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Ridin' High, Livin' Free

Hell-Raising Motorcycle Stories

Ridin' High, Livin' Free by Sonny Barger
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An angel spreads his wings. . . .

Sonny Barger is the number-one spokesman for the motorcycle experience. His New York Times bestseller, Hell's Angel, was an exhilarating history of his adventures with the world's most notorious motorcycle club. Now he brings us rousing, moving, and wildly entertaining true stories of his renegade brothers and sisters in the relentless pursuit of liberty, individuality, and the "ultimate ride."

And what stories he has to tell -- freewheeling, bare-knuckle tales of brawls and battles, brotherhood, breathtaking adventures, crazy quests, and the inevitable classic scrapes with "John Law." The most colorful legends and unforgettable characters of biker lore come alive in this book. In addition, celebrities like Steve McQueen, Johnny Paycheck, and David Crosby thunder through these pages in a sensational collection of rebel tales that runs the gamut from poignant and inspiring to thrilling and utterly outrageous.

Whether you ride, have never ridden, or dream of riding, Ridin' High, Livin' Free is a reading experience you won't soon forget -- a fascinating glimpse into a unique culture of freedom that recognizes only one commandment: the code of the road.

HarperCollins; June 2009
304 pages; ISBN 9780061955846
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Title: Ridin' High, Livin' Free
Author: Sonny Barger

Chapter One

The Wandering Gypsy
and the
Silver Satin kid

Before Gypsy ever met the Silver Satin Kid, he saw his motorcycle parked outside the Continental Can Company. That's where "the Kid" worked. When Gypsy went to work there, too, he checked out the bike up close. You could tell the Kid had worked on it. There were brand-new high bars and extended chrome exhaust pipes, stuff you never really saw that much on bikes in 1957. The bike was an eighty-inch stroker from the 1940s, a Harley-Davidson with a small headlight. it didn't have a paint job. Not yet, anyway. "Silver Satin Kid" was temporarily scripted in ink on the gas tank along with a drawing of a naked girl.

The Silver Satin Kid earned his nickname from his favorite drink, Silver Satin Wine. He drank it out of a bottle in a brown paper bag when he hung out on the Oakland streets with his bike-riding buddies. To his friends, the Kid was a born leader. A big, screaming double-headed eagle -- just like the wine bottle label -- was painted on the back of his leather jacket in silver. The eagle's sharp claws were drawn out in attack mode.

The Kid was just like that eagle -- usually in attack mode. Sometimes around midnight, he'd come tearing around the corner of East 17th Street -- right outside the apartment where Gypsy lived -- gunning his Harley full throttle, waking up the entire east side of Oakland. The Kid usually had a pack of three or four guys from his motorcycle club right behind him, trying to keep up. They all wore matching colors on their backs and during the day they hung out at the Circle Drive-In, where their bikes took up most of the sidewalk. It would be through the Kid that Gypsy would fall in with "the Club."

Richard Charles Anderson, aka Gypsy, had wanted to ride motorcycles ever since he saw The Wild One back in 1954. He was seventeen and like a lot of guys, the movie put the zap in his head. In Brando's honor, Gypsy bought a used Ariel one-cylinder English bike off a car lot in Oakland. He bought himself a cool leather shirt and wore black highway patrolman boots. He got a small tattoo on his right arm that said "El Lobo." He not only looked the part, but now he rode just like Johnny, Brando's character in the movie. He took the little one-cylinder out to the drag races. Gypsy loved that bike from day one. He'd sit on the porch and just stare at it, then jump on it and ride it around town, then park it in front of his house and look at it for a little while longer, then go riding around again. That routine could go on all night.

Gypsy hit the road impulsively for long rides alone just to clear his head. Once, on a whim, he rode from Oakland to Monterey with seventy-five cents in his pocket. When he got back, one of his friends remarked, "Man, you're just like a roamin' gypsy. Traveling all over and always alone." The name "Gypsy" stuck, so Richard had that name sewn onto his riding vest.

One night Gypsy was drinking at the Come-In Club with a young bike rider named Rebel. Rebel was short and skinny, and didn't look much like a rebel at all. He looked more like Sal Mineo than James Dean, but he wore a V-neck T-shirt and kept the required cigarette behind his ear. Just then three club guys came into the Come-In.

"See those three guys?" Rebel whispered. "Man, they're from the roughest, toughest motorcycle club in..."

As usual, Rebel kept talking, but Gypsy didn't hear much after that. Transfixed, he wanted to be just like those guys. He wasn't scared of them; he wanted in on their action.

As the three bikers approached the bar, Rebel called out nervously, "So guys, what's happening?"

Walker was the leader, a tall, lanky dude with a thin face and cold, mean eyes.

"What's happening?" Rebel repeated.

Walker ignored Rebel's small talk. "Who's your friend here?"

Rebel introduced Gypsy to the Club guys. The second fella was a dude named Crazy Cal. He was Walker's brother-in-law, not as tall as Walker, but a real stocky guy, strong as a bull, only meaner. The third member was Dakota, another serious-looking guy. Walker's first words to Gypsy went straight to the point: "What are you doing with this asshole?"

Gypsy could tell they were sizing him up. He didn't know whether they wanted to hang out and drink or kick his ass. "Come on by the Star Cafe tomorrow night," Walker said to Gypsy. "That's where we hang out, man." There was an awkward silence; then the Club guys walked off.

An old Greek owned the Star Cafe on 23rd Avenue in East Oakland. The Star Bar was right next door. The Star Bar was also where a lot of bike riders and early club members hung out. A lot of them were ex-servicemen and juvenile delinquents. The Star Bar had -- how do you put it? -- atmosphere. In blue-collar Oakland in 1957, there was a tavern like the Star Bar on nearly every street corner.

The very next day there was an empty space out in front of the Star Cafe. As Gypsy backed his bike into the curb, he noticed the Silver Satin Kid's motorcycle at the end of a long row of Harleys. The Kid had finally finished painting the frame an outrageous burnt orange with the naked girl emblazoned in yellow and black two-tones. He called it the Orange Crate. Gypsy jumped off his bike and combed his hair back to make just the right entrance.