I saw a low brick building with words spelled out in red and white: Hells M/C Angels Oakland. ” I recalled seeing them in a photo at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont in my college class about the 1960s. In the stillness, it felt to me like a circuit was going to blow, the air around us was electric. These years later, I don’t recall what the letter was about, just that I was struck by the precision and beauty of the language. I was poised for some adrenaline and adventure, even if it was just a short ride.
I also had a college boyfriend who rode a motorcycle on campus and read Hunter Thompson’s famous book about them. Instead, I thought they were fixed in history, mythological beings. “Pancho is probably wondering where I am and he’ll probably be pissed.” I got dressed and we loaded her bike into the back of my car. It didn’t match how much fear Pancho had instilled in me. I had been in California for nearly two years and sometimes couldn’t believe that I was the same person who arrived on a rainy New Year’s Eve with my dog, not knowing a soul. But when I opened the door, I was more than a little surprised. We rode to a biker hangout in nearby Golden, the Buffalo Rose, and couldn’t get over the way we met, which really, given the small world of the club, wasn’t that unexpected. “I noticed you that night at the bar, wearing some big dress with high-heeled boots,” he said.
Let me in.” She stood below, her bicycle thrown in the yard’s rock garden. Angela, whose name, like the others in this story, has been changed, hadn’t returned my voicemails in over a month. The last time I had seen her was for breakfast at Ole’s, an old-time pancake house on Alameda’s main street, the East San Francisco Bay city where I lived.Pancho clearly had no patience for Angela’s chattering. Hey, we should try to play this weekend.” “Can you just shut up?It was an overdose of so much testosterone in one place, which after spending a work week among women, felt bracing, a slap of another reality. This meant that we rode behind the prospects — those in training on a quest to become full-patch members — and could see the twenty or so Harleys in front of us heading down I-80. She looked like a small bug, arms and legs barely able to wrap around him. The pack moved with military precision, so that what I felt wasn’t so much the speed, but all the bikes moving together as one machine — the Big Red Machine, as the Hells Angels are known. But I’ve since learned, going backwards never works. * * * A year later, I was living in Denver and had found a job in Boulder, a nine-to-five editorial production gig that allowed me to do what I loved — teaching writing and doing some of my own — on the side. Like a fool, I thought it justified his fiery anger, which could erupt in an instant. * * * Violence is part of the language of the Hells Angels or any outlaw motorcycle club. It wasn’t turned toward me then, but it was the same low, ominous buzz you hear if you get too close to a power line. Before I could even look up, I somehow put up my arm to block a large pink object that was going to hit me in the head. He somehow found it based on how I described it and bought it for me.My senses came to life, away from the dull glare of the computer screen and the muddle of words and worries in my head. I would fetch beers or soda, enjoying the easy familiarity everyone had with each other. I felt strangely safe, Pancho’s friend not moving an inch and sitting like the Buddha. “Beautiful and smart.” “And you’re very smooth.” I smiled. ” He told me he lived nearby, and that he was a member of a charter north of Oakland. There’s a party at the Frisco clubhouse we could go to after.” The following Saturday, it rained all day and evening. “You’re not supposed to go up to a member when he’s talking to someone else,” Scott whispered in my ear. I was in many ways living the same sort of compartmentalized life as I had in the Bay Area — minus Angela, and of course, the Hells Angels. I had been living in my neighborhood for nearly a year before I found out that the Hells Angels clubhouse, just a small white house — except for their trademark Death Head in the front — was not even a mile away. It became easier to forget, because at other times, he was sweet and gentle. That’s where I stood with Jack one night when we were making dinner. Jack had taken a suitcase I had just unpacked and hurled it at me with such force that after I lifted my arm to block my face, I couldn’t raise my elbow. Let me get you some ice in a towel.” He led me to the bathroom and took my sauce-covered clothes off, wet a towel and tried to clean me up. But he also smoked so much pot that he often wanted to sleep instead of going somewhere as we had planned.Soon after Angela and I met, I began going to her house on Friday nights when Pancho was gone. Angela had other girlfriends she partied with, women who could drink all night. They seemed confident, talked loudly, and cursed with authority. All I knew was that it was compelling, and that the undertone, the buzz of something about to blow, even in a friendly conversation, drew me in, as it did many women. I made the mistake of thinking that I needed to get back to my real life — the one in Colorado, where I had lived for nearly fifteen years before moving to the Bay Area. They made it sound like you were a librarian-type or something.” “What’s wrong with a librarian type? We talked for hours, sharing our very different lives.
We would lay in their bed watching movies, drinking Coronas, and talking. Soon after we met, she invited me to the Hells Angels clubhouse for parties. I was still single, having a few dates here and there with guys who friends had fixed me up with. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that what I had built in California was my real life. ” “I need to go back,” I said, not really believing it myself but somehow thinking it was the right thing to do. ” “I’ll miss you,” Scott said, the last time I saw him. He had grown up poor and the youngest of six in rural Oregon, and had been in the military and in a smaller motorcycle club before the Hells Angels. I was shaking so hard I could barely get on the bike. I knew then that I should get out, that what I had seen in front of me could easily turn my way.He got my attention, as he was the type — described by a longtime girlfriend as blue-eyed and seafaring — that I often was drawn to. He looked away from me, obviously not interested in talking. I’m in the Frisco clubhouse and there’s a member here who’s in the Denver charter, “ she said. As he took the winding mountain roads too fast, I held on to him, breathing in the familiar leather smell and saying a prayer that if I made it home in one piece, I would never ride with him again. One day on a ride in the mountains we stopped so he could gas up. I loved working with writers, and the quiet adventures of editing and writing on the page. I still went on motorcycle rides every so often — slow ones, driving myself on my own dirt bike, which I learned to ride after Jack and I broke up.But there was a mirror that ran from the top of the bar to the ceiling, so it was easy for me to sneak looks at him. “I told him my girlfriend Jill lives there and maybe he can take you for a ride or something. I still loved to push the boundaries of what I thought I could never do, as long as it made me feel good about myself.But in her tight T-shirt, red lipstick, jeans and combat boots — and lines etched around her eyes and at the sides of her mouth — she also was tough. “Here, this is for your birthday,” Angela had said, handing me a small white box the night of my birthday party in early 2006.Almost ten years younger than me, yet from a much different world where she had learned to survive, she seemed decades older. “Wow, this is beautiful,” I said, when I opened the box and saw the gold tennis bracelet.Together, we hung out at dark bars filled with biker dudes and black leather.