It was a sticky-hot Mississippi summer, and I was out camping with the classical guitarist again, only this time, instead of setting up in the middle of the woods, we were at a real campground with a sandy-bottomed, swim-worthy lake. It was a nice place with a large picnic pavilion and electricity and such. We had just set up our tent in the nearly deserted tent-camping area and were arranging the sleeping bags inside when the silence was broken by an increasingly thunderous roar. The roar got louder and louder and was eventually replaced by shouts and guffaws and raucous laughter. Peeping surreptitiously through the tent windows, it was evident that our peaceful camp site had been inundated by a motorcycle gang.
When I say motorcycle gang, I mean the old-fashioned, tough and scary kind, not the modern kind that actually consists of the accountant next door and your kid’s little league coach. The classical guitarist and I dithered about inside the tent, wondering if we should just pack up immediately and go home, or if that might offend the bikers and thereby get us killed. So after a whispered, frantic discussion, it was decided that I would stay in the tent while he went about the ordinary motions of setting up a camp site – plugging in the boom box, gathering wood, etc. In the meanwhile, he would be getting a feel for the situation and decide on the best course of action. It was an act of bravery on the part of the classical guitarist (let’s just call him C.G. for short), because he wasn’t some macho dude by a long shot – he was a kind, gentle soul and a former band nerd like me. So I hugged him tight like he was going off to war and sent him on his terrified way, while I stayed behind in the tent, shaking in my boots. Or flip-flops, as it was asphalt meltingly hot.
Alone in the tent for an eternity, I alternated between making deals with God to get us out of this, promising to give up all my favorite vices, reviewing and practicing self-defense strategies I learned in high school when the Community Relations Officer visited my gym class, and fashioning a nun-chucks-type weapon out of weenie-roasting tongs and a bungee cord. Sounds ridiculous now, granted, but you have to understand – I had heard about Altamont and I had read Hunter S. Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels” book, and that was pretty much my only frame of reference on bikers.
C.G. finally returned to the tent, and with a nervous, not very reassuring smile, he told me everything was going to be all right. He actually knew one of the bikers from some childhood activity, like Boy Scouts or Sunday School. No joke. So we left the tent and and I was introduced to the biker chicks. Although my reasonable-length cut-offs and tee-shirt didn’t really fit in with the halter tops and Daisy Dukes, we got along just fine. Like a house ‘afire, in fact. Actually, I think the reasonable-length cut-offs and tee-shirt helped to build that bridge, along with the fact that I instinctively knew to avoid eye contact and interaction with their fellas at all costs.
Hanging out with biker chicks on a camping trip basically meant cooking, drinking beer, cooking, and drinking beer. As I helped scale, gut, and fillet fish for the big fish fry, I happened to catch the miserable eye of poor C.G., standing awkwardly amidst the biker dudes, and he mouthed “I’m sorry”. I just kind of smiled and shrugged as if to say, “don’t worry about it”. This was not the trip that either of us had had in mind. No swimming took place. No sweet, relaxing evenings of classical guitar either. But at least I learned how to put on a killer fish fry from scratch, and on Saturday night, the rockin’est, ass-kickin’est biker band on earth played at the picnic pavilion.
I wish I could say I partied down and danced and that I remember everything they played, but the truth is, I was too busy keeping my head down and minding my Ps & Qs around the dudes and helping the biker chicks to really get into it like I normally would have. Everything the biker band played seemed to have an extra dose of testosterone and attitude, which I would normally have dug in a big way, had I not been in fear of the real, heavy-duty testosterone that was hanging threateningly in the air all around me. Maybe it was all Hunter S. Thompson’s fault for scaring the daylights out of me with his book. Let’s blame him for my fear and loathing. I think he would like that. Anyway, I do recall that there was a whole lot of fantastic early ZZ Top played, which should give you a feel for the cool yet vaguely ominous atmosphere of the biker weekend. I’m pretty sure they played the whole Tres Hombres album. More than once. And then there was the obligatory Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers too. A great biker band indeed – they saved the weekend.
But this one is for those rockin’ motorcycle mamas that took me in and taught me how to scale, gut, and fillet. Among other things. Here’s my man Neil…motorcycle mama, won’t you lay your big spike down?
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