Lathrop, CA~August 28, 2009 – In case there is anyone left out there in TV land who hasn’t heard of the Sons of Anarchy, the wildly popular night-time biker soap that airs on the FX channel, let me bring you up to speed. This series has caused quite a stir in the riding community. Supposedly based in California’s central valley (modeled on the real town of Lodi some speculate), our imaginary gunrunning bike club operates from the fictitious town of Charming, which is anything but…
From crooked cops that are controlled by the SOA club, to rival clubs, street gangs, and a psychotic menopausal matriarch of the club who runs rough shod over the entire town, the show is packed with drama and more than a few disturbing scenes. Think the Sopranos on bikes and you’ve got a damn close notion of what the show is about.
Tommy Flanagan, who plays Chibs.
According to the Internet Movie Database, however, the plot of the show is, “A man in his 30s struggles to find balance in his life between being a new dad and his involvement in a motorcycle gang.” The wording itself in this blurb is a glaring example of how little the outside world knows the biker world. There is no such thing as a motorcycle "gang." There are motorcycle clubs of various stripes and flavors, but no gangs. Period.
Some 5.2 million viewers caught each episode of the first season thereby garnering more than a few devotees, much to the surprise of the show’s execs, who weren’t expecting the series to even be noticed. Season one, now on sale in stores like Target and Wal-Mart on DVD and Blu-Ray, reportedly sold out in Lodi, Stockton, and other surrounding valley towns in less than 2 hours after it was recently released.
Rumors and insider showbiz leaks over the summer pointed to a new season geared up to freak out even the most hardcore fans. So, for many, the SOA season two premier on Tuesday, September 8, had been anxiously anticipated. And fans weren’t disappointed. With introduction of a new nemesis for the club and the brutalization of a key female character, the sophomore season’s first episode absolutely blew the proverbial riding boots right off our collective crowd. And we’re damn sure there's more where that came from, as the next 10 new episodes spin out.
Ticket to ride
Ed Morga, the Eagle’s Nest Harley-Davidson dealership’s General Manager in Lathrop, CA, is one of the show’s fans. Just like most of us, Morga was bothered by the lack of reality in little details that screamed at him from his television. Firstly, 3-piece club guys don’t usually ride Fatboys. Working at a dealership that customizes bikes for a broad base of customers, which includes a few club members, Morga knew a thing or two about what club members ride. Ed made some calls and next thing he knew he was knee deep in actor’s agents, TV execs and lawyers wrestling with his proposal to provide the cast with personal, customized Harley-Davidson motorcycles more becoming to patched out bikers.
Over the span of five months, Morga and his right-hand man, Tommy Loredo, managed to arrange for seven of the cast members to place specific orders for customizing their new Harley FXD Dynas, and for each actor to be assigned his own personal mechanic to handle the customizing. The great reward came when the actors traveled from SoCal up to Lathrop to meet their mechanics and get a first glance and maiden lap around the dealership on their new wheels as fans looked on.
Charlie Hunnam on his new ride.
The dealership was mobbed. An estimated 7,000 NorCal riders cruised out to meet their favorite pretend bikers and the resulting mayhem was a sight to behold. People went nuts. Several women decided, in true biker fashion, that the best way to get a man’s attention was to flash some flesh. As the actors calmly readied themselves to sign autographs and pose for photos, grown women were pressing bare breasts to windowpanes and shrieking hysterically while motocops tried in vain to control the huge clusterfuck in the roadway out front.
Cast of characters
Kurt Sutter, writer/producer of the SOA who also plays “Big Otto” Delaney in the show, is married in real life to actress Katey Sagal. Sagal plays the role of "Gemma," who is the afore mentioned menopausal bitch-from-hell, and wife of the SOA club president. (Club prez, played by Ron Perlman of “Hellboy” fame, did not receive a motorcycle, which makes one wonder “Why”? Will he be axed in the upcoming season?)
Gemma’s son “Jax," played by Charlie Hunnam, is club vice-president and is the 30-something guy the show is based on. He is also the official heartthrob of the show and the one that caused the wardrobe malfunction for several rabid female fans.
Boone testing his new ride.
In addition to Jax, female followers also seem to appreciate characters “Opie," played by long and lean Ryan Hurst as well as the Mohawked-and-head-tatted “Juice," played by Theo Rossi. For my taste, the remaining bad boys of the cast are an interesting trio and out of the seven, are the only ones who come close to being riders off set. Mark Boone who plays “Bobby Elvis,” told about his last motorcycle crash and the repairs his bike required afterward. “Chibs,” is played by Tommy Flanagan, who in real life used to steal motorcycles as a boy in his homeland of Scotland, and Kim Coates, the Canadian who plays “Tig,” is the triggerman and all-round scoundrel of the club. Coates shared that in 1986, after totaling his last bike, he had promised his wife he would hang up his leather and ride no more. Heh.
The magnificent seven
After returning home to SoCal, each of the actors pondered their new toys and decided they needed a bit of tweaking. For some it was as little as the addition of forward controls, for one it was an additional 50 hours of change-outs. The baby-faced and polite Tanner Shackley, with a hand from fellow mechanic Russell, was responsible for the work on Kurt Sutter’s bike, which took the most detail work of all the bikes.
Chad checking out one of the bikes.
