Reno 911

October 1, 2008

All Posts, Features, The Rebel Rides

Bikers rally as trappers rendezvoused.  The tribes gather.  The loners assemble.  The traders raise their tents.  The locals load their guns.

The big, Fall rendezvous on the West Coast was last weekend, September 24th through the 28th, in the Truckee Flats, in the Sierra Nevada.  Sort of that was where this event was.  Actually, this gathering was bigger than the ten square mile meadow that has the Truckee River running through it.

The center of the hullabaloo was “Street Vibrations” in downtown Reno.  Once again, a silver tongued entrepreneur had convinced the world’s biggest little city to close Virginia Street between Second and Sixth, and all the cross streets between Center and Sierra, and hand virtually all of downtown over to the bikers for a party.  Yee Hah!

How Things Work

If you have ever been to one of these rendezvous, or runs, you understand how the actual, unedited transcript of the city council meeting that approved this event must have read.

“This economy is killing us, Henry.”

“Yeah.  Everybody already raised all their prices but that ain’t seemin’ to work like we thought it would.”

“I know!  Let’s get a bunch of bikers in here and sell them some shit!”

“Yeah.  Let’s charge them four dollars for a bottle of water!”

“We can triple the price on every hotel in town!”

“Four dollars for a bottle of water?!  Are you kidding.  You know, they just look rough.  But they aren’t.”

“Betty Sue is right!  Bikers are just a myth.  Like Bigfoot.  I read in a magazine that they are all really doctors and lawyers and such.”

“Damn yuppies.”

“Those people piss me off.  Pardon my French, Betty Sue.”

“Doctors.  Lawyers.  Wall Street brokers.  Those people have all the money in the world.  Let me tell you, maybe we can just charge four dollars a bottle for water if we want to be nice.”

“What are you getting at Bob?”

“Well, I think we shouldn’t let them buy just the one bottle at a time.  I say, if they want a drink of water they have to buy a six pack.”

“Bob’s right!  You’re right Bob!”

“Our economy is saved!”

The police, on the other hand, really do believe in bikers.  They know us too well.

Don’t We All Hear Voices

Let us be frank, okay.  The insistent, recurring, driving fantasy of every biker for the last sixty years has always been to actually take over a town.  You know what I mean.  Rape, murder, pillage.  Like when the Viking berserkers took over York in 865.  Loot the monasteries.  Burn the books.  Drink all the mead.

Come on.  Admit it.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  I have never actually had the opportunity to loot a monastery, personally.  But it is something I like to think about when I drink alone and clean my guns and sharpen my knives.

Hmmmm.  Ummmm.  Yum, yum.  Nuns.  That’s it sister.  That’s it.  Now stand on your head.

Maybe it isn’t just bikers.  Maybe everybody has these thoughts.

Anyway…where was I….  Oh!  I remember now!


Anyway, the police are practically never smarter than anybody.  Anybody, that is, except the stupid beast that is a milling pack of 30,000 bikers.  I don’t know why, but run after run after run they are always the Roadrunner.  And, we always wind up being Wiley Coyote.

This year, every cop in the Nevada vertex got rich on overtime.  It was not just Reno.  There was also a satellite run down in Carson and a simultaneous event called “Thunder on the Mountain” in Virginia City.  Packs of bikes, like herds of panicked sheep, stampeded as far afield as Tahoe.

And, let me just pause right here.  I want to say this to those of you who have never enjoyed this event but I make it sound so swell that now you are thinking of attending next year.  Let me tell you right now.  The speed limit on the wide open Route 395 between Carson City and Reno is 50 miles per hour.  No.  I didn’t type the wrong number.  Let me spell it out.  FIFTY!  And, the penalty for speeding is a thousand dollar fine and six months in jail.  Consider yourself warned.  Okay?

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! Yee Hah!

Meanwhile, In the Wild West

Down in Virginia City, the Storey County Sheriff’s, Washoe County SWAT, Douglas SWAT, Elko County Sheriff’s, the Winnemucca PD, the Washoe County School District Police and the Nevada Highway Patrol all patrolled the streets in body armor with M16s.  All for us.  At least it is good to know that even if we are not loved we are still feared.

The commandos in blue busted 15 people in Virginia City.  A couple of women pulled up their blouses and showed off their breasts.  Another guy was sitting on his motorcycle drunk.  One desperado gave some cop a little shove.  I don’t know what anybody else is accused of doing.

The putative rationale for this militarization of Reno was of course, the need to keep all of us doctors, lawyers and Wall Street brokers safe from the current unpleasantness between the Hells Angels and the Mongols.

