go over to the bushes and smoke up some weed. She's an Angel woman. Hell, she should swing."
At that moment, without waiting for a reply, Magoo turned slightly at the hip, not moving his feet, and urinated into the fire. There was a loud hiss as some of the embers went black. The stench caused people to move away. Perhaps he meant it as a mating signal, a carnal gesture designed to strip away all pretense, but all it did was queer his act. The Angel whose woman was being hustled had not been happy with the situation, and Magoo's mindless indulgence of his bladder gave the others a good excuse to drift off, seeking an upwind position.
Sometime later, on the other side of the fire, I heard two Angels several feet behind me. They were sitting on the ground, leaning against one of the bikes and talking very seriously while they passed a joint back and forth. I listened for a moment, keeping my back to them, but all I heard was one emphatic sentence: "Man, I'd give all the weed in the world to clear up the mess in my head." I quickly moved away, hoping I hadn't been recognized.
At my car I found several people rummaging through the back seat, looking for beer. They had been out in the woods for a while and didn't realize that another delivery had come in. One of these was the inscrutable Ray, president of the Fresno chapter. Not even the Angels understand Ray. He is too friendly with outsiders, he introduces himself formally and always shakes hands. There is nothing threatening about him except perhaps his size -- about six foot three, and two hundred pounds. His blond hair is short by Angel standards, and his face is as wholesome as the cover on a Boy Scout handbook. Some of the outlaws call him a socialite, implying that his connection with the Angels is more dilettantish than desperate. Which is probably true. Ray gives the impression of having options, so the others assume he'll eventually cop out for something with more of a future. Something like stoop labor, or a steady job in a grease pit. Ray is twenty-five and enjoys being an Angel, but he is not entirely committed -- and because of this, he is a bone in the throat of those outlaws who don't have even the illusion of an option. If Ray moved to Oakland he would have to show some really fiendish class before he could get into Barger's chapter. He would have to beat up a cop in public, or rape a waitress on the counter of her own hash house. Only then, after burning his bridges back to the square world, would he be welcome in the legion of the damned.
But Ray is content to stay in Fresno, where he stages wild parties and does a booming trade in motorcycles. He is such a bike zealot that Angels in both L.A. and the Bay Area use him as a sort of clearing house. He travels constantly, and always on his hog. One weekend he will be at the Blue Blazes Bar in Fontana, checking on the Berdoo action, and on the next he'll turn up at the Luau or the Sinners Club in Oakland ... cheerfully giving advice, shaking hands and trying to organize a party. At the height of the civil rights upheaval in Alabama, Ray rode his bike all the way to Selma -- not to march, but just to see what was happening. "I thought maybe them Diggers was getting out of hand," he explained with a smile. "So I just went down to check on em."
When Ray met Bill Murray in Fontana and learned he was doing an article for the Saturday Evening Post, he invited him up to Fresno and gave him specific instructions on how to make the connection. "When you get to town," he said, "go out Blackstone Avenue until you find Ratcliff Stadium. Ask for me in the filling station across the street. I'm sometimes hard to find, but they'll know where I am."
But something went wrong, and Murray spent half a day futilely checking leads -- which were all false, because Ray's human antennae took Murray for a cop. He did, however, locate a house where the Fresno Angels had recently staged a party. It made such an impression on him that he quickly left town. Here is the way he described it:
The house was set back 100 or 200 yards from Blackstone Avenue, which is the main road north to Yosemite, and it was just one of many similar ones in the neighborhood -- a one-story, white-frame, three-room bungalow with a tiny front yard and a general air of dilapidation. Nonetheless, it was hard to miss. Part of the fence had been flattened, all of the windows had been smashed, one of the fenceposts had been rammed through a door, and the branches of two small trees in the front yard had been torn away from the trunks and dragged grotesquely on the ground; between them, an armchair sprawled face down, gutted, its arms smashed. On the back of the chair, written in red ink, were the words:
I went into the house and stood in the center of what must have once been the living room. It was hard to tell, because I had never seen such utter chaos: Every piece of furniture had been smashed; debris littered the floors -- broken glass, torn clothing, empty cans, wine and beer bottles, crockery, boxes. Every door had been ripped off its hinges, and a large hole gaped where an air conditioner had been torn away and carted off. The word "cops" had been scrawled in large red letters over a caved-in bed and used as a target for bottles and anything else that had come to hand. Under it was written, "Yea, Fresno," over another swastika. All the walls had been defaced ...
The immediate neighbors were respectable people whose houses were not more than a few yards away; they said that the house had been rented to a single girl who had seemed all right. The next morning the motorcyclists had started to arrive; there must have been twenty or twenty-five of them, including their girls, and their party had lasted nearly two weeks, until the police had finally come without being summoned. No one had protested or called for help. The man who lived directly in back of the house, and who hadn't had a night's sleep in all that time, explained why. "You're not going to buck an army," he said. "They wouldn't have stood for it. They're like a bunch of animals."
1. In twelve months of relatively careless dealing with the Angels, I had only two things stolen: the Lynch report was the first; the second was a heavy classic-looking Italian switch-blade knife, which I kept on my mantelpiece and used as a letter opener.