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Southern Rail: Welfare Bikers

By Robert Filla

During a recent ride to the coastal town where I went to high school, I stopped in at a new diner that reportedly had decent grub. Turns out the only thing worse than the food was the service. Afterwards I walked down the block to a familiar location that held a trunk load of memories. But as I rounded the corner, surprise and loss overtook me. It was gone.

Soon after I took over the reigns of president of the Camino Jammers MC (circa 1978), I personally made the decision that the gang needed a clubhouse. I was tired of bouncing between ill-fated love affairs and needed more stable housing. (What do you call a biker without a girlfriend? Answer: Homeless.) So we located a building that had been a dentist office in better years. It was gutted, devoid of everything except the bathroom fixtures. It had a stucco exterior, a flat roof and could have served as a period piece on the set of The Alamo. It was perfect. So with no furniture, little money (rent was $75 per month) and no sense, we set up shop. I refurbished one office with some discarded paint I found behind the hardware store with the hope of converting it into my bedroom. Soon an ex-girlfriend donated a bed so I’d quit showing up at her place asking to sleep on the sofa. My mom had pity on me and provided fresh bed linen for the project. And wow, just like that I had a new home. And it was the first time in my life my home didn’t have wheels and taillights.

I pulled up after work a week later and there was a sofa on the sidewalk at the clubhouse front door. Never discovered who dropped it off but it fit perfectly in the front reception area. Soon my VP was wheeling a large wooden cable spool inside declaring it would make the perfect bar. A small TV of unknown origin mysteriously appeared next and was positioned on a shelf above the spool bar. We had no kitchen but one of the club members dragged a burned-out barbecue pit into the back parking lot alcove. It was in constant use, especially after a landscaping company dropped off a pile of oak to save themselves the cost of running it to the dump.

The only running water was an outside spigot and the lavatory in the tiny toilet, which of course had no shower. But we had buried a water hose in the back, attached a showerhead to a tree and, on a sunny day, the heat absorbed by the hose gave you almost three minutes of lukewarm water. I remember the first time an overnight “guest” asked where she could freshen up the next morning. When I pointed through the window at the shower tree, you could see the glamour of dating an important biker actually melt within her.

The next important item to appear at the Jammers’ doorstep was a fully functioning refrigerator. And once again, no one took credit for the gift. We started suspecting that the town’s citizens were in cahoots, trying to keep us corralled in one central location and not out terrorizing the neighborhood. I pulled in a few days later and a beer distributor had his truck parked at the back door and was busy wheeling cases of Texas Lone Star inside. A prospect that was trying very hard to get a full patch apparently had some extra bucks and had conned the driver into making the delivery. And while we couldn’t actually sell alcohol, we could hang a tip bucket next to the fridge and ask for a 50-cent donation for a bottle of Texas’ finest. On average we profited around $300 per week in “donations.” And when the VP painted a swinging placard displaying our club colors and installed it above the front door, we really looked like a bar. So much so that when I showed up late one night, I found my little brother (14 years old) “tending bar” and entertaining a roomful of Norwegian sailors from the nearby port. It was that kinda place.

Especially after the 25-cent pool table showed up. Oh my, “business” went up and so did the income. There were long stretches when I had no visible means of employment other than being a professional biker. But along with the increase in traffic came an increase in scrutiny by the local constabulary. They made occasional “visits” to stop and “chat.” But it was a different time and a different world. They didn’t lean on us too much and we promised not to deal drugs. We even brought a few of the local police bikes into the clubhouse shop for repairs.

And now it’s gone. All that remains is an empty slab where someone sells ornamental pottery. Oh, there’s also a shoebox somewhere stuffed full of clubhouse photos but I’m not sure where. Mostly all that’s left is some great memories of a group of misfits constructing a halfway house of sorts from community discards—our own 12-step program, evolving from boys into bikers. Childish bikers, but bikers nonetheless.

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