When I look back on the people who have come and gone in my life, I am always drawn to the 1%’ers. I was fortunate to have been accepted into two very small echelons in our culture, areas that most people give little thought to (that’s why they are called ‘one percenters’) but the exclusivity of membership opens one up to a world where words are measured (and have meaning), and actions are deliberate and designed to provide a sort of shelter from the storm.
I did not realize that a small act of kindness would present a portal into what is euphemistically called a ‘lifestyle’. I don’t know what made me change my usual route home from hwy 111 to our home in Rancho Mirage that day. Call it fate or what have you, but I detoured from my familiar street to street, and turned down a block early. Examining the new neighborhood for the first time, I drove past a garage with three men struggling to get the rear wheel back on a Sportster.
Something made me back up and park. As I walked up the driveway, I saw three distinct figures. One was wearing ‘colors’. ‘Colors’ refers to the Levi jacket with its sleeves removed and adorned with the logo of a biker gang. George couldn’t have been more than 5’5” and 135 pounds dripping wet, yet his eyes revealed a level of honesty I had never seen before. It was a ‘you get what you give’ kind of look.
He had just changed the rear sprocket to alter his gear ratio – something we do to either make the bike accelerate faster or run more smoothly at cruising speeds. The problem with this sort of modification is that it always entails either lengthening or shortening your drive chain. They were one link away from having the Harley running again. The missing link. They needed it and I had it at home.
I had never seen these guys before, but they accepted me immediately when they saw I knew Harleys. After I informed them I had a spare master link in my toolbox (a temporary kludge, not really the right way to do this), they took a break as I hurried home and secured the part they needed. Providing them with that little $1.25 piece of steel gave me immediate acceptance into a family I would find to possess the most noble characteristics of mankind: Honesty, Loyalty, Friendship, and Respect.
Every word mattered; every word was judged. No one went running their mouth about this and that. If you said you were going to do something, you did that something. If someone was in trouble, you had their back. These were not articulated rules, they were simply the way stuff was supposed to happen. When relationships are born from honesty and trust, they can weather any storm. Period.
Every free weekend was spent on two wheels riding to some kind of adventure. Sometimes it was just the three of us, sometimes there was more. It was not uncommon to have a half dozen Harleys parked in my driveway as we sat around, drinking beer, and doing what guys do when they get together.
The height of hilarity came one day when we threw a party at our house. From 6-8 we entertained my friends from Rancho Mirage Rotary. From 9 till whenever my biker buddies stopped by; we turned up the rock and roll – and we rocked and rolled.
Soon I was introduced to a larger family – pretty much all of the bikers in the Coachella Valley. This gave me a unique opportunity to photograph a social group from the inside. George and Vern were never more than an eyeball way, and if anyone raised the question about ‘the new guy with the camera’, one of them cleared the way for me.
We were at a weekend biker bash outside of Pomona. 8 or 9 of us made the trek down for a day of laid back fun.
It got rowdy about mid-day, but it was good rowdy, fun rowdy. There was a slow riding challenge. There was a contest where chicks on the back seat had to bite a hotdog hanging from an overhead rope as the scooter was driven by. There was a wet tee shirt contest without the tee shirt. Throughout it all there was a spirit of camaraderie that few people get to experience – I guess that’s why it’s called 1%’ers.
The Merry Mug (now a foofoo Italian restaurant) in Palm Desert was our Saturday night hangout if we weren’t up for the ride to Cantina in Pioneertown in the high desert. Beers seemed to mysteriously pop up in front of you at the bar all evening. Sometimes it was a thank you for fixing a bike (I used to wrench and repair anyone’s scooter); sometimes it was just a friend-to-friend gesture for being there.
No one cried, no one whined, no one complained. Yet we saw our own demise on the horizon, approaching at the speed of money. Almost overnight Harley tripled the price of its motorcycles. This was back in 80’s when the U.S. was switching from a manufacturing economy to a consumption economy. Everything we knew was disappearing, heading overseas. We shouted loudly when Harley started putting made-in-Japan Showa brand shocks on its new bikes. It was unAmerican and we did not like it all.
A new breed of biker was replacing the down to earth guys I was a part of. We called them RUBs. Rich Urban Bikers. Who else could afford a 17K Harley (they're now $10,000 more)? My friends started disbursing to less hostile areas of Southern California, and in the matter of a year it was all over, it was gone, and I was alone, again.
Except for my friend Bruce down in San Diego, I have never used the word since, here in California, and I’m not sure I ever will again.