Archive for September, 2011

BIKER SUBCULTURE: “THE LAST RIDE HOME”

September 27, 2011

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Photo courtesy of Steven Yee


TRUE BIKER TO THE CORE: Steven Yee.

Picture this: You’re suddenly ripped way from your normal life by the establishment, and imprisoned, probably for life. Your Harley-Davidson will never again feel your heavy presence on her saddle. No longer can you feel the warm summer wind on your face, as you guide your motorcycle down the highways and streets that you’d previously made your own, by sheer habit and repetition. You had up until then, taken this simple pleasure for granted. No longer can you revel in the blast of your straight pipes, as you downshift and brake simultaneously, as you get ready to round a sharp curve on the road. You can no longer look forward to walking through your door at the end of the day, to be greeted by your wife, who is all smiles with promise. You can never settle into your own bed at night. Your entire life has been turned upside down, with little hope of returning to any sense of normalcy. Just how do you cope?

Steven Yee is a friend who was in just such a position. Steve is an Ohio Hells Angel who is incarcerated, and is easily one of the most inspirational bikers I’ve had the honor to know. Steve has been in jail since 1989. Steve has shown the resiliency of the human spirit that is possible if the person is strong enough, with what’s he’s accomplished. He’s created a freedom inside walls, liberataing himself from the mental confines of prison, through music. His music has become His Harley within the walls of prison, freeing his mind with rides of artistic achievement. Steven Yee is a True Biker.

True bikers have an inner strength and unstoppable resolve. Steve demonstrated these qualities by being determined to teach himself how to play the guitar while in prison. This was how Steve coped with his loss of freedom. This is no easy task in prison, as The System will allow prisoners to have equipment or not, depending on its whim at any given time. Steve persisted however, and gave himself the expertise in guitar playing that only applied discipline can achieve. The grim determination of a hardcore Harley rider that’s intrinsic to Steve’s nature, allowed him the incremental gains in playing proficiency that he displays today. Here’s what Steve said about the work that he did, to get to where he is today:

“I started teaching myself….and continued playing for hours every day until my fingers would bleed.”

There aren’t many Chinese-Americans in the biker subculture demographically, and even fewer in the one percenter ranks. In fact, there was only one other Chinese-American Hells Angel that I know of, and he was referred to in the literature over 40 years ago. Hunter S. Thompson in his book about the HAMC, mentioned a Frisco Chinese Angel named Mel.

I once did a survey of Chinese bikers in Iron Horse, and received approximately ten responses. Interestingly, almost half of those came from San Francisco, which is not surprising. San Francsico has the largest population of Chinese in America, because this was one of the two main entrance points for Chinese immigrants at the turn of the last century. The other main immgration entry point was Ellis Island New York, where both of my parents came through in the 1910s as children. New York has the second largest population of Chinese-Americans.

It is generally conceded that San Francisco was a generation ahead of New York in terms of Chinese-American immigration. My old martial arts teacher Dr. Richard Chin once said to me…

“If you go to San Francisco now and ask a Chinese grandfather there something in Chinese, he’ll tell you to go to someone older, because he doesn’t speak Chinese at all. He’ll point to Great-Grandpa down the street”

Keep in mind, that Dr. Chin said this to me, 30 years ago. One of the Chinese-American bikers from Frisco who rides a Harley 74, was nicknamed “Da Butcher.” We still keep in touch. I found it interesting to exchange stories with the Chinese-American IH readers who responded to my survey. In my conversations with Steve Yee, he related that he didn’t know of many Chinese-American bikers. I’m pretty sure that I asked Steve once if he spoke Chinese (I don’t), but to be honest I don’t remember his answer.

Steve is my hero, because of his unassailable determination to become the best in his music. Would you expect any less from a hardcore Harley rider? Lucky for Steve that he has such a beautiful and dedicated wife, Lynn Yee—who took the tapes that he made in prison to a professional studio, to have a CD made of the music. The CD is called “The Last Ride Home” and Steve’s band is called Deadly Synz. Check out their website, to appreciate Steve’s genius at music, honed under the most dire of conditions. Later.

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BIKER SUBCULTURE: “DUMB THINGS I’VE DONE”

September 7, 2011

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Photo by Genghis

FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE: I’ve done some dumb things and felt the heat from ’em.

Self deprecation.

I can do that. Okay, full dislosure: I’ve done some dumb things in my life involving traffic law enforcement, that revealed that I’m never going to be a MENSA candidate. I don’t claim to be any kind of hardcore lawbreaker either, but I have done some incredibly stupid things to cast me squarely into the stunad category.

I did make one vow as young biker. I vowed to never lose my freedom by landing in jail. I’ve managed to keep this vow for the past forty years, but nevertheless, there have been a few incidents to cause some discomfort, if not incarceration. Naturally, these incidents involved motor vehicles, specifically my ’64 ‘Vette and my ’71 Harley Super Glide.

