It's a scene that occurs somewhere each summer when the weather heats up and motorcyclists take to the roads: A bug-flecked biker knocks a leathery knuckle on a family's front door and asks to use the telephone because his Harley has just gone down on the highway. The father slams the door on the fellow's plea and the mother and children cower inside, images of outlaw biker gangs flickering in their heads.
In reality, the traveler may be a harmless kid. But nobody wants to help a biker in distress, it seems--except another biker.
There's long been a code that motorcycle riders go to the aid of their own kind; now Russ Brown, a Los Angeles attorney, has formed Bikers Against Manslaughter, an organization that formalizes the tradition of bikers helping bikers.
"This is something that motorcycle riders need," said Rick Solomon, a 33-year-old BAM member and former motorcycle cop from Dallas, Tex., who now works in security. "We all have the same type of problems out on the road. We're in places where we don't know anybody and nobody knows us. If something happens, who do we call?"
Rush to Bedside
Solomon got word last November from a BAM staffer in Los Angeles that 20-year-old John House Jr. was in intensive care at a hospital in Dallas. Solomon and his wife, Linda, hurried to House's bedside.
The young patient, they learned, had recently moved to Texas from his home in Illinois in search of work. He'd been idling at a stop sign when a motorist rammed his motorcycle from behind, leaving him with internal and head injuries.
The youth's father, John House Sr. of Orion, Ill., was a member of BAM. As soon as the elder House learned his son was in trouble, he dialed the number on his BAM card, 1-800-4-BIKERS. This put House in contact with one of BAM's seven full-time staff members in Los Angeles, who checked the organization's registry of 50,000 bikers across the country. If someone who is registered is in an accident, the BAM staff is able to relay information such as blood type, special medical problems and next of kin to the caller. Members of the registry may also be called on to aid another biker, as in this case. (There is no fee for registration; the organization is supported by legal fees from Russ Brown's law practice.)
Shortly after the patient's mother, Ellen House, arrived at the hospital from Illinois, the Solomons were there to meet her. For the next three days, the Solomons would bring the distraught mother meals at the hospital. The Solomons picked up House Sr. at the airport when he arrived the second day, and they donated blood for the patient. (John House Jr. has since recovered and has returned to his job on an assembly line.)
Rick Solomon visited the scene of the accident to make sure that the police report reflected what actually had occurred.
Brown, 51, of Van Nuys, said BAM offers this service because police reports on motorcycle accidents are sometimes inaccurate unless the investigating officer himself is a biker.
For example, one report determined that a motorcycle was going 50 m.p.h. when it crashed, based on a formula that gauges speed according to the distance the vehicle slid. But the formula assumes an automobile sliding on four rubber tires, Brown said. When a bike goes down, metal skids across asphalt and the vehicle will slide much farther. Due to the investigation of the BAM crew, Brown said, the report in question was changed to show that the motorcyclist had been traveling 35 m.p.h. at the time of the accident, a legal speed for that particular road.
Russ Brown and his wife Hana appeared to be just another smoothly groomed pair of mid-Wilshire-area business people out for lunch on a recent afternoon. But underneath their establishment veneer is a loyalty to motorcyclists of every stripe--and that includes those who resemble what Brown calls the stereotypical "bad boy" biker.
Brown has identified with biker values ever since he was 16 and took to racing motorcycles on a quarter-mile dirt track behind a friend's farm in Santa Maria, Calif. In the mid-'50s, he joined a motorcycle club called the Santa Maria Owls.
"I was sort of a semi-bad guy," Brown said. He wore leather jackets, grease-stiffened jeans and a ducktail. The "good" kids used to back up against their lockers when he walked down the corridor at school, he said.
"It was all show, not much go," he recalled. "And that's what bikers are. They may look ferocious, they may look intimidating, they may look threatening--but they're not.
"If you go over and just talk to them you find that they're really low-profile people, except for their costumes."
Part of the reluctance of non-bikers to get involved with the two-wheeler set can be traced to the lawless image of a few that tends to reflect on all motorcyclists. Last month, for instance, Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp cited motorcycle couriers along with street hoodlums and prison inmates as sources of drug distribution in California.
'Wild Ones' vs. 'Mask'