You are supposed to be hearing this story from "Rico."
Ernie Santos is the one, after all, who cattle-prodded me into first considering telling a tale of the fast, fascinating, intimidating and sometimes dark culture of motorcycle clubs in Dallas.
"There's nothing better than being on your bike with your boys," he would say. "Just...gotta be careful."
Rico—all club members prefer to use their "road names"—invited me to a biker crawfish boil up in McKinney. He introduced me to his club, Dirty Bastards. He chided me to get out of my "cage"—that's bikerspeak for a car—and onto a motorcycle.
In mid-September, he demanded that I also witness the danger.
A Dirty Bastards member who went by "Rage" had been hospitalized after a recent accident. Run off the road by a drunken driver at State Highway 121 and Preston Road in Plano, he suffered a shattered leg, nine broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, a punctured lung, bruised kidney and a concussion. Rage died twice on the operating table, but was now living and slowly recovering in ICU. As they always do for their fallen brothers, the Bastards were planning a fundraiser.
On Saturday, September 18, I texted Rico to inform him of my arrival at Twin Peaks restaurant in McKinney, site of that afternoon's bikini car and bike wash benefiting Rage. He never texted me back.
Rico will never text anyone again.
Because on the night before he was scheduled to educate me on the horrors of motorcycle crashes, he became a victim himself. In the split-second of a pickup's unexpected late-night stop in the middle of Central Expressway, the professional salesman, tattooed biker, loving father, devoted husband, obnoxious New York Yankees fan and passionate Puerto Rican (hence the nickname) also turned tragic casualty.
"It's tough, but that's what we do. We support each other," says Bastards president "Voodoo" on a November afternoon at popular biker hangout Duke's Original Roadhouse, a restaurant and bar in Addison. "I got the call that Rico went down, and you just drop everything and go help as fast as you can. I'm not saying it isn't hard. You gotta be a strong club to have one of your guys fall in the middle of the night while you're already planning to help another one in the hospital."
For all the motorcycle world's coveted freedom on the road and romanticization in the movies, the potholes are plentiful.
On any given Sunday at biker bars across Dallas, club members from Bandidos to Soul Rydaz to Dirty Bastards will mostly peacefully co-exist but sometimes exchange stares and, albeit rarely, talk shit. There is etiquette. There is an expected modicum of respect. There is restricted turf. There is altercation, only an arched eyebrow or perceived snub away. But the real hazards arise when the kickstands go up.
Despite falling last year after an 11-year rise, as of December 1, more than 400 motorcycle deaths occurred in 2010 in Texas. From crotch-rocket exhibitionists involved in solo accidents to Harley-Davidson cruisers sideswiped by careless cars or sometimes each other, each Monday morning the newspapers are filled with a new round of weekend bike fatalities. For the most part, bikers respond to the news with sadness, but shrouded by a defiant shrug.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you what we do isn't dangerous, because it can be. Fuck, it is," says Bandidos Dallas chapter vice president "Zach" at Duke's in late October. "But to me—to all of us—it's worth it. If we die doing what we love...then that's that. We accept that."
Echoes Voodoo, "I don't want to die as some nice-looking old corpse. I wanna crash through the pearly gates grinding on my bike."
The devastating details of Rico's accident momentarily stunned a biker community usually calloused by crashes. On Friday night, September 17, Bastards members visited Rage in the hospital, swung by Twin Peaks to check on preparations for the impending charity soiree and shared pizzas at Big Tony's in McKinney. Afterward, around 11:30, they decided to go on a soul-lifting ride. Somewhere. Anywhere.
"It was a beautiful night and we all had a lot on our minds," recalls Bastards member "Scrape" over a pre-Thanksgiving beer at Strokers biker bar on Harry Hines Boulevard. "When that happens we jump on our bikes. Clears our minds. Helps everybody relax. Stress reliever, ya know?"
