As long as I was in the greater Rapid City – Gillette metropolitan area I figured I might as well ride over to the Devils Tower and pay my respects. It only took me about fifty miles out of my way. Then it turns out, to make a long story short, Devils Tower does not have a damn thing to do with the devil.
The story is, right before the big Indian war, back in 1875 an officer and a gentlemen named Colonel Richard Irving Dodge passed through here. When he saw this memorable uprising of rock he asked his interpreter to find out if the thing had a name. Of course it did. The Lakota called it “The Big Dick.” But the interpreter, either on account of civility or ineptness, translated the phrase more poetically as “The Bad God’s Tower.”
Dodge shortened that to “Devil’s Tower.” Then Theodore Roosevelt made it a National Monument in 1906. Which is how the National Park Service eventually came to give a contract to a company that would hire somebody to stick out his hand and ask me for money. Also, awhile back, the Park Service held a committee meeting for about eight or nine years on the subject of whether people should write in actual English or whether they should just go ahead and drop the apostrophe from the name of this place. Eventually, the committee concluded the same thing the Hells Angels decided back in the forties. Apostrophes only confuse people. So now it is officially “Devils Tower.”
It looks like a big tree stump to me. You ride out there through a progression of up and down and right and left S curves in a big herd of motorcycles. It is not a pack. It is a herd. You pay five dollars, dismount, take your picture and you leave. And as I am riding away I can practically hear the devil laughing at me. Five dollars! He paid five dollars! Ha, ha, ha!
But I refuse to let this disappointing start ruin the rest of my day. I ride off barking the ancient cry of the scalp hunter, the cattle rustler and the biker. “Hoo – yee! Wooo – hah! I’m gone have some fun!” As I ride back to the highway I cannot help but notice that I am alone.
I wonder if people can hear me screaming over the grunting bike. It is music to me. Downshift. Brooom! Downshift. Broom, broom, bang, bang, pop, pop, pop! “Hoo – yee!” Upshift, push right, lean left. Fr-froooooom! Clutch. Shush! Upshift. Thunk! Frooooom! “Wooo – hah! We gone take over a town!” Halfway back to the highway I realize not everybody hears this as music. Some people think this is just noise. Broom, broom, bang, bang, pop, pop, pop, pop! “Hoo- yee,” I think out loud. “Fuck them people!”
I more or less have my heart set on having that kind of day. Although I do get hoarse and thirsty and quit singing the scalp hunters song before I stop for gas. If you have made this trip you know the place to stop is Sundance. And, the day most bikers stop for gas in Sundance is called Burnout Wednesday.
I do not know whether Sons of Anarchy has featured a burnout contest yet or not because I do not actually watch that show. I don’t have to watch it to know I don’t like it. But if they ever do actually have burnouts on that show I sure hope somebody tells me because I would definitely tune in to watch that. There is a pure, wanton, self-destructiveness to a motorcycle burnout. Burnouts are stupid, senseless and loud. You pollute the air and simultaneously ruin your perfectly good ride home. Burnouts are crazy. Better yet, in most jurisdictions they are even illegal. No wonder everybody loves them.
The Dime Horseshoe
Nobody knows how the burnouts in Sundance got started. Trust me. I will tell you a story. But, the first thing I should tell you is you shouldn’t get your hopes up about it being a good story.
The second thing you should know is that I got to Sundance early, and it was hot, and the first thing I did was get a beer at an improvised saloon on the thirty feet of sidewalk that separates the new west from the old – the concrete connection between a place called Wild West Espresso and the Dime Horseshoe Bar.
Officially these are called the Dime Horseshoe Burnouts and not even Bev Doll knows how they got started. Bev owns the Dime Horseshoe. But she has only had the bar for about four years. And, the guy who owned it before her only had it for four years. So I conclude that it must be very romantic to own a bar in Wyoming called the Dime Horseshoe. And my guess is that once that first winter sets in and the romance wears off it probably takes an average of about three and a half years to unload the place.
As I chugged down the beer and stumbled off the curb I did not actually yell, “Wooo – hah!” But I thought it.
The Dime Horseshoe has a tan brick façade, a glass brick window and an unpretentious neon sign. What’s left of the first motorcycle you ever owned is hanging over the front edge of the flat roof. And that red gas tank still looks nice for an amateur job.
Guaranteed Vampire Free
The hot sun, my empty stomach and my greediness for that first beer has set off a little bank alarm in my ears. I think I might want to turn up the volume. And the Dime Horseshoe does sell Bud, Miller and Coors.
