Angels in Paradise?

Every Fourth of July weekend, between eighty and a hundred thousand bikers and gawkers descend upon Hollister, California for the Independence Motorcycle Rally. In 2002, Mark Singer visited the town on assignment for the New Yorker.

Because a contingent of Hell's Angels was staying at the same hotel as the rival Mongols (a motorcycle gang which had grown rapidly in Southern California largely by recruiting new members from Hispanic street gangs), police were expecting violence to erupt.

"You've got these one-per-centers out there [see trivia box below] surveilling and counter-surveilling each other," the County Sheriff told Singer. "That creates a tremendous amount of tension. The Angels are barely paying attention to the police, because we're not the big threat. They're actively looking for something downtown. You see that look. There's all this posturing. It's a big dance being choreographed by all the one-per-centers."

Half an hour later, on the town's main street, caught in a crowd that reminded him "of Rockefeller Center during Christmas-tree-gazing time," Singer met three Angels from Merced, California who seemed to be staring intently at the passing parade. Singer decided to test Sheriff Hill's theory that they were "surveilling."

"I see you guys looking around," he remarked. What, he asked, were they looking for. Mongols? Or members of other gangs? Perhaps the Red Devils or Hellbent? Molochs? Ghost Mountain Riders, Ancient Iron, Devil Dolls, or Tophatters? Lonesome Fugitives? Solo Angels? Vagos? Skeleton Crew?

"We're looking for pussy," Singer was told. "Check it out. This is the time of year to look, when they're not wearing much."

[In London, it's illegal to have sex on a parked motorcycle.]

[The term "one-per-center" derives from the American Motorcycle Association's defensive claim, during the nineteen-fifties, that only one per cent of the bikes on the road belonged to criminally inclined social misfits. The Hell's Angels and many other motorcycle clubs embraced the designation as a badge of pride?literally, by sewing "1%" patches on their vests.]

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