Heading south, but careful to avoid the spirited late-night traffic spilling from the bars in Addison, the four-bike group of Bastards—Scrape, Rico, "Gonzo," "Bull" and their wives and girlfriends—wound up at Fox And Hound at I-635 and Skillman. Couple miles north at Central Expressway and Spring Valley, two groups were engaged in a verbal and physical quarrel at the Verandah Grill and Lounge. In an incident unrelated to the Bastards who were headed for home northbound on 75 just after 2 a.m., a group including Plano teenager Sterling Mitchell was, according to Richardson Police reports and multiple eyewitness accounts, incessantly harassed and provoked by a group including Dallas' Michael Pyburn. Their hostile confrontation spilled out of the club, into the parking lot and—just ahead of the Bastards—onto Central Expressway in Richardson.
What happened next was a deadly confluence of immaturity, testosterone, road rage and, unfortunately, motorcycles.
Riding in a safe, staggered formation, the Bastards were in the left-center lane of 75 just south of George Bush Turnpike when Mitchell's white Mitsubishi pickup—distracted and dogged by Pyburn's black Lexus—abruptly stopped.
"I looked down to check our speed," Scrape says. "We're going 62, then next thing I see is the black car's nose buried and its back two tires off the pavement. Oh shit."
To avoid hitting Mitchell, Pyburn braked severely and swerved right. Rico and his wife, Elisa ("Lela"), riding on their Kawasaki Vulcan from second and on the right in an alignment designed to provide bailout room, also swerved right. But their front tire contacted the Lexus behind its right back wheel, sending a motorcycle and two bodies flying and leaving two daughters almost immediately orphaned. Lela, launched over Rico, broke her neck and suffered massive internal injuries on impact with the highway, killing her instantly. Before it helicoptered across three lanes of traffic, Rico's bike momentarily trapped and instantly severed his left leg at the knee. He never regained consciousness after paramedics arrived and died the next afternoon at Parkland Hospital.
Though Bastards and family members at the scene say they were told by emergency personnel that it wouldn't have mattered, neither Santos was wearing a helmet.
"I was in the Army for 11 years so death and dismemberment aren't new to me," Gonzo says at Strokers. "But I'd have rather died myself than to have witnessed what happened to my brother."
Richardson police originally arrested the 18-year-old Mitchell—who told investigators he left the scene not knowing there had been an accident—and charged him with two counts of manslaughter.
"The actions of Mr. Mitchell led to the first, causative effects of the accident that killed the two victims," said Richardson police sergeant Kevin Perlich in mid-October. "His decision to stop on the highway was the first domino." And yet a Collin County grand jury refused to indict him.
But investigators eventually zeroed in on an even more potent influence—what they claim was Pyburn's physical and psychological antagonizing. "The grand jury investigation is not concluded in this case," Collin County First Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis said last week. "Further action is likely." Asked if the grand jury was free to indict other targets in the case, Davis responded "Yes." Asked if Pyburn would be indicted, Davis declined comment.
In the aftermath of the horrific accident the Bastards took shifts between Parkland and Twin Peaks and managed to raise $2,000 for Rage, who has since left the hospital but still hasn't returned to riding. On 75 and Bush, there are two white crosses erected for Ernie and Elisa. And in their stockings—despite a large, loving family—daughters Lacey, age 5, and Loran, age 13, are staring at an empty, somber Christmas without Mommy and Daddy.
Rico would have turned 42 on Christmas Eve.
"We get mad, we get sad, we lean on each other and we get back on the bikes and go on rides," says Rico's sister, Lisa Santos. "Because that's what Ernie would want us to do. He'd be pissed if him dying made us all lay down our bikes."
While Monday through Saturday comes at us with the low, persistent hum of steady cars and traffic, Sundays arrive to the unmistakable trumpet of thunder only produced by weekend hobbyists and hard-core club members alike mounting and revving their massive motorcycles.
You don't need a GPS to track the favorite gathering places—just follow the rumble.
While the motorcyclists who desire speed congregate their Ninjas at places such as the Sonic on Northwest Highway on late Thursday afternoons, those who prefer raw power over high RPMs make the Sunday circuit consisting of, among others, Harley-Davidson stores, Blue Goose on Greenville Avenue, Duke's and—the motorcycle Mecca of the metroplex—Strokers.