So, I sort of push past a guy who is just standing there letting the air conditioning tumble out the grey metal door. The guy is looking before he leaps. He is trying to spy inside but the sun is bright and the bar is dark. And, I suspect he may not like the same music I like because I never look before I leap.
All my life I have always just kind of assumed that there is no way I am ever going to know what is on the other side of any door unless I go through it. Which pretty much summarizes what is wrong with me.
The other guy is more imaginative and smarter than I will ever be. I believe he bought stock in Harley-Davidson when it was going for a buck a share and sold it two years ago. He watches me go first into the dark unknown and I don’t have to look back to know exactly what is going through his mind. He is waiting, listening for the sound of my screams. But the only noise I make is a half-hearted “Hoo-yeee!” I only do that for him. So he will know that even though the Dime Horseshoe is dark it is still completely vampire free. And, as soon as he knows that I can feel him follow me.
I bounce off a wall, as is my habit, and take little steps over to the bar. “Bud.”
The other guy appears next to me. “Heineken Light, please.”
Again I chug mine. I laugh, burp, laugh again and glance at the other guy. I guess I am asking him if he wants to play but he does not want to have a drinking contest with the likes of me. He is still sipping as I push away. At the rate he was drinking I would not be surprised if he was still working on that same beer the next day.
The pool tables are in the back. Of course. I could go blind and navigate this place. Probably the smart guy is still watching, waiting to see if I blunder open a secret portal to hell but I forget him quickly. All I really want to know is, “Is Bev back here? Anybody seen Bev?”
No XL Tees
“I think she’s in the back.”
“No she’s not back here.”
“You got one of those tee-shirts in an extra large.” They must. Everybody wears an extra large. It does not matter if you are five feet four or six feet eight. Extra large. And, this is my big fashion trip of the year. This is like my trip to Paris or Rome. Except, instead of silk suits I buy tee-shirts.
“Uh, no. Sorry.”
“No?! No?!” Hey, I wonder. Who is that loud obnoxious guy? Somebody ought to shut him up. Oh. Right. That terrible noise is me. I haven’t been in Sundance for ten minutes and I am starting to censor myself already. “Well that’s, okay.” The bar maid probably has not been pretty for awhile. But, she is almost old enough to be age appropriate for me. And, she keeps getting prettier the longer I look at her in this light – the longer that second beer has to work its mind-altering magic. I put on what I like to think of as my charming smile. “How long you worked here?”
“Oh, I’ve worked here forever. Since the place opened.”
“How long is that?”
“So you don’t know how the burnouts actually got started?”
“No. But, I’ll tell who would know?”
Reporting Live From Sundance
“Bev,” I guess. “Do you know where she is?” The barmaid tugs on my hand. I presume the dimmer the light the better I look, too. The bar maid leads me out back to the dumpster, introduces me to Bev and quickly abandons me in the heartless, afternoon sun. I introduce myself.
“Ruble? Is that an American name?”
“Never mind. I just wanted to ask you a couple of things.”
I take notes on a paper napkin I have stolen from Bev’s bar with a ball point pen I have stolen from somebody else. I don’t know who. Maybe I found it on the ground. Probably, I found it on the ground because somebody threw it there because the pen refuses to write. Then I press too hard and tear the napkin. Then I drop the pen. Then the napkin blows away and I have to chase it down an alley. I try to stomp the napkin but it escapes. So I throw my baseball cap at it. Then I have to chase two things. When I return after what must have been a full minute I try to pretend I was just doing my personal homage to Buster Keaton. “Okay. I’m ready now.”
Bev Doll politely says nothing. All she says is, “Uh, huh.” Then she tells me the tale I have come to hear. That’s all I want. I don’t care if Bev’s story is true or not. I just want her to give me a story I can give you. Then I want to have some fun.
Where The Movie Stars At
I already know the story of how this little town in the Black Hills got the same name as the big, important, film festival they hold every year at that ski resort in Utah.
This town named itself after a holy mountain. Back before most of the holy mountains in America became national monuments or ski resorts this particular mountain was a place where men went year after year to tear their flesh for their beliefs. In 1886 a reporter called this place “a summer rendezvous of the Sioux who came (here) to…hold their sun dance.”
