“Yo, where the dawgs at, beyatch?”
Okay, so maybe it didn’t go down quite like that. He was actually quite nice. But let me back up for a minute; add some backstory.
Saturday morning, Brooklyn, bright sunshine, frigidly cold, breath freezing to icicyles amid the steel air. Vinnie the Truck and Iceman came to pick me up from post, and a minute later we were on the Belt Parkway, New York harbor skimming past us in a glacier blue haze. The Iceman was reliving his glory days as a Porsche racer, slaloming his way through the traffic, pushing the straight six on his Ford to the breaking point in a deep, delicious howl and providing an excellent cure to my Seasonally Acquired Depression: the fear of imminent death.
Our destination was the Javitts Convention Center in midtown; the annual Motorcycle Show was in town again, and we were called to attendance by our club president, Pittbull. The only problem with being in a Motorcycle Club is the winter, particularly in a northern state given to long, somnambulent periods of deep cold. Riding on snow and ice is just no fun, since there is precious little actual riding, and a preponderance of sliding on one’s backside on unforgiving asphalt. The Motorcycle Show is one of the few times midwinter where you can actually get together and hold court with one’s fellow bikers; show the colors, hobnob, and buy outrageously expensive toys in the hope of future temperatures above the freezing point.
Manhattan was its usual cacophony of barely contained disorder. Bursting from the Battery Park Tunnel, we were confronted with the everpresent mass of dueling yellow cabs and oblivious pedestrians, rushing about beneath the slow, angular resurrection of the WTC. Iceman somehow picked his way through the riot of color and twirling exhaust, drafting behind the more aggressive taxis, and slid us into a convenient parking lot in front of the convention center. Naturally, being the City, we only had to shell out the paltry sum of 60 bucks to the swaddled crackhead that waved us in. Thank God the MC was at least paying for our entry into the show.
Chaos reigned inside the convention center, mirroring our joyride. The place was absolutely packed; a interesting mix between the attendees of the motorcycle show and the annual boat show that was being hosted simulatneously. Rough looking bikers with their club colors stood in groups, eyeing anyone that came within arms reach; leather clad wannabes with too many patches and no affiliation trying to squeeze past the one percenters without actually touching them; old men with trophy wives, too much money and nervous eyes just trying to get upstairs to the boat show without pissing anyone off, and at the bottom of the pecking order, hipster Manhattanites, shell shocked, that seemed to have been accidentally sucked into the convention center by the gravitational pull of the crowd.
We had our preprinted tickets, so made our way straight to the lower floor, nodding to the MCs that we knew or respected, ignoring the ones that we didn’t, and the rest of the folks just moved out of our way, our red and gold colors clearing a path. The Javitts show is a particularly interesting event, in that it brings together MCs from all over the City and the Tri-State area. You will see clubs here that you’ve never seen before or even heard of, and it gives everyone a chance to see and be seen.
The clubs present fall into a few main categories. There are the ‘one percenters’, outlaw clubs, usually regarded as the roughest and toughest and associated with the occasional illegal activity, hence the outlaw moniker–the Hells Angels are an example, and yes, they were present, with a legit booth and plenty of support T-shirts for sale. Next are the traditional 3-patch clubs, like us, which follow the often byzantine organization, protocol and rules of the dominant outlaw clubs, but are generally law abiding folks. Most of these clubs are founded around specific common denominators: military service, a geographical location, or shared occupations. My club, the Leathernecks, is solely made up of former Marines. Police have their own clubs, although they are generally shunned by all other bikers. Believe or not, NYC Sanitation has a well-respected MC; the Trashed. I’ve seen the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and even an Electrician’s MC. Then there are the one patch clubs, usually just formed to ride motorcycles, with a minimum of rules, rank structure or organization. They’re not even called MCs, but RCs–Riding Clubs, and are viewed as little more than a social gathering.
A whole different genus are the ethnic sports bike clubs–which are usually Black, occasionally Latino, and seem to borrow aspects of all three classes as they see fit. They are often viewed as posers though, not necessarily ‘real’ MCs, since they frequently appear and disappear spontaneously and are often little more than a couple of kids with cheap bikes and similiar jackets. At the bottom of the order are the independents, the ‘lone wolves’–motorcycle enthusiasts who are not affiliated with any group, although they may or may not wear patches that initially appear to be biker Colors. There is a whole lexicon behind the patches on a biker’s vest that instantly tells the initiated a wealth of information–who they belong to, where they come from, what their role in the club is, and respect or dismissal springs instantly from this codex in cloth.
In any case, the whole gamut of the motorcycle world was here and on display in all its garish glory. We waded through the crowd until we came upon the imposing edifice of our MC President, Pitbull, surrounded by an improbable entourage of brother Leathernecks and members of his family. Pittbull is this big Italian man–as Italian as Italian can be, with a goatee and a voice like gravel wrapped in velvet. He was standing in the entrance, sporting a mischevious grin and his signature cowboy-ish black hat with a large, gold Marine Corps EGA on the front. Ritual greetings were exchanged, and we began our slow tour through the throng of the crowd.