"I was born a poor, white dumbass, but motorcycles have always provided me this feeling of euphoria. Of being alive. Of being free," says Strokers founder, TV star and local two-wheel icon Rick Fairless. "I've been fortunate enough to open a place where you can come in, have a beer and a burger, get an oil change and maybe make a friend for life."
On clear-weather Sundays, Fairless estimates 2,000 bikes roll through his establishment. Over his anniversary party weekend each October, he'll get 10,000 customers. As gas prices soared and cheesy movies like Wild Hogs and reality TV shows like American Chopper de-fanged motorcycles, riders became more prevalent. Not that bikes are the latest chic trend in style-over-substance Dallas, but...
"Our market is as good as any in the country," says Fairless, whose shop and story spawned the truTV network show, Ma's Roadhouse. "We don't have the scenic luxuries of mountains or oceans, but people are serious about the lifestyle here. Plus, you have to factor in that motorcycles have become mainstream. If you don't have one, you know somebody that does."
At Strokers, the vibe is beer, babes and bikes, not necessarily in that order. There is a full-service bike shop, a stage for concerts and bikini contests, a tattoo and piercing shop, random statues of an astronaut and the Statue of Liberty and, of course, the area's most eclectic mosh pit of bikers, beards and bellies. There is so much respect for Fairless, however, that opposing clubs treat Strokers' hallowed grounds as a sort of neutral zone.
Says Fairless, "In 15 years we've had six fights. You can get that in one night at other places around town."
Up at Duke's, the organic influx of bikers was initially intimidating to owner Jeff "Duke" Meinecke. Shortly after the place opened in 2001, an incident involving a Bandidos member bringing a knife into his bar further heightened fears.
"I'll admit, at first I was a little scared," Meinecke says. "But instead of backing away I embraced them, got to know them. I've met some rough-looking dudes, but they turn out to be doctors or lawyers or even policemen. We have this reputation now for being a Sunday biker bar, and that's just fine by me. It's gotten to the point now where people—families, even—will pull in just to look at all the bikes lined up out front."
The lack of regular dust-ups doesn't mean, however, that there aren't invisible lines of demarcation. On consecutive Sundays on Duke's patio, for example, members of Dirty Bastards mingled separately from independent riders as well as Soul Rydaz, Second II None, Desgraciados and the notorious Bandidos, unanimously recognized as the biggest, baddest club in the state and, for that matter, the Southwest. The groups rarely acknowledged each other, but when introduced produced a firm handshake and a stern look in the eye. Opposing members never interrupted when two or more of the same club were engaged in conversation and never asked detailed questions of their counterparts, especially locations of clubhouses, future rides or the number of members.
Wasn't exactly a Cotillion, but imagine the Crips and Bloods idling their feud long enough to attend a social networking happy hour.
"We get along with most and are tolerated by the others," Voodoo says. Dirty Bastards MC is an incorporated, non-profit organization that takes part in numerous charity rides, including last month's "Teddy Bear Run" and the 25th annual "Big Texas Toy Run" to Fort Worth, on December 19, which delivers thousands of Christmas gifts to area underprivileged children. Voodoo chuckles at the grisly portrayal of motorcycle clubs, pointing out that he picks up his kids from school on his bike every day and recently granted his daughter's 16th birthday wish to have the Bastards shuttle her and her friends around town in style.
"It's a subculture, sure," says Bastards member "Mongo." "Some ride on weekends and some, like us, ride everywhere we go. But no matter, you won't find any more pro-American, freedom-loving people. We might look a little more scraggly than you, but we don't bite."
Soul Rydaz president and co-founder "BReal" is a mail carrier by day. Two of his club's members are cops. And none of that will matter—nor the fact that his flashy orange bike costs $35,000—this Saturday when the club holds its annual Toy Drive Block Party in the Wynnewood area of Oak Cliff.