The dance was an hallucinatory ordeal the Lakota used to inflict on their young men. The victims would fish hook their torsos to a pole crowned with an eagle’s nest and a buffalo skull. For three or four days they refused food and drink. They danced, prayed and listened to whistles scream until they dropped and the hooks tore from their chests and backs. They prayed that they might dream. And, when they re-awoke they re-awoke as someone new, someone less trivial than the callow young men they used to be. And, for the rest of their days they told stories about what they had dreamed.
The Horse Thief
Sundance became an important town, a county seat, a place travelers stopped to see. A young traveler named Harry Alonzo Longabaugh stopped here and lingered in the Crook County Jail for 18 months. Apparently, Longabaugh got drunk and traded in his horse for another one without actually filling out all the paper work. Some people accused him of being a horse thief.
He was just a 20-year-old kid. After he got out, he started calling himself the Sundance Kid. And, the way that tale is usually told, Sundance was so fast with a gun that he never actually had to kill anybody until after he ran off to Bolivia.
Most people never heard of the Sundance Kid until an actor named Robert Redford played him in a movie. Redford liked that story about Longabaugh. Other people did, too.
In 1978 a film school graduate from Brigham Young University named Sterling Van Wagenen asked Redford to help him start a film exposition that would attract Hollywood producers to Utah. Redford agreed and in return Van Wagenen named the festival after Redford’s most beloved character.
So now, every year thousands of beautiful actresses, deluded writers, self-important directors and all the vilest producers and agents go to Sundance to see the dreams that flicker on movie screens. They don’t have to bleed for their dreams. They only have to watch other people pretend to bleed. That’s the real Sundance, now. The one over in Utah.
An Odd Turn
“Oh, it was way back,” Bev begins to tell me, just before her story takes an odd turn. “Six Hamsters rode into Sundance during the Rally in 1973.” Hamsters? “One of them rode his bike into the bar.” Through that little, grey door? “He said if they let him do a burnout in the bar they would pay for a new floor and bring back more guys to drink the next year.”
That is all I need to hear. Which is good because that is all Bev really knows. “Thank you, Bev. Appreciate it. Thanks for your time.” I stagger away in search of more beer. I need more beer. This might be the most important story I have ever heard.
The Hamsters! Of course! Those rich guys. I have always been suspicious of them.
The Hamsters, the yellow shirted, custom riding motorcycle club that owns so much of Spearfish that there is actually a street named Hamster Hill started these burnouts here in 1973. The Hamsters, the club that was started by Arlen Ness, Dave Perewitz, Donnie Smith and some other guys as a parody of motorcycle clubs in Daytona in 1978. I always knew there was something strange about them.
Wyoming in 1973? Daytona is 1978? Now it all makes sense!
“A time machine,” I mutter to myself. A time machine. Maybe I can write that the Hamsters have a time machine?
“What did you say?”
“Bud and a brat. Just one brat. Thanks.” A time machine? Come on. So much for story plan A. On to plan B.
The real story of Burnout Wednesday is that once this was a little town on the motorcycle outlaw frontier. Real bikers rode real motorcycles into real bars and pulled noisy, stupid, destructive stunts. But that was then. Now the locals hold “Ye Olde Biker Days Faire” every year in honor of then. It doesn’t matter how it started. Unless the Hamsters really do have a time machine whatever it once was is not coming back.
The signs of post-modern biker commoditization are everywhere. “Budweiser Welcomes Bikers.” “Welcome from Jim Beam and Montgomery Gentry.” “Welcome Bikers! Jack Daniel’s!” Any minute now the Sons of Anarchy are going to ride into town. And, everybody will back up and give them room.
This is not what I want.
Meanwhile In 2009
I don’t even want to say “Wooo – hah” anymore. Maybe it is just me.
The town is now filled with several thousands of me and all my clones look happy. The burnouts are not scheduled to start for another two hours and the middle of a street named for President Grover Cleveland is stuffed with bikes.
Everyone who lives in this small town has gone into the bar business for the day: The Sundance High School Band, the Powder River Energy Cooperative, the Council of County Services, the Crook County Republican Women and the Sundance EMS are all selling filling or intoxicating refreshments. Over on Second Street an improvised bar is serving tequila, rye, bourbon, scotch, vodka and gin to passing biker tourists. A mommy I would Like to Find under my Christmas tree asks a woman standing behind a card table for a “Kahlua and cream.”
“I’m sorry,” the local replied. “We don’t have any cream.”