To Briefly Recapitulate

Those who have just returned from a long sabbatical on the moon need to know that last month the president of the Frisco Angels was murdered in the street.  The authorities have named a Mongol as the prime suspect.  There have been some apparent pranks with pipe bombs near the home of a Mongol in San Jose.  Late in the summer, there was a nasty fight involving pool cues and blades in a bar in Southern California.

Consequently, the rallying cry for the police in Reno this year was, “We can never forget what happened in Laughlin in 2002.”

That year in that place was where and when the Mongols and the Angels had a real battle.  A nasty, vicious, medieval venting of mutual hatred, frustration, and contempt.  In public.  On a casino floor.  With the security cameras running.

And the  police can never forget what happened there because when it happened there were no police there.  Nor did the police stop that incident.  It more or less stopped of its own accord.  The police in Laughlin in 2002 arrived just in time to count the bodies and follow the blood trails out the doors.   The police were not in control in Laughlin in 2002.  And, that goes down hard for an occupation whose motto is “always be in control.”

So what the police mean when they say that they can never forget the great, bloody, biker brawl of ought two is that they can never forget that in 2002 they were not in control.

Missing Vagos

People knew about the cops.  They still rode to Reno from every direction.  Most of the usual suspects showed up.

Reno is comparatively small.  It is not Sturgis or Laughlin but it is still big enough that whole clubs can disappear.  For example, I saw packs of Vagos on my way up.

I shared a motel in Bishop with a couple dozen of them.  Parking was limited and so they parked their bikes all around mine just outside my door.  Then they assigned a prospect to guard all our bikes through the night.  Lucky me.  My bike became an honorary Vago bike.

I see Vagos all the time.  I live in a beach town that has been home to a mix of bikers, surfers and bohemians for 60 years.  You might think that at some point I might have at least had a drink with a Vago.  But in the last 20 years I bet I haven’t said more than 20 words to any of them.

Ships That Pass In The Night

They were up the next morning before I was.  I was awakened by the dulcet sound of them warming up their bikes, not unlike the sweet sound of an artillery duel or a musical instrument made of trains.  Vagos, I have surmised, I must conclude, consider breakfast the most important meal of the day because all this noise was only about moving the bikes fifty or sixty feet over to the Denny’s lot.

I thought I might join them.  I thought this might be my chance to get to know some Vagos.  Well, long ago, I did sort of know a very personable Vago named Monster Red.  I knew him well enough to say “Hello” when our paths crossed.  But I have not seen him for a very long time.

I thought I might meet someone new.  After all, I like motorcycles.  Vagos like motorcycles.  But by the time I finally got out my door and strolled over to Denny’s they were gone and that was the last I saw of any of them.

I saw Mongols in Reno but they were all incognito.  I saw them in white tee shirts and plain black vests without a patch.  It is a thing I have begun to see Mongols do.  The Mongols are an evolving club.  They are tomorrow and I am yesterday I am afraid.

A Calling Of The Roll

Hells Angels wear their colors all the time when they are on a bike or just walking around.  It is a matter of honor with the Angels and they were very visible in Reno.  So were some clubs directly associated with HA like the Hell Bound and the Red Nation.

I saw Boozefighters and POBOB -the Pissed Off Bastards Of Berdoo-and Henchmen, the Iron Warriors, Marines, Sentinels, Legacy and Vietnam Vets, Too Much Fun, the Crazy 88s, and the Violators.

I saw more black Harley Clubs, clubs like the Rare Breed and Just Clownin’, than I usually see.

And as always there were those who do not doubt that they will ride forever in heaven, the Soldiers For Christ, The Messengers, the Soldiers For Jesus MC and the Christian Motorcyclists Association.  I saw no Set Free Soldiers, the semi-official motorcycle ministry of the Mongols, however.  Possibly they were also in disguise.

Kids!  I Don’t Know What’s Wrong With These Kids Today!

I even saw one of the new, Version 3.0 clubs.  It was a club I had never seen before.  They were either the OG Riders or the OG Riderz.  And, just in case you are a great-grandmother living in a fundamentalist Mormon compound, let me first of all thank you for reading and second of all explain to you that OG is urbanese for “Original Gangsta.”

So I saw a club that was the OG Riders, probably -and with all due respect to you guys, because in all sincerity I do not wish to war with you-when I saw the OG Riders with their shaved heads and their baggy clothes I had to wonder if they actually own motorcycles.  And. if they own motorcycles are they American motorcycles?  And, do they ride them?  And, do they like to ride them?  Or do they just like to strut through these crowds?


Of course, the most numerous club of all is H.O.G.  H.O.G. (the Harley Owner’s Group) is the club Harley invented.  You know how this happened.  Maybe not.

