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Monday Edition

Rode Alone Revisited

The Blues in the West…and a Choice for Freedom

by K. Randall "Bandit" Ball with illustrations by Wayfarer

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Bandit read her note again in a cafe. It was 1:00 a.m. His heart hoped it wouldn’t happen, but his instinct sensed it.... in her delicate features and her sultry voice. She was on the drift. Without her there was nothing worth having in his life. A desire to hold her was as intense as his need for covering himself with his favorite flannel.

Maybe it had to do with motorcycles and how they made him feel the adventure in unknown possibilities. His chopper and a 4-inch barrel J.D. Crow engraved pistol were all he needed as he rolled. His boots and his Beretta pocket knife completed his daily gear. When he got home from working the oil fields, he popped a Voodoo Ranger beer and met the icy envelope in the fridge. She could be cold.

Bandit fired up his Knucklehead, planted in an Irish Rich modified VL frame. Its old rusting chrome XA springer front end and a 21-inch wheel guided him out of the city. He thirsted for the desert, the solitary miles in vast emptiness. His small Wassel peanut tank demanded multiple truck stops for gas, forcing him to be distracted in-between Zen riding spells.

He cut the back way out of 29 Palms into Amboy. Riding in the dark, he thought about times spent together and remembered the girl he gave up for her, his best friend. His mind swarmed with thoughts of her misdeeds and his own bad decisions. His single halogen headlight shined on the two broken lines as it spit lumens through the narrow two-lane highway.

He wasn’t right all the time, but he made a decent life for her and her troubled daughter. Yet, it was never enough. Wind whirled up the surrounding sand as he made his way into a gas station. Vision improved under flickering flourscent lights he spotted a couple of guys trying to jack a car from two old tourists.

His bike sang a loud song of violence, like rapid firing shotguns. He revved the engine and slammed on his rear disc brake, sliding to an abrupt halt, the tire screaming against solid concrete. The thugs suddenly stood tall. Bandit reached inside his vest and the ambitions of the small-time crooks fled along the dark dusty terrain, running as fast as their fear would carry them.

At 6’2” the newly arrived biker wore old long johns, Wranglers, tattered brown cowboy boots, a sweatshirt, red and black plaid flannel held fast with his stout leather vest. It showed all the roads he had traveled for the last decade. Strong and padded, he didn’t look a fool. Predictably the druggies hit the road. He refueled and prepared to follow them.

He could handle most any work and had experience with a range of projects, from being a machinist to a plumber. Forced to decide in the town of one gas station with a hotel alongside a shoe box sized post office at 2:00 a.m. he peered into the darkness. Should he ride in the direction of Arizona, via Needles or head west toward Barstow on Interstate 15 pointing toward Nevada.

His gas tank chose Barstow and off he went into the bleak night. Reaching the truckers’ town on reserve he was forced to refuel at the very first opportunity. It was as if the old Harley-Davidson Knucklehead was happy with the cool night air and his high-bars loved the solitude. He gassed-up, checked his ride over and hit the road east, toward Vegas. He knew folks there, but didn’t want to have anything to do with the city, or any city for that matter. He had the “ride-alone” blues.

Chasing east, the sky changed from jet black, starting to glow crimson against the Mojave mountains. As soon as the sun crested the jagged hills, the temps jolted upward and it was already 90 degrees when he pulled into Baker – a bleak town of 700, besieged in all directions with dead desert.

As he slid to a stop beside one of three gas stations in town, the blues surged in his soul. He badly craved a drink. The town had one fast-food joint, one Mad Greek Restaurant, one Chopper shop and just one bar – called the High Roller Tiki Bar. The bar was closed. Ominously, each of the three gas stations sold Jack Daniels.

The one long-time breakfast joint with the tallest thermometer in the world struggled as long as it could, finally closing their doors as if consumed by its barren environment.

The sun blazed in the sky and bleached out all the paint on every building in Baker. Bandit sat on a cinder-block ledge, in a rare shady spot, drinking Jack on the rocks, staring at his boots. Three club guys rode in sporting raggedly crisp pipes. Bandit’s peripheral vision caught them but his eyes didn’t recognize their patch. It looked alien, like the logo from the only jerky shop in Baker. It sure wasn’t a traditional outlaw patch, appearing more like a political campaign logo.

