Bikers' Ball In Boston BarTuesday, November 13, 2007
Coming back yesterday from a two-day visit with our daughter Ale in Lillooet, Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren and I stopped for a rest and some food at the Charles Hotel in Boston Bar. I wasn't going to tell anybody about my previous experience there except Rebecca suddenly said to me,"Doesn't that man that just came in look like Ian Bateson?" The man did and I had to tell Rebecca about it all.
It was in June 1982 that I first went to Boston Bar. Through the years I have passed it many times and even spent nights at the Charles Hotel. When I worked on contract for CP Limited I often went to Boston Bar, Lytton and other nearby places to photograph scaling (the controlled avalanching of mountain sides to prevent big ones from destroying valuable track, railroad equipment and lives) or the building of train bridges. These photographic expeditions usually happened in those summer days when temperatures in nearby Lytton would soar near 40.
Not far from Boston Bar I once stopped a train four times. CP asked me to locate a place where I could photograph Nissans, Mazdas and Toyotas on CP Rail cars so that photographs could be sent to Japan as gifts to Japanese car executives. I chose a place not far from Boston Bar where CN and CP changed sides on the Fraser River. One bridge took the CP tracks from one bank to the other and a CN bridge did the same in the opposite direction. In this place there was river, forest, mountains and briges, a suitable iconic Canadian site for a photograph. With a walkie talkie in hand I stopped the train and then slowly I made it advance to the rail car with the Nissans. I would then take my photograph. Then I did the same for the Toyotas and the Mazdas. It was thrilling to be able to stop and start a near mile-long train.
But it was the first time I went to Boston Bar, that biker ball in June of 1982, that has firmly left an impression on me. I noticed that the Cog Pub has been re-named. But the restaurant is much the same as the one where Les Wiseman, Ian Bateson and I nursed a terrible hangover the next day after our biker bash experience. I pointed out to Rebecca the very booth where we sat (very close to where the waitresses dropped the soiled dishes, back then, we thought they were throwing them) that morning. Every time the dishes were dropped our lives would come to a crashing and painful end.
We had convinced the Province to send us to cover the biker ball. Wiseman was to write it, I was to photograph it and Bateson was to serve as a possible illustrator. Tarren at the Drake Hotel had given us the name of our contact, Blackie. Afraid that bikers might trash our personal cars we rented a metallic orange Toyota Tercel. Our afternoon and evening at the biker ball faded away from our memory by the next day when the combination of biker beer and biker chicken had done all of its damage. But we did stop in Spuzzum, on our way back to Vancouver for the snap here. That's Wiseman on the left and Bateson on the right. Wiseman told me he never finished the story. Perhaps the reason could have been that one of the bikers, as we left the proceedings, told me, "Tell your writer friend, not to fuck up."
But when I looked for pictures in my photo files last night I found Wiseman's unfinished story. He must have given it to me. So here it is.
By Les Wiseman
We were sitting in the Canyon Inn Pub a few yards off of Trans-Canada 1 in uptown Yale. Our nerves were jangling as we drew nearer to Boston Bar, site of the June 20 1982, Biker’s Ball, so we had stopped for a tranquilizing frosty. Our conversation had one central theme: We were probably going to get the living bejeezus beat out of us by liquor-crazed bikers who could and more than likely would crush our skulls like American beer cans. Doomed. A strange feeling took hold; we knew this weekend would not be boring. Our senses became keen like any sort of prey. Through our heightened hearing the rumble made us twitchy before we could identify it. Then the cold blue flame that runs from your throat, through your stomach and pans out into the genitals ran its course as we recognized the sound of motorcycles. Big ones; a lot of them.
We had not seen any bikes on the way from Vancouver and suddenly there were a dozen hogs, Harley Davidson 1200s with teardrop gas tanks and extended chrome forks filling the parking lot, revving their engines. Their riders, with their shades, short helmets, ragged beards and hair, sleeveless leather and blue denim jackets were coming into the bar, and we were just leaving. Looking decidedly working-class and sheepish we sulked back to the Toyota Tercel. We were out of our league; but committed to experiencing the whole affair, regardless – well, within limits.
