Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ridin High, Livin Free, Sonny Barger and My 15 Minutes of Hell’s Angel Fame

I have always had an interest in the motorcycle culture. I thoroughly enjoy my Dad telling stories about the old days and reading about famous incidents within the biker world. You can’t talk much about events that shaped modern motorcycling without eventually coming to the Hell’s Angels. I have read Hunter Thompson’s book and also seen their self made documentary “Hell’s Angel Forever.”

(There is often different ways you see Hell’s Angel. Sometimes no apostrophe etc. According to Sonny’s book when it is written it has an apostrophe, on their patches no apostrophe.)

When I got married to Abby in 2000 my friend Brandon gave me a copy of Sonny Barger’s first book, Hell’s Angel. I enjoyed reading it and later found his website They had a list for e-mails on Sonny and his travels. I signed up and started getting updates on him. Then one day I got an e-mail from the site saying that he was working on a second book that would be a collection of motorcycle stories. The e-mail said if anyone wanted to submit a story it would be considered. I really wanted to be in the book so I wrote a story about growing up with my Dad here in Independence and all the friends he had with choppers etc. I wrote about how I used to watch them ride away from our house with my face pressed against the front window when I was a little kid. I always wanted to be one of those guys. Then when I turned 18 and got my first bike I became one of them.

I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months but then I got an e-mail back. This one was from the co-authors of Sonny’s first book Keith and Kent Zimmerman. They are twin brothers who have authored a lot of other books and worked with Sonny at the time. Kent was my contact. He told me that they had chosen me to be in a chapter of Sonny’s new book, Ridin’ High, Livin’ Free. I was so excited!

We set up a time that they called and we visited via phone. I spoke to Kent. He was really cool and asked me a lot of questions about my story. Part of my story focused on the old Green Gables bar in Independence. I told him all about when I started hanging out there and how it then became a church with Reverend Guy Girratono as the preacher. He was really interested in Rev. Guy and his story. I gave him Guy’s phone number (with Guy's permission) and he called him too and his part of the story also made the book.

Rocky’s Green Gables (as it was known before it closed) was near my house as a kid. I remember driving by there in my parents 1974 Monte Carlo (me in the back seat with no seatbelt of course) and peeking out the slanted back window at the place. There was always a row of bikes out front and it was dark inside. It always intrigued me.

When I turned 22 I met some people with the Freedom of Road Riders Local 14 who met at the Green Gables. They invited me to one of their meetings. I went with my Dad to check it out. It was a real trip to finally go in there. My hand shook as I opened the green front door. Who knew what awaited?

What waited were some of the neatest motorcycle people I’ve ever met. There were guys like Bones, Booger, AC Rick, Dan, Jesse, Randy, Ron and others. They were guys who worked on their own bikes and rode a lot. They were just like my Dad’s friends from long ago. I really liked the place. Soon I became a regular there.

We had a lot of fun at the old Green Gables. Ron the barkeep and owner was always there to serve us cold beer. He used to get a Pabst from the cooler when I walked in and immediately opened it for me. It was a cool place.

So back to the book, after they interviewed me there was a long period of waiting. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Soon we got another e-mail saying the book would be released in April of 2002. So on that fateful day in April I raced to the local Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy. It was one of the coolest days in my life.

I read through my chapter immediately in the parking lot. It was really neat. They added a little bit of bullshit to my story but I didn’t care. Some of the things about my riding up front of the group from the bar etc. were off base. I used to pick up the tail end on my 69 Triumph because the rest of the guys all rode big Harley’s and usually left me a little behind! But it was still fun to have my story in print.

I got a cool shirt and autographed book from Sonny for my story. I also got the letter from him that is pictured here. It was still a fun deal and I will always have it to show my kids!