Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Riding with the Hells Angels... Not a Bullshit MC

No Angel
My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the
Inner Circle of the Hells Angels

Jay Dobyns

I'm a fangirl over three things: Harry Potter, U2, and Sons of Anarchy.  I'm going to assume that if you're reading this, you know what Harry Potter is, and that love or hate them, you've heard of U2. But Sons of Anarchy may be new to you.  If you don't know, Sons of Anarchy is Kurt Sutter's FX Network drama about an outlaw motorcycle club based in the fictional Charming, CA.  Since I love this show, it is no surprise that No Angel caught my eye when I was browsing through Barnes and Noble.

In 2002, undercover ATF Jay Dobyns took on the case of a lifetime, infiltrating the most notorious outlaw motorcycle club, the Hells Angels.  This was an incredibly dangerous assignment. If discovered, any retaliation short of death would only leave Dobyns craving said death.

The story is told simply from Jay's perspective.  He wanted the case to work.  But he took his role almost too seriously. He was so  immersed in the culture that not only did he almost become a fully initiated member of the Angels,  he nearly lost his wife, family,and self in the process.

The outlaw MC's, the "one percenters" as they are known, may operate outside the law, but they strictly adhere to their own code. Loyalty to the club is at the top of that list. Betrayal of that loyalty means almost certain death.

The book was an easy read, and a fascinating look into a world most of us will never know.  It takes the romance of a TV show like Sons of Anarchy and exposes the seamy underside of the life.  What do I mean? Well, with Sons, you truly care about the characters and although they are criminals - sometimes quite vicious ones- you feel understand their motivation and root for them, because underneath it all, most of them are good guys.

The reality - at least from what Dobyns experienced- is that most MC members are thugs. And while he genuinely liked and cared for some of them, he didn't gloss over what he saw. Most of the people he encountered were tweaking on meth or other illegals, and quick to violence. Still, there's something to be said for the intense loyalty of the club. That was the thing I couldn't get away from. Knowing that the club business is illegal, I can still appreciate the bond that the club brothers have, the respect for the cut and the life and I can see how Jay was sucked into it.

While a show like Sons of Anarchy gives us the bad ass Gemma Teller and Tara Noles, life for women in an MC is hardly glamorous.  Women are truly second class citizens in this world, at the beck and call of their "Old Men" if they ever make "Old Lady" status.  And they earn their place in part through sex- with whomever, whenever. 

What I found most fascinating about this books was Dobyn's complete immersion into the culture.  He became his alter ego, Bird, finding it hard to turn off his MC persona when he spent time with his family.  The Angels were relatively quick to trust Jay and the manufactured MC Charter he was a part of, a true testament to their ability to walk the walk.

The book includes an epilogue of what happened to all the key players in the years following the case, as well as  glossary of the terms unique to the MC world.  Recommended for anyone who wants a glimpse into this group that exists just outside the bounds of society.  It is indeed a unique brotherhood.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating Harry Potter

The Beginning of the End:
Celebrating Harry Potter

In case you’ve somehow missed the news, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, opens on Friday. Fans have been counting down to this date for months. The worldwide Premiere was in London last week. New York is celebrating the premiere this week. For the fans, it is a week of excitement as movie parties are planned around the world. The HP fandom is rabid and diverse, and most of us proudly wear the label of at least a little geeky. I dedicate this post to all my wonderful, geeky Harry Potter friends, real and virtual, who have made this journey so fun.

Like me, most of my geeky friends are insanely excited about the opening of Deathly Hallows Part 1. Three friends are in NYC now for the premier. I have a group of friends who are going to the Midnight showing overnight Thursday. They plan on getting in line around 4PM. They’ll be playing games while queuing up. Some will be in costume as characters from the series. I won’t be with them because of other obligations, but I’m going to a late showing on Friday night with another friend who is also a big fan.

While my friends and I are looking forward to the premier, it is, at the same time, bittersweet. Tempering our excitement is also a sense of melancholy. I’m not sure why. True fans know how the story ends. We’ve known since 21 July 2007 when the final book was released and we devoured it in the course of a day or weekend. But we still had films of books six and seven to look forward to, and the opening of a theme park called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yet most of us have been watching the premiere frenzy with a sense of also saying goodbye to something that has been a part of our lives for ten years or more.

This is the beginning of the end. There’s only one more film after this, and we know it. There’s nothing to anticipate, although JK Rowling does drop hints that there may be more in the future. And although we’ll have the books and the DVD’s; the theme parks and collectibles; and the HP fandom communities we've built, we’re still saying goodbye in a way. Goodbye to characters and a world we’ve fallen in love with. To a world that was and is sometimes more palatable than our reality. To characters who showed a generation of kids that it is OK to be a little different, a little odd. That the greatest heroes are sometimes the most unlikely. That it is cool to be smart. That love is the greatest weapon, loyalty an admirable trait. That it takes more courage to stand up to our friends than to our enemies. That we all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy. And for those of us who were already grown up when the series started, well, we liked being reminded of those same lessons. We are saying goodbye, or at least learning to relate differently to, a series that has forged friendships, both real and virtual, across the world. 

We’re saying goodbye to a franchise that made readers out of an electronic generation. That spawned the Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit based on the principles of love and loyalty and friendship in the books and uses them to combat real-world horcruxes. To an imaginary sport that sounded so incredible, it inspired college students to adapt it to reality. They even played the Quidditch World Cup over the weekend. But its legacy is greater than even these things. It is something almost intangible, and hard to articulate. But for any true fan, that legacy is there.

So yes, it is bittersweet. There’s not anything new after this, except re-watching the movies, re-reading the books, and building on the foundations that already exist. I’m not sure we’ll ever see another phenomenon like this. I sure am glad I hopped on the Hogwarts Express for my own chance to experience this magical world and all it has given to me.