A Ride on the Wild Side
THE wind whipped my hair in and out of my face as the massive Harley roared along the winding road. Rail, as he had introduced himself, drove me as we led the pack of ten bikers. He motioned by hand signals to slow down and take the left turn into the graveyard. His black leather gloves clutched the handle bars, while his worn boots dug into the gravel of the steep incline, stabilizing the bike as it growled up into the yard. The gang dismounted to admire the countryside which stretched out below us. That morning, as I stood in my college dorm room, I had debated whether to wear the black Harley Davidson T-shirt that a friend had given me once as a joke. I decided, however, that if I were going to interview an Indian I would not dress like Pocahontas. I should not therefore, dress like a biker even though I was hoping to find a Harley gang member to interview. Instead, I put on some jeans which had been splattered with wall-joint compound, an oversized shirt and boots.
Minutes later a friend drove down the main street of Grafton, a small town on the Mississippi. To my amazement I saw a clan of bikers walking out of a bar. The mass of black leather moved toward the bikes which were lined up like horses outside a saloon. Suddenly I felt intimidated by these 20th-century cowboys, but this would probably be my only chance. As the roar of engines filled the air, I ran down the sidewalk to the closest bike.
``I want to interview you!'' I shouted at a large Mexican with a long braid. He scowled at me, got off his bike and walked over to another biker whom I eventually came to know as Rail.
Rail, probably in his early 30s with sandy blond hair, a moustache and bright blue eyes, got off his bike and put his hand up in the air. Because he was the leader of this group of ``Hells Lovers,'' the engines went off immediately. Everyone was staring at me. It was totally silent except for the sound of Rail's boots sauntering toward me. He leaned across the bike between us and said:
``Are you a cop?''
``Me?'' I chuckled, ``No, I am not.''
``You can come for a ride with us!''
I had expected them to refuse to talk to me, and I was not sure how to respond.
``Will you bring me back to school afterwards?''
``You promise?'' I said looking deep into his eyes.
``I promise!'' He grinned making me suspect that he was amused at having to make a promise.
My first thought was that the only thing my mother had ever forbidden me to do was hitchhike; what she would think about this was not something I wanted to know. I could be afraid and miss an incredible opportunity, or listen to my intuition which told me to go. I decided that if I was going to go, I had to put my full trust in them and not doubt my own safety.
Leaving my wary college friends behind, I climbed onto the back of Rail's bike. A tall man with long strawberry blonde hair and a bushy beard strutted over to me, introduced himself as Dan, and offered me a helmet. We were about to leave when Dan motioned the gang to wait. He shouted over the roaring engines:
``Baby, you've got your helmet on backwards.''
I discovered that Rail had been a member of the gang for five years, but he had been a biker forever.
When I asked why he spends his life this way, he replied, ``It's in the blood.'' On the back of his leather jacket, under the yellow lettering ``Hells Lovers'' hung a cross and a skull.
Although he is Caucasian, Rail said he chose this group because it is the only one in the country that does not discriminate against people because of their race or creed. And he explained that the group is not affiliated with the Hells Angels.
As we sat by a gravestone, I asked Rail if he was married.
``I have a wife and two sons.'' Occasionally he sees them, although he said he supported them financially.
``Do you want your sons to follow in your footsteps?'' I asked.
``I want my kids to be whatever they want.''
As Rail lay back on the grass to prop his head on the helmet, I asked:
``How do you view women?''
``I have girlfriends, so do all the guys.''
Dan mentioned earlier that the women who ride with the group wear jackets which say ``Property of Hells Lovers'' on the back.
``What must you do to be a Hells Lover?''
``First, you must have a Harley! Second, all the guys have to accept you. If one guy doesn't like you then you don't get in.''
``What makes a Harley the bike to have?'' I asked, already comfortable with the fact that they knew my lack of education in this field.
Rail said he came from a broken home in St. Louis. He still lives in the city, but stays with the gang or sometimes his wife. He grew up in a low income neighborhood, and when I asked about his education, he said:
``Two of these guys went to college for a few years, one never went to any kind of school, and I went to school until eighth grade, but my education was what I learned on the streets.''
When I refused one biker's offer of a joint, Dan told me he had been a junkie until 17 months ago when he quit. Since then, he had not done any drugs. Rail said he doesn't do drugs at all.
When I asked about the risks of being a biker, the big Mexican replied, ``I got shot in the chest seven times. Thank God for bad aim and drugs!''
Rail said that they all support one another:
``Once you're a Hells Lover you're in it for life, we're a family. These are my brothers.''
Later, as we sat at a long table in the bar near the Golden Eagle Ferry, Dan said, ``You're the first woman to ever ride with us that does not belong to the gang.''
``Hey Lois Lane,'' said one member, as he had affectionately called me all day, ``You're lucky to be a woman, 'cause if you'd been a guy, we wouldn't have given you this interview.''
After riding for about four hours, we headed for my campus. Suddenly Dan motioned the group to stop in the middle of the road. As we blocked traffic, he got off his bike, walked into a garden and picked me a red tulip. As the cars were forced to wait, he sauntered over to me and handed me the flower and kissed my hand.
As Rail and I parted, he gave me the code to the beeper he always wears and said:
``This is the only way you can get in touch with me, if you are ever in trouble, anywhere, you call me with this code and we will come help you. I think you and I have a special friendship and I am glad you came along.''
I stood and watched the Hells Lovers disappear out of sight, then looked down at the red tulip in my hand.