During the darkest days of Harley-Davidson, from the merger with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) in 1969 until Harley bought itself back in 1981, the Motor Company survived on the loyalty of outlaws.

When AMF, which had made its fortune selling bowling alley equipment, bought Harley-Davidson the first thing they did was “streamline the company.”  They got rid of the guys who loved to build motorcycles and overworked the rest.  The quality of the bikes became embarrassing.  Harleys became clearly inferior to Japanese bikes and the company would have simply gone out of business except that by then, all outlaw clubs, for purely patriotic, working class reasons, had a rule that every prospect had to own an American motorcycle in good working condition.  And, Harley-Davidson was the only American motorcycle manufacturer left.

Typically, patch holders got a discount from dealers.  And every club had at least one good mechanic who knew how to make the things run.  So, not only did the outlaws buy them but they also advertised that the mis-manufactured beasts could actually be made to go.


By 1981, however, it had become extremely un-hip to be working class, blue collar, and patriotic.  Not to mention it had become almost impossible to make a living in the old way, like working in a factory or a mill.   Motorcycle clubs had developed a reputation for criminality since 1969.  Harley knew it needed the impenetrable market provided by motorcycle clubs.  But it also wanted to unload the baggage.  So Harley started H.O.G.  It started its own club.

Joining H.O.G. is as simple as owning a Harley and filling out a form.  It is not the life altering commitment that prospecting a three-piece-patch club has now become.  H.O.G sells insignia that members can wear on their cuts that simulate patches.  They run as clubs.  They are very easy-going social networks.  People who like to ride motorcycles get to ride with a club.  When they go on runs they can ride in a pack.  Even women can join H.O.G.

And, H.O.G. members of all levels of involvement probably represented 60 percent of the visitors to Reno this year.  Without their vests on they are often indistinguishable from outlaws.  They are mostly the successful working class that is still left.  They are contractors, roofers, carpenters, welders and people who belong to bullet proof unions.  I have never met a H.O.G. member who was a doctor, lawyer or broker.  And H.O.G. members are always very polite to me.

The Importance Of Being Polite

Bikers in general, including the outlaws from whom the police want to protect the doctors, lawyers and brokers, are always the most polite people I have ever known.  They may be aloof like the Vagos but they are always well mannered.

The police, on the other hand, who, after H.O.G. are the second most numerous club in Reno, are relentlessly and shamelessly rude.  I may be a guest of the City of Reno but the police want everyone to know that what this event is really about is proving that the police are in control.

In the almost impenetrable throng I stop to take a picture of a tiny miniature motorcycle sitting outside a drug store.  I have seen these things many times before but this one looks just like a motorcycle a clown would ride in a circus.  Sitting on the seat is a sign that forbids bystanders from sitting on or attempting to ride this bike and this strikes me as funny.  The owner of this bike thinks only a sign will keep people from attempting to ride this ridiculous bike in this impossible crowd.  Maybe it isn’t funny but I thought it was.

Dagnamit Camera

I stop to take a picture.  And, I am a bad photographer.

But biker after biker, Hells Angel after Henchman after Boozefighter after Soldier For Jesus either stops or steps around me to let me get a shot.  They are all gracious.  If I am interrupting them they take it with great humor.  I snap a shot and let them pass.  Then another.  Let the crowd pass.  Then another.  Let them pass.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Didn’t want to get in your way.”

“No problem.”

I can’t quite get an angle that makes the bike look as funny as it seems to me.  There is an Aunt Jemima cookie jar in the window behind the shot but there is glare.  Maybe Aunt Jemima will look funny behind the clown bike?

Chatting With The Police

I almost have the shot figured out when five cops stop to have a conversation between this little bike and I.  I wait patiently.  A long time passes before one of the cops finally looks at me and says, “Oh, are you trying to take a picture?”

“Yeah.  I am.”

“Are we in your way?”

“Yeah, you are.  But you’re the police so that’s okay.”  He looks at me and blinks stupidly.  Then he looks away.  None of the police move.  I understand why that guy down in Virginia City shoved that cop.  I don’t need to go to jail over a snapshot so eventually I leave.

And I do not tell any of the cops what I think because, you know, that would be disturbing the peace.

Live Entertainment

There is a pole dancing contest I want to see anyway.  It is at the corner of Virginia and Fourth Street.  The band is good.  I am always surprised by how good the bands are at these things.  This band plays the whole repertoire of biker tunes from ZZ Top to Guns and Roses.