"We're just common folk," he says, surveying the nearly 200 motorcycles at Duke's. "We've got our lives. Bikes are strictly our hobbies. They're vehicles for making us feel free and instruments to help less fortunate people."
Even when asked to grant interviews in the same parking lot, there is a gracious "No, after you..." protocol. Second II None member "Dre" says it's important for clubs to be vigilant in their respect without necessarily being synchronized.
"We all have a common bond and that's the therapy we get from the open road," says Dre, a 49-year-old financial executive whose club mandates members wear full-face helmets. "There are dangers, but same thing in life. We could drop dead from a heart attack tomorrow. At the same time we all need to recognize that some groups just don't fit in. Let's just say there are outlaw clubs that don't share our sense of togetherness."
While it is strictly taboo to publicly address—much less criticize—another club's business, there are outlaw clubs in Dallas such as the Hells Angels of yesterday and Bandidos of today whose reputations often define their reality.
"I'm not about to name names or point fingers, but there are clubs we just keep a healthy distance away from," BReal says. "Our philosophies don't mesh perfectly if you know what I mean."
Trying to define an outlaw club can be prickly. Most bikers treat them like arsenic-eating aliens, keeping a distant respect and a handy reservoir of fear.
Asked about the Bandidos, Voodoo says, "They were the first club in Texas. Other than that I have no comment."
Bikes are louder and faster than ever, but is the biker—other than the Bandido—mellowing?
Strokers' Fairless was riding a Harley with friends near Oak Lawn Avenue recently when he stopped at a red light and noticed a twentysomething woman pushing a toddler in a stroller.
"She kneels down, points and tells her kid 'Look at the pretty motorcycles,'" he recalls. "Things have changed. For the better. There was a time when you pulled up alongside a car and there was no eye contact, the doors got locked and the driver immediately stereotyped you as a bad dude."
No, not all OMGs—outlaw motorcycle gangs—sport characters straight out of Mad Max, with patches on their eyes and evil in their hearts. They aren't all dysfunctional criminals, destined to break laws, create havoc and live outside the generally accepted rules of society. Bikers still cut loose in their private clubhouses and at their giant annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, but they're closer to the introspective riders on Sons of Anarchy than Jack Black angrily punting a careless cager's dog off a bridge in Anchorman.
In Dallas, in fact, OMGs may be sliding more toward extinct lists than terror watches.
On December 15 detective Larry Wall, a veteran of the Dallas Police Department assigned to motorcycle gang-related cases, retired from the force. His position—his one-man department—totally dissolved. Its relatively small number of cases are now referred to Department of Public Safety troopers. Nonetheless, when I first began to conduct interviews for this story, Rico warned me: "Don't fuck with Bandidos. Seriously. Don't do it. They're as strong as ever."
But even Texas' signature club is killing the skeptics with kindness.
"They have the reputation of being a perceived threat, but I've seen them for years conduct themselves very courteously," Meinecke of Duke's says. "Now, I'm not saying it would be a good idea to cross them or disrespect them. They're probably some pretty tough guys if provoked."
The bikers' real rival is, of course, the distracted, disturbed or even drunken driver behind the wheel of a car. Just recently 62-year-old Bennie Dee Bar, riding on Preston Road, was killed by a 22-year-old driver whom police arrested for hit-and-run, and in October, Dr. Gary Purdue, chief of the burn unit in the Department of Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, died when an allegedly drunken driver ran a stop sign on Webb Chapel Road and hit him at 7:20 in the morning, sending him through a resident's backyard fence. Just last week, a 43-year-old Dallas man, who was fleeing police, lost control of his motorcycle and hit a brick wall in Preston Hollow, killing him at the scene.
Perhaps, for the first time in a long time, it's more hazardous to be on a bike than in a bike club.