Charlie "Hollywood," Peraino built Theo Rossi’s ride. Russell Baugh, notorious for spontaneous burnouts on his personal bike, put Ryan Hurst’s ride together. Chad Etter, known as “Chadillac,” is the youngest of the crew and was responsible for the work on Charlie Hunnam’s bike. William “Butch” Kerney, with scars to prove it, changed out Kim Coates’ bike that included a butt load of spike nuts.
Mike Foster took care of Tommy Flanagan’s bike and installed glowing, multi-colored fiber optic engine lighting as a surprise for the actor. “Tiny” Rich Cundiff put the very specific details for Mark Boone’s bike together for him.
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During the project, the mechanics developed a special bond with their assigned actor, each of who were very genuine and appreciative of the work done. As a reward for all the hard work, Eagle’s Nest H-D delighted the crew with a trip to Burbank to personally present the completed bikes to the actors at the SOA studios. I was lucky enough to be invited along on what would be a whirlwind, 800-some miles in 40-odd hours, turn-around trip to SoCal. An adventure that would include a 14-motorcycle pack slicing rush hour traffic at break-neck speeds on a Friday night in 105 degree weather through LA, while the hillsides blazed around us, as we sucked up all the shit in the dingy grey skies. Talk about an adrenalin rush!
Ed Morga has a hidden talent for putting together a road trip that’s a complete blast. Wanting to be sure his crew had a memorable experience for this trip, he took the time to make all the wild arrangements. First stop would be the famous Johnnie’s on Sepulveda where the sidewalk dining room was perfect for a handful of ragged NorCal riders parched from the heat and starving. After packing up the remains of the huge pastrami sandwiches that no one could finish, we headed out to the hotel for a bit of refreshment and a cool down before our reservations at the local comedy club, the Ice House.
A once-upon-a-time real icehouse, the walls are covered with headshots of all the comedians who have performed. The Ice House has historic significance since anyone who’s ever made it as a comedy act has taken the stage here. Our laugh fest for this night was provided by Mark Curry, (of, “Hanging with Mr. Cooper,” fame) and he cracked us all up when he singled out one of our party to harass.
The gang on stage at the Ice House.
The whole crew ended up on stage with the gracious comedian for a group shot that set the tone for the entire trip, and his witty jokes would be quoted repeatedly throughout the trip. Afterwards, a few of the guys rolled out for the Sunset Strip, while the rest of us called it a night in anticipation of the big presentation scheduled for 10 a.m. the next day. As it turned out, however, 10 a.m. was just a suggestion for the Hollywood crowd.
After wiping the layer of soot from the nearby fires off our bikes the next morning, we cruised through the Burbank streets towards the studio. The short route would include a nasty part of town that afforded us an opportunity to witness an arrest where the cops had a guy splayed against a wall as they patted him down and wrestled him into the cruiser, and just around the corner, a car was on fire in the middle of the boulevard. These acting guys apparently work in a really seedy part of town.
The SOA garage set.
We arrived at the gated SOA Studio to discover that filming on location had gone on through the night and into the morning hours. We were told the actors would be meeting us as soon as humanly possible, so we set about entertaining ourselves by casually taking photos outside the buildings. Then the garage set was discovered.
The dealership girls trying out the SOA bar. Is that beer real?
Next thing we knew, we were poking through the set of the Sons of Anarchy completely unattended. Which means, like kids loose in their parent’s bedroom, we snooped our asses off.
There was a general inventory taken on which things would really be found in a biker’s home, which included bottles of premium booze, few saddle tramps can really afford (nope, no Jack), and some riding paraphernalia, and most props were set up sorta cool, but I’m here to tell you there was a complete lack of any genuine biker reading material. Not a single biker publication was found in the house set. Not an Easyriders, In the Wind, or Thunder Press. No Jammer catalogs or any other parts catalogue, and no Orwell or How to Build a Bonneville Salt Flats Motorcycle. There was, however, Sunset, Better Homes and Garden, and Sports Illustrated magazines. Yawn. We'll need to fix that.
As for our contribution to reality, there was climbing on the rather sticky stripper pole, hanging out in the club’s bar, and some lounging on beds and pawing of certain props. Some wardrobe items were tried on and everyone wandered their way through the silent and dark stage of the show in awe. No one tried to evict us. We were completely alone. By the time, the weary pretend bikers started showing up, we’d managed to satisfy our curiosity and giggle ourselves stupid in the process.
Butch and Kim Coates.
As each actor arrived, they were shuttled off to the office for paperwork and formalities before getting a crash course from the mechanics on each new ride. Some actors didn’t have their legal stuff together, some had no insurance, and some never owned a motorcycle license. Since these motorcycles are intended to be the actor’s personal bikes and are not meant for the show, these niggling little details caused some tense moments, before it all got ironed out.
Chad was Charlie Hunnam's mechanical wizard.
Several of the actors had problems learning to ride and the talk between them consisted of who dropped which bikes, how many times on last year’s show. All are working hard at learning to ride, however no one is ever expected to be in Jason Pullen’s category. When Kurt Sutter was asked what his wife, Katey Sagal, thought of the new motorcycle and all the show entails, he looked off in the distance, shook his head, and said, “Right now, she wishes I was writing for CSI.”
Part two is coming: Bikernet will deliver specific descriptions of each cast member bike and modifications, in the very near future. Hang on.--Wrench