I leer. I do not have a mirror but I am pretty sure that by now I am starting look like Bernie in Weekend at Bernie’s Two. You know, the one where Bernie is so dead he is starting to stink but he gets reanimated with voodoo? But some Puerto Ricans steal the chicken so the two clowns who do the voodoo have to use a pigeon in the reanimation ceremony? And, hilarious complications ensue? I bet that right about now dead Bernie and I could pass for brothers. Only I am wearing denim and leather instead of a polyester track suit. When the mommy sees me leering at her she leaves so quickly she almost spills her drink.
“What will you have, Sir.” I don’t answer because I am thinking. Did Weekend At Bernie’s Two ever screen at the real Sundance? I wonder. Did it get good reviews? “Sir?”
“Oh? Yeah. I’ll have a Republican woman.”
I am not backing down. I am disappointed in what I have found here and that has put me in one of my less attractive moods. Sundance is trying to sell me everything else. “Sell me a Republican woman.” I hitch my thumb. “They have some just over there.” The bartender is a brown haired woman wearing an orange bandanna and a white muscle shirt. I stare at her until she blinks. “Got any scotch? Got ice? Beautiful. Let me have some ice flavored with scotch.”
I drift over to a repair shop called Woodys. The official motto of Woodys is “I got a Woody.” Woodys is vital to Sundance, Wyoming’s annual “Ye Olde Biker Days Faire.” Woodys sells motorcycle tires and the anticipation is building. There is already a bike with Texas plates up on a lift getting a rear tire change. It won’t be long now. Probably only about another two hours and forty-five minutes.
The burnout stage sits approximately between the Dime Horseshoe and the Crook County Courthouse and adjoining the courthouse are two or three green acres of grass and trees and unconscious bikers. The grass calls to me.
Locals drift in with lawn chairs under their arms, sit down on the lawn and gawk at us. We gawk back.
An ancient local couple – he looks old enough to have arrested Harry Longabaugh and she must be his childhood sweetheart – stagger slowly through the throng like lost dogs. I swear that old man hasn’t smiled since Vietnam. I can tell he doesn’t like me and I don’t like him. But, a blonde in a black bandanna thinks they are so cute that she makes them pose and takes their picture.
I find a tree and sit down. Everywhere I look there are dozens of women adorned with the ever popular shoulder blade tattoo. What the tattoo is seems not to matter so much as where it is. I stare for a long time at one woman but I am bleary eyed. So, I cannot tell whether the design on her shoulder blade is a portrait of the Russian Imperial Eagle, or a circus clown or her pet monkey. She is sitting next to a man wearing a set of soft colors, proudly representing for the Full Throttle Saloon. A Top Hatter strolls by in a top hat. American and Wyoming flags flutter. A woman sashays by in a blue miniskirt and silver cowboy boots. “I like them boots.” She ignores me.
There seem to be no drugs. Nobody is doing lines. Nobody is smoking bones. Everyone is being very, very good. The police are laughing and relaxed. Little blonde children scamper amongst us totally unafraid. Well, maybe one kid is a little afraid of me when I say, “Wooo – hah!” I say it but I don’t really feel it.
I strike up a conversation with a guy named Randy. He works for Crook County and today his job is to empty the trash cans whenever the empty beer bottles, styrofoam plates and crumpled paper napkins start to overflow. “What do you think of all this?”
“Well….” He strokes his chin and measures his words. Randy acts like he thinks I am one of the Hamsters. And, he has heard about our time machine. And, unless he is careful I might use our terrible power to transport his ass back to the middle ages. Or, maybe he has just been instructed to be polite to the biker tourists. He laughs cautiously. “That depends on who you talk to. There is a lot of debate about that. Some people don’t like it.”
“What do you think?”
“It is only one day a year. ” He thinks again. “It brings a lot of money into town. It is good for the economy.”
I don’t know about you but I am getting kind of sick of hearing about the economy. “Right,” I tell him trying to agree. Because I think that is what he wants to hear. Apparently I guess right because he smiles. “Thanks.” He takes a couple of steps, smiles again then goes back to carrying away tons of trash. I pull down the brim of my cap and close my eyes. I am done drinking for the time being. I think I have already done my part for the economy.
“Only one hour until the burnouts,” a megaphone voice proclaims. “Only fifteen minutes until the burnouts.” When the voice eventually says, “This is the moment you have been waiting for,” I go ahead and open my eyes.
I find a place five feet from the steel and timber stage. Bikes roll up one end and the four guys who are actually running this event lock the front wheel into a heavy, metal vise. Last year the event was won by a woman who burned out topless but then some jackass put that footage on the Discovery Channel and ruined it for everybody. So this year the crowd and the contestants are repeatedly warned that Sundance has laws against nudity.
