In retrospect, perhaps it’s appropriate that it was in Texas. The Lone Star State is perennially near or at the top in mass shootings and death penalty executions. This past Sunday in Waco there was another tragedy, a giant shootout between rival motorcycle gangs in which nine were left dead, 18 injured and 170 arrested. (Digressing for a moment, forty-two years ago I had an “encounter” with the Hells Angels and didn’t get hurt, though I did need a change of underwear.)
The altercation in Waco, which involved 30 shooters, may have begun over a parking space. (And you think Santa Monica has parking issues?) The actual gun play, however, began in the Twin Peaks restaurant. The TP web page welcomes hungry customers to a “mountain lodge getaway for hearty comfort food, served by Twin Peaks Girls with their playful personalities to ensure that your adventure happens at the Peaks.” (I’m guessing Gloria Steinem has never eaten there.)
The establishment also offers “The Twin Peaks Man Card,” though it’s unclear what perks that provides. The restaurant is “An ideal spot for the finest in eats, drinks and scenic views.” Yeah, if you happen to enjoy a view of a massive gun battle. (In fairness to the Twin Peaks chain, on Monday they revoked the Waco franchise license.)
The gunfire was between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, motorcycle gangs that originated in Texas in 1966 and 1969, respectively. The Bandidos have been declared by the government to be “a criminal enterprise involved in the distribution of drugs.” According to the Washington Post, “They’re one of the most feared motorcycle gangs in the world.” Then again, throughout history Cossacks in general have never exactly been associated with warm and fuzzy.
As for my run-in with the Hells Angels, let me first note that they began in 1948. Today, surreal as it sounds, they’re actually a “trademarked, world-wide corporation with 425 charters in 50 countries around the globe.” (No, they’re not on the stock exchange. Not yet.)
Actually, the Hells Angels seem to have a certain “victim” complex judging by their motto. “When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets.” (That’s funny, I used to say the same thing to my ex-wife.)
In 1973, I worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the mountains above Palm Springs primarily working in the campgrounds. Using a 2.5-ton dump truck I hauled out garbage and in a smaller truck that had soap, water, a pump and a hose, I cleaned the outhouses. (I wore a mask and over time learned to hold my breath to that of a pearl diver.)
But just prior to the July 4th weekend I became alarmed. One of the campgrounds I maintained had been totally reserved, every campsite, by the Hells Angels. They did it on Ticketron, which meant that dozens of them manned phones or, and I know this sounds paranoid, they had a plant at Ticketron.
Adding to my “grave” concern (pun intended) was that on Memorial Day, in an adjoining forest, the Angels had also reserved the entire campground and over that holiday someone died. (Gulp!)
The Angels arrived en masse at my campground on Sunday, July 1. (The 4th was Wednesday.) In addition to the deafening noise of 75 Harley Davidson choppers, being Jewish, I was more than slightly troubled by the swastikas on various portions of their “attire.” Not exactly comforting to me.
To avoid any chance of conflict, over the next four days I zipped through my campground chores trying to be invisible. I was like the cartoon character “The Roadrunner.” If there was an Olympic event for trash-hauling and outhouse cleaning, I’d have won gold.
During my rounds, however, a few Hells Angels greeted me from time to time. I responded in kind but I noticed the sudden high pitch of my voice sounded like the late ukulele player Tiny Tim.
On the 4th, they even invited me for lunch as they had barbecued a pig. I politely declined. “What’s wrong, don’t you like us?” the leader asked with a tinge of menace. What was I going to say? “Don’t be silly, some of my best friends are Nazis.” As I stammered awkwardly (as opposed to stammering suavely?) it was obvious they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
So, a la Woody Allen in his early movies, as a Jew, and perspiring heavily, I nervously ate pork with slobs wearing swastikas wondering if they thought I had horns. After our repast, I thanked my gracious “hosts,” saying I had fire patrol duty. (The fire was in my stomach from nervous indigestion.) So ended the most stressful July 4th of my life.
Meanwhile, one final thought about the Waco shootout. There’s already a burgeoning secession movement in Texas. Maybe now might be a good time to let them go?
Author’s note: In the name of full disclosure, while Texas is No. 2 in mass shootings, California is No. 1.
Author’s comment: Yikes!
Jack Neworth can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth and twitter.com/jackneworth and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.