The pole dancers are…what’s the word…enthusiastic.  These are women who represent all the wavelengths of the attractiveness spectrum and the crowd of brutes, or maybe they are dentists and accountants masquerading as brutes, hoots lewdly and cheers loudly for every single one of them

It is hot and I am getting annoyed.  I don’t know why.  I think it is the cops everywhere I look.   Although it could just be crazy me.  Sometimes I just get annoyed.  Sometimes I am a grumpy guy.


Oh!  I remember now.  I haven’t eaten all day.  I am hungry.  Maybe that’s it.

I stand in an endless line for an sausage sandwich.  When I finally get to the front the two women who are cooking at this booth ignore me.  They ignore me for minutes.  They act like they do not believe I am really someone very rich and important from Wall Street.

I stare at one of the women.  I look from her crotch to her chest over and over.  Sometimes this is all I have to do to unnerve a woman but this one is pretty cool.

So, I begin to visibly drool.  I sneer and drool and I let the spit run down and drip off my chin.  I do that sometimes.  I have found that drooling like that will often unnerve even the police.  But not these chicks.  They don’t care.  They don’t even know I am there.

The line lengthens behind me.  This is a place where you can get a “free refill” of  a cup of lemonade for only three dollars.  A guy comes up beside me.  He can’t believe there is a line.  All he wants is his three dollars worth of free lemonade.  He starts to talk to one of the women and then he notices me.

“Oh…I’m sorry…I….”  He is very polite.

“Don’t worry about it,” I tell him and I mean it.  I really do.  I want to be polite, too.  “Just don’t tell them I’m here.”  I nod toward the women and I drop my voice to an exaggerated stage whisper.  “They can’t see me.  I’m invisible.”

But Women Usually Like Me

Well that got her attention.  I wish I had known it could be that easy.  She waves away the guy who wants a lemonade refill and stares at me.  “What’ll you have.”

“Could I have an Italian sausage, please.  Is that spicy or sweet?  Could I have spicy?”


“Could I have peppers and onions?”

“No peppers.”

“How much.”

“Seven dollars.”

The bottom of the sausage is very crispy and very golden black.  I put up with it.  The  thousand people who are watching these women dance are all putting up with something.  I know some of them are putting up with me and I know we don’t need no stinking police to make us be polite.

Watching The Detectives

Everyone continues to cheer the women on.  Me too.  Although, one women is so bad I have to look away when I cheer.

Over there, forty feet away, in the middle of this great gathering is a man with a patch on his back that is new to me.  I have to stare for a minute before it makes sense.  It reads “Lone Wolf.”  And where the bottom rocker should be are the words “No Club.”

I wonder who wears this.  Is this an off the shelf identity?  Is this one of those very rich, urban bikers I keep hearing about?  Maybe he is only a very honest serial killer.

I am bored enough to be interested in this guy.  I watch him for a while out of the corner of my eye.  When he moves off I follow him a little way.  He stops.  I stop.  I must be really bored, I think.

All it is, really, is I wonder about people sometimes.  I wonder what their story might be.  I know this is what is going to get me killed some day, my intemperate curiosity.  It won’t be a motorcycle accident.  It won’t be a disease.  I am going to die like the proverbial cat.

The lone wolf moves onto one of the side streets.  He stops and talks to a cop on a motorcycle.  I see them laughing.  That is when I understand who the lone wolf is.  He is undercover police.

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13 Responses to “Reno 911”

  1. larry Says:

    after reading this I wonder if I made a mistake in not going to Reno for Street Vibes?? you make it sound like Disneyland for the mildly retarded…another great piece….please keep writing….BTW, under “A Calling Of The Roll”,it is Hellbent M/C, not Hell Bound….;)

  2. Dilligaf Says:

    Another outstanding read. I’m never disappointed. You have a gift. Being that I had to live in SBDO and Bloomington in the 70’s – I need to say that POBOBS were originally Pissed Off Bastards Of Bloomington. I’m 99.9% sure on this, but I have been wrong before (August of 1981 I think it was).

    Thanks again for the great reads!

  3. Washoe county school district Says:

    Nice information, but I need further information about that. .

  4. Great Site Says:

    Really nice site. Great post too.

  5. Reno Hotels Says:

    Favourited! I’ll be back soon. Great site.

  6. Parrott Loans Says:

    my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some critical insight at the end there, not leave it with we leave it to you to decide.

  7. gatflella Says:

    Not Exactly.

  8. Bowling Ball Reviews Says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the great post ! Found your blog on Google and I’m happy I did. I’ll be reading you on a regular basis ! Thanks again :)

  9. terriplitiedy Says:

    Is the museum open on Sunday?
    signature: zovirax seg6se98i

  10. Paladin Says:

    Outstanding! LMAO

  11. Road Whore Says:

    Way good!


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