It was a time of loud Harley's and fast women. It was a time when I wore
tough like a favorite pair of levies. Being bad came with the territory.
All I wanted was the wild wind in my face and the feeling of straddling
more power than one young man should experience.
"Let's go to the Hell's Angels dance," Ben said.
'Rough crowd,' I thought, but my tough guy answered without hesitation,
"sure, where are we going?"
"Tonight at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. We'll ride together
show up in style."
"Let's go," I said. "It'll be my first concert."
Any excuse to fly down the freeway on my dream machine, a custom chopped
56' panhead, Harley-Davidson. What hadn't been chromed was painted canary
yellow with fire engine red flames. I'd worked graveyard in a gas station
for a year to by that monster. Once I owned it, we were inseparable.
We rode forty miles into the 'City' on a hot summer's night. The Avalon
sported a line of Harley's parked in tight formation, four to a space,
sides of the street, seven city blocks either side of the ballroom. It was
Hawg heaven. To be among, and be counted as one of so many Harley's in one
place, etched itself in my memory.
With much positioning, much macho revving of engines, and showman
maneuvering, we parked and locked our machines. I wondered if my bike
still be there when we got back.
Along our seven block power strut toward the Avalon, dangerously leather
clad, waveringly drunken, bikers, and want-to-be bikers, sat on, stood in
front of, and lay passed out next to their chrome and steel machines.
The closer we got to the front door the more dangerous the situation
became. Steppin' down the last block we were forced to detour around
of drunken maleness, pushing each other around, slamming fists into each
others faces, and wrestling on the pavement.
"What's lined up against the wall?" I asked, as we closed in on
"Looks like drunks to me," Ben said.
"There must be thirty of them."
"Lot of drunks at a Hell's Angels dance."
"But, it's only eight o'clock."
When we reached the line of blood spattered, busted lipped, bruised faced,
and swollen eyed, bikers slumped against the wall, and I gasped at the
reality of the situation.
"They're not drunk," I whispered. "They're beat to
We still swaggered, but a little more cautiously. Suddenly two
fully leathered, Hells Angel line backers, pushed through the front doors,
dragging another broken and bloodied body by his collar. They pulled the
lump of flesh past us like a sack of grain. In drunken glee, they drug him
down to the end of the line and carelessly slammed him against the wall.
'Let's get out of here,' I thought. But, I'd been strutting my tough guy
too long to lose face, especially in front of Ben. I'd been practicing
being a bad ass and there was no turning back.
The gate was five dollars, all a donation toward some kind of Hell's Angel
From the moment we walked in the door I said not another word. My tough
guy, a persona I'd sported since I'd gotten my Harley, turned when we
entered and patiently waited outside along the wall.
Even thirty years ago, when all this took place, the famous Avalon
Ballroom, once a building of grace and style, was an ancient crumbling
structure. The small foyer led to a wide grand stairwell, then gradually
climbed a half flight to a large landing. The stairs turned right and
disappeared up to the main floor.
As we walked through the foyer something big being tossed over the balcony
caught my eye. I looked left just in time to see another bloodied biker
pitch hard onto the landing. As he crumpled into a battered mass, the same
pair of burley, leather clad, Hells Angels, climbed the stairs, then
grabbed the bloody pile of leather and flesh by the collar. They drug him
unceremoniously down the remaining steps, around the bend in the foyer,
out the front door.
A few moments later another body flew over the balcony, dropped six feet
the landing, and waited for the two line backers.
Between unscheduled flights of broken bikers, Ben and I scampered up the
stairs and into a scene only imagined in the twisted minds of horror or
science fiction writers.
With a friendly grin, Ben at my side, we found a wall and backed up to it.
While we nidged our way down the wall toward the main concert hall, groups
of drunken biker factions continued to taunt and pick fights with one
other. A number of times during the ten minutes we were stuck, the entire
room exploded into fist slinging, beer bottle cracking, boot kicking,
pandemonium. Once the culprit's were beat to a pulp, and there was always
more than one, they were drug over to the balcony and tossed over the
Ben and I, with studied smiles, butts against the wall, inched our way out
of the room. All I wanted was to get back outside to my tough guy without
losing my life.
Once we passed some imaginary line only the bikers knew, everyone was
dancing wildly to the music of Jefferson Airplane. The threat of violence
was lessened considerably.
Jefferson Airplane, black lights, the light show and hundreds upon
of hippies stoned on things I remember and cringe for the chances we all
Soon there was a break and the room roared in anticipation of the next
When Janice Joplin stepped on stage, she belted out a set that left me
standing slack jawed. At the time I didn't know I was standing in the
middle of history. I heard live recordings were made of that night, but
Half into the night, I stumbled into a room the size of a small basketball
gym. It smelled like a pay toilet in a bus station. Covering the entire
floor of the room, laying three deep, drunken and passed out people had
been dumped. They had been drug in and stacked on top one another like
Late into the night, long before the party was over, Ben and I got back
onto our bikes, reconnected with our tough guys and raced across the
The last time I saw Janice Joplin was the very next weekend in the south
bay. It was my second concert. Being a Harley rider, we were escorted to
park our bikes next to the stage.
It wasn't long after that summer afternoon, listening to her belt out her
bone chilling, heart wrenching blues, watching her take long pulls on a
bottle of Southern Comfort stashed in her hip pocket, that Janice also
by the way of a number of entertainers. She died from living fast in a
period of overindulgence with dangerous drugs.
I survived, but I don't know how.
Nik C. Colyer has been a novelist for seventeen years. He offers for free,
his third novel Maranther's Deception (a story about being lost in the
desert) in ten page installments once a week. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org