If you’re an Iron Horse reader, you’ve not heard much about my first Covette, which I acquired in 1966. Part of the reason that this Chevy remains more anonymous than my other vehicles, my ’68 XLCH named “Sally The Bitch,” my current Vette “Mary” and my ’71 Harley “Mabel,” is because I never named my ’64 Sting Ray. She was the only motor vehicle who went unnamed, and wore the mask of anonymity. She was something, though. Better late than never for naming her. I hereby chtisten her, “Unnamed Vette.” Maybe I should’ve considered “Animal Stepmother”….nah. Unnamed Vette was a beast.

Unnamed Vette was a 1964 Chevolet Corvette Sting Ray red convertible, equipped with the 327 cube 365 horsepower motor with solid lifters and high compression. She had the 4-speed stick. Unnamed Vette had straight-through glass packs, but also exhaust dumpers which I had welded just aft of the headers. I was able to open these dumpers which were positioned just under the doors with a wrench, which gave Unnamed Vette open exhausts, which were loud.

I had Mickey Thompson mag wheels on her. I bought these aluminum Mickey Thompson mag wheels, beautiful really, gray spokes with brushed aluminum rims, from a speed shop in Jackson Heights in Queens. I discovered their only flaw when the day after mounting ’em on Unnamed Vette, all four Firestones went flat. The wheels were porous and would not hold the air in tubeless tires! I dug ’em, so I had tubes installed and kept the wheels. Man, I shoulda sprung for Cragar S/S chromed mags.

I did some minor custom body work on Unnamed Vette. I cut openings on the sides where the fake vents were, to make ’em functional. I cut a huge hole in the hood above the Holley four barrel, and attached a humongous hood scoop five inches high onto it. This hood scoop was popular back then, and had a tapered arrow-shaped front with two ginormous vent holes in the back, meant to act as air induction from the rear. However, I attached this scoop reversed, so that the scoop openings faced forward to force air into the engine compartment at speed.

I screwed this scoop onto the hood, and intergrated it with the hood with bondo. Then I had the service dapartment at the Williams Chevrolet dealership in Jackson Heights repaint the hood. I believe the paint was called Riverside Red, named after the famous racetrack in California.

Just as a matter of general interest, the Chevy body man who painted her, rode a Sportster XLCH. I forget his name. My one real regret about any of my vehicles, was that I hacked up Unnamed Vette’s body the way that I did. In retrospect, the pristine design of the stock ’60s Sting Ray, is one of the most beautiful car styles of all time, and I now feel that I made the car much worse in looks. FUBAR’d, man.

In 1966, I was driving Unnamed Vette on the Hempstead Turnpike on Long Island. We were stopped at a red light in the left lane, and a dark colored sedan pulled up with a “screeeech” in the right lane, next to us. The driver gave me “the eye.” So, this guy wants to race huh, I thought. Okay, let’s accomodate him. The strains of the Beach Boys’ “Shut Down” started filling my head as I put the Hurst shifter (which the renowned Motion Performance in Baldwin on Long Island, installed for me) into first, and revved Unnamed Vette’s raucous and eager motor:

“Tach it up, tach it up

Buddy gonna shut you down

It happpened on the strip where the road is wide

Two cool shorts standing side by side

Yeah, my fuel injected Sting Ray and a 413

We’re revin’ up our engines and it sounds real mean

Tach it up, tach it up

Buddy gonna shut you down….”

The light turned green, and I dumped the clutch, stomped on the accelerator and the wide open dumpers went….“WWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA….” If you think a staight piped Harley is loud, man—Unnamed Vette’s open exhaust was twice as loud. I pulled away from the other car with ease, although he was trying hard to keep up. In third gear pulling hard, I had to shut ‘er down because I came to another red light. As Unnamed Vette’s loping, evil idle filled the summer air through her open exhausts sounding like World War III, the other car pulled up in the right lane next to us. There was only one difference in the car.

The lights on its dashboard were flashing and its police siren was blaring.

How dumb can ya get, man? I was racing a cop? The cop said, “Pull over! Where do ya think you are, Indianapolis?” I was so dumbfounded, I actually said, “But…I thought you wanted to race me.” As stupid as that sounds, that’s what I said. This resulted in a speeding ticket and a trip not to Disney World, but to court, and I don’t mean a food court. This was no picnic, man.

In 1967, I took Unnamed Vette out on another balmy summer day for a drive. I lived In Queens, which was near the Triboro Bridge, which is now renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. How stupid is that? The Triboro has always been the Triboro since time immemorial, and will always be referred to as “the Triboro” by New Yorkers.

The Triboro is a pretty fair sized suspension bridge, connecting—you guessed it—three of New York City’s five boroughs. NYC consists of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx (the Bronx is the only NYC borough prefixed by “the”), and Staten Island. The Triboro is a beautiful multilane span, with very long straightaways and long sweeping curves. Unnamed Vette and I got on the Triboro at about 5:00 AM (yes, even back then I was in the habit of driving and riding very early in the mornings).