More choppers passed us, singly and in pairs, winding around the turns and echoing through the tunnels. A fluid streak of motion zipped by, cut in front of us and pulled over. Through the rear window we could see the rider stumble off his bike, hurl his taped helmet to the gravel, stagger to the cliff face rising a hundred feet above him, leaning his forehead to the stone he fumblingly relieved himself, weaved back to his bike, and at the Hell’s Gate Tram he soared past us again, poetry on wheels, complete and competent in chain-drive movement.
A mile or so further, we noticed a large yellow field irregularly mosaiqued with small dark figures and lines of glittering bikes- the site. But first, a trip into the village of Boston Bar to weigh the sentiments of the locals. And to buy beer, a generally accepted form of life insurance. The folk seemed non-plussed, excited even. Sure, they were all going to go down to the site for a while, everyone who had talked to a biker had been cordially invited. Kids hung around gas stations leaning on bicycles equipped with ape-hanger handlebars, mouths catching flies as they watched the celebrants fuelling and polishing their Harleys. In the Prince Charles Hotel bar, The Cog Pub, baseball-capped good ole boys wandered up to tables of bikers and struck conversations regarding horsepower and mags versus spoke wheels.
At the gateway to the field we were stopped by some guys drinking in the back of a pick-up. They asked for a donation to aid the cause of publicizing and defending the protest against the helmet laws. We gave them a couple of bucks apiece and got our hands stamped. Unthinking, I asked for a receipt. They all looked at me with loathing. One of them spat very near to the Tercel’s fender.
Looking like blatant narcs, we cracked a couple of beer and wandered over to the bonfire. We stood, trying to appear cool, yet looking out of place as F.B.I. agents at Woodstock. The photographer pressed his contact. “You know Blackie?” he asked a nearby biker. The guy looked him up and down, for an intimidatingly long moment. He nodded. “Oh, well could you point him out to me?” The biker shook his head. “Who should I say is looking for him, if I see him?” he asked. The photographer told him. The biker nodded and walked off.
We stood some more. Parallel to the drop-off to the Fraser River was a stand of two-by-four studs clad with walls and roofs of plywood where they sold T-shirts and cans of Molson’s Canadian and highballs. Beside that there was a similar structure for feeding. Beside that, there was a cooking area where chicken halves were being barbequed. A make-do bandstand was a few yards away across the sawdust laid in the heavy traffic area. Off to one side, like Dracula’s castle in a Hammer film loomed the latrines. Choppers, inert without their masters, metal steeds at graze, punctuated the landscape like slalom obstacles. The clear canyon air vibrated on the upper level highway as a duo of bikes torqued into the town site making a joyful noise passing their brothers in the field below. A lot of the guys raised their beer cans and pointed, “There goes so-and-so!”
We had been told that our contact was the biggest, meanest looking Indian guy wearing a cowboy hat, you’d ever seen. Profits from the beer sold at the concession were going to the anti-helmet law cause, so we had stopped drinking our beer and had been buying from the stand. Only polite. The clear, lucid, crystalline fear of a few hours before was losing its edge. So when a man vaguely matching the description strolled over, we were feeling more in sync with the ambience. He told us he had known who we were from the moment we had walked in. Indeed we had stuck out like pimples on a sore derriere. We talked. Wondering what was going on, a few more guys came over to listen in. They were Satan’s Angels, a big bike club with members from all over B.C. Most of the participants at the ball were Angels. They wore their colours, crests consisting of a red horned black bearded devil-head with golden halo on the back of a sleeveless black leather jacket. They were like normal people: fat, skinny, tall, short, muscular, wimpy, short-haired, long-haired, mostly bearded, a larger than normal percentage had limps, evidence of going over the edge on a bike. Some used canes; they had to kick-start their bikes while in unusual bodily configurations. All decidedly tough, though. Yet, the thing that struck me the most was the fact that there seemed and unwritten custom, that when dealing with outsiders, it was considered proper to be as quiet-spoken, and articulate as possible. They did not give us any flack. They simply told us that it was up to each individual member as to whether or not he would allow photographs or conversation. To be reproduced in print. Our admiration grew. They told us that they had, almost invariably received bad press. We told them that we were serious professional journalists and told only the truth. They told us that they knew our phone numbers and names should we be lying. We told them that we admired them. That was the truth. Fear had transformed itself into understanding. We were happy to be there, to escape the mundane aspects of working-class life. We were not bored.
"Show us your bike," we asked one fellow.
Lou Reed in Boston Bar