All three riders dismounted from their flashy, blacked-out, late-model Dynas and strode into the station. They came out laughing, refueled as the big fella with lots of hair and a full beard said to the others, “Now he knows who runs this town.”

They fired up their bikes, speeding into the interior of the dusty town that didn’t spread more than a mile into the desert.

Bandit walked to the station and found the short Hispanic clerk with crimson cheeks, having silently suffered the past slaps. He begged, “I could lose my job.”

“Sorry to hear about that,” Bandit said. “How long have they been around?”

“About a year,” the clerk muttered. “They’re taking over and it ain’t good.”

“When does the Greek open? I need a breakfast burrito,” Bandit inquired, very much lost in his own pain. He bought another half-pint of Jack Daniels and stuffed it into his vest.

“Greek no make burritos, but my sister does,” the kid said and perked up. “Just ride up that street, about three blocks on the right, a pink house with green shutters. She’ll be making them now. Tell her, Julio said.”

“Got it,” Bandit said. “It’s just what I need.”

“Be careful,” the clerk added. “Drinking whiskey and this sun don’t mix.”

Bandit nodded, slipping on his jockey’s helmet and brown deerskin gloves. He fired up the Knucklehead and could tell straddling the beast that his balance was impaired. Once underway, his bike had a mind of its own, like an embattled warhorse. He could tell it wanted out of the sun and he found a modicum of shade under a canopy in front of Maria’s Burritos.

Climbing off the bike, he looked up as Maria approached. His intoxicated eyes saw a lovely mystic from a faraway dream, at peace with her universe. Something to do with the vibrant hues on her burrito palace, her colorful Mexican dress, a natural radiance of her youth and Bandit was hit as if a sting pinning his heart. She caught his gloved hand and wrapped his flanneled arm around her shoulder. He kicked out his kickstand and carried the cross of his drunken-self inside her Cantina. Indoors, he collapsed on a couch. Whiskey, desert sun, and no sleep for 24 hours took its toll.

Passed out on her bright red velvet couch, his mental blues drifted into innate darkness of deeds of past. Three weeks later, he was still sleeping on that rickety couch. Maria’s eyes convinced him to stay, and her sumptuous burritos satiated all other concerns.

Her old man was the town’s welder, fabricator, but he suddenly disappeared five years ago. Julio and Maria were just teenagers, when their father, a heavy drinker got his ass kicked out of Vegas. He didn’t have the funds to take his kids any farther than Baker. Folks came to the family for Maria’s burritos, chile rellenos, and tacos. Julio worked in the station, but his dad’s welding gear sat idle in the garage under a swaying light bulb. The torches, MIG welder, bender and tool box collected dust. He had a sizeable welding table, two vices and a drill press. Folks continued to stop by when they needed something welded or repaired, but the broken father of two could not fix himself and disappeared.

Able Bandit set to fixing metal tables for the kitchen, mending the bad doors, hinges and gates around the digs. He taught Julio how to weld, bend iron and cut with the plasma cutter after the hose was repaired. They started to make extra money and folks came with broken equipment and rusted gates.

“We should equip an old truck with welding gear.” Bandit said to Julio. “We could make good money traveling around the area taking on jobs. You could quit working at the station.”

“That would be very cool,” Julio said.

“Save your paycheck for a couple of months,” Bandit instructed, “we’re doing okay without it. Then we’ll buy a truck and outfit it.”

“Could we build me a chopper,” Julio asked.

“We can do anything,” Bandit said. “I need to go to the bike shop for something. Wanna go? You can ride on the back of the Knuck!”

“I don’t think so,” Julio said. “Remember those guys?”

“Yeah,” Bandit said, briefly remembering the day they met at the gas station. “I need something for my bike. I’ll go check it out.”

Bandit fired up his trusted friend, past a couple of blocks toward the highway and around a dusty corner. Everything in Baker was worn. He could weld for the rest of his life and never be able to repair all the rusty fences and gates in town. It stood isolated, a last stop for lost souls between Los Angeles and Vegas.

