In his book, The Hard Way Out: My Life with the Hells Angels and Why I Turned Against Them, Jerry Langton chronicles the life of Dave Atwell, a prominent member in the group. The book, co-written with Atwell, was published this year by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., is the basis for the Langton's interview with Nam Kiwanuka on The Agenda in the Summer.
Being a Hells Angel is not like being a normal person. You get treated differently by everyone, and you get used to it pretty quickly. If I went to any bar in Scarborough, there would be no doubt that I was not going to wait in line, that there was always a great seat empty for me and that there would be a cool beer on the table before my butt hit the seat cushion. Of course, there was never any talk of me paying for anything. I couldn’t have if I tried. My patch was like an entry pass for anything I wanted, a credit card I never had to pay off. But not all the attention Hells Angels get is positive. My weekdays were spent rolling around Scarborough like some kind of nobleman visiting the village paupers in my domain. That’s really what it felt like, because that’s really how people treated me. Most people, that is. There was one group who saw the patch in another light. I was getting pulled over by the cops not only daily, but multiple times every day. I couldn’t pass a Crown Victoria without its lights and siren going off. Every time they saw me, they felt it was their duty to stop me. Even if they were going in the opposite direction on the busiest street, they would throw on the lights and siren and pull a flying U-turn through any intersection just to get at me.
My driving record was perfectly clean at the time of the patch-over, but that didn’t last long. In fact, it got to the point where I had to work hard and pay a lot of money just to keep a valid license. I got bogus, shit-ass tickets almost every day. It seemed like they were making up traffic laws just to claim I broke them. I was even getting tickets in the mail — seriously, who ever heard of that shit? And I was hardly the only one. Every guy in the chapter was getting the same treatment.
It became a routine, almost like a kabuki. They stop you, tell you to take off your helmet and shut off the bike. Then they ask for your license and insurance. Once that checks out, they want to know where you’re coming from and where you’re going. You don’t legally have to answer that, but you want to keep things as cordial as possible, so you tell them without too much detail. They always ask if you’ve had anything to drink, and you always, always say no, even if you have. It got to the point that, when I'd see the lights flash, I'd be at the side of the road, kickstand down, engine off, helmet off with my license and insurance in my hand before the cop was even out of his car. Still, you had to be careful not to reach into your vest pocket too quickly.
What we didn’t know at the start, but later found out, was that the Ontario cops had been taking lessons from their compatriots in Quebec and B.C. on how to handle Hells Angels. And what they didn’t know is that we had also been briefed by our friends in Quebec, and that we knew how to handle them. My papers were always in order, and I never carried anything sharper than a credit card or anything that shot faster than a sneeze. They could have stopped me a hundred times a day and never would have found shit. Just because I knew how to handle the harassment doesn’t mean I liked it. They weren’t on to us; they were all over us. The police attention was so constant that if Bad Teri and I met after work for a drink, she would park in a different lot than I would, just to make it look like we weren’t together. She’d been pulled over often enough to not want to be seen with me in public.
We knew they shared information on us, and we shared information on them. A lot of what we knew came from our regional meetings — they were later called presidents’ meetings because the president of every chapter was required to attend.
Those meetings rotated from chapter to chapter, so when it was Toronto Downtown’s turn, I was deeply involved. Prospects like me would rent cars, pick up the visiting members and take them to a prearranged, secure offsite venue. Normally, we were expected to disappear until we were needed to take the visitors back to their own cars, but sometimes we were required to stay to stand guard or go on coffee runs. The guys inside the meeting were not allowed to leave until it was done, but they were well taken care of. One of our members, Phil, knew several high-end caterers, and he would order something like handmade pasta for the guys.
The meetings had agendas and minutes to be taken and distributed. Some Hells Angels, like Toronto Rob Chin Woo, were very computer-savvy and would collect, collate and email such documents to other clubs. It was all very corporate, like we were Labatt’s or 7-Eleven or something. Nothing illegal was discussed, just club business. It’s not illegal to be a Hells Angel, and we all wanted to keep it that way.
The club doesn’t just take over your life, the club is your life. Being a Hells Angel is not like any other career, because there is no off switch. Even when you’re not with the club, you’re doing something related to the club. You’re a Hells Angel 24/7, and the people close to you just have to put up with it.
Excerpt from The Hard Way Out by Dave Atwell and Jerry Langton ©2017. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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