To get in a club, a biker must first have the gumption to voluntarily approach existing members. If he passes the initial eyeball test the candidate is invited to a meeting, called "church," and then offered probationary membership as a "prospect," not unlike a fraternity pledge. After six months to a year of successful initiation, he is accepted as a "full patch" member, complete with leather vest and three back patches displaying the club's name (top label or "rocker," across shoulders), logo (in middle) and location (bottom rocker, across lower back) "We don't just give those away, you gotta earn them," Voodoo says of full patches. "Once you're in, you're in. To the end."
Adds Mongo, "Most guys are closer to their bike brothers than their real brothers."
At a biker party at a private residence in Carrollton last month, the scene wasn't drastically different than you'd imagine. Confederate flag on the wall. Classic rock on the radio. More leather than an S&M convention. Beer, brats, babes and good ol' boys with bad ol' thoughts. At exclusive clubhouse meetings, the drill is repeated, sometimes with the inclusion of female groupies and marijuana, both of which are passed around freely between members.
There are local clubs that remain all-white or consist exclusively of blacks or Hispanics or even law-enforcement personnel (Blue Knights). And then, like Bandidos and its support club, Desgraciados, there are the hardcore, harder-edged "1%" clubs. Some say the 1% patch designates a member who has defended a club brother to the death. Some say it means a club follows only one percent of the laws, or generates one percent of its revenue via illegal means. Others say the 1% label merely signifies the club hasn't formally registered with the American Motorcycle Association. Most agree the patch means "advanced."
"To the one-percenters, club comes before anything else," Voodoo says. "If your mom's lying on her deathbed and your club calls a meeting, you're at the meeting."
If you want to ride sans affiliation with a club, you ride as an independent like "George T. Wishbone." Independents hang out with clubs; they just don't belong to them.
"In clubs, if a member screws up you have to back them up no matter what," says Wishbone on a cool November night at Cape Buffalo grill in North Dallas. "I don't go for that shit. Independents are a club by not being a club. Our patch is not having a patch."
Wishbone, who hosts parties at his house with guests from numerous clubs, is particularly proud of two patches on his vest, however. One shows a poker hand full of aces, missing only the clubs suit. The other one depicts "The White House" in Washington, D.C. Yes, that one.
"I do know people high up at the White House," he says. "But what exactly does it mean? It's in your best interest to not investigate further. I'm serious."
And with that, Wishbone summoned a female stranger for an impromptu, very public meet and greet on Cape Buffalo's patio. The girl—beer in her hand and riding home on the back of a motorcycle on her mind—didn't blink at Wishbone's request to get a closer look at her haircut. She lifted up her denim skirt, pulled down her satin red panties and ...
"Motorcycles," Wishbone says after shooing the girl as quickly as he wooed her, "are a powerful aphrodisiac."
Since its inception in 1966 in San Antonio, the Bandidos club has commanded, demanded or—in some cases—simply extracted respect from the bike community.
One of the country's major outlaw clubs along with Hells Angels (Oakland), The Outlaws (Detroit), Mongols (Los Angeles) Sons of Silence (Colorado Springs) and The Pagans (Washington, D.C.), the Bandidos have more than 200 chapters in 16 countries including Australia, Russia and Thailand. Bandidos is the club not to be trifled with in Dallas. It has countless support clubs such as Desgraciados in Dallas, whose newly minted president—"Little Rob"—zips around the city on a bike powered by a Porsche engine. Its members always greet each other with a hug, sport a classic red-and-gold patch depicting a cartoonish Mexican bandit wearing a sombrero and brandishing a pistol and a machete, and almost dare other clubs to misstep.
So dreaded are Bandidos that clubs such as the Bastards don't refer to their home state on their bottom-rocker patch, as to not even hint at the possibility of claiming "TEXAS" as their territory.
"I'd die for the sombrero, you better fucking believe it," says Zach in a rare interview at Duke's, during which he wore a hooded sweatshirt, trademark leather jacket, fashionable black glasses, a healthy display of facial hair and a 1% ring on his finger. "There's nothing in this world I love more. My chapter comes before anything in my life. Before my family. Before my job. That's because this is my family. That's how we're different from every other club. We've earned this fucking patch."
