The Old Gringos
The windows of Shelby and Ira's Tavern are painted black to thwart snoops. Inside, the jukebox is the bar's prime source of light. Five bikers clad in sweaty leather stare mesmerized at the lava-lampish orange blobs drifting through the machine's bright-pink and gold tubing. An empty stage swathed in inky drapes awaits Molly Hatchet, which, along with wet T-shirt and "weenie bite" contests, constitutes the entertainment for this Davie biker bar's sixth anniversary celebration. A cook slams through a tiny kitchen overflowing with Clorox bottles and Roach Motels, rummaging for brunch. All he finds is an ancient gallon-size pickle jar, spooky cukes coated in multicolor mold bobbing in pale green brine. "For God's sake, tell me when you see any Outlaws out there," a waitress in a halter top calls to some patrons heading outside toward the sea of Harleys parked in the lot off Stirling Road. "I'm putting on a shirt when they show up even if I lose a few tips," she mutters, lifting a patron's head off the counter to retrieve some change.
Every Sunday about 30 members of South Florida's infamous biker gang make the trip to Shelby and Ira's from their various Miami trailer park homes. "This is the only place we can find young guys who want to hear our great stories," explains Beast Kelly, who rode with the gang for twenty years. When a clutch of fresh-scrubbed motorcyclists asks to see Beast's Outlaw tattoo, he hoists his ZZ Top beard and Confederate flag T-shirt to show the red, white, and black skull emblazoned across his stomach. One eye socket is strategically placed to coincide with his navel; as an ice-breaker, he can make the skull wink.
"We used to think we could recruit some of these wannabes," Beast sighs as the young men withdraw. "But look at what we got here." He points at a cyclist wearing a Nazi soldier's helmet pasted with Day-Glo flowers. "You think he's gonna know how to carry on the Outlaw lifestyle? We used to kill guys for wearing faggy shit like that. And when we did, the goddamn Hell's Angels still got all the press. But two months from now, that won't mean dick 'cause we'll be living in South America by Christmas. We won't be a dying breed!"
Finding keepers of the Outlaw flame, it seems, is an urgent duty. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) boasts that all the leaders of this gang, which originated in Chicago 30 years ago, are now in prison. (The Dade County chapter was born when the Outlaws began wintering here to escape the Midwest's blizzards).
"Bikers exporting themselves to other countries is happening, and it's something we've never seen before, says Becky Panebianco, an FDLE investigator whose specialty is criminal biker gangs. "Outlaws are already in New Zealand and Britain -- it's hard to track sometimes because they don't always give their real names and they change their jacket colors.
"They're getting older now, so every once in a while they go through an intense recruitment drive," Panebianco goes on. "Sometimes Outlaws will show up at events, like the October races in Daytona, which attract large numbers of recreational motorcyclists. They'll wander through the crowd wearing an associate's patch, looking for young guys who might make likely recruits."
Although the Outlaws are renowned for their prostitution and drug-dealing rings and murderous home invasions, the bikers trading war stories at Shelby and Ira's are edging past 60. And their teenage offspring, they're sorry to say, are not interested.
"It's mainly because we had an image problem," says Maniac Martineau, who claims to be a friend of an Outlaw who was convicted ("it was a misunderstanding") of nailing a girlfriend to a tree. "The Hell's Angels have movies and magazines about them. We never did. So we didn't get new recruits. Now it's late, late, late."
But like Beast says, they have a plan. And they've stockpiled several coffee cans stuffed with cash, a huge box of water purification tablets, and 24 pup tents to implement it. This December more than two dozen Outlaws, their wives and their Harleys in tow, will travel to Mexico by tramp freighter. They've been pricing tickets all summer, all the while envisioning a new world colony, sort of like Jim Jones without the Kool-Aid.
It will be the rebirth of what the Outlaws regard as the Golden Age: the Sixties. Amazing as it seems, back then homicidal bikers defined radical chic for the media. The Hell's Angels -- the Outlaws' archenemies -- reaped the most ink. Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, even the Saturday Evening Post ran Angels on their covers. Another biker gang, the Pagans, was extolled for its Roman code of honor. (A disgraced Pagan could commit suicide in lieu of having his family slain). "They are murderers, yes, but they are also the delirium of Rimbaud," the New Republic burbled. Hunter Thompson devoted an article in the Nation and later a book to contrasting the bikers' renegade lifestyle with a stifling, corporate-driven cultural wasteland.
Then, suddenly, the biker lifestyle lost its rebel cachet. Some aging Outlaws blame the Angels for sending a telegram to Lyndon Johnson volunteering to fight in Vietnam. ("You couldn't get a Herald reporter to talk to us even if we killed our own mother after that," Beast complains). But the real problem is that the landscape around the bikers changed. Elements of the outlaw lifestyle -- drugs, meaningless sex, endless drinking -- began sounding like a typical college boy's weekend. "And for years in Miami, you got twelve-year-olds who can shoot, stab, rob, deal like real competition," says Vic ("No last name. Like Madonna"), whose leather jacket hangs in threads and tatters, a trophy of his three decades of Outlawing.
Vic's son won't stand next to his father because the attire looks so embarrassing. Like a kid who has been dragged to a family wedding, the seventeen-year-old sullenly scuffs his sneaker on the sidelines of the biker blowout. He works at Burger King to pay for his own trailer park rental, doesn't know what the Outlaws stand for, and doesn't want to learn. "I never wear biker boots; I don't even ride," he says, twisting his ponytail. "This summer I went with some friends to see Con Air. Everyone in the audience was clapping and yelling whenever the convicts killed someone. And I kept thinking, yeah, if you had to listen to your old man and his friends brag every night about all the guys they killed, this would be so fucking boring. If I have to listen to how he killed a man for stealing a beer one more time, I'm gonna fucking scream. And as soon as those Mexican farmers learn to speak English, they'll be bored too."
The launching pad for colonization is a trailer park on SW Eighth Street in Miami. Beast's mobile home is handmade, slapped together from aluminum slabs and plywood. All the electric sockets sizzle and pop. The only decoration is a sampler over the door stitched by Beast's wife with the Outlaw motto "God forgives. Outlaws don't." The fold-down table is covered with maps of Mexico. The Outlaw disembarkation point on the Gulf Coast south of Tampico is marked in red and black: dirt-poor farm land dotted with villages. On-site reports were dispensed by a biker who sailed there aboard freighters by working as a seaman. "There's plenty of dirt road to ride there: no tollbooths, no suburbs, no cops that can't be bought cheap," Beast sighs dreamily.
"There are bandits and drug dealers down there that are younger than us, but they're not tougher," he adds. "We can either kill them or teach them. It's their choice. It's a new world full of people who can learn our life, be the sons we wish we had. Citizens have the power here. But we'll rule the citizens the minute our bikes hit Mexican dirt. Hell, the people down there are used to drinking dirty water, living off beans, and dying by the time they're 30. They'll get used to anything."
The Outlaws' research has pinpointed wells, towns with electricity, and even a cantina with beer on tap. All the makings of a lawless paradise, including a population that has, presumably, grown accustomed to life being difficult, weird, and sporadically cruel.
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