All the major bike manufacturers were represented; from American cruisers like Harley Davidson (of course); Indian, with their new takes on their old incarnation; new players like Victory; the Europeans, BMW mostly, and then the Japanese, such as Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha. Every kind of motorcycle under the sun–hogs and sportsbikes and touring bikes and racing bikes and trikes. Wild custom choppers, old school bobbers, old man motorcycles with everything up to and including the kitchen sink, bizarre off-road cycles ready for the Paris-Dakar rally, insane custom sports bikes with every conceivable shiny chrome neon doo-dad bolted, glued and velcro’ed into place. My favorite motorcycles of the show, aside from the prerequisite Harley Davidsons, were actually some funky Europeans. Ural, of all companies–Russian, in case you didn’t know–had a whole section with their rugged Cold War battle bikes, complete with camouflage paint, sidecars with adjustable spotlights, spare tires and E-tools included. All they needed was a PKC belt-fed machine gun to complete the ensemble–just like the one parked outside a certain Russian mob joint I know in Coney Island.
My next favorite was almost as funky, and shared the military theme–Royal Enfield. They were just down the same aisle, and had a uber-cute selection of their single stroke 500cc bikes, all done up in vintage British livery; recalling the glory days of English motorcycling and largely bygone names. Norton. BSA. Triumph (still going strong!) The bike that really grabbed my attention was their Bullet 500 Military. Old school olive drab, complete with tool kits that look like ammo cans, this thing looked like it should have been zipping dispatches around the backroads of the Hurtgen Forest instead of sitting in convention center with kids climbing all over it. I’d have loved to taken it for a test ride, although I suspect it would be alarmingly light after my Springer.
So we meandered our way through the throng, greeting various members of various MCs as we went. It seemed like everytime I stopped to check something out, I’d turn around and the entourage had disappeared. No wonder, I tend to get engrossed in things that I’m interested in. I would run into the brothers again whenever there was a logjam in the flow of the bodies, and that usually meant that there was a celebrity around.
There were a couple. Dee Snyder, the lead singer of 80s hair band Twisted Sister was there. He’s a very active biker out on Long Island, and is well regarded for arranging the annual Bikers for Babies charity run. Apparently he has a reality TV show nowadays on A&E, “Growing Up Twisted”, and the rest of his family/cast was there alongside him, in all their glory. Hell, I didnt know he had kids, let along a whole TV show…
Dee, in stranger times.
A couple of aisles over there was yet another mass of bodies and outstretched cellphones, snapping pictures of somebody, so I craned my neck along with everyone else and caught a view of one of those walking sex dolls of the Hollywood variety; all blonde and plastic and parabolic arcs, and next to him was some scrawny, very light skin black dude in a muscle T signing autographs. Very ordinary looking, but yep, it was Ice T, original gangster rapper, star of movies like Johnny Mnemonic, New Jack City and Tank Girl, and currently a regular on the TV show, Law & Order. The replicant next to him was his wife, Coco, a former Playboy bunny. We gawked at the unlikely pair for a minute or two and then shuffled on with the rest of the tour. The only other star I saw was right around the corner; Paul Teutel Jr, from American Chopper, along with a number of their spectacular paperweights from their custom chopper shop. I say paperweights, because, while they are certainly eye-catching, most of them are essentially unrideable, little more than very expensive showroom baubles. Unfortunately Paul Sr was not around–I like him the best on the show, what with his handlebar moustache and grouchy bear attitude.
So, the Leathernecks continued their tour of the show, most of the rest of which was really not terribly interesting. Lots of essentially the same helmets, T-shirts, gloves, and snivel gear. I was amazed that nothing was grabbing at my wallet, as it tends to at most of the biker parties we go to. There’s always a vendor with a new chain or switchblade to keep things interesting. But nope, there was a distinct lack of imagination in most of the vendors. I did come across a small but very cool selection of retro 70’s style helmets, but they were unfortunately both expensive and non- DOT approved. NYPD has really cracked down on non-regulation helmets; they will straight up take your bike if you don’t have one. So that was a wash.
A little further along, I came across some really cool European Lazer helmets that looked like some retro version of a MIG fighter pilot helmet, complete with vertical sliding visor, but wouldn’t you know it–too small. Even their biggest one. Guess they don’t have enough Neanderthal fighter pilots in Germany, which was too bad, cause these helmets were pretty damn cool. I stomped off to drown my sorrows in a beer at one of the concession areas.
So I’m standing there, sipping on a lukewarm budweiser, when who should come barreling through the crowd, but Ice T, with the inimitable pre-fab Ms Coco in tow behind him. For some reason, ol’ T comes right through the crowd up to me, and asks, “Hey, you seen any hot dogs around here?” Quite politely too. I pointed at the Sabrett vendor next to me, and off he went. He must have had the serious munchies or something, because the dude was in quite the rush. Coco undulated along after him, flashed a synthetic smile, and they were swallowed by the crowd.
I suppose that’s what I like about the biker world, and Manhattan in general. Nothing really takes you by surprise. Everybody seems to be on the same level, even if they aren’t. I smiled and finished my drink, and wandered off to find the rest of my Leatherneck brothers. I wouldn’t say that passing interaction was the highlight of the day, but it was kinda neat; I’d have to tell them about it.
Still, I think I would have gone for the gyros.