The shop, located in a galvanized tin building, was near collapse. Two Dynas were parked out front sporting club decals. Bandit looked at the decal on the blacked out hot rod with foot-tall risers. He could tell serious funds went into this performance bike with high-dollar mag wheels, exhaust, billet air cleaner and lots of accessories.

He walked into the shop, his boots firm on the sandy floor and reached a counter, with teetering wooden and glass tops. They hadn’t been painted, varnished or even dusted in years. One parts catalog rested on the counter with only a new copy of Cycle Source magazine bringing life to the dull surrounding. A rusting counter-bell layered with dust was perched on the scratched glass top. Bandit hit it with the palm of his hand, “Service, goddammit,” he demanded, making dust fly off the entire decadent counter.

Suddenly the sounds in the back stopped and boots stomped against a hot asphalt floor toward the front. Three men burst through the door on the wall separating the front from the service area in the back. Bandit could see stacks of tires, old exhaust systems, air filters and bent fenders stacked against the wall.

“Who the fuck are you?” asked a skinny lanky rider reaching into his leather club vest.

“I’ll handle it,” a short white guy said stepping forward. “I’m Jake, can I help you?”

The last outlaw stood in the doorway with a long fixed blade in one hand, picking his nails with its point, leaning against the doorway. “You don’t handle anything, anymore,” he grunted. “We run this shop.” It was the big guy from the gas station where Julio worked.

“I don’t give a fuck who does what,” Bandit said. I need a quart of 60 weight oil and a couple of Champion spark plugs. Think one of you bad-ass bikers can handle that.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Jake said.

Like over-amped pitbulls, the two other outlaws snarled at Bandit. The guy with the pig-sticker played with the sharp edge and said, “I don’t know who you are, but we run Baker. Don’t get in our way, muthafucker.”

Jake tried to remain calm, but the situation was written all over his face. He wasn’t happy, but he grabbed a quart of oil from an open box behind the counter, a couple of Champion spark plugs from under the counter and rang it up on an old manual cash register.

“What are you riding?” Jake asked, trying to appear cordial, handing Bandit his change.

“A ’44 Knucklehead,” Bandit said. “Thanks. I’ll be around,” he added, meeting the eyes of the knife wielding biker.

Just those last words lit a glint of hope in Jake’s dreary eyes. “Thanks,” he said, as if he meant to say ‘welcome’ instead.

Bandit walked out and fired up his Knuck in a single mounting kick. Then he let it idle out front for many minutes as he popped the quart of oil open and poured it into his hand-built oil tank. He tossed the plugs in a saddlebag and rode around the block in the opposite direction, seemingly toward the highway. Reaching the open stretch, he let the motorcycle gather some speed, as if he was headed out of town, but he wasn’t.

His mind’s compass circled a magnetic vortex of vice and virtue. “That’s twice,” he took a mental note.

He weaved, idling his way back to Maria’s Mexican food joint. He could sense some chemistry there, but his blues hung on like an albatross around a sailor’s neck and she knew it. When Julio returned from work they strolled to the shop at the back of the restaurant and tinkered with new projects and more welding jobs. Bandit replaced the old single bulb with a couple of brighter fluorescent units. The shop started to take on a professional air.

“What’s with this club?” Bandit asked.

“No one stays around here long,” Julio said, “But these guys started showing up and taking over businesses. Doesn’t make any sense. Except for the fast-food joints and gas stations, nothing survives. If Maria and I could get out of here we would.”

“Is there a boss?” Bandit asked. “And that bizarre patch! What is it?”

“A man called Armand,” Julio said, “he’s a little guy and always shows up in a Mercedes limo with lots of musclemen. Rico, however, is the boss of the club riders, the hairy one with a beard. I don’t know where Armand is from, but he doesn’t seem to care what happens in Baker.”

“There’s an answer,” Bandit said. “There always is.”

The two of them got busy and continued to grind on a neighbor’s gate. Within half an hour, it was repaired. Julio took it to its owner with an invoice for the work done.

Bandit took a break and made a call to Las Vegas. Next day, a short Italian guy showed up on a modified, super-fast FXR with a large duffel-bag over his shoulder. Maria got a glimpse of this interaction. Bandit shook hands and took the bag to a corner of the shop.