My new pal Bigun, who might have once been a shot putter before he got too big for that sport, asks if I was here “a couple of years ago, when the bike flew off the stage and was hanging into the crowd.”
“Nah, I missed that.”
“It was great.” He laughs.
I laugh too because it probably was great. But now precautions have been taken to make sure something like that never happens again. There is even a Plexiglas shield to protect me from the rubber and metal shards when the tire eventually explodes. Which it usually does.
A rider in a red tee shirt on a sweet red dresser leans forward as he throttles up, as if he is leaning into a fierce wind. I think he must be drunker than me. That must be how you end up on that stage. You get drunker than me.
As rider after rider works through the gears a cloud of smoke rises and changes color from white to gray to chocolate brown veined with black. I am on the south side of the stage and the wind is blowing mostly out of the south so I am hardly bothered by the bits of rubber or the stink.
The scene repeats five or six times. Rider after rider destroys his rear tire then rolls down the ramp and up the street to Woodys to buy a new one. Down in front is the worst view in the house. Men jump in front of me and hold cameras over their heads. Cameras outnumber “Hoo- yees” a dozen to one. Somebody wins. I do not know who. I only hope they had more fun that I had.
That’s about it.
Heather Saves The Day
I look over my shoulder at the storm moving in from the southwest. The daily storms are starting to annoy me and I am halfway to the bike when the megaphone announces the “Wet Tee-shirt Contest.”
Which, of course, means a half-dozen women frolicking around a man with a garden hose. “Hoo – yee! Wooo – hah! Take it off! Take it off! Wooo – hah!” I pause.
The contest starts slow. This might as well be maids and a Maypole at the Renaissance Faire. I may have reached the point in my life where I have seen too much. I am very bored. If a quick drink in a stripper bar is a four and a lap dance is a seven this wet tee-shirt contest is about a minus two. Children are watching. Their mothers don’t mind. Men are staring blankly.
Until a brunette with a loose body and tight jeans catches my eye. Her name is Heather. Heather is the first and only woman on the stage to actually take off her shirt. “Remember there are laws in Sundance against nudity,” Mr. Megaphone nags. But Heather has planned ahead. She has already hidden her rosebuds, as Robert Herrick called them, under a couple of pieces of black tape.
As soon Heather starts dancing the bad girl’s dance I decided to stick around. I want to see as many of her secrets as she will let me see.
“Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!”
Heather dances the hula, juggles her breasts then squeezes them into shapes like balloons. “More,” the crowd pleads. “More.” So Heather strips off her soaking wet jeans and when she did that she looked just like the first woman I ever had – like she couldn’t wait.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a Republican woman dragging a little, awestruck child away. “Come on, Billy! Don’t look!”
Heather fingered her thong, turned, bent, straightened and strutted to the other side of the stage. Trees began to grow from half the men in Crook County. On the back edge of the crowd, an old woman tried to shoo an old man away. It was the same old man who hadn’t smiled for forty years except now, briefly, he had a huge grin on his face.
“Hoo-Yee,” Heather squealed – delighted to be the delight of all of us. “Woo! Woo! Woo!”
There were still other women on the stage. I think one of them was named Mindy. She was pretty cute. Standing next to Heather she didn’t stand a chance.
“Take it off,” I hear. “Take it off!” I don’t know if that is somebody else or me. It could be me. I am starting to feel like I know Heather personally. Heather is one of those women who might start a war next month. And, then she might end it the month after that. Just because she knows she could. I can still see her right this minute.
She leans over the railing, lifts her breasts as high as she can and gnaws at those pieces of black tape but…no luck. Apparently, that stuff is really stuck. Maybe the police are watching. Maybe someone complains.
The guy with the hose pulls Heather aside. He looks nervously from one end of the stage back to Heather and tells her some secret I cannot hear. I guess he is telling her to tone it down, to dance more primly, to be more proper, to be as wild as she wants as long as she never offends the grimmest soul, finds no edges, breaks no laws, stays in her little, private, social box and always tries to make herself small.
I can’t hear Heather either but I can read her lips. I can see what she says even if I can’t hear her voice. “Fuck ‘em,” she says. Then for emphasis she says it again. “Fuck ‘em!” Then she raises her hands over her head and she laughs, “Hoo – yee! Wooo – hah!”
Then I laugh, too.