Bandidos have a history of violence and are still classified by the FBI as an "outlaw motorcycle gang." In 2006 their international president, George Wegers, received a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to racketeering, and in recent years members have been arrested for drugs, kidnapping, illegal weapons and grand theft auto.
"Let's get this straight: We're not a gang, we're a club," Zach says. "We're not a criminal organization; we're an organization with a few criminals in it. I get profiled all the time just for wearing these colors and these patches. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. It don't mean shit. That's the price for being the big dogs."
Though there is a local Confederacy of Clubs that attempts to construct guidelines and regulate interaction between clubs, the most important rules are unwritten—things like territorial boundaries and accepted acknowledgments. Cross these lines, and the Bandidos aren't afraid to dish out consequences.
"You step on our dicks and you've got yourself a problem," Zach says. "We demand loyalty and respect and one way or another we'll get it. We're the most badass club in Texas and, if we have to, we'll remind others to make sure they don't forget."
Even Zach, however, admits the culture has softened.
"Maybe a little," he says. "Ten years ago if the wrong people were in our territory it was shoot on sight."
Though Bandidos is one of the most threatening groups in Dallas, it maintains it is merely the most committed. Chapter members hold real jobs—Zach works for a local railroad company—and treat prospects with respect ("We make them earn the patch, but we don't make them eat a pile of shit or anything like that," he says).
"To us this isn't a hobby or a way to see the pretty sights on the weekend," he says. "We ride hard. We play hard. Yeah, we hang out in bars."
But do the Bandidos always pay their tab?
"Most of the time," Zach says with a smirk. "Depends on whether we bump into our waitress on the way out."
It's official. I'm a bitch.
In biker parlance anyway, as on Sunday, November 21, I hop on the back—"bitch seat"—of a motorcycle for my virginal voyage from Duke's to Strokers. With fear in my eyes and no helmet on my head—in order to enhance that 360-degree experience—I jump on a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster. With naive trust that my first ride won't be my last, I put my life in the hands of...a former Chicago Bears cheerleader.
She is blonde. She is curvier than the loop around White Rock Lake. She is a Carrollton in-home child care entrepreneur who has swapped last night's little black dress at the Margarita Ball for this afternoon's little brown chaps atop her modish bike. She is—as I hesitantly lock my hands around her waist—the empowered dominatrix to my desperate, helpless submissive.
"I've only had one bad wreck," says Sandy White, an independent rider who is 50 going on 25. "Got 20 stitches in my head and a cracked kneecap in 2003. Guy fell asleep on the Tollway. Totally rear-ended me."
Our group of 12 bikes heads west out of Duke's parking lot onto Belt Line Road, south down Interstate 35 and then onto Harry Hines toward Strokers. Everything is magnified and intensified, from the wind whipping White's ponytail into my face to the subtle bumps in the road to the sounds of birds chirping at stop lights. As we merge onto the highway I immediately feel the sensation that should I lose my death grip on White's abs, without a seat belt or air bag or, well, doors, I will fly right off the back and straight into the hospital. Have to admit, the risk is indeed part of the reward.
"I realize how crazy this sounds to some people," says White, who cheered with the Honey Bears in 1984-85, "but if this horse bucks us off we'll just get on and ride again. As a rule, fear isn't a big part of my life."
Other than when I almost let White's idling bike topple over in Duke's parking lot, the only hairy moment occurs when the driver of a Black Tahoe decides to make a drastic maneuver on Harry Hines—from the far right lane. Without a blinker or seemingly even a glance at his surroundings, the SUV veers violently left, dramatically and dangerously dividing our pack in half on his way to making a U-turn.
To me the ride is enlightening. To others it is cathartic.
It's the first time since Rico's accident that Niki—Gonzo's wife of eight years—has been on a bike. She couldn't help but recoil in fear when the experience yanked her back to the night she hopelessly performed CPR on her dying friend Elisa in the middle of Central Expressway.
