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February 13, 2005: Biker Wisdom - Kansas: home of the highway with 318 miles and 11 curves.

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Book Wrangler

Sunday, February 13, 2005

By Bob Patterson


Biker wisdom - Kansas: home of the highway with 318 miles and 11



Hunter S. Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels was given effusive praise by critics when it came out in the sixties and it was one of those books that I had always meant to read.


About ten years ago, when we came across a used paperback edition for a buck or so, at a time when we were using public transportation to get to and from work, we snapped it up and plunged into it. 


The quality of writing was excellent and we learned details about the Northern California Motorcycle club and their lifestyle - such as the fact that their machines were called “choppers” because they would, to eliminate weight, chop the brakes off, and rely on their riding skill to handle any situation.


When the deadline for this week’s Book Wrangler column was drawing perilously close, it became obvious that there wasn’t enough time to grab a new book, read every word, and then review it, so we began to wonder if any book we had already read would be a worthy selection for consideration. 


While mulling over the world political scene for the week, we wondered if the Christian leader of the US knew anything about the rules of conduct that apply when you enter a biker’s bar.  When the president deals with European heads of state, the meetings must remind him of some of the student activities at Yale, but when he deals with leaders of the “axis of evil” it might behoove him to have read Thompson’s book. 


After reading my copy, we immediately sent it off to a relative (now in Boston) with a strong recommendation to read it.  So now that we’re writing a column about that particular book, we don’t have my copy to flip through and pull out good quotes and cite certain passages.  As we recall, there was one particular section where Thompson outlined the biker rules and what to expect if a person went into a bar and started an altercation with one of the club members.  Fight one?  No, because all of those present would consider themselves involved in the matter.  What if the North Korean dude thinks along those lines regarding the Iraq War? 


Perhaps some intrepid columnist for the Gotham City Times will write a bit of political commentary and urge the president to read Thompson’s non-fiction classic so that he will understand the “three musketeers” philosophy of “one for all and all for one” and why, in some circles, an attack on one member of a close knit group, is considered an affront and challenge to all of members of the group. 


This hypothetical column by a staff member of the Gotham Times (nicknamed Modo?) would make comparisons to the fact that a scuffle in a biker bar may be similar to the card game concept of “all in.”


Long after reading Thompson’s book, we spoke to Ralph “Sonny” Barger, who was the president of the Oakland branch of the Hell’s Angels while Thompson rode with them gathering material for his Sixties era best seller.  When Barger’s autobiography, Hell’s Angel ($14 William Morrow), was published, this columnist had read somewhere that there was still a bone of contention between Thompson and Barger, so we asked about it.  Barger considers Thompson one of America’s greatest living writers, who just happens to owe Barger and his pals a keg or two of beer and the debt is considered “active unpaid.”  (This was approximately 2001 when that interview took place.)


Barger’s and the other members of his writing team, Kent Zimmerman and Keith Zimmerman, have followed the autobiography, with items in the fictional mystery genre, including Dead in 5 Heartbeats: A Novel ($24.95 William Morrow.)


Barger is also putting his name on Hellfire Barbecue Sauces.


We enjoy Thompson’s writing style because of his wit, skill with metaphors, and his provocative way of never fully clearing up questions about classifying Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as fiction or not.


Thompson’s Hell’s Angels book would be engrossing for fans of literature, for students of the Sixties “new journalism” style, and, perhaps, current day political pundits who are searching for something that would cast some illumination on people who do not adhere to the Marquis of Queensbury rules when engaged in a “punch up.”


In fact checking this column we discovered one web page that includes scads of biker quotes including this one: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting: “Geronimo!”  (If AARP is looking for a motto, perhaps that would suffice?)


One of our friends owns a motorcycle and an unread copy of Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, and we were tempted to add:  “Shame on you, Jersey Bill,” until we realized that he also owns a home that is very close to Gotham City and that this year’s Book Expo will be held June 2 to June 5 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and we might need a crash pad if we hope to cover that event.


[Book Expo is not to be confused with Book Expo Canada 2005 which will be held June 24 - 27 at the Toronto Convention Center.]


Now, if the disk jockey will play the Born to be Wild, (Steppenwolf’s 1968 hit) which is a cut on his treasured possession of an Easy Rider soundtrack album, we will zoom out of here for this week.  We hope to move further ahead into the past next week after interviewing an author interested in James Dean.  Until then, have a week in hog heaven.




Copyright 2005 – Robert Patterson


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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