By Gerry Goldshine
I was living the dream. That’s what I was thinking as I checked my appearance in the locker room mirror before heading into the briefing room. I was a Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff fresh from the academy and it was my first night on Swing Shift in the field-training program. I checked my badge for any smudges to its highly polished surface. I had spit shined my boots to a gloss that would have passed the most meticulous military inspection. There wasn’t a speck of lint on my uniform. My hair was freshly trimmed. I was ready! Still, like most any rookie on their very first night, I had a stomach full of butterflies.
My Field Training Officer (Deputy Jim) and I were assigned to patrol the Roseland area, which, at that time, was one of the busiest beats in the county. As I recall, it had been an unusually quiet night with hardly any calls. Then, around 2230 hours -11:30 PM for you civilians types – we happened to pass by the “Generic Dive Tavern” on Santa Rosa Avenue and noticed at least a dozen motorcycles parked out in front.
Now these weren’t your usual Harley Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki or similar type of street bikes. These were choppers and not the fancy-schmancy kind you see on shows like “American Chopper”. Deputy Jim decided it was the ideal time to show me how to make bar checks, so we pulled into the parking lot. I’m sure he passed along some enlightening words of wisdom before we went inside but the specifics escape me after all these years.
As we walked inside, I suddenly had this mental image of an old Western, where the town Marshal walks into the saloon and everything, including the music would suddenly go silent. Then all eyes would be on the Marshal. Sadly, the half dozen or so patrons seated at the bar all quite deliberately ignored our presence while the jukebox music played on uninterrupted. So much for that old Western cliché.
Looking around, I quickly focused my attention on the group of bikers clustered around the bar’s pool tables. I’m sure my pulse rate must have jumped from “Gee, I’m so happy I’m a deputy” to “Holy shit, what the hell am I doing here?” So, what about them that rattled my cage?
Well, they were not your run of the mill, generic grungy biker types; no siree! This was my introduction to the notorious “Hell’s Angels”. They were all “flying colors”, which means they were wearing those cute little black leather vests with their infamous club logo prominently displayed on the back. Most wore a variety of “merit badges” signifying their various “achievements” within the Hell’s Angels organization. Seated around the tables watching with rapt attention were a couple of the obligatory skanky looking “biker mamas”. Like the rest of the patrons, the biker group also ignored our presence.
I followed Deputy Jim to the bar where he chatted briefly with the bartender who told us that everything was just peachy keen. As far as we could tell, everything appeared to be copasetic, so after a few minutes, we left.
Back in our car, Deputy Jim asked me if I noticed anything unusual inside the bar besides the fact that the bikers were flying colors. I thought a moment and replied that it seemed to me that everyone seemed to be making too obvious of an effort to ignore our being there. He nodded his head and then asked what I thought that meant. He smiled when I said that we probably interrupted the beginnings of some unpleasantness more than likely caused by the Hell’s Angels. I figured that valuing their own well-being, no one wanted bring whatever was going on to our attention.
Then, I asked him if I was right in suspecting those bikers were probably carrying enough weaponry to outfit my old infantry rifle platoon.
His disquieting reply was, “Yep.” I was immediately sorry that I had asked.
He added, “Want to bet we’ll be called back there before we go off duty? I think we’ll hang out on the Avenue for a bit.”
We headed south until we reached the far end of our beat. Deputy Jim filled me in on the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. He told me that they generally tried to keep a low profile in Sonoma County so as not to draw undue attention to their drug trafficking. That was not to say they weren’t above creating havoc and random violence when it suited them.
It wasn’t more than thirty minutes later when the alert tones sounded out on the radio.
“10-Frank-14 (our call sign) and any available units. 415 fight, possible 594 (vandalism) in progress inside the Generic Dive Tavern at 1234 Santa Rosa Avenue. Anonymous Reporting Party (RP) states that 10 to 15 Hells Angels are tearing the place apart. Unknown if any weapons. No further information.”
Deputy Jim acknowledged dispatch and took off, rolling “Code-3”, hitting at least Warp Factor Five. I don’t remember if we discussed tactics or anything else about what I was supposed to do when we got there. The one thing I clearly remember thinking at that moment was, “Well, it’s my first night and now I’m gonna die.” Then, because this how my mind works, some of the lyrics from a sixties anti-war song popped into my head:
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die. *
I felt it best not to share these thoughts with my FTO.
We pulled into the tavern’s parking lot, along with another unit, probably not much more than five minutes after the call went out. It was eerily deserted; not a car, motorcycle or person was in sight. There were shards of glass and smashed beer bottles all around the front of the building. I saw a broken chair lying by the door. Surprisingly, all the lights were off, both those inside and the ones outside. The door was locked. No one responded to our banging on it or Deputy Jim’s “Sheriff’s Department” announcement. After a few minutes, he advised dispatch that we were “Code-4” (situation under control) and canceled any other units that were responding. We checked around the parking lot and building just to make sure there weren’t any injured patrons or bodies lying about. As we found nothing, Deputy Jim requested Dispatch to call the bar. Moments later, we could hear the phone ringing inside and it went unanswered. Dispatch then advised us that called the listed emergency contact number and had spoken with the owner who said that no one had been hurt and he didn’t want to file a report.
By then, Sgt. Mac arrived and after Deputy Jim explained the situation, he told us that since we had nothing to show anyone had been hurt, we should call it a night. He would have Dayshift check the bar when it opened the following day. All I remember was that no one turned up seriously injured or seriously dead.
This was the first of innumerable bar checks that I would make during my career. At the time, I couldn’t say if I was relieved that we didn’t have to tangle with a dozen or more Hell’s Angels or disappointed that my first night had such an anticlimactic ending to it. Looking back, older and wiser after having been in plenty of raucous and nasty bar fights since then, I think that first one worked out just fine.
*”I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag” copyright 1965 Country Joe McDonald