On this particular morning as Unnamed Vette and I surveyed this wide bridge opening up in front of us like a giant tulip, we saw that there were no other vehicles on the bridge. It was like a ghost town in Bridge City. I decided to open Unnamed Vette up, to the highest speed possible before the end of the bridge loomed. Unnamed Vette was as loud as twenty marching bands playing with wild abandon during a college football 41-0 blowout by the home team, because I had her exhaust dumpers open. We went flying down the Triboro, her exhaust sound bouncing off of the majestic suspension, and I saw on Unnamed Vette’s speedometer…..”80″….”90″….”100″………”110.” I was elated! Too bad we ran out of room.

As we rounded the curve leading to the bridge exit….there roadblocked across the middle lane was a police car. After we stopped, I stayed seated in Unnamed Vete as the cop got out of his cruiser and approached us. Unnamed Vette’s motor was still running, exhaust thumping wildly against the tarmac. The cop said, “Did you know you were going faster than 110 miles an hour?” Stupidly, I said…“Uh, no officer. I had no idea.” The cop told me that he caught my speed with radar.

The cop noticed the decibel battle goin’ on below Unnamed Vette. The cop said, “Do you have mufflers on this car?” I said, “Sure…take a look.” The cop got on his hands and knees and saw the mufflers. Then he looked below in back of the front wheels and saw the dumpers. He said, “Did you know you had these?” I said, “Uh…I bought this car used and this is how it came.” This sad episode ended up not in a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure, but another excursion back to court. This was gettin’ to be like “Judge Judy” on Ground Hog Day.

It wasn’t long before I and three speeding tickets and a trip not to Coney Island, but to a six month suspension of my driver’s license. What? Not drive for six months? I couldn’t stand for this! I hatched a plan to obtain a Massachussetts Drivers license. I’d heard that it was easy to transfer to an license there if one had a valid license from another state.

Brainiac that I am, I got someone to drive me to Amherst, Massachussetts for just this purpose. I went into the police station in Amherst and stated the purpose of my visit to the desk sergeant. He handed me an application, and said…“No problem. Just fill this out and sign it.” I sat down at a table with pen and paper, and began to check off the “yes” and “no” boxes in the questionnaire. It went like a cool and refreshing breeze until I came to this question:

“Have you ever had a driver’s license suspended or revoked in any state?”

I realized that I couldn’t possibly answer this dishonestly, without incurring a felony charge. Oh well, it was nice visting Amherst, a very nice college town. By the way, I told the desk sergeant that I was requesting a license transfer, because I had enrolled as a full-time student at Amherst College. I left Amherst knowing that Mr. MENSA struck again!

On another bright sunny day in 2003, I was riding my Harley 74 “Mabel’ down Avenue B in a notorious area of NYC known as Alphabet City. Avenue B is a two way, one lane going in each direction, narrow street. The streets of lower Manhattan were designed in horse and buggy days, which dictated their width. In front of us was a car moving north at about 5 miles an hour. The driver was apparently looking for a parking space. After a block of making like a lame tortoise in first gear in back of this car, I pulled out and passed the car with a blast of Shovelhead Stroker Power in second gear. This was before the baffles were put in her pipes, so Mabel was loud.

After clearing the car and merging back into the north lane in front of the car, I hear….“WWWWRRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrr…..PULL OVER!” Wouldn’t ya know it. It’s Flashing Lights And Blaring Siren Time once again. The slow moving car was an unmarked car! The cop climbs out and says, “Do you know what you did back there? You crossed the lines and were driving the wrong way…” I said, “Any driver, including you would’ve done the same thing. You were crawling along. I thought you were looking for parking. How about cutting me a break?”

The cop then says, “Listen…I didn’t wannna stop you and ticket you, but the sergeant I’m riding with told me to..” The infractions: reckless driving, driving in the wrong direction (after crossing the double-solid line) and failure to signal. Just great. This was no mere traffic infraction in NYC. This was a misdemeanor offense, possibly punishable by a year in jail. This meant I needed to get a lawyer, and had to appear in criminal court instead of traffic court.

Get a lawyer I did, and he did a great job. For a price, that is. For a fee of $1,500.00, he got me an “ACD” (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) on the charges. There was no fine, and the violation would be expunged from my record if I stayed out of trouble for six months.

These three incidents are among the various dumb things I’ve done in my motoring career, definitely disqualifying me for MENSA. My membership in the MENSA M.C. was forfeited! I will say though, that before that reckless driving charge I got on Mabel in ’03, that I hadn’t gotten a traffic ticket for over forty years before this. Hey man, I hope that I’ve become smarter since this latest incident. Later, and clean riding to ya without citations!