"When we got on 35 my sunglasses were filling up with tears," Niki says safely back at Duke's. "That Tahoe reminded me how dangerous all this is. It's assholes like that that cause wrecks. I believe we're all a part of God's plan and if it's your time you'll be gone, but still. I fear for my family and friends on bikes more than ever."
In the family room at Parkland on September 18, a grief counselor and tearful relatives broke the news to Lacey and Loran about their parents' death. Told that her mommy and daddy "went up to Heaven," five-year-old Lacey clutched her comfort "horsey" stuffed animal and—after a long, seemingly thoughtful pause—responded to the news. "This," she said, lip quivering and eyes watering, "has never happened to me before."
The grown-ups will likely also struggle through a crappy holiday season void of Rico and Lela. Shaken by the episode, Gonzo has even contemplated giving up riding, an almost blasphemous notion in a hardened biker world bonded by power and leather and, yes, blood.
"There have been times when I've thought about selling my bike," he admits. "I know Rico would want me to keep going, but riding's just not near as fun as it was. This all just really, really sucks. I haven't gotten over any part of it, to tell you the truth. I'm still sad. Still mad.
"I'm glad I don't carry a gun because God only knows what would happen if I come across irresponsible people again."
Through shared tears and therapeutic beers, the Bastards are emotionally rehabbing. Resiliency is a vital part of the process.
Retaliation is not.
Though Sterling Mitchell, who did not respond to an interview request, arrogantly posted "Live my life to the fullest, no regrets no bullshit..." to his Facebook page less than two weeks after playing a prominent role in the Santos accident and though Pyburn, who also declined an interview, remains a suspect in the ongoing investigation, Voodoo bristles when asked about possible punishment levied on the two by his club.
"We are first and foremost law-abiding citizens," he says. "Our patch carries with it the stigma of being some of society's rejects, but we aren't a club that goes looking for trouble. We will defend each other and ourselves, but we won't provoke. In Rico's case we figure in the end justice will prevail."
While Lacey and Loran are back in school and living with relatives in the metroplex, the Bastards are attempting to leave the tragedy in their dust without clouding Rico's legacy.
All members are wearing commemorative "Rico & Lela" forever patches, last Saturday there was a bike blessing at Big Tony's complete with raffles benefiting the Santos children and on March 19 at Hank's in McKinney, the Bastards will throw a "Bikers Against Road Rage" concert, party and fundraiser. There are reminders all around that things have changed, and may never be the same again.
Scrape, who avoided the black Lexus by intentionally laying his bike down and sliding to relative safety, has an ugly, perhaps permanent road-rash scar all along his left arm, a one-inch deep gouge in his helmet and a rebuilt bike after the accident caused $10,300 worth of damage. And Rico's sister Lisa has a new appreciation for the passion of her brother and his brothers.
"It's still nice to go out and just ride," says Lisa, who rode in the Teddy Bear Run on the back of a Bastard bike with her brother's boot and urn in tow. "There's nothing like being with this group and feeling the wind and the sun and the world. These guys are my extended family and bikes are an extension of them. It took me a while to come to grips with it, but my brother's wreck was fate. It wasn't like the bike physically got up and killed them. It could've just as easily happened in a car."
That said, Lisa has grudgingly added an accessory to her bike-wear. Over her stylish, sequined bandanna is now a helmet.
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"I know it's not the law, but it's a chance you take," she says. "To me it's not worth the risk anymore."
As most clubs do in times of adversity, the Bastards are back on their bikes. Born to ride and danger be damned, they continually seek escape—if not peace—in a world where peril in the form of everything from the elements to their enemies is only a hiccup away.
"Danger's everywhere, not just on a motorcycle. It's a part of life," says a solemn Mongo over a beer at Duke's. "We're not some renegade group looking to always get drunk and get in fights. We're just like-minded guys who'd rather die at 50 having a great time on the road rather than sitting on some couch wasting away playing video games and being miserable until we're 80. Rico was full of life. Loved to have fun. Loved his family. Loved us. And he loved to ride his bike."
You were supposed to hear that from Rico.