A week passed and Bandit warmed to Maria’s advances. She wanted a man to stay and make their lives complete. Bandit was busy with work as the welding business with Julio took off. They were occupied 8-hours a day with more fabricating, repairing gates, garage doors and automotive parts. The focused ironwork flexed Bandit’s arms and flattened his abdomen. His legs could carry heavier equipment and his mind could sense everything more sharply as he paid attention to flame fabrication. It also heightened the feminine instinct of Maria as an unmentioned attraction of opposites kindred in between gas stove and welding heat.

Friday morning came around and Maria toiled in the kitchen since 4:00 a.m. to meet the morning orders. A shiny new black pickup pulled up out front and a member of the Arat Brothers got out. Maria met him at the door with a large bag of burritos and containers of her special sauce.

“Thanks Maria, these are the best,” said the young member draped in all black attire. He gave her a sizeable tip.

“Thank you, senor,” Maria said and handed the young white guy the hefty bag with a slight bow of respect.

“We heard Julio is fixing stuff and welding?” The young member inquired.

“Yes, can we help you,” Maria said.

“Come out to the truck,” the member said pointing to the back of the pickup. “We need these posts fixed for the airport.”

As Maria stood on tip toes to look into the bed, Julio followed her. Studying the damaged 3-inch galvanized post, which were old, Julio assured, “Sure, we can fix them. When do you need them?”

“How about 4:00 this afternoon?” This kid seemed to be new to the gang. His patch was slick and flashy. Other than a long mustache he was clean shaven with short, cropped hair, as if recently out of military service.

“We can do it,” Julio said.

“They must be done by 4:00 or...” the kid stated, as he began unloading two large crates of running lights from the back of the bed.

“No sweat, we will get it done,” Julio tried to reassure the edgy kid.

“We will take care of you financially if you can get them finished,” the kid declared, then crawled into the cab, over lavish supple leather.

Bandit and Julio hauled the crates to the back of the shop and went to work straightening, welding and in some instances, rewiring each unit. The kid made a point to bring along a box of new LED bulbs.

At 3:45 p.m. the same glistening black pickup screeched to a stop in front of Maria’s eatery. This time, two members jumped out of the cab, Rico and the kid. They stormed inside where Maria scurried around cleaning la cosina, preparing for the following day.

The kid worked with Julio to load the truck. He paid Julio handsomely, but just as they climbed into the truck, Rico grabbed Maria.

“I need a date for tonight,” he grinned, shoving her into the cab.

Bandit had remained out of the picture, but when he heard Julio hollering Maria’s name, he darted out of the shop through the kitchen and into the yard.

“Maria,” Julio screamed and ran into the street as the pickup sped away. Bandit saw enough to surmise what had happened.

“That’s three,” Bandit said.

“What do you mean?” Julio asked.

“You’ll see,” Bandit said. “We’ve got work to do.” Bandit fired up his Knucklehead and rode it around to the shop.

Together, they took off his top motor-mount and welded extensions to stick out on each side, just clear of both sides of the engine. Bandit pulled over the duffel-bag and fetched two weapons with holsters. The duo made brackets so as to holster a 30-round AR-15 resting safely on the left along with a Vietnam-era M79 holstered on the right. They slipped in snugly, ready to draw. Bandit adjusted his handlebars so he could maneuver the chopper.

“Listen kid, I’m going after your sister,” Bandit informed. “I won’t come back without her.”

“What can I do,” Julio asked, as the sun descended in the west, the air slightly cooler, the atmosphere grim with uncertainties.

“I need you to go to the Mad Greek restaurant,” Bandit said, “Just a hunch!”.

“Okay,” Julio obliged while wondering about the connection.

“Let me know when shit starts to happen.” Bandit instructed briefly.

Julio ran down the dusty lane.

Bandit splashed water on his face and suited up, his sweatshirt rippling over his firm shoulders. He strapped 30-round clips in his vest and two grenades. Pulling on his riding boots, he noticed a glistening spot on a nearby table. He started to reach for that half-pint of Jack Daniels, but this reflex made him furious. He tossed the bottle against the wall, where is shattered. This was not a biker shindig... it was taking care of family! The air cooled by the minute, with the darkening horizon and Bandit paced, wondering what they would do to Maria. His tightened fists strained his forearms. He needed to do something, anything, even if it was wrong. He no longer gave a shit about anything except Maria. He needed to get going and his long legs strode toward his Knucklehead.

Firing it to life, he backed it out of the shop. Loaded for action, he aimed it toward the highway and Julio came into view.

“There’s a dozen bikes, a Mercedes limo and a black van at the Mad Greek,” stammered Julio anxiously, restless with worry.

As Julio told the story, the Arat Brothers stormed the Mad Greek Restaurant under Rico’s leadership. He stood just inside the door while his soldiers surrounded him. The room went silent.

Bandit grabbed Julio’s shoulders to steady him enough for new set of instructions. “We will handle this.” assured Bandit, getting Julio’s attention. “Now go back to the restaurant. Sneak in through the back door. Force the staff to leave, then prop the back door open.

At the restaurant, Rico announced to the patrons, “Grab your shit and hit the road!” Snatching a young man out of his chair, he pushed him out the door, where he stumbled on the porch and fell onto the cracked asphalt. The brothers smacked another two blokes, and they crashed out the wrecked entrance door. The ladies screamed in horror and ran.

One armed citizen stood up and reached for his weapon. He was dead before he hit the wooden floor. Another big angry patron jumped to his feet heroically. “This is bullshit,” he snapped. A waitress tried to bring them to-go containers, but one of the outlaws smacked her down.

Two brothers attacked the dissenting man with ballpeen hammers. The dining room was soon empty as this off-menu serving was too much for them to digest.

Dining room to themselves, the brothers arranged the tables so that the outlaws took their seats with gleaming pride of conquest. A short man in a black suit entered, taking a seat at the head of the table. Rico stood at the other end.

“What the fuck?” Armand said. “I thought you had control of this town.”

“I do,” Rico snarled. He shoved Maria, planting her next to himself, a trophy girl.

“Who the fuck is that?” Armand said. “This night is all about business.”

Rico’s hot-shit status waned and Maria’s bruised arm didn’t help. “Let’s eat.” Rico announced, imagining the staff awaited his commands, but no one was around. One waiter crawled out from under a table to approach the bikers. Taking orders for their drinks, he rapidly brought along large platter of beer bottles, but then he disappeared.

Armand disenchanted with the situation, the meeting wasn’t intended to be a party, nor was he used to sitting with his back toward the kitchen door. His eyes subtly motioned to his driver while he got to his feet.

Rico beamed across the table as the bikers collectively started to party. The roar of a lone Knucklehead chopper blasted into the kitchen and through the swinging doors into the dining room. Bandit slid to a stop, snatched the 30-round AR 15 from its cradle and let loose. Rico’s team scattered like rats on fire. Bandit dived behind the counter taking fire from several locations.

The counter splintered like dried out chopsticks and handgun fire took its toll, but Bandit held his ground, keeping his sights on Armand who dashed out the door with his driver. Rico dragged Maria out the front door.

The boss in his slick black Armani suit sought the security of his pitch black Mercedes. Rico shoved Maria into a van and jumped in after her. The van sped, following the Mercedes.

The club soldiers were dead, wounded or running for their lives. Bandit scrambled to his feet and straddled the Knucklehead. The chopper ripped through the dining room and chased into the street after the vehicles.

They barreled just a block and turned left or north through the town heading for the small rundown community airport only a couple of miles away.

Halfway there the Mercedes driver hit the brakes hard and drifted the long limo into a 45 degree angle and an abrupt stop kicking up sand and dust in the open desert. The front limo-driver door burst open and so did the rear passenger door. As the van screeched to a sliding stop only a few feet behind the Mercedes, the two men opened fire on the van, shattering the windshield and blowing out the front tires.

Rico scrambled out of the Van as Armand stepped out of the limo. “What the fuck,” Rico said and opened his vest to reveal two stainless 9mm Browning semi-autos.

“I told you from the beginning,” Armand said, “I wouldn’t put up with any of your biker bully bullshit. We’re here for business, clean and simple, and you fucked-up.”

High as a kite, Rico reached for one of his weapons. “You foreign bastards aren’t shit without me.”

Armand let him reach and even start to draw before signaling to one of his henchmen, who shot him in the thigh. Rico screamed and dropped his weapon as he fell to the dark asphalt.

Armand strolled to the van and opened the door. Maria, shaken, stepped out of the van and the slick Armand led her to Rico’s side, quivering and bleeding profusely from his wound.

Rico’s demeanor switch to consoling as the two guards stepped up on either side of Armand and Maria. “See him,” Armand said. “This is going to happen to your boyfriend if we don’t take care of our business.”

One of the guards put a round into Rico’s opposite knee and he screamed. Armand’s grip on Maria’s arm tightened and he glared into her concerned dark eyes. He pulled his own snub nose and while peering into Maria’s terrified gaze shot Rico in the temple.

“What can I do?” Maria pleaded for mercy.

“That’s on you,” Armand said drug her to the car.

As the limo pulled away, Bandit saw the lights and slowed and then slid to a stop. He dismounted and ran to the passenger door terrified of the worst possible outcome. He yanked it open, no Maria. He circled the van and discovered Rico dead on the blood splattered pavement in front of the van.

He ground his teeth and ran back to his idling chopper. He mounted it and rode around the van and in the direction of the airport and the stretched limo. He didn’t know what his next move would or could possibly be. He had one shoulder missile in the chamber of the launcher, the AR-15 slung over his shoulder and his .45 revolver, but he couldn’t end this without Maria.

As he approached the airport, he could see an small 4-seater Cessna approaching, but there were no runway lights. In desperation, the limo driver drove to the end of the runway and began to flash his lights. Bandit slid off the road, stashed his motorcycle behind a semi, pulled the AR and took out the headlights.

The driver jumped out of the limo and opened up on Bandit in the ditch, but light waned and airport’s lights were minimal. Out of ammo, Bandit tossed the AR in the gulley and pulled the .45. With one round he knocked down the big burly driver, but the plane was fast approaching.

Bandit ran through the dusty gulley along the runway in the dark, waiting for Armand to make a move. He signaled to Julio to flash the runway lights. They blinked and went out.

Armand scrambled out of the Mercedes with Maria, his 9mm aimed at her head. “Lights or die,” he hollered in the night.

“Set the girl free or you won’t see the dawn,” Bandit answered firing his .45. He clipped the roof of the Mercedes, an inch away from Armand’s shoulder. Armand ducked and let the girl go. Maria ran for the rickety wooden control tower.

As the Cessna approached, Armand didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. He fired his pistol wildly in the air to warn off the plane, but it touched down and Armand ran for the driver’s seat of the Mercedes. Bandit returned to his idling Knucklehead and drew the grenade launcher—firing a single round aiming at the spot where the airplane would turn to taxi off the runway. It blew out a sizeable pothole in the tarmac, destroying the front wheel as the machine dipped and became lodged in the pothole. Authorities flashed their lights, as sirens screamed in the night sky.

The airfield surrounded and secured, Bandit turned off his lights and rumbled out of the damned place picking up the siblings. With Julio sitting on his gas tank and Maria holding tight onto Bandit’s back, they idled quietly around the outskirts of town, then back to Maria’s kitchen.

As they rolled to a stop at the shop behind Maria’s, Maria didn’t want to let go. “How about one of your special burrito’s tonight,” said Bandit and kissed her as if neither of them knew love ever before this moment.

“I think we all deserve a margarita tonight,” offered Maria.

Julio moved to the makeshift bar and started to make the drinks. “Maybe we should call this Bandit’s Cantina.” 

* * * 

Editor's Note: This story was first published on 29th June 2022 and has been reimagined for your pleasure. Want to read the original as well? Click here.

Fly down that rabbit hole; visit the Two-Wheeled Adventures Section by clicking here.

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Reader Comments

I'm from Pahrump which is just across the Californis border from Baker so I read the story with great interest. The description of Baker is quite accurate..

There was a little bit of emotion, love, biker jargon, violence and the hero, Bandit. I'd like him very much & would have liked to be Maria

Good story.

Pahrump I, NV
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Editor Response Thanks much!

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